Let’s Celebrate! Ebook Free!

I am thrilled to announce that the digital version of Teach Kindness First is complete! Woohoo!!! In celebration of this accomplishment, I am making it free to download for a limited time. The mission of this book is to bring more kindness into our daily lives and what better way to achieve that goal than to offer it for free… Please follow this link Amazon.ca and get your free copy – offer available today until Saturday July 22. Please share this link with your friends and family, your Facebook groups, Instagram…You name it! Tag me if you can so that I can witness the journey. =)

Dear Teachers & Parents: Let’s Walk the Talk

Parent-Teacher Interviews are just a few days away – here are some useful strategies based in kindness and compassion to help us have meaningful and productive meetings.

teachkindnessfirst

For Teachers & Parents: Perhaps we could all be a little more humble.IMG_20141010_092243

International Kindness Week has just passed and parent-teacher interviews are upon us. Is it just a coincidence that they occur around the same time of year? Perhaps whoever picked the date was trying to send a message to the most influential people in our children’s lives…What a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be kind to our fellow human beings, especially our child’s teacher, or alternatively, or students’ parents.

 

Why so many conflicts?

 

There are plenty of reasons why parents and teachers get stressed out during interviews, but I believe we can boil it down to one thing: fear of failure. I truly think it’s that simple. It may be the parents who are worried they aren’t doing a good enough job at home, or the teacher who is worried she isn’t effectively…

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…Right?

Ask any teacher how they feel about the last week or two of school before the holidays. Chances are the teacher will either give you a weary look or burst into hysterical laughter (tears may not be far behind.) There really are no words to describe the mayhem, the untamed energy. My childhood memories of the last few days of school before the holiday break may be vague, but the feeling that has stayed with me is that the rules seemed to fly out the window. There was this collective, unwritten agreement among the students that during the time leading up to the holidays, following the rules and listening to the teachers, would be optional. I did not understand it back then and I understand it even less now…but for one exception.

 

Perhaps the biggest myth of the Christmas holidays is that we buy into the idea that all children are looking forward to being home for two weeks. If we believe this to be true for all of our students, than we are doing them a huge disservice. I’ll never forget the first time a child had the courage to whisper to me that she in fact was not excited for the last day of school. She confided in me that her parents had been arguing a lot lately and she much preferred being at school with her friends. I had noticed she had been quieter and more withdrawn as of late, but I had attributed it to fatigue and figured that the break would give her a chance to rest. That little girl turned a light on for me. How had it never occurred to me that kids could have mixed feelings about the holidays? No longer would I assume that all of my students were anxiously awaiting the holiday break. Just because a handful of them talk incessantly about how excited they are does not mean they speak for everyone. We have a habit of projecting our own reality onto others. It’s part of the human condition perhaps. Since that day however, I have strived to view my students’ behaviors in a new light.

 

The greater the joy for one, the deeper the sadness for another. The law of opposites becomes abundantly clear during the holidays. One child may gleefully share with the class that his family has a tradition of eating pancakes on Christmas morning; meanwhile another child is listening enviously to the story, wondering what will happen to the traditions that once were, now that her parents have separated. This is a very real reality that teachers are dealing with in the classroom. Sadly, it seem these days that many families are either unhappy or falling apart. Worse, it becomes that much more apparent during what we would hope to be a joyous and peaceful time of year. I wish I could offer a solution for this bigger problem. If only it were that easy. Instead, I will offer some insights on how teachers can alleviate the stress that many of their students are feeling and make the last week or two more enjoyable for everyone.

 

I have come to discover that even the kids who claim that school is boring, or who seem disinterested or disengaged, do not necessarily look forward to the break. It would be logical to assume that the child who is often a behavioral challenge in class would be happier to stay home…yet often the opposite is true. All behaviors are symptoms. They are often the substitution for the words by which children express their needs. It is us humans who categorize behaviors as good or bad. If we were to perceive behaviors as “speech in action”, we may react differently. For instance, let’s consider the student who is fooling around during the music rehearsal for the Christmas concert. It may be tempting to assume he is being disrespectful on purpose and we could threaten to keep him in for recess to coerce him into behaving, but we would miss out on figuring out the real reason for his lack of engagement. Modeling the spirit of Christmas, here is how you may want to intervene.

