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Jane Bluestein

"You can’t just stand up in a room and say, “Now kids, we are going to de a lesson on respect. Now respect is important because “yada yada” and let's put some posters on the wall.” This doesn’t work, especially in an environment where teachers speak so disrespectfully to kids and to one another. How often are we not walking the talk?" - J. Bluestein



Interview with Jane Bluestein, by Kate Bedford

Article on Discipline

Article for New Teachers

Critique of These Two Articles


I first heard of this Jane when I was surfing on Josh Freedman's Six Seconds site. I felt encouraged and heartened to read her words. Then I went to her web page where she has a lot of articles. I don't agree with everything she says, as you can see by my notes at the end of the articles, but I want to let you know of her work.

S. Hein
June 2004

Interview with Jane Bluestein
By Kate Bedford

Jane Bluestein is an award winning author and speaker. Her newest book, Creating Emotionally Safe Schools! It is a comprehensive look at how we can make any educational institution safer—from an emotional, academic, behavioral, social, and physical standpoint. Formerly an inner-city classroom teacher, crisis-intervention counselor, and teacher training program coordinator, Dr. Bluestein currently heads Instructional Support Services, Inc., a consulting and resource firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

During our interview, I was struck by both Jane’s passion for education and compassion for children and teachers alike. She is a dedicated educator as well as an advocate for change. Listening to Jane’s descriptions of modern schools, I felt both despair and tremendous hope. Mostly I was relieved to know that American schools had an advocate and reformer like Jane cheering them on.

Kate: In your new book, Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, you paint a disturbingly grim picture of the social dynamics of modern schools:

Jane: That was not my original intent. In fact, I really went into this trying to keep it as positive as possible, but that would have meant ignoring a great deal of feedback from some of the people I interviewed. I was appalled by the number of people who had such horrible experiences being tormented by other kids, and often right under the noses of teachers who did nothing to advocate for them and nothing to support them. The first couple times I heard this I thought they were extreme cases. As I started getting more stories, many were violent. I worked with a woman who was severely abused in school. I asked her what the teachers did about it and she said, “Nothing, they would send the kids back to class.” She was actually beaten with a baseball bat in front of one of the teachers. When I started getting stories like that from dozens of people, I thought, “This is a disturbing trend.” Then I found some early childhood literature that said in about 3/4 of incidents between preschoolers, that were witnessed by adults, teachers did not intervene. They took no action at all.

I think to gloss over that would be a real disservice to kids who are not experiencing support and yet are experiencing any kind of teasing humiliation, and even brutal physical abuse, at school.

Kate: In your book, you describe the kind of students who tend to be picked on as having low verbal skills, low social skills, and being without the social allies to back them up. That is a good argument for emotional intelligence programs:

Jane: It tends to be a vicious circle. When kids who have a greater sensitivity and few psychological strengths are picked on, they tend to buy into it and get upset. Then the bully has achieved his or her goal and gotten her reaction. What ends up happening is the kids who do not have the social skills, or the ability to laugh things off, are hyper sensitive to this kind of teasing. They are the ones who draw the most fire because they are the ones who are the most fun to watch blow up.

If you have kids who are very solid in their sense of who they are, in their own groundedness, in their own emotional intelligence, these are kids who can laugh it off. Part of what bulling is about is getting a reaction. Imagine if you call me a name and I say, “Yeah, that’s right”. Your bulling didn’t work because you’re trying to get a reaction from me. Chances are you are going to move on to an easier target.

We have two things going on here. First of all, we have a high level of reactivity and sensitivity. We are all sensitive to varying degrees. One of the goals I would see is trying to help teens to not take everything so personally. Immediately they can misinterpret social cues, or blow things out of proportion, or even assume something is negative. We need to teach kids how to depersonalize these contacts and not let them inside their energy fields. A second goal is to the help kids become a little more respectful of each other.

Kate: I liked the quote in the book, “We have taught tolerance but we have not taught respect.”

Jane: Punishing intolerance and disrespect is not a way to teach tolerance and respect. That is the model we have now.

Kate: Then how do you see teaching tolerance and respect? How do you go about putting that into a school?

Jane: You put kids in situations where they are interacting with people who are different from them but with a shared goal. For example, one of the principals I worked with took over a school that was an absolute mess - totally unsafe. She took some of the biggest bullies, some of the toughest kids in the class, and paired them with the special-needs students. Suddenly, all kinds of behavior changes started happening.

That is what I did my dissertation on. I had my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders going down to work with kindergarten kids. Originally I sent them down because I was carpooling with the kindergarten teacher and she was so exhausted I was afraid she was going fall asleep on the way home. So I started sending my kids down there to give her a hand with things like getting these kids zipped up, and getting their milks open. About a week or two later, she told me “So and so cut recess to come down and read a story with my kids. So and so cut recess to put on a puppet show and teach my kids their colors.” Who do you think was cutting recess?

