Saturday, October 31, 2009

What Motivates Middle School Students?

One of the things that all of us as parents and teachers of 11-15 year-olds ALWAYS think about are ways to successfully motivate young people. We want them to become driven and self-motivated, and we want them to develop positive habits that will provide beneficial in upper school, college, and life. The million dollar question is HOW. I'd love to say that I'm going to provide the answer in this blog, but, unfortunately, there is not a "one size fits all" motivational model.

I've always been one of those people with a great appreciation for motivational speakers, thoughtful quotes, and inspiring stories. So, when I saw the advertisement in the Charlotte Observer for the Get Motivated seminar in Charlotte, I jumped at the opportunity to see Rudy Giuliani, General Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw, and former First Lady Laura Bush speak (and it was a pretty darn good deal for $4.95!). All of the speakers in the day-long seminar were fantastic, but I was especially moved by the leader and co-creator of seminar, Tamara Lowe. Ms. Lowe spoke about the concept of Motivational D.N.A. In her mind, every person's motivation is based upon their Drives (internal forces that mobilize a person to act), Needs (core requirements that a person must have in order to feel fulfilled), and Awards (preferred compensation that a person desires for achievement). Within these categories, there are two main types of people.
Here are the examples for each D.N.A. segment:
*Drives: Most people are either Producers (competitive, task-driven and assertive) or Connectors (cooperative and people-oriented). Here's the motivation piece: Producers are motivated by results and Connectors are motivated by relationships.

*Needs: Most people are motivated by either Stability (like structure, facts and routine) or Variety (value change, new experiences, and freedom of expression). Stabilizers are motivated by facts and those who fall under the Variety label value fun.

*Awards: Most people are motivated by Internal (outcome, sense of accomplishment, private recognition) or External (tangible benefits, public acknowledgement, opportunity for advancement) factors. Those motivated internally are motivated by contribution and those motivated externally are motivated by opportunity.

There is a point to sharing the Motivational D.N.A. framework. Tamara Lowe pointed out her own challenges with motivating her two children. One of her children was "easily motivated" and the other was "impossible to motivate." She realized that her system of motivation (praise, tangible awards, etc.) didn't work with her son who was "wired" differently. When she & her husband changed their motivational tactics to fit his needs, they saw a significant increase in motivation.
As a result of this epiphany, Tamara decided to create a Motivational DNA test that anyone can take: I would strongly encourage all middle school parents and their children to give this test a try. If we can unlock the motivational DNA of each child, we can better motivate them.

Here's what I think about what (in general) motivates our middle schoolers at PDS:

1. I think that our students appreciate praise and positive reinforcement.

2. I think that most of our students possess a great deal of internal motivation. They want to do well in school and don't necessarily want public recognition.

3. I think that middle schoolers value structure and stability. At ages when so much about them is changing on a daily basis, stability and structure are valued.
4. I think that our middle school students are very aware of what their peers think, and peer pressure is a source of motivation. One of the best things about PDS is that fact that its a college preparatory environment. New students have commented that "everyone does school work here and cares about their grades."
I'd love to hear about your thoughts on motivation. Please let me know what has worked for you, and what you think might work for the entire middle school. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Let us Play!!

It was a VERY enjoyable week. I had the good fortune this week to interact with our students in all different venues, and it made me think critically about teaching and learning. Dr. Creeden is fond of saying "curriculum is all that we do with intention," and that rings so true when you consider all the different ways our students are able to develop their unique talents outside of the "traditional" classroom. In my opinion, outside of the classroom activities are vital to good middle schools. Quite frankly, middle school kids NEED to play because it supports their physical, emotional, and academic development. I'm happy to report that a large number of our middle school students are involved in extracurricular activities, and we are blessed to have teachers who give additional hours to provide support. Here are some examples:
-132 students played a sport this fall
-120 students play in the Band, work on the stage crew, sing in an a capella group, or perform in a play
-94 students are members of the Jr. National Honor Society and are working on a CANstation project
-50 students attend FCA meetings on a bi-weekly basis
-25 advisee groups are playing in the Brick/Fish Bowls
-30 students are working on the Middle School News Sheet
-Nearly every middle school student and faculty member will complete community service with JH Gunn Elementary this year

