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Social Thinking: Building up your social skills brain

27561744813_fce19082af_zBy Sabrina Bartels

For the past two Wednesdays, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a professional development opportunity centered around Social Thinking. Two of our speech and language pathologists have been hosting it, and it has been amazing!

The concept of Social Thinking was pioneered by Michelle Garcia Winner, and revolves around social skills. The curriculum involved is targeted towards our students who are usually average to above average intelligence, but struggle with interacting in social situations. Some students may be rude, or very self-centered, or have very big reactions to very small problems. The majority of the time, these students don’t understand that this is not a typical reaction for the situation.

I am a big fan of the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” I could watch that show morning, noon, and night, and still find things to laugh about. If you know the show (and even if you don’t,) you have probably heard of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons. Sheldon is someone that often comes up in our Social Thinking class, since he frequently demonstrates social skills deficits. He appears very self-centered; he often turns conversations with his friends to focus on himself. He can be rude towards his friends, saying that they are not as smart as him. He can also perseverate on little things (one memorable episode involved him chanting “You forgot your flash drive” for several minutes!)

But with Sheldon, and with the scenarios we discuss in our professional development, people who have these deficits often don’t realize it. Or, if they realize it, they are not sure how to handle it. I think in particular of a student I had this past year, who really seemed to struggle with making friends and being appropriate in social situations. To join conversations, he would shout, or make loud, obnoxious noises to get other people to notice him before joining in on the conversation. It mystified his teachers and me; he was a brilliant student who took some advanced classes in middle school. How was it that this smart kiddo didn’t understand that he couldn’t just honk like a goose to join a conversation?

It wasn’t his fault. And he didn’t disobey our directives to start acting like a middle school student when he did these things. He was trying, he really was. But after taking this class, I realize this went way beyond a behavioral thing. It was something he just struggled to understand, and he needed someone to teach and reinforce his social skills.

Also, picture yourself in a middle school. Think of all the different social situations that come up. Think of all the goofy, yet still acceptable behavior that you may see. The tricky thing about social situations is that there is no one statement that can account for every single social situation you are in. Sometimes, it’s okay to tease your best friend, but sometimes it isn’t. Even think about this in your own life. For example, my husband and I went to “rival” colleges: Marquette and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. We constantly tease each other about who went to the better school. We do it in good fun (and it helps that both my in-laws were Marquette grads as well!). However, if someone else would say the same things to one of us, there is a good chance we’d be insulted. It’s so hard to instruct someone about their social skills, since there are so many nuances.

This class has really opened up my eyes to some of the additional challenges students face. I think about my students who were seen as rude or mean, but they didn’t realize how they were coming across. How many of my students flew under the radar in this regard? How many of my soon-to-be 6th graders have a hard time being successful in social situations, and are frustrated that they can’t seem to get the hang of it? Using Social Thinking is definitely something I want to remember, and possibly even try with some of my students.

If you are as interested in Social Thinking as I am, you can check out the official website of Social Thinking here.

Are you prepared to teach about the Presidential Election?

american-flag-1020853_960_720By Nick McDaniels

Because I am not. I split my time recently between participating in the American Federation of Teachers 100th Anniversary Convention and watching the Republican National Convention on television. As you might expect, the differences were striking, though the format was largely the same. But this post is not about my convention. This is about the big party conventions. I spent time watching speech after speech on TV, watching delegations leave the floor, watching convention rules of order crush dissent, and I reflected on what this historically entertaining election means for me as a teacher.

In the past, I have done what many teachers do. I harness the power of presidential elections to discuss the democratic process, the electoral college, the use of rhetoric. But this election, make no mistake, is decidedly different in the opportunity it affords for teachers. It is, of course, a sociologist’s dream, and, as such, creates many new ways to present to students our political process in this country.

But where I struggle, though the difference between this election cycle and any other one in my lifetime is clear, is how to teach this differently. Do I use Trump rhetoric to further my Teaching Tolerance-driven teaching? Or do I seize the historic moment of the strong possibility of Mrs. Clinton becoming the first female to occupy the oval office? I don’t know. I think because I am having so much trouble myself wrapping my head around this election and the media coverage thereof, I am struggling to come up with exciting ways to teach this election differently.

So here I blog, on my knees, pleading for some help! How do we help make sense of this election for our students? How do we teach our students about the ratings-boosting, shoot-from-the-hip style of one candidate and the same-as-it-ever-was cover-up the bad stuff style of another? How do we express to students that there are more than two choices? And more importantly, how do we, with two major candidates that very few people actually support, teach our students that they should still have hope for the democratic future of this country?

If you have an idea, leave a comment. Help me figure out how to teach this.

