I Brake For Respect

Recently, I’ve had a class with an overall classroom environment trending towards disrespect and unkind behavior. Behavior directed both peer to peer and towards me. This class has always been a bit energetic and a bit wild. However, progressively over the last few weeks I have seen a downward spiral leaving me exasperated, stressed and frustrated at the end of each class, which happens to be the last block of the day, making everything seem magnified after an already long day.

One of the hardest parts, and most emotionally draining aspects of teaching for me is trying to get students to stop being mean to each other. Even through my best efforts to redirect this student energy, model, and explain why language is hurtful, I have found myself unsuccessful. Not to mention the damage is already done once I am correcting a student on a comment.

This spiral downward ended with a crash, burn and explosion during a 80 minute lab block last Thursday, which ended 2 students having to leave to meet with the assistant principal for unsafe lab behavior.

So, in response to this I knew I had to go back to basics if there was going to be an improvement.

On Friday as students walked in I handed them a piece of paper with three questions on it.

1. How do I want to be treated in Biology class?

2. How should I treat my peers in Biology class?

3. How should I treat Mr. Reid in Biology class?

For almost 15 minutes I had them answer these questions. As I walked around I noticed each student said they wanted to be treated with respect in one form or another. I then prompted them to think about and write: “What does respect mean to you?”. Two students tried to turn the activity into a joke, so I asked them to leave, and having told the assistant principal I was doing this, sent them to have the conversation with him, and work on their own without an audience.

After the independent write, we brainstormed ideas on the board. To do this, one at a time I called on students to share a thought they had for each of the questions. I then emphasized that each person wrote that they wanted to be treated with respect, and went over the list of things we came up with to describe what respect meant (listening, indoor voices, appropriate language, speaking one person at a time, to name a few). Then through continued conversation we came to the conclusion that the best way to get respect is give to respect, and tied this into the “golden rule” treat others how you want to be treated.

Finally, I had one student write down all the ideas from the board, which I then typed up and handed out on Monday during class. At which point we reviewed our class expectations. After reviewing on Monday we moved into the class activity and I saw a huge change in behavior. Even one of the students who left Fridays activity came in with more appropriate responses typed to give to me. During class students were accepting of the new class norm to raise hands (quietly) if you have something to add, the popcorn style had not been working, and there was  a clear decrease in picking at each other, trying to instigate controversy. This pattern continued into Tuesday and I have my fingers crossed for tomorrow’s long lab block.

I hope that this 40 minute break from Biology will be the stimulus for the much needed long term changes in classroom environment. I plan on returning to, and reviewing our new class expectations from time to time. It is certainly a lesson learned to have such an intervention much sooner at the signs of similar downward trend.

Sometimes we all need a reminder of what it means to Respect others.


5 Important Lessons for New Coaches

Last Tuesday I was asked to coach the Track & Field team at my high school, the catch: There was no Track & Field Team until last Tuesday.

I have plenty of experience when it comes to track, after 3 seasons of indoor and 3 seasons of outdoor I have participated in my fair share of practices, and  meets. However, this experience is quite limited. When running the 3000 meter run it is not necessary to use technical items liek starting starting blocks. Though I always thought it could help, no one else seemed to agree that after 7.5 laps around the track it really matters. The same goes for relays, fractions of a second saved during a good hand off are a bit less important in a 4×800 meter run than say a 4×100 meter dash. In the distance relays we were happy if we didn’t drop the baton, we set the bar high.

When it comes to distance, I’ve got that down. To quote a fellow team mate: “You put one foot in front of the other, keep doing that and then do it faster.” I remember my workouts, I can coach that.

As for the rest of it, those events that require “technique,”  “measuring steps,” or advanced “coordination” I’m clueless.

Luckily, I’ve got a several local coaches excited about our new track program and willing to share their knowledge and experience as well as their track with us (did I mention my school doesn’t actually have a track). I am also excited to meet with my former coach to absorb as much of his knowledge that I can. I feeling confident and ready to take on the season.

After 4 practices, almost a week through the track season, I have compiled a list my top 5 lessons for a new running coach:

5. Get used to no sleep.

I find myself rolling around in bed, fighting the pillows and my brain as it works ferociously designing workouts and thinking about the next day’s practice. Funny, it seems to have taken up some of the space in my melon that used to be devoted to thinking about classes and academics at night. On top of this, late afternoon practices push back your evening routine atleast 1.5 hours.

4. If you run with your team, prepare to lose.

I’m pretty proud that since this fall I’ve gotten back into similar shape as when I was a high school, even back in the same pant size. But, even being in decent shape its hard to keep up with runners like a 17 year old girl that was a district champion and placed second in the state in cross country, and as I approach the big 25 I’m not getting any younger. Luckily, I’m the coach so if I need to rest I can go check on the sprinters.

3. People still try to find short cuts.

While I was running there were always those people on the team trying cut corners and do as little of the planned workout as they could. Luckily, I have a bit more patience these days, and hope to find ways to motivate these runners to strive to to their best everyday. A bit different than my opinions of those runners while I was busting my a**.

2. Don’t wear clothes that match your water bottle.

I happen to have yellow shorts and a yellow water bottle with a blue cap. So, earlier in the week when I happened to be wearing my yellow shorts with my yellow water bottle I definitely got called out for planning my “outfit”. Don’t even get me started when I wore a blue t-shirt with the yellow shorts today.

