Next Play — Forgive Your Students

forgive students

I’ve been knee deep in college basketball viewing even though my bracket looks like the remnants of … well, I was going to compare it to some horrific disaster, but there’s pretty much no way to do that without offending large segments of the population.  Anyway,  it’s not good.

As I watched the fast-paced action, I couldn’t help but find parallels between the game and teaching. Both require constant decision-making. There are moments of thrilling triumph followed quickly by disappointing failure on both the court and in the classroom.  In-game adjustments are necessary and have to be made without a lot of time to consider the very best strategy. Choosing one tactic means not choosing a host of others. Like a coach, a teacher can be a master technician and an inspiring motivator and still lose if the players don’t execute. And some days, you just can’t make a shot no matter how hard you’re trying.

While the games played across my TV this weekend, I worked on three chapters in my latest book, Happy Teacher. One of the chapters is titled, “Forgive,” and it’s about–you guessed it–forgiving students who mess up.

Most student screw-ups are similar to unforced errors on the basketball court. Players travel. Students blurt out. Players commit stupid fouls. Students say stupid things.  Players run the wrong play because they weren’t listening to the coach. Students do the wrong thing because they weren’t listening to the teacher. Players don’t perform with enough focus or energy. Students don’t perform with enough focus or energy.

Coaches can often be seen shouting at their offending players and they might sit them on the bench for awhile to drive their point home. Similarly, frustrated teachers might scold a student for her transgressions and give the kid a warning or send her to time-out. But eventually, both coach and teacher must move on. They must forgive, because there’s a lot more game left.

One of my favorite phrases for reminding myself to forgive and move on is “next play.” Former Duke basketball player and ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas wrote about “next play” in his book Toughness.

Bilas played for legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, who knows that tough teams win. Tough players have the ability to focus on the play at hand and not the one that just happened. We’ve all seen basketball players thump their own chest and fail to get back on defense, just as we’ve seen players sulk after a mistake and lose focus for the next couple of plays. In a game as fast moving as basketball, you can’t have players that aren’t focused on the moment. “Next play” was a mantra on Coach K’s teams.

“Next play” is a reminder to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s an attitude check. It fights against complacency. It cuts away the drama associated with failure. It’s a fresh start.

And it’s just as valuable a philosophy in the classroom as it is on the hardwood.

Teach your ass off, just like the coaches in this year’s tournament. Have high expectations for your students. Hold them accountable when they mess up. Sit them on the bench for a spell so they can refocus if you need to.

Then tell yourself, “Next play,” and forget about what just happened. It’s over. There’s nothing that can be done about it now. Forgive your students. Get them back in the game, because the clock is ticking and there’s a lot on the line.

 

 

 

Why Bad Teachers Are Hard to Find


Bad teachers need to be fired. You hear it all the time. It’s part of most education reformers’ guiding philosophy. Most people would have a very hard time justifying any opposition to it. Sometimes, in order to appease actual teachers and soften the harsh message, the phrase “after being given an opportunity to improve” is added, but the sentiment is the same:

Our education system would be so much better if only we could fire the crappy teachers.

What strikes me most is what happens after someone says it. Never is the logical follow-up question asked:

Just what exactly is a bad teacher?

Teachers are unique. I’m not just saying that because I am one. Unlike many jobs, there is no one metric that can be used to assess a teacher’s performance. If you’re a salesperson and you don’t sell stuff, you’re a bad salesperson. If you’re a lawyer who can’t get clients, you won’t be a lawyer for long. If you’re a preacher whose sermons cause parishioners to switch churches, you probably went into the wrong line of work. If you make widgets and nobody buys them, you’re going to go out of business. If you’re a chef that makes food nobody wants to eat, you’re not a good chef.

Reformers want to equate teaching to other jobs because it makes their agenda easier to accomplish. So they have to come up with a metric and the one they’ve settled on is:

 If you’re a teacher and your students don’t learn, then you’re a bad teacher.