 

 

All You Who Procrastinate

6261230701_7368aa73d6_bBy Dhanya Nair

Let me begin by admitting that I am a procrastinator, have been one for a long while now. The prospect of writing papers and preparing for tests somehow makes tidying my wardrobe, reading for leisure, and sleeping very tempting to me. I cannot trace the origins of this tenacious tendency of mine (probably because I have been a student for most of my existence), but can vividly remember several panic-stricken hours I endured because of it.

So, despite the anxiety and panic caused due to procrastination, why have I not been able to get rid of it completely? I think, the answer to this question lies in my fairly large arsenal of rationalizations for putting things off until the very last minute. One explanation is that after having spent a fairly large chunk of my life being a student, some intelligence native to that role has crept up on me, so I know which shortcuts to take while preparing for a test or writing a paper. Another rationalization is that I think I produce my best work when working under pressure. However, I know that not every task can be accomplished well if it is postponed. Perhaps the intermittent nature of positive reinforcement I have received by procrastinating makes me sustain it. An acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a counselor, once told me that rationalizations for procrastinating are self-sustaining lies.

I do not intend to make a case against procrastination here, however, for those who find procrastination to be a source of concern, using mindfulness might be useful. I have recently started being mindful about my tendency to put things off and feel that I have benefitted from attending to the psychological minutiae of procrastination. Being mindful about the potential costs and benefits of procrastinating can be a helpful start. Having said that, I do feel that no one should abandon their guilty pleasures completely; instead, realistically determining how much time a particular activity will take might do the trick. Attending to one’s visceral and psychological reactions to an imminent deadline might be useful to lessen the negative impact of procrastination. Take into account all the negative reactions you might experience when you can almost hear that deadline whooshing past you and work on mitigating them one at a time. Practicing mindfulness while indulging in pleasurable activities could amplify those experiences, so while watching a movie, make sure you are not thinking about what needs to be done next. The same applies to tasks like studying for a test or working on a presentation, being mindful of the task at hand makes us more productive. Mindfulness might seem counterintuitive in an age where multitasking seems to be the byword and stress, a badge of honor. However, I feel it is the best way to ensure one’s sanity in the long run. So, my fellow procrastinators, keep persevering mindfully! And, now, time for me to practice what I’ve preached and move on to my next assignment.

Hitting A Change Up

Frisbee_090719By Carl Anderson

For the last three summers, after I gave up working at Camp Lincoln for the whole summer for good, I have taught at Summer Splash at a Middle School, working with 3rd-7th graders (and for an hour a day this year with 4K and 5K kiddos). Now, I’m a High School English Teacher, so why on earth would I do that? Honestly, it’s because I love hitting the change up.  

During the school year, I teach 9th and 12th grade. For first semester, the freshmen getting used to high school are really hard to deal with. For second semester, senioritis sets in, and the seniors are rough. By the end of the year, I’m totally worn out. But I know I’d be bored out of my mind not working, and I’ve yet to find a job I like more than any job working with kids. So I decided to try Summer Splash. I’ve done reading interventions with students going in to high school (very similar to the school year), taught golf (3rd graders and golf clubs don’t always mix…), lacrosse, and added ultimate Frisbee this year. Working with a variety of ages, in classes that take everyone and especially with age groups I’m not as used to has made me a better teacher. I’ve become more patient (great to use with freshmen), more sympathetic and empathetic to middle and elementary school teachers, and I’ve had a ton of fun. I’m also reminded that while this is a great change up for eight weeks in the summer, I’m definitely meant to be a high school teacher for the full school year.  

For all you teachers out there that might get a chance to work with a wildly different age group that you’re used to for the summer, I’d totally recommend it. You learn plenty, you’ll probably be better with that group than you think, and, hey, you could end up like me and play ultimate Frisbee for two hours a day, which is not a bad gig at all. 

Moving

17233058042_b2a96148e4_bBy Sabrina Bartels

My husband and I recently decided to take the next step in our adult lives and buy a house. It’s been a stressful whirlwind of an adventure, but nothing comes close to the sheer panic of trying to box up everything in our apartment and get it ready to move. There is definitely an art to packing things, and in between all the bubble wrap, packing tape, and cardboard boxes, I will be thankful when we’re done. In fact, I’ve decided that I never want to see a cardboard box again (unless it contains a pizza.)

Moving can trigger a lot of memories and emotions for people. While I’m remembering certain events about moving – being homesick, my father helping me wrestle a futon up a flight of stairs – I am also remembering what made each of these “homes” unique. I think about my parents’ home, which will always be “home” to me, no matter how far away I travel, and how that place is my constant: the place that reminds me of my childhood and the wonderful memories I have there. I remember the college dorms I lived in, with Grey’s Anatomy viewing parties and lofted beds so we could maximize the space, where I learned how to live with others. I fondly recall my days in my first apartment, where four of my best friends and I lived for two years, where I really began to assert my independence and become an adult. And then I think about the apartment I am in now, and all the memories attached to it: getting married, expanding my cooking horizons, and hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

With all of these things going on in my head during this move, I think about how hard it must be for my students to move on from middle school. They have established memories and an identity within the middle school’s walls; now, they are off on a new adventure. They will be meeting new people, building new relationships, and trying new things. And while I can’t speak for all of my students, I can’t help but wonder if some of them will be “homesick” for middle school. Despite the fact that middle school can be the toughest years of anyone’s life, my students know middle school. They’re comfortable with it. They know what to expect; well, as much as you can while in the ever-changing dynamic of 8th grade.

