We kicked off our “Reading Super Bowl” the other day. The students were pumped to be competing against one another. The line to go to the busses at the end of the day was buzzing with how many footballs each was going to be bringing in the next day.
Today was only day two of our contest, and students came to school baring both footballs and questions. I find it helpful to sit everyone down on the carpet and go over some extra ground rules: 1. It is okay to bring footballs in a day or two late. You won’t lose your minutes if you forget, or mom/dad was too busy. 2. Only take as many footballs as you truly imagine completing that evening. (Kids will take five sheets of paper=30 footballs=600 minutes or ten hours; probably not realistic in one night;) 3. Even though you are not inside the school building at recess, you can’t bring a book outside to read. Run around; that is what recess is for. While I appreciate the enthusiasm, the lunch/recess aids have enough to do without initialing a million footballs…
While covering these and more rules and regulations, I began to back away from the parameters of the competition and focus my message on what the contest is actually meant to do: foster a love for reading and develop reading
habits. In the past the class was privy to the mantra “Everyone who reads wins”, but I hadn’t spelled out the underlying agenda of the “Reading Super Bowl”. This year I just flat out told students, “I would rather you only read 20 minutes a day, but wish that you had more time to read and love the time that you did spend reading, than bring four footballs (80 minutes of reading) in to class each day.”
I worded this concept a few different ways with multiple examples, and the students seemed to understand. After each student shared an exciting tale of how much he or she read the night before, I asked what was read and how much the student enjoyed it. It only took a few of these exchanges before students began discussing book series and future books that they wanted to read. Now we were getting somewhere! Rather than championing the paper footballs and minutes read, my students were looking forward to the actual reading.
In previous years, I have asked parents to send in pictures of their kids reading at home so I can include them in movies that summarize the whole competition. I might have parents contribute these earlier in the game, this year. In this way, we will focus on the plays rather than only the score.
Earlier this year a student from my room hurt the feelings of a peer by pointing out a physical characteristic that contrasted the child’s appearance with the other kids in the classroom. The rudeness was unintentional (Whitman, n.d.), but painful nonetheless.
The only reason that I knew about this interaction was the hurt child came over and told me about it. It almost seemed like she wasn’t sure if she should be upset or not. As she told me her story, others, overhearing the tale, chimed in with their two-cents. This additional commentary seemed to spin the story into a negative frenzy, so that I put an end to the retelling in order to address the class.
I talked to my third grade students about the effect that pointing out differences among people can have. I explained that while the observant student may not have done anything overtly wrong, it wasn’t polite to focus on what makes someone different from you. It is great to be proud of what separates you from others; These characteristics make us unique and special, but don’t draw attention to how other people are different from you. Rather, we should celebrate our similarities.
What the boy did when he pointed out the way a little girl looked different from himself was a natural thing to do. We humans can’t help but categorize things (Vanderbilt, 2016). We have genres for music, books, movies, art, dance; You name it! It’s much easier to find things when they are labeled. When I’m in the mood to read a mystery, it’s much faster and easier to go to that section of the bookstore, rather than sift through every single shelf. But, what about those books that are very funny true stories about a person’s life that happen to also be highly mysterious? Now what? Often times, we simply create a new category.
Tom Vanderbilt (2016) goes a step further, suggesting that the more we like something, the more we want to categorize. A person who enjoys candy will separate a bag of treats into several groups of like sweets. How many times has the book-lover rearranged his or her library, recategorizing titles? I have grouped books that I read close in chronology, only to separate them after reading new texts.
The problem with doing this to people is that genre-making exaggerates differences (Kaufman, 2012). When we categorize things, we look for what makes them unique. When it comes to relationships, it is wise to seek similarities over identifying differences. Contrasting characteristics can create wedges and rifts between people. Locating, examining, celebrating, and strengthening the things we have in common will pull people closer together. This will build relationships that will be useful, helpful, comfortable, and enduring.
