We Always Have a Choice

    Skim or 2%, the red shirt or the green one, the highway or the scenic route.  The ability to make decisions is an extremely civilized act as choices are not always a luxury every species on this earth has.  Often the decisions we are faced with yield very few or minimal effects (such as wearing brown or black today) while others can have a much larger impact on one’s future (a degree in education or engineering). 

    Recently I finished the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.  The book chronicles the life of Paul Farmer, a Harvard Doctor of Infectious Disease that has dedicated his life’s work to the health of Cange, an impoverished community in rural Haiti.  

    By the end of the book a boy named John has developed an extremely aggressive cancer that has emaciated his body.  John has a feeding tube and a nurse almost constantly clearing his throat of secretions.  In urban Haiti no treatment exists that gives John the hope of a future.  The only option is to somehow transport John to Boston in the United States to receive treatment that might save his life.  Unfortunately John requires a machine to suction the secretions from his throat and lungs which is not a possibility on any commercial airlines, therefore leaving a medevac as the only option which costs nearly $20,000, an amount that could be used to treat many other patients with serious but treatable ailments.  The decision that follows is a hard one, the decision where most would choose to save the many; however, Farmer does not proceed as most of us would.

    As an educator this moment reminds me painfully of the times I have had to choose which students would receive extra support to help them succeed, most of the time on standardized tests.  It is no secret that these decisions have to be made in education.  If we had limitless resources then doubtless each student would receive their own private tutor to meet each of their own individual needs, for they all have them whether high or low performers.  The question is how do I make this decision in good conscience.

    Farmer doesn’t do what most would expect.  He makes the decision to financially invest in John.  John arrives in Boston by medevac to receive the free and state of the art treatment only to die weeks later.  While thousands of families in Haiti could have used the medical benefits that $20,000 could have provided, Farmer in his “impracticality” and “inefficiency”, as many would call it, focused on the patient at hand.  He lives for what exists in front of him, for Farmer understands the impact of a job well done with only one.  In medicine this theory rings true as one neglected sick man can be the downfall of a village. 

    But the same can be said of education.  If we focused on the students in front of us, if we gave our attention to each child who clearly longs to be noticed and nourished and educated, then how far would that child’s achievements ring?  Into how many hearts of peers and parents and siblings would that child’s successes resonate?  To how many degrees does on man’s influence resound?

    All too often we as educators focus on the big picture, the numbers, the 98%’s and above.  We desire to see 100% met standard, 100% attendance, 100% graduation, but we all too often forget the individual child.

    Just as Kidder asks, “How does one person with great talents come to exert a force on the world?”  I believe its in giving our heart to each moment, giving our focus to the individuals that need us most, knowing our vision but never getting lost in it.

To a New Education: Students Sharing Their Brilliance

In 1886, not many years after the near destruction of Atlanta, Georgia during the Civil War, Dr. John Pemberton created what is now arguably the most successful product ever sold in the United States and across the World–Coca-Cola.  The revolutionary, unique carbonated beverage spread quickly across the nation as the natural addition to everyday life, a companion to sports events, weekend picnics, afternoons at the beach, or even on the warfront.  No place existed where Coca-Cola could not enhance the experience.

Our visit to the Coca-Cola factory in Atlanta this past Monday as a quick jaunt between the “20 to Watch” events left me wondering how a single product could so seamlessly insert itself into the fabric of American culture.  Has any other product so perfectly correlated with our core beliefs as humans so to become an iconic figure in not only American History, but the World’s.

CocaColaSlogansMy trip to Atlanta was not inspired by a trip to the Coca-Cola factory (although its become one of the highlights of the trip), but as one selected as a “20 to Watch” educator.  The “20 to Watch” are selected once a year for their outstanding and innovative use of technology to improve the education of our children in American schools.  The “20 to Watch” events in Atlanta consisted of a quick interview, a roundtable discussion, a recognition ceremony, and an evening meal together.  Needless to say, my favorite part was the dinner at the magnificent Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill and Brewery in downtown Atlanta, but not just because of the tender pork loin, but because of the rich conversation with my fellow “20 to Watch” selections.  “Impressive” would be an understatement when attempting to describe their deep understanding and passion for the integration of technology, their heart for their children, and the horizons each visionary painted with their inspirational words.  The conclusion that technology has arrived as a well established and effective tool in education would be hard to argue against as each individual spoke of the inventive ways their students are not only consuming information but creating and collaborating and sharing and truly succeeding.

