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Consistency, Follow-Through, Flexibility, and Celebration

Welcome to the 2020-21 school year.

You’ve probably already faced several challenges since going back to school this fall. What we’re doing right now is hard and we have to give ourselves grace. Navigating through unknown territory can feel scary and difficult, and I also believe there are life lessons we can discover along the way.

Navigating through unknown territory reminds me of my experience with a puppy.

Almost three years ago, I decided I wanted to get a French Bulldog. I had an affection for this breed because I had shared custody of a sweet girl named Olivia (also a French Bulldog) with my ex-wife. It took me a year after separating from my ex to come to feel ready for a dog again. I loved having a dog but realized that it’s a huge undertaking and responsibility. Also, Olivia had some behavior problems which left a bad taste in my mouth. After a year of living on my own and single, I decided to get a puppy. I named her Sophie. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I was ready for it, to mold it, and shape it into the most adorable, sweet, friendly animal that ever lived. I had high hopes of this snuggly, well behaved, friendly pup!

Fast forward to spring of 2020 when COVID hit, Sophie had always been friendly. Snuggly at times, but mostly on her own terms and definitely an independent little girl. However, now she was getting possessive and trying to assert her independence by telling me that SHE was the boss. She was growling and snapping at me when I wanted to put her leash on her to take a walk or take a toy away. They call this resource guarding and this breed is known for it. I’m horrified to admit that she bit me a few times in the past few months. I decided I had to get this under control so I called in her dog trainer, Edward. Edward had worked with her as a puppy for almost a year and she was growing up beautifully and well adjusted so he was surprised to hear my concerns.

He reminded me of some important things you’re facing now:

  1. Be consistent and create clear routines and structures.

This should seem obvious, but somehow I was letting her wake me up in the middle of the night to go to the potty patch on my balcony. I had taught her to use the potty bells so she would just walk over to the door, ring the bell with her nose, and voila — it would open! How convenient for her. I realized that during the first two and a half years of her life, I had let her dictate when she felt like going out (especially at night time). We’d often use that potty patch as a crutch so I wouldn’t have to go outside late at night. Well, this sure ended up biting me in the ass.

About a month ago, we set a new routine. I got rid of the potty patch, so there were no excuses not to walk outside at any point in the day to use the bathroom. Edward helped me set regular feeding and walking times to keep her on a schedule, so I’d know when she needed to use it. She had so much freedom with the grass patch on the balcony since she was a baby that SHE was trying to tell me that she didn’t need to walk outside — after all, the potty patch was right here!

This makes me think of you. In this time of continued uncertainty and added stress, being consistent, and creating clear routines and structures for your kiddos will make a huge difference. 

  • Is there a specific time you meet on Zoom every day or most days?
  • Is there a certain time they meet with you in a group or one-on-one to get individualized attention?
  • Are there clear expectations for when we meet on Zoom? Do we need to turn on our video? Can we show our pets? Can we eat snacks in front of the computer?
    There are many articles out there about all of these things and these are certainly differences of opinions here. My suggestion is to be flexible. If kids are showing up, that’s most important.
  1. Follow Through & Repeat.

Another reminder I got from Edward was about follow-through. He’d say, “If she doesn’t show you the behavior you’re asking for, redirect her and then ask again but make sure you follow through; otherwise, she’ll learn to ignore you.”

This also made me think about our teaching. Now that many of us are teaching on Zoom and making asynchronous videos, we’ll need to follow up on our kids’ questions. This doesn’t mean we have to be mean or authoritative, but we should ask when a student hasn’t done their writing or reading. We can have these conversations with them individually or even inform their parents.

Recently a colleague told me a story about one of her friend’s children. After about a month of distance learning, the teacher reached out to her friend to ask why her son hadn’t done any of his work. The mother knew he had done ALL of the work, so she was confused. What they found out was that her son was concerned that when/if he put his work up on Google Classroom that EVERYONE could see it. We have to pay attention for these things and try to remove these stressors for our kids. Another teacher told me that when her kids didn’t show up for Zoom classes, she’d text the parents to ask where they were. She wanted them to know that she cares, that this was important, and she was there ready to teach them every day.

Edward came today to work with Sophie and me. During the session, we practiced some things over and over again. Since Sophie was getting a bit aggressive when I’d pick up her leash, we practiced this over and over, praising her when she didn’t react and just got up to walk like we asked her to. Repeated practice is so important in our classrooms — especially if we’re doing all of our teaching online. Kids will need to read and hear reminders multiple times, so please stay patient in the process.

  1. Be flexible.

I’ve learned through owning a pup that each dog is different and responds and reacts differently. Some things Edward tries with one pup doesn’t work with another; I have to continually try different things. For example, I’ve noticed that when I try to get Sophie to go out for a walk at night, she’s especially growly. Edward has asked me to try different things and video record it to give me specific feedback.

For you, each class and group of students will be different. What worked with one group may not work with another. It’s important to be flexible and try different things.

  • If you notice that kids aren’t showing up for your live Zoom classes at a certain time, is it possible there’s a better time to get higher participation and attendance? 
  • Could we ask parents when the best time would be (especially if we’re teaching primary age students since their help would really make a world of difference)? 
  • I’ve heard stories of teachers and kids spending so many hours on Zoom in a day. If you’re noticing kids seem to be disengaged, could we mix it up and do some movement? Perhaps 5 minutes to help them refocus. Could we play a game? Or ask them to do something fun to build community? 

I think now more than ever, we’re dealing with something we’ve never experienced. Flexibility will be more important than ever.

  1. Praise as often as possible.

I love working with Edward because he’s super positive — with both the owners and the dogs. He’s always reminding me to praise Sophie for every action she does the way I want her to — whether it’s coming when called, walking by my side, or even just looking up at me when I call her name. He reminds me that there are many ways to do this. You can do it verbally, pet them or even give a treat. Sophie seems to respond to all of these, which is great.

For us as teachers, it’s important to celebrate all the little wins right now and praise our kids for any small thing we see them doing.

  • Reading for a few minutes more than they were before? Participating in a group discussion? Sharing their writing with the group?
  • One of my favorite teachers shared an Instagram story about how she sent parents a list of 5 things she wanted to celebrate for that week. In this crazy time, it’s important to celebrate and to do it more often. Can we send the kids an audio file telling them how awesome they are? Share something in celebration with parents? Have a celebration dance party on Friday at the end of the day?

Remember we want learning to be joyful and engaging. Kids will respond to praise and positive reinforcements.

I see a theme emerging for this school year — Consistency, follow-through, flexibility, and celebration.

Last year was one of resiliency. This is true for this year as well, and we’re still improving every day.

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