I came up with an activity to help reinforce this concept in my classroom. I call it “Building Bridges”. We have a snack/play time in the afternoons, when we give ourselves a brain break. I instituted a “constructive” play rule, where kids use items that can be connected or built upon in order to make things, rather than just mess around. We have Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, 30+ year-old Robotix toys from my childhood, and we also use the colorful interlocking blocks that came with our math curriculum. Because we have the most of this last medium, I chose to have the whole class use the colorful blocks in a contest. (The competition makes it more exciting.) Groups of kids–I not only let the kids pick their own groups, I didn’t limit the size of groups–arranged and connected blocks to form bridges that spanned distances between desks. I told them that the bridge had to be able to hold and transport a Thymio robot–This is a little robot that students can program to drive. The robot was the trick. Students worked to make their bridges wide enough, thick enough, and strong enough for the robot to use. Rather than drop robots on the floor during trial runs, we measured the weight with a simple scale. The robot was equal in weight to a half-full pencil box.
We discussed the concept of working together right after having experienced it first-hand. The kids loved constructing the creations.
The thing is, the blocks in our bridges were all different colors. Not only that, but they stuck together in varying strengths. Some had tight connections. Some were very loose. But every block had way more in common with the others than it did with the desk it rested on!
In the same way, humans are all different; We look, think, behave, talk, dress, and smell different. But, we have way more in common with each other than our differences would let on. Lets focus on our connectivity, building bridges, rather than tearing each other down.
The idea for this project surfaced this past summer. My wife Sonia plays keyboard and electric bass in a band that hosts an open mic in Allentown, PA. Sonia also sings.
An open mic is a different venue from a concert. It is more like a jam-style atmosphere. This is an opportunity for musicians to try new things and literally play, rather than perform. You can collaborate on projects, join other bands for a song or two without committing to membership, and meet new people.
Sonia had been going to and playing at this open mic for nearly a year. On a pretty regular basis, people thought that they should go up to Sonia and tell her what she could improve. It didn’t seem like these people were doing this to anyone else, and the pep talks, or whatever you want to call them, were unsolicited. It felt like Sonia was being bullied. She was new to the scene, and had quickly moved to center stage. Perhaps the bullies were jealous.
Whenever Sonia would tell me one of these stories, I tried to only listen, but I inevitably thought about what a classy response might be. It varied on the situation, but my favorite boiled down to asking the purveyor of symphonic wisdom, “What are you doing?” I thought up the idea of interrupting the (let’s presume) ignorant bully, and simply inquiring, “Why do you feel the need to push this lecture on to me?” It isn’t like Sonia had asked to be critiqued, so what was happening here?
Sonia is far from insecure, and she is very classy, so she nearly always let the ignoramus spout his advice. She, probably, rightly so, figured he wanted to feel important or knowledgeable. It’s not impossible the guy just wanted something to talk to my beautiful wife about. Wrong move. It was not providing Sonia with positive feelings.
I transferred all of this to a situation that I could imagine happening in a school setting. If an elementary student was being bullied, what would be the best response? Also, how could I communicate to 3rd graders appropriate ways to deal with verbal bullies? I came up with a lesson involving Cause and Effect that used Google Slides. I began by making a flowchart.
From each action (or inaction) a couple of different things might happen. From your next decision, new angles or issues would appear. What would be the best direction to take?
I made a Google Slideshow that has a simple, generic storyline for students to interact with. As they read each slide, they click on the box that they think will be best for dealing with the given situation. The boxes are all linked to slides within the slideshow, so depending on what is clicked, students will create their own narrative; like a “Choose Your Own Adventure”. There is a box on every slide that allows students to go all the way “Back to the Beginning” of the narrative to start over. There is also one that allows students to return to the “Previous Slide”.
Before using the slideshow, I recommend using yarn to form a story web. Index cards with elements of a story can be attached to a wall, placed on the floor, or read from desks. Yarn can begin at the start of the story and travel back and forth from causes to effects. The yarn is a timeline. This shows students that conflict is not linear. By definition, we do not deal with a bully once and done. Each variation in how we deal with the conflict is a science experiment. You think to yourself, “This time I will ignore the bully and see what happens.” You witness the outcome, analyzing how it worked out for you. Then next time, you tryout yelling, “Stop bullying me!!” Or, perhaps you give telling an adult a try. Never seeing the bully again or successfully dealing with the situation so that there is no more bullying could be represented by cutting the line of yarn. What would simply running out of yarnsymbolize?