The need to have a single metric creates some other problems that garner a lot of attention. You have to be able to say how much learning is the right amount. Then you have to have a way to figure out if students learned that much. Right now the US uses standardized test results to provide the numbers that are necessary to justify the labeling of teachers (and schools) as bad. Putting aside for a moment all of the problems inherent in rendering a verdict based on the results of a single test, the method has other obvious flaws, all of which stem from the initial error of viewing teachers the same as other professionals.

Let me know which of the following four teachers is bad. Which ones would you fire?

Ms. Jackson is young, smart, and energetic. Just out of college, she wants to make a difference. Although she could probably get a job in the suburban district where she grew up, she wants a greater challenge. She gets hired at a poor district where many of the parents didn’t graduate high school, much less college. A lot of them work two jobs, which means they aren’t home with their kids much. Many of her students read well below grade level. A lot of them don’t want to be there. She sends home books for students to read but they don’t read them. Additionally, she spends much of her day dealing with behavior problems and feels like she can’t teach. When she contacts the parents about these problems, they sympathize; they have the same behavior problems with their kids at home. At the end of the year she gives the state test, and despite her best efforts, many of her students perform poorly.

Mrs. Davis is old and set in her ways. She doesn’t like to try anything new. She’s got her way of doing things and it’s worked pretty well, thank you. She teaches in an affluent district where many of the parents are professionals. They volunteer in the classroom. They send in extra supplies. They follow through with homework and assigned reading. Mrs. Davis doesn’t worry too much about her students. Most of them already read well when they get to her and she figures that as long as she doesn’t screw them up they’re going to be okay. She’s right. Despite ignoring best practices and an over-reliance on worksheets, her students regularly pass the state test. They will again this year.

Mrs. Jones is one tough cookie. She’s the teacher kids don’t want. You can’t get away with anything in her class. There is no fun allowed. It’s work, work, work. And if you don’t work you can forget about recess. Mrs. Jones regularly calls parents when students don’t turn in assignments or if they slip up in class. The parents don’t like her much either. She’s opinionated, blunt, and often confrontational. A lot of parents skip out on parent-teacher conferences. This is fine with Mrs. Jones. She doesn’t need them anyway; her kids are going to learn come hell or high water. And learn they do. Every year, Mrs. Jones’s students outperform the other classes in the school. Her students are too scared to not do well, but they don’t enjoy school much. They’re frequently stressed. Many of them pretend to be sick. Some cry in the morning. Shelby in the back of the room is so worried about getting in trouble she goes through most days with a stomachache.

Miss Violet isn’t too bright. She doesn’t know the curriculum very well and isn’t very effective at teaching what she does know. She doesn’t have great control of her classroom. What Miss Violet really likes–no, loves–is the kids. She spent her high school years babysitting every chance she could and there’s really no better way she can spend a day than with a group of students. She loves talking to them about their lives. She asks about their weekends. She tears up when she finds out about the challenges some of them face at home. She greets them all with a smile every morning and is always nice. Her students adore her and they can’t wait to come to school. In fact, if you ask them their favorite place in the whole world, a lot of them would tell you Miss Violet’s classroom. At the end of the year, Miss Violet’s students don’t do very well on the state test, but they love school and the idea of coming back next year is exciting to them.

Which teachers are bad?

Which teacher would you want for your kid?

Would your friends agree, or do their kids have different needs which would be better met by one of the other teachers above?

Which teacher would a school district value the most? What about the state?

Should students get a say? After all, aren’t they the “clients?”

If the answer isn’t the same for every one of those questions, then can we truly identify any of the above teachers as bad?

The problem is that the single metric of student achievement doesn’t come close to measuring all of the things we want in good teachers. Yes, we want effective educators. But we also want professionalism and kindness and energy and creativity.  We want collegiality and good communication skills. Some want teachers to lead, others want them to follow. Ultimately, each of us wants what’s best for our kid and what’s best for my kid isn’t necessarily what’s best for your kid. We have different values and those values are often not the same as the state’s.

