Wear Your Work: Dirty Jobs Teach Lessons

I spent a big portion of my life working in barns and doing manual labor. I always marveled at how people stayed so clean at horse shows or at the barn. I always came home covered in dirt and you knew where I had been; by the eau’d horse perfume. When I was dating my husband, he always joked “how I wore my work.” He was in awe how filthy I got. Even now, when I clean I become covered in dirt. To me, there is a sense of satisfaction that I know I was fully committed and invested in that particular project.

When you work with your hands, you can see what you have accomplished. To this day, I love seeing a barn aisle knowing that the stalls are clean and every blanket and halter is where it should be. As I raise my boys, I am always looking for opportunities for them to “wear their work,” so they too can experience their version of satisfaction. Ironically, teaching your kids how to do the simple task of washing a car or sweeping a porch is developing executive skills.  In most cases, there is an immediate feedback loop of getting to see the results of your labor.


Here are some of my favorite examples of dirty jobs:

When my eldest was 9, he participated in a half-day baseball camp while his brother was in a full day camp.  I worked from home and wasn’t going to let him play video games for the remaining half of the day. I love clean vehicles, so I decided that cleaning my truck was a perfect job for him. I wasn’t worried about him damaging my F-150, because it had close to 200k miles and plenty of bumps and bruises. I handed him the hose, a bucket, soap, and sponge and said ‘go to it.’ My husband was convinced the job wouldn’t take him long. Four hours later, he was done. How my husband had underestimated him!

Watching my 9-year-old was like watching a situation comedy on TV. He would squirt the water into the air out of the hose, and become absolutely drenched. He would switch between slapping the truck with the sponge and actually using it. I had a hard time not laughing on my conference calls. But I just let him figure it out. He was soaking wet, covered in soap and even managed a dirt mustache.  Upon inspection, he had missed some spots and had to redo his work but, at the end of the day, he was proud of what he had accomplished.

So far, the best dirty job, I found was when both boys were in middle school. They were given the job of removing a year’s worth of old hay under some pallets to get ready for a new delivery of hay at a local horse farm. They would have to rack huge piles of moldy old hay and then drive a small gator so they could dump it. Then, they had to clean out and sort out the pallets, removing any that were damaged beyond repair.

Why I loved this job: they could do it relatively unsupervised, they were able to drive farm equipment, which they loved. They had to figure out how they were going to work together because they were being paid by the job and it was a huge job. It was hot, so they had to learn what to pack and to ask the owners if they needed more water or drinks. Those boys worked hard, and every time I picked them up they were filthy and a bit stinky. Each day, they would show me what they did for the day and talk about what was easy and hard. At the end of the job, they were both proud of their effort. Both said it was very hard and they actually didn’t mind the work. No, they weren’t interested in it as a permanent job.

So many of our students are struggling with executive function skills, taking the steps to complete projects. Paula Moraine in her book, Helping Students Take Control of Everyday Executive Functions, The Attention Fix, says that the process of learning is never a straight line from lesson to achievement. Instead, “learning requires trial and error, repetition, evaluation, and trying again.”

By doing dirty jobs, you are using the executive function skills of having to figure out how you get started, what’s next and what tools you need. (Organization and planning.)  This also gives your kids the chance to be responsible and in control of how and what they do. (Self-regulation and impulse control)

The beauty of summer is that the sky is blue and the sun is shining. What tasks or projects can your kids do where they can be outside accomplishing something with their hands. It doesn’t need to be perfect, actuality it should be far from it. Instead, the job should be about what they are accomplishing on their own and doing for themselves. You too can have some great entertainment as your son or daughter washes your car or pulls weeds in the backyard. Just make sure it’s not your favorite hydrangeas or a brand-new car. I have lost a multitude of flowers in the process, because I forgot to point them out and the kids assumed they were weeds. Oops.

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Responding to Demands: Wanting A Widget V4

My nine-year old stepson declared some years ago, “I want a beyblade!” I wasn’t too inclined to comply with his request as he and his brother already had six of these spinning battle tops. But instead of saying ‘no,’ I told him he needed to sell me on his pitch.

