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Allyson Apsey / @allysonapsey

Allyson Apsey / @allysonapsey

Relationships are the foundation of learning, followed closely by innovating to meet the needs of all learners. Allyson is transparent about being a work in progress, and shares her journey with other educators through her blog.

The proud parent of two boys, Allyson has been an educator for more than 18 years. She started out her career teaching in a multi-age classroom with upper elementary students, and then went on to teach junior high. After spending two years as an elementary assistant principal, she became a junior high and high school principal. 

Now, she is an elementary principal at Quincy Elementary in Zeeland, MI. She adores her students, staff, parents and the community and feels so fortunate to have the opportunity to serve them.

Posted by on in Education Leadership

School starts again tomorrow after the holiday break. Teachers are thinking about how to make the day special for students, how to welcome them back in a way that helps them feel connected and happy about being back at school. They champion their students, thinking about each one of them and how they might be feeling tomorrow.

What are principals thinking about? Getting through observations? State testing coming up in the spring? Documents to prepare for state mandates? All important things and worthy of time and attention, but not at the sacrifice of leading the adults in the school.

Principals, instead, are you thinking about how to welcome teachers back in a way that helps them feel connected and happy about being back at school? Are you championing the teachers, and thinking about how each one of them might be feeling tomorrow? 

Share how you are a #Champion4Teachers as we welcome teachers and students back from the holiday break.

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

angry kid

The honeymoon is over, eh?

Now that we have several weeks of the new school year under our belts, the spit-clean shine on the faces of all those children has faded and reality sets in. At first we thought we were blessed with a class, a school, a district full of little angels. Then the cracks began to show through--a little disrespectful look, then a "NO!", and then running out of the classroom when they are upset. Oh no! And we had such high hopes!

I am pretty proficient at assuming positive intent with adults. I can easily see how hard the adults at school work for the students, and I know the difficulties of being a parent. Do we afford our students the same luxury? Do we assume positive intent with students?

In my nearly two decades of being an educator, I cannot remember meeting a student who was naughty to be naughty. The students I work with are behaving for a purpose. They want control, they want to feel like they belong, they need freedom, they want to have some fun, or maybe they are just hungry (or is that h-angry?). They want to be good, to be praised, to be loved, they sometimes just don't know how to get there.

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Posted by on in Classroom Management

hair pulling

Ryan was one of “those” students. He seemed to think he was in charge of the classroom. He was the one who decided when the whole class would laugh, when students should be talking, how long it would take for me to get the class’ attention, and whether or not I would have a good day.

I pulled my hair out in my battle with Ryan for control of the class. I even wondered if teaching was the profession for me. I liked Ryan and we had great conversations one-on-one. He was smart and funny. He knew the right things to say to make me think that he knew why he needed to change and was going to change. Then, the same behavior continued the next day. This was not a battle I could win.
Ryan had this amazingly funny “granny dance” that he would do every chance he had. It could be during an important lesson, while I was giving directions, during a fire drill, anytime. At the same time I was exasperated with Ryan’s dancing, I was learning about Choice Theory, which was developed by William Glasser. Dr. Glasser said that everyone has five basic needs–freedom, power, belonging, fun and survival. All behavior is our best attempt to meet one or more of our basic needs.
As I was learning this, I was thinking about Ryan. I could see that he was meeting his needs for power and fun through doing things to get his classmates to laugh. I was trying to meet my need for power by trying to control him through punishment. I began to see that this was an ineffective cycle that needed to be turned in a different direction. Ryan has these needs and will always behave to meet them and I wondered how he could meet his needs within the functions of the classroom rather than against our rules and expectations.
We began to have “disco lunches” where we would turn on fun music during lunch and students could get up and dance in the middle of the room. Low and behold, Ryan got up every day and made his peers laugh with his funny dances. What’s more–I was laughing too. There was incredible positive power when Ryan and I would catch each other’s eyes as we were laughing about his silliness. That was the start of a whole new relationship for the two of us.
I got to know Ryan better and we found shared interests and connected through our passions. Actually, I started thinking about all my students and how to make the classroom more need-satisfying for all of them. I wanted them to feel comfortable, to build strong and positive relationships with each other and me, and to meet all of their needs while learning.
Freedom and power are two needs that seem to be the most difficult for students to meet within the functions of the classroom. In a different post, I shared a short list of things to include in your classroom to make it need-satisfying and to avoid power struggles. CRAFT your classroom into a great learning environment for all students by including:
Choice: small or big
Relationships: so everyone feels like they belong
Ask, don’t tell: they know so much more than we think they know
Fun: everyday! Student-prompted and teacher-prompted
Turn it around: when you find yourself in a power struggle, back it up
You can read more about CRAFT here.
When we punish students for talking in class, for making each other laugh, etc. are we really trying to meet our own need for power? What does is say about us when we punish a class for the behavior of a few–who benefits from that?
I learned that if I was really trying to help my students succeed, I needed to focus on creating a need-satisfying environment, plan empowering and meaningful learning opportunities, and guide them to develop their own character.
What pros and cons have you found with punishments? How have you innovated to create a positive learning environment for students?