So here’s a crazy idea: Before we start labeling teachers as “good” or “bad” maybe someone should actually watch them work. Maybe we should measure the impacts they have on things other than test scores. Maybe we should stop trying to measure things that are immeasurable. And maybe we should recognize that teachers are unique, which is a good thing, because so are our parents and students.

In Defense of Independent Reading

In the entire history of stupid school tricks, there may be none dumber than the practice of banning independent reading from classrooms. Not only does the research not support such a drastic measure, but administrators who take such action should have their brains scanned to see if common sense has somehow slipped out their ears.

While there is vigorous debate about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, no one claims that practice isn’t vitally important. You can’t become proficient at playing the piano, cooking gourmet meals, shooting a basketball, cross-stitch, writing novels, or carpentry by watching others do it, listening to them talk about how they do it, and completing worksheets about it. You actually have to do those things. Why would the skill of reading be any different?

Reasons for Independent Reading

Two goals of independent reading in the classroom that teachers regularly cite are to promote positive attitudes about reading and to provide students the opportunity to practice reading to achieve proficiency (Allington, 1977, 2009, Gambrell, 2009).

To these reasons I would add a third, more logistical reason: teachers have students read independently because many districts require progress monitoring and intervention time with identified students. While the teacher’s attention is with the at-risk learner(s), the other students must be engaged in an independent activity that is both beneficial and requires no teacher assistance or monitoring so that she may concentrate her efforts on the at-risk learner(s). Many teachers feel that independent reading is a more effective use of students’ time than other independent activities. In this belief they are supported by reading researcher Richard Allington, who says that time spent reading contributes to reading achievement in ways that simply doing worksheets or other activities does not (Allington, 2002; Foorman et al., 2006).

Does Independent Reading Increase Achievement?

Much of the criticism about independent reading is because of a report by the National Reading Panel. It states:

With regard to the efficacy of having students engage in independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback, the Panel was unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency. In other words, even though encouraging students to read more is intuitively appealing, there is still not sufficient research evidence obtained from studies of high methodological quality to support the idea that such efforts reliably increase how much students read or that such programs result in improved reading skills. Given the extensive use of these techniques, it is important that such research be conducted.

Unfortunately, this statement is often misinterpreted. The above is not a finding that independent reading is ineffective, but rather that there have not been enough quality research studies to make any conclusion about its effectiveness.

The Panel clarified (my emphasis):

It should be made clear that these findings do not negate the positive influence that independent silent reading may have on reading fluency, nor do the findings negate the possibility that wide independent reading significantly influences vocabulary development and reading comprehension. Rather, there are simply not sufficient data from well-designed studies capable of testing questions of causation to substantiate causal claims. The available data do suggest that independent silent reading is not an effective practice when used as the only type of reading instruction to develop fluency and other reading skills, particularly with students who have not yet developed critical alphabetic and word reading skills. In sum, methodologically rigorous research designed to assess the specific influences that independent silent reading practices have on reading fluency and other reading skills and the motivation to read has not yet been conducted.

Stepping up to that challenge, Wu and Samuels (2004) investigated the optimal amount of independent reading time per day. In their study, some third and fifth grade classes had students read independently for 40 minutes per day. In the comparison classes, students had a combination of 15 minutes per day of independent reading and 25 minutes of the teacher reading aloud to the students. In both sets of classes, this reading activity was in addition to core reading instruction. In general, poor readers had superior literacy outcomes in the 15 minutes per day of independent reading condition, and skilled readers performed better in the 40 minutes per day condition. This held true across all reading skills measured, “including reading rate and accuracy, comprehension, and word recognition.

A meta-analysis of 49 studies found a positive relationship between the volume of student reading and reading achievement (Allington, 2009, citing Lewis & Samuels, n.d.). Lewis and Samuels also reported on a more focused meta-analysis of studies that provided causal evidence that students who have in-school independent reading time, in addition to regular reading instruction, do significantly better on measures of reading achievement than peers who have not had reading time (an effect size of d = 0.42). (Allington, 2009, p. 32, citing Lewis & Samuels, n.d.) Allington notes that this effect size for in-school independent reading time was similar to the effect size for systematic phonics (d = 0.44) found by the National Reading Panel.

Based on another meta-analysis of 29 studies on sustained silent reading (SSR), Manning et al. (2010) came to the conclusion that “SSR is a valuable intervention that makes a worthwhile difference in developing students’ vocabulary and reading comprehension” (Gambrell et al., 2011, p. 148, citing Manning et al., 2010).

Achievement Isn’t Everything

While it’s important that students increase their reading skills, it may be more important that they develop a love of reading. Our job as a teacher is not simply to prepare students to pass state reading tests, but to inspire students to become lifelong readers so they can thrive as adults. Research shows that lifelong readers are more intelligent, more culturally aware, show more empathy, are better communicators, and are less stressed.

Scholars from a variety of disciplines have studied the amount of time students choose to read. In a series of studies involving hundreds of students, Morrow and Weinstein (1986) found that very few preschool and primary grade children chose to look at books during free-choice time at school. Greaney (1980) found that fifth-grade students spent only 5.4 percent of their out-of-school free time engaged in reading, and 23 percent of them chose not to read at all. Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson (1988) found that students spend less than 2 percent of their free time reading. Furthermore, as students get older, the amount of reading they do decreases. Clearly, schools are failing to create lifelong readers. We must do better.

The science is clear on how to increase students’ motivation to read. Gambrell states that “Motivation to read and reading achievement are higher when the classroom environment is rich in reading materials and includes books from an array of genres and text types, magazines, the Internet, resource materials, and real-life documents.”

Research also suggests that students’ motivation to read strengthens when they have opportunities to socially interact with others about reading. Gambrell et al. (2011) cite evidence that social interaction among students “promotes achievement, higher-level cognition, and intrinsic desire to read” (pp. 153-154, citing Almasi, 1995; Ames, 1984; Deci & Ryan, 1991; Guthrie et al., 1995; Manning & Manning, 1984; see also McRae & Guthrie, 2009).

Other factors that increase student motivation include choice in reading material, relevance of the reading material, and sustained periods to engage in reading.

If districts are still unconvinced of the importance of in-class independent reading, they should know that the practice is specifically endorsed in the Publisher’s Criteria for the Common Core State Standards. These criteria “concentrate on the most significant elements of the Common Core State Standards and lay out their implications for aligning materials with the standards.” Two of the standard’s lead authors, David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, write in section I.1.E:

Additional materials aim to increase regular independent reading of texts that appeal to students’ interests while developing both their knowledge base and joy in reading. These materials should ensure that all students have daily opportunities to read texts of their choice on their own during and outside of the school day. Students need access to a wide range of materials on a variety of topics and genres both in their classrooms and in their school libraries to ensure that they have opportunities to independently read broadly and widely to build their knowledge, experience, and joy in reading. Materials will need to include texts at students’ own reading level as well as texts with complexity levels that will challenge and motivate students. Texts should also vary in length and density, requiring students to slow down or read more quickly depending on their purpose for reading. In alignment with the standards and to acknowledge the range of students’ interests, these materials should include informational texts and literary nonfiction as well as literature. A variety of formats can also engage a wider range of students, such as high-quality newspaper and magazine articles as well as information-rich websites.

The question, then, that districts should ask is not whether classroom teachers should set aside time for students to engage in reading self-selected reading material, but in how the practice can be implemented most effectively.

Experts on independent reading agree that effective independent reading experience requires that texts be matched to students’ reading abilities so they can experience success (Allington, 2009; Gambrell, 2011; Gaskins, 2008; Hiebert & Martin, 2009).

Teachers should also provide a balance of “explicit teacher-directed instruction . . . [,] teacher-directed reading practice, teacher-assigned self-directed reading practice, and . . . [free voluntary reading]” (Allington, 2009, p. 48).

Classroom libraries should be large, varied, and contain books of many different reading levels and complexities. To achieve this, Allington recommends eliminating spending on workbooks and test prep materials, as there is no research to support their use.

More skilled readers need to be provided with large amounts of time, while those with weaker skills need less time and more instruction (Wu and Samuels, 2004).

Students should be provided with opportunities to interact socially around their reading (Almasi, 1995; Ames, 1984; Deci & Ryan, 1991; Guthrie et al., 1995; Manning & Manning, 1984; see also McRae & Guthrie, 2009).

And teachers should instruct students on text selection, scaffold student understanding of different types of text, and confer with students about their reading (Reutzel, Fawson, & Smith, 2008)

It is my hope that school districts recognize the importance of providing students with independent reading time in the classroom and support its teachers in doing so by providing relevant research and professional development on how best to implement the practice. Schools should follow both the research and common sense to do what’s best for students to develop both their reading skills and a lifelong love of the written word.

 

For more information, check out the following excellent books:

What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction

No More Independent Reading Without Support

What Really Matters for Struggling Readers

How to Handle Principal Observations

I know a lot of teachers who get nervous about being observed by their principal. With only a couple of observations each year, teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform. They worry how a poor observation will impact their overall evaluation. Some are simply uncomfortable being observed and judged. The irony, of course–and it’s one recognized by even those teachers who feel this way–is that worrying about an observation is likely to lead to a worse performance.

So how do you not stress over a principal’s observation? 

Any time you worry, it means you’re nervous. Nervousness comes from fear.   So what exactly are you afraid of? If you wrote out a list, I think you’d find that every single item on it comes back to this: You’re afraid of your principal’s opinion of your abilities. If you didn’t care about that, you would no longer be worried. So how do you convince yourself to not care, or at least care a lot less?

Try telling yourself these four things:

My Opinion Matters Most

You have reasons for everything you do in the classroom and no one knows all of them except you. Anyone judging you lacks the necessary facts to make an informed assessment. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but you have the right, and usually the duty, to ignore it. As Eleanor Roosevelt said:

So don’t give your consent. Set your own standards for professional success and judge yourself against them. Simply care less what your principal thinks about you. It’s nothing personal, you just shouldn’t give anyone that kind of power over you.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Observations are subjective. The truth is, nearly all of your evaluation is based on the opinions of a single person who watches you do your job for a total of maybe three hours out of the more than one-thousand you will spend on it. While you might be able to watch a single Nicolas Cage scene and feel pretty safe concluding that he’s a terrible actor,  I’d want a little larger sample size for most professionals.

Consider whether your school district would ever do the following:

To prove to teachers how valid their administrators’ observations are, they put all of their principals in a room. On a screen, they show a forty-five-minute video of a lesson. Each principal uses the evaluation tool to rate the teacher across the zillion or so items they’re required to assess. And then, after they’re done, they all compare scores.

How similar do you think those scores would be?

How many principals would feel comfortable sharing their numbers?

How many districts would dare reveal the results of such an experiment to its teachers?

I have a guess and it’s very, very small.

You Own the Moral High Ground

How many meetings have you attended where you were reminded that you, the classroom teacher, has the greatest in-school impact on student achievement? Eric Hanushek has even attempted to tie teacher effectiveness to future earnings for students. (Which I guess is what really matters???)

Every time I hear this fact, I internally roll my eyes. What other in-school factor would impact students more? The quality of the food in the cafeteria? The size of the rooms? The cleanliness of the hallways? Of course the person with whom kids spend six hours a day has the most impact.

But you can also use this finding to feel superior to your principal whenever you worry about her opinion of you.

It is the teacher, not the principal, who has the greatest impact on student learning.

That means that the person who is sitting in the back of your room evaluating your performance opted to take a job that has less impact on the only people who really matter in a school than the one you have chosen. Their reasons don’t matter.

Maybe they wanted to make more money. Perhaps they were frustrated by administrators when they were teaching and felt they could do better. Their talents could simply be better suited to leading adults than children. Or maybe they decided they didn’t want to teach anymore and there weren’t too many other jobs they were qualified to do.

Who cares. Choose whichever reason you like for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s accurate. Remember, you’re doing this to relieve your stress. So if it helps to imagine your principal as a completely ineffectual former teacher who got fed up, quit, and then decided to take out her frustrations on other teachers, go ahead and do it. Feeling superior does wonders for one’s self-confidence.

If All Else Fails

Remind yourself of this reality: the only thing that really matters about your evaluation is that it’s good enough for your employer to invite you back next year. Don’t get caught up worrying about your final score or whether you’re “effective” or “developing.” Who cares? Because guess what? Next year, you get to be evaluated all over again.

How to Act

Once you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t really care what your principal thinks of you,  you can relax and perform. Make it a goal to appear even calmer than you normally are in front of your students. The biggest thing you want to convey during an observed lesson is self-confidence. Here’s why:

Confidence inspires confidence. During the 2017 Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons were trouncing the New England Patriots. Atlanta had a 28-3 lead in the third quarter, but the Patriots had the most confident player on the field. Even though it looked hopeless for the Pats, there wasn’t a fan who watched that game that didn’t believe Tom Brady could bring them back. Tom Brady exudes confidence, and his self-belief rubs off on those observing him.

When the principal walks into your room, project confidence. Keep your voice calm and even. Don’t gesture much. Resist the urge to put on a show. It will come off as inauthentic and overcompensatory. Respond calmly to students, including any misbehavior. The message you want to send is: I do this every day. It’s no big deal. I can handle whatever comes my way. Smile, tell a joke, move leisurely throughout the room.

And don’t look at your principal.

If you keep looking back at the principal, you are signaling a lack of confidence. It shows that you care what the principal thinks. Every time you look, it’s like asking, “So what did you think of that? Was that okay?”

When a principal sees you looking at him, he thinks two things:

  1. You lack confidence.
  2. Your focus isn’t on the students, which is where it should be.

If a principal starts to think you lack confidence, his next logical thought is why? Followed quickly by: If the teacher isn’t confident in her abilities, then why should I be confident in them?

The principal won’t fear marking you down because you’ve already signaled self-doubt. You’re almost asking for it. It would be inconsistent of you to later stand up for yourself when you meet with him to discuss the lesson. People rarely act inconsistently.

Most people avoid conflict. Confident people send an unspoken message that if you jerk them around, they’re not going to accept it. That conversation will not be pleasant. Principals are far less likely to ding a confident teacher than a nervous, insecure one because they don’t want to deal with a possible future conflict. So even if you don’t feel confident, pretend that you do!

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What do you tell yourself before an observation? What mental tricks do you use to stay calm and confident? Tell us in the comments!

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Why Teachers Should Almost Always Be Calm

 

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Like most Americans, I associate success with passion and intensity. The Detroit Pistons of my youth would have never won back-to-back championships without the intensity of Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer. Indiana basketball would have never been Indiana basketball without the passion of coach Bobby Knight. Fiery speeches never cease to motivate me, whether delivered in person or on the silver screen. I admire outward displays of passion.

This belief shaped my early years of teaching. I enthusiastically presented a lesson one moment, snapped angrily at misbehaving students the next, and passionately motivated my students to do their best on even mundane tasks. To be any good, I reasoned, I had to be intense. I had to bring it every day! Every lesson! I needed to be, as Anton Chekhov said, “an actor, an artist, passionately in love” with my work.

I have since come to believe that I was wrong. I now believe it is far better to spend nearly all of my teaching day in a consistent state of CALM. In fact, I try to be calm 90% of the time.

Here’s why:

In my article Why Teachers Are So Tired, I talked about four things that exhaust us: making too many decisions, using willpower, experiencing high-intensity emotions, and worrying.