My point in providing all of these numbers is that we should never lose sight of the fact that our middle school children are always learning, and the non-traditional environments are just as important as the traditional ones. To be quite honest with you, I remember very little of the information I learned in class when I was in middle school. The things I do remember, the truly formative experiences, are the things that happened outside of the classroom. I remember trying out for 6th grade Chorus and the chorus teacher telling me that "she heard I was a pretty good baseball player, but there probably wasn't room for my voice in the chorus." If you've ever heard me sing, Mrs. Faust wasn't lying. I remember playing organized football for the first time in 7th grade and struggling with the hardest thing about football...putting on the uniform properly. I remember the D.A.R.E. program, and getting to keep the D.A.R.E. bear for the entire day because my name was picked out of a hat. I remember my first dance in 6th grade, and standing in the corner until I got one of my friends to ask a girl to slow dance with me. Happily she said yes...but she was a good 6 inches taller than me, so the dance was a little awkward. I remember trying to act cool by kicking Ryan Brooks' chair out from under him...only to see him hit his head on the floor and have to go to the nurse's office. I remember being so excited to get into one of the 8th grade basketball games as a 7th grader and immediately shooting at the other team's basket. I guess that I was wide open for a reason:)

I could go on and on providing details about my experiences outside of the traditional classroom, and I think that's the point. Don't get me wrong, traditional learning is very important, but its important that we always encourage our middle school students to try new things and get involved with school activities. In 20 years, I'd be willing to bet that our current middle school students will be able to recall what they wear on Halloween dress up this Friday...and not what they learned in class that day.

Thanks for reading. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dr. Brockmeier, the epitome of PDS

Like all members of the PDS community, I feel a great sense of loss today. We learned that Dr. Kristina Brockmeier, our friend, colleague, leader, cheerleader, etc., etc., etc, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.

Its safe to say that no one has impacted my PDS experience more than Dr. Brockmeier. I remember visiting the campus for the first time during the interview process and being greeted by the smile and enthusiasm of Dr. Brockmeier...who proceeded to make me feel like the most interesting person in the world and make PDS come alive. I remember my first interaction with PDS students as a member of the faculty. Dr. Brockmeier enthusiastically combined her advisee with my advisee and answered all of the questions that my precocious 9th graders had...questions that I most certainly couldn't have answered on my own. I remember my first year as 9th grade advisor and having Dr. Brockmeier as my assistant. She single-handedly made sure that 9th graders would have a skit for Homecoming, and, with her leadership, they actually finished 3rd in the voting instead of the customary 4th place. I remember Dr. Brockmeier's card when my daughter was born and her words about the joys and challenges of parenthood. Most of all, I remember Dr. Brockmeier's daily words of encouragement. Her beautiful smile and kindness could bring happiness to any situation.

Dr. Brockmeier truly represented the epitome of what makes PDS special. It is a community rooted in kindness and generosity, that is people-centered and people-driven, and that allows everyone involved to establish meaningful relationships with others. My thoughts and prayers go out to Lance, Nick, Scott, and to the Brockmeier family. Kristina Brockmeier will always be remembered by me as one of those rare people that you meet in life that impacts everyone around them in a positive way, and it was a such an honor and a blessing to work with her.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

21st Century Skills in Education

As members of the PDS community, we are continually looking for ways to prepare our students for the future. As we all know, however, this is much easier said than done. How do you actually prepare students for the future when they'll be using technology that hasn't been created and doing jobs that do not currently exist? Saying that its a challenge would be the understatement OF the 21st century.

Some of the words that always come to mind to describe the needs of the 21st Century world are as follows: synthesis, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, creativity, curiosity, global awareness, and media fluency. To what extent does the middle school at PDS help students develop these important skills? What do we do well, and what do we need to work on? I'd LOVE to hear your comments.

I definitely have some vivid memories of my middle school experience at Pottsgrove Intermediate School (grades 6-8...with an absolutely horrible acronym used by students on a consistent basis). When I arrived in August 1990, each grade was divided into pods, and the four main classes (English, Science, Social Studies, Math) were taught in one VERY large room divided into classes of 20 by large partitions that looked like the curtains at a theater production. As a means to preparing for this distracting environment, we actually spent time in 5th grade where the entire class would read aloud at once. Did this environment prepare me for the 21st century? When the school closed in 1999 and was replaced by a more "traditional" middle school set-up, does that mean the concept was flawed (the school opened in 1971)? These memories lead me to think about our middle school at PDS. If we were to reopen the middle school at PDS tomorrow and literally start from scratch, what should be different and what should be the same? I'd LOVE to hear your comments. Here are a few of mine:

1. Technology advances at a much faster pace than changes in school curriculum. As a result, schools are slow to take advantage of using technological tools for educational purposes. When we do start using a particular technological tools, students have already moved on to new ones:)

2. Our middle schoolers are "digital natives" where use of technology is second nature. They don't remember a world without cell phones, the Internet, and social networking sites.
3. Our middle schoolers have access to more information in a few seconds than most of us had in all of the pre-Internet years combined. As teachers we no longer "own" the information.
4. In comparison to other areas of society, its amazing how little education has changed. If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in a classroom 100 years ago and woke up in a modern classroom, he'd have a pretty good idea of what was happening.
5. Great schools adapt to fit the needs, interests, and strengths of its students...not the other way around.
6. Using technology in the classroom doesn't always equal innovative teaching, and innovative teaching is always possible regardless of the amount of technology available (thank you Matt Scully and the innovative team at today's professional day for this point).
Thank you again for reading. Today's experience talking about innovative teaching and the availability of technology to enhance teaching reinforced the pride I feel to be a member of the PDS community. It is a special place filled with educators who are willing to take risks and push themselves outside of their teaching "comfort zones" to enhance the educational experience for each and every PDS student. I look forward to your comments,

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harassment & Bullying

I woke up this morning thinking that I'd write another entry focused on all the positive things happening in the Middle School here at PDS. After reading my previous posts, however, I realized that I haven't written anything about the disciplinary challenges that exist in middle schools throughout the United States. Its easy to talk about all of the wonderful things about middle school kids and teachers at PDS, but, as Dr. Creeden has said on numerous occasions, its much harder to talk about the difficult challenges that exist.

Ms. Coleman & I had the good fortune of talking to all 7th and 8th grade students about the 5 types of harassment (Physical, Verbal, Sexual, Verbal, Cyber), and we spoke with the 6th graders last week. We also answered questions, and provided students with information about confronting a situation of harassment or bullying, and the consequences for those who bully others. The 20 minutes went by in the blink of an eye, and the students probably could have asked more relevant questions for another 30 minutes.

In my opinion, the engagement of the students is due in large part to the fact that we've all been on the receiving end of harassment and/or bullying at some point in our lives. I truly believe that PDS is a special community where people are made to feel welcome on a daily basis, but I think it would be naive to say that harassment and bullying doesn't take place at our school. I'm driven to believe that 99% of the time the intention isn't malicious, but intent doesn't matter when it comes to harassment...its how that joke, name, laugh, rolled eyes, etc. is taken by the other person/people involved. If you are reading this, you can probably bring these types of situations to mind in an instant, even if it took place 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast a few hours ago, but being called "Big Butt Boyer" in 6th grade [almost 20 years ago] is something that I'll always remember:) I can laugh about it now, but, quite honestly, it wasn't funny then. In fact, according to researchers at the Journal of Clinical Psychology, bullied children "are much more likely than their peers to be depressed, lonely, and anxious; have low self-esteem, feel unwell...and think about suicide..."

I'm a very optimistic person, but my non-statistic or research-driven gut feeling about bullying is that its more prevalent than its ever been. I hope that I'm wrong. I've arrived at this decision because I think technology continually provides powerful tools for young people to bully/harass each other in seconds. For those of us who know 11-15 year-old kids, you'll often hear "impulsive" and "act before thinking," as key descriptors of their behavior. Its so easy to send a mean text message, say something provocative during an IM session, or to post demeaning information on Facebook or Myspace.

I don't want to sound so "gloom and doom," but this is a serious issue that requires consistent vigilance. At the same time, it leads us back to one of the things that makes PDS special. Schools with small classes where students are known personally by faculty & staff, and have a parent community that plays a proactive role in their child's life stand a much better chance of preventing harassment and bullying. We can and will continually encourage students to make good decisions and think about the consequences of bad decisions. Harassment & bullying is a serious and complex issue, but, as we pointed out in the presentation to students, two of the golden rules from Kindergarten put 99% of these problems to rest: "Keep your hands to yourself" and "Treat others as you would like to be treated." We CAN create a bully-free zone at PDS.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment,