Connection before correction.

My students are taking their standardized math test on Tuesday.

If you teach in a tested grade, that's all I really need to say for you to understand the type of week it's been. The students and I are anxious, edgy, cranky, and loud. Kids alternate between running around the room and begging for a nap. It feels like we're all one emotional match away from completely exploding.

It was the sort of the week where I needed to come back again and again to the best teaching advice anyone ever gave me.

Connect before you correct.

I don't remember the person's name or position. I don't know if it was a school-wide professional development session or a hallway conversation or a weepy phone call (there were lots of those my first year). But I'm a firm believer that the advice you need sticks in your brain, and this one has been Velcro.

I know now that this person probably used Positive Discipline. It is a program and model that I encourage you to check out. The essence of this tenet of PD is that kids learn best when they feel connected, and that is hard for them to be positive influenced if they don't.

My worst school days are the ones where I realize that I've been giving corrections all day long. Eyes up here. Sit down. Write this. Hands to yourself. Listen. Stop. Start. ... Sigh.

When a student's off task and I realize I've been bombarding him / her with commands all day, here are a few ways I try to connect in the next available moment:

  • Smile. In addition to disarming grouchy kids, it biologically helps you feel warmer feelings toward the person you're smiling at.
  • Get quiet. Make it a private conversation instead of a call out in front of the whole class, and use a soft voice. It will immediately feel less terrible.
  • Ask W questions (who, what, when, where, why) about their life, or about the situation at hand. "What did you do this weekend?" "Where is your favorite place in the world?" "Why do you think that happened?"
  • Be random. With no segue, ask for a repeat performance of the joke he / she told you last week. Stop and sing a silly song. See if he / she remembers that funny thing that another student did the other day. The more off topic, the better.
  • Take it less seriously. That doesn't mean a behavior doesn't matter, or doesn't need to be addressed. But making everything SUPER SERIOUS is the pathway to disconnection and ultimately to burnout.

What do you do to connect with students in the moment? Leave a comment letting us know.

All the best,

M.