Kate: The Bullies

Jane: Yes! The kids who were at the bottom end of the academic achievement and social skills ladders. Do you know what happens when schools implement social skills programs or peer mentoring programs? Who always gets picked? The highest achieving the best-social-skills kids. We know we can take these low-social-skills kids and put them in a situation where they can be a helper, where they can do service, or be a mentor with somebody who looks up to them, somebody who needs something they have, somebody who respects who they are and what they have to offer, that’s when we see the changes. You can’t just stand up in a room and say, “Now kids, we are going to de a lesson on respect. Now respect is important because “yada yada” and lets put some posters on the wall.” This doesn’t work, especially in an environment where teachers speak so disrespectfully to kids and to one another. How often are we not walking the talk?

Kate: In other chapters in your book you talk about the role a teacher can play as sympathetic witness to a student, and look at the teachers’ role in creating emotionally safe schools.

Jane: A few years ago I did a book called Mentors, Masters, and Mister McGregggor. It is a collection of stories about teachers who made a difference in students’ lives. I started very simply. I put tape recorder under everyone’s nose and asked, "Who was the best teacher you ever had?” God help you if you sat on a plane next to me because I asked everyone I met. I asked the clerks at the hotel, if they weren’t busy. What I got back were stories about teachers who not necessarily stood up for the kid, but at least witnessed for them. Sometimes all they did was say, “My door is open if you need me.” Or teachers said, “I know your mom just died, I know you’re having a hard time right now, or if you ever need to talk, I am here.” A lot of times people gave me the feeling that if it hadn’t been for that one teacher, that one little bit of attention and caring, that kid would not have made it that year. All it takes is one little acknowledgement. That is what I mean by advocacy. You are not going to court for the kid. It simply means you notice that child and you notice that kid in distress. How many kids go through a divorce, go through some family trauma in a small town where everyone in the town would know what is going on, yet everyone ignores it and them. All it takes is noticing a kid. Make that connection.

Kate: Josh’s question for you is, “What piece of research or information do you want every teacher to know? What do you want on their bumper stickers to help them be more emotionally savvy teachers?”

Jane: Make a connection. It comes down to that. And make a connection by listening. Make a connection by looking at kids with your heart instead of with your grade book. Make a connection. Part of it too is taking care of yourself, which means screening out a lot of the negative press that we get. Screening out the pressure we have on us for all things quantifiable. So we can shut the door and connect with a kid in a way that says, “You are where you are. I accept where you are. I honor where you are. And I am here to go from where you are to some place a little higher.”

Kate: One of the pieces I enjoyed about your book was the discussion of what it meant to listen. The idea that listening is different from sitting there waiting for your turn to answer. Did you find many teachers lacked listening skills?

Jane: I don’t think many of us have had really good models for that. It certainly is a skill I have spent most of my adult life trying to develop and I still feel like I have a long way to go on it. I have a list of non-supportive responses in one of my other books. It includes giving advice, just dismissing it or minimizing it, or making excuses for the other person. When I go over those in a workshop with teachers –oh the groans I hear. Everybody is saying, “Man, I do that all the time.” We have not had that many models of people who actually shut up when we are talking and hear what we have to say without listening for an opening to getting to their agenda, or tell us what we should do, or tell us that we are too sensitive. At what point do I get to have the space to just feel, and be, and express? I can’t do that in an environment where no one is listening. The sad thing is how many adults say, “I really want the kids to come to me, I want them to trust me.” But how many roadblocks do we put up?

Jane: One of the skills I teach in my workshops is to start asking questions and then shut up and listen instead of giving advice. Use questions as a way to help guide the kid to a solution. Ask the kind of questions that honor the kid’s intelligence and ability to solve problems, and take responsibility for his or her issues, while being there to support them as they are trying to figure out what options are available to them.

Kate: In preparation for this interview I looked at the Department of Education’s Web site and found an Executive Summery of George Bush’s Education plan. I want to read you part of that plan. He says, “Increase accountability for student’s performance. States districts and schools improved achievement will be rewarded. Failure will be sanctioned. Parents will know how well their child is learning and schools held accountable for their effectiveness with an annual state math and reading assessment in grade 3 and 8.”

Jane: I have a few problems with this. I have been in the education profession for close to 30 years and I have never seen morale as low as it is right now. When people ask, “What is driving teachers out of the profession?” the one thing that I see over and over again is this lust for test scores. I heard a great quote, “You can’t tell the quality of the sheep by how much it weighs.” And another quote, “The chicken doesn’t get heavier just because you keep putting in on the scale.” Kids don’t get smarter by testing, they get smarter by teaching. And look at what they are testing; they are testing only two of how many intelligences? What if the way a child is smart happens to be in an area other than math and reading?

Kate: In testing only two kinds of skills they are not getting a picture of how prepared this individual is for life.

Jane: I don’t have a problem with the test. I have a problem with that they do with the results.