After the yarn conflict web group exercise, students can independently or with partners participate in clicking through and reading the interactive Classy Conflict Management slideshow. This allows them to take control and explore the concept of cause and effect on their own.
I’m not one to put too much weight in appearances; I’d say I am even opposed to “Lookism”; however, caring about the way others perceive you is classy. I wrote a blog about “Standing Out” in a crowd through modeling classy behavior. This focused on several specific ways to appear classy. This time I want to dig deeper. Where does the behavior come from?
We, as parents and educators, care about our kids’ futures, but most kids are living in the here and now. It is difficult to get a nine-year-old to care about what an employer will think about him or her ten or twenty years from now. Then there is the whole, “We have no idea what 2030 will bring and what the world/job market will even be like” (thanks, Tom Murray/Eric Sheninger! 😉
People, want to be respected. They want to be taken “seriously”. A child expects to be able to speak to an adult and have the grown up believe him/her. Here is a concept to help kids, and we mature humans must model and explain it to them: The classier a person appears, the more believable he or she seems. I am not advocating that kids not be kids. By all means, be silly, have fun, act out, even, but have dignity doing it.
[I wrote and rewrote the previous paragraph ten times. It was very difficult to say what I wanted to communicate. It feels wrong to teach confidence and self-assurance on the one hand, and then put weight in paying attention to what others think of you, on the other. We want our kids to “be themselves” and not worry about how others may judge them. There should be a balance. I’ve said before, “Out of the box thinking requires a box.” Poetry is a good example. A poet will finegal words, mixing the order, reinventing phrases, dice up spellings, and disobey the laws of grammar. In order to appreciate what the poet has accomplished, one must actually know the laws that were broken. Modern artists have gotten a bad rap by producing works of art that layfolk interpret with the phrase, “Even I could do that!” But, these artists have studied the Masters, the laws, the intricacies of color, line, texture, feeling, mood, etc. What they provide is an idea outside of the box of classical art. A person who splashes paint onto canvas and calls it “Modern Art” without understanding these aforementioned attributes, is “sitting on the box that true artists are thinking outside”. Although kids should “be their own persons”, they should, at the very least, be mindful of the “box” of respectable behavior and not stray too far. A bunch of letters scattered all over the floor isn’t a poem anymore than it is art. It’s just a mess, unless an artist or poet can show “the box” that the scattered letters “came from”.]
Back to Elementary Education: More than behavior management, I attempt “Behavior Inspiration”. I am not seeking to control my class. I want to lead it. In the same way that a good teacher facilitates learning, rather than shoveling information down students’ throats, teachers can positively reinforce the behaviors that model dignity, self-respect, confidence… class.
One silly example I have for this is the way students hold their coats. It is that time of year when kids need coats for recess. The thing is, kids get warm when they run around, and they will take their coats off. Upon entering the school building, they have not cooled down completely, so they don’t want to put their coats back on. What many are inclined to do is place the hood of their coat on their head and let the rest hang behind them. They see peers doing this; Maybe they feel like it is a cape. Kids love doing this. It isn’t that I think that there is anything inherently “wrong” with wearing a coat this way. However, what I do each year is show my students the contrast of draping a coat over the arm and carrying it like a butler’s towel up to the room. It seems to me that students who walk with their coat draped over their arm stand more strait with their chins higher. They do not shuffle into the building. They parade with purpose. I told you that this was a silly example. It is simply an appearance thing, but it really works!
