Archive | December, 2011

May seem unethical, but hear me out…

16 Dec

On one of my random google searches for resources I found this blog posting by Tina Janc.  I do not know Tina, but she and I share a love for Cesar Millan (what’s that you ask? The Dog Whisperer?  Yes, the Dog Whisperer).  She and I agree that calm, assertive energy he requires dog owners to have over their pets can also be applied in the classroom.  This is what I felt some might say is completely unethical; how dare I apply lessons learned from a dog trainer in my everyday practices with students.

Here is what she wrote…

Calm, Assertive, Consistent – Cesar in the Classroom by Tina Janc

Read at “When Writing Teachers Write V” Forum: October 18, 2006,+Assertive,+Consistent+-+Cesar+in+the+Classroom+by+Tina+Janc

A teacher who can’t manage the classroom makes everybody miserable: students, administrators, support staff, other teachers, and most importantly—herself. A new teacher starts out with a classroom and the school holds a collective breath. Will this one be able to keep those kids in line?
The curriculum can’t be learned in a classroom controlled by the children. As a result, there is an abundance of classroom management information. There are books, conferences, professional development—all designed to help teachers manage unruly classrooms. In eleven years as a teacher, I’ve heard a lot, seen a lot and read a lot about classroom management. Boys and Girls Town of America and Love and Logic both provide solid classroom management information, but I now have the best source for classroom management success: watch the Dog Whisperer.

I have never been comfortable around animals—I don’t have any pets nor do I plan to acquire a pet. I hate when friends start in with their cute pet stories—I am not that sort of person—but I am drawn to the Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan is a dog psychologist with a television show on the National Geographic channel. I love this show, much to the confusion of my family, who know me as the “get that animal out of my house” mom.

The show is pretty simple in design. In the beginning of every show, the frantic dog owners wring their hands and whine to the camera about their beloved Duke’s naughty behavior. In the background the camera zooms in on Duke, who likely has the toddler cornered ready to tear off her arm. If the out-of control rotweiler, terrier, German Shepard, shih tzu, schnauzer, mutt is not out to maim a family member, then they are likely a neighborhood tyrant ready to kill the pomeranian next
door. Serious issues.

In struts Cesar Millan, Dog Whisperer. He walks in, stands close to the deviant dog, points his finger and “Tsst!” Duke drops the toddler’s arm and is cured! I’m not kidding—he’s that good. He gets every dog every time. Cesar Millan is a behavior management genius who can always get a dog into a “calm, submissive state”. Now, some dogs won’t stay there right away because they have been damaged enough by human owners to require long-term rehabilitation. These dogs go to Cesar’s dog psychology center where they will receive intense management therapy in order to learn how to live within the pack. However, most dogs don’t require a trip to Cesar’s dog center. Most dogs respond immediately to Cesar’s management plan.

Our students are just like these dogs. They run around the classroom like puppies on speed, fight over territory, and refuse to listen when given a rational command. They’re out of control.

We gather together in the teacher’s lounge, wring our hands and whine about our students’ naughty behavior. There’s no camera, but we are Cesar Millan’s dog owners. Cesar Millan: the Dog Whisperer who pretends to correct dogs—his real job is to rehabilitate people. We can learn a lot from him.

Every show it is the owner’s behavior causing the dog to not be able to be “calm submissive”. And every show Cesar gives the same advice.

· Always be calm, assertive, and consistent. Establish yourself as the “pack leader” by establishing “rules, boundaries and limitations”. Project a calm personality. Never scream, hit, or lose your temper. Keep your voice quietly firm. From a calm center, establish yourself as the assertive pack leader. Stand straight, make eye contact—be convinced that you are in charge and the dog will believe it too.

· Follow through. Your expectations are clear and reasonable so follow through with correction every time an expectation is violated. Treat your dogs equally or you will create confusion and animosity in the pack. Be calm, assertive and consistent. This is the only way to be respected as the pack leader.

· Focused exercise is essential. Being cooped up in small spaces for long periods of time will create behavior problems. Walk your dog. Encourage him to run and play and release his energy. Keep him actively engaged in meaningful activities. If not appropriately engaged he might release his energy on the dog sitting next to him.

· Give your dog affection. Play with her, hug her, let her lick your face if that seems
appropriate. She wants to be loved. Just don’t confuse her by giving her affection at the same moment she is breaking your clearly established rules, boundaries and limitations.

After the initial scenes of Duke’s horrifying behavior, Cesar teaches these simple principles to the dog owners. I love the shock on the owners’ faces when they first see how easy it is for Cesar to get their dogs into a calm, submissive state. Their mouths drop open like they just saw the Kansas City Royals win the pennant. But when they practice being calm, assertive—and realize they can be the leader of their dogs—the astonishment in their eyes turns into hope.

