Thursday, December 10, 2015

Letter to Lorenzo

Dear Lorenzo (y amigos),   

  I am hoping that today I can start you thinking about how you can help yourself and others, just by thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Before you begin, I want to make sure that you know that I really like you and think that you are intelligent, funny and pleasant to be around. I don’t mind your restless energy, and I understand that by the end of the day you’re feeling pretty restless from 7 ½ hours of sitting down.

     My problem is that you use your restless energy to distract and often hurt others. When you speak loudly, especially when it’s across the room, you keep people from being able to concentrate. If you move around the room, other students are distracted from their tasks. When you move, take, destroy or alter other people’s items, you communicate that you think you’re more important than they are, that they are somehow beneath you, and that simply is not true. 

I've tried and tried to find a way to channel his energy.

He's bright, funny, pleasant and always energetic. By the end of the day when he arrives at my class, he needs to move, needs to release some energy, needs to talk and interact. He is too tall for sitting comfortably in the desks.

I don't mind. I encourage him to stand up, to stretch, to be involved in activities. I'll ask him to get something for me from a cupboard or to take something to the office.

I try to teach him how to channel his energy and humor in a positive direction. I know that he works well with regular attention, eye contact and positive feedback. I also know that he responds well to humor and to clear, direct speech.

Some days it seems like we are making progress. I thank him. I tell him that I appreciate his attention, participation, focused energy.

Other days we slide back a little. Sometimes I am more frazzled after 42 minutes with him than with my entire day. It's not that I don't like him, I do. He is very easy to like.

Monday he couldn't or wouldn't direct his energy toward anything productive; instead, he moved around, took people's things, distracted them from their work. Lorenzo kept his peers from being able to enjoy class activities, and he took away their voice when he took away their vote.

I tried several redirecting activities. I attempted to speak to him personally about his activities. But I was not successful and left school that day discouraged.

    I want all my students to know that they are a valuable part of my class, and I want all of them to find success. That includes you. That includes your friends. That includes the quiet students and the talkative students, the angry students and the happy students, the hardworking students and the not-so-hardworking students. 

As I am sure is true with many teachers, I am quick to let the emotion rule the mind. "I'm such an awful teacher." "I am not effective at classroom management." "I shouldn't be doing this job." "I shouldn't be mentoring new teachers." On and on the negative comments come.

The truth is, however, that I am NOT an awful teacher, I AM effective at classroom management, I SHOULD be doing this job. I am a teacher. I love what I do and I love my students, even the troublesome ones. Especially the troublesome ones.

After time away, a good night's sleep and some reorientation through morning devotions, I hatched a plan.

An EVIL plan (hear my diabolical laughter?)

The next day I sent Lorenzo a detention slip and a note to his homeroom.

He came quickly to my room laughing, "Can I really bring my friends?" I told him that I would love for him to bring as many friends as he could. He got excited, and through the day a few students told me that they were going to come to detention with Lorenzo. In the end, however, Lorenzo told his friends that they didn't have to come, and he attended detention by himself.

When Lorenzo came the following day after school, I greeted him with a letter (the purple parts of this blog are the contents of his letter). There are so many important things to communicate; how do I capture his attention and help him understand?

You have incredible potential! You can be a top student, a leader in the school, a role-model, and a friend. It’s time to dig deep and find in yourself the strength to choose what is right. I know that you can!

With the help of a colleague and one of Lorenzo's friends and teammates, we provided an unique detention experience.

    Before you leave today, you need to write a letter of appreciation to an adult who believes in you, who challenges you to greatness, who pushes you to do what is right. That can be a family member, a teacher, a coach, a neighbor.  

     Your letter needs to be written in CURSIVE and in INK. It should include:·         a greeting (Dear ____);
·         the reason you are writing (I’m writing this to say thank you…);
·         at least two things for which you are grateful to this person;
·         a positive character trait that you see in them and would like to see in yourself;
·         one idea for how you will try to be like this person;
·         another “thank you”;
·         your name
When your letter is satisfactory to me, you may leave.With all my respect and best wishes,

Lorenzo took a few moments to read my letter and looked up with laughter. Yes, I affirmed, you must write a letter. Who has been a big influence in your life? It took a while because he did not want to do this. I helped him to think of someone, and then I told him that his detention would only last as long as it took to write the letter.

Just as Lorenzo was beginning, my colleague arrived and asked, "Lorenzo, what are you doing here? What are you doing? Can I read this?" On and on it went. He took the paper from Lorenzo, pointed out errors, bumped his hand while writing, kept him distracted.

Then, to make matters worse, Lorenzo's friend Tito arrived and started interrupting him as well. "Lorenzo, what are you doing? Can I read it? Oops, I accidentally wrote on your paper. Oh, well (balling it up), you'll just have to start over".

My colleague and Lorenzo's friend demonstrated for him what I could never adequately express with words. We need to regard each other with respect; we need to treat each other with courtesy; we need to channel energy into productive and not destructive actions.

Yes, this was a little diabolical, I admit. 

I wouldn't try this with every student.

But I know Lorenzo. I need to be unconventional in reaching him; I need him to see how what he sees as "humor" can be a distraction and a detriment if improperly used.

Lorenzo has a great sense of humor. He laughed the entire time (about 25 minutes).

In the end, after several drafts, Lorenzo wrote a very sweet letter to his older sister. He wrote it on "official" stationery, addressed an envelope and sealed the letter inside.

We reviewed the facts: Lorenzo is personable and capable. He's also funny and social. All of those can be tremendous assets, or they can be weapons. He has a choice to make on a daily basis. I know that not every "tomorrow" will be smooth because of today, but I hope that I have made a long-lasting impression for him.

I waited a few days and then mailed the letter home. I also mailed him a postcard, affirming my belief in him and encouraging him to choose wisely and to continue to shine. I also sent his mother a note, telling her how proud of Lorenzo I was.


At first I was so frustrated with Lorenzo that I couldn't think rationally, and I was beating myself up for my lack of "classroom management". Not reacting at the time was the best choice.

When you face classroom management battles, 

how can you give yourself time to reflect, 

rather than react in the moment?

I needed a creative way to reach Lorenzo, but this is not a formula for success for any student and any situation. I knew Lorenzo, and I had established a rapport with him.

What creative methods have you used

to attempt to reach a student?

My battles are not over. Lorenzo will have good days and bad days. I need to continue to believe in him, and continue to push him to greatness.

When you have a student who seems 


 will you commit to

 believing in him or her anyway?

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A local printer makes my post cards.

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(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I...