Please note: This blog post is based on my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser.  If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting http://www.wglasser.com for training opportunities.

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Posted by on in Classroom Management
I stunk it UP my first year of teaching! There was even talk of not having me back for a second year. I made many mistakes that year, but let’s start with the biggest mistake I made–getting into power struggles with students.

When I started teaching, I thought things could go one of two ways in my classroom–MY way or the students’ way. I remember telling students to do something like their work, apologize, etc. and they wouldn’t do it. Wait. What?!? Did you miss the part that I am your teacher?

I would dig myself into a deeper hole by continuing down the line of demanding that they do things that they were not going to do. I found myself in a hot mess as I tried to figure out how to get out of the situation without giving up the little control of the classroom I had left. I couldn’t just let this student ignore my directions. AAAGGGG! What could I do?

Over time I learned a few tricks to avoid power struggles. The most important thing I learned is that it does not have to be my way OR the students’ way, it should be OUR way. The students’ needs for power, freedom, fun and belonging must be met within the functions of the classroom or they will work against me to meet them. Either way, they will meet their needs. I just needed to decide if it was going to be in defiance of what I asked them to do, or if I was going to ask them to do things that would help them meet their needs while they learn.

Here is a short list of things to include in your classroom to avoid power struggles and to CRAFT it a need-satisfying place for learning. 

C:  Choice must be incorporated throughout the day. It can be small choices, like where to sit during independent practice, or it can be a big choices like researching a topic they are passionate about. Choice is power and freedom, it is a double whammy of need-satisfaction in the classroom.
R:  Relationships need to be positive and strong, and students need to understand how relationships work. When I was teaching my students about relationships, I liked to describe them as checking accounts. All the positives you put in to a relationship are deposits, and any negatives like excluding someone or teasing are withdrawals. You never want your account to go bankrupt, so we make sure we make many many more deposits than withdrawals.
A:  Ask, don’t tell. Students are smart and know so much more than we think they know. When there is a problem, simply saying to a student, “What do you think should happen next?” can empower them and give us insight into their thinking. Really listen to students and let their voice be the loudest in the room--what do they want to learn? What choices do they want? What is fun to them?
F:  Remember to have FUN! Not just teacher-prompted fun, but student-prompted fun too. Of course, not everything that we do will be fun, but we all need to have fun every day. It makes those not-so-fun things much more bearable. As a teacher, if you are not having fun, chances are your students are not having fun. Look at your plans for the day and identify the things you are really excited about--if there are not many or any, insert a few.
T:  Turn it around! I learned how to back that thing up and work my way out of a power struggle. I get to practice this as a principal too. If I have asked a student to do something and he/she will not do it, I can simply say something like, “I see that you are not ready to work this out. I will check back with you in…”. 
There are many tips, tricks and hacks to make a classroom or a school a need-satisfying place and ways to avoid power struggles. CRAFT worked for me, what works for you? Please comment with your tips.
Please note: This blog post is based upon my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser.  If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting http://www.wglasser.com for training opportunities.
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Posted by on in Tools, Shortcuts, Resources

math worksheet

How can I learn about my students and help them review concepts in a way that is engaging, empowering, and helps them build relationships?

Help students review and practice while observing students’ skills as formative assessment by using a technique called “Answers Around the Room”. Students complete a worksheet-type practice set, and the answers to the problems are posted around the classroom. The students complete a problem and then get up to find the answer. If they cannot find the correct answer, they can find their mistake or ask a friend or the teacher for help.

This simple “hack” for a worksheet gets students moving, creates natural breaks in the work, encourages them to support each others' learning, and is much more need-satisfying for students than to silently complete a worksheet in a traditional way.

Think of ways you could extend the activity to make it even more fun and meaningful:

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