Episode Show Notes:
I don’t know if I had spankings before this one.
I just remember my mom warning me to watch out, because when dad got home, I was getting a spanking.
I don’t remember what I did wrong.
I don’t remember being sorry for what I did.
I knew what a spanking was, but I couldn’t remember ever getting one before.
All I remember are the tears streaming down my dad’s face as he gave me the spanking that mom had promised.
The worst part about it was not the spanking itself – it was the knowing of how much it hurt him to have to discipline me in this way.
I swore I would never be bad again, because I didn’t want to hurt my dad.
Funny what we remember, hey?
And then one day I realized – as a classroom teacher, my students seem to have similar feelings when I have to discipline them.
When they do something they aren't supposed to, they are so sorry that they have disappointed me.
They know it hurts me to have to discipline them.
Now of course, we don’t do things like give the strap any more at school, oh my gosh, can you imagine? How much parenting and discipline practices have changed over the years…
But my point is that much like my dad, I very rarely yell. It just isn’t my style.
Instead, much like my relationship I’ve always had with my dad, my students are so used to working to try to please me that they don’t very often disappoint me.
And I’ve realized that that the secret is that I spend most of my time in my classroom with students looking for the good and the positive in everything they do.
And it’s funny – you know that expression – what you focus on expands?
Well, I can tell you that in my experience, it’s very true.
Because the moment I become present to my students, I notice everything good.
I notice, and I let them know –
“Oh my gosh everyone, look at Ciara – she has her pencil out, it’s sharpened, and she’s ready to learn. I notice that she isn’t talking to her friends – she’s looking right at me and is ready to go. Oh my gosh, I’m so proud of you, Ciara."
"Oh wow – and everyone, look at Avery. What a little superstar. Even though there are some kids who are trying to distract him, he knows that we’re ready to get started and he’s facing forward, he isn’t talking to his neighbors…."
You know, I just might have the MOST amazing class in the entire world. And because of that, I think we have earned a space on our Treasure Map. You people are absolutely awesome. Now who is my special person so they can go and move our ship on our treasure map?"
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about with the treasure map, please go back and listen to Episode #6 where I tell you all about this amazing classroom management tool I dreamed up on summer vacation one year!)
And what do you think happens then?
After I’ve just finished building up the entire class and telling them how wonderful they are – EVEN WHEN not EVERYONE was - YET....
THEN I suddenly have the entire class stop to see what I’m so excited about, to see what and who is getting so much attention.
And suddenly, it becomes much more appealing to do that positive thing that’s getting so much attention than it is to do that other thing that is being ignored.
Because here’s the second part of that magical thing called “finding the positive” in everything you do in the classroom...
I could have just wasted those precious two minutes of time telling Harry to stop bothering Alyssa.
I could have asked who was making that silly chirping noise, and what on earth was Mackenzie doing with Stephanie’s hair when we were just about to start a lesson and they knew better.
And what would have happened then?
The energy of the class would have gone down, everyone would have been frustrated, and it would have become "one of those days."
Why? Because I was giving attention to what I DIDN’T want more of – but what we focus on really does expand.
Because the thing those kiddos want more than anything in the world is attention.
And at school, it's YOUR attention they're most after. 😉
So in your classroom -
Now, I know it’s difficult to ignore the negative. But you must.
Because truly, the more attention you give to it, the more you are inviting it into your classroom, and into your world.
You must ignore the negative (unless of course, someone is threatening to throw scissors or something – then you must deal with that. But most of the time, we are not dealing with serious situations like that, I hope.)
So let’s go back to that first example.
I have just finished telling two of my students – one a boy, and one a girl, very intentionally, by the way, what specific aspects I LOVE about their behavior.
And - if you can target and find the positive in the little instigators in your classroom – you know, the ones who are usually BEGINNING the trouble, and notice the one rare time that they are actually doing what they’re supposed to and build that up, you get extra points. 😊
You won’t believe how it can turn everything around when "that kid" is suddenly getting attention for doing something good - for once. 💛
Okay, so I’ve just finished telling them how amazing I think they are.
How proud I am of them, and by extension, how much I love them all and am so grateful to have them in my life.
How does the energy feel in our classroom now? Do you feel it?
And do you see now why it was so rare for me to yell?
Because when there were days when I couldn’t find the positive I was looking for – when everyone seemed to be distracted and off-task, all I had to say was....
That was usually enough to really get their attention. I’d suddenly have 26 pairs of wide eyes on me as I finished my sentence.
“Oh no. I am SO sad. I was planning something a super cool surprise for you a little later today, and, I don’t know. I’m so disappointed."
Nice, long pause - just to let that soak in... and then:
"I’m not sure we can do it now. I asked you to do your jobs so that the classroom is all cleaned up in time for us to go for lunch, but I only see a few kids actually doing their job. What do we do now?”
Now if you know kids, you know that this works like a charm because if kids are anything, they are problem-solvers.
Very creative problem-solvers.
Usually they are problem solvers for things that you don’t want to be problem solvers for, like “How can I get away with keeping a sparkly glitter gel pen in my desk?” of if you're my teenage son, "How can I get away with just another 15 minutes on my phone?"
But when they realize that something positive is being threatened to be taken away, they suddenly become laser-focused on figuring out a solution.
Because it’s human nature to always choose the more pleasurable option when presented with a choice.
Now, when I put their little futures back into their control, they are full of great ideas.
Suddenly, a hand goes up.
“Blake, do you have an idea?”
“What if we work really hard and get this done in the next like, 3 minutes. Could we still have the surprise then?”
I think really hard for a moment.
“Hmm. That’s a great idea. I don’t know if you have time. If you work together, you might just be able to do it. Let’s see if you can.”
And sometimes, they are able to pull the rabbit out of the hat, and they still get the surprise.
But other times, I again tell them how sad I am that I wasn’t able to give it to them because they just couldn’t get it together, but that we could try again tomorrow.
And if I was especially disappointed, I would move our little ship on our treasure map back a space – sometimes, even two spaces.
That REALLY got their attention.
But do you see how focusing on the positive and expecting that they will meet the expectations I’ve laid out for them helps them to continually work to rise to achieve them?
How leading with love and positivity and genuine appreciation for their little hearts and minds and unique personalities works so much more effectively than threats and names with red x’s on the board?
And if you’re in that space right now, don’t worry – I’ve been there, too.
How do you think I finally figured all of this out? I went through all of that, too.
In fact, it took hitting rock bottom – feeling like I didn’t know what else I could do, they just wouldn’t listen – before I finally figured out how to turn it around.
Before I figured all of this out, I had the system in my classroom where the first time someone broke a rule, I put their name on the board.
And then the next time it happened, they got a red check mark by their name.
(Somehow I thought by putting a check mark instead of an X that was more positive.)
Two check marks meant that they lost recess, and the third check mark meant a phone call home to their parents to talk about the day they had had. 😳
And every single time I put a name or a red check mark on the board, a small part of me died just a little.
I literally could feel the anxiety in the pit of my stomach, the draining of my energy, every time I had to do it.
It made me so sad, and so powerless.
It reminded me of countless moms with screaming toddlers in department stores counting, "1, 2..." and desperately hoping that they would stop before "3."
I hated putting red check marks beside their names, but I didn’t know what else to do.
I imagine it feeling just a little like my dad felt, knowing that he had to give me a spanking, because he didn’t know what other options there were to get me to behave.
And it was on one of those days, after the students left and I was alone in my classroom with all of those red X's on the board, that I just started crying.
I just knew that I needed to shift the energy in my classroom. I knew I needed to make it more positive.
So I did something that you might think sounds cheesy, but it worked for me, and it might just work for you.
I made a sign that said “Find the Positive.” Yes, I did. Stop laughing at me. 😊
I printed it in neon colors and put it all around my room, wherever I would look most often.
I even put it on the front of the students’ desks who I needed to be reminded of this with the most.
It wasn’t easy, and the change didn’t happen overnight.
But the next day, when we started to go down the negative rabbit hole, I looked at those bright neon signs I had made for myself.
And somehow, I turned away from the negative behavior (much to everyone’s surprise, including my own), and I chose to focus instead on that sweet little angel at the back of the class who never seemed to get any attention at all, because all he did was be kind and quiet.
And that day, he got a ray of sunshine focused directly on him.
You could almost see him bloom:
“Sam,” I said, “I am so, so proud of you.
You always have your book out and open to the page I’ve asked you to open it to.
You have your pencil out and are ready to learn, and you aren’t bothering the other students around you.
I want you to know that I notice, and I think you’re awesome.”
My class was silent. Probably for the first time ever. And I could just hear the wheels turning:
“What? Why is she paying attention to him? He isn’t even doing anything.”
It was a lightbulb moment for me.
Inside, I smiled, and I knew I was on to something.
That moment was a turning point for me. It changed everything. And I can’t wait for you to experience it, too.
So if you’re stuck inside a negative rabbit hole and you don’t know how to dig yourself out, start small, and be gentle with yourself.
It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy if you’re go-to is negative discipline right now. But it will happen if you stick with it.
And as my special gift to you to help you get started, I’ve included my “Find the Positive” poster in the show notes for you here. 😊
I promise you that it works when you start small, and you just stick with it.
It doesn’t matter what is going on inside or outside your classroom. It doesn’t matter how bad you think it is right now.
Start today to make this one small change, and do it consistently, and you’ll be amazed by the change you are capable of making in your classroom experience over time.
And remember that your students are just little.
They might only have 6 or 7 years on this planet, and just like you – they’re pretty new to this entire school thing where they are expected to fit into all sorts of tiny little boxes, so be patient with them, and please be patient with yourself.
Finally, if you are getting a ton of value from this podcast, I would deeply appreciate it if you would be willing to leave a positive review. 💛
Just open the podcast in iTunes, click on the “Ratings and Reviews” tab and then click on “Write a Review.” I would be so grateful!
I hope you have a wonderful week and remember – just because you are a beginning teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one.
Talk to you again soon,
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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