My current principal transferred to my campus under less-than-ideal circumstances. She was assigned to our campus after a well-liked and respected principal was released and her successor resigned after a just a few weeks on our site. Over the past few years, our relationship has been challenging. Often our interactions have resulted in win-lose and lose-lose outcomes. As the subordinate in this situation, I typically lose.
However, after more than twelve hours of whole-staff restorative practices work and a decrease in my extracurricular responsibilities on campus, our relationship has begun to move to win-win. During the past two months, I have begun to focus on how I can work with her, instead of going rogue or working against her. This has rapidly increased within the past two weeks as we (along with many other staff members) have worked together to help our students respond to an incident that has left us stressed and short-staffed. The principal and I are communicating more and trying to be helpful and supportive of each other in order to support our students. Simply working together to achieve a common goal is helping both of us to implement Covey’s Habit #4: Think Win/Win.
Teaching the Habit
To teach Habit #4 to Damon, I again scheduled a dinnertime lesson (more sushi!). As I explained the concept of habits and withdraws and winning and losing combinations, he attentively listened but struggled to think of how they relate to his life. I intentionally chose to keep his teenage power struggles with me out of the discussion and instead asked about any potential conflicts he was experiencing at work and in his college classes.
Damon explained that he has been struggling to refrain from calling out when his geography professor says invalid facts or inaccurately explains concepts. He said that this has led to public clashes of egos. As I tried to help him see this in the context of this week’s habit, he initially struggled to come up with ways to express his concerns without establishing a winner and a loser. During the conversation, I also discovered that he genuinely did not know how to appropriately address his concerns to his professor. After explanation and further discussion, he agreed that politely emailing the professor after class to ask for clarification would help both of them to increase their understanding of the conflict without becoming distracted by a public power struggle. I hope that even if he does not actually email his professor in this situation, he will least chose to avoid competitive conversations with authority figures--especially the ones who grade his work!
Last Week’s Habit
Last Saturday, I applied the Habit #3 Begin with the End in Mind to further support the transition to standards-based grading in my English 9 and 10 courses. As of last week, I had selected my eleven learning goals and created my curriculum map, but I had only created one sample rubric. Normally, I wait to create rubrics until right before it is time to share them with students and was prepared to do this again. However, considering Habit #3 helped me to see that it would be beneficial to actually create each rubric ahead of time in order to be able to clearly articulate how students will demonstrate proficiency. So, I locked in and typed up all remaining ten rubrics in three hours. Now, I will be able to create lessons directly designed to help students meet each learning goal.
I often walk my dogs around my neighborhood late at night to make sure I meet my FitBit step goal before the clock strikes midnight. As I walk, I notice the blue glow of televisions coming from many bedrooms and living rooms. I remember the period of time in my life when my evenings were contained television time. It’s been awhile. As I listened to Dr. Pumpian explain Stephen Covey’s Habit #3: First Things First and examined the time quadrants, I realized that I drastically eliminated many Not Important activities from my life within the past year, including television. I even ended my cable subscription a few months ago.
A recent renewed commitment to take care of myself and my students has led me to cut many Not Important activities from my weekly plans. But, my long to-do list too often leads me to functioning in the Urgent and Important quadrant. As Dr. Pumpian explained, spending time in this procrastination mode is incredibly stressful and just generally miserable. Instead of worrying about sorting my Not Important activities from my Important activities, I need to focus on prioritizing Not Urgent and Important activities so I am prepared for sudden and unpredictable Urgent and Important demands. One small step I am taking to support this change is to actually schedule items from my to-do list as time slots on my calendar so I am able to adequately plan ahead to peacefully meet deadlines. Maybe someday I can even manage to regularly meet my FitBit goal before I am close to turning into a pumpkin.
Teaching the Habit
After last week’s success, I again scheduled my lesson with Damon around dinner. Right as we sat down at Chipotle, he chipperly asked, “So, what’s my habit this week?” I paused and smiled. Damon spends hours playing the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Runescape, so I knew that the Slacker traits of quadrant IV could create potential conflict. So, to begin the lesson, I told him that the habit is First Things First, which did not require much explanation. Then, I showed him my sketches of Covey’s time quadrants in my notebook and explained each. Then, I quizzed him by stating generic activities and asking him to name the appropriate quadrant for each. I intentionally saved computer games for last. He laughed and said it was Urgent and Important but he knew they belonged in Not Urgent and Not Important.
To help connect the habit to his life, we identified a few of the ways he spends his time and sorted them into appropriate categories. When we got to Runescape, he admitted that is is probably a slacker activity considering that he spends 90% of his free time playing it. He agreed to take a bit of a break from it within the next week to focus on one of his Urgent and Important activities, which is dropping by his college’s bookstore to purchase one of his textbooks. Even though he has been procrastinating on buying the book, I am grateful that his largest stress is a minor thing that is necessary to help him accomplish one of his goals.
Last Week’s Habit
First of all, last week’s habit was a success! Not only have all of my students sat with in the circle for class meetings all week--I have not engaged in a single power-struggle in my classroom! I expect that this is due to the fact that I have just thought through a plan so I remain calm when I need to ask students to do things such as the group. My students are incredibly attuned reading the emotions in others and they seem to be responding to my confidence. I am really trying to focus to “Be Proactive” by controlling my behavior more than theirs.
As soon as I heard Dr. Pumpian introduce the habit of “Starting with the End in Mind,” I quickly made a connection to backwards design. After hearing Jake Bowker talk about his use of backwards design in his math class, I began to research the method myself. When I sat down to begin planning my curriculum for the upcoming year, I began a thorough examination of all of the Common Core Content Standards for English-Language Arts Grades 9-10. As I attempted to draft a plan to map the standards throughout my courses, my inquiry led to a study of embedded formative assessments and standards-based grading. I realized that I needed to select power standards/learning goals for the upcoming trimester and then align and sequence all of my lessons to help my students grow and hopefully demonstrate mastery by the end of the trimester.
I know that many teachers already use backwards design to plan their curriculum. However, I had only heard the phrase, so this was quite a challenge for me. This week, my students and I began the trimester with a focused academic end in mind. We have eleven learning goals and each lesson supports a learning goal. The use of standards-based grading is helping/forcing me to remain focused on these goals and avoid distractions, such as grading based on behaviors. The students have expressed that they are grateful to have a specific list of goals. I am looking forward to seeing how planning a trimester “with the end in mind” will look at the end of the semester.
Teaching the Habit
The phrase “Maslow before Marzano” has been floating around my district lately. As I reflected upon last week’s habit lesson with Damon, I began to take this into consideration. After I picked him up from his night class, I immediately began explaining the habit to him. I was getting him ready for higher order thinking before checking in with him. He was probably tired, hungry, and in need of a bit more of a personal connection than a lesson. (For the record, I knew better. I intentionally begin my classes with a face-to-face class meeting to establish a personal connection before we begin academic learning. Maybe I was hungry and tired, too?) So, this week, I tried a different approach: sushi.
After checking in with Damon and complimenting him upon hearing about a successful group project in one of his classes, I jumped into a quick and focused lesson. I told him the habit and asked him what he thought it meant. Then I prompted him to:
As a result of the abuse and additional traumas the students of San Pasqual Academy have experienced, reactive, negative, and victimized behaviors and attitudes are often exhibited on our residential campus. Some weeks, it feels like we--adults included--become stuck in a cycle reactive behaviors. It is emotionally exhausting.
As I listened to Dr. Pumpian explain Habit 1: Be Proactive from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I began to think of how developing a habit of being proactive could benefit my students. But, as I began to consider how to apply this habit in my own life, I soon realized that it may be more beneficial for the adults on our campus to implement the habit. By doing so, we can help break the cycle of reactive behavior. In addition to helping to build a more peaceful culture, adults can instead model proactive behavior and stop rewarding/feeding into reactive behavior.
As practice, I focused my habit implementation on a recurring frustrating circumstance that occurs in my classroom. I start my class with a meeting that takes place in a corner of the classroom in a circle of small chairs. Even though my students and I frequently discuss the meaning behind the circle, a few students occasionally choose to remain at desks instead of sitting with the group. This drives me nuts! I often struggle to just “let it go” and start the meeting without them. Instead, I waste the class's time by addressing these students--even though I logically know it normally just sparks more negative behaviors. So, I decided to focus my habit on this classroom routine to help myself avoid frustrating emotions and to help guide myself to appropriately address the situation. Since I am learning to use Paper 53, I created my plan using as a sketchnote based on the See Do Get Paradigm explained by Dr. Pumpian:
Before school starts next week, I plan to review this plan a few times and may even set it as the background on my iPad. By not responding to students who are not sitting with the group, I will be able to remain focused on creating a positive learning environment. Also, I will make it a point to hold private one-one-one conversations with the students who are not attending to discuss the reasons behind their reluctancy and create a plan to help them join the group. I hope that practicing my new habit will eventually lead to full class meeting participation.
My plan worked fine until we began to brainstorm situations in which he could practice the habit. He struggled to understand the need for any new habits in his life and became defensive. Toward the end of the hike, he finally said he could apply it to his response when he checks his bank account balance on his phone. He was able to connect his frustration to situations from his past, but again became agitated when I attempted to help him see the situation from a more optimistic perspective. So, I decided to be proactive myself and “let it go” for the night. At this point, I am unsure if I will keep Damon as my student for this project.