5 Ways “Flip the Switch” In Your Classroom:
How to go from Fuss Fest to Less Stress
By: Amie Dean
“You can’t raise positive people with negative feedback.” Boom.
I remember sitting in a conference session as a young teacher with only a few years
experience. I was listening to a very experienced gentleman leading the session about
classroom discipline. I had just moved to Atlanta and was teaching in what was proving to
be a challenging environment for me – and I was failing miserably. I’d always thought of
myself as a very positive person, and I thought I was a positive teacher. I smiled and
laughed with my students, I truly got to know them, and I gave personal, positive feedback
anytime I could. This particular year, I was struggling. I had a very challenging group of 8th
graders, all boys, who hated to read, and I was teaching them reading and language arts for
2 hours at the end of their middle school day. Let’s just say that a good time was NOT had
Because of the struggles, I asked a supervisor to come in and observe me teaching this
particular class to give feedback and hopefully strategies to help. I thought she was going to
come in and tell me how horrible the behavior was and feel sorry for me for all the
difficulties I faced. At the end of the observation, she asked me if she could be honest with
me. I, of course, said yes, that is why I invited you. She said, “Amie, you didn’t smile one
time in 2 hours.” I looked at her in a very confused way and asked, “Did you see anything to
smile about?” I was immediately defensive and disappointed. Why was she commenting on
my behavior or MY face when I asked her to come in and look at the students’ behavior?
Their behavior had been over the top and very negative almost the entire time she was in
the room. Next she said, “What I mean is you look miserable.”
I said, “I am miserable.”
“Amie, she said, “you look like you hate your job.”
I said, “I think I do.”
It was such an eye-opening and embarrassing moment for me that someone would visit my
classroom and leave thinking I hated my job. I was upset for days and really hard on myself.
Surprisingly, I had an opportunity to sign up for a big education conference a few weeks
later, and I attended a breakout session focused on classroom discipline. The gentleman
teaching it was Dr. Terry Alderman, author of Discipline A Total Approach. I thought it was
perfect – I needed this! When Dr. Alderman opened with, “You can’t raise positive people
with negative feedback,” it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Yes, my students’ behavior was very difficult, but I had only been seeing or addressing the
difficult behaviors. I was not making any attempts to notice when things were going well. I
was so focused on what was wrong that I wasn’t able to see what was right. I walked away
that day with an arsenal of new ideas to turn things around in my classroom.
I immediately began to track positive behaviors and make note of it. My new goal became to
have at least two positive comments for every one corrective statement that I made. It
wasn’t that I was letting negative behaviors go or not addressing them, I just made sure that
I spent the at least the same amount of time and verbal energy on positive behaviors as
I put specific strategies in place to make myself accountable. For example, I moved paper
clips from one pocket to the other to track positive comments. Later, I used an index card
and made small tears on the long side for every positive comment and made tears on the
short side for any corrective statements. I saw a difference in the boys’ behavior within
days. More importantly, I started to feel better about this particular class as I forced myself
to find what was working. There were always some good things going on, but I was so
overwhelmed by how “bad” everything was, that I wasn’t able to see it. I had finally found a
way to “Flip the Switch.”
5 simple ways to Flip the Switch:
[ 1 ] Write down your WHY on an index card. Post it in several places around your
room. Read it every day – every hour if you must! You came into this job with a
passion – with a desire to have an impact on your students’ lives. Hold on to that
passion. It will be your fuel when the tank is empty.
[ 2 ] Make an effort, seriously, a tangible effort, to make at least 2x as many positive
comments in your classroom than you do corrective statements. None of us spent
years in school to get a degree in nagging. Don’t let your day devolve into a fuss
fest. Only YOU can control what comes out of your mouth – own it.
[ 3 ] Take the time to write 2 positive post it notes to 2 different students each day until
every student has received one note. Of all the strategies I’ve tried over the years,
this one gave me the biggest bang for my buck! Examples include:
Dear Richard, You have a great sense of humor. You make people laugh.
Dear Jasmine, You have strong opinions. I admire your confidence.
Sign each note with your name. Remember, NO suggestions or corrections on the
positive post it!
[ 4 ] Ask an administrator, another teacher, the media center specialist to stop in and
share a compliment you gave your students while you were away from them. They
can pop in and say, “I heard you guys have really improved your efforts on being
respectful.” Mrs. Dean was bragging about you. Sit back and enjoy the smiles.
[ 5 ] ONE GOOD THING – Place a jar or container on your desk, and invite students to
write one good thing on a slip of paper anytime. You should do it as well! Randomly
pull 2 or 3 a few times a week and share with the class. Not only are you helping
change your mindset about the day, the week, or the class, but you are also
coaching your students on how to do the same. As mentors, we have the
opportunity to coach our kids through our words, responses, and actions. If we
model how to “Flip the Switch” when things are going poorly or a relationship has
taken a negative turn, they will see that it is possible.
Behind every successful confident student, you will find an adult who believed in them.
What is the impact of the words you are choosing to use with your students? Do you need
to flip the switch? If yes, you can do this. Your students deserve it.
Amie Dean, M.Ed, NBCT has been a teacher and behavior interventionist for 27 years. She
is the founder of Educational Strategies Unlimited Consulting Firm and behaviorqueen.com.
Amie is the author of two children’s books Your Happy Heart; How Helping Others Helps
You, Too and There’s No Dream Too Tall which focus on helping children discover their
gifts, regulate their emotions, and find joy through kindness and helping others.
Connect with Amie at www.behaviorqueen.com