Thursday, February 3, 2011

One Step Away from Frustration

It almost happened to me today. Today was one of those days where everything was just a little bit off...kids were just a little bit inattentive. They were just a little bit off-task. There was a little too much talking during transitions. They were a little too slow moving from one subject to another. I was just a little less patient than usual. It was as if the class (and myself) as a whole kept tiptoeing across the "acceptable" line. Add up all of those little tiptoes and then picture the last part of my day:

It is about 20 minutes until dismissal time: students cleaning, a vacuum going, two students working on school store items, three students rearranging the carpet squares, two students organizing books, two students lifting the carpet in the back of the room to get rid of the hidden dirt, three students preparing tomorrow's coffee, and me saying "Remember to study for your history test!!!"  Meanwhile we have only a short time left and we still need to do the read aloud! I decided we needed to finish up the cleaning so we could do the read aloud, but the students just couldn't be redirected. The work they were doing was important, and none of us could switch gears and focus. I felt like I was literally one step away from  going crazy!

But this is where the great part comes in. (In years past I would have handled this situation in a total different way and everyone would have left frustrated.) Today, however, I took a deep breath and called everyone to the carpet for an afternoon meeting. It went something like this:

"I know we are all having a difficult time focusing because there are several distractions, and there is nothing wrong with that." (I could tell they thought they were in trouble, so I wanted to reassure them). "Let's all take a minute to breath and focus our minds on one thing: how our day went." We then went on to discuss below the line and above the line attitudes and behaviors and everyone discussed some above the line behaviors that they had participated in or witnessed today. After that we talked about some below the line behaviors (volunteered by students). It was a very non-threatening type of discussion about each person's behavior, including myself. Everyone was responsible for evaluating him or herself. We finished the conversation by stating one thing each one of us could do to make tomorrow a better day. It was so interesting to hear some of their responses! A few said attitude (including yours truly), but several said they wanted to stay on task, make better choices, do better during math, and show more respect to others.

Presto! In that short 10 or so minutes I was able to refocus the students, have a valuable discussion about self-assessment and acceptable behaviors, and have everyone leave on a positive note! I'm so glad I didn't take that last step over to frustration. What a difference the teacher's response and actions can make! 

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