In this first post, I am going to share with you my thoughts on nurture vs. hammer.
Essentially what I am talking about is, when are we being too nice, and when are we being too hard?
Personally I am a big believer in the power of connection. When I meet a kiddo for the first time I like to do everything I can to connect to them. This can be through playing, or making some jokes, or even through bringing up things they are interested in.
For example: when I first started at Rocketship I was excited to meet all my new kiddos. The first kiddo I met was a wonderful, beautiful, intelligent 5th grade autistic girl. She had come to the school a few days early, because we had changed the colors of the walls, and she was no longer going to have the same special education teacher as she had for the last few years. When she got there and saw all the new that surrounded her, she began to cry, and run in search of her beloved teacher Mr. San Martin. I watched her hug him, and cry, and I watched him bring her from a panic, to a calm collected and brave young woman. Once she was calm, I stepped forward and introduced myself. "Hey, I'm Mr. Brasil." She ignored me. I tried again, but again she wasn't interested in my pleasantries. So I tried something else. I had noticed that she had a My Little Pony shirt on, and so I asked, "Do you like My Little Pony?" Her eyes lit up, and she turned to me and began spewing the history of every pony on the show. The rest of her visit, as her mom got to know the amazing new Special Ed teacher Mr. Shook, I continued speaking with the pony enthusiast. This was a week or so before the first day of school. I felt confident that, at the very least, this student would remember our conversation. I figured this would at least give me an opportunity to calm her down on the first day of school. A week came very quickly, and on that first day of school I anxiously awaited our new kiddos. That morning this 5th grade girl walked into our ISE room, she was shy, and hiding her face. Her mom was telling her to say good morning. I'll never forget what happened next. I opened my mouth and said, "Good Morning (Student's name) Ready for your first day?" Her head popped away from her moms side, a huge smile on her face, and she said, "Mr. Brasil!" she ran up and hugged me, and we started our day. The year passed us by in a hurry, and graduation day was upon us. I helped her be brave and walk the stage, and collect her diploma. I watched her as she hugged, and thanked me. At the end she asked, "Mr. Brasil, will you be at all my graduations?" I replied "Yes, of course"
This story may not seem like much. You may be saying, big whoop, a kid liked you. The fact is, that initial reaction, that initial impression is the make or break it when it comes to connection. The one thing I hold very close to my heart is my ability to connect. I use this ability to help my kiddos succeed. The balance between nurture, and hammer in my day to day life at school is very consistent. Kiddo's know exactly what to expect with me. They know that we can joke around and laugh, but that when it's time to work, we get serious. This is a line I have played with for years. Too much nurture, or too much hammer leads our kiddo's to feel like they can walk over us, or it makes them fear us. The trick is to find a balance.
There is no script to follow.
There is no right or wrong.
Here is my steps to finding that line.
#1: CONNECT! Find something, anything that brings the student closer to you. Maybe it's my little pony, maybe it's a game, or a funny joke. Make them feel comfortable and safe. Allow them to show you a side of their personality they are not accustomed to show in school. Allow them to successfully tell you about an aspect of their life that they aren't struggling with. Once you find what it is that will bring you together, go out and learn more about that topic. It will help you when this kiddo is angry, or escalating and isnt listening to anyone or anything.
#2: Set high expectations, but allow for your students to feel successful whether or not they are mastering the material in front of them. It takes a long time for us to fill in the skill or knowledge gaps. Maybe that first day of small group instruction doesn't go perfect. Maybe the student doesnt get one question right. At the end of the group, when you can literally see their head bowed, and their shoulders slumped. Bring up that topic they know everything about. Watch a sad, shame filled kiddo, spring back to life. Watch their confidence grow. If they walk into your group happy, and leave your group happy, I promise you the content will get learned.
#3: Once you feel that your connection is strong, don't be afraid to drop the hammer. Kiddo's need boundaries, and they need to know what will happen if things go wrong. In my groups, I always narrated everything, thus giving my students insight into what consequences may arise if certain behaviors continued. If your connection is as strong as you think it is, they will not want to let you down. They don't want to let you down, but sometimes misbehaving is easier than making the right choices, and consequences are essential in continuing your relationship. After giving your kiddos consequences, you will feel horrible inside. I know I did, when I first started. I felt like they wouldnt want to come back to my groups, or even talk to me. The wonderful thing about connection is just that though. If that connection is built right from day one, they will respect you, and love you more because they'll realize you hate giving consequences just as much as they hate receiving them. You become a team, whether or not you see it that way. Your kiddo will understand.
#4 Always debrief! Always! Always! Always! This is a part that a lot of teachers, and adults in general tend to ignore. This is perhaps the most important part in the sequence, because it turns a consequence into a learning opportunity. Whenever I delve out any consequence, I allow time for the student to stew, and to reflect by his or her self. After the consequence is almost over, I always come over, and talk to them. I explain why the consequence was needed, I talk about the behavior that led to the consequence, and I give the student the opportunity to speak about what he was thinking about, or any clarification. I always ask if they feel the consequence was fair. If they say yes, or if they say no, we still elaborate and speak about it. I validate the students feelings and emotions, by explaining calmly, what I need to see in the future to avoid these consequences. This gives our relationship a check point for the future. Later if they are doing the same thing as before, or are misbehaving, I have something to reference when narrating, or giving a warning.
These 4 steps are easy, it isn't rocket science. But you'd be surprised at just how difficult it is to follow these in the moment. When a kiddo is frustrating you, and you have 29 other kiddos in class, and time is running out. It gets very difficult, but for me anyways, I have trained myself to react like this. These steps are second nature to me, and I have seen a lot of success in my career using them.
Next week I will be discussing something that I feel is the single starting point to having a successful career with children, or a miserable unhappy one. I will be writing about whether or not you should ever be offended by anything your child does or says.
I hope you enjoyed my first post, and if you have any questions about this post, or general behavior questions please reach out.
Thank You for reading!