Oh my goodness, it has been far too long since I’ve written here.  But I had a really good reason, I promise!  On Saturday, I co-ran a huge holiday fair at my daughter’s school.  As some of you may remember but probably not all of you know, it’s a private school for grades K – 12.  Quite a range.  This fair (which was the 25th annual!) is typically attended by grade school kids and their families.  The middle school students and their families typically make and sell all the food at the event.  The high school students typically don’t come.

But, of course, I had designs for involving the middle and high school students more closely.  So I tried out a newly-found trick.  Here’s the scene on Friday during the event set-up:

There were droves of roaming middle school students playing basket ball, walking industriously to and from the bathrooms, attempting to avoid the horrible smelling broken septic system, while a few helped to set-up their food stands.  There just wasn’t enough to keep all of them busy, so they relaxed and got in everybody’s way instead.

I walked around, semi-appalled at how much they got in everyone’s way.  I asked around (this was my first year to be intimately involved in the set-up of the event), and heard that this was a typical scenario.  Here are the kinds of reasons people gave me:

  • Well, there’s just not enough for them to do.
  • I can’t get them to do anything!
  • Middle schoolers will be middle schoolers!

Now, while I appreciate that it may be more difficult for a parent to get their kid off their butt to help out, there were plenty of people around who knew these kids, but weren’t their parents who gave plenty of excuses for the kids.

So I tried a trick a teacher friend of mine uses in his high school classes:  I walked over to a group of middle school students.  I said, “What are you guys doing right now?”  They typically shrugged.  One or two of them might have attempted to make something up on the spot, particularly as the day wore on and they realized what I was about to do.  “Oh great, well, I have something for you to do then.  Come with me!”  And I turned around and walked away.  I didn’t look back.  And I always found them following me by the time I reached my destination.

If you can manage to have absolute certainty that a young person will fulfill your request, you will often find that they do.  The trick is to turn around so that you are not facing them any more.

My friend does this when he wants students to do problems on the board.  He’ll say, “Michael, you can do this next problem on the board.”  And then he holds out his hand with the white board marker, and turns his body to face another student and begins another conversation.  The student is then left with a hand holding a marker directly in front of him, but only the teacher’s back to argue with.  My friend tells me it works every time, even with students other teachers tell him are completely unwilling to engage in the classroom.

It’s fabulous!