User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘caring

Caring and Compassionate Confrontation

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When I was in my Doctoral program, I met in one of my classes Debbie who was the Corporate Education coordinator for the university. She ran workshops for teams from profit and non-profit organizations and corporations. I had mentioned that I had a background in adventure education with a focus using outdoor team building activities. She got excited and said that the university does team building on their off campus site and asked me to join her as a facilitator. At the time I was a chain smoker, about 2 packs a day, and had been smoking like that for about 10 years. These activities were outdoors so I would smoke during these day long team building days. We would have the clients fill out evaluation forms at the end of the day and use these evaluations to do our end-of-day debriefings. During one such debriefing, Debbie had found several comments about how my smoking disturbed several of the individual clients. She looked at me with such a caring look and said, “You are so good at what you do. It’s such a shame that your smoking detracts from that.” On the way home that evening I threw away my cigarettes and never smoked again. This ended up being a peak experience in my life in that Debbie’s unconditional caring facilitated major behavioral change in me.


Fast forward to present day . . . this is about a 5th grade student in one of my gifted education classes. Last semester, J. was incredibly annoying. He got on both my and his classmates nerves way too often. He was a “know-it-all” with both the other students and me. He was loud, often claimed he knew the answer (he often did), and when he was correct, he would exclaim loudly, “I told you so.” When we had competitions such as with board games and Kahoot, he often won and would gloat. I had lots of one-on-one talks with him telling him that I believe that he is smart and insightful, but that he often alienates others (including me) with his comments. I emphasized that I wanted others to see his talents but with his comments and attitudes, others would not see them. I also told him that winning competitions does feel good but that he should congratulate himself silently as not to get his peers angry. We’ve been back from break for several weeks (I meet with them twice a week for a few hours each time). I noticed that he is not so loud, doesn’t make such antagonist comments, and lets me help him with technology-based assignments. On several occasions, I told him that I noticed his changes and that I am proud of him. When asked, he said he made a New Year’s resolution to make changes. Last semester I didn’t think he was listening to my suggestions, but he was! 

The following excerpts from the Harvard School of Education’s The Troublemakers ( support the idea of caring and compassionate confrontation.

We teachers all have our Joes, our students who consistently call out, talk back, refuse to participate or sit down or stay on task. They throw our lessons into disarray, make our heads pound. They keep us up at night strategizing, worrying. How can I connect? What strategies might work tomorrow?

How do we reach and teach our troublemakers? Most teachers have binders brimming with ideas: shuffled seat assignments, tracking systems, rewards for on-point behavior. But when these fail, what can you do when it’s you alone in your class balancing 29 personalities, the clock ticking and your 40-minute-long class is almost up?

Some strategies for working with these kinds of difficult students include:

Seek out our students’ strengths. All students have strengths. Perhaps they are avid photographers, basketball players, coders, or poets when not in school. But when it comes to our troublemakers, it can be easy for their assets to be overshadowed by behaviors that disrupt the carefully cultivated cultures of our classrooms. We cannot lose sight of these strengths. Yet it is not enough to know that our troublemakers are budding artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We must also seek to reframe and better understand the qualities we find most frustrating.

Strategize with students. We can only guess as to why a student might call out or fail to do homework. Rather than assume we know the answer, ask. From our students we can better learn what hurdles they face and in what ways we can support their success. And in doing this we demonstrate our commitment to our students.

Create opportunities for students to realize their potential and be publically recognized for their academic achievements. All students are capable of achieving remarkable things, they just might need our help to do so. In raising the stakes, but also the support, we can create opportunities for students to explore at the edge of their capabilities. And when they do succeed, celebrate these achievements. Our troublemakers are too often only publicly acknowledged for their disruptions. We can change this pattern by intentionally creating opportunities to publicly recognize their strengths.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 21, 2018 at 11:00 pm

Becoming an Unteacher: Do the Unexpected

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I had the pleasure of seeing Jeremy K. Macdonald’s  Soiree of Slides at the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference this past weekend . . . a beautiful five minutes.

