a new way of thinking

Ginny and I had a few precious moments to chat today…those moments seem so rare this school year! We both have seen Teach Social First in action this week and needed to talk about some of those “in the moment” observations.

I do want to start off by saying so many positive things are happening, more than we ever expected.
What we are struggling with is how some teachers are using the language. We stressed during the lessons that being a “thinking about me” kid did not mean you were bad. We also provided teacher handouts that have specific ways to prompt students when they are being “thinking about me” kids. But, we have heard some teachers saying “you are not being a thinking about others kid right now.”  At first, I was a little disappointed but then realized we are trying to do something very important this year at Perry Harrison: introduce a new way of thinking.

For those that have been in the classroom a while, the traditional approach is to tell students what not to do. How often do teachers ask students to think about things differently? It is so easy to just say what not to do. I have even caught myself at times not saying a word when my own kids are playing nicely together. There is a part of my brain (way of thinking) that thinks that is what they SHOULD be doing, so why should I have to say anything about it?

We need to brainstorm how to best help teachers change how they prompt students. We also realize that we have some lofty goals this year at Perry Harrison, and it will take some time for real change to occur. But, we are working on it, which is a great first step for students and teachers.

Our First Week

Our first week of implementing Teach Social First was really fun. I had a lot of fun walking suddenly into each classroom wearing my “Thinking about Me” Kid red baseball cap, cutting off the lights, moving lunch trays, and just basically disregarding the group of children who were present. The students clearly did not know what to do, and knowing I was a teacher created further confusion. As we began this way in each class, it was very apparent that most of us are uncomfortable when someone does something unexpected and definitely when this unexpected behavior disregards the needs of others.  Once I “realized” that I was in a group, I apologized and told the students that I had been a “thinking about me” kid. Now, while it is okay to think just about me if I am by myself, I was in a group and I needed to think differently. As I switched my red hat to my blue “Thinking about Others” Kid baseball cap, I was able to tell the students that a “Thinking about Others” Kid: 1)notices that others are around him, 2) thinks about what they want, 3)thinks about what they need, 4) thinks about what they are feeling, and 5) thinks about what they are thinking. Once all of these things have been considered, a “thinking about others” kid decides what to say and do to make others feel comfortable and help the group do what it needs to do.  Stepping into the book Chester by Melanie Watt and becoming Chester the cat was so much fun. While Chester’s antics created a lot of laughter, the students were very able to detail what he had done that showed he was a “thinking about me” kind of cat. So, now the real task begins: helping our students to recognize this behavior in themselves, to “think about things differently,” and then to adjust their words or behaviors based on the thoughts, feelings, wants and needs of others.

As the week continued, more and more students happily reported their progress with the classroom challenge phrase each time they saw me in the halls.  I responded happily with a high 5 or thumbs up. While I realize the students are undoubtedly motivated by the reward, they are practicing very important “other-minded” thinking and behavior, and are receiving valuable praise and reinforcement from their teachers and peers. The desire to please us and their teachers is obvious, and I am hopeful that this desire to please will generalize to an “other-minded” school and community.

When I think of comments made in this past week, I would like to share a question made by a second grader at the end of our lesson. Once we had discussed the “thinking about others” classroom challenge and writing down the names of “thinking about others” kids, a student asked, “What if we know someone is faking it (being a “thinking about others” kid)?” Now, we have all been there, haven’t we? We know how someone really is, but they get rewarded for doing something just to please. My response: “I have a few thoughts. First, you don’t actually know if he is faking it. He may really be trying to change and think about others. If he is faking it, he is still practicing thinking about others. If he is practicing “thinking about others” then “others” will benefit and maybe the more he practices, the more likely it is that he will become a “thinking about others” kid.  Plus, others will see he is thinking about others and maybe they will try to think about others too. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. “

A great and promising start for sure. A big thank you continues to our administration, our teachers, and parents who are supporting Teach Social First in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms at Perry Harrison.

Ginny Thompson, Teach Social First

reflections from week one: Kristan

What fun it has been being back in the classroom! I wanted to post some reflections from the week and hope that Ginny can as well. I feel like we both learned a lot during this first week.

1) I have so many new friends at Perry Harrison! Every time I was in the hallway, I had students waving to me and also reporting on how many letters their class had earned for the Classroom Challenge.

2) There were big differences in the kinds of questions we got in 1st and 2nd grade compared to 3rd.  One question that was asked will be added into the lesson script. It was about the Classroom Challenge. A student asked if the teacher could take away letters they had earned if they were bad. This bothered me a bit because we had said at least 3 times during the lesson that being a “thinking about me” kid did not mean you were bad, you just needed to think differently. The question proved that we need to continue our work to teach students that the real lesson involves responding differently based on the feedback they get from others. It is not really about being good or bad. Now, I did share with the student that asked the question (and mentioned it in classrooms we were in later) that if the class was having a hard time being “thinking about others” kids that it would take them longer to earn the class reward.

3)  Parents are learning how to be “thinking about others” people too. The school year started with three 2nd grade classes and one 2/3 combination class. More students enrolled after the school year started, so the school was allotted an additional 2nd grade teacher. This means that one month into the school year some students will have to switch classes. Not ideal at all, but it happens. I had a parent say to me that parents were going to need to be flexible, Superflex thinkers with the upcoming changes. How cool that we are reaching more than just the students at Perry Harrison school!

Children’s Literature

We have been in 8 classrooms this week, and boy has it been fun! The first lesson focuses on the concepts “thinking about others” kids and “thinking about me” kids. We are using children’s literature to introduce the concepts. The book for lesson one: Chester by Melanie Watt. It is a lot easier for the students to talk about how Chester is a “thinking about me” cat vs coming up with ways they have been “thinking about me” kids.

Below is a video clip of Ginny and I reading the book. As you can hear, we got a lot of giggles from the class.

Each classroom also has a bulletin board to use for visuals, classroom challenges, etc. This week we are leaving the examples students came up with about how Chester was a “thinking about me” cat (marked out) and a reminder to not be like Chester.

The Classroom Challenge

Each Teach Social First lesson includes a classroom challenge. Teachers are charged with catching students practicing the concept introduced. For the first lesson, the concept is being a “thinking about others” kid.

When teachers catch students being “thinking about others” kids, they earn a letter to the classroom challenge phrase. When the phrase is complete, the class earn a reward. Note: students cannot ask the teacher to notice them being a “thinking abut others” kid. Doing so would actually be being a “thinking about me” kid, although I am sure some will try 🙂

The classroom challenge is a great way for students to be directly reinforced for using the strategies taught. And, the class has to work together to spell the classroom challenge phrase.

For the 1st grade classes, we decided to have students color in the letters (vs filling in the blanks) since most of them do not know how to spell all the words in the challenge phrases. An example from lesson one is below:

We also included the teacher name in the top right corner of each poster, the date of the lesson, and in the bottom right corner the teacher can record the date the class completed the classroom challenge. We are hoping to use this information as a part of our informal data collection. Do some classes earn the reward sooner than others, etc. We realize there are lots of layers with this type of data collection, but the poster is just one piece of data to look at and reflect on after all lessons are complete.