Classy is Behaving “Purposefully”

Before school the other day, I was called to the office to help with something or other. The bell rang while I was there. When I went to walk up to my room, it was a little late, and I was joined by one of my students who eats breakfast in the cafeteria. This student isn’t a fast walker, but he kept up with me as I quickly maneuvered between and past meanderers.

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Purposeful Writing: Students Provide Examples of Purposeful Behaviors

As I lead this student to walk faster than he would have, I thought about how I typically walk, and how that differs from most students. I walk purposefully. After the announcements and taking lunch count, I explained this to my class. To do something purposefully means to do it with a cause, meaning, or reason in mind. You have a purpose for doing it, and that goal drives you to act a certain way. Acting purposefully is classy.

“To an observer, it may simply look as though I walk speedily, but there is more to it than that,” I explained to my class. I was moving quickly in order to get to the classroom as soon as possible, because I wanted to see my students. It is common for me to walk quickly because I interpret moving from one location to another as down-time; unproductive time. “Finally,” I concluded, “I wanted to model for my breakfaster how one might maintain a pace that will enable him to have enough time to unpack, fill in his Assignment Book Page, and begin a morning work choice… all before the announcements.” They chuckled because the boy from my story is often seen finishing these tasks during my introductory lesson of the morning.

The antonym of purposefully would be “lazily” or behaving as though your task was meaningless. If teachers want well-behaved, classy kids, we will need to make sure that our lessons are full of meaning and purpose. Following this logic, it can be expected that a group of students performing a task that has no or little value, would not do it purposefully. Rote  repetition breeds misbehavior. By definition, repetition is UNthinkingly doing something over and over; like a machine. Give students something to think about, and you are giving them purpose.

Also, in order for this to work, students must comprehend the purpose of the task they are given. I constantly tell my students to sit up straight, but I give them several reasons, none of which contain the phrase, “Because I said so.” Did you know that standing straight, in addition to looking classy, promoting health, clearing airways, etc., actually makes you more “Powerful” (Cooper, 2013)? What kid doesn’t like that idea?! Even when I occasionally have my students practice something that might require repetition, I supply a reason that encourages them to try to improve upon the task with each successive attempt.

After explaining this concept to my class, I asked them to come up with their own examples of doing things purposefully. Discussion included brushing one’s teeth. You can just run the toothbrush over your teeth and use up enough time, so that your parents think you did a thorough job, or you can actually brush them in such a way that you relieve them of  debris and plaque. Gingivitis is a painful, expensive gum disease that 60% of 15-year-olds should have prevented, but didn’t (Dowshen, 2015).

A funny example that I related to was eating. There was a slight misunderstanding of purposeful activity when a girl suggested eating the right food. I re explained the concept of behaving purposefully, before telling the students that I often find myself so engrossed in my work that I don’t realize my hunger until I am famished. Then I get angry that I have to stop and consume some nutrients. It is irritating because, as an adult, I have to find food, which means putting my project on hold, going to a restaurant or store, finding what I want, paying for it… You get the idea! This takes up valuable time; The time is only as valuable as what it was being used for, however. It is important to participate in activities that have meaning, purpose, and hold value. When I finally have my food, I devour it like a Velociraptor.

I had my students write down their examples and draw pictures of someone behaving purposefully. They also drew a picture of what it would look like if someone performed the same task purposelessly. We had fun sharing those with each other to close the lesson.

Two things in closing: First, sometimes it is classy to walk slowly. The classiness comes from the reason for the behavior. It would not be classy to speed walk through a museum. This is a place where you should take your time to ponder artwork. You cannot do that quickly. Secondly, I am often struck by the paradox that I am supposedly a classy person, who writes rather sloppily on the dry erase board. Isn’t messy penmanship unclassy? Not necessarily. If my purpose was to model perfect handwriting, then, yes, my scrawl would be less than classy, to say the least. However, I am usually modeling taking notes, when I write on the board. I only write what I think students should take down in their spiral notebooks. The speed I use, which prohibits beautifully crafted letters, demonstrates what it is like to jot down ideas while listening. Along these lines, I rarely ever write complete sentences on the board. Parents often complain about their child’s penmanship. This is the last thing that I would focus on as a teacher. Why do doctors messily fill in prescriptions? Is it because that is what doctors do, or is it because they fill in a million, as long as the pharmacy can read it, it works, and their time is used better speaking with and looking at patients? So, parents, would you rather a creative composer, or a very neat transposer?

