A few years ago, I found myself stuck in a rut. I had one of those classes that tried your patience in every way imaginable. Being off task, bullying, always tattling on one another; anything they shouldn’t be doing, they were doing. I was giving a ridiculous number of tallies each day and had gotten in the habit of noticing only what was going wrong in my room. There were several students, of course, who were wonderful, and many days, they were all that pulled me through. However, I can’t count the number of times I left the building feeling like a failure as I realized I hadn’t once pointed out what they were doing well.
My groove was definitely gone. I didn’t get to that place over night, and it was a rude awakening once I realized I had arrived there. But when I did, I knew that I needed a change and one that would be immediate. I was on a mission to get my positive back – and find it for the students, as well. I needed a fix that was engaging for students and one that took little time to complete. And if I could get some of my most difficult students to buy in, then I knew our little community could change.
The next day, I cleared a section of a bulletin board, made a quick header, and called it, “We Have Positive News.” I created a short form, made a stack of colored copies, and put them in a bin along with pushpins ready for students to use. After completing a couple of examples myself, I modeled the process for my class.
During our discussion, I was honest and explained why I felt we needed this new board and its form. We talked about our bucket filling activities at the beginning of the year and how we somehow became bucket dippers rather than fillers. My hope was that this board and the reports would begin to change that!
To show them the difference, I pulled out my two sets of examples and explained how to turn short sentences into newsworthy reports. Example 1: Instead of writing, “Sarah finished her chapter book today,” I could write, “Today, Sarah finished her chapter book. I’m proud of her because she has been working on that book for two weeks. She wasn’t sure she could finish it, but she did! I can’t wait to ask her about it!” The sentence tells me nothing about why finishing a book is newsworthy. The report, however, shows that I have been paying attention to Sarah and care about her goals.
Another example would be to turn, “I saw Ben helping Logan today,” into “I saw Ben helping Logan today. Logan wasn’t sure how to find ‘good fit’ books, and Ben taught him how using the anchor chart. Then, Ben showed Logan some of his own favorite books.” Not only is this action a great one to notice and praise, but telling us how Ben was helpful might also encourage someone else to be helpful in the same way. I wanted students to understand that the point of the board is not just to praise the positive in the room but also to leave examples and models for others to follow.
A couple of “rules” and we’re ready to start reporting! First, you only can write about others. The point is to look for ways others are doing well, not to promote yourself. Want to see your name on the board? Then model great behavior, and surely it will be noticed!
Second, choose different people to feature in your posts. I challenged students to write about people they aren’t best friends with or don’t know well. They had to be on the lookout for the good in everyone, not just a select few.
The first few posts, in fact, were written by some of my most difficult students. Though this was my hope all along, to be honest, I was shocked at first! The posts were short and didn’t quite show the description I was hoping for, but they showed true thought and consideration for what was happening in the room. So rather than having the students stretch their sentences into detailed summaries, I praised them for noticing the positive and sharing it with our class. After all, the “rules” were intended to help students take posting seriously, not take away from the spirit of spreading positivity!
Soon our board was covered with posts!
At the end of the day (or at least at the end of every week), I have students share their reports. This is the part I absolutely love! Most of the time, the person being complimented doesn’t even know it’s coming! Students are completely surprised and filled with such joy that someone noticed their hard work and that it was recognized by the class. This typically encourages that child to write a positive news report of his own.
When the board becomes full, I take down the old reports and give each to the student about whom it was written. Oftentimes I see students hold on to their forms for weeks, if not the rest of the rest of the year. I find them attached to notebooks or taped to cubbies for everyone to see.
Not only did the tattling come to an end, but I also saw the amount of bullying and off task behavior drastically reduce. Students took pride in helping others and the climate shifted from negative and self-centered to positive and collaborative. We got our positive back – all by using a simple form!
Thank you, Rachel, for allowing me to guest blog today! It has been an honor!
Jennifer Martinez, of Everything Just So, is a former teacher from Columbus, Ohio. After teaching for nine years and spending a year writing curriculum for the NEA Master Teacher Project, she decided to make the jump into designing curriculum full time. Updates on her language arts and classroom management resources can be found through her Teachers Pay Teachers store, her blog, and on tsu.
Anne Gardner says
Thanks for an uplifting and inspiring blog post full of good reminders as well as new tips/ideas. Hats off to Jennifer for a great post and to Rachel for opening Minds in Bloom to some amazing guest bloggers! 🙂 Anne
Courtney Petzold says
This is a great post! I plan on implementing these positive notes tomorrow! Thanks for all the great guest blogs, Rachel! And for all your great blog posts, too!
What age group is this for? Maybe I'm resistant, but I don't think this will work in my secondary school classroom. Can you tell me how to reach teenagers who think they're too cool for an activity like this?
Jennifer Martinez says
Thank you, Anne – I appreciate your kind words! Courtney, I would love to hear how it worked for you. Thank you both for reading and for your feedback!
I've used this strategy in third and sixth grades. I can't speak for how it would work in secondary as I don't have much experience with that age group. However, I think you could use a similar strategy with a different approach. I agree that asking high schoolers to pretend they are "reporters" probably wouldn't go over very well. 🙂 Perhaps if you approached it from the lens of current events – scour the internet for articles about kids their age doing random acts of kindness, becoming involved in human justice issues, etc. Spend the first five minutes each day talking about one article, discuss how their own community/school/class would benefit from those or similar actions, and challenge them to take on their own project.