Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms

What is your passion?

You know that one topic/ idea that energizes you whenever you think about it?

For me, one of my passions is school counselling. I love my job!! I also love learning about new ways to connect with my students.

When I became aware of Coursera`s MOOC Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms a few months ago I was immediately drawn to the concepts of character and positivity. As a school counsellor, I am constantly looking for new ideas and strategies to support my students in becoming the best that they can be. I was also taking #DCMOOC,  a course on digital citizenship, so I anticipated that many of the concepts and ideas from both the courses could be merged. I hoped that this course would provide me with a few tips and tricks to help me connect with my students in meaningful ways.

I was not disappointed.

Throughout the course we explored a number ideas including:

    • character strengths – those universal aspects of our personalities which will impact how we respond to our world.
    •   PERMA – Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment- a definition of happiness identified by Dr. Martin Seligman.
    • CBL character behavior language – developing metacognition of specific strengths such as grit increases resilience.

    • GMgrowth mindset – knowledge that intelligence can change.
    • CR constructive responding –  all interactions we have our students convey a message therefore strive to create purposeful  active responses.

  • micro-moments– those spontaneous teachable moments which can be enhanced through the conscious use  of CBL, GM and CR.

At the end of the course we were asked to create a visual of our learning.

This was mine

Each student is a lake.
Character Behaviour Lanugage are pebbles on a beach, you can pick up hold and examine.
Constructive Responding happens when you toss a pebble (CBL) towards your student.
Growth Mindset are the ripples that form on the lake once the pebble has been tossed. Some tosses cause large ripples, some cause smaller ones but all comments contribute to change.


Thank you to Dave Levin and the Relay Graduate School of Education for an inspirational learning opportunity.



#DCMOOC- some final thoughts

Participation in the #DCMOOC community has enlightened my views of the impact of the internet on myself, my students and our society.

I would like to say thank you to:

This short video clip is for all of you.

Supporting Students Who Experience Anxiety

Anxiety is the anticipation of the unexpected. It is a normal part of life. When harnessed it can be a positive force that can encourage us to take a chance and try something new.

However, as with all things in life, too much of anything is not good for you.

When I am explaining the purpose and process of anxiety to a student in my office I will often use visuals. For example the Yerkes Dodson Law, represented below, provides a visual on the impact of extended arousal (or stress) on a person`s ability to perform.

Anxiety are the thoughts and stress are the symptoms.

Strong anxiety can move our bodies into a physical state called the Fight or Flight Response.

 Historically our bodies evolved to protect us from physical threats such as predators. If a cave person wanted to survive they could NOT stop to think about what species of wild cat might be after them. Rather they needed to react.

Today the students in my office do not have to worry about wild cats attacking them.

However the Fight or Flight Response is still often triggered by thoughts about situations we perceive as threatening.

Common topics of concern for high school students often include: athletics,  dating, economics,  family, friendships, peer relationships,  pressure to do well, test taking,  university/college acceptance, and  world events

Don`t worry there is HOPE.

The one thing that makes us uniquely human is our ability to rationally use our brains. If we can learn to become aware of what is happening in our bodies as we are starting to become stressed… we are able to evaluate our situations and determine whether there is actually a threat, or only a perceived one. This allows us to change our thinking patterns, and then move ourselves back into our optimal performance zones.

As a school counsellor I am there to teach my student about the topic of anxiety, help them talk about their fears, and guide them through learning tips and techniques for managing their own anxieties.



Citizenship: Being a Member of a Larger Community

Over the last five weeks #DCMOOC has allowed us to connect with a variety of leaders in the field of Digital Citizenship. This past week I was able to catch the Media Smarts Overview w/ Matthew Johnson

According to Matthew Johnson of MediaSmarts, a Canadian not-for-profit organization for digital and media literacy, the latest research with teens around digital citizenship indicate that scare techniques do not inspire teens to engage in positive digital citizenship… in fact it may even promote more negative behaviors.

How do we encourage positive online behaviors?

We need to believe that students are capable of positive online behaviors.

Our conversations around citizenship need to evolve.

We need to focus on responsibility towards others, emotional regulation and teaching empathy.

Perhaps a one way to do this is to change the language we use. Terms like cyber bullying are often overused by the media. The result is a word that becomes cliché and potentially loses its impact.…. Asking students if they have ever witnessed or experienced any type of mean and cruel behavior is more specific than using the generic term cyber bullying. This more specific question encourages students to reflect back on past experience through the lense of empathy.

Another way to increase positive digital citizenship is to social norm positive online behavior. Students like to be a “part” of the crowd. If students believe that it is normal to behave negatively online they will conform with negative behavior. Therefore it is important that parents and educators take the time to point out the quality and frequency of positive youth online interactions as a form of positive peer pressure. There are many positive online communities and movements such as WE DAY which provide students with opportunities to connect with others while participating as active global citizens.

Finally lets celebrate.

Students are doing amazing things online. Just this week I was looking for information on the topic of Fair-trade to share with my junior high English classes in Japan. The majority of the work I found, which was presented at a language level my ESL students could use, were public service announcements, such as this one, produced by other junior high students from around the world.

The result- ten classes of Japanese grade nine students were not only learning English, but also reflecting on global citizenship issues. The biggest draw for the students was the realization that students in other countries were thinking about these things too.

Positive digital citizenship is about connecting, caring and sharing. It involves open dialogues, suggestions and ideas. I would love to hear how you are encouraging positive digital behavior?

Social Media- A Platform for Developing Empathy

As #DCMOOC progresses I am continuing to reflect on the meaning, impact and importance of the digital world for both my students and myself.

This week I took Alec Couros` recommendation and read through Danah Boyd’s digital book ITS COMPLICATED: THE SOCIAL LIVES OF NETWORKED TEENS

As a school counsellor, I appreciated Boyd’s attempt to give a voice to the teenage perspective surrounding social media.  The insights I have gained from reading this book will impact the way I approach discussions with my students and my own children regarding their digital conduct and identities.  I would recommend this read to colleagues, friends and even my own high school students.

Learning Life Skills

At times we can all look out at the world and worry about what MIGHT BE. Our fears may lead us to pull our children close and limit what they are able to do in an effort to protect them… but in trying to protect and shield our children we disempower them.

“Fear is not the solution: empathy is” (pg.127)

Boyd reminds us that teens use social media to socialize. It is their way of carving out a space in an over-structured world.

Reflecting on my own experiences I realized that some of my students travel over an hour each way to attend school. Many students are also involved in part time work and extra-curricular activities which do not leave a lot of opportunities to simply relax and hang out with friends.

After school typically looks something like this:

While John may have a break after school and not have to be at work until 6, Sherry goes straight from school to club and gets home just as John is leaving….. How do they remain connected? – By using an asynchronous virtual environment.- Social media

 “Many adults put pressure on teens to devote more time toward adult-prioritized practices and less time socializing, failing to recognize the important types of learning that take place when teens do connect…… adults must recognize what teens are trying to achieve and work with them to find balance and to help them think about what they are encountering.” (pg 99)

Part of growing up is learning to navigate relationships. Friendship is a SKILL. As with other skills that we teach our children, such as reading and math, it requires practice, guidance, conversations about what is happening and opportunities to learn from mistakes.

Students are puzzles not just problems

Boyd encourages society to use multiple eyes on the street- the kids who are struggling in life will also be struggling online. What do their communication patterns teach us about what is going on in their lives?

“Bullies are not evil people who decide to torment for fun; those are sociopaths. Most bullies react aggressively because they’re struggling with serious issues of their own…… It’s easy to empathize with those who are on the receiving end of meanness and cruelty. It’s much harder—and yet perhaps more important—to offer empathy to those who are doing the attacking.” (135)

As a school counsellor, I am often approached by students who need some help navigating the rapids of relationships. I value social media as a tool to sample the undercurrent of my students lives. Rather than using chat logs as a tool for penalizing student conduct, they can be used as a launching pad for important conversations.