But is this the norm?

Most teachers, when asked about their technology use would respond with vigor that “Yes, my students use technology in creative ways to do things like writing poetry and fiction, creating informative powerpoints, and using educational apps to help individualize instruction.”  And these teachers would be correct; they are using technology in the classroom, and in ways that are greatly helping our students to succeed, but have teachers truly arrived in their ability to prepare students for what our economical world truly requires?

During a completely unrelated to “20 to Watch” moment during my trip to Atlanta, I came to a revelation about my own lack of technology use in my professional life.  A conversation with a family member in Atlanta about how he promotes his own business simply by seeking publications with magazines and books brought me to a more concrete realization that the historical tides have landed us in a time when an individual has the opportunity to control his own marketing, create and share his own unique products and services, and use technology in efficient and effective ways to improve our businesses and our communities.  This gentleman runs an extremely successful and profitable business, but only because he’s taken the initiative to become an expert in his field, and he consistently creates information for his audience, establishing himself as a knowledgeable and credible choice for employing his service.

That I have utilized similar avenues to share my expertise would be far from the truth.  Changing my mindset has been difficult since I began my career some six years ago.  I cannot say my education (grade school, undergraduate, or graduate) truly prepared me for what is required to thrive in this workforce.  Only after some valuable mentoring from my principal, Todd Nesloney have I begun to skim the service of all the possibilities technology offers to improve my efficiency and influence in my field of education.

Like Coca-Cola, technology has taken our society by storm, becoming part of our daily lives, but have we truly learned to use it as a responsible part of our lifestyle?  Just as drinking a Coke at the ballpark has become something natural, has technology become ingrained in the way we do life effectively?  Has social media become a way for our students to escape reality or a way to enrich it?  Are convenient communication platforms like facetime, google hangout, and text messaging making our students lazy or opening up new doors to a global society?  Are Web 2.0 platforms even being utilized by our students to share their brilliance?

Each of our students has a gift to offer the world.  The antiquated educational system did not have the means nor the necessity to establish itself as an immediate benefit to society.  Teachers were making investments in each child for a secure, satisfying, and prosperous future, and rightly so.  But that future was defined with the supposition that our children would one day become successful adults with careers.  While this definition is still relevant today, it does not require that our students wait until adulthood to share their brilliance with the world.  They have something to offer now.

Let us as educators actively provide our students with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to share their genius.  I believe that is our new calling.

Moral Development Through Literature

Moral Development:  Ethics, Moral Dilemmas

Rationale:  Incorporating moral development with the academic curriculum can be easy and convenient.  Doing so can also lead students to think from other perspectives, engage in metacognition, and develop a theory of mind.

Activity:  Lickona, Schaps, and Lewis (2007) believe that “addressing current ethical issues in science, debating historical practices and decisions, and discussing character traits and ethical dilemmas in literature” are great opportunities for students to consider the morals of others and how these same morals may reflect their own beliefs and values.  For example, a teacher may discuss the loyalty of the colonists during the revolutionary war to their families and state.  Students could also read passages such as “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” to consider their own beliefs about freedom and what freedom really looks like in the academic setting.

Students, through these lessons could then begin to create their own Statement of Beliefs which would be the basis by which they make decisions in the classroom.  Any positive or negative decisions could be directed back to the Statement of Beliefs in order to juxtapose the belief with the action.  This activity leads students to reflect about their actions and consider if their actions really align with what they believe, and if not to determine what the action would be.


Having an ongoing journal of these experiences documents growth and the thought process. Journaling about these thoughts serves as an important medium through which a student can elaborate and expound on their beliefs and actions that accompany them.

The Whole Child Series – Week 7

Moral Development:  Class Code, internalization of morals

Rationale:  One of the factors that contributes to the internalization of morals is the strength of the relationship with the child and discussing how the child’s behaviour affects himself and others.  Within the classroom, many children will not have these relationships in the home, therefore the student-teacher relationship is paramount in internalizing morals in the student.  The teacher also must engage in conversation with the student in times of misbehavior and not just rely on behaviourist approaches such as rewards and punishment.