I realize children are not dogs, but certainly as teachers we are often well meaning, but off-course classroom managers. We blame the kids, we blame the administration, we blame the parents, we blame society—and certainly some of our students need long-term rehabilitation—but ultimately, WE are responsible for the behaviors in our classroom. When problems arise in my classroom, the first place I need to look is myself. Am I reacting with calm assertiveness, or did I loose my temper when Thomas refused, for the 25th time, to complete his reading assignment? Does Thomas refuse because he is bored, and not actively engaged? Did I take Sandra’s bait and give her affection when she really needed correction? Did Alicia act out because in my excitement for Henry David Thoreau I left my calm state?

Maybe all the management information we get is just too complicated. What if we followed Cesar’s advice? Love our students, make sure they are actively engaged everyday to release their energy, and always remain calm, assertive and consistent. To any teacher struggling with classroom management: Check your local listings for Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer who offers hope to
teachers as well as dog owners.

This was my comment…

I couldn’t agree more!
Jan 17 2009, 12:20 PM EST
Hi Tina
I am a Teacher Candidate in Toronto On and I have become an avid Dog Whisperer fan for the same reasons you have. Although I have only complete one practice teaching so far, I quickly became aware that my students could smell fear and felt that they could take leadership because at first I was too scared to myself. I have been introduced to many of the classroom management techniques and I tried to apply them during my practicum, but none of them worked. It wasn’t until I realized that I had to go into class calmly and act assertively with all of my students, that things began to improve! I was glad to have stumbled upon your message. Its nice to know that an experienced teacher feels the same way I do about managing their classroom! I’d love to hear examples of your experiences in class since watching dog whisperer!


The “Soul” of Education – Humanities Matter

15 Dec

Let me first begin by stating, that I am clearly biased in favour of the humanities as a drama and history teacher.  Now with that out of the way…

I have just begun reading a book by Martha C. Nussbaum titled, “Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities”.  Only six pages into the first chapter and already I am intrigued by the content and theories that have been introduced thus far.  She argues that democracy, and therefore the economy and our humanity cannot survive without a serious reformation of our current mainstream education systems.   Our schools and the those who have the power to enforce policy and curriculum overwhelmingly support and system of education which caters to the here and now of the current economic climate.  Math, Sciences and Technology are all the rage while the humanities and arts are left on the back burner.  Nussbaum makes reference to educators Rabindranath Tagore and Amos Bronson Alcott when she discusses the word ‘soul’ in an educational context;

“…the faculties of thought and imagination that make us human and make our relationships rich human relationships, rather than relationships of mere use and manipulation.  When we meet in society, if we have not learned to see both self and other in a way, imagining in one another inner faculties of thought and emotion, democracy is bound to fail, because democracy is built upon respect and concern, and these in turn are built upon the ability to see people as human beings, not simply as objects.”

~ Martha C Nussbaum, Not For Profit:Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, P. 6.

Over and over again, the media and popular psychology suggest that today’s youth are self-entitled and have labeled them as Generation Me.   When I speak with other educators I continually hear the greatest challenge they face with students is a lack of critical thinking skills that they feel often comes across as laziness.   Whether these claims are completely true or not, it is interesting to consider a possible correlation between an apathetic generation of youth and systems of education that do not value the humanities.  I doubt many high school classes could teach empathy or encourage collaborative creation better than drama.   Students who learn to understand our past and present through the social sciences have an opportunity to critically assess the world they live in, how it came to be and how it might or could be changed in the future.   Our educational institutions consistently encourage, enforce and promote mathematics, science and technological studies through funding and deny the importance of the arts and humanities through the same means.  Although numeracy, science and technical skills are important and relevant parts of a students education, it is just that, a part and not the only areas to be focused on.  Nussbaum argues that without the arts and humanities students are not developing the critical thinking skills needed to become informed and productive members of a democracy and that our current focus on simply creating employable workers in the current work force we are facing a “silent crisis”.

What do you think?  Is our societal disinterest in the humanities going to negatively effect our democratic systems?

Ken Robinson has got it right…

3 Dec

I am an avid Stumbler and was fortunate enough to stumble upon Ken Robinson’s talk at a TED conference in 2006 titled, “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity“.   His particular talk is one of the most popular talks on with 7,775,295 views.  He is fantastically witty and his ideas on our current school systems are ones that I share (along with 7 million other viewers).

I enjoyed his talk so much I looked Ken Robinson up online and discovered he is the author of The Element: How Finding Our Passion Changes Everything and Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.  This summer I had the pleasure of reading The Element.

The book is full of anecdotal examples of wildly successful people who were, at one point in their lives, on a path that would have led them astray from their ‘element’.  Like his Ted talk, he links problematic structures within our school systems to the hindrances faced by the men and women discussed throughout the book.

The most powerful idea for me was in the final chapter when Ken Robinson discusses how our changed economy and relationship with technology both have radical implications for our education systems.  Are the past structures of the industrial era really preparing the next generations to be successful in their personal and working lives? Did it ever really best serve the youth who graduated the system?  Ken Robinson would argue no, which is something which resonates me.

I look forward to reading Out of Our Minds in the near future.  Have you read his books or heard his talk on  What are your thoughts?

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson