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Teachers: Energize Your Students!

March 5, 2014

By Bruce Marchiafava

A teacher acts for his students

Of all the times of the school year, the most challenging is the winter months between New Year’s and spring break. Students can become lethargic even though the curriculum intensifies. Teachers may be pressured by the teaching schedule, the administration, even by parents (especially those concerned about their children’s grades for college applications). Under these circumstances, teaching can be difficult and learning may be lagging. What can you do?

First, compare teaching to another occupation: acting. The teacher and the actor are alike in some ways: each performs for an audience on a stage or in front of the room, each tries to communicate information to an audience, and each is responsible for engaging his or her listeners.

Actors are sensitive to their audience, quickly recognizing if they are emotionally engaged or bored. Good actors are exceptionally skilled in catching their audience’s attention. Good teachers need to do the same. One of my favorite bits of advice for both occupations is: if your audience is not listening, reevaluate your approach.

Especially during the winter doldrums, as teachers we must actively engage our students in instructional activities and learning. There are many different strategies to engage students: class discussions, demonstrations, cooperative learning, group projects, hands-on activities, Socratic questioning, and many others. Even lectures can be engaging if done well.

Remember your teachers who were spellbinders, engaging your attention and your mind? Think about what they did to keep your attention. Did they break down complicated topics to an easy-to-discuss level? Did they use humor or extra energy to spice up the material? Try some of those techniques.

By finding new strategies to capture and engage your students’ minds, you can reenergize them. Successful learning is based on the teacher’s mastery of content and his or her presentation. Determine if your students are engaged by looking in their eyes, encouraging their questions, watching their activities, and assessing their products in quizzes, homework, and in other forms.

Parents can also help by making sure their children eat a balanced breakfast in the morning for energy, have a nutritious lunch and snacks, and get enough sleep overnight so they are ready to learn throughout the day.

This month, take a look at what’s happening (or not happening) in your classes. Look for new ways to present the same old lessons. You could energize your students and recharge yourself.


Responding to Aggressive Play

March 4, 2014

By Stephen J. West

A father talks to his son on the playground.

When I’m planning my two-year-old son’s day, I like to schedule activities where he can play with other children. Whether it’s the playground, the mall, or an arranged play date with another child, playing with other children is not only fun for my son, it also helps him learn how to interact and socialize with other children.

Playing with other children presents plenty of opportunities for my son’s emotional development, too. But the laughter and smiles aren’t the only benefits; when he and the other children stop playing nice also presents an experience to learn from—for him and me alike.

Whether it’s a frustration over sharing a toy or not wanting to play a game, confrontations between children are normal. According to Susan Stiffelman, “When a child is frustrated, there are only two possible outcomes: 1) he accepts that he cannot have or do what he would like, or 2) he becomes aggressive toward others or himself.”

Stiffleman believes that “If a frustrated child is able to safely offload his upset—perhaps even by having a cry—he will find his way toward accepting that he can't have the cookie, the toy, or the undivided attention he seeks. Otherwise, his frustration will turn into aggressive behavior.”

When aggressive behavior does take place between your child and another, it’s important to have strategies in your back pocket for helping your child and the other children involved.

Stay calm and explain the misbehavior. Kids need to be taught what isn’t acceptable, and they will usually listen if you calmly instruct them not to touch, hit, or bite. A parent who causes a scene over a child’s actions can inspire further outbursts that will end the play date quickly—and isn’t really modeling the most respectable social behavior themselves.

Give the children involved an exit plan. Whether that means introducing another game or moving your child to another room to play by themselves, distraction—and sometimes distance—can diffuse tension.

Occasionally, your child’s aggressive play might result in another child getting a bump or bruise. In that case, Amy McCready believes that you make sure the other child is okay, but not force your child to give a meaningless apology. “They’ll learn more long-term,” she says, “if you hold them accountable when they’re calm by helping them make amends to the other child.”

The same advice holds true when you need to confront another parent about the actions of their child. If you can, speak to the parent away from the children, even if it’s after the confrontation has been resolved. And when you do talk with them, be conscious of the tone of your voice and your choice of words. If I want my son to learn how to respect others, the way I act when I confront other adults might be the most important lesson I can give him.

In addition to being a father of an energetic two year old, Stephen J. West is a professor, writer, art enthusiast, and collector of bonsai trees. You can follow him on Twitter, where his opinions are his own. 


Couple Chat: Gender Roles

March 3, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela

Photography by Jennifer Schaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about gender roles. Here’s what they said.

What traditional gender roles do you feel are important to honor with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up, gender roles were very prominent. The ones I enjoyed seeing celebrated the strength of the mother of the family. The mother tends to get the family unit together, and all members would respectfully obey their mothers’ wishes.

My daughter will be free to choose to live whatever life she wants, and I want her to feel confident and demand respect wherever she is. Women tend to be seen as a source of knowledge and compassion, and I would like to instill that in my daughter as well. She should learn to be thoughtful in the decisions she makes, and understand how it impacts others.

Mario: Before we knew we would be having a girl, we both always thought we would have a boy. One of my concerns was not having a traditional father figure. I created my archetype of a father figure through a collection of influences from role models and family influencers.

Now that we’re having a girl, I need to reflect on what my daughter will need from me as a father. I feel I have to be an even stronger figure for a daughter. I felt content and ready to be an example for a son, but I now have to be even better for my daughter. I need to reformulate my idea of a role model and use both male and female examples. For instance, my grandmother, who fought and led her life the way she wanted, is an example of a strong role model for my daughter.

What traditional gender roles do you want to ignore with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up in the Latino culture, there were several things I disliked about gender roles. My father constantly pushed me away anytime I wanted to spend any quality time with him. Several times I requested to go fishing with him and my brother, asked to help him fix the car, or just sit and watch some of his favorite western movies with him. He refused and would say that I was a girl and that I should be in the kitchen helping my mother.

That’s what I ended up doing—all the activities that were expected of me as a female: cooking, cleaning, playing with dolls, and wearing dresses. I ended up resenting it growing up, which caused friction between my mother and I as I constantly challenged these roles my parents and society were placing me in.

When I found out we were having a girl, I was excited that I had the opportunity to challenge gender roles with my daughter. I do not want her to experience these situations that only caused me heartache and confusion. As an adult, I am very grateful for the life skills my mother taught me. I just wish it had been something I wanted to learn, not a forced expectation of me.

Mario: Many times I’m at a loss for what a woman should strive to be. I always felt my son was going to have a responsibility to be a good man. I still struggle with what it means to be a good woman. Fortunately, I married Ana.
How do you think you can honor and ignore those roles when raising your child?

Ana: I think the best way to honor and ignore these roles with my daughter will be through not pointing them out at all. Modeling positive behavior and not limiting her interactions with either my husband or I should demonstrate to my daughter the best way we’d like her to interact with others and us.

I can’t imagine having any kind of conversation with my daughter in which I tell her that she has to be a certain way because she is a girl and not a boy. Now that my parents are grandparents and are helping raise my two nieces, I can definitely see that they have relaxed a bit regarding gender roles. I’m hoping that by adding another girl to the family, they will focus more on encouraging them to be strong, responsible, smart women, and encourage any interests they may have.

Mario: I want my daughter to learn from the strength and passion of my grandmother. I want her to learn of the irrational success of Ana. How she has become an amazing social climber, regardless of the poverty and abuse she faced, the limitations placed on her, the poor education she received, and the environment she lived in, all while being a woman. Ana is an amazing role model.

I can honor the positive gender roles by providing examples and a strong archetype of both men and women who help society, help their families, and help others. I can also teach her to care for herself and to understand the inherent value she possesses as a person.
I can teach her to understand the limitations of others and to not let them affect her own sense of self, her progress, and her potential to improve this world and the world around her.
Ana: Mario and I always thought that we were going to have a boy. This made Mario very comfortable, and me secretly uncomfortable. Since we found out we were actually having a girl, Mario has been worried about this role and I have felt very secure.

In this exercise, Mario expressed that he needs to be an even better father now that we’re having a daughter. We both agree that we want our daughter to feel strong and confident, and not be confronted with limitations.

I was surprised to discover that we both are worried about some of the interactions our daughter will have with our families, as they still engage in some of the gender roles that we do not want to promote with her. Mario wants to utilize his grandmother and myself as role models for our daughter. On the other hand, he was very surprised with my answer that gender roles do not have to be pointed out to our daughter at all. And he agreed with that concept.

Through this emotional exercise, I finally understand why I wanted to have a daughter – because I now have the opportunity to change the definition of gender roles with her. And now I also understand why Mario wanted a son – because growing up without a father, he wanted to change that experience into a positive one with a son.

Mario and I have both used our anger, frustrations, and struggles growing up to drive us to the successful lives we now live. Although that helped my success, I do not want my daughter’s success to be out of anger. I would rather her success be out of empowerment and through us as positive role models.

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