Stepping Back, Stepping In: Ideas for Effective Helping

No matter how large their class is, or how many hours they have in a school day, most of the primary teachers I’ve met feel like they have too little time, too many kids, and/or too many different needs in their classroom. As a result, teachers can feel like they’re perpetually in motion, moving from one child to another, without any time to stop and think. We end up feeling exhausted and like there’s not enough time to help every child.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 2)

I’ve always had a lot of compassion for my students with ADHD (or ADHD-like behaviors) because my husband had ADHD as a kid. Never diagnosed (it was the early 80’s), Kevin struggled in school. Despite being a very smart, charming, and energetic little boy, his report cards were filled with comments like, “Kevin fails to live up to his potential” and “Kevin contributes wonderful ideas in class, but doesn’t complete his work.”

If you ask me, his teachers failed to see that he needed help, and instead, blamed him for his inability to focus and follow through on tasks. It wasn’t until fifth grade that a teacher finally recognized Kevin’s strengths, helped to develop his love of science, and made accommodations like allowing him to take tests standing up. That teacher changed Kevin’s entire outlook on himself as a learner. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 1)

I’ve always thought of ADHD as a context-specific disorder. What are considered talents in one setting — such as high energy, creativity, and the ability to make brilliant cognitive leaps — are considered deficits in other settings, particularly traditional school settings, where students are required to sit silently for long periods of time, engaged in teacher-led tasks.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching Sir Kenneth Robinson’s address to the RSA, in which he contends that diagnosis of ADHD is on the rise because schools are failing to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

Continue reading

A Primer on Smooth, Efficient Transitions

Triathletes know that races can be won or lost not just during the swim, bike, or run, but during the transitions in between. During my first triathlon, I had just completed the 12-mile bike when I entered the gate to the bike racks and ran my bike towards my row. Only one event to go! As I approached my spot, I saw my mom and my husband cheering for me by the sidelines. I smiled hugely, waved exuberantly, and… ran right past my spot. I finally caught on as my dismayed family started yelling at me to stop and turn around.

Not my best transition.

Transitions in teaching are just as important as they are in triathlons. More important, because student learning (and not just my bruised ego) depends upon them. Continue reading

Imagine You Don’t Get Your Way: Helping Kids Develop Emotional Resilience

This week, my second graders elected their Table Leaders for the first time. Each of the five groups in my class voted for a leader who will pass out papers, lead the group’s meetings, and have weekly Leadership Lunches with me.

In the lives of second graders, being chosen as a Table Leader is a pretty big deal. And the moment I announce Table Leaders — the moment when we do a drum roll and applaud — is exciting and emotionally charged. Many of the kids are hoping desperately to be chosen… and a few are hoping the opposite.

You can imagine how a moment like this one could go terribly wrong. Imagine the disappointment, the crying… the shouts of “why does she get to be table leader? I didn’t vote for her!” Now imagine how much harm that could do to the classroom community we’ve worked so hard to build.

Moments like this can bring out the best and the worst in children (just like in adults). If, as teachers, we want to bring out the best in our students, we have to prepare them for disappointment. We have to teach children to be emotionally resilient in the face of a difficult outcome. One way to do that is by having them imagine the outcome — and make a plan for responding — before it happens. Continue reading

Teaching Leadership Skills to Kids

Some students are natural leaders. Even at seven years old, they just seem to know how to negotiate with others, how to give directions without being bossy, and how to offer help without being condescending. Whether it’s because they have a high emotional IQ or they’re just more mature, these leaders bring peace and harmony to their teams and inspire their teammates to do their best.

But for most children, these skills don’t come naturally. They have to be learned, and they have to be taught. Continue reading

Why We Don’t Call Kids “Bullies”

When I was in third grade, I was bullied by a girl in fourth grade named Alex. She rode my bus and always sat at the back. Whenever I could, I sat at the front, but if those seats were taken and I had to sit near Alex, she teased me the entire way home: about my clothes, my hair, the way I spoke, the way I acted. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. To me, Alex was just a bully: a mean kid, rotten to the core. I hoped she’d drop off the face of the Earth, or, at the very least, go to middle school and not ride my bus anymore. Continue reading