Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Idea from my Student Teaching Days

I student taught in a PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) setting for 12 weeks during my senior year of college. And just because I've never shared this on my blog and they are going to the Rose Bowl to try and win another National Championship - I am a proud Texas Longhorn! :) Back on topic: the lead teacher in that room was an amazing woman named Melanie. During one of my first days in her class she took me out to the playground and had me pick up 20 little rocks and place them in my right pocket. She explained that it is simple human nature to see the bad and miss the good. Of our 15 students we could have 14 doing the right thing and one the wrong but it's the one that you see, not the fourteen. Sad but true.

Melanie wanted her classroom to always have an uplifting and encouraging atmosphere and for that to happen her student teachers and aides had to learn to elicit desired behaviors in positive ways. If little Suzy wasn't listening during circle time she said to compliment Johnny sitting right next to her. Once she saw that Johnny was getting attention for doing the right thing and she was getting none doing the wrong, nine times out of ten Suzy would sit up and listen. Or she encouraged me to simply say, "I'm looking for friends who are following directions so I can tell them, 'Way to go!" The amazing thing was, it worked!!! I could usually get the behavior I needed to run the classroom without nagging or fussing.

Now where did the rocks come in? Well, anytime I wanted to get a child to do X then I had to phrase it in a positive way. I could say, "I love how Sammy and Jan are keeping their hands to themselves as we walk to the cafeteria. Great job!" when I was really trying to get Mike to quit poking the kid in front of him. If I was successful then I could move a rock to the other pocket. I could also move a rock to the other pocket for catching a child being good at anytime and praised them for it. Sometimes the reality is that all the positive hints in the world won't work and you have to say, "Ted, sit up and listen please," but then I had to take a pebble out of the left pocket and move it back to the right. Or there were times when physical well being was a concern so you intervened immediately with a stern, "No!". But the goal was to have all rocks in the left pocket by end of the day. When that got easy, I had to have all 20 in my left pocket before lunch and start all over in the afternoon. :)

She was training me to be positive, to see the good in the kids and to verbally praise, praise and praise some more. And to effectively and creatively get the behaviors I needed from my students using as little negativity as possible. And remember we were working with special needs preschoolers and they could be a tough little group at times! ;)

Fast forward to my teaching days. I was teaching first grade in an at-risk school with 22 kiddos. Melanie's training served me well as I worked with a very demanding bunch. But by the holidays my steam was running out. I found myself crabby and snappy way too often. The holidays were always a rough time for me in public school. Kids were more tired than usual because of late nights out shopping and holiday parties. All they could think and talk about were presents and Santa; the last place they wanted to be was in a classroom sitting behind a desk. Actually, I was a little distracted by the same things. :) And Melanie's rocks came back to me.

I went out to the playground and got a handful of rocks to stick in my pocket. Have you ever had 20 rocks in your pocket? You can feel them each time you move. They are a constant physical reminder of the thing I was trying to accomplish. Be Positive! It made such a difference in not only how the kids received the message but in how I felt at the end of the day. If I was working hard to constantly be positive, it was hard to be in a crummy mood at 4:00. On the flip side if I just nagged and fussed at kids all day long, I was a complete bear at the end of the day. The kids' behavior was often the same either way; it was just my mental state that changed! What a valuable lesson and wonderful gift Melanie gave me.

For the next seven years of my public school teaching you would often see a bulge in my pockets. If I needed a serious reminder, I would stuff my pockets with marbles. Talk about uncomfortable. You can't forget about 20 marbles in your pocket. Each time they moved around it was like they were saying, "Praise someone! Find someone to uplift! Say something kind to that kid who just melts into the background because they are always doing the right thing!" Really that is what those marbles were saying. ;)

And now as a parent-teacher you can still find rocks in my pockets. Or most days now it's pennies. On days when one or all of my children is being especially trying. Or days when I got two hours of sleep (lovely insomnia) or on Friday when we are all tired and would just rather not do school. I put pennies in my pocket and hug my boys tight and we trudge on. And in the month of December when we just want to forget school, play, wrap presents and bake cookies they are in my pockets almost every day.



Heidi said...

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you *so much* for sharing this story!

Julie Brooks said...

Thank you for sharing this! I needed to read this today. I am also a ministers wife and homeschool mom. :) I really enjoy your blog!

Spesamor Academy said...

Awesome! This, I have to try. Can I link this from my blog?

Jennefer said...

Feel free to link away! I am glad that others are enjoying this. I have meant to post it for some time now. :)


Craig and Phyllis said...

This was perfect! My day has been difficult (as was yesterday). I'm going to go put some of those glass rocks in my pocket for tomorrow! Thank you for sharing!

argsmommy said...

I love this idea too! I really struggle with being positive. And on that note... Boo UT, Sic 'em Bears! ; )

kellog said...

Thanks so much for this post! I struggle with focusing on the behavior that needs to be corrected rather than on the things that are going well. This will be a tangible way for me to start focusing on the positive! I love it :)

mom24 said...

This is the most beautiful post! I was raised in a very critical household and although my parents weren't believers, I have a responsibility NOT to pass that behavior down to my kids. I WANT to find the joy in everything that they do and I HAVE seen praise work wonders on them! So often I look for tricky ways to get them to behave like filling their pockets with pennies or marshmallows as rewards. But what they really want is a mother/teacher who is full of joy and looks for the good in them, rather than harping on the wrong.

This is such a WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL idea and I can't wait to use it! Thanks soooo much for sharing it!!

Sarah Haltom said...

LOVE it!!

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing this! I'm not naturally a positive person, so I might just have to DO this--the physical reminder would help me sooooo much!

(I'm also a homeschooling mama. December is tough, isn't it?)

Hawk said...

AS a preschool teacher I find this to be amazing. I really love this idea and will be borrowing it in hopes of continuing to transform my classroom into a room of positives.

Thank you for this.

Robyn said...

Jennefer - This is an absolutely amazing idea. Thank you so much for sharing it. Would you mind if I link to you on my blog, and especially to this story? I just love it!

Hen Jen said...

that was beautiful Jennefer, thanks for sharing this!