Zach sat and thought and before I knew it, he was up on stage, performing. With his arms flying akimbo, he declared the importance of his beyblade. I repeated that l had no interest in funding him. So, he pondered, and added a new question, “What if I come up with a list of chores, so I could earn money?” I thought he’d offered an interesting idea. He then turned to his brother for support. And, lucky for him, his brother was on board and they both scurried off to the kitchen to see what ideas could come up with.

I got a kick out of this new-found energy. Once they’d completed their preliminary list, we reviewed and tweaked with the understanding they needed to pitch this to their Dad too. We had to make sure everyone was on board. We all agreed to the list and the dollar value for each chore. The boys also understood it was not my responsibility to make sure they did these chores. For the next week, every morning they were off to clean the baseboards, pull weeds, etc. I have to admit I did find it amusing at breakfast each morning to hear them discuss how they would pool their money and buy the best beyblades. After doing chores they proceeded to research their future purchases. By the end of the week they’d self-funded their growing collection.

How does this back-door approach to teaching skills to kids apply to teachers and parents? Our goal is to raise adults, which means there are many skills along the way our kids need to learn. When your child or teen is driven by the idea of what’s in it for them, everyone is more likely to achieve what they want.

For instance, Jim Carey has a great a great story about a strategy used by one of his teachers to minimize classroom disruptions. Jim was the class clown. Needless to say, his focus on making classmates laugh could render classroom management a little difficult. So, his teacher cut a deal. She told Jim if he completed his work and stayed quiet, he could have a few minutes at the end of every class to do a comedy routine. Both teacher and Jim got what they wanted. The teacher had fewer classroom disruptions and Jim Carey had the opportunity to make people laugh at the end of class.

Another challenge of being a parent is the need to be in multiple places at the same time. One teen wants to go to the amusement park with his friends; his brother wants to play tennis on the other side of city. Even if Mom is willing to drop everyone off she’s not able to pick everyone up at the same time. Luckily, this family lives right by a bus stop, so the parents decide it’s time to train their son to take the bus. Together they map his journey, have him figure out the cost, and teach him to navigate Union Station. Even though both parents might be secretly worried, Dad goes to his appointment and Mom pretends to work. She keeps an eye on the time imagining where he is while she waits for those texts letting her know when he makes it to the first bus. No shocker here. He isn’t exactly diligent about his texting. Mom doesn’t get much done that evening as she quietly paces and grows another grey hair. But when she sees her son — and discovers how proud he is of his accomplishment in getting home— she knows it is worth every worry to watch him gain a little independence.

Raising kids and teens is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs there is. We are raising future adults, who will be making a place in the world.  By re-framing life’s lessons for our children so they see what’s in it for them and then collaborating on solutions, we can make the process more productive and maybe even a little more fun. The second challenge for parents is letting their kids and teens put the plan into action by stepping back and letting them own the great, the good, and the not-so-pretty.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

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8 New Rules For The 2017/18 School Year

School is back in full swing. With that comes a whole host of new engagement ideas.

Some of the hottest trends right now are flipped classroom, backwards by design, and ideas centered around community engagement.

Whatever your preferred method may be, there is no doubt that the face of education is changing as fast as innovation itself. (Do you want to make a lot of money? Start an ed-tech company.)

As you build engagement in your classroom for the 2017-2018 school year, prepare students for the ever-changing work world and ever-evolving 21st skill set. Here are some New School Rules for doing just that:

  • Sit Wherever You Want: Sit, stand, stretch, jog in place – whatever you need to do to stay motivated. Consider: How long can you stay seated while maintaining attention? As we prepare our students for 21st-century skills, why not teach 21st-century posture? The workplace is a collaborative, open space, full of ideas that need to be given room to breathe.
  • Don’t Raise Your Hand: When is the last time you raised your hand in a meeting ? Did you get heard, or did someone more ambitious talk over you ? Classroom discussion is one of the greatest ways to encourage self discovery. Let the voices flow! Does it get too chaotic? Perhaps. But there’s an easy way to overcome that. Introduce the sessions with a “ticket out the door.”  Students can’t leave until they written down five good ideas they’ve heard.
  • Don’t Do Any Homework: Work life balance is one of the most important job perks.  So students need a good homework life balance. Different schools have different philosophies, but there’s no doubt when a student is learning for eight hours a day that’s probably enough. At the very least, homework could easily be cut back to a couple nights a week or with long-term projects where a night off won’t be a setback.
  • Be Late (Or Leave Early): For many reasons, school starts way too early. Early start times aren’t even conducive to the working parent, who can lose hours a week getting kids to school and killing time before their late-starting job. So, offer students an incentive to be late with flexible scheduling. Kids are growing; they’re tired. Job programs, community volunteering, and other ideas can help give students community experience. As teachers know, if you give students more autonomy, you’ll be amazed at the responsible decisions they make.
  • Come To Class Unprepared: Expect the unexpected when it comes to being a teacher. Well, you should expect the unexpected as a student, too. The best advice students can get this time of year bears repeating: be open-minded, be resilient, be flexible, be varied in your interests, and you’ll be as well rounded as any student out there.
  • Work As Slow As You Want: Every elementary classroom in the country reads the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. Yet by about middle school, students turn into hares, racing through subjects and grades at breakneck speed. Slow it down. Drive passion. Fall in love with one thing at a time. 
  • Chew Gum: I can’t tell you how many times I was caught chewing gum in class just to be told to throw it out.  I’d have loved to have current research that shows chewing gum increases concentration, increases motivation, and is a super incentive for everyone.
  • Treat Yourself How You Want Others To Treat You: The Golden Rule teaches you to treat others as you want to be treated. That’s good, but if we don’t explain to others how we want to be treated, how can anyone know? Treat yourself right first. Take ownership. Take a high road. Ask for help. Listen. That’s what will come back to you.

Do you like these engagement ideas? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or by contacting us. We always love hearing from education professionals.

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11 NFL Lesson Ideas To Use This Season

Are you ready for some football? The NFL season kicks off this weekend. It should be fun!

With the Broncos being so popular, it’s hard to think of a school in Colorado that won’t have at least a few hundred students wearing the orange and blue on Fridays. Let’s hope they can have a good season, make the playoffs, and bring home another Lombardi trophy.

Football season is a really good teaching tool, too. There are ton of numbers involved. Great heroes (and anti-heroes) to read up on. And the history and geography of all the teams. Here are 11 easy class ideas to integrate football into the class for all students.  

Hope these make some good class connections! Enjoy the season.


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Hide The Homework, and Other Great Tips for Getting Homework Done

Conventional wisdom has us believe that homework needs to be done at a desk in a quiet room in one sitting until finished.  Does it really?  Homework can be a daily struggle for many families, especially those with students that have trouble getting started and sustaining focus. Let’s face it, for most kids homework is a chore.  It’s boring and the executive function and self-regulation skills necessary to power through it are lagging in many kids (and adults for that matter; think about doing your own taxes).  Today’s temptations like video games and YouTube videos only make it harder for homework to compete for our student’s attention.  The good news is you can change all that by mixing up the routine and, believe it or not, making homework fun.

So, hide the homework!

That’s right, take a homework assignment and hide it somewhere in the house and then let them complete it in that location once they find it.  I wish I could take credit for the idea but I heard of it while listening to Leslie Josel from Order Out of Chaos.(Check out her website, she has some great products and webinars).  For example, put the math worksheet in the cupboard and once your student finds it, have her squeeze in between the pasta noodles and canned green beans to complete it.  Depending on the grade level, set a rough time limit for how long it should take. If they don’t finish, move to the next assignment which is hiding in the tub. The point is, the fun and excitement of a game of hide and seek reframes the experience and turns completing their homework into a reward for winning the game.  Creating a game or a challenge around an otherwise mundane task increases dopamine in the brain and activity in the frontal cortex where the process of getting things done lives.

“But,” you say, “my kid is too old to play hide the homework?” So then what? Ask them what they think would work. Where do they naturally work when doing something they like?  Does he like to spread everything out on the floor while laying on his stomach and kicking his feet? Is he more productive studying with friends at a library, tutoring center, or coffee shop? Or maybe he needs several homework locations throughout the house to move to when he starts to lose focus?  Some students may actually like the idea of a body double; sit in the same room with them working on your own thing while they do their work.  Movement, a change of scenery, and interaction with others while working stimulates blood flow to the brain and takes the monotony out of the task.