One more simple example is when students are working on classroom projects. Our school recently had a fundraiser where parents pledged money for laps that kids ran around a loop. In order to get students motivated, the company hosting the fundraiser, Boosterthon, issued classroom flags for kids to decorate. I always enjoy having my students draw and color the flags, but inevitably there will be some kids who are inclined to just scribble or throw color all over it. While I want the flag to be colorful, it is important to me that our classroom flag be something that we are proud of. (They get hung up in the gym in the end.) Coloring the flag is more than just an experience. It is producing a work of art. I want the students to care about what it looks like. This attitude can be applied to all classroom projects.
Last example: A person shuffles up to you. The individual’s appearance is disheveled. The eyes are shifty and not making contact. How likely are you to trust this person? In contrast, a student with coat draped across his arm, walking straight with good posture and an ere of determination, approaches you and makes eye contact. Aren’t you more likely to take the message of this last individual more seriously.
I, by no means, am advocating that teachers show less respect to students who wear their coats on their head. In fact, I allow it. I simply teach and model the better way to present yourself. If you want to be respected, command it; Look like a commander, act like a commander, speak like a commander, feel like a commander… a Commander of Class.
Have you ever had a conversation where you felt like the listener was not paying attention? Is there anything less classy than bad listeners? Listening is not natural. Teachers should not assume that their students come equipped with good listening habits. I ALWAYS begin every year with teaching listening skills.
Almost before I tell students my name, I am explaining the top three listening strategies. These are a mantra that we say to ourselves all year long: Stop moving, make eye-contact, and smile. In addition to the mantra, I teach the students the importance of being able to repeat the message you are listening to back to the speaker and ask good questions to clarify meaning and show that you care.
First, Make it a Mantra: “Stop moving, make eye-contact, and… smile;)”
Don’t “Freeze” because that is silly and uncomfortable. Kids like the idea of “freezing” because it allows them to stop with feet in the air, weird expressions on their faces, etc. In fact, I have witnessed students standing or sitting perfectly normal get into contorted positions when they hear the word “Freeze!” Then they laugh, fall over, do everything but listen. Just stop moving.
Get set to listen. This is the opposite of freezing. Students should sit down, put down their scissors, pencils, papers, etc., and turn to face the speaker.
One of the things I do in my class for management is I teach everyone to stand at attention. This is great for getting my line nice and straight. I also use it when kids are listening to the announcements. [They are less distracted by things in the room, and my room can be pretty distracting! I have a 9-inch pleco swimming around a 75 gallon fish tank, for crying out loud!] To stand at attention simply means heels together, standing straight, shoulders back, chins up, and I also teach the kiddos to look straight ahead without smiling or even “focusing” on anything. In fact, their gaze should be a little out of focus. They are tin soldiers, waiting for action… passive… lifeless. If this sounds horrible, don’t worry, I only do it when we line up. During the announcements, we stand this way because rather than making eye-contact, kids are putting all of their energy into their ears. They try not to look at anything in the room.
Now, this attention business is NOT conducive to listening to someone. An alternative reason that I teach standing at attention is so that I can teach the contrast of “At Ease”. Students are instructed to separate their feet shoulder-width, put their hands behind their back (holding them)–this forces their posture to relax and shoulders droop a little; Then can now move their heads around, smile, and make eye-contact. The “Ten Hut” is like saying “Freeze”, but there isn’t the silly element. On the contrary, it is super serious. Then we relax, so that listening is comfortable and focused.
Stillness communicates that you are taking in the information. You are a carefully held container under a spigot in the desert, collecting valuable water that you don’t want to spill.
You know what this is and how powerful it can be. Some school thoughts, though…
I teach the students the importance of locking each other’s attention through the eyes. We practice with our turn-and-talk partners. I have the students move as little as possible; They should just turn their heads or pivot, slightly. Eye-contact is a hand-shake of vision. It is a commitment to listen.
In the classroom it is impossible to make eye-contact with every single student at the same time. I teach my students that they should be looking at my eyes so that when I turn toward them, our eyes meet. I demonstrate, and whenever I give instructions, I survey the room, looking students right into their eyes.
If the communicator is directing the listener’s attention to an object or place, the listener should look at what the speaker is referencing. In this instance that place or object is like the eyes of the speaker. It is all about connecting. If you keep looking at the speaker when he/she wants to show you something, you become “disconnected” from the message.
