Tag Archives: school

Uniforms: The Great Equalizer

Many years ago uniforms were widely added to school dress codes and are mandatory in many areas. Not all schools did this, but there was a clear trend. Many argued for uniforms for valid reasons. Many opposed as well. As a former teacher and parent, I find this topic much more cut and dry than most.

Uniforms have been popular in dress codes over the past few decades.

Uniforms: Socioeconomic Equalizer and Anti-Bully Tool

When uniforms became a new fad, many argued that this type of dress code would help those who cannot afford the newest, coolest clothing. This makes sense to some degree. It’s not easy to buy the most popular brands. Then again, most families in need either accepted donations or purchased sale items which likely cost less than a week’s worth of uniforms. Some families cannot afford to go to the laundromat more than once per week which may mean a child must wear a uniform twice in one week, even if dirty.

If students are good people, being taught to be good citizens by their families, then odds are that bullying is not an issue no matter what others wear each day. Make no mistake, bullying begins at home. When it spreads through schools, you can still go back through the chain to find bullying by one or more families at the start.

On top of that, when a family can only afford a few uniforms, the socioeconomic status is still obvious in the wear and tear or unwashed appearance of the clothing. Bullying can still occur with a uniform dress code in place.

Uniforms: Gang Prevention

Another popular opinion is that without clear markings on clothing, gangs will have less of a foothold in schools. I am thankful that people are concerned about safety in schools. The problem is that gangs are not stupid. They will use hairstyles, tattoos, shoe or sock choices, hairbands, and other ways to show their alliance and gang colors or symbols.

Uniforms: Good for Everyone

The pervasive idea that uniforms are good for everyone is a bit of a generalization. After all, those with sensory issues may very well have negative behavioral reactions to the feeling those polo shirts and collars have. This can cause tardiness, ongoing in class behavior issues, and distractions. On the other hand, children who are raised with love, patience and taught to focus on school will likely not have difficulty moving on from seeing what others wear to do school work.

Uniforms may be comfortable for some students, but not all.

In the end, I found uniforms to stifle creativity of my students and children. I am firmly against using them as a mandatory dress code and encourage others to consider the cons along with the pros. It is easier to teach a student who feels comfortable and happy. This may mean polo shirts and cotton/polyester blend pants or it may mean leggings and a t-shirt. The goal is learning. Don’t let uniforms stand in the way.

 

 

Yes, kids do have to sit and listen all day at school. That’s the problem.

 

Why is sitting at school a problem?

I am often asked why children have such difficulty with focus in after school activities such as homework and extracurricular classes. In years past, early childhood education was mostly social skills, following directions, and practicing basics like how to hold a pencil or use manipulatives in a safe and appropriate manner.

All students, regardless of age, need less seat time and more hands-on learning activities.

Fast forward to the present and you are more likely to see early childhood classrooms utilizing whole group, small group, and individual practice of academic skills. It is rare to see consistent, meaningful social skills practice. Many teachers get creative with how they plan lessons to both please their districts and meet the needs of children. When recess is becoming less common, and removal from recess being used as a punishment for non-violent offenses, we are seeing children leaving school for home or an after-school class only to bounce off walls, chatter with each other as if their lives will end without human interaction, and other behaviors that adults assume to be inappropriate.

But when we break it down and look at a typical day of kindergarten, we see that children do not necessarily have time to practice social skills and interact with one another, which are both human needs, not wants. Children are being made to sit for long periods of time. (No moving from one sitting spot to another is not the same as getting out of the room and exercising or playing with friends and family.)

Here is one sample schedule which is fairly common among kindergarten classrooms.

8 – 8:15 AM Copy work, Pledge of Allegiance, school news

8:15 – 9:45 AM Whole and small group language arts/literacy block of time

9:45-10:15 AM Handwriting/creative writing depending on how far into the year you are

10:15-10:45 AM Lunch

10:45-11:05 AM Recess

11:05-12:05 AM/PM Science/Social Studies block

12:05-12:45 PM Special area classes such as music, PE, art

12:45-1:25 PM  RTI or other similar program for enrichment and interventions

1:25-2:25 PM Math

2:25-2:40 PM Social centers and snack

2:40-2:50 PM get ready for dismissal and leave

As you can see, there is little time for working through social and communication issues in the schedule,. Plus, during social centers teachers are usually working on writing notes home about school events or other things which must be communicated to families which leaves them unable to help students use strategies for appropriate communication and decision-making. Though there is always going to be some variation, that 90-minute literacy block tends to still be the common goal. In addition, RTI or other intervention options must be available in today’s educational model. Keep in mind that there are ESE classes scheduled into the day for some students who have IEPs. These are necessary, but may mean less social skills practice time.

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Yes, students are being made to sit and listen for a large portion of their school day. This is precisely why children are having difficulty paying attention and completing extracurricular activities, even if the children are not over-scheduled.

What can parents do?

You have the right to direct your child’s education. Visit your child’s classroom often. Volunteer, go have lunch, be present and vocal. Teachers have no power to change most of the schedule and expectations, but parents do. Offer suggestions which still help the school meet district and state expectations, but offer relief for students. Demand developmentally appropriate practices in all classrooms. This includes low class sizes, hands-on thematic units, and the limitation of testing, data collection, and canned curriculum choices. Demand social skills free time where your child will have time to both play and work on communicating safely and effectively. This includes how to compromise, not leaving others out, and how to demand safe boundaries which will lower incidences of bullying.

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By offering solutions and volunteering to help, you are offering options. These options may not always be well received, but continue to respectfully share research and your expectations. You are the parent and are looking out for your child’s best interests. Teachers try, but are largely powerless to change the current educational model. Sometimes parents must get involved to make positive change for our children.

What should we do if a student is defiant in the classroom?

A few days ago a dangerous incident occurred in a South Carolina school. Reportedly, a student was disturbing class. Due to her behavior, the teacher called her school’s administrators for assistance. Eventually the school resource officer, a police officer, arrived and chose to throw the student out of her chair and onto the floor. The chair was flipped and the situation was clearly heated as well as unsafe for the student.

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(I am not addressing the possible/probable racism involved here as others will be able to more eloquently explain the obvious concerns over that topic. Just know that this type of abuse at the hands of police seems to happen to people of color quite often and this is definitely an issue as well.)

Many people feel this level of force is justified when a student, or child, chooses not to follow directions. Many others think the police officer chose poorly and could have seriously harmed the student as well as classmates. This raises the question…

 

What should we do if a student is defiant in the classroom?

 

First, if you can ignore the behavior, then do so until you can speak with the student privately. (This is assuming that a small look or sentence did not help the student get back to task.) I have taught effective lessons while students sang, yelled, banged desks, etc. Sometimes you keep going and look for the first natural break in the lesson so you can deal with the issue. If no one is being physically harmed, then no immediate action needs to be taken. Sometimes applying no attention to the behavior is a way to de-escalate.

Second, once you have a moment to address the issue, do so in private. This may mean the student comes to your desk area and sits in a chair near you or it may mean you address the student at his or her desk, but with whispers. In a few cases, I waited until my students were heading out and had the student making unwise choices stay with me to chat while there wasn’t an audience. This is not always possible, but check with your administrators to find out what is acceptable in your school.

Third, in addition to addressing the behavior, you need to address WHY the behavior occurred. Perhaps the student is hungry, tired, going through life changes at home, being bullied, being molested, is bored, doesn’t understand the work, etc. Sadly, many teens assume we do not care so they may refuse to tell us the problem. However, by facilitating an open and honest relationship from day one, you have a better chance of knowing the issue and effectively helping solve both the issue and the behavior concern.

