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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tough Teachers Get Results

I’m posting an article that I realize might be a bit controversial or viewed as “old school” when it comes to student-teacher relationships and classroom management.  I’m not advocating name-calling or corporal punishment.  I am, however, advocating for teachers to be the instructional leaders in their classrooms.  There is a fine line between befriending a student and establishing a strong, mentoring relationship.  Students need to understand that we care, we have their best interests in mind, and that we will ensure their safety while at school.  Instructors must maintain a “professional distance” in order to build those strong, mentoring relationships.

Students must also realize that respect breeds respect.  There is never a time when professionalism takes a back seat.  Students will test, and those that have experienced repeated school failure are quite often on the defensive. Taking what students say too personally is a downfall of many good instructors.  There is ALWAYS a reason behind the behavior; focusing on the underlying cause is the first step in mitigating those behaviors and encouraging mature, respectful replacement behavior.

There is precious little that modern students have committed to memory. They are resourceful, and that's positive. However, it's alarming how few of the students are able to recite a poem, memorize important facts or formulas, or even recall simple math facts when requested. It’s no wonder that they are unprepared for state-wide testing!  That is a sad commentary on the state of education, or maybe just a sad commentary on how "soft" today's students have become.  Grit, resilience and hard work will lead to success, and it is imperative that we, as educators, instill those work ethics and character traits in the students we serve.  

The eight bullet points in the article, “Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results,” highlight some of the things that have been lost in many of today’s classrooms.  It’s okay to experience a bit of pain and failure IS an option.  When those things happen, the skilled educator responds with corrective action - and THAT is what builds confidence.  Showing the students how to pick themselves up and try again is what will, ultimately, serve them well.  

I hope you enjoy the read and contemplate how you might use some of the strategies in your personal growth.  

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Morning Message

Each Monday, I offer a brief message to the students. Sometimes it’s inspirational, sometimes it is to offer advice, and sometimes, it’s related to the weekly theme.  Today, it’s about America, patriotism and how fortunate we are to live in a country with so many freedoms.

If you haven’t traveled outside of the US, you haven’t begun to experience or appreciate all that it means to live in this country.  I traveled to Europe the summer after my senior year in high school, so I was just about the age that many of you are.  I, like many of you, took everything for granted.  School, books, clothes, friends, cars, pizza on Friday night - all of those things that are important to teens - were important to me, too. I expected that I would have those things, but I didn’t think about what sacrifices others had made so that I could have what I wanted - not what I needed, but what I felt was important.

So, that trip to Europe. I traveled with a group of about 70 teenagers, all members of the Youth for Understanding exchange student program. The YFU Chorale was an elite group of vocalists from Michigan and Ohio. After auditioning and passing the YFU exchange student criteria, the year-long preparation and rehearsals began. At the end of June, with itinerary in hand, we boarded the aircraft for the trip across the Atlantic. 

We stayed in youth hostels, with families that did not speak English, and in low-budget hotels with running cold water only.  It was an eight-week trip. No Internet, no cell phones, no long-distance phone calls.  Strange food, new experiences and unfamiliar customs made most of us very homesick.  In Yugoslavia, which is now Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia,  Montenegro and Kosovo, we stayed in youth hostels.  No one spoke English.  We made our way around using improvised sign language and what little translation the guide could provide.  Our beds were dirty mattresses on the floor, the shower was communal - a man actually walked in when I was showering! - and the toilets were a hole in the floor. There were stalls, but no toilets.  The Yugoslav teens we met were members of the communist party. The President, Joseph Tito, was named President for life in 1963.  The teens spoke openly of President Tito and how no one was permitted to speak negatively about him.  They were living in small, state provided apartments, and had a monthly allowance on which to live. No one was permitted to earn more than the government permitted.  It was strange to us, but even stranger was the fact that these teens were happy. This was their world, and this is what they knew. For me and the group that I was traveling with,  it was definitely an experience for which we were woefully unprepared.

Flash back to that teenager living in the suburbs attending a good school, living in a nice house with everything one might want:  me.  Traveling through Europe, and especially into Yugoslavia, gave me a newfound sense of patriotism.  I never realized or appreciated all that America had to offer.  It was definitely an eye-opening experience.   When we flew back over the Statue of Liberty, I felt a sense of patriotism and pride that I can’t even express today, so many years afterward.

