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Understanding each other’s emotions

By the time children are school-aged they begin developing the skill required to read nonverbal cues about the emotions of the people around them. They begin sensing how changes in facial expression and body language speak to changes in disposition. Their ability to do this comes from their experiences with others and, ultimately, their awareness of themselves.

Today I’m recommending that we give students the opportunity to practice these skills. Let’s make their thinking visible.

Start this conversation today: How would you know if a classmate was unhappy and needed help?

As the conversation evolves students will begin using “I” statements. Ex: “When I am upset, I…” This awareness is crucial to their development of sense of self and how it influences their sense of others.

Because of developmental changes that occur with age, this conversation will naturally evolve depending on the age of your students. The prompt is accessible to all ages.

My hope is that they will gain a greater understanding of themselves and how they act based on their emotions.



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Mind dump: 3 words

This week’s conversation starter is part conversation part stop-n-jot.

This Monday ask your students to pause and write down 3 words which come to mind immediately.

Ask for volunteers to share words they wrote down.  Share your words.  See if any resonate with words other students wrote down.

This quick activity does many things in a span of a few short minutes:

  1. It sends the message that you care what’s on students’ minds
  2. It makes it okay for minds to be filled with things that aren’t tied to the lesson.  Let them know this is something adults balance regularly, too.
  3. You get quick feedback on where everyone is mentally and emotionally
  4. It’s a mini-vocabulary lesson ripe for discussion on synonyms (ex: one student writes confused while another writes puzzled)
  5. You can assess spelling ability and correct misspellings when you review their answers (more applicable for younger students)

If I did this activity right now my 3 words would be: nap, laundry and grading :)




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What would you fight for?

September is a month of getting-to-know-you for teachers and students.  Establishing relationships with students and among students is, among other things, a key lever in the complex recipe for student achievement.  There are many ways to begin to learn about your students (please share your favorite tips for this!), and I’d like to suggest this conversation starter as a subtle way to learn what the students are passionate about.

This Monday pose the question: What is something that is unfair that you would fight for? 

I like this question because it tells you not only what students are upset about but also what they are so upset about that they would do something about it.  Moreover, it opens up an opportunity for the important life lesson that there are many things in life which are unfair, but only so many we can fight for/against.  In short: pick your battles.  (But goodness, please do battle for those which you pick – another critical teachable moment!)

Children are acutely aware of the unfair.  As they age they grasp a sense of injustice and feel compelled to action.  This conversation, therefore, can be approached with students of all ages.  Try these questions for littler ones: What is unfair?  & What is the most unfair?

I can’t wait to hear what they come up with!



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Teachers who care

Many teachers will begin the school year surveying their students.  If they’re like me, they’ll ask about favorite snacks, a student’s ideal day, and what did and didn’t support that child’s learning last year.  I’m always impressed by the clarity with which students can reflect on the learning habits and styles that work for them.

Recently, a colleague suggested I add another pair of questions.  I want to share these with you and I want to encourage you to begin this conversation in your classroom.

Finish these sentences:

  • Teachers who care about me…
  • Teachers who don’t care about me…

As we know, if students aren’t sure that we care about them, there will be an ocean of mistrust between us.  Children are intuitive, emotional creatures.  They thrive in safe, routine and secure environments.

The knowledge that they are being lead by adults who care about them can be the very difference between a child who is willing to take risks and one who opts out.  In other words: caring is paramount.

I suggest this conversation begins on paper.  Give students a chance to do a brain dump and get as many attributes down on paper as they can.  Then, ask them to share how they feel.

Because it’s the start of the school year and because this can be delicate and confrontational, be sure to model with your own answers.  Recollect stories from when you were a student and share when you felt cared for and other times when you felt unsupported.

After this conversation, you’ll know how to act and what to say so that your students know without a shadow of a doubt that you care about them.  As a bonus, they’ll know a little more about you and the struggles you faced when you were in their shoes.

Let me know what they come up with!



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