A great test uses the results as a way of saying, “Okay, Here is what I need to teach you.” What a great test. But, what happens to teachers when kids that don’t test well? Look at what has happened in schools where the sanctions have had stakes like funding, promotion, and bonuses. I was in a school a few weeks ago and teachers told me they are hearing teachers say to kids, “Its your fault I didn’t get my bonus.” Ok, tell me how that is going to raise the kids’ test scores? This punitive approach means we are shifting the focus off of teaching. What teaching really is about is starting wherever the learner is and moving them forward, not punishing that child because someone didn’t do a good job last year.

I am, quiet frankly, very nervous about what is happening in this profession. I don’t know where we lost control. I don’t have a problem with measurements and, at a fundamental level, I don’t have a problem with accountability, when you make me accountable for my behavior. But, when you make me accountable for the performance of students who I’ve only worked with for a certain amount of time, without the support of being able to address their needs individually- that gets into the area of severe dysfunction.

Kate: It is making you accountable for someone else’s behavior, but their behavior in a very narrow field.

Jane: No question, no question at all.

Kate: You set aside teaching them the big picture and how to think, and put that energy towards taking a test.

Jane: Exactly. I think the whole situation has gone out of control and the kids and the profession are being hurt. We are losing teachers. I have teachers telling me, “It is just not fun anymore. I am not teaching.”

Teachers are so busy “covering content.” I love that whole idea, “covering content.” What’s that got to do with teaching? If you want to increase test scores, you start where the kid is and move him forward. Build on current knowledge, build on current strengths, build on their strongest intelligences, and build on their preferred modalities. But, we are still basically teaching like every kid in our school is going to go into a factory when they get out. We don’t have the kind of economy that standardized testing reflect. The whole notion of standardization is a throwback to a time that basically doesn’t exist any more, and hasn’t existed since the mid 50s.

By the way, just throwing a bunch of computers or a bunch of money at schools to get them online is not a way to prepare kids when every other piece of our structure, our infrastructure, our relationship structures, our energy dynamics, our power dynamics are basically set up to turn kids out to work in a factory.

In so many ways this is the best time ever to be teaching. I said that at the end of the book. One of the biggest challenges in writing this book was not giving into the despair I feel when I go out on the road and talk to teachers.

This should be such a good time to be a teaching. Think about how much more we know about how people learn now. We are in such a wonderful place to take advantage of this information and actually create learners. I mentioned this whole thing of covering content. This whole thing of “I have to get through these 16 pages of math this week.” Well, if those 16 pages are over the heads of the kids you are teaching, you may as well be covering content in another language. Covering content is not teaching. If all you want to do is cover content, you don’t even need kids. Go on down to the bus station and cover content.

If your content is division, and I don’t know how to add or subtract, you can cover that content until the cows come home. No matter how beautifully you present it, no matter how wonderful your materials are, if I don’t have the developmental readiness, the experience, the skill foundation or whatever else I need to make room and hang this new information on, you are wasting your time and you are wasting my time.

Kate: This brings me to my final question. Hypothetically, you have been assigned to be George Bush’s education advisor and he assigns you to design the perfect school, the emotionally safe school, and the school that is designed to create learners. What would you do? What would you include in your dream school?

Jane: Firstly, Absolutely outlaw corporal punishment in school. We must become more creative and positive in dealing with discipline issues.

I would also I would throw out the idea of standardization. If you have two kids in that school don’t you dare standardize them unless they are clones.

Then, I would get rid of the current grading system, as we now know it. If you are talking about accountability, do it in a form of documentation that is actually more description, more comprehensive, and would include things like work samples, something more project-based. Use these kinds of experiences to teach basic skills.

Teach skills through projects and hands-on experiences. Rather than having everyone on the same page, bring in service learning to teach social skills. Instead of teaching a lesson on social skills, and then moving onto math, incorporate service learning in the classroom.

Return to doing what we were doing about 40 years ago, teaching to the whole child, teaching to the heart, teaching to the head. Doing more interactive tutoring, and peer mentoring. Create multi-age classes where activities are set up so that every child can succeed and develop skills based on their personal needs.

Let kids move more. This is absolutely important. Bring in more tactile, kinesthetic, sensory stimulation. More music, more movement, more brain integration. Watch how many kids who are being labeled hyperactive are suddenly not hyperactive anymore. We can get rid of a whole lot of those labels if we get kids out of their seats, moving around, interacting, talking, and using all their senses in learning.

Develop better relationships between teachers, between teachers and administrators, between teachers and parents, so that we really do have a village, so that school is a caring community. Right now we don’t have a caring community and we don’t get caring by punishing non-caring. They don’t learn by shame and they don’t learn by punishment and they don’t learn by fear and they don’t learn by threats. And whatever they do learn by fear and threats is not what we want them to be learning.

We’ll just mail this off to George and see what he has to say. I sent him a copy of the book.

Kate: Well, he wants to be the education president.

Jane: If you want to be the education president then how about teaching the way people learn.