Activity:  Teachers must not wait for a student to misbehave to discuss how behaviors affect ourselves and others.  Teachers can easily engage students in these conversations through a variety of means.  Below are a few examples:

  1. Fictional scenarios read by the students and discussed in groups or as a class.
    1. Ex: Leroy stole a pencil from Jenny’s bag.  What are the possible consequences for Leroy.  How do Leroy’s actions also affect Jenny?  Could Leroy’s actions affect anyone else?
  2. Response stories:  Students are given a scenario that requires a response.  Students discuss different ways they would respond in the scenario and how each action affects themselves and others.  This is also a good opportunity to talk about problem-focused and emotion-focused coping skills.
  3. Class discussion of classroom rules.  Why is a specific rule important/needed?  How will it help us function successfully in the class?  Are their natural consequences to breaking a particular rule?  What are the natural rewards for following a rule?
  4. Moral dilemma share time:  Students share a time in their life when they had to make a decision, what the decision was, and the result of the decision.

The Whole Child Series – Week 6

Moral Development:

Self-Regulation, Self-Monitoring

Rationale:  Due to many factors, many students lack the ability and/or drive to monitor and reflect on their own behaviors.  This may be because of disengagement or boredom, perceived low self-efficacy, low self-esteem, absence of executive functioning, etc.  To support students with these conditions, a teacher may provide a systematic process of self-monitoring and reflection that eventually demonstrates to the student that she can regulate her behaviors and emotions.


Activity:  Bandura (1993) presents a systematic self-efficacy enhancing system that incorporates self-regulation, goal setting, and reflection to increase intrinsic motivation.  Firstly, it’s important that students and parents recognize the student’s own behavioral deficiencies.  The teacher presents these deficiencies along side positive characteristics the student possesses in order to maintain self-esteem but also realistically communicate negative behaviors/characteristics.  The teacher, parent, and student then collaborate to establish specific, measurable, and realistic goals for the student.  These goals are recorded in a self-monitoring document such as Figure 1 below.  The goal of the student is to begin unconsciously monitoring her own behavior.  Motivating the student may necessitate a temporary extrinsic reward, but once perceived self-efficacy is observed, the extrinsic motivation should be removed, leaving intrinsic motivation as the driving force for positive behavior.  In the first several weeks, when this self-monitoring is most unnatural for the student, the teacher provides a signal to remind the student to reflect on behavior over the last 15, 30, or 60 minutes (time determined on previous meeting).  The student will quickly answer each question and continue the classroom task.

In the first several weeks the teacher and student will meet every day to discuss the student’s behavior.  This eventually will become once every few days, to once a week, to just occasional, informal discussions.  The goal is not to maintain a rigorous self-reflective, self-monitoring program for years or even many months, but to eventually remove the documentation process, depending on cognitive reflexes to monitor behavior.


Figure 1:  Sample Self-Monitoring Document

Goal 1: I will respond respectfully to teacher directions.
Question How often did you respond respectfully to teacher directions over the last 15 minutes?
Examples -Complying the first time, replying with “Yes sir or No sir”, asking questions to clarify, etc.
Non-Examples -Smacking lips, insubordination, yelling, asking “Why” in a disrespectful tone, arguing, etc.
Response Intervals
1st 15 Minutes 1.Never   2. Sometimes       3. Most of the time       4. Always
2nd 15 Minutes 1.Never   2. Sometimes       3. Most of the time       4. Always
3rd 15 Minutes 1.Never   2. Sometimes       3. Most of the time       4. Always
4th 15 Minutes 1.Never   2. Sometimes       3. Most of the time       4. Always


The Whole Child Series – Week 5

Emotional Development:

Empathy, Self-Regulation, Expression

Rationale: “The child’s love of learning is intimately linked with a zest for play” (Almon, 2003 via Levine and Munsch, 2014).  Anyone who has spent anytime with a child knows play as an integral part of their life, and not without many benefits.  Play helps children express, regulate, and understand emotions.  Specifically, fantasy play gives children the opportunity to imaginatively express their thoughts and emotions through actions when language cannot yet suffice.  Fantasy play also engages students in empathic thinking.  Watson and Fischer (1977) noted that the type of fantasy play progresses based on cognitive abilities of the child.  As the child moves away from egocentric thought, s/he begins to take the role of others such as a doctor taking care of a sick boy or a mother cooking dinner for the family.