 

Using a gentle, compassionate voice, call his attention to his behavior. “Thomas, are you really being your best right now?” This is much more effective than telling him what he’s doing wrong. It invites him to see himself through his own eyes and empowers him to take responsibility for it.

 

He may choose the route of defiance at first. Shrugging his shoulders and diverting his gaze, he may respond, “Whatever…this is boring.”

 

As teachers, we may be tempted to convince him otherwise. I suggest taking a different route. “I had a feeling you found this boring. So singing is not your thing? You don’t like to perform?” Acknowledging his feelings disarms him and shows him you respect his opinion. It is not reasonable, nor is it fair, to expect all students to enjoy every activity we prepare for them.

Sheepishly, Thomas replies, “Not really.” Already, a shift in Thomas’ energy is discernible. Someone has validated his feelings. Think about it. How much do you appreciate being told how you should feel about something? Yet, that is exactly what we do to students when we demand they show enthusiasm for something that does not interest them.

 

So where do we go from here? How do we motivate Thomas to stop being disruptive? Using empathy, we guide him to switch his perspective. By appealing to Thomas’ intelligence and good heart, we get him on board with us. (Remember, we are using kindness as a discipline tool, therefore we resist the urge to lecture.)

 

“I think you’re a great kid, Thomas. I also happen to know you’re a great soccer player…I’ve seen you playing in the school yard at recess. Imagine how it would feel if every time you went to play soccer, there were a couple of players who kept ruining the game by grabbing the ball off the ground and running away with it. How much fun would that be?”

 

“I’d get really upset, that’s for sure!”

 

“Well, can you see that that’s what you’re doing to the singers in this room? Many of these kids really enjoy singing and they are looking forward to performing for their parents next week.”

 

And suddenly, because you have chosen to engage in a real conversation with Thomas, you get to the heart of the matter. “My parents probably won’t even be there,” he confides in you.

 

“You seem disappointed by that,” you reply empathetically. “Can you think of someone you care about who will be in the audience?”

 

“Trevor’s dad is going to be there. I play at his house a lot.”

 

“Would you like him to see what a great performance you’re capable of? I am positive that if you take just some of the focus you use in soccer and apply it to being your best for the concert rehearsal and performance, not only will you do great, but you will feel really good about yourself. You’re an awesome kid, Thomas. I believe you can do it.”

There are so many possibilities for peaceful, proactive and positive outcomes once you start to think about it. Finding a parallel example in the child’s life makes it concrete for him. All humans are naturally capable of empathizing, we just sometimes need a realistic comparison to make it tangible. Will you need to invest more time and energy in that moment than you usually would? Absolutely. But those extra fifteen minutes are an investment in that relationship from which you will reap the benefits ten-fold in the months to follow. The next time that child challenges you, you have a reference point in the history of your relationship as proof that you truly care. That bond and trust that you have created will serve you and that child in unimaginable ways. By attending to that one child’s need, the entire group receives a message as well that you care about them. You won’t allow one child to disrupt the peace of the group nor will you simply abandon a child when he goes astray. You build trust. And trust, is everything. What better gift could you offer your students?

Dear Teachers & Parents: Let’s Walk the Talk

For Teachers & Parents: Perhaps we could all be a little more humble.IMG_20141010_092243

International Kindness Week has just passed and parent-teacher interviews are upon us. Is it just a coincidence that they occur around the same time of year? Perhaps whoever picked the date was trying to send a message to the most influential people in our children’s lives…What a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves that we should be kind to our fellow human beings, especially our child’s teacher, or alternatively, or students’ parents.

 

Why so many conflicts?

 

There are plenty of reasons why parents and teachers get stressed out during interviews, but I believe we can boil it down to one thing: fear of failure. I truly think it’s that simple. It may be the parents who are worried they aren’t doing a good enough job at home, or the teacher who is worried she isn’t effectively getting through to the child despite her various attempts. Perhaps the parents fear the teacher is not a good fit for their child, or the teacher fears the parents are not doing enough to support their child. One thing is for certain: the moment someone starts playing the blame game, fear is involved, and unless the presence of fear is used wisely, it will be destructive.

 

Being aware of our fears is healthy and essential for our survival. Fear calls us to action. The challenge lies in getting all the adults involved to implement empathy, compassion and kindness in order to best serve the child.

 

What does being humble do for me?

 

The choice to be humble is the singular, most powerful discovery I have made in recent years as a teacher and a parent. It suddenly dawned on me that I did not need to have all of the answers. I realized that after years of trying to please everyone that I was actually setting myself up to fail. Today my approach is more simple. I humbly acknowledge that we all have different views on the best way of doing things. And thank goodness for that! How boring and rigid this world would be if we all had one singular perspective on how things should be done. Approaching teacher-parent meetings with a humble mind has been an exceptionally liberating experience for me and I wish everyone could discover it for themselves, if they haven’t already.

 

What does being humble and kind sound like during a parent-teacher interview?

 

It sounds like…

 

  • Parents and teachers agreeing to the fact that they both have a challenging yet beautifully rewarding responsibility: that of guiding children to be their best.

 

  • Teachers acknowledging the fact that nobody knows the child better than the parent. (The last thing you want to do as a teacher is is to try to sound like an expert on the child when you have had him in your class for all of 10 weeks!)

 

  • Parents and teachers reminding each other that kids will be kids and no matter how much we love them, they can and will bend the truth at times to get what they want (and avoid getting in trouble). Therefore, the adults agree to politely ask the right questions to better understand a troubling situation before taking the word of a child over that of an adult. Which leads us to…

 

  • Parents asking for insight into what the teacher has observed in class and accepting the information as truth because they understand that it does not serve a teacher to invent stories. (While the perspective can be discussed if doesn’t sound quite right, arguing over details of what an adult has seen is wasted energy. Spending time on trying to understand why the child is behaving in a particular way is far more productive.)

 

  • Teachers and parents alike being confident enough to admit they do not have all the answers and agreeing to work together to find solutions, all the while recognizing that what works well in the classroom environment may not be appropriate for a home environment, and vice versa.

 

  • Teachers and parents being willing to try to new techniques and strategies, recognizing that the goal is to better serve the child. (For example, it might be appropriate to let the child stand at his desk.)

 

  • Teachers listening to parental concerns with an open mind, resisting the urge to defend their practices and instead being willing to entertain the idea that perhaps their approach could be better adapted to the child, given the circumstances. (For instance, some students may not be obliged to write in cursive given their particular difficulties with fine motor skills.)

 

  • Teachers genuinely asking parents to tell them about what they find works best for their child. (Perhaps music helps their child to focus better while working in which case headphones and a personal device in the classroom could be a great idea.)

 

  • Parents and teachers alike agreeing to the fact that fair does not mean equal. (This translates to setting goals with children that focus on improving their skills without comparing themselves to others.)

 

  • Parents and teachers reminding themselves (and perhaps each other) that above all else, it is the adults who must set an example for the child, knowing full-well that a child knows when something is amiss and will use it to their full advantage if given the chance.

 

And finally, kindness coupled with the art of being humble sounds like… 

  • Parents and teachers thanking one another for their time and their willingness to listen to each other.

 So there you have it! Everything you have ever needed to know about how to engage in a meaningful parent-teacher meeting and leave feeling you have taken something positive from the experience that will serve the child…

 

Okay, I know I’ve made it sound easy, but here’s the thing…in a way it is. We cannot control what someone else will say or do, but we can absolutely control ourselves. By internalizing these beliefs, you set yourself up with the tools necessary to steer a conversation in the right direction. We must give what we wish to receive.

If you are feeling the least bit nervous or anxious about an upcoming meeting, then by all means go ahead and print this article to have it with you during the interview. If at any point you no longer know how to remain in a state of humbleness or kindness, take out this article and make it a point of discussion. You can even highlight the points that resonate most with you to help get you back on track. Or if you prefer, write yourself notes on how you will address your issues of concern.

 

Is the voice in your head saying, “No way would I pull out an article or notes during an interview! I would feel so silly.” Ahhhhh…there is that voice of fear, hanging around, wreaking havoc and holding you back from using a strategy that could make the difference between walking out of an interview feeling successful or leaving the meeting feeling discouraged, or worse, angry and frustrated. The practice of putting our pride aside and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable may not be one we are accustomed to, but I assure you, the benefits are immeasurable, especially when we realize the results of these types of interactions will have a direct impact on the child. Personally, when I sense a conversation going off track, I like to drop well-known quotes as a means of defusing a situation and realigning our attention to what matters most. I will leave you with one of my favorites. I believe it sums things up quite succinctly.

 

The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. – Socrates