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Noticing the Good Stuff: A Suggested Practice

June 10, 2018


Sherri Spelic

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When something amazing happens in your classroom but only you see it, did it really happen? Sometimes I feel that way. There’s a moment: a quiet, kind interaction between two students who often bicker, or a new game that students manage to play well without a hitch, or when you suddenly remember a long-forgotten idea which is perfect for helping the student in front of you. These things happen and may even catch us by surprise. But then what do we do with those moments?

In the rush of day-to-day teaching, I’m afraid that many of those moments may get lost. Or perhaps more likely, they get buried. So much happens in a school day, there are literally thousands of discrete interactions and decisions made, the majority of which are in connection with other people. And our brains are wired to hold onto negative information to prevent mistakes in the future. So when good or even great things happen in our classrooms or during the school day, they may not be top of mind once class is over. They are more likely somewhere in the middle, sandwiched  between the heated parent e-mail in the morning and the unanticipated extra recess duty in the afternoon. For those of us who teach in environments where good news may not be met with enthusiasm, mentioning and retaining those bright spots becomes another challenge. Lacking an outlet or container for these episodes can also make it difficult for us to connect them with other positive moments we’ve had.

As educators we’re aware of the benefits of positive reinforcement and the need for confidence-building in our pedagogy for students. But that’s often where it stops. When it comes to our own learning and day-to-day practice, how regularly do we apply a similar reasoning? How actively do we acknowledge our wins as fully as our setbacks? In this post I want to advocate for seeking out the good in our own gardens and cultivating our best with what we have right now, even as we are bombarded with stories of greener grass everywhere we look.

Working on What Works

These ideas have not emerged out of the ether. My thinking about this approach stems from a program for the classroom, based on Solution-focused Brief Therapy, called Working on What Works (WOWW) developed by Insoo Kim Berg and Lee Shilts. In a nutshell, the program calls on students and teachers to notice and articulate specific actions that contribute to the success of an intervention. Students learn to observe, name and compliment the behaviors that have been identified as positive and nurturing.

Two factors come together in this approach which turn out to be especially effective in building classroom confidence and community: First is a focus on strengths—in individual student behaviors, in the class group, in the observable results. The second piece is an emphasis on student input and feedback on their own progress individually and as a group. Taken together, while Working on What Works, students and teachers learn to keep their eyes and ears open for the good stuff: compliments, celebrations, breakthroughs, perseverance and how to share that news with each other. This video provides an example of the program in practice.

Noticing the Good for Ourselves

I think there are lots of avenues we can travel in locating our very distinct examples of teaching/learning goodness. The suggestions here serve as a sort of starter pack for collecting your own shining moments and to train your eyes to see more of the bright spots. Some of these can be done on your own, yet many might be fun and enlightening to try with a friend or colleague.

Observing and listening:

Reading and writing ideas:

Making it stick

Highlighting and keeping track of the wins in our own intimate teaching spaces and inside our filled-to-the-brim heads should not become a new chore. Instead, find a method of collecting and/or sharing these moments that feels right for you and the way you work. Here are a few suggestions:

To do on your own:

To do with colleagues:

 

While I have not yet been in a position to pursue the full WoWW program, the thinking behind it remains a central part of my teaching practice: emphasizing and bolstering strengths. That’s why I feel it is doubly important that we practice these ideas on ourselves first before showering our students with so much new-found wisdom. Whenever we take an opportunity to reflect on and document our wins in the classroom, it adds to our self-efficacy and builds our confidence as teachers. We fertilize our own growth as educators and cultivate gardens of learning and community with our students. ♦

 

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5 Comments

  1. What encouraging and thoughtful advice. My very first year of teaching, which happened in a volunteer setting overseas 25+ years ago, I kept a tiny diary of my teachings ups and downs. I think it was a good instinct, and I plan to return to it using your thoughts! Thank you!

  2. Joy says:

    Hi, this is really intriguing. The “Working on What Works” link requires creation of an account and apparently a long approval process for access. Is there any other official source for information on this program?

    • Hi Joy! I work for Cult of Pedagogy. The link should open to a page from researchgate.net that has a PDF available for download all about WOWW. There is a little screen that comes up asking if you’d like to join, but you can just click on the X on the box to close it out. Hope this helps!

      • Joy says:

        Thank you! It seems that ResearchGate blocked me because I tried to open the link on my school’s network and RG detected ‘unusual traffic’ on our server. I was able to access it from home. 🙂

  3. Allison says:

    I needed this right now. I have been struggling this year with new admin, and tough kids, and trying a new format of grading using proficiency-based grading. I need to try to focus on the positives in classes.

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