Build Trust

To trust children’s behavior is to trust that they want to be independent.

It’s in the little things. Students who understand the expectations for assignments can move forward independently. Once they trust that there are no mine fields waiting to trip them up, they follow directions more consistently and eventually gain their independence

Telling them exactly what is happening in a situation, gives the students the opportunity to prove that they will do what is right. There were times when I literally had no choice.

VIGNETTE   On the way to an assembly, one child needed immediate help. Telling the class that they were on their own and that they knew where to go and knew what to do, I stepped back to help the child. The rest of the class proceeded down the hall into the assembly with me at the back trusting they would enter the room and find their seats without me. They did. (Fourth graders.)

VIGNETTE   This happened to a sixth grade teacher with a self-contained classroom. His wife was expecting any moment. His class knew that he would rush out when the call came, and a sub would come. On his way to work, his wife called. He headed to the hospital. Returning to the classroom the next day, he noticed that all the papers were corrected, the room was neat, and the students happy. He asked who the substitute was. “No one,” they answered. “You forgot to call for one. When we realized what happened, we decided to go through the day as though someone was here. We knew what to do. No one ever noticed.” Amazing? Well-informed students who felt trusted led to correct independent behavior.

VIGNETTE   Just before recess, a student with a bad wound revealed to a friend that it was worse.  (It had happened at home, and he had shown me earlier. His long sleeves covered it.) (Sixth grader.) The friend immediately told me.   Checking it out, I knew he needed medical help. Telling the class that the student was now my priority and that they knew the rules and what to do, they were sent out the classroom door to walk around the building to the playground for recess. Making a fast trip to the office, his parents were called, and the student went straight to the hospital. At the end of recess, back came the class – proud and happy they did something on their own. They had proved they were trustworthy and independent. I was most grateful and told them so many times.


There will be times when the students need to be trusted. Give them that trust often and praise their follow through. It may be as simple as everyone remembering to bring their homework. or walk down the hall properly or…. (I just recalled this. My first grade students loved to have an adult compliment them on their good behavior in the hallway. When they returned to the room, as they stepped through the door, they would choose an M&M out of the box we kept them in. Two compliments meant two M&Ms.)

Gratitude and Praise

Happiness is knowing you are doing a great job!

Happiness is knowing you are doing a great job!

What makes a student happy? A teacher happy? Anybody happy? For me, praise and gratitude.

VIGNETTE   My daughter, a manager at her business, called a few days ago. She had recently noticed that the focus for improving at work had become a forum for criticism more than compliments. Good people were finding themselves unhappy. We talked. She decided that the team would improve when compliments were given in a way that was fun. “Hey, everyone, I feel like a 10! Thanks, Bob, for helping out!”

I have learned though, that compliments can build up or take down. (See the last paragraph.)

As teachers, we teach students how to give compliments. (See blog  The ABCD’s of Kindness.) Praise also contributes to growth. This is what I have learned – Keep it light and easy. What we do, they do. Give it to the whole class and no one specifically. Pay attention to the ‘running smoothly moments’. “You are all awesome and right on target!” You know that you have the process for praise right when everyone nods and smiles.

VIGNETTE   Rewards
I didn’t tend toward treats/food/stickers for good behavior. [Although at one point I put out a bowl of stickers and told the children to put them on their papers when they wanted them. At the time, there were free stickers that came with book orders.] However, if the class as a whole received a compliment from another adult, everyone received an M&M.  Example: Everyone is walking quietly in the hall. A teacher passing by and compliments them. Big smiles from the students! Returning to the classroom, a student stands by the door and holds out a box of those little chocolates. Each child takes one. Two compliments? Two chocolates. For the children, those compliments really counted!

One principal in my teaching career visited at least once a week. We had open space classrooms so his jaunt took him from one room directly into the next. His smile was broad, his compliments for all. “You are great class!” he would boom out.  “Learning is important. You have a great teacher! Listen to her and learn.”  He made a difference to all of us. Thank you, Mr. Rich!

An exception from my point of view.
One thing I would like to make clear. A compliment is not meant to control others. I have heard ‘compliments’ given to make other students feel guilty or superior. For me, this is not useful praise. Example: “I see Mary is sitting with her hands folded. Good job, Mary. Look, now Joey is sitting with his hands folded. Good job, Joey.”   I have also heard compliments that are backhanded ways of saying, ‘You are not doing this right.’   Neither of these is good or helpful.

For me, a nod of the head and a smile tells a child he/she is on target.  I also disciplined the same way: a raised eyebrow and shake of the head let someone know they were pushing the limit.

I love finding ways to love my students.

Happiness and smiles contribute a lot to learning.

Productive Thinking. Hands Waving with Answers!

California poppies!


ANSWERS GALORE! Productive thinking is a great teaching technique that uses a single well-defined question to keep the students waving their hands to contribute answers. The question that brings this result is called ‘open-ended’. [The opposite question has a ‘one fact’ answer and is called a ‘closed’ question.] An open-ended question not only results in lots of answers , but sometimes unique ones.

Identifying this question takes time and thought. First, focus on the answers you want. Are the answers a list of vocabulary words? A list of project or writing ideas?  Or a list ideas that show the ideas learned for a unit just completed?  Next, write a question has lots of answers. For instance,  What words describe flowers? will result in a shorter list than What words describe Spring?  

Practice answering the question yourself.  If you can generate ten words quickly, your students will be able to do the same.

During the lesson, encourage students to use piggy-backing. This is when an answer already given is used to think of another answer. For instance, if Spring is described as ‘warm’ another student might say it is ‘rainy’ – both answers are weather related.

Put their answers on the board. Not only does this honor their effort, but it makes it easier to piggy-back.

A  follow-up discussion can determine which answers contribute best to a better understanding of the question.

Give a written assignment to encourage their use of the word list.


Which of the two questions in each sample work best?

  • Name the animals that live in the woods.  Name the land and water animals that live in the woods.
  • What happens to a polar bear if the Arctic temperature goes up ten degrees?  What happens in the Arctic when the temperature goes up ten degrees?


Productive thinking creates a learning environment that challenges, is fun – and most of all – is memorable. It increases the learner’s level of participation, and for the child, that’s a successful class activity that isn’t forgotten!