Sunday, October 16, 2011

Balancing Opposites

The three opposites I’ll address today are Compliments and Criticism, If /  Then and of course Go / Ju
 Compliments and Criticism
Have you ever watched the faces of the children when you are teaching or judging them? Do you see their faces light up when you give them the smallest compliment? Do you use the methodology of placing your corrections in between some words of encouragement? A black belt recently mentioned that he thought students were getting weaker. I would like to offer an opposite view. Maybe children aren't weaker. Here are three ideas on that subject:
1.       Our memories are based on the difficulties we overcame as kyus. However, if I really look back, I have many memories of my Sensei giving me encouragement. I have memories of him believing in me more than I believed in myself.
2.       The saying “I do to my students what was done to me.” isn’t necessarily the healthiest teaching style. Unless you have a photographic and objective memory, it is possible that what was "done to you" was much more complicated than you remember. A few people do have photographic memories. I don’t know anyone who judges their own past objectively. Most of us are quite subjective.
3.       The student grows to admire the Sensei in a way that borders on worship. There is such a responsibility on the part of a Sensei to properly manage that trust. If all we do is correct  and criticize the student verbally, and they don’t have a great self-image, we need to think if we are partially responsible for that.
I am not asking teachers to lie to students and tell them they're great when they’re not. I’m asking you to include empathy in your teaching style. Think about how it feels to constantly be corrected without compliments or encouragement to balance out the work. Here is a (hopefully) quick example. I have a 6 year old who cannot hold still OR be quiet. We’re working on it. At a few points during the training I will turn to him and mention that I see he is holding still (or holding his words in). He beams at the compliment.
One last opinion: Keep your mind open for something to say to everyone within the training time. Please don’t be a person who only compliments the physically talented students and doesn’t notice  the effort of the majority of the students. Oos?
If / Then
I sometimes wonder if I am the only teacher who has students with self-control issues. I cannot imagine I am. We all know the standard ways to work through these. Here are a few I use regularly:
1.        Remind the kids before class of your expectations.
2.        Redirect their attention during training.
         Keep them busy. 
         Be a good example.
         Give them incentive.
         Ignore the indiscretion.
(Reminders and incentives are subjects I am interested in, yet there is no room in this post to go into detail. Write me if this is something you have ideas, questions, or opinions about.)
What I want to discuss here is the waste of effort in the use of the words IF / THEN. First let me give you an example. Teacher to student: “If you interrupt me again, I’m not going to let you spar.” This creates a lose / lose situation. The reason this is lose / lose is because you have created an adversarial relationship with someone you are trying to mentor. Also, in karate, we’re trying to raise people who are willing to step up to a challenge and now we’ve created a negative challenge. How could it surprise us when they step to the challenge? There are many ways to figure out how to handle this kind of situation. Write me and tell me what works for you. (It is almost time for me to post some reader feedback). I’ll tell you a couple of strategies that I like. (I’m going to use the example of kids talking during training. But the strategy will work for other interruptions.):
1.       Especially if it is sound related. I’ll stop training for a second and address the comment. ("I'm thirsty!" is an example.) Then I’ll say “Does everyone agree we should get back to training. "We'll finish this and then all get water?” And we’ll go back to it.
2.       If someone interrupts again with the same problem, I’ll say "Would you guys rather do that than get to the end of the day game that I planned?” Sometimes people ask” what is the game today?” I smile and say I won’t tell. Everyone agrees we should get back to work.
3.       With a really young class (ages 5 – 7) I have situations where the student wouldn’t or couldn’t control him (or her) self. Here is my first choice in that situation. If I am alone, I get the class repeating a movement to a sound (usually music). While they’re moving and the music is noisy, I go over and privately ask the child if he thinks he can start to control the behavior. He almost always says yes and we push on. (Then I notice and say good job as we continue.) If I have helpers, I let a helper teach. Take the child and ask him if he thinks he can control the action, join us and have fun. I try not to seem impatient. The child usually says yes.  We go back and I use the compliment when I can. I also compliment after class when I can.
Here the teacher is spending a minute of class time teaching kids to ignore by being the annoying person.
4.       I ignore it. I have an entire game where I teach my kids to ignore annoying distractions. In the game, they sit and talk to each other and the teachers are the annoying people. The children's job is to ignore the annoyance completely. Don’t look up, react to it, or address it in any way. It is tricky, fun and a great learning experience.
The thing I try to remember daily is that I am trying to make a student who is strong, confident, self-disciplined and courteous. I’m not trying to make a mini-me. I’m trying to make a magnificent Them. To close off this portion of the post, I want to relate a story a parent told me. One of my students wanted to go to a karate summer camp. I said “Go. Have fun!”. A few days after camp started the mom came to me and said she pulled her son out of camp. The camp Sensei came to her at the end of the day and told her that her son was “a tough nut to crack” but she would do it! To me this is a prefect example of a Sensei who doesn't really understand that the job of the Sensei is to create a great individual, NOT squish out all traces of individuality.  Needless to say, the young man was ready to leave when mom suggested it.
Go / Ju
This last little discussion isn’t really about kids. It is just about opposites creating the whole. Of course Go means hard and Ju means soft. That is the style of Martial Art I study. Many of us talk about balancing hard and soft. Examples abound: courtesy and fighting spirit, exertion and meditation, work and play.
However, I’m interested in the idea that teachers still mistake kindness for weakness in themselves. The saying “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.”  was told to me by my teacher many years ago. It is one of those sentences that is easy to say, but elusive to live by.  I encourage you to look closely. Call upon your kindness and notice that when you call upon something it originates in your chi line. Therefore, because of it’s origin, it is powerful. Then, you might notice, the next time you call upon your chi to say “no” it will be more powerful, confident, and less reactionary.  Let me know what you find in your journey.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Teens and Perspective