If you find yourself in a situation where a student is violent, remove the other students from the room rather than removing the student who is acting out. This technique is fast, safer than trying to remove the misbehaving student, and another teacher can easily take 20-30 more students for a few minutes during a dangerous situation. Then, you must call for assistance and apply de-escalation techniques for violence like distraction, discussion, and staying back while being watchful. In rare cases, an administrator or officer may need to restrain the student. This is RARELY needed.

I cannot stress enough that if parents, teachers, administrators, and police officers use de-escalation techniques properly, we will see students learn to calm themselves, express their emotions and issues in safe ways, and less behavior issues will occur. This is not an overnight transformation. Our current mainstream culture tells children to be quiet and do as they are told. However, this stifles them and often sets them up for abuse thus raising the chances of making poor choices and defiance.

Notice that none of the techniques I mention include throwing a student or her chair to the floor. None of them include stroking an adult’s ego. None of them include taking the negative behavior personally as if you are being harmed by defiance.

If your organization or school would like to learn more about de-escalation, dealing with defiance, and working with students as partners in their education, please contact me. I am happy to give in depth information regarding these and other practices.

Teaching Tip: Helping a Reluctant Writer

Writing is about more than getting the words on paper. Sometimes students struggle with anxiety over “getting it right” and meeting expectations. The anxiety or fear of failure may prevent them from beginning a writing project. We can ease this stress by allowing flexible assignments, flexible presentation, and by backing off on other concerns (like grammar). Get back to the basics and focus on getting the story out instead of focusing on getting the story put on paper immediately and without mistakes. Below are nine of my favorite tips which may help your reluctant writers.

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  1. One way to help a student who struggles with writing is to use a frame. A frame creates part of a sentence while allowing the student to personalized the rest.

I feel _____ when I hear my favorite song.

The dog ________.

Yesterday I ______.

 

  1. Another way to support your struggling writers is to create lists. Have your class sit down and brainstorm lists of adverbs, adjectives, and other words that they may forget to use. Make lists of words that are more exciting than the typical “good”, “happy”, “mad”, “okay”. Make sure the lists are displayed in your room and also in each student’s writing notebook or folder for easy access. When a sentence seems short or less than interesting, ask the students to add one or more words form the lists to help create a more exciting sentence.

I saw a dog run.

I saw a fat collie jump and run across the field.

  1. Use a recording. Have your student speak the story while record it using a digital recorder or computer program. Then, when it is time to write, the student can listen as many times as needed while writing down the information.
  2. Act as a scribe for your students. Write what they say. Now they can read or write the information anytime.
  3. Use flexible presentation options. For example, allow the student to write a play instead of a typical composition. You could also allow the student to retell the story using felt boards, puppets, or a pretend campfire setting.
  4. Type it out. Use a computer or tablet instead of paper and pencil. If motor skills are a concern, this can help alleviate the extra stress that occurs because the student’s hands don’t work as neatly or quickly as he would like.
  5. Use a topic the student knows about or is fascinated with. This will encourage the student to be vested in learning and sharing information.
  6. Don’t rush the timeline. Good writers might complete an entire story in one day. However, most writers spend days, weeks, or longer to create their work.
  7. Use examples. Have you ever tried to create a new meal without a recipe? It’s nearly impossible without help. Our students need us to share examples with them so they know what good, quality writing looks like. Examples can come from trade books, textbooks, the Internet, and more. Make a habit out of discussing writing practice as you come across them in class.

You Can’t Unschool Part Time

Unschooling allows us to learn through living life.

Unschooling allows us to learn through living life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have noticed a continuing discussion among home and unschoolers over the past year or two. Many people say they do some unschooling, while others say this is not possible as unschooling is an all or nothing principle. I have a few thoughts about this topic. You can take them, leave them, or add your own opinions. Your discussion is welcome.

What is unschooling?

 Unschooling is the principle of learning through everyday life rather than through forced education models like pre-planned activities not chosen by the student. Unschoolers may have what appears to be a lack of rules, but usually this means the parents and children work to create mutually agreed upon goals and behaviors. We may not see this process because, usually, no one is forcing authority upon another. Unschoolers may participate in classes, co-ops, or curricula, but these activities are chosen by the students, not by a teacher or parent.