Kate: Thank you so much for your time


(I found this on www.sixseconds.org it is also here http://www.janebluestein.com/articles/interview.html)


An Article about "Discipline"

For most of us, the word “discipline” conjures up thoughts of reactive and controlling measures for dealing with student misbehavior. However, the model of discipline proposed in 21st Century Discipline is an ongoing, proactive set of behaviors used to create a cooperative environment which minimizes the likelihood of negative, disruptive behavior. (This positive discipline process can occur in any group—a classroom, department, building or district.)

Consider yourself fortunate if you are working with teachers who are already committed to a win-win discipline approach, such as the one described in this book. They will make your job much easier. These are teachers who assume responsibility for handling misbehaviors that occur in their classrooms. They will see you as a resource, not a rescuer, and will be far less likely to request that you solve their discipline problems for them. In contrast, teachers who use typical win-lose strategies frequently find those techniques frustrating and ineffective for managing conflicts with students, parents or other teachers, and may frequently ask that you intervene.

The attitudes of win-win teachers are generally more positive than their authoritarian counterparts; they and are also able to provide an atmosphere that encourages growth and learning without the stress and external control typical in a win-lose classroom. By focusing on the connections between choices and outcomes, these teachers help students take responsibility for their actions and behaviors. As a result, their students are more likely to exhibit initiative, independence, self-management and an awareness of others’ needs than students in a win-lose classroom, who often do only what is required to get by or stay safe. Win-win teachers are also clear about their limits and boundaries, and secure enough to encourage empowerment among their students.

Yet, 21st Century Discipline can be quite a challenge for any teacher unfamiliar with win-win management models. To generate their commitment, these teachers first need to learn how 21st Century Discipline can pay off for them. As often occurs in the life of an administrator, your job will involve selling these ideas to them, giving them good enough reasons to want to change what, in many instances, will be deeply ingrained habits and ideas.

If necessary, start with staff members who are most open to change, perhaps those who have already indicated a commitment to win-win objectives, if not the actual skill to reach them. Allow their successes to be the invitation and inspiration for others. These teachers will need information about effective adult behaviors for achieving a variety of interactive goals. Your support will encourage them to take risks and try new approaches and will help build confidence in developing new techniques. Keep in mind that implementing successful changes in the classroom takes time and effort. A win-win focus involves rethinking, relearning and retraining, and could take some teachers a number of years to fully implement.

Beware of the difficulties inherent in attempting to require across-the-board attitude changes or even implement any particular discipline program school- or district-wide. Be especially wary of programs that offer quick fixes or simple formulas for managing or reacting to children’s behavior, regardless of the amount of pressure you feel from your community or staff.* Relationship building—the key to minimizing discipline problems—is a process. Since so many of the changes necessary in making a transition from industrial-age beliefs and behaviors to those of an information-age model occur at a very personal level—and on a very individual basis—you probably won’t have much success attempting to mandate the change or trying to establish 21st Century Discipline as a uniform discipline code. (Adults aren’t much different from kids when it comes to being told what to do, especially if such mandates include directives about how to feel or what to tolerate!) Work with your core group and anyone who cares to join in and focus your energies on creating a school climate in which 21st century, win-win interactions are likely to emerge.

The strategies described in this book also apply well to adult relationships. This may translate to letting go, or to sharing some of your authority to involve teachers in decisions you may have previously made alone. Empowered teachers, those who feel they have input in decisions that affect them, have a greater stake in—and are more likely to commit enthusiastically to—the success and welfare of the organization.

As an administrator, begin to think of new ways to motivate, empower, value, inspire and build commitment with your staff, perhaps by:

• giving them opportunities to suggest topics and resources for inservice and staff development programs

• presenting options for scheduling, room assignment or grade level

• trying to accommodate staff members’ needs for input and choice when making administrative decisions that concern them

• providing the most direct channels possible for access to supplies, resource personnel and yourself

• modeling the beliefs, behaviors, language patterns and attitudes you would like your teachers to adopt

• offering acceptance, feedback and support while encouraging teachers to solve their problems themselves

• resisting the habit to get in the middle of—and taking responsibility for—squabbles between kids and teachers, even if that’s always been your job

• refusing to punish students for infractions you did not witness

• helping teachers resolve conflicts with other staff members or parents without assuming responsibility for the solution of the problems

• encouraging the development or creation of a reward-oriented school environment; helping teacher find ways to increase the number of positive options they can offer to students

• providing resources or support necessary to help teachers develop success-oriented instruction and routines (make success possible for students at a variety of ability levels)

• being visible in non-conflict arenas; visiting every classroom, as often as possible, to offer feedback or just help out finding something positive to say about every member of your staff

• making time to regularly acknowledge the contributions your staff members make (including casual, informal verbal or written messages of recognition and appreciation)

• encouraging (not requiring) your staff to do the same for one another

• using motivators and rewards to show appreciation, recognize special achievements or just break up routines

• identifying and changing negative, reactive school policies

• maintaining regular and positive communication with the community

• taking care of yourself; learning to let go, delegate, set and maintain boundaries

As you model cooperative interactions with students, parents and staff, you will set the tone for the entire school. The payoffs for you and the other adults in your building are considerable. But in terms of learning, behavior and self-concept, the real winners are the students.

