David Helter didn't enjoy the note he found on his desk following his
absence. He had left his sixth-grade classroom for one day to improve
his professional practice by attending my "Teaching for Respect
and Responsibility" seminar. He returned the next day and found
the following communiqué written by the substitute teacher:
"I had a very frustrating day. I found your class of sixth graders
to be immature and disrespectful. I had trouble quieting them down,
their listening skills seemed nonexistent, and they frequently put each
other down. I gave two students detention notices. Brandon and Justin
refused to cooperate, and I finally sent them to the office. Although
they were the biggest troublemakers, several other students contributed
to the overall negative atmosphere. Some students were cooperative and
respectful, but not many. You sure have your hands full here. Good luck
the rest of the year."
David read the note three times. He had no trouble visualizing the
picture painted by the substitute teacher. Each time he read it, his
anger climbed to a new level.
Possible punishments and penalties rushed through his mind. Fragments
of lecturebursts formed as he mulled over how to respond to the situation
created by his eleven- and twelve-year-old students. As he waited for
them to arrive for class that morning, David prepared himself to move
in with the words and actions that he felt his students deserved. But
it was at this point that he recalled something he had learned at the
professional development seminar the day before: "Move up before
you move in."
Although the "Move up before you move in" concept had been
new to him, David immediately recognized it as a strategy he could use.
He knew it could help him be the type of teacher - the type of person
- he really wanted to be. While learning it, however, he had had no
idea he would be putting it to use so quickly.
What David learned at the seminar was this: Before you move in to deal
with a situation, it is important to take time to move up . . . to a
higher consciousness, to a higher self. He knew he would have to rise
above this particular situation in order to avoid taking it personally.
He realized he would have to raise his consciousness in order to free
himself from the emotional snarl he had felt when he first read the
note. He knew that if he didn't want to add the energy of frustration
and anger to the mix, he would have to detach emotionally from the situation.
Not wanting to create a struggle, he decided that the most effective
way to stay off the battlefield was to rise above it. David decided
to "move up" before he "moved in."
David took the last few minutes before his class arrived to put the
skills he had learned the day before into practice. He reminded himself
not to take this scenario personally. "This is not about me,"
he told himself. "This is about my students - their behaviors,
their beliefs, their choices. It is not a reflection on my teaching
or who I am as a human being." He knew if he could disconnect his
ego from the events that had transpired, he would be more likely to
respond to his students' needs and motivations rather than to his own
unconscious needs to influence their actions.
Using another newly acquired skill, David decided to see the situation
as perfect. "It's all perfect," he repeated to himself a few
times. If his students had been respectful and cooperative, he reasoned,
that would have been perfect - the perfect time to celebrate and congratulate
them for their behavioral choices. Since they had chosen to be disrespectful
and uncooperative, that was perfect too. It was the perfect time to
help them look at their behaviors and learn from them. David knew that
if he told himself the situation was terrible, awful, and a pain to
deal with, he would not be moving up in consciousness. But by realizing
the situation was indeed perfect, he continued to ascend.
"What is, is," David thought to himself. He remembered that
any time spent wishing, hoping, or "shoulding" ("things
should be different") was time that would not be invested in solving
the problem. He knew he had to accept the "is-ness" of the
situation emotionally before he could effectively search for solutions
to improve it.
From his newly created perspective of not taking the situation personally,
realizing that it was perfect, and refusing to resist it emotionally,
David quickly created a few ideas to present to his class. When the
bell rang and his students began filing in, he was ready.
"Please take out a piece of paper," David directed, after
the morning routines were completed. "I have several questions
I want to ask you concerning the events that transpired yesterday when
the sub was here. Please respond privately and nonverbally."
David used the overhead projector to create a continuum numbered from
1 to 10. "Rate yourself on this Respect Scale," he suggested.
"Ten means you were respectful the entire day. Zero means you were
totally disrespectful. Place an X where you feel you personally belong
on the scale. Then write a two-sentence explanation that tells why you
placed yourself where you did on the continuum.
"Now do the same thing on another continuum," he continued.
"Only this time, think in terms of the entire class. How respectful
was the class to the substitute teacher? Once again, give me a two-sentence
"Next, complete the following three-sentence starters:
I was being respectful when . . .
I was being disrespectful when . . .
One thing I could do to be more respectful next time is . . .
David sat back and watched as his sixth graders struggled with the
thinking skills he had set before them. The point of the assignment
- self-appraisal, self-evaluation, and self-reflection - was to help
his students become conscious of their behaviors on the previous day.
When the students finished writing their responses, David put them
in groups to compare and contrast answers. He then heard a report from
a spokesperson from each group. Following the reports, David asked students
to generate a class list of what they had learned during the activity.
The list follows:
With the list complete, David had each student begin a Respect and
Responsibility notebook. Their first entries included their personal
responses to the self-appraisal debriefing questions and the class's
list of what they had learned. He then had his sixth graders add a paragraph
detailing what they intended to do differently next time.
The debriefing now complete, David moved on to social studies. Before
he did so, however, he paused a moment to give himself a mental pat
on the back to acknowledge his efforts to put what he had learned at
the seminar into practice. He liked what he had chosen to do, he liked
who he had chosen to be, and he liked the results. He was grateful that
he had learned to move up before he moved in.
Chick Moorman is the author of "Spirit
Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child's Spirit." He also publishes
a FREE email newsletter for parents and another for educators. Subscribe
to them when you visit www.chickmoorman.com.
Chick Moorman is one of the world's foremost authorities on raising
responsible, caring, confident children. For more information about
how he can help you or your group meet your teaching needs, visit his