You Already Unschool

Yes, you read correctly. You already unschool if your children have free time when activities and rules are not forced on them. You already unschool if you respond in a positive manner when your child asks to read, draw, join a club, etc. Most families unschool for a few hours per week or more, in my experiences and observations.

Can I Unschool in Conjunction with Other School Models?

Yes, you can. Keep in mind that there is a difference between whole life unschooling and partial life unschooling. Whole life unschooling would mean you live the unschooling principle 100% of the time in all facets (parenting, schooling, bedtime habits, etc). Partial life homeschooling means you adhere to the principle of unschooling part of the time, but not at other times. Maybe you work full time and cannot find a way to unschool during the day, but you unschool during evenings and weekends. This is an example of partial life unschooling.

Why Do People Get So Defensive About Unschooling or not Unschooling?

I am not convinced that people get defensive, but I do think people like to have labels because they help us organize our world. If we call ourselves unschoolers, but unschool part time rather than full time, then our lifestyle can be very different from a family that unschools full time no matter what comes along in life. I think humans feel a need to differentiate so that our identities are accurate and so we can find others like us. This may be why people prefer an all or nothing approach to defining unschooling as a concept.

What Do You Suggest We Do?

I suggest we support one another regardless of how many hours or days a week we unschool. Rely more on getting to know people than on defining and labeling yourself (and others). Yes, in theory unschooling is best 100% of the time because it helps develop an inner compass and continued love of learning for the sake of learning. However, you cannot force anyone to be an unschooler 100% of the time. Besides, support goes further than fussing over labels. To be very frank, though I doubt this will happen, I would LOVE to see all schools use an unschooling model. (Yes, I know, good luck with that daydream!)

I Can’t Homeschool Because….

"Thoughtful Kid Sitting In Front Of Blackboard" from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Thoughtful Kid Sitting In Front Of Blackboard” from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I could never homeschool because I don’t have the patience.”

I hear this, and other reasons for not homeschooling, every week. The comment above came from a person in a service industry where he works attending to patients’ needs all day so it did strike me as odd. Then again, some people do better with adults than children or better with ill people than well people.

You know what, though? Don’t let your fear or worry over what could happen dictate your choices. Maybe your concern is money, curriculum choices, or even what others will think. If you choose to use public or private school, do not let it be because of fear. Let it be because you know your limits. Choose because you know your child’s limits. Let it be because you know, not think or wonder, but know that it is the correct choice for your child. Truthfully, this can be applied to those making a choice to homeschool as well. Just don’t let fear rule the decision-making process.

I know that some people think homeschooling is the only way. I disagree. I do, however, think that until we have public schools that operate similar to home or unschool models, we will not serve all students properly. There will always be students who have needs left unmet when we use most current public and private school models. If you choose public or private school, offer to help so that the teacher has more resources and can, hopefully, have the time to attend to all learners as needed. (It is extremely difficult to “do it all”. It often burned out my co-workers. Please, please help out.)

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a homeschooler say, in essence, “I told you so” when violence breaks out at school or a public school parent say “Your kid is not going to socialize properly”, I would be rich. I kid you not. There can be judgment from all directions. What I am saying is examine the facts, not your feelings about the facts, then make a choice. Re-evaluate that choice as needed and recognize that the correct choice for one child may be different than the correct choice for a sibling. I know that you can and will succeed no matter what you choose.

If you are interested in homeschool and want more information, feel free to contact me. I am happy to answer a question or work through a consultation with you. I have more insight than those who only homeschool or only use public school because my family has done both. Also, I taught in public schools for many years.

No matter what you choose…..

"Schoolboy" from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Schoolboy” from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Learning!

Ways Gardening Teaches Children

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Here is a quick, informal list of skills and ideas that gardening teaches. I am sure I missed a few skills. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section. Happy gardening!