His message was that as teachers, we learn to do the expected.  Students are supposed to behave within the norms and rules of school.  Teachers enforce those norms and rules.  When students break those norms and rules, teachers discipline the students.  But, maybe, just maybe, the student had a “good” reason for doing so and maybe, just maybe, teachers should do the unexpected rather than enforce.  Maybe, they should “do” caring instead.

Jeremy’s Follow-Up

Jeremy reported what happened next via his blog post #Unexpected.  Here is an excerpt:

My student was at school today. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to approach the situation and my plan for a book drive. She met me in the principal’s office. I asked the school counselor to be there as well.  We began to talk. I asked her about the recent events. We discussed her thought process over the past several months and what had happened to so many books. Her answer was simple. She didn’t know. She was not sure why she took the books other than that she wanted to read them. She talked about taking books that she thought her two year-old sister would like to hear or books that she could share with her neighbors. As the conversation went on I could see in her eyes that she really did not know what she had done was “wrong”; that the currency she had used to buy social interactions was not earned but stolen.

My heart broke again. This time, however, it was because I knew my reaction was the right one. Her eyes grew larger and brighter as I explained what her new responsibility would be in light of this situation. She said things like, “I’ve never done that before.” and “I get to be in-charge?”, and “I wonder who else would want to help.” So starting Monday, she will head our community book drive and organize a book-trade in which anyone can take or leave a book.

As I stood up to hug this little girl my eyes met the teary eyes of our school counselor. Just moments before this meeting, she had asked the usual questions regarding punishments, detentions, and possible suspension for stealing. The unexpectedness of it all was more than she anticipated. She then saw what I saw — a little girl that already lived in a world of turmoil and confusion. Today was our opportunity to bring her out of that world, if only for a moment, and empower her instead of the expected belittling we so often justify.

My Own Doing the Unexpected: A Peak Experience

I had a similar experience with 8 year old Sherry a while back.  To this day, I view it as a peak experience in my life.

Sherry was a tough little third grader in my counseling group at a local elementary school.  Sherry had to be a tough cookie – as she was a witness to her sister being shot and killed by a drug dealer.  Other kids in my counseling group had similar stories – one’s mom was found dead in a ditch . . . tough situations, tough kids, tough behaviors.  Sherry would be suspended three times during her third grade year due to defiant behavior.  I had to use a behavior modification system (which I personally abhor) to check in with them every 10 minutes because of acting out behaviors. But who could blame them?  . . . such horrible situations in their short lives.  As the principal stated, “These third graders have experienced more trauma in their young lives then I will experience in my whole lifetime.” 

Sherry loved coming to the group, but was especially defiant this day – I wasn’t feeling so patient, tolerant, or compassionate on this day.  So with a brush-off wave of my hand I said, “Sherry – just go back to class.”  With head down, she returned to her class.  The group met the last period of each Tuesday.  I would send the kids to their respective buses after that.  Sherry did not take the bus, walked home from the school. After school on this day, Sherry returned to my meeting area– staying shyly on the periphery as I straightened up.  I made eye contact with her and she moved ever so slowly towards me like the boy and the fox in The Little Prince

I was ready to make the adult-in-charge-type-statement.  As I knew Sherry loved the group time, I was about to say, “If you learn to behave yourself, you would be allowed to stay in the group.”  I opened my mouth and these words come out instead, “I missed you today.  You are very special to me.”  With her big black eyes (even bigger at that moment) staring intensely at me, she stated, “I don’t feel very special.”  And this kid, who never cried, had a few big teardrops flow from her eyes.  I said, with eyes that were probably as big, black, and intense as hers at that moment, “Well, you are very special to me.”  And big teardrops rolled from my eyes. This was a peak experience for me, an experience that can only be explained as one heart purely touching another heart.  No more was said – Sherry’s behavior was fine for the rest of the year.

I did the unexpected . . . I didn’t expect it, Sherry didn’t expect it.  It changed me.  I became an unteacher on this day.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 22, 2012 at 11:16 pm

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