I also think about my incoming 6th grade students, who are moving in to middle school. Similar to my outgoing 8th grade class, they are leaving the comfortable environment of elementary school and entering a whole new world. I can only imagine the anxiety that some of them feel while transitioning. What will middle school be like? Will I make friends? Will I like my teachers? How will it be different than elementary school, and how will it be the same? I also think about the students that may be moving into this district; they are entering a place where a lot of the students have known each other from a young age. They may worry about fitting in or finding their own voice.

Finally, I think about all the moves occurring among my teachers. Some teachers will be “moving in” to the school this year, which will hopefully be an exciting time for them. If they are new teachers, they will experience the joy of having their own classroom, planning their own lessons, making their own place within the district and within the school. If the teachers are coming from other buildings, they will be able to enjoy new faces, new students, and new adventures within the building. And for the teachers who are staying, they will be anticipating a “move” that involves new dynamics in the building. Schools are constantly changing and evolving to do what is best for students, and this year is no different. Without a doubt, it is still a “move” that will involve change, and change isn’t always easy.

I remember telling my husband that moving wasn’t interesting, and wondering how I could make it fit in with counseling and my students. But in truth, I guess it does. It has made me stop and think about how each of my students are moving into middle school. Moving to a house and moving into another level of school are both a major transition, but I think my students and I can handle it together.

Advice to New Teachers From Someone Who’s Been There

nicoletti-useBy Stephanie Nicoletti

“The best thing about teaching is that it matters. The hardest part about teaching is that it matters every day.”

This quote is from Todd Whitaker – I had the pleasure of hearing him speak last month along with many other education experts. This quote sums up everything being an educator means. I am so excited to start blogging for The Marquette Educator. I want to share ideas that I learn from others and create a network of life-long learning. I am going to start with some reflection from my first year of teaching and advice for those going into their first year.

I walked into my second grade classroom as a brand new teacher, wondering what this career would bring. I felt my classes at Marquette taught me everything I needed to know about literacy, math and how to write extremely thorough lesson plans. My biggest concern: classroom management. I kept thinking to myself, “Any student teaching I did, the cooperating teacher set up routines, we did not have a classroom management class, oh my gosh, what if they eat me alive?”

Other staff members kept admiring and questioning my room layout: carpet in the middle, desks formed into tables around the carpet. It was an open concept with flexible seating. I wondered why there was so much amazement with this layout. I soon realized this was new to some of my colleagues. In other rooms, desks covered the floors in rows. Then, September 1st came around. I taught the students how to choose a good place to sit, built extremely strong relationships with my students, and made learning hands-on. Behaviors seemed to diminish, and students whose past teachers seemed to dread and talk negatively about began to flourish. As I reflected, providing choice in the classroom, an open layout, and building strong relationships is the key to effective classroom management. This is more than anything I would have learned in a pre-service education class.

I am a novice teacher and am learning every day, so my message to brand new teachers is this: you will question everything you implement. Always be confident in what Marquette has taught you and trust your gut. You know more than you think you do, but stay humble enough to know when to ask for help. Be flexible, build relationships, and watch how your students grow immensely.

 

Fighting Summer (L)earning Loss with the Paid Summer Internship

maxresdefaultBy Nick McDaniels

This summer, a number of my students are participating in summer internships at law firms and a public agencies. These students, from the sound of the messages they have sent me are learning a ton, working harder than they have ever worked, and generally, having a good time.

Some students received internships through the prestigious Law Links Summer Internship Program, a program that should be duplicated in every city and state. Others made connections on their own or through relationships they built through my classes.

Of course, I am very proud of these talented young men and women. But the big picture is this: my students are spending their summer Learning extremely valuable skills in a professional environment while improving their legal knowledge and Earning cash.

And we read this time of year, every year, about Summer Learning Loss. It is real. It happens (to teachers as much as students). But when students become teenagers, the learning loss often is more voluntary, or rather a result of a carefully calculated cost benefit analysis: The more time I spend in the library, the less time I can spend making money to buy my school clothes. The choice for most high school students is clear.  Work Now; Learn Later.

We change the choice, however, by providing more professional summer internship opportunities for high school students. The more we can provide paid internship opportunities for students in work environments that will tap into a student’s learning potential as much as a student’s earning potential.

It’s time to ask our professional businesses around our schools to hire one of our students every summer so students have the choice to learn while they earn.

 


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