1. The smell check is no longer going to slide for selecting running gear.

In high school I would use a t-shirt a couple days during the season before it got too ripe to wear. So, Tuesday morning I gave Monday’s t-shirt a sniff, it was good! So, I threw it in my gym bag and was good to go. False. I joined my team in the afternoon to a choir of “Eww, Coach didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday.” I was shocked for two reasons. First that they remembered what I was wearing the day before, and second my trusty method of selecting running clothes is now obsolete.

So, to all those teams starting their seasons good luck and run hard. I’ll see you on the track. (I’ll be the guy with the clipboard and stopwatch)

Renewed Conviction

Monday and Tuesday of this past week I spent a total of 14 hours working with a group of 7 other science teachers and 3 special educators completing an alignment study of the Vermont Alternate Assessment Portfolio (VTAAP) and the Vermont Grade Expectations (GEs), often referred to as “The Standards”.

Much of this worked entailed determining if entry points for the VTAAP closely aligned, had far alignment or did not align to the GEs, scored 2,1,o respectively. Towards the end I felt like some sort of supercomputer using “trinary” code to complete the task, with worksheets, packets, and piles spread around me covered in twos,  ones and zeros.

At first, this might not sound beneficial and to some teachers the might be their hell: 14 hours reading the GEs comparing it to entry points, but I honestly can say that though I don’t think I’ll write any ones, twos or zeros for a while (sorry march eleventh you may not show up on the board tomorrow) I really took a lot from the conference.

First of all, I don’t think I spent so much time closely reading and analyzing the Grade Expectations as I did this week, even during my time  at Saint Michael’s College as a teacher in training, though I do believe they did change names twice in my 4 years at Saint Mike’s.

I was really able to look closely at not just 9-12 Life Science GEs, but also the Physical Science and Earth and Space GEs. Not to mention looking at them across grade levels. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of progression and building on concepts through out the grade levels, and has motivated me to really use the GEs instead of knowing that what I am teaching fits most likely fits into one of them.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a new concept, and the idea of designing instruction based on the GEs has been shoved down my throat, as most people who have gone through any educational training would agree with me, and up until this point I’ve been hesitant, resistant. Science is science, thats what I’m teaching, of course I’m teaching the GEs.

However, sometimes it takes moving at your own pace to have the “Ah Ha!” moment someone has been trying to force on you for 7 years. Sometimes it takes just picking it up of the table and taking a nibble on your own to discover what its all about, maybe you’ll like it.

So, this has become one of my goals. Increasing my effective use of the GEs as a guide during the development of my instruction. I’ll keep you posted.

Another really moving aspect of the study was that I got to work with a group of 10 people, quite closely with 4 of them, all of whom are passionate about science. Beyond this, they are passionate about science and believe that all students deserve and have the right to access science. It was a breath of fresh air that strengthened this same internal conviction that I hold.

To go from hearing questions asked  like “Do you think they really need to know that?”, “What are they going to ever use that for?”, or “Will he ever really need science?” to having discussion regarding “How can we help teachers make science more accessible?” is a recharging and empowering environment. It helped me to realize that there are others out there working hard to make sure that all students can have access to science, and for that I thank my alignment colleagues, the facilitators and all those who continue to work towards this goal. I have been rejuvenated and have renewed motivation to continue and strengthen my efforts.





Destiny in the Classroom

Today I had an experience that sent tingles down my spine.

First, background. We have been studying cells in my Biology classes, and today we were starting a project where students would study and learn about either photosynthesis or cellular respiration. Students’ task then is to create a children’s book that both teaches about the process they are studying but also incorporates  a storyline to engage the reader.

In order to increase success we did some research to determine what some of the key aspects of a good children’s story are. The best way to do this, read some children’s books. So today, two classes of 15 and 16 year-old sophomores got to have read aloud, one of my personal favorite times as a kid in earlier grades, but also at home with my parents.

I couldn’t help but have a smile cheek to cheek as I read aloud. That 20 minute period today was by far the quietest, most intently engaged period for each and every student, at the same time all year. I even had some students protest when I did not show the pictures quite far enough their way. It was a return to youth, seeming to forget about texting, Facebook, popularity and returning to a simpler time, if only for a few minutes. I never was one to jump at the chance to read out loud as a student, but its funny how things change, how we change, as we progress in our lives.

Some of you may think, “I can see why this would give you tingles.” Though it was amazingly rewarding to see such interest and engagement, this is not the end.

When planning this activity I assumed the library would have some children’s books, if only a small section. This morning when I went down to the library to peruse them there were in fact just a hand full. But, I spotted the book I would read without trouble; “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, a classic. So, I checked it out and I sat down with my sophomores and we read “The Cat in the Hat”, engaged, rewarded and unaware.

Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. A holiday celebrated traditionally in elementary schools by reading some of his classic stories.

Today, Dr. Seuss found his way into a high school science classroom.

I had no idea until later in the day, long after the reading was done. I saw an email about it from some spam education mailing. As soon as I saw this I was speechless. Tingles, shivers you name it. How is it, of all the days, that today in a Biology classroom Dr. Seuss was read, was remembered and honored, without even knowing it.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss. Thank you for your contributions to literacy.

P.S. Really, all those rhymes? Even for an adult I got tongue twisted a couple times.