Thursday, May 19, 2016

Avoiding Power Struggles with Students

As the weather warms and flowers bloom, we are reminded that summer break for students, families and school staff is right around the corner.  The closing days of school can present unique challenges for students, parents and school staff.  This is a good time of year to take a moment and reflect on the importance of avoiding power struggles with children and young adults.  The piece below was taken from the National Education Association's  website ( and is a quick read that reminds all of us about the Dos and Don'ts of avoiding power struggles with our students and children.  You will find additional resources at the end of the article if you would like to explore this topic in more detail.

“I hate you, and I hate this school!” This isn’t the reaction educators are looking for in the middle of class. But disruptive and confrontational students are sometimes an unavoidable challenge. If handled poorly, these confrontations can lead to power struggles – and more disruptions.
Fortunately, many educators have developed strategies for dealing with confrontational students. At the top of the list: “Never get into a power struggle,” says Mary Barela, a middle school teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado. “You are the adult and know better. If the conversation feels like it is slipping toward a power struggle, find a way to change the course.” 
That may feel like it is easier said than done, so we asked educators for their advice on defusing tense situations with students. Here's their list of  Dos and Don’ts.


Dr. Robert Feller from the University of Washington believes these hooks prevent potential disruptions and stimulate students’ minds so they focus on the upcoming lesson. Teachers can do anything from a simple science experiment to a game that connects students’ lives to the lesson.
“Attention grabbers may be used to provoke thought, facilitate active learning, or just share experiences, says retired teacher LaNelle Holland in Whitesburg, Georgia. “The teacher who asks challenging questions stimulates student interest. Empower your students by encouraging them to participate in activities of the whole group or in smaller groups.”

Problems at home or a difficult home life are often a reason for disruptive children. If you know where your students are coming from, you are in a better position to relate. Author and education researcher Dr. Elise Trumbull believes that a connection with students creates a level of respect and trust between students and the teachers. If teachers can start to understand students’ cultures better, a partnership can be formed between school and the home with the parents.
“Taking the time to learn about a child’s background can make the difference between compassion and callousness,” says retired teacher Diane Postman of Yorktown, Virginia. “Knowing a child is dealing with family issues or poverty can lead a teacher to make allowances or adaptations to help a struggling child succeed. This can ward off some behavioral problems and help the child to save face.”

When a disagreement or confrontation arises, show the student how to deal with it in a dignified manner and maintain the integrity of your classroom. Frank Iannucci, a math and computer science teacher from West Orange, New Jersey, says teachers should immediately stop the confrontation and arrange to discuss it with the student in a mature, adult manner, regardless of the age of the student, after the period. This demonstrates to students that fights can be stopped before they get out of hand.
Amy Van Wormer of St. Petersburg, Florida, agrees. “Respectfully remind them of why they are there, and continue with the lesson. If [the behavior] continues, request to meet [the student] privately outside of the class,” she says. “[Ask the student] to make the right choices and ask why they are having trouble doing the right thing.”

Never engage a student in front of classmates. It embarrasses the student in public, sends a message that you don’t care for the student’s feelings, and could potentially escalate the situation.
“Maintain control of your own actions and somehow find a way to give the disruptive student an ‘out’ so that he or she can back down without losing too much face,” says Barela. “Another option, if possible, is to remove the student from the learning environment so that the two of you can deal with the issue privately. Even taking a short walk out in the hall can do wonders for both of you.”



If you react to everything that goes on in a classroom, you’ll lose too much valuable teaching time. If the primary problem is one child’s behavior, you can talk to him or her in private, but as long as the student isn’t disrupting the class, it’s not worth stopping instruction to address a situation.
Linda Marino, a special education teacher in Mexico, New York, has one method to avoid power struggles. “I have certain students who love to instigate and distract each other, so I made distraction tickets. I give students a ticket when they ignore the negative behavior of another and do not let that student distract them. At the end of the day, we have a lottery drawing with the daily distraction tickets and the winner gets a special prize from me.” 

Keep your composure while dealing with students, because disruptive students will look for any opening to create chaos. You need to be a role model for students and show how to properly deal with an argument.
“Don't get ‘in their face’ and stay calm!” says Holland. “Also, don’t take it personally. Kids run rampant on emotions and if handled correctly, you can usually keep it under control.”