High-intensity emotions wear you out because they activate your body’s fight-or-flight response system. Your heart rate rises, your sweat glands activate, you startle easier. This happens regardless of whether your high-intensity emotions are positive or negative. So getting angry at Billy for sticking a straw up his nose for the third time is just as draining as passionately introducing a lesson on fractions.

There are many teachers (and non-teachers like Chekhov) who believe that the only way to be a good teacher is to be intensely passionate, to put on a show! If I suggested to Dave Burgess that it’s better to be calm than intense, he’d likely throw his book, Teach Like a Pirate, at me.  Certainly, there are some teachers who can maintain a high amount of energy class after class, day after day. The rest of us are tired just thinking about it.

A calm teacher benefits herself and her students in many ways. First, students tend to reflect their teachers. Calm teachers lead to calm classes, and calm classes allow for more focused work. When was the last time you tried to concentrate while feeling intense emotion? It’s not easy. In fact, brain-imaging research shows that when we are feeling intense emotions, our amygdalas activate. We need to then use other parts of our brain to calm ourselves enough to get our work done.  Think of the last time you learned something new. Did you pump yourself up with some AC/DC? Did you do fifty jumping jacks to elevate your heart rate first? I doubt it. Those kinds of activities might be good before a football game, but they’re not very helpful if you’re trying to learn Portuguese.

Second, staying calm will allow you better self control. People who are calm have the ability to choose their actions instead of reacting emotionally. If you think of the worst decisions of your life, I bet they were made when you were experiencing high-intensity emotions–both good and bad. By staying calm, we can react to anything that happens in our classroom in a way we won’t regret later. So when Billy shoves that straw up his nostril, you’ll be calm enough to smile at Billy and say, “Throw the straw away,” and not “For shit’s sake, Billy, how many times do I have to tell you to stop sticking straws up your stupid nose!?”

It’s easy to forget sometimes that we’re role models. When we seesaw back and forth between high-intensity emotions and when we react emotionally to events around us, we are modeling to students that it is acceptable to do the same. How many times have you told a student to think before they acted? Take your own advice.

Third, your emotional moments will have more impact. I’m not suggesting that teachers never show emotion. I am suggesting that we deploy emotions strategically for maximum effect. There are times when we need to be intense to get students’ attention or to get them excited about an upcoming lesson or unit. Go for it! That’s one of the joys of teaching! But there are other times–most times–when calm is the better choice. When you intentionally use emotion you’re still in control, and because you’re not always emotional, you’ll have more impact when you are.

The biggest reason to stay calm is your own energy. Remember, high-intensity emotions drain our bodies. When teachers get tired they do stupid things. They say things they regret. They damage relationships with students and colleagues. They fire off curt emails that they later wish they could retrieve from cyberspace. One study even demonstrated that, as the day goes on, people are more likely to engage in unethical behavior. They also burn out, and burned out teachers are far, far worse than calm ones.

So how do you stay calm? I use three strategies:

1-–Self-Awareness–I regularly check my own emotions at work. How am I feeling right now? How’s my heart rate? Am I calm? Do I feel edgy? I make it a challenge and see how calm I can be. When a student misbehaves, that’s when I really force myself to remain calm. A lot of the time, my seeming lack of interest has the effect of deescalating the situation.

2—Deep Breaths and Perspective–When I feel myself feeling anything other than calm, I take some deep breaths and engage in self-talk. I like to use perspective, so I might say something like, “Is it worth getting upset about?” or “In the grand scheme of things, does this really matter?” or “Just three more hours and I’ll be home with a beer in my hand.”

3—Classroom Management Plan–the best thing I can do for my own emotions is have a classroom management plan that I consistently follow. When students misbehave, my plan tells me what to do. I don’t need to make decisions, and there’s no reason to be emotional. I just institute the predetermined consequence and move on.

I also remind myself that while Bob Knight had 902 career wins, John Wooden, a much calmer person, won 10 championships. He also lived to the ripe old age of 99.

What tricks do you have for staying calm in the classroom? Share in the comments so we can steal your ideas!

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