From http://bluestein.com

Great Expectations: Good News for Beginning Teachers
by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D.

No one knows better than a first year teacher that the beginning of the school year bristles with anticipation—and not just for the kids. Yet, despite the excitement, the weeks before school are often filled with unsettling thoughts: “Will I ever be able to fill all those hours until lunch?” “What if a parent comes to meet me and can only say, ‘You’re the teacher?!” “Am I going to be able to keep the vows I made to myself to treat my students in a fair and loving way?”

There can be many scary feelings to face just before your role as “Teacher” becomes real. To put those worries in perspective, take a moment and fantasize; picture your idea of a perfect first year. Imagine how you want to feel, the climate you create in your classroom and some of the ideals you have set for yourself. This vision can be a big help in your personal goal-setting process.

For example, most beginning teachers want to be competent and creative in a classroom where students are inquisitive and on task. They envision themselves as flexible and fun, enjoying their job, respected by parents and looked upon as a valuable addition by their school staff.

These are great expectations—and important ones. But it is also important not to let your expectations put undue pressure on you! Here are some suggestions to turn your beginning teacher’s dreams into achievable goals.

I Want my Students to Behave

You know you have the ability to think of a dynamic lesson and design a terrific bulletin board. It may be difficult to feel as confident about managing a roomful of students. There may be days when you will worry, “These kids must not like me at all because if they did, they would never act like this! What am I doing wrong?” Beginning teachers are often torn between wanting to develop a friendly relationship with their students and fearing that doing so will ultimately undo their sense of authority. Not true! Your students need and want to believe that you’re responsible and in charge, but you can be very friendly, warm and personal and still be the “adult” they need.

You can create a warm and positive climate in your classroom by identifying and considering your students’ needs and interests. You can meet students’ needs for belonging and control by involving them in decisions that concern them, like allowing them to choose which assignment to do first, or even letting them choose a partner for a particular assignment. Simply being able to make choices may give some of your students a real boost of confidence and often improves the chances for cooperation because it meets their need for control within limits you determine. Plus, making choices is an important step toward developing individual responsibility and decision-making skill.

Often beginning teachers feel insecure when other teachers walk by their classroom or the principal passes by their kids in the lunch line. Sometimes it’s hard not to panic and think, “ I know I would look like a better teacher if my students were not so noisy.” It’s true that part of your competence as a teacher will be reflected by your students’ behavior, but certainly not all of it. Try not to jump to conclusions or put a lot of energy into managing what other people think of you. Your primary concern is the quality of your relationships with your students and the overall climate in which you and your students coexist.

A very important challenge for any teacher is the ability to separate who your students are from the behaviors they exhibit, especially their negative or disruptive behaviors. In other words, can you still perceive a student as worthy of your attention and care even though she forgot her homework again, walked away from a mess he made or even said your assignment was stupid? Your ability to recognize that the students are not their behaviors will allow you to accept them without necessarily accepting those behaviors.

Be sure that your students have plenty to do. Always have a set of “emergency plans,” quick and easy backups for when things don’t quite go as expected—or take as long as you had hoped. Overplan! Undirected kids have a way of turning time on their hands into classroom disruptions.

Finally, a classroom atmosphere that emphasizes responsibility and cooperation, in which you model the positive behaviors you would like them to demonstrate and attempt to meet their needs for power and structure, tends to minimize the kinds of resistance and opposition that lead to so many classroom conflicts.

I Want my Classroom to Run Smoothly

Time management and classroom planning are always more challenging for new teachers who are often dealing with certain management issues for the first time. Policies regarding school attendance and lunch count, home visits and field trips are not necessarily things you would automatically know (or even be expected to know), so ask! Everyone else had to ask at some point, and being aware of important policies and procedures will immediately make your life easier.

Another realization will help, too, on days that unexpectedly turn hectic: It may be your students—not you—who are being overwhelmed. Sometimes a great learning experience goes down the tubes simply because the students do not have the independence and basic learning skills necessary to do the work. Don’t assume that your students have down pat skills such as listening, using basic tools (like a ruler or even the pencil sharpener), moving nondisruptively into small groups or putting their materials away when they’re finished. While it may seem time-consuming to have students practice these skills, devoting time early on to practicing skills, routines and behaviors your students will need to succeed in your class will save all of you many hours and much grief later.

Even your own enthusiasm and creativity can be a problem at times. One of the best things about new teachers is the excitement, creativity and enthusiasm so many of them bring to their work. And after collecting ideas and materials during your teacher training, it’s hard not to want to try everything at once. Nonetheless, being sensitive to the students’ needs and energy can pay off in a big way. High levels of enthusiasm may, at times, be too much for your kids to handle. On days when children seem hyper, it may help to tone down your energy or soften your voice. Be careful to avoid the tendency to present too much too soon, offer too many activities at once or make too many changes before your kids can handle them. Save some of your more incredible activities for slower times, when they’ll be appreciated and when your students have mastered the routines and logistics they’ll need to succeed. You don’t want to run out of steam in the first week!

Start slowly and simply. Establish a daily routine your kids can handle. Leave room for some student decision-making, but be careful to not overwhelm. Your students may not have much skill or confidence with decision-making yet so avoid offering too many choices, or choices that are too open-ended, at least in the beginning. Responsible decision-making and self-management requires certain skills and trust, which may take some time to develop. Once you and your class feel comfortable with one another and have some of the basics down, you can expand available options.

Remember too, that you will always run into events you simply cannot plan for or control. As the newcomer on staff, you may be the one who has to cope with major changes, including the possibility of room changes or even being moved to a different class or grade level a few weeks into the school year. At the very least you will have to accommodate new students, transfers, pullouts, equipment failures and last-minute schedule changes. This demands confidence, flexibility and, most important, a sense of humor. Nobody likes these inconveniences, even seasoned veterans. Hang in there and don’t hesitate to ask others to share their specific strategies for coping with these problems.

I Want my Students to Succeed

Everyone needs to succeed. In order to take the kinds of risks necessary to learn and grow, your students must perceive that success is within their reach. This means you need to learn a great deal about your students’ interests, cognitive abilities and learning skills before simply presenting content or assigning tasks. Yet with all the pressure to “get through the curriculum,” it’s easy to forego this important step. Nonetheless, if your intention is to encourage all of your students to learn, grow and be successful, you’ll need to start with them wherever they are—and that’s likely to be different from one child to another. (To be honest, if your intention is simply to cover content, you don’t even need kids! Without assessing what they know and what they need, you’re bound to be teaching over the heads of some students, and boring others to tears, neither of which is likely to result in academic growth.)

You may eventually want to vary your methods of instruction to include small groups, learning centers, self-selection or learning contracts, individualized assignments and student-teacher conferences. Keep in mind that working with different strategies will require various self-management skills your students may not have yet developed (or, with older kids, had a chance to practice for a while). While teaching these skills may appear a rather challenging and time-consuming task, keep in mind that the more independent and responsible your students become early on, the more you’ll be able to accomplish together all year.

Again, start slowly and keep things simple. Let your students know when they may and may not come to you with questions and, if you aren’t available to help, offer them the option of asking a classmate or switching to a different task until you’re free. Keep independent work and routines relatively simple at first—things the kids can do on their own. While some of these assignments may seem like busywork to you, remember that your intention is building confidence, independence and self-management. You’ve got a whole year to focus on content! It takes time, energy and practice to establish these skills and routines. As the students become better able to work on their own, you will be able to make the work more meaningful by increasing the variety of materials, the number of choices, the amount of work required and the intellectual processes required.

Use their mistakes as opportunities to teach, shape behavior or encourage them to make different choices. Your patience and persistence can encourage them to keep trying. Schools traditionally have been very negative and critical, and many people assume that we need to be this way or kids won’t learn or take us seriously. Not true! In fact, a consistent focus on errors and omissions, or a tendency to shame or humiliate students (even in the misguided interest of improving their performance or behavior) will undermine your attempts to provide emotional safety and can ultimately restrict growth in all students, not just in the one being criticized. Focusing on the positive, even when it seems as though a student has done just about everything wrong, allows you to build on the student’s strengths—whatever they are! This approach can have an extremely positive impact on the climate of your classroom.

When a child has turned in work that you know can be better, how about telling her it’s a “great first draft,” rather than scolding her for sloppy work? When another turns in a story with many misspellings, punctuation errors, incomplete sentences and no capital letters, how about noting the one thing he got right (perhaps excellent handwriting or an interesting title) instead of wearing out the red pencil marking every error? Then defy tradition by using the mistakes as a basis for your instruction—instead of a bad grade! Start with what they’re doing well and teach them the rest! You may really have to look for good points sometimes, but your positive focus will be tremendously encouraging and appreciated.

I Want to be Accepted as Part of the Staff

Your sense of feeling accepted in your school community plays a big part in your feelings about your work. Establish your sense of belonging by blending in without sacrificing your individuality. The transition from being a student to being a professional is, to a large degree, a function of how you see yourself. In relating to your principal, the parents of your students and your peers, the greater your sense of yourself as a professional, the more likely others will perceive and treat you as one.

Respect the existing relationships and dynamics, but at the same time be open and friendly. Initiate conversations, participate in school and social activities, and gradually get to know individuals. Be cautious in setting expectations, making demands or imposing your values and priorities on others. Pay attention to how much of your conversation is about you. Tune in to whether you are consistently complaining about students, school policy, other teachers or parents and how often you feel the need to share the details of your classroom experiences and accomplishments. Lack of confidence usually presents itself in the form of justifications that suggest that “everyone seems to know what they’re doing except me” or arrogance that may sound something like “no one around here cares, works or tries as much as I do.” Neither attitude is likely to enhance a professional image or your relationships with others. Likewise, neither is likely to be true.

