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Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resiliency: Putting The Past Where It Belongs


In a recent article about a five-year old kindergarten student suspended for bringing a toy gun to school, I wrote, “Kids are resilient and manage to turn out OK despite adult ineptitude.” I want to expand on that comment because the sad truth is that some kids don’t turn out OK. Some kids don’t bounce back quickly from adversity, the definition of resilient. It depends in part on how parents choose to handle the situation. Incidents might happen to a child, but parents decide how they choose to handle it.

They can keep the drama going, expressing their understandable outrage. This option is both common and perfectly natural. When our children have been wronged, we want to protect and support them. Maintaining anger is one way to demonstrate that we love and support our kids. Sometimes outrage is socially acceptable – even encouraged. Righteous indignation, however, has a price: it keeps the incident front and center, trapping the family in a painful past event. Choosing not to move on sentences everyone involved to additional pain and diminishes the child’s ability to develop resiliency. Resiliency requires moving forward.

Parents can address the incident decisively and move on. In the case I wrote about last week, the family appealed the school's decision and met with the superintendent who rescinded the suspension. That’s addressing the issue. That’s advocating for your child. That’s how to put the past in the rearview mirror where it belongs.

Addressing a problem and moving forward is very different from denial or refusing to deal with the issue. If the child were afraid to go to school or was having difficulty sleeping after an incident and the parents told them to “just hang in there” or told the child to “get over it,” the parents would be failing to deal with the problem. Under those circumstances, the past incident is still impacting the present and responsible parents take steps to alleviate the current pain.

Kids experience the world very differently from adults. In the Hopkinton suspension incident, I suggested that the school should be ashamed and embarrassed. I stand by those comments, but that represents my adult perspective. What struck me as an example of bureaucratic stupidity was possibly processed by the child as less significant. (If so….good for him.)

Kids learn from their parents’ behavior. When parents deal with situations decisively and effectively and move on – keeping the past where it belongs – they show their children how to be resilient.
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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends and colleagues. Thanks.

Bob Sullo

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Don't forget to get your copy of the revised edition of The Inspiring Teacher: Making A Positive Difference In Students' Lives.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Punishment Is An Effective Teaching Tool (But What Do Kids Learn?)


A five-year old kindergarten student in Hopkinton, Massachusetts was suspended from school this past week for bringing a toy gun to school. By all accounts, the child did not threaten or hurt anyone. His crime was having an inappropriate toy in school.

The Center School in Hopkinton did what most schools do: they applied external control psychology by imposing punishment (I’m sure it was identified as a “consequence” in an attempt to make the suspension more palatable.)

No doubt everyone involved had the best interest of the child in mind. I imagine that the punishment (“consequence” if you insist on euphemism) was given to teach the child something. That’s certainly reasonable. Our job as educators, after all, is to teach kids.

But what did they want Jonah Stone to learn? What was the goal? Since I wasn’t there, I can only guess but here’s one reasonable hypothesis: teaching Jonah that it’s not OK to bring toy guns to school. Seems like a reasonable thing to want to teach a young child, especially given the unequivocal evidence he didn’t already know it.

So here’s a novel idea: instead of suspending him from school and having him sit down with a police officer, maybe a caring adult could have spoken with the 5-year old and told him that guns – even toy guns – aren’t allowed in school. End of incident. In other words, maybe an educator could have done their job: teach a child who didn’t know any better. (That’s the usual process when a kid doesn’t know how to read, spell, multiply, or successfully do any other academic skill.) 

A simple conversation would have rendered punishment unnecessary. The goal – learning that bringing toy guns to school is not OK – would have been achieved. Sadly, the school chose to suspend the child, a decision that was predictably overturned by the superintendent a few days later when he met with the parents.

I often hear that punishment is a teaching tool. What did five-year old Jonah Stone learn this week?
·      That if you make a mistake, you’ll be punished.
·      That teachers say, “Never be afraid to make a mistake” but when you make one, they hurt you.
·      That someone gave me a toy, but when I took it to school I had to talk to a police officer.
·      That kids in some place called Newtown were killed by a bad man with a gun. (Note: Until this incident, Jonah had been shielded by the unimaginable horror of Sandy Hook by his parents. The school system made sure he got an education.)

One can only wonder if Jonah worries that the police officer and his teachers think he might be a bad boy and want to hurt other kids. Of course that’s unlikely, but what’s a 5-year old to think? (“They just want me to become a responsible adult and punished me for my own good. If they didn’t suspend me, I might grow up to be a bad person. I have to learn there are consequences for my behavior even though I wasn’t trying to be bad.”)

What an inexcusable, avoidable mess. Because of the continued reliance on punishment as a “teaching tool,” learning has certainly taken place. Jonah learned a lot of things no child should learn.

I suspect Jonah will be fine. Kids are resilient and manage to turn out OK despite adult ineptitude. I hope Jonah grows into an emotionally healthy adult who will laugh at the absurdity of this incident. Even if that’s how the story unfolds, however, the school should be ashamed and embarrassed.

Punishment. It certainly teaches. Too bad we’re oblivious to the learning that takes place.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Don't forget to get your copy of the revised edition of The Inspiring Teacher: Making A Positive Difference In Students' Lives.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Exercise, Performance, & The Brain


When discussing brain-based learning, In Chapter 2 of The Inspiring Teacher, I say, “Because new principles and applications are being generated so rapidly, I encourage readers to become familiar with current literature about learning and the brain.”

Here’s an example: I came across a March 7, 2013 article entitled “4 Ways to use exercise to increase brain power.” Based on 19 studies involving 586 kids, teenagers, and young adults, the report was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal and found “10 to 40 minutes bursts of exercise led to an immediate boost in concentration and mental focus, likely by improving blood flow to the brain.”

According to Harvard psychiatrist and author John Ratey, one way classroom teachers can use these findings to optimize student performance on a test is to have the kids jump rope, run in place, or do squat bends, quickly improving blood flow to the brain and speeding the transmission of signals through the nerve cells. If you give a test within an hour of the exercise, scores should improve.

How often do educators and parents complain that kids lack mental focus? That they don’t concentrate? It turns out we may not need to label so many kids as ADD or ADHD and resort to chemical intervention. And we don’t have to accept poor concentration and poor performance as immutable realities. A better understanding of how the brain works and a few simple classroom strategies can significantly enhance focus and concentration, resulting in increased learning and better performance on tests. Applying what we know about brain-based learning is one quality of inspiring teachers. I encourage you to incorporate this simple strategy.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Don't forget to get your copy of the revised edition of The Inspiring Teacher: Making A Positive Difference In Students' Lives.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What’s The Cost of Feeling Safe In School?


suggests that nearly three-fourths of teachers would not carry a gun in school even if they were allowed to. But “Almost 90% said an armed police officer would improve safety in their schools, not make them less safe, according to the survey.” I initially thought this meant teachers wanted armed police officers in school, especially since the title of the article includes the words “do support armed guards.” But the CNN author of the article made a connection that might not be completely accurate.

The article was based on the results of a January online survey conducted by School Improvement Network. While I did not see the survey, I know that the wording of the questions would be important. If I were simply asked, “Would you feel safer if there were an armed police officer in your school?” I might say “yes.” If I were asked, “Do you want an armed police officer in your school?” my answer may very well be “no.” Those seemingly contradictory answers are consistent with the vast majority of teachers saying they wouldn’t carry a gun in school even if they were allowed to but would feel safer knowing there was an armed police officer at the school. Just because I'd feel safer doesn't necessarily mean I want to go there.

When we imagine an armed assailant entering our schools, it’s comforting to tell ourselves that having an armed police officer on site would lessen the carnage. (I’m not sure it really would increase safety, but I understand why anyone would like to believe it would.) This brings up another question: do we want guns in our schools?

I am the father of three adult children. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to send my kids every day to a place so potentially dangerous they I felt the need to have an armed police officer there so children can learn to read, write, calculate, and develop social skills. The thought that we have arrived at the point where we need to engage in conversations like this is unimaginably distressing.

I’m not taking sides on this issue. I'd like to say that guns have no place in our schools, even guns in the hands of trained police officers. But my kids are grown up. I’m not sure what I’d say if they were still in school. I certainly appreciate those who have a different opinion and whose circumstances are far different from mine. The only thing I know with certainty is this: I am profoundly sad that we have arrived at this point.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Don't forget to get your copy of the revised edition of The Inspiring Teacher: Making A Positive Difference In Students' Lives.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Grandparents: Unrecognized Developmental Experts


In Chapter 3 of the revised edition of The Inspiring Teacher, I discuss the contributions of Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, and Erik Erikson, major contributors to our understanding of human development. But there is less heralded group that seems to naturally appreciate the importance of the developmental process and accepting kids where they are:  grandparents.

I am not currently a grandparent, and don’t believe my status is about to change. In thinking about people I know who are grandparents: siblings, colleagues, friends, they are a widely heterogeneous lot. Yet…when it comes to their grandchildren, they share the following characteristics:

  • An abiding and unambiguous love and support of children;
  • An appreciation of children whether they are “above the norm,” “at the norm,” or “below the norm.” (It is true that grandparents are more likely to cite “evidence-based” findings when their grandchild happens to fall in the “above the norm” category and drop their “you can’t believe the statistics” position.)
  • An understanding that development is not linear: there are fits and starts. While school principals fret when kids score below expectations and school board officials understandably focus on the possible impact on AYP, grandparents generally believe that “They’ll be just fine. Don’t worry.” Any you know what? More often than not, they are right. In Brain-Based Learning & Teaching, research cited by Eric Jensen reports that typical students in a classroom – those without significant developmental challenges or handicaps – can vary by as much as three years when it comes to development. Grandparents accept that kids develop at different rates and don’t push the panic button unnecessarily.
  • Finally, grandparents may be exhausted after spending time with their grandchildren, but they typically spend their time with them engaged in hands-on activities involving the movement that enhances long-term learning and memory.

Piaget. Erikson. Kohlberg. Each of them giants who contributed significantly to our understanding of human development and offer suggestions about how to promote healthy growth. They deserve our thanks. One group that seems particularly adept at putting their ideas into effective practice is grandparents, experts in unconditional love and a reluctance to hurry the developmental process.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net