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Cooper, B. (2013, November 21). The Science Of Posture: Why Sitting Up Straight Makes You Happier And More Productive. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3021985/the-science-of-posture-why-sitting-up-straight-makes-you-happier-and-more-product

Dowshen, S., Dr. (Ed.). (2015, January). Taking Care of Your Teeth. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/teeth.html

Classy is Impressive

You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?

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There is getting into line, and then there is…

My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are lost or not trying. You see that when the work screams, “Whoa! I need serious help and attention over here.” And then, there are fours. These are the gems that students earn when they have exceeded expectations. When a student follows the parameters of an assignment, and then some. I am not looking for a sixth paragraph tacked onto a five-paragraph essay. A four would be awarded to a student who included a quote from a notable expert on the topic and referenced the site where it was found.IMG_6173

Fine, Mr. Weimann, but what does this have to do with classroom management? Well, this rubric can be applied to every aspect of the students’ activity at school. In the same way that I will use these principles to grade an assignment, I can use them to grade the way in which a student completes the assignment.

Here is how I communicate what that fourth level of behavior looks like. Students have all played with playdough or clay before. What happens when you push a penny or any other object down onto some playdough? “It makes an indent,” a student answers. “Correct,” I reply, “But, what is that indent called? What is a vocabulary word for that; something synonymous?” There are some thoughtful ideas. With only the sound of “im-” several students complete the word, “impression”. The object makes an impression of itself onto the soft material.

Mrs. Hulmes teaches first grade at my school. When Mrs. Hulmes’s line of students exit their classroom they not only walk in a straight line without talking or touching, but they hold their hands behind their backs. Not one or two of the students, but every single one of them. And, not once in a while, but every single time they are in line, they do this. When there is a substitute for Mrs. Hulmes, her class lines up and moves from location to location this way. You can probably picture it in your head, while reading this text, but if you saw it in person, it would leave an impression on your mind that you would never forget. I have never seen a nicer looking line in my life. It is so classy.IMG_6178

To be classy is to be impressive. Students can sit on the carpet and listen to me while I explain this, and that might be a three. The students that are sitting up straight, making eye contact with me when possible, smiling, and raising their hands to either share connections or ask pertinent questions to deepen their’s and their peers’ understanding are impressing me. This is four behavior. That is classy, and I am their captain.

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“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” is Sept. 19th

Putting “Class” into Classrooms

It was my first real teaching assignment; I was long term subbing for a second grade teacher out on maternity leave. She had the typical “traffic light” behavior management system; When a child misbehaves/breaks the rules, he/she “moves his/her stick” from green to yellow, and then from yellow to red, with subsequent consequences. With this system nothing happens as long as the kid is NOT breaking the rules, but the moment he/she messes up, alarms go off.

While I wanted to keep things as similar to the way students had started the year as possible, I also needed to make my management work for me. With the traffic light system, student behavior is only addressed when something goes wrong. I wanted a more positive atmosphere. I wanted my students to be motivated to practice good behavior intrinsically, because they wanted to; not because they were afraid of “moving their stick”.

F07B29C9-9B46-4D31-902D-8E5713076EDF.jpgI introduced the word “classy”. It stuck, and all year we discussed the ways we could be classy. The kids loved it, and it has defined my methodology ever since. It was and is admittedly cheesy, but that is a big part of its appeal. And, since its conception, seven years ago, the idea of exhibiting class in teaching has come to mean more than just a behavior management system.

It seems education is being blamed for all kinds of ills. My aim, through teaching my group of students, and now with the creation of this blog, is to bring “Class” to the institution that lies at the foundation of our society: the classroom.