All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Defining, Acting, and Understanding Bullying

While schools value (or should) value the emotional and physical well-being of their students above all else, bullying continues to be a pervasive problem in todays’ educational institutions.  This stems from two main components; a lack of understanding and communication between parents, schools, and students.  Clearly a topic as important, large and complicated as this cannot be fully covered here, but what can be given is an overview along with some resources to help increase the prevention of bullying.

Formal Definition
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
·         An Imbalance of Power: This occurs when an individual uses their power (physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity to control or harm others.
·         Repetition: The behaviors happen more than once.

Bullying/harassment leaves scars that long outlast the act itself.

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) located at http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm indicates that, nationwide, 20% of students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying.

Victims often report increased:
·         Depression and anxiety
·         sadness and loneliness

They lose interest in activities they used to enjoy and often experience health issues and decreased academic achievement.  Additionally, they are more likely to be absent or completely drop out of school.  There are also effects suffered by those who bully or even witness such incidents.  The aftermath can be the root cause of a host of anti-social behaviors. In fact, most school shootings in the 1990’s were perpetrated by students who were victims of bullying.

Some Questions to Ask Students Regarding…
·         What does “bullying” mean to you?
·         Describe what kids who bully are like. Why do you think people bully?
·         What do you usually do when you see bullying going on?
·         Do you ever see kids at your school being bullied by other kids? How does it make you feel?
·         Have you ever tried to help someone who is being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happens again?
·         Who are the adults you trust most when it comes to things like bullying?
·         What can you do if bullying occurs?
·         What do you think parents can do to help stop bullying?
·         What can your school do to help stop bullying?

Communication is Key
Many times students will say (and they truly believe) that there is nothing adults can do to stop bullying.  The fact is parents, staff, and students themselves can play a significant role in preventing bullying through communication and action.  Parents and staff need to take time to check in with students to find out about their concerns and let them know any type of bullying or harassment is unacceptable.  We need to take the time to inform ourselves about what is going on in our students’ lives.  It can be as easy as a ten minute conversation.  A few examples:
·         Meet or contact teachers and counselors
·         Read school newsletters and the school website
·         Go to school events
·         Listen to students beyond academics
·         Be aware of hallway behaviors
·         Help kids take part in activities
·         Report issues you see occur in school.
·         Talk about your concerns.
·         Promote a respectful environment.  You would want someone to help you.
·         Encourage students to do what they love and be who they are regardless of others opinions.
·         Model how to treat each other with kindness and respect.

In the end, it is everyone’s responsibility if bullying is to be prevented and talking about it directly is one important step.  Another is taking action against it.  We all need to remember that students watch how adults interact, manage stress, and treat others.  They learn from us.  Make sure the lesson they are receiving is one of maturity, respect, and responsibility.

Please take the time to investigate the following resources for a comprehensive amount of information concerning this very important topic.  After all, what could possibly be more important than taking care of our students’ physical, social, and emotional needs in the best possible manner to ensure they grow into healthy, happy adults?

Sources for this post:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Maximizing Face to Face Time with Your Student’s Teachers

My original intent of this blog was to give some pointers to parents concerning parent –teacher conferences.  Upon reflection, these are good pointers for any meeting throughout the year.  It is imperative to be as informed as possible in our students’ education if we are to ensure their success.  Contrary to popular opinion (or action), the need for this information grows as students grow older.  Rather than dwindling, at open houses and parent conference nights, high school parent attendance should grow.  Often, many teachers can be overheard commenting that they wished as many parents of struggling students showed up as those achieving high grades.  This is the main reason for this post.   Many times, parents (especially those who struggled in or didn't like school themselves) feel as if conferences with teachers are unclear, confrontational, uncomfortable, or embarrassing.  Therefore, why not avoid the whole experience?  Unfortunately, that only causes a larger problem to develop.

Many of us know that teachers are busy and it is because of this that any time spent meeting with them is valuable and should not be wasted through a lack of an agenda, misunderstanding of issues to be covered, or un-asked/answered questions.  There are many parents waiting to hear information from a handful of teachers regarding their students.  So how does a parent get the most out of this limited time?  What follows is a compilation of ideas and tips concerning preparing for a conference, getting the most out of your time spent, and effective ways to follow up after the conference has ended.

Preparation is important as the conference itself if it is expected to be productive.  Parents should:
·      Speak with your students about how they are doing in school and why.  Ask what subjects/teachers they like/dislike and why.  Compare this to their grades and completed work.
·      Find out if there are any issues your student would like to speak with the teacher about.
·      Ask if students are welcome to attend the conference and decide if it is a good opportunity to teach self-advocacy or responsibility for learning.
·      Make a list of questions to address your areas of concern.

During the Conference
·      Keep an open mind.  Do not start the conference with a specific agenda.  Listen to the teacher’s assessment of your student’s performance.  It may begin to clear up any misconceptions and avoid a negative, confrontational experience.
·      Ask the important questions first in case time runs out. If major concerns are addressed, minor ones may start to work themselves to a resolution. Remember to ask about the frequency and effectiveness of services if your student receives special services.
·      Address problems in a respectful, professional manner.  Conferences are a good time to discuss and make a plan to solve any difficulties your student may be having at school.  Remember to focus on solutions rather than placing blame.  Be sure to not just ask for examples, but also how the problems are being addressed.  This will help you identify strategies that may or may not work.
·       Develop a plan to move forward.  This may include steps that both the parent and teacher can take to avoid future problems or successfully address them when they occur. Make sure that everything is clear and understood by both the teacher and parent.  Decide how best to stay in touch to monitor your students’ progress.
·       End the conference by reviewing everything that was discussed and reviewing the agreed upon plan.

Post Conference
·      Students only value education as something that requires effort and commitment when they see it modeled by parents and teachers.
·      Discuss the conference with your student.  Be direct about what needs to occur for them to improve by helping the student realize it is ultimately their responsibility.

Remember that the desired outcome of a conference should be simplified to a few answers to the following basic questions:

1.      Is my student giving his or her best effort?
·     Grades do not always give an accurate picture of ability.  Teachers are able to tell if a student is working to their potential and how the parent can support this at home.
2.      What can my student do that he or she is not already doing?
·      All students can improve.  It is important that they have a clear understanding of how and where.  It could be as simple as completing extra credit or involved as picking up an internship.
·      It is important to realize that students’ ability to perform at their highest possible level is ultimately their responsibility.
3.      What can I do that I am not already doing?
·      Parents may not realize that they are able to assist the teacher in being more effective.  By helping ensure that students take ownership of their education, parents create more engaged students who are motivated to learn.
4.      How can we all work together to ensure my students’ success?
·      There is often a lack of communication and understanding between parents and teachers concerning what is being done at home and in school.  Conferences are a great opportunity for everyone to get on the same page – student success.

Remember that parent–teacher conferences are a chance for you to ask questions about your child's progress and how you, the teacher and you student can work together as a team to ensure success.

Asking the right questions, keeping an open mind, and following through can help parents and teachers get the most out of conferences.
The Harvard Family Research Project has an acronym that provides a great framework to follow for an effective conference:

Best intentions assumed
Emphasis on learning
Home–school collaboration
Examples and evidence
Active listening
Respect for all
Dedication to follow-up

Sources consulted for this post:
Harvard Family Research Project. (2010). Parent-teacher conference tip sheets. Family involvement network of educators (FINE) newsletter, 2(3), Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/var/hfrp/storage/fckeditor/File/FI-ConferenceTipSheet-111810.pdf
National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). (2012, October 09). Making parent-teacher conferences work for your child. Retrieved from http://www.pta.org/2532.htm
Sheehy, K. (2012, November 05). What high school teachers wish parents asked at conferences. U.S. news and world report, Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2012/11/05/what-high-school-teachers-wish-parents-asked-at-conferences?s_cid=rss:high-school-notes:what-high-school-teachers-wish-parents-asked-at-conferences

Friday, November 9, 2012

Texting Tweeting and Media: What is Happening to our Students Ability to Focus and Write?

Two recent studies show that there may be mounting evidence that social/entertainment media is hurting students’ attention span and ability to write because of heavy stimulation and repeated rapid shifts in attention (Postal, 2012; Richtel, 2012); leading to an average attention span that has dropped from 12 to 5 minutes over the past 10 years (Vidyarthi, 2011). 

While the sources consulted for this post admit that there have been no conclusive, long term studies completed that point to a permanent detrimental effect, they offer some direction in addressing students every increasing dependency on electronics.  It appears that how much of a problem exists depends upon a person’s (employer, teacher, student, or parent) perspective and what role they see education playing.

