Wednesday, February 18, 2009

School Incentives Follow Up.

Thanks to everyone for your encouraging words regarding Kort's delightful day with the substitute teacher this week!

A lot of you had great insights and comments, and it got my brain thinking and I wanted to add some thoughts...

One of my favorite authors on the subject of rewards systems is Alfie Kohn (he has written a TON of books on the subject, "Punished by Rewards" is a GEM I tell ya) I have really enjoyed reading his stuff and would recommend it to all parents, but I ESPECIALLY recommend it if you're going to be (or already are) a teacher. He has written books specifically about eradicating ineffective rewards programs in the educational system (yay).

As a disclaimer, I think he is fairly (okay, extremely) idealistic, and I don't feel like he ever gives a concrete alternative to bribing and/or punishing kids with rewards. He says it's bad, and that we shouldn't do it, but he still doesn't give great alternatives.

I LOVE some of the ideas he presents though - love them.

For example, if your child gave his lunch to a child that didn't have lunch, would you want his driving motivation for doing such a thing to be

A) because he has love and compassion for this friend and wants him to be comfortable and have something in his stomach for the rest of school...


B) because he knew that his teacher was watching and would praise and reward him for his good deeds?

Hmmmm. Let me think for a minute, what kind of person do I want Kortland to be? That's a tough one. Okay, well if I HAVE to choose, I'll go with

B! B! B!

But I don't think we realize that that's the message we send our children when we reward them for doing something they should want to do for the right reasons in the first place. Alfie Kohn also says that teachers shouldn't ask themselves

"What can I do to MAKE them do what I want?"
(who likes being manipulated and controlled? answer: no one!)

they should be asking themselves

"How can I teach this in a way that will make my students EXCITED to learn about it?"
I don't have ANY trouble getting Kort's undivided attention when I make FHE lessons exciting, hands on, and applicable to the life of a 5 year old boy. But, what about when I just throw something together and start a-dronin' along? Yeah, he's bored.
He's wiggling.
He's disruptive.! (the nerve)
But in all fairness, I'm boring him!

My Aunt has a charter school in Draper that is AMAZING. The classroom atmosphere is so dynamic and students are on the edges of their seats because the teaching style is exciting, interactive and hands on.
love. it.
You don't have to figure out how to MAKE kids listen if you're doing great things that they are going to WANT to be a part of.

Is this an easy thing to accomplish?


That's why teachers should be paid a minimum of $200,000 a year! It's hard, challenging, and often thankless work, but the rewards can be unbelievable. I know that we all have had that special teacher (or teachers) who truly shaped or molded the people we have become today. Mine was Mrs. Briggs. I still remember what she wrote on my "Parent Teacher Conference" Report. She said

"Laura is a social butterfly and is still chatting too much in class, but if she promises to dedicate her first best-selling novel to me, I'll let the talking slide."

And just let me say that since that day,
EVERY TIME I have doubted myself,
and EVERY TIME I have felt like I wasn't equipped to handle the task at hand,
those words of encouragement have seen me through.
Someone believed in me.
Someone (who I greatly respected) thought that I had something special in me.
Sure, I talked too much.
Sure, that was probably disruptive/annoying/not helpful to her.

But, instead of trying to punish me for not doing the things that would make her job easier,
and instead of trying to MANIPULATE me into being someone that I wasn't
(in order to make her job easier.)

She took a step back,
and looked at that
5th grader
with loving, all-seeing eyes.
and she found the good that was hidden underneath
the blabber-mouthed,
freckled face that was Laura Blackwell
and found something beautiful.

Something that I didn't even know was there until she pointed it out to me.

We've all had teachers like this. (At least, I sincerely hope we ALL have.)
They've changed our lives for the better.
Our teachers technically spend more time with out children than we do, is it too much to hope that they can love them, at least a tenth as much as we do?

I think it is VERY true that we see ourselves the way that others see us. When people see you as a nuisance, you FEEL like a nuisance. When people see you as bad, you tend to agree with their judgement. I remember working at a pre-school/day care that, okay, I'm just gonna come right out and say it - was UBER GHETTO. 95% of the children in our care came from broken homes, with alcoholic parents, moms with abusive boyfriends, you name it. Some of those kids were at that "school" from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. For some of them, we were the only family they really knew. One of my favorite little 2 year olds was haulin' around dropping the F-bomb like it was going out of style on a regular basis. It.was.nuts.

Well, there were 2 brothers who gave me an especially hard time. They were disruptive, they hit other kids, they mouthed off, they were completely rude, and for the first couple of weeks I was working there, I totally did the things that I have been claiming are ineffective and damaging. I put them on time out. I lectured them about their appalling behavior in front of their entire class (imagine how that made them feel about themselves..hmm.) I made them stay behind while the rest of the kids went on a movie field trip, because I had told them to shape up several times and my warnings fell on deaf ears.
I truly believed that they were bad kids, and they proved me right every time.
Then my friend got hired on there (I know, what the heck was she thinking?) and after two days with those boys, she said:
"They really need to be loved."
My jaw was on the floor.
That sounded crazy, but the more she talked about it, (being a trouble child herself ) the more her ideas started to make sense.

So, we went to school the next day with a new plan.

I sat those boys down and I told them that I was sorry for how I had treated them in the past, and that I wanted to start clean. I told them that I loved them and KNEW for a fact that they were good boys. I told them that I needed their help and that they would be group leaders for their class. I let them start making decisions about what to do for recess and movement and music time, and every time they acted up or behaved badly, I ignored it completely and focused on the positive, and you would not believe the change that took place in a matter of d.a.y.s. It was nothing short of miraculous. They were the best kids in the class. As leaders, they felt responsible for/protective of the younger children in the class (instead of viewing them as weaklings that were easy to push around). They had great ideas for activities, and because they had part in planning them, they were excited to participate fully and respectfully. It was amazing. I will be forever grateful to that friend for being an intuitive, thoughtful example of kindness.

So, I know that teachers are tired, and dealing with children who have completely varied pasts and sometimes frightening futures, but I hope that our educational system can maybe start to give teachers the support and guidance they need to start seeing these students as individuals with different personalities, talents, interests, and most of all gifts. We each came to this earth to bring something different. Some of us FULLY know and understand what we came here to bring and who we came here to be, and some of us are still searching. Some of us may know some of the gifts, but will also be discovering new gifts and interests and talents as we go on our way.
What I'm saying here doesn't specifically apply only to teachers either. I have had many friends and relatives and neighbors influence what I thought of myself (in ways both good and bad) and when all is said and done, I hope that Kort will be remembered for helping others feels good about who they are, and , as his mother, it is my prayer that I can empower him to look beyond what other people may categorize him to be and that he will remember what and who he truly is.

Anyway, there goes Lola, on another gigantic tangent.

In short, (ha ha ha ha ha)

Get Alfie's books.
or go here to view his site
Read them.
Take what is useful and disregard the rest.
and please, the next time you want to be mean to someone who is super annoying... be nice instead.

Try to see who they really are,
why they may be the way they are,
and what hidden gifts they have to offer the world at large.

maybe they just need someone to help point out what those gifts are,
or maybe they just need to be reminded of the gifts they forgot.

I'll try to do the same.


nancy said...

You....chatty? Nooooooooooo! You.....have an opinion about something? Noooooooooo You have something to say? Nooooooooooo I am grateful that you speak your mind and write sooooo much. It is like reading the daily press. Love it. Keep it go girl. You are great. You are wonderful. You are a great mom. You are a good person. You don't make fun of me or think I'm creepy for a whole "mess of crazy" I throw at you sometimes. Thanks for being my friend...and by law my sister!!!

Katie--the amazing one, not your other friend named Katie. She's amazing, too, but not the same Katie as me-- said...

This was an excellent follow-up post.
It really is all about love.
I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I do. Of all the students I've met in the classes I've worked in during the last years of college, the trouble makers are by far my favorite. The kids that annoy the mess out of every other teacher are the ones I like the most.
I get really defensive and protective when these students are singled out (almost daily) by other teachers at school for doing something wrong.
The worst day of my life happened this year. My mentor teacher sent me to the assembly with the class while she stayed behind in the classroom. The assembly was about bus safety and was the most boring thing I've ever experienced in my entire life. It seemed to drag on forever. I was so bored that I had to find other things to do to keep me sane. I can't count on both hands and feet the number of places I stood or sat during that assembly trying to endure the ridiculousness of the assembly. I couldn't sit still.
Of course, the students were just as bored as I was. For many, this was the sixth time they had attended this assembly. I felt bad for the kids who don't even ride the bus yet had to sit through it.
There was one student who dealt with his boredom by entertaining the others around him. He was talking and pulling funny faces. His behavior was disruptive to the students around him, so I asked him to move to a different spot. I realized that I had given him a greater audience putting him where more students could see him. I asked him once again to move, this time to the back row of our class.
I walked away trusting that he could take care of himself. The next thing I know, his previous year teacher came over and was chewing him out. She was out of place; he was no longer a distraction in the back of the room and had even settled down. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but I could tell by her body language that she wasn't just reprimanding him. She HATED him. She wasn't trying to assist me; it was personal for her.
I've always been shy and hate confrontation more than anything else. I was new to the school; I was a college student spending only part of my day there. I didn't have the balls nor the authority to put her in her place later that day. I felt helpless. I watched as this teacher stepped well over the line, and I was paralyzed.
It's no wonder why this kid acted out all the time.
I was sad the day he transferred schools, and I miss having him in class. He was one of the smartest and most clever kids in that class. He was a great writer. He had wonderful leadership skills. He was a loyal friend. He always treated me with respect. He just acted differently than the rest of the class sometimes. It was these differences which made him unique and helped him to stand out in my mind.
He had my love, trust, and respect.

the Lola Letters said...

Nancy - thanks! We are a pair of hot messes and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Katie -
1) I adore you and
2) You are going to be an a.m.a.z.i.n.g. teacher. I wish I could clone you.

Kristina P. said...

I got your comment! Yay! You even have a chance to wear my Snuggie!

I'm excited to finally meet you guys.

And I had no idea that my ridiculous, off the cuff comment about circumcision would spark such a debate!

Celeste said...

Wow, that was exactly what I needed to read at 8 am before a certain 3 year old who has been driving me crazy woke up. Thank you. I shall go about the remainder of the day singing "I'm trying to be like Jesus." Seriously. Think of the woman taken in adultery. That's how we need to handle troublemakers. Till seven times seven. (or whatever he said)

Heather said...

This is a very interesting topic here, because I think of the Ultimate Parent when I think of rewards and incentives. Does Heavenly Father use them? Absolutely! Every step of the way. Keep the Sabbath Day holy= unspotted from the world, Keep the Word of Wisdom= good health, great treasures of knowledge, live worthy of the Spirit=have Him with you always! I could go on and on here. He promises and rewards us all along the way, until we can receive the ultimate reward- life with Him! So, I have no trouble rewarding and promising external rewards to my children for good behavior. I think the trick is to get them to behave enough so that they learn how great it feels and they want to do it on their own. Another good read is 1-2-3 Magic by Dr. Thomas Phelan. He encourages the stickers, charts and what not until they learn to do it on their own. Then you can celebrate when they don't need the chart, etc. anymore! I'm so glad that we have the Spirit to guide us as we teach and train these wonderful little children. What would we do without it?

the Lola Letters said...

Celeste- Ha ha! You are so great. I know, it's great to just be patient, be patient, be patient.... but it's also the hardest thing like, ever.

Heather - So true! And I am all about using rewards to make Kort feel good. I just don't like using them to humiliate kids in front of other kids. We definitely praise Kort for good deeds and good behavior, but we also feel it is super important to help him see how his good deeds make his life, or the lives of others, better. I say "How do you think it made your cousin feel when you told him he did a great job?" and things like that, and it really helps him to notice the difference he's made. I really agree with your comment about the spirit guiding us, because it's amazing when I read Alfie Kohn's books, sometimes my heart goes - "Yep, that's totally a great way to approach that" and sometimes I go "Nope, don't agree with that... not feelin' it, sorry Alfie." It's amazing! I also think it TOTALLY changes from child to child too! (Not that I would know from personal experience- ha ha!) One method may work great with one child, but is totally damaging, ridiclous, or just plain ineffective with the's crazy!)I'm SO grateful we have the spirit to guide us - it's really the only way to go!

Anonymous said...

A blog about me and Isla! I'm not worthy!
I love yous :)
I was slightly nervous when I saw the title though. I thought a story about me drinking to much Pino Noir with dinner, tripping over a rock and then being escorted into a movie theater by your darling cousin Jen was about to ensue.
HAHA! Good times :)
I hope your photo shoot went well lovey.
Can't wait to see the pix!

andrew said...

i think you meant "A!A!A!A!"

i could be mistaken.

the Lola Letters said...

Ahhhh ha ha ha ha! You are NOT mistaken! I totally did not mean to do that! he he. Although, it DOES add a nice touch of REALLY obvious sarcasm when ya think about it. Delightful. Yes, I meant A.

Janyece said...

Do you have any friends that don't look like super models besides me? lol!

Not to stir the pot, but I disagree about one statement. I don't think ignoring bad behavior is a good idea. The gospel teaches us to take responsibility for our actions and I take that to mean we need to teach our kids accountability. Reward the good and have consequences for the bad. As long as they know we love them and the consequences are consistent, I don't think their self-esteem will suffer through punishments. Just my two cents. I have lots of spare change. he he!

the Lola Letters said...

I'm glad you made that point! I agree. We absolutely censure Kortland when he does things that are unacceptable, and being that Kort is just like his uncles, we have to get after him REGULARLY! I think that the WORST kids are the ones who never suffer the consequences of being nasty little turds! But, like you said, we discipline him, but we do so in a way that NEVER makes him question our love for him or in a way that causes him to believe that he is inherently bad in some way. I agree, when you're consistent and loving, discipline is a very importantpart of the overall plan.

I'm way glad you said something - I didn't mean for this to sound like I don't think kids should ever be set straight - I just don't like for them to be humiliated in front of their friends during skittle distribution time either. :)

Janyece said...

Amen, sista!