When my youngest was in 4th and 5th grade, we would ride our bikes to the playground with books and snacks in hand and work on an assignment. When that was complete we would bike to the next location. Sometimes he would take me on some wild rides, but we got the work done. With another middle school student, we would play quick games of connect four between homework problems. Not only did she get her homework done, but my money is on her against anyone in a game of connect four. If your teen has an upcoming test, shoot some hoops while you quiz them. One caveat however – your student will have to give you guidelines as to what you are to do if they get the wrong answer. Take your parent hat off and just be a facilitator.  The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. The moment we start to criticize as parents, it’s game over!

Supporting a creative or more active environment and getting more senses involved increases engagement, focus, and the retention of information. Kids are always complaining that they can’t see how they’ll ever use what they’re learning in school, so take real life scenarios and tie it to what they are studying so it’s more interesting and relatable. For example, to help my youngest son understand the benefits of math, we decided to apply the concepts he was learning to a business idea he had to create – selling human sized gummy bears. He had to figure out how much it would cost, come up with a sales price and calculate his margin. He then decided he wanted to hire salespeople and had to figure out how he was going to pay them. After running the numbers and how many life size gummy bears he’d have to sell to make money, he decided this wasn’t a good idea, but he had a newfound appreciation for math.

All of this probably sounds like a big commitment and a lot of time out of an already busy day but it doesn’t have to be.  The big investment is upfront, brainstorming ideas and a little bit of trial and error figuring out which ones will work for your student. From there, it’s about incorporating homework into the quality time you’re already spending together as a family.  And think about the time and energy saved avoiding the battles over getting homework done, missing assignments and poor performance in school.

At the end of the day, no matter the age or the grade, it needs to be a collaboration between you and your student. Brainstorm ideas and give them permission to say “no” to yours.  Even if their ideas are crazy, run with it. If they say “I want to do my homework on the moon” simply respond, “Ok, how will you do that?”  Let creativity reign and have fun coloring outside the lines while exploring all the different routes you can take from point A to point B.

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28 Great Game Of Thrones Quotes To Engage Your Class

Photo Courtesy HBO

Fall might be in the air, but winter is coming. You know it, your friends know it, and there’s a good chance your students know it. With all the buzz about the hit HBO show, why not take the opportunity to infuse some great references in class? Really, there’s nothing more fun than making pop culture connections with students. And what’s more popular right now than Game of Thrones? It may not be suitable to your younger audiences, but they’ve definitely heard about it. In fact, the show’s become so popular that one teacher recently threatened to discipline his students with spoilers!

While The School Communications Agency certainly does not condone classroom management of the sort, there’s no doubt there are some great lines to help students learn. Here’s some of our favorite and ones teachers could use to great impact. Hope they come in useful! Valar Morghulis.

For teaching strength and self awareness
“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.” – Tyrion Lannister

For explaining the need to keep on keeping on
“In battle, discipline beats numbers nine times out of ten.”  – Jon Snow

For turning negatives into positives
“A bruise is a lesson, and every lesson makes us better.” – Arya Stark

For your honors philosophy class
“There is a lot that can happen between now and never.” – Lord Peter Baelish

For keeping all your options open
“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” – Jon Snow

For compelling students to take chances
“The man who fears losing has already lost.” – Arya Stark

For its great self reflection
“Never forget who you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you” – Tryion Lannister

For teaching conviction
“I will answer injustice with justice.” – Daenerys Targaryen

For motivating the girls in your class 
“I may be small. I may be a girl, but I won’t be knitting by the fire while I have men fight for me.” – Lyanna Mormont

For making sure you know who your friends are
“Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe.” – Arya Stark

For embracing individuality 
“There are no men like me. There’s only me.” – Jaime Lannister

For being your true self 
“There is no honor in tricks.” – Sansa Stark

For being a noble leader
“A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinions of the sheep” – Tywin Lannister

