School is finally out and the start of the new school year is a safe distance away. If you are like most teachers, part of your brain will be thinking about what little things you might improve in your classroom next year and those thoughts will be murmuring at you all summer. One of the things that you might want to think about is how to set up classroom jobs in the fall. Students do better when they feel like they are connected and that their contributions matter. It helps them feel capable. Meaningful work in the classroom helps build a sense of excitement, community and interdependence from the very beginning of the school year.
In general, students are capable of doing much to contribute to the classroom than we expect of them. Get creative in thinking about jobs. Could it be a student who hands out the Band-Aids, monitors the classroom energy footprint, helps monitor the classroom agreements, or welcomes classroom guests? Could you step back a bit and hand responsibilities to students so that you are free to use time more effectively? Of course, it won’t save time at the beginning as you take time for training. But that time will be an opportunity for community building as everyone learns new skills.
- Start making a list of different kinds of jobs your students could do in your classroom.
- Think about how you might get them involved in writing (or drawing) their own job descriptions. These can go in a notebook, so that when you rotate jobs, the new job holder has a list of what to do.
- Help students understand how every job helps the classroom by asking questions. For example, “How would this job benefit our class?” “What would it take to do this job well?” “What would happen in our class if no one did this job?”
- Use modeling and practice to teach jobs. It’s important not to assume that children know what they are supposed to do.
- Change it up. Develop a system of rotating jobs, so that each child gets to do each job during the semester/year.
- Pause and reflect. Reflect with students occasionally on how jobs are going. Revise job descriptions and responsibilities throughout the year.
- Notice student success. Be specific (e.g.: “I notice that all of you have remembered to do your jobs today; I noticed the ‘floor cleaners’ picked up all the paper from the floor – your dedication helps our community”)
- Level up. Think about how meaningful work could be applied to school-wide jobs. Contributions to the whole school build school community.
For more ideas on student jobs check out the list in your copy of Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Teachers’ Guide.
What have your children done to contribute to your family this week? We aren’t talking about making their own beds or cleaning up their own toys, but helping out with the work that all families need to do: setting the table, walking the dog, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom. True, as a parent, sometimes it is just quicker and easier to get the jobs done by yourself. But what is your child learning when you do all of the work? How will he learn the life skills and responsibility he needs to be independent? Your child may know that he is loved (because he is) but how will he know the sense of belonging that comes from having your contributions valued? How will he develop the sense of how capable he really is in life? If you don’t have a system for sharing family work, summer is a great time to start. Here are some tips:
- Take time for training and work with your children until they can do the task on their own.
- Provide child-sized equipment (broom, gardening tools, etc) to encourage involvement..
- Brainstorm a list of all the jobs that are required to make a household run. That will include things that your children might not be able to do and it will increase their perspective. The list might include things like: Paying bills, buying grocer, putting gas in the car, earning money, doing the laundry, vacuuming, cooking 7 days a week, washing dishes, walking the dog, watering plants, taking care of the garbage and recycling, setting the table, etc.
- Invite your children to choose 2-3 jobs each that are developmentally appropriate. Make a chart or use popsicle sticks in a jar to set up a routine about who does which jobs and when.
- Make family work fun (sometimes anyway). Have a ‘chore time’ so everyone is working at the same time – sing or play music.
- Rotate chores (if possible depending on children’s ages), to avoid boredom.
- Be willing to trade. Sometimes kids just get tired of their job and want a day off. It is fun to be able to trade. “Don’t want to clear the table? Will you do my job of (cleaning the kitty litter/folding laundry etc) instead? Great! I’ll trade for today.”
- Separate allowance from household work. Family work is something that everyone does because they are part of the family – not because they get paid. It is important to learn that we do things because we are part of a group and because it is the right thing to do. Not everything we do is tied to a “reward.” Allowance is also something you get for being part of the family – but the two are not linked. If you want to make arrangements for opportunities to earn “extra money” by doing special jobs that is different.
Here are some more ideas: Sharing Work and Play. Family work: Whose Job is It?
If your school is one that actively teaches character traits or values we hope courage is on your list. Yet, talking about courage or even reading stories about courage doesn’t always help students be able to use their own courage. Instead of focusing on heroism or bravery, we suggest framing courage as becoming your best self. You can share stories the stories that heroes tell after the event. It is common for them to tell their audience that it “was just the right thing to do.” Ian Grillot, who interrupted the shooting in Kansas City in 2017 is one of those heroes. From his hospital bed he said, “I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”
Children face tough situations every day including: making new friends, giving a presentation in class, deciding how to stay connected with friends when they don’t want to join in an activity, as bystanders when other people are being hurt or for some, just getting to school. For some students, just showing up to school is courageous. Here are some ideas to nurture courageous attitudes in the classroom:
- Talk about courage using the frame that it is about being your best self, even when it isn’t easy to do that.
- Write courage stories. Have your students write about what it means to be their best self and about a time where they were able to be themselves even if it wasn’t easy, or they were anxious or afraid.
- Model noticing courage. You can write post it notes or quiet comments that start, “It took courage to _____ (ask for help, tell your friend to be more respectful, make a special effort to welcome our new student.) When you start noticing it, they will notice it with each other as well.
- Help them see courage in their own lives. Invite a discussion about the courage it takes to say, “no” when the majority (or their friends) are saying “yes.”
- Lift out acts of courage in the stories you and your students read. Examples are everywhere because that is part of what makes a good story. Biographies and memoirs are particularly rich, though they tend to elevate the idea of a “hero” which separates them a little from your students. Think of Simone Biles, Ruby Bridges, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln.
Examples of courage are all around us. We tend to notice only the big events though: a parent lifts a car off the leg of a child, a stranger who jumps into a river to save a drowning person, a teenager who steers a bus to safety when the busdriver passes out at the wheel. At Sound Discipline we notice that people who do courageous things often don’t feel courageous in the moment. When interviewed they often make comments like, “I just did what I had to do” or, “Anyone would have done the same thing.” We think courage is the movement someone makes in the direction of becoming his/her best self. When we look at it that way we can see that courage shows up every day in common circumstances. Making new friends, helping a stranger, looking for a different solution to a problem, having hard conversations or just trying something new are all courageous. Having courage leads to success and happiness. Here are some ideas so can you inspire courage in your children:
- Teach your children that courage is not the absence of fear, but doing something in spite of it. From the outside, courage may look impressive and powerful to our children, but from the inside it can feel uncomfortable or like anxiety, fear or self-doubt.
- Encourage your children to try new things. This might be activities that “stretch” them, provide a challenge or something new that might be scary or hard: music, sports, drama, or joining a club. Children have a natural desire to master skills. This can grow their sense of self.
- Give them courage of thought. Help them ask questions, be creative in problem solving or think of new ways of doing things.
- Notice and comment when they demonstrate courage. For example, “It took a lot of courage for you to ask to join that group of kids,” or “I noticed you helped Mrs. Smith carry her groceries.”
- Be the example. Model trying new things, solving difficult problems and taking appropriate risks. Talk to your children about how it felt on the inside as you tried something new. It helps them to know that adults also feel afraid or nervous and keep trying.
At Sound Discipline we often begin workshops by asking teachers to imagine a student returning to visit as a young adult. We ask them to think of what gifts or qualities they hope that student will have acquired. The list is long. It often includes things like compassion, empathy, confidence, problem solving skills, healthy relationships, respect for themselves and others, communication skills, integrity, passion for something, and perserverence. When we ask them how easy it would be to teach a young person with those skills, they smile and tell us it would be easy. Educators have a responsibility to teach academic content and pressure to have their students meet certain standards. Sometimes under all that stress it seems hard to help students develop the very skills that will make it easier for them to learn.
When schools are able to empower students with social skills learning communities thrive. It doesn’t happen all at once. Just like academic skills, social skills require explicit instruction and opportunities to practice. Here are some places to start:
- Teach self-regulation. Brains work best when they are not stressed. Using brain breaks and short mindfulness practices throughout the day helps students stay regulate. Then they are more likely to respond appropriately.
- Model that mistakes are opportunities to learn. No one can learn math without being comfortable making and fixing mistakes. The same is true for relationships with peers. They won’t be successful with friendships until they can learn to recognize and repair mistakes. Teachers can model making and repairing their own mistakes as one way of teaching their students. Offer students plenty of opportunities to fix their mistakes without shame or blame.
- Use encouragement rather than praise. Saying, “I notice that you are excited (or upset) today,” “Thank you for your help” allows students to feel felt or seen.
- Use Positive Discipline Class Meetings. These are structured gatherings that start with compliments followed by problem solving. The routine of working together to solve problems in a manner that is always helpful not hurtful teaches students much more than problem solving. They learn to listen, respect differences, have empathy, practice kindness, share their ideas, be patient, be creative – and most importantly know that they are part of a community. They develop a deep sense that they are capable of making their school or community a better place. For specific lessons on how to teach class meetings you can take a workshop or get a copy of the Teachers’ Guide.
Capable children see themselves as competent and powerful. They are able to handle challenges and age-appropriate tasks at each stage of development. They can manage their own emotions and can get along with others. How can parents help their children develop this sense of capability?
- Let your child try to do things on his own from a very young age. Don’t be too quick to jump in and fix. Step back and watch for a minute and be ready to support if needed.
- Encourage rather than praise. “You worked hard on that,” or “Tell me about your project,” is more effective a more effective practice than praise.
- Help your child learn that mistakes are opportunities to learn. As Ms. Frizzle of the Magic Schoolbus said, “Get messy. Take chances.” Children can be encouraged to figure out what happened, how it happened and what to do differently next time.
- Be curious and listen. Asking “What?” and “How” questions helps children begin to think things through.
- Affirm your child’s ability to impact the world. This helps her see herself as powerful. All children will learn reasonable limits to their power (e.g. I can’t make the sun come out and neither can Mommy). The more opportunities your child has to influence their world, the more she will see herself as capable. (e.g. If I stand on this stool, I can turn flip the switch and light up the room)
Children develop an internal sense of who they are from birth. Relationships with others play a pivotal role in building their identity and sense of belonging. This begins, of course, with primary caregivers and other family members, and then expands to include friends, school and community.
Giving children messages of love, respect, and encouragement empowers them to feel that they belong and that they matter. They then have confidence to voice their views and opinions, to make decisions and to develop the skills they will need in life.
- Know and support your infant’s natural rhythms (eating, sleeping) and respond to their needs consistently, and with congruency. That means feeding when they are hungry, changing when soiled, and soothing when upset.
- Spend one-on-one time with toddlers, following their lead, allowing opportunity for interaction and affirmation. Invite them to talk about experiences and feelings.
- Support preschoolers in thinking about themselves, who they are, their abilities, and interests. Create opportunities for them to talk, listen and be heard.
- Involve elementary age children in their community. Encourage them to understand and take part in customs or celebrations that reflect their culture and to experience the diversity of the wider community.
- Encourage adolescents to talk with you about friends and developing relationships. What qualities are important to them in friends, teachers or teammates? How do they see themselves as a part of the groups to which they belong?
For all ages:
- It is important to contribute to the family in useful ways. Brainstorm a list of family work. Invite your children to decide which tasks each child can do on a regular (daily) basis.
- Clear guidelines and expectations also help children belong. One of the common mistakes is thinking that children only belong when they are happy. As parents it is not our job to keep our children happy. Connecting, setting limits, teaching appropriate behavior and having family customs and routines are all part of the job of being a parent.
- Connect before correct. When your child misbehaves, it is helpful to remember to connect first. “I can tell you are mad, and in our family we don’t hit other people.”