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Butter Battle: Yooks, Zooks & Kinder Suspensions

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Dr. Seuss wrote The Butter Battle Book in 1984, as timely today, maybe more so. The story is about resolving differences, although in the book there is a background threat of mutual destruction, with an uncertain ending. A wall divides two groups, Yooks and Zooks simply because of the way they butter their bread. Isn't that just so Seussian?

This is a very different Dr. Seuss book, an anti-war story more suited to older students. However, I think adaptable to the littles and outrageously great for dealing with the problem of bullying at school. I recently read parts of it to our five year old, as example of the silly things kids and people do when they have disagreements. Her favorite book right now is the classic Yo! Yes?, by Chris Raschla. In this joyous little story two kids realize they are lonely and decide to become friends. "Yow!"

Childhood is such a precious time, our pre-kindergartener was pretty surprised that the Zooks and Yooks couldn't just figure it out, tear down that wall dividing them and be friends with a happy ending, like Yo! Yes? Kiddos make life pretty darn simple when we watch and listen to them, don't you think?

Morgan and I made a Venn diagram, with Yo! Yes? in the middle. On one side, The Yooks wear blue clothes and eat their bread with butter side facing up. On the other part of the diagram the Zooks wear orange clothing and they butter their bread with the butter on the bottom. Of course, I didn't deal with anything more grown up than the basics and we had a fun time talking, drawing and making our comparisons. Morgan had no idea she was doing critical thinking and we were asking questions based on Bloom's. 

This leads me to making the connection with Kindergarten suspensions. It's really about Zooks and Yooks, when you think about it. No easy answers, just more and more questions. Questions, as I wrote in my last BAM! blog are the heartbeat of understanding. I have many questions now. 

I rarely suspended a student I thought was better off at home than school. In most cases, an in-house suspension or alternate work project (early version of PBL, discipline-stye) worked. There are often better ways to work with a misbehaving kid. 

Also, I read more black and hispanic children are suspended than statistically probable. That scares me, because in my recent NAEP blog, (The Nation's Report Card), I reported extremely low reading proficiency scores for black students at fourth and eighth grade. Not much better, at the fourth grade level, about one third of NAEP kids scored at the basic reading level.

That means there are lots of left behind kids, despite schools' best, bravest efforts under daunting circumstances, and greatly underfunded. I wonder whether aggressive tests are creating aggressive kids? Common Core. 

Since 51% of America's pubic school children live in poverty, with more on the edge, I also wonder tonight if there is a correlation with highly stressed students, 133 standardized tests, loss of recess, arts, music and play due to the race to the top. Suspension.

Why in the world do we have to be compared to Finland and Korea, when the best and brightest teachers and great leaders are right here, right now? Amazing technology, top notch pedagogy, EdCamps, research, and authentically based assessments tell us what to do to engage kids. Besides art and craft, head and heart take center stage in America's great classrooms. Engaged kids generally do not misbehave. So we have to take a closer look.

"Temper tantrums? Chair tossing, striking a classmate or teacher." I've seen it all and except for issues with teachers, there were always better ways for the "punishment to fit the crime". That's my point. The schools with high suspension rates happened to be in Georgia, but maybe where you teach or live, too. Hundreds of kindergarteners from the four largest districts were suspended. I weep for the teachers as well as the kids.

When I was Pre-K-6 Principal, (two schools, one large campus) there were children who cried the first week or so, lacked social skills and were fairly obnoxious. Goes with the territory. Considering I started my career as a High School English and Speech, then reading teacher I saw the world a little differently, I think. 

In my first week, as a novice administrator, a Kindergartener was so disruptive in the classroom I was pretty shocked. I recall the student throwing furniture, knocking over shelves and  bookcases, etc. When I took him to my office for a cool-down, he did the same thing there. But I didn't suspend him for any of the havoc, lost instructional time and frayed nerves. Got to the root of the problem.