So, why do I bring this up?  Well, many reasons.  First, so many of you seem so sad. Putting your life in perspective might help you realize that you are so very, very fortunate.   Second, the the United States Flag.  I wonder, as I look about the BASE class each day, why so many of you choose to stay seated during the Pledge.  I am not judging you or your choice, but I am curious.  Maybe you’re just too tired to stand.  Maybe you really don’t understand all that you’ve been given.  Maybe you don’t like the implied perception of forced patriotism  that saluting the flag assumes.  Whatever your reasons, it does make we wonder.

So, what is the point of all of this?  Simply this.  Please know that you have a great opportunity in this country. You can go to school. You can live where you want.  You can worship in whatever religion you choose. And, you can stay seated during the Pledge.  And I will continue to wonder, every day, how  I can help you to understand how very, very lucky you are to live in this country.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

Today is the final Monday message for most of the seniors. It’s been an interesting year – and it’s gone way too fast.  The end of formal schooling for some, and the beginning of a new adult world looms.  What will that look like for you?  Have you done all that you can to prepare to be the BEST you?

For all of you, there have been many that helped you along the way.  Your parents, friends, teachers, pastors, siblings, and countless others. Take a moment to thank them. You would not be where you are today - or who you are today - without someone that held your hand along the way. 

I thought it’d be fun to look back through the year and highlight something from each of the MMM Monday Messages.  Here is what I found:

In September: I like to start any new school year by setting goals for the year – both personal and professional.  It is a new beginning and setting goals helps me feel a sense of accomplishment.

Fourth year students.  We will do all that we can to help you reach that stage at the graduation ceremony on June 2.  But you’ve got to meet us at least half way.
Senior meetings this week!  Have you set up your appointment?

Early October: Showing up on time, attending to your classes, working outside of school, being here on Saturday morning….Your attitude is starting to show.  I need some help understanding what is getting in the way.  What is more important?  Or is it that you want to continue to live life on the edge?  That’s fine, but the consequences are real.  The message you send when you arrive late is that the rules don’t matter or apply to you. How will that behavior transfer into the adult world?
There is nothing that I can imagine that is more important than getting a good education. We have provided you with the resources, a good curriculum, great teachers, and given incentives, motivation and encouragement.  Help me understand what is more important than putting in some time on e2020 over the weekend….!

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. ~Abraham Lincoln

Late October: We have had several “drama” related postings this week.  THINK before you post.  Is this what I want the world to know about me?  Is this how I want a potential employer to view my character? Everything that you post that is transmitted electronically can be retrieved, even after it is deleted.  THINK – this is your life. What do you want others to know about you?

This week, your lessons in BASE class will center around planning ahead. Setting goals and accomplishing them – and imagining what might be possible.   Graduation won’t happen by just wishing for it.  You need to plan, set goals, and then discipline yourselves to achieve those goals each week.  Now is a perfect time to set those goals. With just two weeks until the break, what do you think you can accomplish in that time?  Is 100 activities per week an attainable goal?  What will you need to change in order to make that happen?  Coming in early, staying late, committing to Saturday school, or working outside of school for the next TWO WEEKS is something that each of you can do. 

December:  Schedules, seating charts, expectations.  Stay in your assigned class!  There is NO reason to go to another lab.  We have started to see (again) where social media is getting in the way of what you need to be doing at school. Cyber-bullying, posting unkind things about your classmates, arranging rides, setting up social events after school….all of these things take time away from what you seriously need to contemplate this year.  Are you wasting time trying to make yourself look better by hurting someone else? What gives you the right?  How does that motivate you?  In the end, the person pushing the text button to send that negative tweet or post is really the one getting hurt.  Life is full of choices. We encourage you to make wiser ones.

November 29: Go the Extra Mile For Greater Success

If you want to really excel in business, school and life, go the extra mile. Give the people around you – your customers, your team, your family – more than they expect, and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with loyalty, referrals, opportunity and money.
Successful people go the extra mile – and they stand out as a result. They get the promotions and the loyal customers. They grow their businesses twice as fast and attract the best employees. They receive financial rewards and job security. Best of all, they go home at night feeling satisfied and bursting with self-confidence.

THURSDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Lower school grades among depressed adolescents are linked to behavior problems, not their depression, a new study finds.
Researchers examined data from thousands of U.S. teens who were tracked through their middle and high school years and as they moved into early adulthood.
Unlike students with depression, those with behavior problems such as attention issues, delinquency or substance use had lower GPAs than others. The study also found that delinquency and substance use were associated with receiving lesser educational degrees, while depression was not.
Students with two of these problems typically earned lower GPAs and lesser degrees than those with one problem, and some combinations of problems had more harmful effects than others, according to the study, which was published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
For instance, substance use worsened the educational risks associated with depression, attention issues and delinquency. Having depression did not, however, increase the educational risks associated with attention issues, delinquency or substance use.
"Behavior problems including attention issues, delinquency and substance use are associated with diminished achievement, but depression is not," study lead author Jane McLeod, a sociology professor and associate dean at Indiana University, in Bloomington, said in a journal news release.

December 17: School Safety.
It takes a community.
As horrific as the events were last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there are a number of things that went right.  The teachers were trained. The children responded.  Hundreds of lives were saved as a result.

The teachers knew, without an announcement, that there was danger – an active shooter – in the building. Instead of panicking, they reacted to their training. They stayed calm and helped the children to the “safe area” inside their classrooms.  They stayed there until help arrived.  Had there been panic, the shooter could have ended many, many more lives that day.

I’m not making light of the tragedy.  The fact is, we can never be absolute certain that something like that couldn’t happen here. We can, however, continue to practice what we know.  We can prepare.  We can keep you safe using our protocols.

Those protocols might require that you stay in a secure area for several hours.  In complete silence.  Let’s think about how that might look after what came down here last week….

Drama. Petty drama. Is it really worth it?  Kids were dying last week – and you’re hung up on who said what to whom and whether you want to lower yourself to assume an assigned seat.  Really?  How does that fly in the real world?  Think for a minute about our school – how we present ourselves when visitors come through.  It’s just not okay.  For the most part, we had a great week last week. Students were working, learning, devoting time outside of class to their studies, and then everything changed.  I cannot describe the disappointment I feel when you are unable to keep the drama at bay.  I can’t think of anything so important that it allows you to scream obscenities in a classroom, call each other horrible names, and show blatant disrespect toward those in charge of your care. 

It’s really not necessary. This week, let’s take care of each other.  Let’s be kind. Let’s swallow those unkind words and stomp out those unkind thoughts.  For really, that’s what will measure your success.  Are you able to hold it together, consider the other’s perspective, view something from another’s point of view, or are you so self absorbed that nothing matters but your immediate needs?  I think we’re better than what I saw on Friday.  This week, take care of yourself and be kind.

There are no easy answers.  We will never know why, but we can prepare and we can help you to be safe while you’re at school.

And with that, I stopped.  While there was another half year of Monday Morning messages, nothing seemed to matter more that this:  Are you safe?  Can we keep you reasonably safe with the safety protocols that we’ve developed?  Will you be safe as you venture out into the world?  What have you learned that you will take with you about being safe, making wise choices, and giving back to those that many never be able to repay you?

So today, be grateful.  You’ve done well, and you’ve completed what you set out to do.  Let today – and every day ahead – be one that you look upon as a gift.  Learn to give more and take less.  Learn to appreciate all that you’ve been given.  Pause, reflect, think, and be kind.  Congratulations 2013.  You’ve made us all proud.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Oh Twitter......why hast thou forsaken me??

It was five years ago that I opened my first Twitter account, @SalineSPED.  Being a new Twitter user, I didn’t really know what to expect. Thinking back, I didn’t hold out much hope for the platform, but I wanted to learn.  Five years is a LONG time in the world of social media.  Five years ago, most of my current students were in elementary school, and most did not yet own their first cell phone.  Fast forward to 2013, and almost all of the students have a smart phone.  That smart phone is equipped with many applications that allow students to access social media at the touch of an icon.  Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, SnapChat, Vine, Reddit, LinkedIN, GoogleChat, Pinterest, MySpace, Tagged, Ning, and many others are available to students instantly.  So much powerful technology, yet so little teaching has taken place with regard to using the technology appropriately.   

In the past five years, I have learned what a phenomenal tool Twitter is for learning, growing, and discovering.  I have connected with educators in nearly every state and formed online relationships with companies, school districts, teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board members all across the county, and even internationally.  This growing Professional Learning Network provides me with updates in school legislation, curricular changes, lesson plans, resources for grants and funding, service opportunities and sometimes, a sounding board.  If I have a question about Special Education assistive technology, law, policy, or practice, I can post a question to my Twitter feed and within minutes, I have several resources from which to draw.  In short, I’ve learned that Twitter is a powerful way to connect with like-minded educators and to learn from them.

Three years ago, I opened a second Twitter account, @NEWSalineALTHS. My thinking was that this would be a fabulous way to communicate quickly with parents about school events, school cancellations, and schedule changes, or to post relevant information about parenting teens. I follow nearly 1000 people on my @NEWSalineALTHS account and over 600 of those followers also follow me.  My tweets are my own and my tweets are not protected.  Why?  For the simple reason that I use Twitter to learn.  I have nothing to hide and I welcome comments, retweets, and replies to my posts.  It is a powerful venue for learning, growing, and connecting. 

I was hopeful that others within the school setting would realize the value of using Twitter appropriately, but unfortunately, the Twitter-verse has morphed into something that I really didn’t see coming.

Maybe I was na├»ve, or maybe overly optimistic. 

What about those teens that I mentioned earlier?   Many, well, most, have Twitter accounts.  From what I’ve seen, most use Twitter as a way to quickly chat up a friend, to post a status, or to comment on something for which they have a strong opinion.  Rarely are their tweets embedded with other links to relevant information.  Occasionally, a picture is posted, but the pictures are for one purpose: to draw attention to a superficial personal attribute, social gathering, or new piece of clothing.  It’s a cyber-predator’s haven since most of the teens do not protect their tweets.  Pictures of teenaged girls in provocative or suggestive attire clutter the Twitter feeds of most of these young people.  In their naivety, the far-reaching negative affects of these posts are far from their minds. What matters, so it seems, is the ability to instantly connect with a peer, and to draw attention to oneself, whether or not that attention is positive.  It’s faster than an email, less cumbersome than FaceBook, and tweets can be composed and posted within a couple seconds on a smart phone. 

I worry about this use of a fabulous technology.  I worry that students are unaware that others, many not as forgiving as I am, are reading those posts.  I worry about what potential employers or college admissions officials will think when they read what students are posting.  I worry about the message they are sending out to the world.  Is cursing online EVER okay?  Is name calling a good use of the technology?  When – and why -  did Twitter become a slam book?

Ironically, and almost comically, I do not take offense at the negative posts that students feel compelled to write about me.  Teens need to experiment, grow, and assert themselves.  Students claim that they have First Amendment rights and can post whatever they would like.  Yes, to a point.  When directing a post toward an individual that is potentially libelous, you cross a line where your First Amendment rights are no longer applicable.  When you use Twitter to post an untruth or potentially defamatory comment, you put yourself at risk.  When you post that you are using drugs, engaging in underage drinking, looking for the next party, or where and with whom you’re having sex, the infinitely large world wide web is watching and reading. 

The fact that I read your posts was met with some surprise and dissention this past week.  Why do I read your Twitter feed, students?  Because I care.  Because I think you’re better than what you’re posting.  And truly, because someone needs to monitor and guide you when you’re headed astray.  And unfortunately, you are one step ahead of what most of your parents are monitoring.  Not all, but most.  The digital footprint that you’re leaving is forever.  Protecting your tweets does not prevent others from reading what you’ve posted.  Be wise. Be better. Be above the fray.  Use Twitter for the purpose of learning, growing and becoming better people. 

And finally, help restore my faith in the power of using social media for what is good and what is right.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Showing Up and Being on Time


I was overwhelmingly impressed with the BASE lesson today.  Your efforts to research appropriate content for this population never cease to amaze me.  

As you have noticed, the students' attention to punctuality has declined, and in the past three weeks, absenteeism has been at an all-time high.  Responding to that behavior, you developed a very succinct lesson, targeted at highlighting behaviors that will help students transition into the adult world with greater ease.  You provided them with strategies to change bad habits and tips to help with timely attendance.

I especially liked that you monitored the classroom door and addressed each student personally that arrived after the 7:45 start time.  That personal attention sends a clear message of your expectations and your efforts to curb abhorrent behaviors.  It demands additional time and effort on your part; working as a well-oiled machine, as a team, you carried off the lesson and the message with aplomb.

My commitment to you is that I will continue to work with the parents of the students so that they may help support your efforts at home.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Boundaries and Filters

Perhaps the one thing that has surprised me the most about working with students in an Alternative setting is that deficits in social norms are prevalent.  Without passing judgment on why this characteristic is pervasive, it's best just to offer up some remedies and reminders of how we all need to conduct ourselves, manage our impulsiveness, and "play nice" in a civil society.

