The Rebounding Effect: Positivity Generates Positivity

Every chalkboard champion knows that positivity in the classroom generates positivity in return. Here’s a tangible example of that which I learned one year, quite by accident.

You know how at the beginning of every year we are asked to complete a form that lists our goals for the year? Well, one year I decided that my goal was to make a sincere effort to be better at praising my students. I wanted to create a more positive relationship with my kids and a more congenial classroom environment. In addition, my principal was impressing upon the staff the need to foster better communication with parents. I decided I would combine the two goals, and so, on my form, I wrote that each month I would write six letters to parents praising their child. As a junior high school teacher with six classes of 42 students each, I reasoned that it shouldn’t be difficult to find one kid from each class each month that I could say something good about.

And so for the entire year, at the end of every month, I selected my six students and wrote each one a praise letter on decorative stationery. I read each letter aloud to the student before I put it in the envelope and sealed it, and then I gave it to the kid to take home to their parents. I shared the notes with the students to lower their anxiety level—a letter from the teacher is rarely good news—and to ensure that the note would really get delivered. But I could just as easily have put some postage on the letters and sent them through the U.S. mail.

The response I received from the parents was overwhelming. Many of the parents wrote notes back to me, expressing messages about how much they appreciated receiving praise about their child, how much their child enjoyed my class, or how pleased they were that I was their child’s teacher. Imagine my surprise when I realised that I was receiving praise letters like the ones that I was sending! I saved these notes, partly because they were so uplifting, and partly as proof that I had met the goals I had set for myself for the year. In May, I presented them to my principal at my annual evaluation conference. My principal suggested I photocopy the notes and take them to the District Office to be placed in my personnel file there, so I did.

And here is how those letters further rebounded positivity back to me. A couple of years later I applied for a transfer to a new school that was opening up in my district. I was thrilled when I was selected for the position. Imagine my surprise when, later, my new principal told me that he had read those letters in my personnel file, and it was partly because of them that he decided to hire me!

Try this strategy. It could create a rebound of positivity for you, too!

Flossing and the Frustration of Undone Homework

Homework. Hmmm…yeah. The topic is as controversial today as it was when I began my teaching career 36 years ago. Although I am now retired, this exasperating subject surfaced the other day when I was veritably blasted by my periodontist for failure to floss. Let’s just say I really got schooled. In a nutshell, he said he was a highly trained professional, and furthermore a very busy man, and if I couldn’t be bothered to do my share of the work at home, then I should not come back. Wow. I mean double wow.

So let’s be honest. Hasn’t every teacher run those same thoughts through their head when confronted by a recalcitrant student who refuses to do their homework? Educators everywhere have wrestled with this problem for decades. Every teacher knows that there are some students who will do all their homework, some students who will do some of it, and some students who will do none of it. And in my experience, unless you’re teaching an honors class, the amount of homework that doesn’t get done is greater than the amount that does.

So what strategies can the teacher use to increase the amount of homework that gets turned in? We’ve all experimented. Here are a few I tried. First, I increased the weight of the homework category so a student could not pass my class unless they completed at least a large percentage of it. The result? The students still didn’t do their homework, and tons of kids were failing. Then I tried reducing the number of assignments from four nights a week to two nights a week. That helped with their grades, but it did not increase the number of assignments that got turned in. Next, I tried giving assignments that couldn’t be quantified, such as, “Your homework tonight is to study for your test tomorrow.” And then I just hoped they would do this, although I was pretty sure they wouldn’t. Finally, I gave them classwork assignments and told them if they didn’t finish in class, they should finish for homework. And then I gave them enough time to finish in class.

I can’t say I felt very professionally satisfied with any of these strategies. One thing I can say with certainty, though, is that if I had given voice to my frustration in the same way that my periodontist did, if I had pounded them into the ground for their errors, I could add another failed strategy to my list. Even if my students showed up empty-handed, I was always glad to see them come back the next day. Because every day a student shows up to class is a new opportunity to guide them, to help them be more successful, and to lovingly plant that suggestion one more time that, yes, homework is an important part of continued progress. And seizing these opportunities is never a waste of time or energy, even for a busy, well-trained professional.

I understand full well my periodontist’s exasperation. I empathize. I am truly sorry that my failure to floss provoked such an angry outburst from him, and I forgive him for losing his temper. After all, I’m not a kid. I know the man is right. Since that day I have attempted, in New Year’s resolution fashion, to mend the error of my ways. But I also found a new periodontist.

Teacher, librarian, and author of Chalkboard Champions Terry Lee Marzell retires

 

After a 36-year career as an English teacher and District Librarian in the Corona Norco Unified School District, Chalkboard Champions author Terry Lee Marzell retires! After being honored at the monthly meeting of her school’s Leadership Team, she bids a tearful farewell to her colleagues at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

 

Goals, plans, and action: How to be a chalkboard champion!

teacher+cardAn earnest young student once said to me, “Some day I’m gonna be somebody!” It’s the kind of statement that tugs at the heartstrings of a compassionate teacher. She wanted to graduate from high school the first in her family, and then enroll in college. Her ultimate goal was to be a registered nurse. The thing is, the student rarely brought her book to class, almost never did her homework, and spent more time hiding her cell phone use under her desk than actually participating in class. She was not actively involved in her own education. “It’s great to have lofty goals,” I advised her, “but you have to couple those goals with a practical plan and some robust action.”

Even as an adult and a professional, I sometimes get a jolting reminder that talk, even if it is confident and optimistic, doesn’t really accomplish much that’s tangible. And if the talk sounds like whining and complaining, you can even severely sabotage the progress of your venture. We all face challenges and frustrations in our work, no matter what profession we are engaged in, but it’s important to avoid becoming the bellyacher in the teachers’ lounge that spends more energy describing the obstacles in minute detail than on coming up with some constructive and creative solutions.

To actually achieve your lofty goals, follow up your confident and optimistic talk by developing a feasible plan of action and then getting down to work. If you can do that, you will be a chalkboard champion, and you will have a great school year!