Before I arrived, the culture was grim. Boxing gloves were used by the Principal and staff for kiddos to resolve problems. Teachers also paddled children, as did the Principal. The assertive discipline program in place sent kids to the office in a steady stream, all day long, preventing any genuine leadership. My point is, Been there, Done that. I know the difficulties experienced by frazzled teachers who truly have tried everything, including parent meetings, school intervention programs, whatever counseling is available and home visits. 

However, nothing in my career prepared me for a recent article from The Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 16th, regarding the uptick in Kindergarten suspensions. Here's the link: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/school-suspensions-rise-among-kindergartners/nqhc9/. I' ve read it several times now. Questions.

Let's chat a little about the major points about management and misbehavior, as I understand them. 

  1. Parents or caregivers want their children in a nurturing classroom. 

  2. Administrators' number one responsibility is providing a safe and orderly environment. 

  3. Developmentally appropriate pedagogy is imperative for young children. 

  4. Play and recess are critically important. Brain breaks are great, but kids need to frolic. 

  5. At what cost has the rush to excellence stressed out our littles? 

  6. Parents Are our Partners. Any programs and home visits making a seamless bond, work. 

  7. School-wide culture of positivity only makes sense. POPS. Power of positive students. 

  8. Retentions at any level, notably Pre-K better have a really valid reason. Loathe the idea.

  9. Are more Black and Hispanic children suspended? 

  10. Are hunger or deprivation a mitigating factor in misbehavior? 

  11. Do Morning Meetings make a difference in setting the tone and resolving problems?

  12. Are team projects and collaboration, including K level, helping kids learn to get along?

Why are kiddos so stressed, angry, acting out, mimicking violence? What are appropriate ways to help children see and experience logical consequences for their actions? What can we do to reach and help these children?

I ask you tonight how we can help keep so many children, at such a tender age from becoming a statistic. Right now, hundreds, maybe a whole lot more kindergarteners are already a statistic, a suspended one.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita



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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 47 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Rita is currently teaching in a multi-age, fully incuded preschool, ages 2-8. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Thursday, 17 March 2016

    Wonderful piece, Rita. I'm curious: how did you get to the root of the problem with the disruptive kindergartner? What steps did you take?

  • Rita Wirtz |  @RitaWirtz
    Rita Wirtz | @RitaWirtz Thursday, 17 March 2016

    Thanks, Rae. A systematic approach, not a bandaid. First, worked closely with school Student Study team and family. Set up a social work intern program from CSUS. Added many other programs including Conflict Managers kids, Tribes, Team teaching in K, etc. We turned around the whole school's culture. Initial baby steps for acting out kids was to stop the assertive discipline program. Redirected funds for a full-time school counselor. Little guy received a bounty of services and I shadowed him in class and playground, made a number of home visits and moved him part of the day to another class until he calmed down. In his next disruptive episode, I asked the teacher to remove her class to recess, then I supervised him in the room myself. When he lost his audience, he stopped throwing things. We also played Baroque music, dimmed classroom lights and added in Brain Gym and frequent brain breaks. He needed play time. Added school breakfast program, then later grant funds for before and after school programs, and a Saturday program. Community mentors for one on one. Voila! Rita

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Thursday, 17 March 2016

    Wow. I don't know how many educators/administrators would be willing to take that kind of time. But I'm sure that those who are willing are glad to have this information. Most, I think, are at a loss as to what to do. Thank you, Rita.

  • Guest
    Robert Ward Sunday, 02 April 2017

    The part I most responded to in this marvelous article is that "kids need to frolic." We say that SEL is important, but we must honor those developmental aspects throughout the school experience, especially in the early years. Rita has the experience and wisdom to know what really works for children. She is still there nurturing and educating the most vulnerable and the most privileged kids, all in the same room! It's certainly not easy, but it must be done. And it can be done-- as Rita's heartfelt articles clearly convey.

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