I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

We've got a plan this year.

I saw this tweet the other day, and I found myself disagreeing:

If I'd seen it in May, I would've most likely agreed.

HOWEVER... one of our six teams (we currently have two at each grade) at our middle school tried something out last January through June, and they shared it with the staff. We have since adopted it, and student behavior is better than last year (at least in my small slice of the school)!

Here are the steps:
  • Teachers identify the behaviors that are unwanted.
  • Why are these behaviors a problem? Staff comes up with reasons and puts it in student-friendly language as to why students should care, too. Many of ours include that we want school to be a safe, welcoming space for all students.
  • Teachers agree on ones they'd like to use/reinforce.
  • Share these specific behaviors - and the reasons why they should not be occurring - with students. (Our teachers made a slideshow that helped with consistency presenting them in homerooms. We then put these slideshows on our Schoology pages. Here are some: classroom disruptions, unkind words or actions, inappropriate Chromebook use, hoodies up, earpods in, late to class, etc.)
  • Let students know that when they do one of these behaviors, it will be counted as a "minor." When teachers record these minors, there's a simple form to fill - teacher name, student name, major or minor, check the box for which type of incident it was, then fill in any other information that is pertinent.
  • Let students know that certain behaviors will be considered "majors," and students will be meeting with an administrator right away if this happens.
  • Teachers should also create a system that spells out the consequences. Ours is 3 minors = 1 after-school remediation where a teacher meets with the student, fills in a form with them, and then emails home with what the minors were for (grabbing them right from the spreadsheet) and what the student's plan is to stop this behavior. Add to this chart the next steps for consequences. (We've got one or more lunch detentions and we've also added when administration will be called in.)
  • Have a practice week with students. During this week, teachers point out the specific behaviors that are disrupting learning and let students know that those would be considered "minors."
  • Once the next week begins, teachers fill out a form for each minor.
  • The responses for the form go onto a spreadsheet teachers can see, and it magically (I didn't create it - it's magic to me) adds up the minors in another sheet. For us, the number is highlighted once it hits three minors for one student.
  • During our team time, we decide which of us is going to sit with that student after school to fill out the reflection form with next steps.
One thing that's great about this - parents see the exact behaviors their child is doing. Ex: Student shut off another student's Chromebook during work time... or ... During quiet independent reading time, student shouted "Skibbity toilet!" etc., etc., etc.
Another great thing about this - ANY staff can issue a minor.
One more? Administration is also documenting the majors, and the fact that parents were called.
Let's add one more benefit - most of our "what not to dos" are clear. Was that a disruption to the class? Yup. Did you come in after the bell? Yup. Most (no, not all) seventh graders own up to their actions.

We had three "heavy hitters" on our team last quarter, and those three have since cooled down this quarter (so far). I think it's because the parents are more aware of what's going on, and the administration gets involved after a certain amount of minors. Of course, other students who didn't pop last quarter are now getting minors and staying for remediations this quarter, and now we're hoping to get off-team staff to help with the after-school remediations.

When I first heard of this, my worry was the time that we'd need to spend after school with kids. I found out at the end of the quarter that I issued the most "minors" for my team. (At least five were from when I had a substitute... And maybe it's harder for some students to behave during an 80-min class even if I mix up quiet sitting and louder movement times??) I've also done my fair share of remediation meetings. It hasn't been terrible. It's actually nice to have the time to sit with the child who is great one-on-one and just has time with impulsivity when their friends are around as an audience.

As I write this, I think of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid... "If you want someting done, you've got to do it yourself." Our teachers had been asking for a laid-out-easy-to-follow discipline plan since at least January of 2021. I'm thankful for the staff at our school who created this, implemented a trial period, and then shared it with our entire school. We voted to use it, and I'm so excited we've got a system in place that both students and staff can use!

P.S. I loved this article from ASCD about how student behaviors could be cognitive in nature...

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Pause Button

I need a pause button for my school life.

Hubby and I were listening to a sports TV show, and the two hosts were bickering back and forth. This was on a Friday evening, and my patience had run low. I took the remote, pointed it at the television, and clicked the pause button. I sighed, and I realized as I told Hubby, "I need one of these at work."

I've gotten better at pausing during the school day. Before school, I may listen to a minute of the HeadSpace app and just breathe five deep breaths. During my lunch period, I make sure I stop working for a bit and listen well to my peers/friends. After school, for sure, I sit down with Hubby (outside - ahhhh), we share our day, and then sometimes I just sit and soak up the sights and sounds around me.

There are times, however, when I react (poorly - not my best self, that's for sure) at school. It's happened twice this year - both times on a Friday afternoon - when I get so worked up, my blood pressure rises, my patience goes out the window, and I'm close to tears on my way home solely because of interactions in my last class. I've noticed it's usually when one child (or two or three in that class) keeps talking back to me about something they're upset about. I KNOW I won't "win" that discussion / power struggle. I've been reminded of it many times - from experience, from the awesome behavior book Running the Room (Tom Bennett), from another book Pause, Ponder, and Persist in the Classroom (Julie Schmidt Hasson), from the professional development I attended ("The more you yak, the worse they act..."), from MORE experience... and yet STILL... sometimes a seventh grader has me wrapped around their finger and I fall for it - AGAIN. 

I just made myself a pause button. I put a button on the top of my ID tag.

At least half of us (me) in the discussion/argument will pause. It's all I can control.

When I do take that pause, I will close my eyes, take a deep breath, and either walk away from the situation or let the student know we'll continue the discussion later if necessary.