Following through

Following directions

How to be focused and calm

Learning about plant life cycles

Being patient

Learning about the food chain

Learn about genetically modified seeds, heirloom seeds, conventional growing practices, and organic growing practices

Pride in a job well done

Persistence

Types of insects and annelids

Types of soil

Types of natural repellants

Measuring

Different plants need different conditions in order to grow

Where food comes from

How pollinators help up and how we can help them

Appreciation for nature

Appreciation for the work that goes into food production

Counting

Geographical information relevant to plant needs

Seasons and environmental factors

 

How To End Bullying

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Bullying is the act of intimidating someone through emotional or physical harm. In this day and age of school shootings, hazings, and teen suicides many parents and teachers wonder how we can end bullying and its dangerous effects. The answer is less complex than you might think.

While browsing my social media newsfeeds, I often find articles about topics that make some folks uncomfortable. Perhaps they feel the topic is not conducive to their religion, culture, or job security. The answer to ending bullying is clear every time I read the comments on a thread or article that is “controversial”. Bullying begins with adults and can end with them, too.

One example hails from Clermont, Florida. You see, a student who appears to be male, by current societal definitions, ran for homecoming queen at the local high school. He lost, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue at hand according to the article and Facebook thread comments. Here is a quote from the article.

“Despite the loss, Gleeson said he hopes this can inspire people to be confident. ‘I just wanted to make sure that anybody in this world felt like what society expects for them to do isn’t what they have to do,’ he said.”

His intentions seem on par with everything we tell our children and students. How many times do teachers and parents say things like those below?

“Be yourself even if others do not like it.”

“Make yourself happy as long as you bully no one else.”

“You can be what you want to be. Reach for the stars!”

“We support you and your goals!”

I realize that reading the comments on threads and articles can show both positive and negative responses. I suppose I am still not used to the clearly hateful responses, though. Keep in mind that the article does not say anything about his sexual life, yet many comments suggest that he is gay or transgender.  Some of the responses are located below in the screenshots. The Facebook thread is here. All comments were on a public forum and the posters had no legal expectation of privacy, though I have covered their usernames as many have used their legal names on their profiles. The page owner has every right to delete comments which is why I took screenshots rather than urge you to view the comments on the thread. Most browsers allow you to click a screenshot and see it in a separate tab for easier reading. (Keep in mind that I am not a tech guru and am definitely not a pro at taking screenshots.)

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Because children want to please their parents and other perceived authority figures, they will watch and copy the behaviors they see from those in authority or those in the family to gain acceptance. When adults bully, children will see that and consider it normal, natural, and acceptable. They will be less likely to report others bullying them and they will be more likely to bully others.

In order to end bullying, we have to begin at home and with authority figures. We have to think before we speak or act. We need to find a way to communicate our big emotions without emotionally or physically harming others. Yes, our feelings are valid, but our actions may be harmful. Choose to take a break, take a breath, and walk away from conflicts that cannot be resolved. Together we can end bullying, but we must take action at home. We must lead with wise choices, kind words, and model conflict resolution.

 

Postal History Foundation Educational Lessons

The Postal History Foundation runs a program that enables students to write a letter and receive free materials for a stamp based lesson. Teachers can do the same, but there is a small charge which depends on how many copies are needed and the location to which the items must be shipped. Payments can be made via Paypal. (You could, perhaps, ask parents to donate if you are a teacher.) The lessons serve children from preschool ages to high school. The Postal History Foundation takes donations as well, so feel free to support this fabulous educational program. I included pictures of the items I requested below. There is a link below for anyone interested in this service.

Postal History Foundation

The lessons available include nearly any topic you can imagine.

The lessons available include nearly any topic you can imagine.

The lessons vary, but we found preschool lessons as well as lessons for middle and high school students.

The lessons vary, but we found preschool lessons as well as lessons for middle and high school students.