Connect to Others, Protect Yourself: Develop Your Professional Persona

mepersonav3This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app,Class Dojo.


Teenagers are among the most interesting people on earth, combining paradoxes in fast succession:

  • They are oddly predictable and unusually unpredictable at once.
  • They are idealistic, able to wish for a better world with a zeal many adults cannot fathom – but they’re unbelievably cynical about even the smallest thing.
  • They are passionate and emotional and also can put up emotion-squelching walls that nothing can pass through.
  • Working with them can be exhilarating. Working with them can be devastating.

How can a non-teenager connect to teenagers – visiting their world for inspiring, aiding, supporting and encouraging — for teaching — without being sucked into the chaos and instability?

Create a persona.

Practice it.

Rely on it.

Now, let me begin with what a Persona is not.

  • A persona is not “being fake.”
  • A persona is not “inauthentic.”
  • A persona is not a “mask.”

On the other hand, a persona is:

  • Your best self.
  • A professional identity that can defer your own needs — and focus on children’s needs.
  • Endlessly positive, endlessly patient.

Is this possible?

It is. On the one hand, this isn’t different from what professionals do all over the world, every day. If you’re a barista at a coffeeshop, the fact that you detest the ever-popular triple-double-decaf-halfcaf is irrelevant. You’re there to make drinks to order.

If you’re a zoo keeper, the fact that you prefer pangolins to penguins is irrelevant. It’s feeding time for both.

On the other hand, some careers require a deeper-dive into the persona.

Stand-up comics: the moment they become frustrated or angry with their audience is the moment they’re booed off-stage.

Therapists: the moment they demonstrate their boredom with the client’s complaining is the moment they lose their client – and deservedly so.

Teachers: the moment their frustration with teenager’s admittedly frustrating behavior becomes evident is the moment they lose the respect of the students. It’s the moment they undermine their own potential to teach.

Your persona is your voice-box. Your buffer. Your shield. It’s the point of contact between you and the children. It’s the difference between Evan Wolkenstein and “Mr. Wolk.”

When I enter the school, I am Mr. Wolk. You can find your persona, too. Maybe our personas can have lunch.


Persona Dos and Don’ts:

Do:

  • Not a good persona.

    Not a good persona.

    Dress the part. Wear something nice every day. Show that you respect your profession, you respect the students, and you respect yourself. For more on the power of a great outfit, check out my blog, Style For Dorks!

  • Reflect on the kind of traits you’d want for someone teaching a child close to your heart. Write about them, talk about them, and look for them – in other people, in movies, in books, and on the street. Practice and emulate.
  • Do develop phrases and mini speeches to help you communicate potentially frustrating messages in a non-emotional way.

Example One: “I just want to remind everyone that this is quiet work time. If you’re talking with your neighbor, now is the time to refocus back on your work.”

Example Two: “I just want to remind everyone that this class is for this class only. If you are [working on homework for another class, passing a note, surfing the net on your phone], it’s time to stop.”

Example Three: “I just want to remind everyone that when I say it’s worktime, it’s not a good time to start a conversation. I’m looking for people to move quickly into work groups.”

Bottom line: You don’t have the brain-space to be creative – and you can’t afford to be reactive. So memorize a nice, little speech, and if you need to repeat it – or say it louder – or call a student’s name and then repeat the speech, so be it. My tip: start your speech with, “I want to remind everyone that…”

For a deeper dive, check out my blog post and animated cartoon, here.


Don’t:

  • Don’t Boast or complain about anything in your life. This is not about you. It’s about the students. That said, disclosure as a way of connecting to students and teaching is acceptable – as long as you never share anything private. Be reflective as you share about the message you are sending. The line is blurry one, so play it safe. If it feels weird to talk about it, it’s probably weird for them to listen to it.
  • Don’t Drop your persona when a student comes to you for a one-on-one on an emotional subject. That’s the time to be your most patient, kind, collected, and professional. Sharing your own pain on any subject isn’t helpful to the student. Being a kind, comforting, professional presence for the student is.
  • Don’t Confuse mock debates for actual debates. Argue about the superiority of the Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles. Do not argue about politics, religion, or personal values.
  • Don’t Drop your persona when you think students are not listening. Gossiping in the cafeteria with other teachers, cracking crass jokes – the students will see it. And it will undermine their trust.
  • Don’t Yell. Ever. There has never been a time when I yelled and didn’t regret it afterwards. Speak clearly, speak truly – and be controlled.

Getting Hesitant Students to Meet With You: A Great Solution

lolcat calendarThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app,Class Dojo.


The worst thing is… a student not getting the help he needs.

The worst thing is… a student going from struggling, to drowning, because she lets a small problem become a big problem.

The worst thing is… a student letting go of the chance to correct mistakes because of the hassle.

That’s a lot of worst things. But they happen way too often.


Here’s how I dealt with this for eleven years:

  • I lectured students on the need to meet with me, especially when things don’t go well.
  • I told students to meet with me.
  • I told parents to tell students to meet with me.
  • I threatened students who wouldn’t meet with me.
  • I exacted consequences on students who should’ve met with me but didn’t.

bowties

Q: Wait a minute… the author of magnetiCClassroom.com is also the author of StyleForDorks.com? A: Click the pic…

Here’s what happened: students who had the proclivity to ask for help would meet with me and would thrive. Students with social anxiety, who were afraid of my bow ties, or who were too dang busy would not meet with me, and they paid the consequences.

What did those students learn about the importance of meeting with a teacher? Probably nothing.

Then, there was the other side of the problem. Students would email to ask if they could meet.

Email 1: Student: Dear Mr. Wolk. Can we meet to go over my project?

Email 2: Me: Sure. When are you free?

Email 3: Student: A block and B Block.

Email 4: Me: I teach A, B, and D.

Email 5: Student: How about Lunch?

Email 6: Me: I’m free Tuesday and Wednesday.

Email 7: Student: Wednesday Lunch works. See you then.

That process would take 2 days.

Then, on Wednesday, I would sit at my desk during lunch, until 2 minutes before the bell rang. And that’s when the student would show up to review his project.

OR: When I was free during students’ study halls, half of the period would pass, and then three students would show up at the same time.

I wanted to teach students that when you’re in crisis, you should ask for help. But asking for help was inconvenient for everyone. A pain in the butt. Time consuming and cumbersome. A headache for the student and for me.


There had to be a better way…

  • A way for a student to access my office-hours calendar – in class, immediately after a confusing review session, right when the panic and anxiety hits.
  • A way for the student to offer me two times, and where I could pick the most convenient one.
  • A way for students to reserve 5 – 20 minute blocks which wouldn’t be “poached” by another student dropping by.
  • A way for multiple students to fit into one 55 minute period.
  • A way for me to approve or request a reschedule while on the go – from my phone.
  • A way to sync appointments with my own Google Calendar and with my school’s Outlook system.
  • A way for me to survey all the times a student has met with me, to include as feedback on ClassDojo.

Schedule Once

As it turns out, there is. Schedule Once – I used the trial free account, then upgraded (gladly) to the pro account. It’s worth it.

I have more students visiting than ever before, but in a more orderly, dependable way. A student who panics when receiving a low grade on a test knows exactly what to do: make an appointment, now. They are empowered. And everyone’s happier.

It’s a good thing.

New Technology in the Classroom? Don’t Get Scared Off. Start Here.

start scary movieThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


There are a million resources for technology in the classroom.

Many of them are redundant. Many are distractions.

Some of them could be useful, but they are not a priority for a teacher first adopting technology in the classroom.

Here are my top 5 forms of technology for you to begin working with and a few notes about why.

Then, five more I’m sure glad I found.

Can’t Live Without Them

Google Drive / Docs – for students work and for hand outs. Keeps work from being eaten by the dog. Allows you to access student work from school, home, or a flight across the country (if there’s wifi). Allows easy feedback via comments, and can serve as a platform for making worksheets and texts, and a bank for digital media of all kinds.

Google Calendar – for communicating the lesson plan for the day, along with links, announcements, reminders, and homework. (For a full write-up on how I use the Calendar each day, click here).

ClassDojo – for recording feedback on students growth, communicating it to other teachers, to students, and to parents.

Exittix or Socrative – for formative assessments: did students actually understand what they say they understood? These “no-stakes” assessment platforms will help you make real-time decisions about what to do, next. And will ensure that the students are learning what you think you’re teaching.

Schedule Once – Integrates with Google Calendar, Outlook, and others. Allows students to set up appointments with you in a way that will reduce migraines for everyone.

Optional

Prezi GIF

PREZI: No, you don’t need to zoom around so fast.

Prezi – ditch Power Point and create multi-media, zooming, cloud-based presentations on Prezi.com… and allow students to learn it and use it for presentations. Unlike most projected presentation format, Prezi gets better every year.

Google Voice – “If students could only reach me at night to tell me that they will be absent from tomorrow’s big 4 person courtroom simulation.” Or that the link to the essay questions is broken!

But I don’t check email at night. And I sure as heck am not giving out my cell number. Well, The Wire taught me that a disposable phone is the best way to make contact with someone without fear of the info falling into the wrong hands. Google Voice numbers are disposable. You can even chose some of the digits. And I’d rather shoot a few texts back and forth with a confused study group than walk into the school the next morning to find waiting for me a mob of distressed students.

Today’s Meet – students who have action items for you to deal with could email you, where their “heads up” would be mixed into the thousands of other emails you get, or you can direct it to a “back channel” like Today’s Meet. In class, I use it like a Help Desk, where students ask for help in real time (if I’m busy helping someone, for example, they ask their question there, and knowing their question is posted, they move on in the work. I walk over and answer their questions in the order I receive them). Outside of class, Today’s Meet is where I direct students to nudge me to regrade their test-retake, or give credit for revisions if I don’t have time to open the gradebook on the spot.

Which I don’t.

Poll Everywhere – allows students to vote with cell phones or laptops, for beginning class with a generative question. Questions can be based on homework or can be to introduce new ideas and themes.

Super Grouper – I do a lot of putting students into random groups. And while I love pulling popsicle sticks with their name on it, this simple, Google Doc Script based tool allows you to pre-randomize groups and post the list where they can see it (on your class Google Calendar, for example). You just saved yourself five minutes and a lot of unnecessary groaning / cheering.

Teaching Writing Part 3: Best Practices for Encouraging Revisions – and Streamlining the Process

editsThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


The most important exercises students can do as they learn to write (a close second to, well, writing lots and lots of stuff) all feature responding to feedback.

That said, here’s what most of my experiences with giving students feedback on writing used to look like:

Scenario: A student turns in an essay. Normal for a high school student, it’s full of syntax errors, it has stylistic problems, it is hard to follow, and it has some specious arguments.

Student: Mr. Wolk, why’d I get a bad grade on this essay?

Me: You didn’t get a “bad grade.” This is a work in progress, and the red marks show you where your paper needs work. The grade is an indication of how close to your goal you are.

Student Response 1: Well, I can’t read your red marks.

Student Response 2: So, all I have to do is fix the stuff in red and it’ll be an A?

Student Response 3: But why didn’t you like the paper?


Student Response 1 is a problem because I put 15 minutes into making the corrections, and that time is wasted if the student (and I, probably) can’t read my writing.

Student Response 2 is a problem because it’s not about “fixing” or “making corrections,” it’s about editing and improving. Student papers need retooling, sometimes. Or a student needs to go back to – well, not square one, necessarily, but square 2, and reformulate an argument and the proof for the argument. This will not be a 2 minute “fix,” and I don’t want him to think it is. But it will make him a better writer and a master of the material.

Student Response 3 is a problem because the students have learned that teachers grade work with a desirable grade when they “like” it. And that is a dangerous but understandable conclusion for students to draw. It is counterproductive to the meta-goal of learning how to take criticism for the benefit of the product – and it teaches that setback is bad. Unlikable. Yucky.

What students need is a clear workflow for learning the process of editing work.


The challenge:

if the essay is a major part of the curriculum, including outlines and multiple drafts, then each step is built-in and planned for. Students learn that preparation for writing, a good first try, feedback, and revision is part of the creative process.

But if this is an in-class essay, or a smaller summative assessment, or a mid-unit check-in, you may not have time (in the calendar) for an initial deadline, and a second deadline. And some students may turn in work that satisfies the requirements of the essay. Will you require rewrites for every student? Do you actually have time to grade second drafts for every student?

Finally, if time is short for you, like it is for all teachers, you find that chasing after multiple drafts of an essay in order to check to see if revisions were actually completed is frustrating — and then flipping back and forth between two documents (or two paper copies) is cumbersome.

How can we streamline the incredibly important process of students receiving, reflecting on, and responding to critique?

The Solutions:

1. Do revisions or edits in a format like Google Docs, using the Insert Comment feature. This ensures that the student can read the comment.

2. Students write essays in the left side of a two column grid. The left side is for the first draft. The right side is for the second draft.twocolumngrid

  • This allows you to see the second draft right next to the first draft. Much easier to see if revisions are made!

3. Unless you are doing a full-scale essay with built in deadlines for outlines and revisions, consider making revisions optional. Here’s how:

  • On the final comment of the essay, include an interim score. Summarize and explain the interim score.
  • Students can recover 50% of any lost credit by perfecting the second draft. (For example, a student who earns a 70% on the first draft can earn an 85 on the second. This encourages students to submit quality work up front, rather than procrastinate until the the rewrite for their best effort.
  • Any error constituting a party foul (a silly misspelling, confusing too/to/two, etc.) earns a “strike.” 3 strikes loses 10%, unrecoverable. Students are thus encouraged to proofread before turning in work, rather than relying on you to be their personal editor. Any student who wants or needs your proofreading assistance in advance can meet with you (this meeting should be required – again, you’re not their personal editor) and you will proofread the work together. This reduces “learned helplessness.”
  • Clarify when the deadline is for the second draft. I advise ONE WEEK from the receipt of the revisions.
  • If there is anything about the essay that the student is unlikely to be able to fix on his/her own (whether it’s technical, grammatical, nuanced, or value-based), require a face-to-face meeting before the student begins working on it. If you’re using a program like Schedule Once to make appointments with students, include the link to your scheduling page right in the comment!
  • Students have 1 week from the moment the paper is graded write a revision and tell you in an email (this must be required) that the paper is revised. As these papers come in, flag them and grade them in batches.
  • If you’re using a Learning Management System or Electronic Grade Book, copy and paste your final inserted comment into the grade-book. At the end of the semester, you have a great start to a content-filled narrative for the students.

Additional Notes:

  • For high achieving students who are aiming for an A in the class, a B+ interim grade is often sufficient to entice them to do a second draft.
  • Students who bomb their first draft should earn a much lower grade than you would otherwise have given them, since you will want them to do a second draft. In other words, don’t reward a mediocre paper with a mediocre grade. Give a grade low enough to send the message that the paper is not acceptable – and that the benefit of a second draft is, indeed, required.
  • Give an A- to a highly achieving student who performs just under his/her capacity, who you would like to focus on other class goals (say, in the weeks before a major project). These students may opt not to do a second draft, and the A- sends the message: “Feel free to raise your grade, but it won’t hurt you if you need to start studying for the AP test.”
  • Use ClassDojo to record information about students who bomb their first drafts but do not bother to submit a second draft – or students who are required to meet with you who simply turn in a second draft, (thereby making the same mistakes they made the first time). These students (and their parents) will benefit from this type of very thoughtful “student-ethic” feedback.

    I invite readers to visit part one and two of this three part series on teaching writing.

Teaching Writing Part 2: Offering Students an Outline

This post was originally featured on Thought Partners,a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


cketboot

Top 2 Things I Don’t Have Time For: 1) Inventing Rocket Boots. 2) Teaching Organization Properly.

Maybe you’re lucky, and you have a curriculum that includes teaching students how to organize thoughts, how to ensure that they’ve backed up their ideas — most likely, it’s all part of a unit on how to write an outline.

And maybe you also have a golden Lamborghini and a pair of boots that can fly. And a machine that can make any kind of food you want.

Students often do not know how to organize their thoughts or write an outline. And so, I would receive an essay from students I had no idea how to grade. Namely, an competent writer would look at the prompt and say, “I will need to compose a thesis, come up with three good supporting points, find evidence to back up the points, lay it out in an organized way, and end with a conclusion tying the thesis to some further ideas or questions.”

But what I get often reads more like Kafka’s stream-of-consciousness diary entries. Each idea meanders around, maybe offers a thesis, maybe not. Maybe ideas are developed, maybe they leave the reader wondering if life is nothing but absurdity and darkness.

Now, I am not an English Teacher. I teach a series of humanities electives that borrow from psychology, sociology, and literature. They require cross disciplinary thinking, and any essay students will write for me will require some creative thinking, some mastery of content, and some organizational finessing. This is not: “Compare Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democracy.”

But I have a background in English Lit. And the English Teacher in me says, “Well, if you can’t follow the student’s thinking, and the ideas are not developed, then that should be reflected in the grade.”

But what about the ideas? The thinking? The mastery? The content at the center of the topic which the student never gets around to because he or she is paddling around, lost, stuck, in circles at the edge of the pond? This is an essay, yes. But it’s also a test. And the main goal of this particular unit was not necessarily to teach writing.

One year, a student with some learning differences bombed an essay test she should have thrived on. She touched on zero of the brilliant ideas she’d fronted in class discussion. At a conference, her mother said, well, was there an outline I could give her to make sure she touched on all the main ideas?

Sure.

The next time we had an essay exam, I gave her an outline in advance, and she thrived.

But what about the other students? Should they learn how to write an outline? Sure. But what about this week, when it’s time for the essay exam for the end of the unit? A third of them don’t know how to organize their thinking.

Should I have them write and submit outlines which I will review and give pointers on? Should they submit a revision of the outline? I will give a third round of revisions, and then they will write the exam!

No! Who has time for this? The essay exam is this week!


QOL refers to "Quality of Life" - a tool I created for analyzing people's well being. For more, visit http://bit.ly/magclassqol

QOL refers to “Quality of Life” – a tool I created for analyzing people’s well being. For more, visit http://bit.ly/magclassqol

Here’s what I started doing.

  • For every essay, I include an outline. The thesis is highlighted in purple. It provides very explicit places to write supporting ideas, textual evidence, a restatement of the thesis, and questions for further thought.
  • If I will include additional requirements (like quoting a support-statement from an in class film or partner work) I build spaces for this into the outline.
  • In their actual exam, their thesis is purple. Their support statements are green. Their textual evidence is orange. Their additional requirements are blue. It’s easy to find these “points of assessment” as I read.
  • And when I grade their essays, I know I am grading not only their fledgling writing skills, but more importantly, their mastery of the material, their creativity, and their critical thinking.

Some day, will I begin to differentiate between students who receive an outline and those who must write their own outline?

Someday.

But the essay exam is this Friday. Onward, we write. With outlines.


* * *

I’d love to invite you to check out Teaching Writing Part One: On Giving Feedback

and Teaching Writing Part Three: The Best Way to Encourage Revisions

Music in the classroom? Yes. When? Now.

astrocatThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


What’s the first thing you do when you come home at the end of the day?

Turn on the TV? Take a shower? Pet the cat? Untangle your children from a roll of duct tape?

Many people put music on. It sets the tone, creates a certain kind of space: relaxing or energized, comforting or upbeat.

Each class period is a “space.” One class is fun, one is silly, one is energized, one is noisy. Sometimes this is due to the lesson plan, sometimes it’s related to what the students bring into the room. Students can bring an exhausted mood into a room or a chattery, distracted mood. They can bring frustration from whatever happened the block before, or anxiety. The mood students bring into the room can support student learning, or it can undermine it.

I use music to set the tone in the room. I use upbeat (but not frenetic) music — picking tracks that many students might not know but which they may enjoy.

Students know that when the music is playing, it’s not a good time to come ask me questions or distract me with questions about my weekend. All this must wait until “housekeeping.” While the music is playing, it’s time for students to find their seats, to look at the lesson plan (posted online or on the board), to see who their work partner will be, and to begin working on First Thing Work.

While the music plays, I take attendance, prepare my notes, check in with students with emergencies, and so on.

When it’s time for quiet, I begin counting down from ten and drop the music. When I hit zero, the music is silent…and so are the students. No shushing, no noise.

The mood is positive, and if I choose good music, the classroom feels like a great place to be.


audiophileAdditional ideas:

  • Have a playlist ready on your iPod or laptop, so if a song ends, another, appropriate song will begin, and so you don’t have to think about what to play.
  • Avoid ultrapopular (or worse, waning-in-popularity) music that might provoke a distracting reaction.
  • mini x

    For 25 bucks, you can find a speaker small enough to fit in your backpack or briefcase, loud enough to fill a room with music. Try my current favorite, the x mini II.

    Consider playing quiet music during quiet work or partner-work time. I find that some classrooms enjoy mellow jazz or classical music in the background. It’s not necessarily distracting, as long as it’s quiet, and in some cases, it actually helps maintain focus, especially if, for example, two students are working together out loud while others work silently; the music will help the quiet workers not to be distracted by the students working aloud.

  • When you finish class, consider playing music as the students leave! Why not send them on their way with something upbeat?
  • Invest in a 25 dollar micro-speaker which lives in your briefcase, backpack, etc. When you walk into class, turn it on, plug it into your iPod, hit play, and the beat is on! (I suggest a “Curve” by Cambridge Sound Works, an X Mini ii, or an iHome mini speaker.(The former is a little pricier and sounds better, but is a bit bigger. The latter two are cheaper and smaller and, for me, plenty loud for their purpose.
  • Once in a while, I like to slip a song onto the mix that I know a certain student likes (I look at what T-shirts the students wear or which concerts they talk about). This gives you a chance to bond over music; what better way to build rapport? But don’t fake it. Students know when you’re being phony.
  • Sometimes, the student will make a positive comment about your choice of song. After class, ask the student for more suggestions, ask about the concert, or, if you are already a fan, yourself, start a conversation on music. Many of these informal chats have built rapport with a student who I previously had trouble connecting with.

Where to Begin? Music/Musician/Genre Suggestions:

  • Anything by Dave Brubeck (Jazz) or Modern Jazz Quartet
  • Pandora stations: Rocksteady, Salsa, Frank Sinatra
  • Graceland – by Paul Simon
  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • Andrew Bird
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Thomas Mapfumo (If you haven’t listened to him, do it now. Seriously.)
  • The Shins
  • Vampire Weekend

Just is just for starters. If you find a “magic album,” comment below and tell us about it!