This is what impressed me so much that I had to write this blog. My students were sharing last night’s homework with their turn-and-talk partners, and the listeners were riveted to the task.
Elyse Rycroft teaches “Whole Body Listening” in “TEACHING LISTENING SKILLS IN THE CLASSROOM”. She suggests students use not only their eyes, but turn toward the speaker. Listen with your ears, your eyes, your nose, your cheeks, etc.
After really serious speeches about posture and eye-contact, this one is a relief. And, it is supposed to be. They all laugh when I keep the same serious tone while instructing everyone to “Smile!” I act like I am angry at anyone who does not smile effectively. This gets everyone cracking up. It lightens the mood and does exactly what I want to teach: Listening should be inviting information into your brain. You will be more likely to accept something if you are smiling. You project onto the person you are listening to the idea that this information is nice.
Smiles foster warm/fuzzy feelings. I don’t’ think I need to explain this.
Active listening; kids can look at you like zombies. Forcing them to smile wakes them up. At “Meet The Teacher Night” one of my student’s parents told me that her son came home on the first day of school complaining about his cheeks hurting. Her inquiry lead to his explaining that his new teacher (me) has everyone smiling all day long. This gave me a laugh. The parent told me that she explained to her son that his teacher wasn’t being “literal”. I assured her that I was. You cannot smile too much! Smile until it hurts! The pain will make the information that you were listening to that much more memorable;)
Second, Put Information Into Your Own Words
Listen purposefully, so that you can retell the main points of the message to someone else.
Be able to summarize the message of the speaker back to him or her. This will help assess understanding. Did you get the message of the speaker correct? If not, then the storyteller can clarify or even add more detail to support understanding.
At the beginning of the year, this provides a fun reason to learn summarizing. You can play games where students practice recounting details of stories back to one another.
And, a good listener transitions very nicely into a good reader.
Third, Questions Show You Care.
Picture telling a friend a story about something that happened to you. It doesn’t have to be all that important. When you are done, your friend turns and walks away without saying a word. What?! That would be sooo rude! Why? We know it is, but can you put it into words? What if your friend waited a moment and then launched into his or her own story. That happens a lot, and sometimes it is no big deal, depending on the conversation. But, if you were telling a significant story about something truly important to you, you’d expect your friend to inquire just a little. There are few better or easier ways for a listeners to show some class and communicate a caring persona than asking poignant questions.
“How long were you there?”
“When did this happen?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“What happened next? Or, after that?”
“Why did you do that?”
These kinds of questions show that you are interested. It flatters the speaker with an attentive audience.
Also, questions can clarify.
Fourth, Analyze the Difference Between Listening and Hearing
Hearing is passive, while listening is active.
Hearing is a park that everyone and anyone can visit at anytime. There are dogs barking. Kids are running around, screaming and playing. Bicyclists pedal through the middle of it. A couple relaxes on a blanket only to have a teenager trip over them while trying to catch a frisbee…
Listening is a birthday party. Specific people are invited. Everyone plays a game at the same time. Together, we all sing “Happy Birthday”. No one talks while the birthday boy/girl blows out the candles. Gifts, pleasantries, and well wishes are exchanged. There are no bikes passing through or frisbee catchers crashing the canoodling.
In the same way that you can take all of this listening thought and apply it to reading actively, for fun, you could turn it around and try using reading strategies on listening attentively.
Visualize what the speaker is telling you.
Identify cause and effect within the storyteller’s message.
Use questioning to deepen understanding.
Predictions make reading and listening fun and rewarding
My students loved this! I put together a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz using Google Forms that I read to the class. This was the first time that the kids signed into their Google accounts, so it took some time, but it was worth it. They had to access their Google classroom, and then click on the “Listening Skills Quiz” assignment. Once everyone was logged in and looking at the quiz, the fun began. I read the questions out loud to the class. I also read the answers. I told them that this was not supposed to be tricky. “I am assessing your listening, so listen up: I will tell you the correct answers. If you don’t do well, it is because you weren’t listening.” Their heads nearly exploded. Now, I did not just say that “The second choice is the correct answer,” mind you. I read the quiz with emphasis on certain answers as I circulated the room. If I saw kids wavering between two choices, I’d read it again and give an example. We laughed. The kids were successful. At times I did just say, “The answer to this one is the last choice, your welcome!” They loved it, and quiz-taking began with a super positive experience.
There was a student who did poorly. This was a clear indication that we needed to revisit some of the listening skills. I simply had the kid take it again during recess, and he did fine. This showed the significance of the assessment, however. Here was one child who wasn’t ready to move on with our listening “program”. Now, he is on board.
Post Script(s) for Teachers
Only have your students “listen” when they are able to do it properly.
Make listening significant. Don’t expect students to be listening to you all of the time. Students shouldn’t be hanging on your every word. In fact, one of the questions that students struggled with on my “Listening Skills Quiz” concerned how often they should listen. I will need to adjust this question for next time that I administer the quiz. [Maybe I won’t, and use this as a teaching tool. We’ll see.] I make such a big deal out of listening; It makes sense that students would think it should take precedence over everything. But, this would be exhausting. You hear everything… but listening is work.
Have a bunch of ways to get the class’s attention. No matter how interesting your method, kids eventually tune it out (Daniels, n.d.). The clapping works, but gets old. “Touch your nose if you can hear my voice,” whispered a few times is fine once in a while. I started one that makes kids look around and is fun to say: “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the windows, look at the door.” It gets them moving and looking. I then change it up “Look at the ceiling, look at the floor, look at the board… now look at me.” They laugh, because it wasn’t what they expected.
Give them time/empower them to be classy listeners. For example, don’t tell everyone to listen, and then start talking before they stop moving or make eye-contact. I usually pause and compliment smiles. This gets everyone’s attention and makes listening fun and attractive.
The East Penn School District recently held its traditional, educators’ welcome back assembly, August 22, 2018. On the way into the auditorium greeters handed out fliers and small sticky notepads. The flier advertised $15,052 that the EPSD Education Foundation was rewarding in grant money for teachers this coming year.
“What I want to know, is what is this $52, here.” — A hoarse whisper from a gentleman right in front of me, while pointing out the last two digits of the total grant money amount to his neighbor. Good teachers and authors know the power of questioning. Causing kids to question turns teaching on its head. The educator is no longer force-feeding information to students, but providing what the students are wondering about. Personally, I figured the $52 was some monetary necessity born out of the intricacies of finance and taxes, something complicated from a world I know next to nothing about. Boy, was I wrong!
Almost before my neighboring questioner sat back in his chair, Heather Slatoff was mentioning the amounts of the grants EPSD Educational Foundation was making available this year. The very last one was $52! What? Now, I was questioning!
Heather explained that one of last year’s winners, Paula Fehlinger, had her class auction artwork. When Mrs. Fehlinger asked her class what they wanted to do with the $52 that they had earned, the kids told her that they wanted to donate it to the foundation that had provided them the means to make the artwork in the first place. This was one of the classiest little stories I had heard in a long time, but it was about to get even better…
The EPSD Education Foundation took that $52 and made it its own grant! The kids from that class should feel like kings and queens. The foundation credited the class with class. It is honoring the classy decision/action that those kids made, with the help and direction of their classy teacher, Mrs. Fehlinger.
Later in the third grade year, I enjoy teaching multiple-meaning words. I usually couple this topic with teaching the use of context clues. Here is a word that I haven’t used in the past, but will definitely begin including in this lesson: Credit.
Surprisingly, Merriam Webster’s very first definition of the entry “Credit” has to do with
truth. The “reliance on the truth or reality of something” is the dictionary website’s initial meaning for “Credit”. The use of the EPSD Education Foundation’s donation to Mrs. Fehlinger’s class gave credit to the purpose of the grants that are meant to promote science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (Education Closet).
As I am only hours away from greeting my brand new third graders to Room 207 of Willow Lane, the first lesson of the year is consuming my thoughts. I am excited to begin the year with a lesson about “Evidence”. Here is a new concept to connect to that lesson: Proof is credit. And, the more credit you have, the more credible your fact. When your statement lacks proof, it is incredible–unbelievable–not worthy of belief or credit.
I think of a bank ledger, where on the one side you have the income (credit) and on the other you have expenses. When you make a statement, you are putting information out there for people to believe. They will believe what you say if you have proof. Sometimes it is difficult to provide concrete proof to credit a statement. In these instances, the more credible the source, the easier it is for people to believe the statement. In other words, the more credit (previously truthful statements that have been proven) a person has in his factual bank account, the more easily a statement made by said person will be accepted (believed). With each false statement a person promotes, he withdraws credibility from his factual bank account. When funds dip, people withdraw trust.
The fabulous fifty dollar grant story lends credit to the funds of these grants not only being used in creative educational ways, but inspiring some of the classiest behavior I have ever heard. It gave me goosebumps to learn about the origin of the last two digits of the total grant allotment for the 2018-19 school year. Although teachers could obviously do more with the larger grants, I, personally, am inspired to apply to win the smallest, but classiest one… $52. This one deserves the biggest “check”.
Education Closet. (n.d.). What is STEAM? Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://educationcloset.com/steam/what-is-steam/ [The “art” of STEaM is the driving force pushing the mechanics of teaching: Innovation, creativity, taking STEM to the next level.]
Page 11 within introduction to “Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today” by Thomas C. Murray and Eric C. Sheninger (2017) discusses the typical high school diploma’s lessening value. The authors suggest that “the opportunities available for those with only a high school diploma remain in a freefall.”(Italics added for emphasis.) This got me thinking. First, I made a text to film connection. Just recently I had rewatched the movie “21” (Luketic, 2008) starring Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, and something that stood out to me more during this second viewing than the first was the premise for the whole movie: It opens with an interviewer asking Jim Sturgess’s character what he has done that stands out. Sturgess is applying for a grant that would fund his education at Harvard Medical School. The interviewer points out all of the impressive credentials that the applicant has earned, along with powerful letters of reference… But… he tells Sturgess that there are thousands of applicants with similar qualifications. He is going to need to “dazzle”.
Then, I got to thinking: What could students do to stand out? How about class? There is no shortage of articles streaming the Internet about declining manners. And, in my own experience, students who behave in an extraordinarily polite manner stand out as noteworthy individuals.
A year ago I acquired an iPhone 8 Plus. This phone has a dual photo lense. This allows me to use a feature called Portrait. When I activate this, I can focus on something and everything else goes out of focus. My photos have gone from “very nice” to “stunning”. Classy people capture the attention of those around them by displaying behavior that stands out. Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma. Here are six more “P” words that “phoster” class.
Say, “Ma’am” and “Sir” when talking to people. Speak, publicly and privately, in a way that distinguishes you from others. Use impressive (but correct) vocabulary. Do not be profane or crass. Crass is the antithesis of class–whole separate blog on this around the corner. Pronunciation.
Stand/sit up tall and straight; Posture is a rare and separating phenomenon today. It shows pride and assurance. These are characteristics people gravitate toward–posture could very well be the only thing that puts some in a leadership position. Confidence is a magnet, and posture presumes it.
Treat others kindly/be positive. Who is drawn to the Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer? No one. Here is a whole other blog: Find and express something positive about every single thing. The most challenging things to be positive about will cause you to shine as a light in the darkness — Remember, the idea is to stand out.
Be polite: Display good manners. In addition to saying “Ma’am” and “Sir”, behave in ways that show “good upbringing”.
Put others first; This is more than The Golden Rule.
Clean up after yourself
Communicate absence: “I’m going to be late.” “Sorry, I was late…” “Excuse me for a moment…”
Treat others even better than you would expect to be treated, raising the global politeness factor a fraction of kindness.
#manners has stories of guys literally standing up whenever a lady stands. Talk about “standing out”!
This kind of thing is chivalrous and archaic, and some women may not like inequality of being treated differently, but in general, showing extreme respect is going to make you memorable, either way. And, that is what you are going for.
Look up some outdated polite actions that would make you seem classier than even the classiest to standout that much more.
You see someone struggling; Offer a hand.
Does a peer need some assistance figuring something out; Help. They will remember the action, but they will also remember YOU.
This could be through, but is not limited to, writing thank you cards.
Do something for someone in return.
Tell everyone “Thank you” for everything.
A week ago I was conducting a professional development course on using iPads in the classroom. At the very beginning I was rushing around trying to get everything working; projector, Apple TV, computer, etc. I bumped into an unoccupied chair and said, “Excuse me”. People laughed and commented on me talking to chairs. I overheard them and, laughing at myself, commented right back with, “Yeah, that’s right, I apologized to a chair!” It made everything more comfortable and connected me, the frantic facilitator with my waiting audience, breaking the ice. This isn’t gratitude, but it shows behaving in a classy way, ALWAYS, even to chairs. How much more will that type of person show kindness to a peer? Thank “everything”.
Be the kind of person who can’t help but be thankful.
When you earn something, be proud, BUT when you get something without earning it, be thankful. It is not classy (Here is a whole other blog in the making.) to act like you deserve things. Do not assume entitlements. Be grateful for everything.
ALWAYS be publicly presentable (Here is a bonus “P” word;) This isn’t to say that you should be dressed- or done up at all times. Simply be outwardly and inwardly prepared to speak to important people no matter where you are. If you are working in the garden, you will look messy, but your person, and even your work space, could be neat–a working neatness. If an important person were walking by, would he/she say, “Wow, impressive!” or would they look down on you and your work.
Integrity is classy: Here is an idea for a whole other independent blog! Suffice to say, being the same person all of the time, whether you are building a sunken pirate ship, which I was working on just yesterday, or speaking in front of people, will cause others to view you as someone reliable, dependable, and consistent; someone they can count on.
Sometimes you must detour to class. The easiest example of this is my mom answering the phone in the middle of yelling at my sister and me. She could be mid-scream, and when the phone rang, she would instantly smile and sweetly say, “Hello” with a voice devoid of any trace of the hurricane winds blowing around her. Thank goodness for those phone calls. If we had had cell phones back then… Was she displaying integrity? Yes. We will get messy, metaphorically, but must be classy under it all. What would happen if my mom spoke to the person on the phone with the same volume and tone that she had just been using to communicate to my sister and me? Would that be more congruent with integrity?
Be productive. I’m not telling you to build furniture or anything. A classy person adds something to society or the world at large. Produce something of value that others can use. This is why I blog. You will have your own way of contributing; make yourself valuable to others. Don’t worry about the numbers. You can influence/do something for one person to create personal worth.
This could be as simple as smiling.
My daughter (seven years old) has begun saying nice things to service persons: “This food is delicious!” “I really like your hair.” Any person at any age can add value to the world.
Be dependable. Being that student in class whom a teacher can count on to do the tasks that require respect and responsibility is very valuable!
“In today’s global economy, a high school diploma is simply not enough for people to succeed” (Murray & Sheninger, 2017, p. 11) (italics added for emphasis). Thomas Murray and Sheninger’s (2017) book is for educators. It outlines things schools and teachers can do to align with the impending revolution of technology taking over the world. These ideas equip educators to provide the “more” that students receiving diplomas need to succeed. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, but I am happy to announce that just the introduction is extremely thought-provoking!
There are many other ways to stand out. You could fly to Vegas on the weekends, count cards, win tons of money, secretly live the highlife, and turn in a corrupt professor (Luketic, 2008). While that sounds exciting, I’ll at least begin with being classy.
Luketic, R. (Director). (2008). 21 [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Sony Pictures.[inspired by the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team as told in Bringing Down the House, the best-selling book by Ben Mezrich” (Wikipedia)]
Murray, T., & Sheninger, E. (2017). Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.