As always, it has been too long. The good news is that this will be a short post. The bad: there are no pictures.
The point of today's quick note is that kyus, especially teens, follow our lead blindly and don't always know that they should initiate their future.
Maybe you are a teacher who realizes this and initiates conversations that allow them to constantly progress.
Hopefully, I'm not the only teacher who's teens are a bit self-absorbed and distracted by puberty, studies, and games of all sorts.
Years ago, when I realized my teens would be leaving for college without finishing that first baby step of training, i.e. Shodan, I created a dialog with the teen and their parents. In the conversation I tell them what the road to Shodan entails. I explain cost and time realities, and give them an opportunity to set up a time-line with what needs to be accomplished. This does not guarantee passing a Shodan test. What is accomplished is that I put the 'ball in their court' to follow through or drop.
Last quick note: I have had success, failure, and apathy using this method. Before I began doing this, I felt as if I hadn't fulfilled my obligation as the "one who has come before".  After all, I know the way and  my job is to show students the way. Adults can stay as long as they want, take as long as they need to accomplish their first step. 
Teens, however, are limited to a short period between 16 and the time they leave for college. Even if I've been their Sensei since they were 5, there is a small window when they are old enough to accomplish all the details that Shodan testing requires and when they are off to become successful at their next challenge.
Thanks for taking your time to read this.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Safety Day

Of Course, it has been too long. It is nice to have time to sit and think about teaching.
On the subject of street-wise safety and children, I’m certain we all have methods that have been working for us for years. As happened on my last post, I hope to get a lot of feedback on this. Thanks for telling me what is working in your dojos.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been running a “Safety Day”. I know I began doing it at summer camps and moved it into my dojo to change the routine a little. It worked so well, that I have kept it up for years. I have a flyer I give out when I teach safety and I’m going to include it below:
As you can read, the information is basic, but pertinent to a safe lifestyle.
 Here is how I breakdown the hour long workout:
First, I divide the kids into age groups (Don’t forget I am blessed with assistant teachers. I will address what I do when I am alone a little later):
age 5 & 6                       
age 7 through 8 or 9
age 10 and 11
age 12 and up (if they are still training as children)
Each group gets a teacher and each group starts by looking over the sheet. We talk about the importance of knowing what city you live in, how to dial 911, and other common sense details. When we get to the “ALWAYS” category, I let people play What if this happens? When we get to the “NEVER” category, I play a game where we pretend we’re walking on the wrong side of the road. A car pulls up opens the passenger door, and tries to pull our arm to get us in the car and speed away. Then we repeat the game while walking FACING traffic and note the safety difference.
Here, the green belt boy is walking in the correct direction: facing traffic. My white belt student and I are pretend drivers.
A quick note: the reason I divide the children by age is based on how to address the different age groups. I will speak to a preteen clearly and honestly. When speaking to a 5 year old, who is always with a parent, the parameters are completely different.
When we talk about being home alone, and being outside alone, we also play ‘what if’ games and move a little. After all, sitting and talking can get pretty boring. Of course, I play an attacker and the kids can kick, hit and “YELL, YELL, YELL. That is the best part so far!

All the kids take a sheet home so they can talk about everything with their parents. (I also include a safety day flyer in my introduction packets.)


All ages move into bag work. All the students hit, kick and scream.
Heel stomps, Palm Heel strikes Elbows and Knees are all examples of follow up strikes I  use.


 We work techniques on a regular basis, so most of this is review. When working self defense, I try to structure the technique to the age and power of my students. Young students use simple follow up strikes that are realistic against a larger assailant. Older children have more power, better memory, and a stronger opinion of what they want as far as follow up (i.e. how to hit back). Each group works at their own level. One note I’d like to mention here; this is a great place for me to mention that the target area in sparring is belly and head, but the target area in daily self defense is groin, knees, nose, throat, the areas that really hurt people. Many children (and adults) take a long time to make that distinction!


The last activity of the workout is another “what if”. What if you are standing, waiting for the bus (or a movie, or a friend) and a stranger approaches? It is a simple game meant to encourage the children to throw an object that they are holding at potentially dangerous individuals. Punching bags play the part of back packs, purses, lunchboxes and video games. My helpers and I play the dangerous individuals. We storm in on them and they throw things scream and run for help. It is chaotic, energy building and fun; a perfect period at the end of the safety day sentence.


If I am teaching alone, I keep the order of events the same. When talking about routines indoors and out I simply add the idea that what is correct when you’re 6 isn’t the same at age 10. We talk about it together. In the area of bag work, technique, and throwing things I let the older children help me with the younger ones. Then, at the end of each station, the older kids show their power and skill on me.
Tell me about your routines. Soon I’ll be making another feedback post and I’d love to share more great ideas.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Working With Children (and Parents) Individually

In the last post I opened the door to the idea that with children students, comes parent communication. Does this come easily to you? Have you tried any new ideas? I’d love to hear your comments. Something that happens to me on a regular basis is that a parent will come to me with an individual problem with their child. Some examples include: his or her grades are falling, the respect level around the house is becoming too relaxed, or maybe they are fighting in school. Do your parents ever approach you for help in an individual area?

The pattern for working through these requests is manageable, yet a little time consuming. First, I set up a meeting with the child. This can be before, during, or after class. The time I pick depends on how much time I think the meeting will take. My least favorite is during class. I will pick it if I have enough help and it is the best alternative given the circumstances. Before I call the child in, I mention to the parent that I am going to talk to the child. I say that I would appreciate it if they listen quietly and let me lead the conversation. I tell them that before we close, I’ll ask them if they have anything to add, but during the talk I’d like them to let the
child talk directly with me – without any interruptions. Most parents understand, agree, and comply.

I find a quiet spot for the three (or four if mom and dad are both there) of us to sit. I ask the student if they know why we’re meeting. Almost half say ‘yes’ and we get right to it. The other half like to say no and we have to identify the behavior we’re going to work on before we can talk about it. Three things I’ve noticed about the meeting are quite simple and repeatable:

1. Since the child loves karate, he (or she) will try to do what I ask.
2. The method for change in any of us is the same.
3. Finish with the part of the conversation where mom and dad can add what they want. They inevitably muddy the conversation with lots of emotion. I quietly wait. Then I reiterate the bullets I want in behavior and we all go back to class (or home).

The Child Loves Karate (1)
Parents are always enthralled at how well behaved their child is in class. They always want to take the concept of push-ups home to demand good behavior. We all know that doesn’t work. We also know that the reason the children do what we ask is because these children love having the strengthening outlet of a fighting art. It is a magnificent teacher and a great equalizer. When I’m working with kids to change their behavior I try to stay away for “if-then” demands. In other words I try to stay away from sentences like “If you want to become a green belt, then you will finish your homework on time.” What I like instead is to let the person come to the place where they think it is what they should do. It goes something like this:
Me” Do you know why we’re talking?”
Child” Mom is mad because I don’t ever want to do my homework?”
Me ”Way to go, saying it right up front. Do you have anything to add before I talk? Is your homework too hard for you? Is there a problem we don’t know about?”
(If there is a problem, we brainstorm ways to fix it – tutors, talking to the teacher, bringing the work into karate to get some help with the overwhelming parts)
Otherwise: Child “No, I just think it is boring.”
Me (smiling) “I know what you mean! Let’s talk about why you have to do it (and we do). Now let’s talk about how to make the time work for you (and we do). And finally, let’s talk about how a karate person thinks…..does a karate person quit when the work gets hard? Does the karateka whine and make excuses? “ At this point, I let the child talk and consider. Then we discuss the tools we’re going to use to change. I finish with “Can you give me your word as a karateka that you will TRY to do your best?” (I reiterate the “try your best” promise at the very end of our meeting.)

At this point I expect setbacks. It usually goes great for about two weeks and then we have a setback. I have a conversation with mom and dad where I mention to allow for setbacks and try not to overreact. Just remind, and I will too. (I have three or four children giving me weekly updates on how they’re doing with the parent’s requests even as I write this!)

Method of Change (2)
What I have observed over the years is that no matter what age, everyone needs motivation to change. Otherwise, a person really won’t consciously try to change. I have also observed that there are a few ways to actually change: you can replace one behavior with another, give yourself a reminder when you are about to do something you don’t want to do, or reward yourself when you get it right! These ‘methods of changing’ remain the same throughout life.

(Tangent): Think about it: When students are new, we demand they practice courtesy through the use of the words “Oos” and “Sensei” and we hope that that demand turns into a way of life for them. (It does, if they stay long enough.) We punish through pushups and eventually the new, courteous way takes over the old, unintentional, lack of courtesy (read here: Lack of awareness).

Anyway……One thing I think is very important is to give the child the tools to attempt the change. In the above example of homework, the obvious tool is to make the same time for homework each day. Have an alarm go off for starting and one go off if there are breaks scheduled etc. I would make sure the homework time wasn’t falling into the child’s favorite show or the time his friend was playing a game outside….in other words….look at it from their standpoint. I also believe in small rewards. This is controversial because I know you ‘old-schooler’s are talking to your computer screen right now and saying….”People should work and do without constant reward. Theoretically you are SO right. Realistically, animals and people learn faster and change more consistently when the reminders are in place. Rewards don’t have to be big or dramatic. I like to use things the kids are getting already: new games, favorite videos rented. I have used events like they could earn an archery lesson with me or I would let them earn patches….etc. It is very individual.)

Some other tools I have used include:
-Making lists when needed
-Reinforcing when the kids get it right and not just noticing when they get it wrong. (This is probably the most common mistake we make when we’re working to change ourselves or someone we care for. The successes become invisible to the eye. But the mistakes stand out. It is hard to notice when people do something right. But it is worth it to make an effort to notice; in ourselves and in our children.)
-Creating a way for the person to see disaster coming. One example is a “secret word” between the adult and the child to signal when the child is getting agitated. I like silly words that other people won’t recognize, like dinosaur or power puffs. That gives the person a chance to breath and think before all heck breaks loose.
-Making sure the children have an outlet to vent. Everyone needs that. Many people do it in a social network now. For a child it could be the parent, a teacher, a grandparent. We are a society that needs to be heard.
-Finally, a conversation I have regularly with kids includes the concept that we can’t lash out at everyone who gets on our nerve (even if we want to). When someone, or something, gets on our nerve, we need to choose between these alternatives: walk away from it, talk about it, ignore it, or tell someone who can help. I stress that physicality is only for emergencies. I also stress the idea that the four choices above travel with you throughout life, so get used to them!

Mom and Dad Talk and Listen (3)

When the meeting is about to close up, I ask moms and / or dads what they’d like to add. This is always laced with emotion. I sit quietly and observe. When it gets quiet, I ask the child to share. I will also reiterate the bullets from our conversation. We put this subject to rest and go about the rest of the evening.
After I send the child away, I mention to the parents that change is really challenging. I ask them to consider what it would be if THEY were the ones being expected to adapt. I try to finish on a note of win-win.

Here is a comprehensive list of subjects that have been brought before me. It is not complete, just ones I remember:
1. Hitting and bullying other kids.
2. Being hit and bullied.
3. Not respecting parents.
4. Acting up during divorce.
5. Not doing home chores.
6. Not doing homework.
7. Not wanting to spend weekends with the other parent because the child had to miss his / her regular weekend event.

Hopefully, this post is helpful when and if you find yourself in moment where a parent asks for your help. You all know how much I like hearing from you. Want to let me know what you think?


Friday, March 11, 2011

Keeping in Touch with Parents

I always consider myself a work in progress. However, where parent communication is concerned, I’m a slow learner. To make things more complicated, each parent is a person with their own viewpoint, busy schedule, and needs. Therefore, each conversation is slightly different. The only way to know how to individualize the conversation is to be a good listener. Understand what the person is asking and try to answer accordingly. There are three areas of communication that are worth discussing: welcoming newcomers, keeping everyone informed, and one on one communications. This post will address welcoming new students and keeping in touch. I’ll use the next post to address working individually with parents and their children.

Welcoming New Students (and their parents)
Recently I sent one of my brown belts to welcome a new child (and his parents). They arrived after the class had begun and I was busy with other things. When adult class started, the brown belt said “Sensei, I have a question. What, exactly, do we say when we’re talking to parents on their first day?” Up until that moment, I hadn’t really thought a lot about what I say. Right then, we brainstormed and here is the short list:

While the child joins circle

I talk to parents

I say “HI” and thanks for your interest. Next, I introduce myself to the adults and shake hands, etc. Then I put my attention to the child. I bend down and say “Hi”. I put my hand out to see if they’ll shake and ask their name. If they hide behind their mom’s leg, I turn my attention back to the adult and let the child acclimate. At that point I say to the parent, “Johnny may want to just watch today. If he does, that is fine. Then next time he comes he can have his try out.” At that point I bend down to Johnny once again and repeat the sentence. I show everyone to their seat and say to Johnny. “If you decide to come and join us, just get my attention.” (Traveling back to the moment when I introduce myself to the child) If the child shakes my hand and tells me his name I say to him, “Would you like to try the class today. We’re probably going to have fun.” Hopefully all this is happening before class starts. In my dojo, before class starts we all sit together and talk about everything and anything. (See my last post!) Shy or outgoing, at this point I say to the child “Would you like to sit with us and talk? We’re talking about …{video games, movies, our favorite sport, whatever!} Most children can’t resist the chance to talk. As you all know, we train without shoes. However, if the child seems shy I DON’T mention their shoes at this point. If they seem comfortable, I say “Would you like to take off your shoes now?” On the child’s first day, whether they wear shoes or not….it isn’t a deal breaker. Some children need more time to acclimate to the room before they trust enough to do anything they think is unusual.
It all seems like common sense until you’re standing there without backup trying to figure out what to do and say.

As the parents are sitting and watching, I take a moment during the class to drop off a small packet with “Parent Information” in it. This packet contains a list of parent conduct that I appreciate (read here ‘require’).

This consists of:
1. A signup sheet
2. A list of my locations and times
3. A fee sheet
4. A sheet that asks parents to watch quietly, take phone calls and conversations outside.
5. A sheet that explains that taking pictures is allowed but videotaping class is not allowed.

6. And finally a sheet that asks parents to make their habit to communicate with me outside of training time when possible because that 60 minute period is so busy that fitting conversation with parents in is distracting for me. I encourage my parents to email. But lots of them text and a few like to talk on the phone. I’ve been thinking that some of you might not agree with this. You might like to deal with parents ONLY during training time and I would love to hear how you balance the time. I don’t like missing time with the kids and I like missing my adult class even less. So talking to parents AFTER class is even more uncomfortable for me. What are your thoughts? Am I the only one with talky parents?

Another side note about new students is: After the parent turns in their signup sheet, I have a small folder I give the child [I have one for adults too]. However, I’m sure you have all these things too! Write me if you want to share what information we put in the packets.
That pretty much sums up what happens when new people arrive. Please write me with your input.

Keeping Parents Informed.

When I was a kyu, hard copy flyers were the only means of communication with students and parents. Although I use that method, I prefer to email parents with a flyer on an upcoming event. Parents like this too. I have a group of parents in my address book. Anytime I get a new student, I add the parents' name to the group and send them a “Welcome” email. I send flyers on competitions, seminars, extra workouts, etc. Since I send all information on the computer it encourages questions via email rather than in class. I’ve also found that less people take flyers in class, telling me they already have one at home! Do you all use this method? I also use the computer to remind parents if their fee is due. I have really good luck with this. Let me know what you all do? On a personal note: I NEVER forward to parents. I don’t think it is professional to fill their box with junk. I also think that distracts from the information I’d really like them to notice when they see my email address in their “in” box.

I’d like to close this post with a quote that an education instructor once told me and it has been unquestionably the most helpful tool I’ve had in working with parents: “Remember, when you’re talking to parents, that every one of them is doing the best they can with what they have to work with at that moment in time.”


Friday, January 21, 2011

Pre Class Routine

Have you ever noticed that what happens before class can set the tone for the hour of training time. I have tried many different routines, but the one I’ve used for the past few years is to sit everyone in a circle 10 or 15 minutes before class and talk. Children will talk about anything and everything. They will want to tell you about their day, or the latest movie, or an upcoming trip. You never know.

My experience is that by bringing all the kids together before we start training I accomplish four things:
1. Everyone has a chance to drop the distractions in their heads and mentally prepare for training.
2. Kids want to come early to talk and laugh. Therefore (theoretically) I have less late arrivals.
3. Kids LOVE to talk about themselves. (So do we, so we should understand that, right?)
4. Everyone feels inclusive. As kids arrive they join in. Even new students feel like part of the group before class starts. Some of their first day jitters disappear during this talk.
Usually one of my helpers begins the pre class talk time while I’m organizing for class; each teacher has an individual way of coordinating this time. One thing we all agree on is that only one person should talk at a time. That is a challenge. It comes, like most things in karate, with patience, reminders, and repetition. Recently I had 7 new students arrive before class started. I used the pre class talk to have everyone introduce themselves, say how old they are and what grade they are in. I could see the kids noticing when they were in the same grade, or the same age. I realized that bringing up things newcomers and old timers had in common made everyone more comfortable and therefore less distracted at the beginning of training.

One other thing I’ll do during talk time is move the conversation over to karate ideas. As we get closer to class time, I’ll start asking karate questions and see who remembers what.
That is a perfect segue to the “Line up.” command.

As I stated, I’ve been using talking in a circle for a few years now. Recently, one of my students, who is a school teacher, brought in a document from her Montessori program reinforcing what we had already seen. Here are a couple of the bullets from her paper.
[Bringing kids together to talk in a circle}
Unifies the group
Makes everyone feel like they belong
Lets everyone express themselves and understand what they have in common and how to be friends with differences.
The teacher can use this time to review rules, expectations.
This time is perfect to move from one type of activity to the next.

As always, let me know your thoughts.