The Black Dot Strategy

Today’s post is a follow up to the discussion with friends from the #bfc530 Twitter chat which takes place each weekday morning. The question of the day was related to what we as teachers do when we know a student is trying their hardest, but continues to act out in class. I offer this as one of the many strategies in my educator’s toolbox. I wish I could brag about being the creator, or at least remember who that person is, but sadly I am unable to claim either.

I would like to preface this piece by stating that one of the most important components of being an educator for me is building relationships. The past 17 years have taught me that creating a sense of community and trust is paramount in order for learning to take place. From the very first days of school it is very important for my students to feel comfortable, and excited about our time together. I often let them know that we are a family, and should begin treating each other as such from the start. We agree upon classroom expectations, and students know that ours is always a classroom where they will be respected, listened to, and loved. 

But every single one of us can attest to the students who push our buttons, and continue to misbehave despite our best efforts to support, engage, and yes, cajole them in the learning process. Last year I had one such student. I will not go into detail about the misbehaviors , nor the energy that I spent trying to reach him. Suffice it to say that I thought about this child well beyond the 180 days that he was in my charge. In fact, I am certain that I will never stop wondering/worrying about his life.

In my quest to find ways to re-direct the acting out, I stumbled upon the “Black Dot” strategy. In a nutshell, take a blank white sheet of paper and a marker to draw a huge square, then place a black dot inside the square. (I used a large 14 x 17 poster sheet). I posted the paper on a bulletin board where everyone could see it. Then I asked the students to tell me what they noticed when they looked at the paper. After some discussion the consensus of the class was that most students’ eyes were drawn to that little black dot. I then directed the students’ attention to the poster and asked them what took up more space, the black dot, or the white surrounding the dot. The obvious answer was that there was definitely more white space. From here I explained that we could relate this to a classroom. That the white space represents the majority of students – the students who stay focused, who want to learn, who are engaged. And you guessed it, the black dot is the student (or students), who misbehave. I asked the students to raise their hand if they had ever been in a class where the teacher focused more on that black dot than the white space. EVERY SINGLE STUDENT RAISED HIS/HER HAND. I made a promise to my class that very day that I would try my hardest to focus on the white space, the majority.

I hope that no one thinks I’m suggesting that this strategy can be used to turn a blind eye on students who misbehave. I am in no way advising teachers to simply allow misconduct. What I am offering is simply one way for a teacher to catch her breath, redirect their attention from the negative to the positive. When I employed it last year, I would simply announce, “I’m deciding to focus on all the white space I see in this classroom right now.” I would point to the poster, smile and continue with the lesson. This little statement made our class happier. My students would smile back and want to prove to me that they were the “white spaces” that I was referring to. It was one small way for any misbehaving student to try to take ownership and get back on track. I would be lying if I said this strategy worked every time, but it did help to reinforce what kinds of behaviors were expected in my classroom. And let’s face it, it makes our job that much easier when we focus on the positives.

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Regrets

Is the measure of a successful life one without regrets? Is there really such a thing? We all have hopes, dreams, desires and goals. And while we may work really hard to turn them into reality, do we always succeed? Sometimes, aren’t there obstacles that make it impossible for our wishes to come to fruition? Does this in turn mean we have not lived fully?

I have a few regrets in the life I’ve lived thus far. Presently I am struggling with a huge one. Despite how badly I desired this event to transpire, there were obstacles that got in the way. Looking back, the choices I made, or failed to make, are weighing heavy on my heart. Looking back, the path that would have led me there now seems so clear. In that moment however, the path was muddled, scary, and seemingly out of reach.

So tonight I am left with feelings of sadness, self doubt, and yes, regret. I cannot keep my mind from thinking about what might have been. And it makes me think about these obstacles that get in the way. Are they obstacles that we ourselves create? Why would we intentionally sabotage our deepest desires? Why would we set up roadblocks instead of living out the life we really want? Do these roadblocks serve a purpose? Do they appear to show you a different path for your next journey? I wish I had the answers to these questions. I think most of us live with regrets, some more than others. Knowing we can’t go back, I guess we just move forward and learn from the bumps along the way. I’m not sure anyone can live a life free of regret. I would like to hope that a successful life is NOT one measured by regret, but instead in the way we handle ourselves when these obstacles do get in our way.

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In The Moment

While sitting on the beach yesterday I was made aware of the fact that I’m not always living in the moment. My family members pointed out that I was sighing and asked me why. Upon reflection I noticed that my thoughts had strayed back to my job and the problems surrounding my school district. I quickly, and quietly tucked away those negative thoughts, but readily admitted that my mind is often plagued by the stressors created by my workplace. I made a promise to my family then and there that I would try to be present in the moment. That I would set aside the problems of school and fully enjoy this week. Isn’t it strange how easy it is to summon up negativity and dread, yet happiness and optimism is something you must work to find? Or maybe it’s just me? Perhaps most people don’t spend as much energy thinking about the what ifs in life. Or could it be that I’ve been spending too much time surrounded by negative thinkers? I know I wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time I looked forward to going to work every single day. Now I spend much of my time looking forward to weekends, vacations and summer. Hence, I’m often not living in the moment, enjoying what surrounds me today.

I recently started asking my students to record 3 things they are grateful for in a gratitude journal. I myself write along with them. We do this every single day. The rules require them to write about 3 different things every day- no repeats. This activity forces us to really look at the important things in life – the things we can’t live without, yet often take for granted. It has been about a decade since I last performed this activity for myself and with a class. It seems I have gotten off track during this time. I’m not the positive person I know I should be. So this reflective journal is one small step to get me back on course. I’m hoping it will help me dispel some of the negative baggage I’ve been carrying, and help me live more in the moment.