Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reducing Bullying by Creating Community

Reducing Bullying by Creating Community

By Jill Jenkins
            All human beings have a basic need to belong, but children and adolescents feel this need even more keenly than do adult.  Teachers and administrators can create a strong community in their schools and reduce bullying at the same time by creating a sense of community.  To create the feeling of belonging administrators must encourage faculty and staff to work together as a team.  Students in each classroom must not only know the names of other students, but must feel comfortable working together.  Older students in a school must know younger students and feel a sense of compassion and caring for the younger students.  The younger students need to look up to the older students and respect them.  Parents need to feel that school is a comfortable place and that the teachers are working in conjunction with them to provide the best education possible. The administration needs to establish relationships with local businesses that might provide needed resources for the school.   The school should become the center of the social and intellectual development for the community. 

            To create a feeling of belonging between faculty and staff, it is important for the administrators to have an open-door policy where teachers feel free to share problems with students or parents and the administrator helps solve those problems.  When the doors of communication close, administrators can be blind-sided by a small miscommunication between parent and teacher and has expanded to a huge legal problem that is not easily resolved.  On the other hand, it is also important for the administrator to be aware of faculty and/or staff who are not doing their job.  A school is only as strong as its weakest link.  If an employee is not performing, it can create a great deal of strife between the staff trying to compensate for the incompetent one.  Therefore, it is important to know what is happening in the school and handle any problems quickly and discretely.
            Teachers need to create a sense of community in their classrooms.  This can be done by using a variety of interactive activities involving all of the students.  Have students work in groups comprised of students from different social groups: small group discussions pair/share and group created projects. Getting to know each other in these varied activities makes classrooms more inclusive and less exclusive.  When I was teaching in San Bernardino, I taught a debate class comprised of students from different ethnic groups, economic groups and social groups.  One exercise that I often used to improve the students’ ability to listen and develop arguments quickly was we sat in circle and I would present a discussion topic.  Students had a few minutes to develop arguments both pro and con.  Then I would call on a student and tell him which side of the issue he was to speak.  That student presented a two minute impromptu speech.  When his time was out, I would call on a second student and ask him to first paraphrase what the first student said to that student’s satisfaction and then he was to present a two minute opposing speech forcing students to actually listen to each other. This continued until every student had an opportunity to speak.   After we completed one day’s activities, a young man who considered himself a Neo-Nazi turned to a Black student and said, “I would never have guessed that you and I could have a discussion together. “ The two became friends by the end of the year.  Today many applications allow students to work together even if they reside distances from each other. The program,  Google docs, allows students to collaborate on essays together and Google Presentation allows students to create slide presentations from different locations.     Open communication and working together builds bridges. 
            In many schools, older students bully younger student so it is important to help older students to develop a sense of compassion and caring for the younger students.  To alleviate some of the tensions between grades, one seventh grade remedial reading teacher asked if my ninth grade honors English class could tutor her students during our advisory class.  The students both seventh and ninth grade loved the interaction and the seventh grade student improved their academic skills and the ninth grade students felt compassion and felt they had to protect those students from bullies.  In my daughter’s former school, they created families with one student from each grade (Kindergarten through 8th grade) in each “family.”  During their advisory time, they met together.  The older students helped the younger ones and read them stories.  The students shared Valentine’s and gifts for holidays and they bonded just like a family.  These social connections reduced bulling and help students feel a sense of belonging. 
            Parents need to feel connected to their child’s education if their child is going to do well academically. To do this, teachers need to reach out to reluctant parents, provide frequent interactions with all parents and provide transparency and resources to parents.  If you do this parents will become more effective allies, students attendance and performance will improve and teachers will be rewarded with better test scores.  I have heard teacher complain that the parents of honors classes are helicopter parents that put a lot of pressure on schools to provide adequate education for their child.  This is precisely why their children are in honors classes.  Students who feel that their parents expect them to do well in school and who actively participate in their child’s education perform better in school.  So, how do we get all parents that involved?  One principal tells me she not only has her teachers invite parents to parent-teacher conference who are struggling, but if the student improves 10% or more a congratulatory letter and phone call is sent to the parent with a special invite to parent-teacher conferences. Teachers need to improve communication with parents.  When I was an elementary student, my older brother would not bring his homework home always claiming that he had none.  My mother’s solution was to send me to his teacher and retrieve the homework daily.  It was embarrassing for me, but it improved my brother’s academic standing.  Not all students have a younger sibling to handle that chore.  One way is to create a website with calendar listing all of the assignments for every day of the month.  If you use Google Calendar or Google Sites, a calendar is easy to create and update.  Make sure you provide links to electronic copies of assignments and worksheets.  Students often forget the resources they need to complete their work, so include lists and resources so parents can help students complete their assignments in a timely manner.   If your parents use cell phones, you might want to use Remind101.  It is an application especially designed for teachers that allows teachers to send reminders to their students and parents about upcoming assignments and tests.  The parents will get a text message reminder and they can persuade their children into completing their work.  Send emails and call parents when students need help or better yet to praise a student’s accomplishments.  Send post cards home to parents letting them know when their son or daughter has been successful.  The better you get to know your students’ parents and guardians, the more they will feel like part of the community.  Involving parents in decision making committees and supervision of activities will also increase their sense of community. When my daughter attended elementary school, parents were required to donate 100 hours of volunteer time per year.  I spent my time coaching volleyball giving me an opportunity to work with students and staff and develop a sense of community. The more involved your parents are the more likely they are to support the school’s agenda.

            Finally the principal and teachers need to establish connections with local businesses.  For example, one year the Language Arts-Reading Department decided to give each student who achieved his/her Accelerated Reading Goal a “Live Strong” bracelet.  We hoped to reward them for reading and to help them develop a sense of compassion for people in our community who had cancer.  My sister worked for a local car-dealership and the owner was a cancer patient.  As his grandchildren attended our school, he was connected more directly to our program.  I approached him through my sister and asked him if he could donate the money to purchase the “Live Strong” bracelets.  He was more than happy to do it.  His generosity bought him some promotion and helped us promote reading with our students.  Making connections with local business can be a valuable asset for any school
            People perform better in an environment where they feel they belong.  Helping students, parents, faculty and staff feel connected and appreciated is a great way to reduce bullying.  Connecting with local businesses can help the school provide useful resources to students that local school districts could not afford. Students who feel they do not belong often have a higher absenteeism rate making it difficult for them to succeed academically.  Parents who do not feel comfortable with teachers and staff often don’t provide the emotional support their students need to succeed at school.  Creating a warm, caring environment is everyone’s responsibility and everyone wins.  Transparency and frequent interaction will increase everyone’s sense of ownership.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Teaching Responsibility: Delegating Authority and Rewarding Good Behavior

Teaching Responsibility:
Delegating Authority and Rewarding Good Behavior

By Jill Jenkins
            Every day I walk my dogs, Rufus and Bubba, behind an elementary school near my house just at morning recess.  The children are busy running in circles, climbing on the equipment and playing ball.  When the bell rings, they drop their balls and run to line up leaving the lawn littered with balls, coats and bicycles.  Are these students learning to be responsible?  Completing a task from the beginning to the end is an essential skill to becoming a successful adult; however, 41 percent of the college freshmen will never complete a degree (National Center for Educational Statistics).  Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.1 million hires in October, but there were 4.8 million persons who left their job (“Job Opening and Labor Turnover Statistics”).   To become a successful adult, students need to learn to complete tasks. Shouldn’t teachers be teaching their students to complete what they start? How should we teach students to be responsible?

            There is a simple solution for the teachers at the elementary school near my house: delegate authority.  If your students sit at tables, appoint one student as playground equipment monitor.  These monitors are equipped with a clipboard with a list of their team names and a box of balls, jump ropes or whatever equipment your class needs for recess.  As students select their equipment, the monitor records the item..  At the end of recess, each student collects his items, returns them to their monitor to be checked off.  If a student fails to return his equipment, he is required to retrieve it. The first group that successfully collects all of  equipment is rewarded by being the first group to line up for lunch.  This means at the end of recess all of the equipment are safely returned to the class.  The students learn to be responsible for their own equipment, and they learn to be a leader (as the job of playground equipment monitor is rotated through the group). The school saves money of purchasing new playground equipment every year.  Everyone wins.

            This same procedure can be applied to problem of “No Name Papers” if you teach in a middle school or a high school.  When I began teaching I used to pass out papers, and when I came to the ‘No Name Papers,” I would announce, “These were the students who cared so little for their work that they hadn’t even bothered to put their name on their assignment.”  Then I would rip the papers in half and deposit them in the garbage can.  All of the students who had not put their name on their paper would scurry to the trash can, retrieve them and try to tape them back together so they could resubmit them for credit.  I was a called into the principal’s office and read the “riot act” because parents had complained that I was treating their children too harshly.  As a result, I began hanging all of the “No Name Papers” on the bulletin board.  What I discovered was that students who already had credit for an assignment were identifying papers as theirs and trying to double-dip on credit.  Disgusted by their lack of honesty, I invented a third way: I delegated.  I arranged my room into small groups of students and assigned one student to be “the line leader.”  The “line leader's” responsibilities included collecting the three or four members’ papers and checking for names.  If a paper had no name, it was his/her job to ask that student to write his name on his paper, because “Friends don’t let friends turn in No Name Papers.”  They put their papers into a folder and I collected the ten folders from the line leaders.  When I corrected the papers, I put them back into the same folder.  This meant that instead of handing out 40 separate papers, I passed back ten folders to the line leaders who distributed the papers to their group.  This dramatically decreased the number of No Name Papers and made distributing handouts, and corrected papers less time consuming. That means more time for instruction which is a more effective use of time.  Everyone wins.

            One of my fellow teachers suggested we take it a step further and use the method to increase learning.  We were teaching Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Each student had a novel checked out to him, but many would not bring them to class, participate in discussion or complete any of the in class or at home reading.  We called each group of students to a ship. The members of each group had to elect a captain, name their ship and color a picture of their ship recording the names of the group on the ships’ illustration.  Each day, the captain of the ship would determine if each member of his crew had his/her book.  If each student was prepared with his book, the captain was rewarded with a self-adhesive jewel that I had purchased at Oriental Trading Company that he adhered to his ship picture.  Each day the student would be given a short five to six question quiz on the assigned reading. After we corrected the quizzes in class, the captain collected them in his manila folder.  If every member of his crew had correctly answered all of the questions, the captain was rewarded with another self-adhesive jewel to adhere to his ship.  At the end of the unit, the three ninth grade teachers threw a party for all of the ninth grade students.  All of the teachers and students dressed like pirates and played games, ate popcorn and drank lemonade.  The students in each “ship” who had the most adhesive jewels on their ship for that class period were invited to the Treasure Chest to select a prize from the pirates’ treasure.  The pirate chest and treasure also came from Oriental Trading Company.  The treasure not only included plastic toys, but also lollipops.  As a result more students came prepared and the test scores were amazing because the rewards were small, but frequent. 

            Delegating small positions of authority to students teaches them to accept responsibility, it creates a feeling of community between students and it improves their leaning.  Rewarding them for successful completing these small tasks will help them associate a positive feeling with responsible acts.  Students care what their peers think of them.  They don’t want to let their friends down.  Use that to help students accept responsibility whether it is picking up their recess balls, writing their names on their assignments, bringing their books to class, or doing well on quizzes. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Two Ways to Build Comaraderie in Your School

Two Ways to Build Camaraderie in Your School 

By Jill Jenkins

Most schools today need to collaborate in departments to cover the new curriculum of the common core, they need to collaborate as a school to make certain computer labs, library and other resources are shared by all equally, and they need to collaborate as a school to make sure that students needs and problems are properly addressed.  Since teachers often are highly independent with strong personalities, they are attracted to teaching because the concept of running their own class appeals to them.  To command thirty to forty students requires an assertive personality.  The task of the administration is to take these strong willed individuals and help them work collaborative in teams.  How do they do this?

One more technique is to take all of your staff to a lodge in the mountains and give them in-services classes at a retreat.  It is highly effective because away from the day-to-day problems in a school, teachers can renew their dedication with a new vision. Furthermore, the retreat can serve to improve the school. If that is your goal have the faculty identify five to ten areas that school needs to improve upon: attendance, test scores, morale, etc. Divide the faculty into task force teams comprised of teachers from a variety of disciplines who identify and suggest an action plan to solve a problem or improve a situation.  They present their suggestions to the entire staff who vote on implementation of the their solution.  The staff then has ownership of the problems and solutions in the school and can not blame the administration.  Throughout the school year, the task force teams meet to evaluate progress and make adjustments to the implemented programs  The advantage of taking your team off campus is when the staff is not working on solving problems, they should be enjoying social activities together like dining or taking a dip in the pool. Playing and working together helps create a team. The positive side of this solution is it forces the school to work collaboratively to solve problems; thereby, the entire school takes ownership of the problems and the solutions.  This should reduce blaming the administration for problems in the school.  The downside is it is expensive.  If you have a large corporation or a benefactor who is willing to flip the bill, go for it, but for most schools that is far beyond the means.  What is a cheaper alternative?

One method is to create a faculty assembly.  Any coach will tell you that having a common goal that requires the cooperative effort of all of the players does more than win a game; it creates a family.  When the success of the project requires the interactive cooperation of all team, everyone benefits.  I know that it is possible to throw together an assembly with individual acts of the five faculty members who really have talent: singing, dancing, and playing a musical instrument.  That is not the kind of assembly that building cooperative attitudes. 
  Silly acting scenes and musical numbers that involve as many teachers, counselors and administrators as possible will earn more bang for the buck.  First, if the teachers are having fun together, they will enjoy working together.  Second, if the teachers are being silly, the students will have an opportunity to see their teachers as people. That will improve their relationship with their teachers.  Third, working under a deadline, will demonstrate to the staff that they can create something as a team. For example, the two pictures above and below depict a scene of an unruly classroom and an incompetent substitute teacher. The cast is comprised of teachers from a variety of departments, counselors and administrators. Working outside the comfort of the individual departments builds cooperative attitudes.

If you want to build cooperation within each department, have each department create a presentation. Some example include: by the Language Arts Department: "Lame Excuses", and "Accelerated Reading in Rap" and from the Counseling Department: "Planking".  One year the Language Arts teachers collected excuses that their students had used during the year.  Then, three teachers wearing black clothing and black berets read the excuses like Poets of the Beat Generation:




Megan: Our lives are so busy; our lives are so full
Is it any wonder we have time for assignments or school.
Becca: It wasn’t my fault.
Jill: I didn’t know we turned it in.
  Megan: I finished a few days ago, but I forgot to turn it in.
  Becca: I am not sure why, but please, I need the credit.
  Jill: I completely forgot because I was absent way back when we did this.
  Megan: Mi es mui perezosa.
  Becca: I didn’t want to do it. Much rather read.
  Jill: I didn’t know it was missing.
  Megan: My mom grounded me from doing homework!
  Becca: It wasn’t finished when it was due
Jill: I was a slacker.
  Megan: I suck and will end up flipping burgers.
  Becca: Well, my dog ate it.
  Jill: I lost it, and then I found it!
  Megan: I was booked this weekend.
  Becca: I got mauled by a zebra while on an African Safari.
  Jill: I am a very lazy person.
  Megan: I left it to the last day.
  Becca: I lost my paper in my backpack.
  Jill: You didn’t tell me I had to have my reading chart signed.
  Megan: My printer wasn’t working.
  Becca: My computer crashed.
  Jill: Don’t know.
  Megan: I got into a ninja fight with Chuck Norris, and I won!
  Becca: It caught me off guard.
  Jill: I forgot about it, and I hardly had time because of football.
  Megan: Just plain late!
  Becca: I forgot it was due, so I hurried and tried to finish it…but I didn’t.
  Jill: Abducted by aliens.
  Megan: I.D.K.
  Becca: I had to help Batman save the world.
  Jill: I was really busy this week.
  Megan: No idea.
  Becca: Shrug
  Jill: Stolen notebook.
  Megan: Bahhh!!
  Becca: I wanted to!
  Jill: I think I forgot to turn it in.
  Megan: I turned it in, and now it’s gone!
  Becca: I was helping my mom with the dishes.
  Jill: Didn’t work hard enough to finish.
  Megan: I don’t even know! It was an off day.
  Becca: My locker won’t open.
  Jill: My mom lost my reading log.
  Megan: But my mother signed this reading chart.
  Becca: My mom cleaned out my backpack.
  Jill: I left it in my locker.
  Megan: Was I suppose to have this signed?
  Becca: My locker is broken.
  Jill: Last night, I couldn’t do it because I’m really busy.  I had to go to practice.  I had to eat dinner.  I had LaCrosse and . . .
  Megan: I don’t know.
  Becca: Your web pages says it isn’t due until tomorrow.
  Jill: But I felt sick yesterday.
  Megan: My clothes got stolen.
  Becca: Someone jacked my folder.
  Jill: I forgot.   Can I have another day?
  Megan: I put it in my binder and now its not there.
  Becca: It’s because we can’t have backpacks.
  Jill: My grandmother is in the hospital.  Can I have another day?
  Megan: It is due today?
  Becca: There was a football game on T.V. last year.
  Jill: I don’t have to do this because I was at Mesa.
  Megan: I don’t have to do this because I was at orchestra…so I’m excused.
  Becca: My printer was out of ink.
  Jill: My internet was down.
  Megan: I forgot my my-access username.
  Becca: I’m not allowed to use my computer at my home.
   Jill: It won’t work on my computer.
  Mega: I turned it in and you lost it.
  Becca: It’s March Madness.
  Jill: Do you have any no name?
  Megan: I was absent and you didn’t give it to me.
  Becca: You gave the assignment a month ago, but I was absent yesterday.
  Jill: I know I was absent one of those days.
  Megan: I didn’t know.  You didn’t tell me. 
  Becca: So, I can’t see the board from my desk.
  Jill: You didn’t tell us when it was due.
  Megan: You didn’t remind me yesterday.
  Becca: Why do we have to do this anyway?
  Jill: I lost my book?
  Mega: It wasn’t my phone.
  Becca: My third period teacher took it.
Jill: Is there any extra credit I can do?
Megan: How can I get my C to an A?
Becca: I didn’t know it was a test.
Jill: Can we retake this test?
Megan: I am really sad that I can’t make it to class, but can I still take the AR test.
Megan, Becca and Jill: What assignment?
Caleb:  Suck it up, Princess.
     Students love hearing their own words recited as poetry by their-not-so-shy teachers.  However, it is even better if all of the members of the department take an active part in the production as in the next two creations.
Another successful creation was "Accelerated Reading in Rap.This was written by one of the teachers, Mrs. Larsen and her brother who recorded the lyrics.  The rest of department participated in the filming and I edited it together. 


 Capitalizing on what is trending is another way to increase your students' interest in the assembly and can be fun for the staff members.  The following movie was created by the counseling staff at my school with their secretaries: "Planking"

     Whether your school decides to use technology to enhance your assembly or present it on stage, the students will love it and the faculty and staff will develop a strong bond.  This spring before you begin your testing, you might want to give your students and staff a chance to bond by creating a faculty assembly.
     If you want to increase your staff's social interaction at a retreat or something as silly as a faculty assembly, you will increase their ability to be an effective team. If you have the time and the money to do more than one kind of teaming activity, the effect will even be greater.  These types of activities may seem like a huge waste of time to some teachers, but the reality is that a school that does not function as a team will pull itself apart.  Teachers will transfer to other school because they are not happy. The academic program will not be as strong as it could be when teachers are sharing and cooperating with each other. Try building your school community through activities that require the entire staff to cooperate with each other.