How successfully we interact in a civil society is directly related to how well we have learned our boundaries and how well we have learned to control our internal filters.  In any society, there are norms and conventions that determine appropriate behavior.  It’s NOT okay, for example, to pick your nose in public, or to barge into a room and start speaking without checking what is going on. Most of us have learned those basics of how to successfully engage in a social setting.
People who lack healthy emotional boundaries are individuals who struggle with interpersonal relationships in specific ways. They say things that are inappropriate, or they ask questions or make statements that are far too personal and invasive, or they come over to your house without calling first, among other annoying habits.

What does this mean at school? Simply stated, these reminders should help guide everyone to assimilate a culture that is conducive to learning.  

         Look, listen, pause…..ask permission
         Edit, pause before publishing

Develop internal controls that enable all to feel comfortable in your presence.  Blurting out, burping, passing gas, name calling and offering up unsolicited judgmental comments are examples of lack of filtering.  And in many cases, those outbursts are very offensive.

That being so…….consider that ANYTHING is a judgment call.  Unless you’ve been asked for an opinion, it’s better to say nothing.

There are a few extremely offensive phrases that have become too common in recognized teenage jargon.  Some students are very offended – and I join them in their concern.  I’d like to read what they’ve put together so you can get an idea.

Offensive slang – the “R” word.
Used as a disparaging term for a mentally handicapped individual. When one says “That’s retarded!” it usually means that something is stupid. The use of the work in a derogatory context has become so common that many young people are not even aware that it is slipping into their causal conversations so frequently. Many teens are using it as a filler word to break moments of silence or boredom.

Often, the phrase is not meant to offend a person with disabilities, but rather to insult a person that they think has acted oddly or has done something inadvisable or clumsy. Regardless of the intent, this has become a very touchy subject. Some parents of children with autism will now ask parents of non-disabled children If the term is allowed at their home before accepting a play date invitation. 
There is a movement to eradicate the word from the spoken language.  It has become a very emotional social issue in America and parts of Europe as the phrase is frequently used to degrade or humiliate – with little regard for the term’s true meaning

In my opinion, using phrases such as "That's Retarded!" are ways to express displeasure or disagreement when the speaker has limited vocabulary or other means to challenge.  In short, it becomes a catch-all phrase when the inexperienced debater is devoid of other constructive criticism or a means to convey an alternative opinion.  Lacking that experience, an impulsive reaction is blurted out without regard to its implications.  

At the Saline Alternative, a simplistic approach to learning self control is posted:
BREATHE before you speak
PAUSE before you post

Sometimes that brief hesitation will give the speaker just enough time to avoid blurting out potentially offensive corprolalia.  Teaching specific language and phraseology that is more mature, appropriate and germane is the objective to instilling lifelong habits that enable young adults to interact with decorum in any social situation.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Second New Year

In education, there are two “new years” to celebrate each school year. The first comes in early September when students return to school to start their studies in a new classroom, school or program. The second, just recently celebrated, begins with the passing of a calendar year and the welcoming of a new year.  Both offer times to renew, reflect, and revitalize.
For all students (and staff for that matter), I offer the following as ways to renew, reflect, and revitalize.

1.     Set goals.  For students in an alternative setting, short-term goals work best.  Instant gratification.  Goals are only goals if they are written down, realistic, measurable, and attainable within the set time period.  Action steps help define the goals, and give the learner a pathway to the short-term success.

2.     Reflect.  What goals did you set in September for your school achievement?  What progress have you made toward attaining those goals?  If you aren’t where you had hoped, what interfered with that progress?  How will you change your actions, thoughts, or behaviors so that your progress will be in line with your goals? What steps will you need to take to avoid those same pitfalls?

3.     Revitalize.  Try something new.  Dream big.  Believe.  Give back: there is always someone less fortunate than yourself. Learn to look ahead. Let go of the past.  Look forward to something, and reward yourself for getting there. Be the most positive person you’ve ever met.

4.     Do the right thing.  Always.  Even when it’s more fun to run with the crowd, or more important to save face, what really matters is your integrity.  Be honest in all that you do; it will help you like that person looking back at you in the mirror.

Let 2012 be a new beginning for you.  If it’s setting goals or just reflecting on what needs to be changed a bit from the first new year, set aside the time to make 2012 your best year ever in public education.  It’s your life. Take charge of it and just see if you can amaze yourself this year.