Build a support system by identifying one or several members of your staff with whom you feel capable of developing a close working relationship. Approach people with a blend of confidence and openness. You may be new and willing to grow, but you are also a very capable person and you belong there as much as anyone.

I Want to be Great!

As a student, or a student teacher, you received feedback on a fairly regular basis. Suddenly as a teacher you are much more on your own. While the autonomy can be wonderful, the relative isolation can also lead to a loss of perspective. Especially during the first year or two, you may tend to judge yourself by presumed expectations of others, by your students’ behavior or growth, or even by what other teachers are doing. You may also find that your expectations for yourself are higher than any that you’ve ever encountered previously from external sources. Watch these tendencies, as the feedback they offer may not only be inaccurate, but extremely discouraging as well.

The teaching profession has historically expected initiates to perform as competently (and independently) as veterans. Understandably, new teachers often feel a tremendous pressure to get everything going at once! Remember that running all of your different programs, especially if you’re in a self-contained classroom or working with a number of different preparations, demands familiarity with the content and management of each program, the development and preparation of materials and the establishment of the learning skills necessary to function successfully in each class. All of these take time. Ask more experienced teachers for reality checks or suggestions for pacing, prioritizing and implementing that will work for you.

If you need to take several weeks to build the independence your students will need to participate in small groups, hold off introducing complex logistics or programs until your kids are ready. If you haven’t already stockpiled a roomful of dinosaur “stuff,” decide whether you’ll feel comfortable starting your unit with what you have. Throughout your career, you will continue to amass resources and materials, as well as skills and confidence. You don’t need everything you will ever have on a topic to introduce a it to your class.

Most of all, try to resist the temptation to measure yourself against other teachers. You may find yourself panicking at the realization that the other fourth grade is 15 pages ahead of your class in one subject area or another. Yet, this comparison is rarely fair, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the other teacher may simply be more familiar with the material after years of experience with it, and may have devised a more-efficient set of lessons and activities. Or perhaps your students needed some preparation another teacher didn’t address, or your kids had more questions. You may have decided to explore the topic in greater depth or with more attention to individual needs. You are not in a race with anyone, and the speed with which you sail through the curriculum is by no means a measure of your competence or your students’ degree of learning.

In striving to become the best teacher you can be, be careful not to identify too closely with another teacher. Simply adopting someone else’s teaching behaviors can rob you of the chance to develop your own personal teaching style, a process that can span your entire teaching career. What works for one person can become a complete disaster if the behaviors don’t match the intentions, personality or teaching styles. Try new things that feel right to you, strategies that allow you to operate within the bounds of personal comfort and integrity.

Also avoid measuring your success by your students’ successes. When your students have a good day, it’s easy to walk away from work feeling quite the super-teacher. Yet when they just can’t seem to grasp a concept, are restless beyond belief or have made it painfully clear that school isn’t where they want to be, does that mean it’s time to consider dental school? Hardly.

There will be days when you come to work prepared to the teeth, organized, dynamic and in a wonderful mood, and something—or everything—still goes wrong. It’s never easy when this happens, but there are silver linings in every apparent failure. Instead of feeling guilty, resentful or inadequate, can you step out of the picture and rationally look at what worked and what didn’t? Consider a few different approaches for next time or think about what your kids may need to know first before the same lesson can go more smoothly. A bad day can be a great opportunity to learn what works, to stretch in new directions or consider an approach that might never have otherwise crossed your mind.

Use these opportunities to maximize your professional growth. Good day or bad, start making notes on your lesson plans, unit files or “to do” lists. Jot down the little things you can do to make your lessons—or teaching life in general—go better. Your notes might include “preview the film,” “make flashcards for the new vocabulary words,” “put the chart on darker paper,” or “next time, remember to have enough scissors for everybody.” This habit will not only help you develop your powers of planning and anticipation, it will also help you avoid similar mistakes the next time you teach that concept or unit.

Try keeping a journal to monitor your own growth, if only one line a day on a calendar or datebook. At the end of each day, write down at least one thing you felt good about, some concrete evidence of your growth and development. You can use some of the following examples taken from the journals of beginning teachers who recorded short messages about their growth on a weekly basis: “My self-control seems to be improving, I kept my cool through a tough situation.” “I’m remembering to get each child’s attention before talking.” “I’m smiling more.” “I am feeling comfortable with the faculty at my school. The teachers have become so supportive, and I am becoming more confident as a teacher.” “I don’t cry every day.”

And even if you get scared, frustrated, discouraged or overwhelmed, remember this: as time goes on you will become more organized, more efficient, better prepared and hopefully, more satisfied. Teaching, like any other set of skills you’ll ever tackle, is a developmental process. You’re not supposed to be perfect yet!

Look for small steps every day, record your growth and go back over your notes from time to time to see how far you’ve come. Build your support network and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And most important, make sure you take the time every day to pat yourself on the back for the risks you have dared to take and all the things you are learning to do well. Much success and happiness to you!