I believe fantasy play may also fit within the late elementary grades.  Although the play may not look the same as a 2-6 year old engaging in fantasy play, it still has emotional development benefits such as helping students regulate and express their own emotions, and understanding the emotions of others.

Activity:  Students in groups are each given a situation and a role card.  The situation card explains the setting, the dilemma, and any character relationships.  The role card gives a description of the student’s individual character including name, gender, race, temperament, and any other defining characteristics such as health or emotional state.

The teacher then asks each student to first read his/her role card silently and then one person from the group to read the situation card aloud.  As a student reads the situation card the other students close their eyes and begin to imagine how their particular character may react in this situation.  After a few minutes to think through the situation and the character viewpoints, students begin to act out the situation from the perspective of their character.  The teacher should closely monitor to help students who may struggle thinking from another person’s point of view.

After the activity is over the teacher should engage the students in a discussion to help the class think through their experience.  Some possible questions could be:

  1. Do you ever have feelings similar to your character?
  2. How would you deal with this situation?  How does this differ from how your character dealt with it?
  3. Do you agree or disagree with how your character felt/reacted?
  4. How do you feel about how the other characters reacted to you?


I look forward to hearing your responses.  If you decide to use any of these strategy in your own class, please let me know how it goes.  Respond in the comments below or share your comments on twitter using #WholeChildS.


Almon, J. (2003). The vital role of play in early childhood education. In S. Olfman (Ed.), All work and no play: How educational reforms are harming our preschoolers (pp.17-42). Westport, CT: Praeger.
Levine, L.E. & Munsch, J. (2014). Child development: an active learning approach. Canada: SAGE Publications

The Whole Child Series – Week 4

Social Development:  language development

Rationale:  Many students, due to a home environment lacking in richness of vocabulary and expression, fail to express themselves fully.  They often rely on short, minimal responses to questions rather than elaborate explanations using academic language and precise social language.  Teachers can help students develop more elaborative language abilities by simply requiring all responses be in complete sentence with the appropriate vocabulary, however, there are other activities a teacher could incorporate as well.

Activity:  Below are a list of activities a teacher could incorporate to encourage students to respond completely and elaborately.

  1. Provide students with short, ambiguous phrases.  Require that the students explain what these phrases mean.  Students should then compare answers to see if each person interpreted the phrase in the same way.  This activity should clearly show the limitations of non-elaborative, minimal speech.
  2. Teachers engage students in a process called mind-sketching.  Mind-sketching gives students the opportunity to quickly reflect on learning by sketching what their mind’s eye sees for a particular topic.  For example:  After a lesson on weathering and the formation of canyons a student may quickly sketch a rock surrounded by different erosive actions such as water, ice, or wind.  The student then turns to a partner and explains the picture using the academic language.  Teachers should monitor discussions to ensure accuracy and correct vocabulary usage.  (This activity is particularly good for non-verbal students)
  3. Engage students in collaborative discussion using strategies such as those developed by Dr. Spencer Kagan.  Preteach the academic language and challenge students to incorporate them through their discussions.  Click here for examples.
  4. Susan Gross also provides many Total Physical Response Activities for building vocabulary specifically for English Language Learners.  See here.  

I’m looking forward to hearing your responses.  If you decide to use any of these strategy in your own class, please let me know how it goes.  Respond in the comments below or share your comments on twitter using #WholeChildS.

The Whole Child Series – Week 3

Rationale:   In the second stage of development (pre-operational stage) according to Piaget’s Theory children have an inability to think from another’s perspective.  This state called egocentrism goes beyond not trying to understand someone else’s perspective, but rather a cognitive limitation in the child’s mind that hinders this process.  By fourth or fifth grade this limitation should no longer exist and can lead to unhealthy social interactions.  Empathic thinking is a critical skill in order to understand someone else’s feelings and thoughts which leads to more appropriate, warm interactions with peers.

The following activity leads the student to engage in metacognition (thinking about one’s own thinking) and empathetic thinking, thinking about someone else’s thoughts.  By the end of the lesson the student should begin to see how different points of view can change our opinions about the same situation.  This activity should hopefully lead them to think about other’s perspective in their own situations before reacting impulsively.

Teachers may interestingly observe certain students that may exhibit hostile attributional bias, revealing a subsidiary cognitive condition needing intervention.

Activity:  Students are given a story about a peer to peer conflict such as the one below.  The story can be read independently, as a guided reading, or partner reading depending on the needs of the students.  Once the passage is read, the students write down their answers to opinion probing questions.

Sample Lesson:

Kristina and Raul were in a group together in math class.  In class the teacher reminded all the students that the rough draft of their project was due the following class period.  For the remainder of the class period Raul and Kristina worked diligently to complete the assignment.  Right before the bell rang Kristina insisted Raul keep the paper since she knew she was quite unorganized at times.  The next day Kristina arrived to class and realized Raul was out for a band trip that had been scheduled for the last month.  Kristina was furious that Raul had forgotten to tell her that his band trip was the same day their assignment was due.

  1. Think from Kristina’s point of view.  Who might Kristina blame for not having the assignment on the due date?  What would be her reasoning?
  2. Think from Raul’s point of view.  Who might Raul blame for not having the assignment on the due date?  What would be his reasoning.

Teachers could also assign perspectives to various students and require they argue their side to a partner, then switch perspectives to argue the opposite perspective with a new partner.

Note: Students with hostile attributional bias may express an opinion such as, “Raul intentionally took the paper, knowing he was going to be absent the next day to spite Kristina.”

I’m looking forward to hearing your responses.  If you decide to use this strategy in your own class, please let me know how it goes.  Respond in the comments below or share your comments on twitter using #WholeChildS.

The Whole Child Series – Week 2

Empathy is arguably one of the most important abilities an individual can possess.  Deeply understanding the joys, pains, disappointments, desires, and hopes of another not only better informs us to make selfless decisions, but can drive us toward the most powerful kind of mission, the kind that is beyond ourselves, the kind that pursues the collective good.

On an academic level building empathy in children can result in more positive relationships and better cooperation with peers, decreased discipline problems in schools, better emotional adjustment, and higher levels of academic success.  Therefore developing empathy should be of significant focus by educators at any level.

For an example of an activity that can help build empathy in students, continue reading.

Social Development:  Recursive Thinking, Metacognition, Empathy

Rationale: In the second stage of development (preoperational stage) according to Piaget’s Theory children have an inability to think from another’s perspective.  This state called egocentrism goes beyond not trying to understand someone else’s perspective, but rather a cognitive limitation in the child’s mind that hinders this process.

The following activity leads the student engage in recursive thinking, a process requiring metacognition and the ability to think about someone else’s thinking about your own thinking.  This is a process developing at this age and therefore scaffolds should be included to aid students with cognitive deficiencies.

Activity:  Two students are each given five cards.  The cards for each student are numbered as 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  Each player reveals one card at a time in hopes of placing a card with a number higher than his/her opponent. The object of the game is to get the most books possible.

Students must engage in recursive thinking as they must try to guess if their partner will play high or low cards.  Ideally an individual would win a book by playing a card exactly one digit higher than the opponents card.  This would win the book and also save other higher cards for later rounds.  As more games are played the students would have to begin noticing patterns of thought in their opponent to make the most beneficial plays.  This process requires the student to think not only about the thoughts of the opponent, but also about what the opponent thinks about his/her thoughts.

The current explanation of this activity is at a very basic level in order to reduce cognitive load and increase automaticity for the student for the task at hand.  This process could be made more difficult by adding various factors to the game such as different colors or shapes or additional players.


Try this strategy out with your own students.  Did you feel the activity was successful in promoting empathy or metacognition?  How would you change the activity to improve the outcomes?  Comment below or tweet about it using #WholeChildS.

Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.