For fighting for what’s right
“I want to fight for the side that fights for the living” – Jon Snow

For beating the odds
“A very small man can cast a very large shadow.” – Lord Varys

For playing it smart
“A smart commander does not abandon a defensive advantage” – Roose Bolton

For the best reading motivation ever
“My brother has his sword, and I have my mind. And a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much.” – Tyrion Lannister

For those moments when you just need to say “Wrong!”
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” – Ygritte

For teaching the merits of loyalty
“A man without friends is a man without power” – Renly Baratheon

For being at the service of others
“A man of the Night Watch lives his life for the Realm” – Jon Mormont

For teaching figurative language
“Paint stripes on a toad, he does not become a tiger.” – Sandor Clegane

For getting students to write with passion
“The contents of a man’s letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse.” – Lord Varys

For not backing down
“I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home. And you can’t frighten me.” – Sansa Stark

For taking the high road
“The occasional kindness will spare you all kind of trouble down the road.” – Cersie Lannister

For daring students to dream big
“It’s like stepping into a dream you’ve been dreaming for as long as you can remember and finding out that the dream is more real than your life.” – Jaime Lannister

And.. two for controlling your emotions
“You’re angry. Sometimes your anger makes people do unfortunate things.” – Sansa Stark
“Sometimes fear makes them do unfortunate things.” – Arya Stark

And remember, a Lannister always pays their debts, and that’s a good lesson too.

If you’re a teacher and found this useful, we’d love to know how it went. We’d love your Facebook follow! 

Valar Dohaeris.

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10 Effective Communication Tips For Teachers, Parents, and Students

The beginning of a school year is an exciting time, with a ton of activity. In addition to building goals, it’s also super important for setting clear, crisp communication guidelines. Purposeful communication makes the beginning of the school year so much easier for everyone involved. A smooth beginning might not guarantee perfection, but you can be sure that a mismanaged beginning is a recipe for dealing with behavioral issues and playing catch up.

August and September are also the months when it seems as if things are happening at 100 mph.  Communication is key throughout the year, so begin early. They can be huge time savers in the end.

Teacher Tip One: Teachers, mail a postcard home and then make a follow up phone call during the first week. Sending a postcard home addressed to students makes them feel welcome in their new class. It also eases anxiety. Sending a card with a personal touch on it, like a favorite sports team or a national park you might have visited during the summer, humanizes the experience as well. In your note, remind the student they are going to have a great year. When the first week of class ends, call the parents letting them know how great their child’s first week was. If this sounds like a lot of work, you are most likely to go to voicemail, based on personal experience. Leave an upbeat message. It will make a huge impression.

Teach Tip Two: Spend the first few weeks with at least one getting to know you activity per day, and be sure it involves oral or written communication. You want to build new relationships right away. You also want to develop a routine where students are comfortable sharing ideas in small groups. Bring the class back together and pull names out of a hat so one or two students can comment on how the activity worked. As always, give them the option to pass, ensuring shy students aren’t put on the spot.

Teacher Tip Three: As a culmination of the first few weeks, invite the principal into your class to firm up rules and expectations. Tell the students the principal is coming as an advocate and confidante. Principals are extremely busy people, so you will only need a few minutes of their time to make an impression with students. Getting students and administration some time together is a huge step in building trust that can come in extremely useful when there are disciplinary issues.

Teacher Tip Four: Have a welcome back party with your teaching team, and be sure to invite family along. Do this early, and as often as possible. Reinforce learning as a fun activity. You can even have themed parties, showcasing work. I used to love hosting international days that the class worked in with history units. We served great cuisine, had a bunch of fun, and reinforced all our learning goals.

Parent Tip One: Parents, write an email to the teacher asking how you can help make the year a good one. In your introductory email let them know that you are so glad that your son or daughter has such a dedicated teacher. Flattery always goes a long way, especially in an inbox. Teachers get dozens of emails a day, so be sure to establish a partnership that serves everyone’s best interest, including the teacher’s.

Parent Tip Two: Attend all the welcome back events you can, and be sure to casually establish a rapport with your children’s teachers. It’s fine to talk shop at welcome events. Likely, you’ll want to set up a formal meeting because teachers are limited by confidentiality in how much they can go into detail with a bunch of other people around. And don’t be afraid to ask for a conference early on. This is often the least busy time of year for teachers and so meeting them for a conference is a lot easier, especially if you pitch it as proactive session.

Parent Tip Three: Find out how involvement will look. An overly strong parent advocate can, potentially, work against the very thing the teacher is working on, like building autonomy. Communication by all parties is important. For example, some kids want to be dropped off at class all the way till high school. Some kids want autonomy by second grade. These are telling signals and can inform all parties on the best way to handle academic, social, and emotional intervention. This is one of the touchier areas, because we all want to do the right thing, and sometimes the right thing is letting the child work an issue out on his or her own.

Student Tip One: Students, get a planner and a planner buddy who is more organized than you are. This is pretty self explanatory. If you are not organized, you’ll know it. You’re losing things. Missing deadlines. Or your planner make you feel like this. Some students are more meticulous than their teachers. Essentially, make sure the super organized can help the less organized. As a teacher, I’d choose a buddy to help me organize my busy desk, reinforcing their own organization.

Student Tip Two: Be proactive and communicate early with the teacher, letting them know what you’d like to get out of the school year. I’ve had students personally shake my hand after the first day of school. That made quite an impression. If that’s not so easy for you, send them an email, letting them know where you want to succeed. Or chocolate always works. Whatever way is easiest for you, being proactive with a teacher goes a very long way. Remember, teachers are human beings; they like getting nice things. And nothing’s nicer than a student who shows interest.

Student Tip Three: Join a club or, better yet, create one on your own. Chances are there are likeminded people out there who’d be thrilled with your idea. Find a cause. Draft a fantasy team. Build a Minecraft network. Volunteer to grade papers. Above all, get recognized for doing the right thing and for stepping up. School’s got enough social pressures to begin with, so why not come up with something that brings people together? It will definitely set you apart, and open up all kinds of opportunities to be engaged and engage others.

If you find these ideas are working for you personally, let us know! We’d love to hear from you. And thanks for considering The School Communications Agency for all your school communications needs.


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8 Common Mistakes Students Make When Setting Goals, And Ways To Improve Them

It’s baaaaaaack. School, that is. There’s going to be a few moans about that, but honestly, how great is it to get back with your friends, your favorite teachers, and a solid, successful routine. And with classrooms opening already around Colorado, now’s a great time to start helping improve your child’s education through realistic goal-setting.

When engaging in goal-setting activities, keep in mind that students range from the overly ambitious to the easily overwhelmed and every shape and size in between. I’ve had students who were convinced they were going to Stanford in the fifth grade, and I’ve had students who couldn’t tie their shoes in middle school. So, it’s really important to be realistic and also it’s just as important to know what to be realistic about.

Creating unrealistic goals is one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen students make. With that in mind, here are eight goals that can be managed more effectively.