From http://bluestein.com



Here are things I like about what Bluestein says:

"Punishing intolerance and disrespect is not a way to teach tolerance and respect. That is the model we have now. "

"You can’t just stand up in a room and say, “Now kids, we are going to de a lesson on respect. Now respect is important because “yada yada” and let's put some posters on the wall.” This doesn’t work, especially in an environment where teachers speak so disrespectfully to kids and to one another. How often are we not walking the talk?"

"Relationship building—the key to minimizing discipline problems—is a process."

"Since so many of the changes necessary in making a transition from industrial-age beliefs and behaviors to those of an information-age model occur at a very personal level—and on a very individual basis—you probably won’t have much success attempting to mandate the change or trying to establish 21st Century Discipline as a uniform discipline code. (Adults aren’t much different from kids when it comes to being told what to do, especially if such mandates include directives about how to feel or what to tolerate!)"

'They don’t learn by shame and they don’t learn by punishment and they don’t learn by fear and they don’t learn by threats. And whatever they do learn by fear and threats is not what we want them to be learning."

"You can create a warm and positive climate in your classroom by identifying and considering your students’ needs and interests."


There are also things I don't like about Bluestein's writing. For example, she uses very "parental" or authoritarian sounding terms such as:

negative, disruptive
choices and outcomes
children’s behavior
on task

(See my thoughts on "disruptive" behavior)

She says "I Want my Students to Behave" - This mentality is hundreds of years old. The focus is on behavior - not on feelings, thinking or even learning.

She also talks about "learning contracts", which are unnecessary in a learning environment based on mutual respect, and voluntary participation. (See this editorial on teacher-student contracts).

She says "...refusing to punish students for infractions you did not witness" - This quote from her article for administrators tells us she still believes in punishment. She doesn't say, "refusing to punish, period." You don't earn someone's respect by punishing them.

She uses the term "success-oriented instruction" but she I am afraid she sees "success" as basically high grades, which is not any different than what we have already been doing. In that article she also says "I want my students to succeed" but who defines success? I know from personal experience that it is possible to be "successful" and very unhappy. I also know of people who have appeared to be "successful" but have taken their own lives, so I believe we need another standard of measurement, such as happiness or mental health.

She is still talking about the "creation of a reward-oriented school environment". Bluestein doesn't seem to be aware, of or a supporter of, Alfie Kohn's excellent work on using rewards to manipulate students. He makes it clear that rewards have problems. Setting up a reward-based behavior control system is like training dogs and dolphins, but has no place for developing individuals who have a mind and feelings of their own.

She says, "Overplan! Undirected kids have a way of turning time on their hands into classroom disruptions." I'd say the "kids" are way too controlled already. I say give them more free time. Time to talk about their feelings, solve problems and conflicts, talk about what is important to them. Time to just relax and social and be "kids" and teenagers. In the countries I have visited where students are happier and use less drugs than in the UK or the USA, for example, the students are more relaxed and have more freedom and more free time.

Here is a little word analysis:

She used the words "kid" or "kids" about 60 times in the interview and the two article I first posted here. She uses student/students about the same number of times.

She uses the words teen or teens just once, and never uses the words teenager or teenagers. What this tells me is she sees teenagers too much as "kids." She fails to distinguish between the two very different groups of people.

Inconsistency about Punishment and Safety

In this excerpt of her book, "Creating Emotionally Safe Schools", Bluestein seems to approve of the use certain kinds of punishment. However, any use of, or threat of, punishment creates a degree of fear and insecurity. Therefore no form punishment, or a threat of it, can be part of a fully emotionally safe school.

Excerpt from "Creating Emotionally Safe Schools", J. Bluestein, page 10

I use the term "emotional safety" to refer to a classroom or school environment in which students can experience all of the following:

  • a sense of belonging, of being welcomed and valued; being treated with respect and dignity; acceptance
  • the freedom to not be good at a particular skill, make mistakes, forget, or need additional practice and still be treated respectfully and with acceptance
  • encouragement and success; recognition; instruction, guidance and resources according to need (developmental, cognitive, affective, modality) and regardless of need
  • having one's own unique talents, skills and qualities valued, recognized and acknowledged
  • understanding and clarity (about requirements and expectations); predictability (consistency of follow-through); freedom from arbitrary, indiscriminate and unexpected punishment and reactivity
  • the freedom from harassment, intimidation (including labeling, name-calling, ridicule, teasing, criticism or contempt) and threat of physical harm from adults or peers
  • the freedom to make choices and influence one's own learning, pursue personal interests and control various factors in the process of learning (such as content, presentation, media, location; social context; direction; specific assignments or approaches) based on personal needs and preferences
  • the freedom from prejudice, judgment and discrimination based on physical characteristics and general appearance; religious, racial or cultural background; sexual orientation
  • the freedom from prejudice, judgment and discrimination based on academic, athletic, creative or social capabilities; modality or learning-style preferences, temperament, hemispheric dominance or similar profiles
  • the freedom to have (and express) one's own feelings and opinions without fear of recrimination

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