Fighting for the last word in an argument only prolongs the argument. Try to understand where the student is coming from, but don’t add more fuel to the fire by adding a quick jab at the end.
According to Christopher Perillo, a high school science teacher in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “Teachers who insist on having the last word are bringing themselves down to a juvenile level. Students will remember this and that teacher’s value will be diminished.”

It is much better to focus on what you don’t understand by using “I statements” and “feeling statements” rather than “you statements.” This will allow the student to explain instead of argue their point. It also allows the student to understand that the teacher isn’t trying to pin them into a corner or assess blame, but rather understand the student’s actions.
“We all can get angry at some point in our lives, but how we deal with it constructively is important,” says Patrice Palmer, a second-grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Using ‘I’ messages and not ‘you, you, you’ messages is important because it doesn’t put someone on the defensive.”
Following these dos and don’ts should help you run a smoother classroom and allow students to be academically engaged instead of engaging in arguments.

The above article was taken from:  

Avoiding Power Struggles with Students

Monday, May 9, 2016

State Testing: Why it's Important

In education today, students are quite familiar with mandated-state testing.  Letters get sent home to families explaining the test, and staff appropriately prepares students in hopes for each student’s success on the test.  Starting early in students’ educational years, they understand that there will be certain days dedicated to this type of testing.  By the time students get to high school, the testing plays a major role in their goals and plans for after graduation.  

At Beaver Dam High School, freshman and sophomore students just completed the state test called the ACT Aspire.  This test is an indicator of where the students will score when they take the ACT during their junior year.  Students are tested in the areas of reading, math, science, writing, and English.  It is a time-based test that is completed on a computer, and the high school has an adjusted schedule for two days to ensure a positive environment.  Students are reminded of doing their best on the test, but why is it so important?

When results are made available (usually over the summer), administration begins to read through and analyze the results.  The student-service department places students in appropriate classes depending on the student scores.  Staff get the opportunity to discuss and analyze the scores within their departments and make changes to their instruction if needed.  Based on scores from the tests, students can begin to narrow down their choices of colleges or other plans after high school, continue to work in areas that need improvement (as indicated on the test), and take appropriate classes that will challenge them the last two years of high school.  According to Crystal Bates, Associate Principal of Curriculum and Instruction, “The results we receive are key to the future pathway of all students.  They provide additional benchmarks and help teachers with their instruction.  Students are able to see if they are at grade level in each subject and on track to be college and career ready.”  

When you hear a statement that includes “state testing,” understand that schools, specifically Beaver Dam High School, take this exercise seriously because of the impact it has on the future of our students.  Students put forth their best efforts this year on the ACT Aspire,  and we hope that the results indicate that our ACT scores will continue to be the highest in the area!  

Sunday, May 1, 2016

An open letter to the teachers of the Beaver Dam Unified School District:

As National Teacher Appreciation Week falls upon us, I am reminded of a Japanese proverb: “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”  The students that comprise the Beaver Dam Unified School District have experienced unprecedented academic growth and success over the past 18 months.  Without underestimating the hard working students and wonderful families that populate Beaver Dam schools, our world class teachers who serve these students are the foundation of the advancements we have made.  

Our teachers who work with our students are incredibly busy people because schools are busy places.  It is easy to forget the profound impact that great teachers have on students.  This week provides all an opportunity to stop and reflect on the great teachers who have reached out and touched our lives and the lives of the students they serve.  At times this is done with an inviting smile, an encouraging conversation, or a push to reach for goals once seen as unattainable.  Take a minute to think about a teacher who impacted your life.  Think about the footprint they left on you.  Send that person a note this week, thank them, and remind that person of the impact they have on the future world in which we will live.  Remind our youth to focus on the positive aspects of their lives, to reflect on the growth they have made this school year,  and to recognize the tremendous impact a teacher had on their successes.  

This letter is my opportunity to thank the teachers of the Beaver Dam Unified School District: past and present.  I want to extend my most heartfelt thank you to the teachers who shaped my future as I moved through BDUSD as a student and as a young professional.  Most importantly, thank you to our current teachers who work diligently every day to create a better tomorrow for the children and young adults of our community.  Any effort to create a kinder, brighter future for our community and country will begin and end in our schools.  Together we are building tomorrow by guiding our students and empowering their futures.  

Thank you!

Steve Vessey
Beaver Dam Unified School District