  • Mistake Setting the bar too high Students who want to impress their teacher, mom, or dad can become too ambitious, which while a noble characteristic can more often than not lead to disappointment. Also, it takes the joy from learning. The student I cited above who was convinced he was going to Stanford measured every score, activity, and assignment with this in mind. Anything less than an A+ led to tears. What teacher wouldn’t feel bad about this? Fortunately, we caught this early, and made learning more fun for him, which resulted in just what we thought: better marks!
  • Mistake Setting the bar too low Students who make goals thinking they aren’t good enough can just as easily get lost, bored, and disinterested. They end up falling behind socially, as well, and it becomes a lot of work for teachers and parents to build their confidence back up. Often, those of us who set the bar too low are high achievers in other creative areas that might not be taught in school. Presenting the student with areas to integrate creativity in their work can create a sea change in their motivation.
  • Mistake The goals are not rewarding enough Good goal-setting is incumbent on feeling rewarded when the goal is met. If the goal doesn’t provide meaningful rewards, then the progression is likely to plateau too quickly. When setting a goal with students, ask them how they’d like to be rewarded. They’ll definitely let you know. And don’t be afraid to assert your authority in working with them on rewards. For example, a long term goal like raising their math grade form a C to a B could result in everyone’s favorite – a new video game, but only if it involves high order thinking.
  • Mistake Taking on too many jobs You’ve heard of dress to impress. Well, lots of students say yes to impress. It’s good because they love to help out, but classroom helping is way more effective when the job is highly meaningful to the student and the class. Sure, it’s great to have a student secretary on hand, so when assigning this goal, be sure the student understands there’s more to it than meets the eye. Students love to pass out paper, but when we ran out, they also had to reorder it, reply to any correspondence with a vendor through a quick writing assignment I’d give them, and then be sure it was kept clean and in order. When you do it this way, one job branches out into several.
  • Mistake Not taking enough risks I could usually categorize my classes quite easily. There were the risk averse, and the overly risky. While both presented plenty of opportunities for growth, if I’d have to choose I’d definitely steer students to taking risks, to teach them how to grow. This doesn’t mean setting unrealistic goals, however. It simply means that students learn best just a little outside their comfort zone. That’s the perfect place to present challenges and promote growth.
  • Mistake Goals are too impersonal Goals should be as personal as possible. Commonly, students make this mistake by playing follow the leader. If a particular student makes a goal that works, it is rather easy to copy. After all, we all know what the sincerest form of flattery is. You see this all the time in fads, and learning has fads too. But, fads are only as good as the designer. Goals are our very own designs, and students need to be reminded of this.
  • Mistake Not giving yourself enough time This is arguably the most common mistake in goal setting and often the most frustrating. We all have a tendency to want to see results now!  A good way to overcome this is to be sure at least one goal is a long term goal. Fostering the work ethic gained in achieving long term gains teaches patience and persistence. I think we can all agree this is a really important skill set for a mobile generation of learners.
  • Mistake Not following through When a student reaches their goal, make sure to celebrate it. Then, be sure to build off of it. I taught one student who read all of the 20 classic books she had on her list in half the time she allotted. The class celebrated that by watching an adaptation of Great Expectations. The next day, we set a new goal. She said she wanted to watch more adaptations she loved them so much. Out of that, she grew an affinity for film. That’s how the best goals work. They build one on top of another.

Remember, the best way to set goals is to individualize them as best as you can. You can have all the aspirations in the world and still the single most important thing you can be is realistic. And realistically, the sky is truly them limit when handling goals correctly.

If you’d like The School Communications Agency to work with you in setting realistic goals, we’d love to help. Contact us for more.

Thanks so much!

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Teaching is the art of making students believe in themselves. Motivating students to believe is often at the heart of a student’s success. Show me a student who believes in themselves, and I will show you a student who is in charge of their learning.

Ultimately, when a student believes in themselves and finds success, they’ll be off and running.

Keeping that motivation alive during the summer months is a huge step in the right direction. You don’t want your son or daughter to experience the dreaded summer learning gap.

Here are some tips on how to keep motivation alive and flourishing in the second half of the summer. Following these will most definitely help students start their new school year with the momentum they need to succeed.

TIP 1: Embrace Their Uniqueness

Students learn differently, so they’re always motivated to learn in a style uniquely their own. One of the most important things you can do is to be sure students reach down deep to find their true voice, their true passion, and follow that in their learning.

Developing passions requires deep commitment on the part of the teacher and the student, and will only succeed if a truly trusting relationship is established.

With students home for a bit longer, you are the teacher. Build trust by embracing whatever uniqueness they carry. Build this partnership by setting realistic goals for the next year. With each goal, have your son or daughter develop a solution, and support that mission as often as possible.

Tip 2: Foster Their Abilities By Highlighting Success

Continually highlight successes to develop a relationship built on motivation. Even if they are buried, there’s a treasure in there – every student has their share of success stories so highlight successes early and often.

To truly motivate a student is to take a very important stance – everybody from the highest reader to the developing writer has talent.

Remember, students come in all shapes sizes, quite literally. Don’t be mistaken to think that there are easy students and difficult students. It doesn’t matter at what level a student learns. What matters is they feel successful, and the more they do, they more they’ll give you back.

Tip 3: Communicate Their Successes Around

Most importantly from a motivational perspective, success needs to be communicated. The biggest stakeholder in a student’s life is their parent or guardian, so to truly expand on motivational successes, keep those close to you and your child informed including: teachers, relatives, community stakeholders, and friends. It’s not bragging to highlight a student’s achievement. It’s just smart – the more people you can motivate who are involved in a student’s life, the more they will be motivated in their own.

Sharing success might not be that easy after a particularly frustrating day or week. In that case, why not ask the student to list the successful moments they have experienced? Chances are, you will see success in a new light. It’s a great teachable moment and a wonderful opportunity to build a key partnership because communication takes a team effort.

For more ideas, please reach out to us. We are with you for all your motivational needs. And, of course, your communications needs, too.

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Improved Open-Ended Communication Inspires Learning Communities

John Hunter is a fourth grade teacher, and he’s one of the best around. Watching his Ted Talk, I was in awe at how he expertly communicates with children. He truly believes that informed parents, engaged communities and better schools arise from high quality communication. If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s well worth your 20 minutes. One of the most impressive strategies he implements is his ability to ask open-ended questions. As a teacher, I have practiced rigorously on the best way to engage students, and being open-ended is a huge help. There’s no doubt being open-ended helps bridge the gap between parents, schools, and communities.
I overheard a conversation at Panera recently that reaffirmed the importance of being open-ended. Here’s the actual conversation:
“How was your day,” the adult asked. “Good,” the child said. Then, the adult asked, “What did you learn today?” “Ummm…Math,” was the rather uninspired answer.
Being open-ended reinforces and revitalizes. At the end of a busy day, kids are tired. Some kids don’t like questions in general and are hesitant at sharing information. But mostly, kids find closed-ended questions restricting. Open-ended questions can get kids to talk in a free-flow manner, hitting on elaborate ideas that even the most ardent question-asker didn’t even know the kids had in them.
If you want to have a fun, communicative experience, the rule is simple. Basically, don’t ask kids questions in which the answer could be yes or no. I’ll illustrate an example. I asked my nephew once, “Do you want some vegetables?” I bet you can guess his answer. It was a resounding N-O. The fault was all mine though, because what kid would want a vegetable at 3:30 in the afternoon when dinner was a few hours away? After all, he’d be getting some on veggies on his plate at that hour. So, the next time I picked him up after school, I had learned my lesson. I rephrased the question.
If you could have any vegetable in the world before you get to eat this chocolate s’mores bar (showing him the chocolate s’mores bar) what would it be?” I had him. He went silent, and thought for a few seconds, running through his list of vegetables. He smiled, and said watermelon. Well, not bad. But watermelon is a fruit, I said, but I’d take it since he’d be getting some good sources of vitamin C before he had his snack of choice. We then went on to have a fun conversation about fruits that look like vegetables. And then fruits that taste like vegetables. Remember, none of this would have been possible with my first question, because it was closed-ended. But, open-ended questions opened up an opportunity for so much more inquiry. Now, I have even this printed out for those busy moments when I forget to think of my own open-ended questions. When we communicate with our kids, they communicate back to us. That’s the lesson here. And they never cease to amaze, according to Hunter, and every teacher probably ever!
Another thing I admire about Hunter is that he encourages open-ended communication to foster inquiry far beyond our expectations. When he’s teaching his inspiring “World Peace Game,” he assigns one of the most important (and challenging) books written of all time – The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. To fourth graders! When we arm our students with these opportunities, and communicate our objectives in clear, open-ended ways, the sky is the absolute limit in what we are be able to get them to speak, write, and create. Kids want to share their positive experiences in school, but too often readily engage in negativity and gossip.
Again, open-mindedness trains them to think in successful terms. Involved communities leads to better schools, and what better way than sharing success stories? Next time you ask how their day was, it would be wise to turn that statement around and ask them ways in which tomorrow could be even better.
After all, that is the goal of excellent communication, making tomorrow better than today, and being open-ended adds another quiver in your arrow. At The School Communications Agency, we believe 100 percent in providing opportunities for success through the power of positive communication. If you are interested in learning more about what we do, please contact us for more ideas today. We would love to help in your efforts in building your community and improving education.


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