·      Dr. Christakis finds that a heavy use of technology “makes reality by comparison uninteresting” (2012 p. 1).
·       “Seeking out high-quality media content for young people and setting limits on how much time is spent with media are two good places to start addressing all of these issues” (Postal, 2012 p. 1).
·      Students asked to give up media for 24 hours had the following symptoms (Vidyarthi, 2011):
o   Phantom phone vibrations
o   Reaching for a phone that isn’t there
o   Fidgeting and restlessness
·      45% of 430 employers are improving employees grammar and other skills through training programs while others are not hiring individuals unless they pass spelling and grammar tests (Shellenbarger, 2012).


Who is looking at this issue depends on whether it is seen as a problem.  Parents, employers, and teachers alike are able to give anecdotal testimony to the fact that students are more often distracted, tuned out to society around them, and addicted to their electronics.  Conversely, some of those same individuals admit to the possibility of those same students multi-tasking, focused, and yes, addicted to their electronics.  Students, appear to not be too caught up in the argument as long as they get to keep their electronics. No matter how they are using the technology, students must be taught responsibility through instruction and modeling.  A good place to start is by addressing the impact on a student’s ability to focus for long periods of time.

Attention Span

Classroom teachers now face a population that, for the most part is accustomed to receiving news in 140 character bites and watching videos that only last 10 minutes (Vidyarthy, 2011).  Many teachers believe that while this ever increasing use of media has increased students’ ability to find information quickly and multi-task more effectively, it has also hurt their attention span and worsened their writing skills (Postal, 2012).  In addition, many teachers who were interviewed feel as if they are working harder to hold students attention or as 14 year veteran Hope Molina Porter says, “I’m an entertainer.  I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention” (Richtel, 2012 p. 1).  A person does not have to speak to too many teachers to hear that more and more students seem to be more forgetful or want things done for them.  This observation bolsters the idea that a growing number of teachers are starting to question if they are part of the problem for adjusting their lessons to accommodate students’ inability to focus.

The fact is that every time we start a new task our brain has to reorient itself and the internet and media is designed to distract by keeping us moving from task to task.  A few interesting findings from these studies that attest to this:

·    The average office worker checks his email inbox nearly once every 1.5 minutes.
·    700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook every month.
·    500,000 people join Twitter every day.
·    Social media:
o   Causes a release (and spike in active participants) of Oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates trust and empathy.
o   Causes sufficient, sudden changes in environment to trigger releases of adrenaline.
o   Tends to drop the level of stress hormones when being used.


Being saturated with media seems to have a mixed effect on students’ education.  The largest negative is that students are now appearing to lose the ability to fight through tough academic problems when an easy answer eludes them (Richtel, 2012).  This is due to the familiarity of basic answers being "one click" away.  An unfortunate by-product of this is what seems to be a decline in critical thinking skills, the depth and analysis of their written work writing skills, and the ability to communicate face to face.  Conversely, some educators believe that being as proficient with media as many students are helps them be more self-sufficient researchers.  There was also a belief that students today are just as capable of those higher level thinking skills once they are engaged.  The problem is that often engagement is confused with entertainment.


We need to decide and act.  Is education about entertaining or learning?  Where does the difference lie between engaged and entertained?  One issue is certain.  Times have changed when it comes to technology and access to information.  Therefore, schools need to work with parents and students by educating each other on the good uses of technology. Teachers need to educate concerning how technology can assist and deepen learning.  Parents need to understand that what is done at home affects the end result in school and students; well, students can have their electronic devices, but they need to remember something.  They are students and need to continue learning by being attentive, responsible, and understanding that answers without meaning are as useless as…no internet and a single rotary phone (with a cord) on a wall in the kitchen.  In short, we all need to take stock of how often, where, and when we are attached to media and use it to its full potential rather than its entertainment value alone.

Sources Cited:

Postal, L. (2012, November 2). Entertainment media hurts students attention span, writing skills, teachers say in new survey . Orlando Sentinnel. Retrieved from http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_education_edblog/2012/11/entertainment-media-hurts-students-attention-span-writing-skills-teachers-say-in-new-survey.html

Richtel, M. (2012, November 1). Technology changing how students learn, teachers say. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/education/technology-is-changing-how-students-learn-teachers-say.html?pagewanted=all

Shellenbarger, S. (2012, September). Career advice for you and i and me. The wall street journal: Classroom edition, p. 14.

Vidyarthi, N. (2011, December 14). Attention spans have dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes — how social media is ruining our minds . Retrieved from http://socialtimes.com/attention-spans-have-dropped-from-12-minutes-to-5-seconds-how-social-media-is-ruining-our-minds-infographic_b86479