Monday, 29 April 2013

The Power of Positive

Sorry for the long hiatus folks. As you probably correctly guessed, the quiet coincided with the return to school. Good to know I'm working instead of blogging huh? ;)

Term 2 has gone, from my perspective, a lot more smoothly than Term 1 (surprise surprise). I think I was more prepared from a planning side and the obvious bonus was having a much better idea of what lay in store!

Aside: there is NO SUCH THING AS OVERPLANNING in teaching. I don't care what anyone says. No such thing.

Only one challenge has arisen which has really knocked me sideways. I got sick.

It was inevitable I guess: all those hours and lack of sleep and inability to eat properly + the change in the season and the high-risk environment of a school. Understandable that the flu eventually arrived. What I did not anticipate was how much feeling rotten would diminish my capacity for patience and positivity with my students. And you never know quite what you've got until its gone.

My fuse got short. My words got snappy. My grumpiness grew and my frustrations were palpable. As I've mentioned before, our students do not respond well to the grumps. At all! Loads and loads of infusing of firm positivity is the way to do it with this lot, so naturally my shorter fuse resulted in more antagonism, conflict and further grumps. Since I fell sick (and missed a couple of days) I've felt an eerie and disturbing sense of "whatever" and I know my students can smell it.

As if by divine intervention, this same period coincided with our introduction of a merit system at the school. We tried the intrinsic-motivation-appeal-to-your-better-sense-of-self stuff. It does NOT work on 14 year olds. So we went blatant: merit awards for doing stuff that is above-and-beyond or remarkable (teachers discretion). We decided NOT to introduce 'demerits' straight away: we wanted to see if we could build a positive system that was around incentivising the right behaviour rather than punishing all the time. So far so good! Man, what a merit can't do to promote a change in behaviour! Students gather up books and help in hopes of a merit. The naughtiest of students will try and behave in case they get a merit. A system I introduced today got more work out of my kids in an hour than normal: something along the lines of 'difficulty level' for questions in maths class to hurry them up through the simple stuff and get them chewing on the tougher material.

Level 1: Rookie. Everyone should do this. Everyone CAN do this. Get off your lazy bum and work.
Level 2: Pro. All of you should try. Getting up to this level should get you to pass maths. Just.
Level 3: Boss. A merit to anyone who can get all but one Boss-level question right. [I love writing on their merit slip "Reason: Doing algebra like a Boss"].
Level 4: Legend. Peeps who get level "Legend" right are a-away for a 70% if they work.
Level 5: Master. Only for those who should be able to get 80-90 for maths.

So the idea is that kids can actually say 'Miss, today i'm doing Maths like a Pro!" and feel good about it. It also sets a clear and obtainable "minimum expectation". The kids loved it! They came up with "Legend" and "Master". And all of a sudden, maths class became a game. Let's see how long it lasts...

What all of this did remind me (sickness, merits, level-ups) is the power of positivity. Really, there is no other explanation for it: something about our kids is wired into shutting out the negative and craving the positive in ways that is almost pathological. The challenge to us as staff, then, remains in keeping up our energy to stay positive.

The kids have asked for extra classes on Saturdays. I'm thrilled (and devastated)... it's wonderful they want them but man, really? More? That said, I canned last weekend because the little blighters hadn't done their homework and were unapologetic about it. So I told them I wasn't bending backwards if they couldn't be asked. Deep down I know really I won't stop, even when they are being lazy buggers... experience tells me that they come around eventually.

Meanwhile, I'll just keep trucking like a Boss. No Legend. Wait... Master. Yes :)

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