It’s been years since the publication of “100 Repetitions”—the phrase we developed in my school to hang in with students who brought all their struggles, pain, latent desire to learn, and enduring humanity with them every day. All schools have such challenging students; I thought the notion of 100 repetitions might be useful in all schools.
The article continues to be read in professional development, in PLCs, in college and university programs. I still hear from readers that 100 Repetitions provides them with comfort when they have helped a student through a tough day–their struggles are never in vain. With those struggles come stories of successes, often years later seeing a student in the supermarket who remembers that he was cared for when he was at his lowest.
The article included seven components of a good repetition. Each of them can be updated, as follows:
- Preserve relationships. Research and discoveries in the field of brain science have underscored a vital aspect of our work: students learn when they feel secure; our brains scan the environment for safety before they allocate resources to new cognitive tasks. We now know that scores of students come to school with trauma histories, traumas from big events and traumas from persistent neglect and abuse. Our resolve to treat every child on their worst day with exquisite respect is part of their healing process, part of their journey to recover their cognitive stability. We also know that the other students are keenly watching us manage their struggling peers. If we treat their peers with respect, and not anger and fear, their mirror neurons will register our respect; mirror neurons allow humans to feel the experience of another person, the foundation of community—the other students will feel safer with us and learn more.
- Be genuine in your emotions. The research is abundant: human memory is linked to and dependent on emotions–we are feelings beings who think. When my father-in-law was significantly impaired by dementia, when he could not remember events from day to day, he still felt his emotions. The most important aspect of caring for him was that each interaction was genuine. With a student who has had a hard day, the best and most emotionally genuine thing I’ve said is often, “I did not know how to help you more. I wish I did.” Many students have said back to me, with calmness beyond their years, “I know.” That’s a good repetition.
- Help the student accurately understand the consequences. The development of restorative justice in schools has been a hugely significant sea-change in how we address behavior and simultaneously build our learning communities. In the past, when students were non-compliant, we used to have only one big hammer in our tool kit: suspensions. We now know suspensions often lead to more suspensions, with little investment by the school or the student to build understanding. Restorative justice asks not what rule was broken, but what harm must be repaired, and that harm is often to relationships. Without relationships there is limited learning. Schools that invest in restorative justice are seeing statistically significant decreases in aggressive behaviors and suspensions. The consequence of a suspension is a day off; the consequence with restorative justice is taking responsibility, making amends, and being pulled back into the community. That too is a good repetition.
- Highlight every bit of growth. There is no predictable sequence of learning for students who have been neglected, abused, bullied, and under-resourced—these students have jumped the rails from the typical arc of human development. The path forward is only what each of them can next be supported to try. This approach dovetails with the revolutionary push for competency-based education and personalized learning, to see students in all subject areas as having unique readiness, to recognize what each has learned and to find the next teachable skills. You start by saying, “This is what I see you are capable of now.” No brain is at step zero.
- Listen to the student. 100 Repetitions was written as high-stakes testing became the norm. In fact, the current generation of new teachers may not have experienced schools in which their teachers were free from the shackles of mandated lessons, pacing guides, and relentless pressure to get through the curriculum before they administered the required pre-packaged tests. In my work in schools all over the country, and especially in secondary schools, I hear teachers say, “Where can I get the time to talk to a student who has been sent from class?” This is so sad—and we must fight back. If your student is being escorted by support staff back to the classroom, plan ahead of time for that person to cover the class for two minutes (yes, a full 120 seconds!) so that you can ask the student, “How are you? Is there anything I need to know so today goes well? Please tell me.” You can also ask a school administrator as well to give you that time. Being listened to is a primary component of being connected, and being connected is a primary component of learning in school. A good repetition that takes 120 seconds is a more efficient use of time than a repeat crisis that requires far more of your time and energy.
- Let them feel their feelings. Many readers know the scene in Hanging In (ASCD, 2014), in which I sit on the floor in the hallway with a student who needs me to do that, and no more than that. Modern brain scanning makes clear that many struggling students have more rapid escalation of their flight, fight and freeze reaction to stress, and they take longer than other peers to return to a state of equilibrium. You don’t have to sit on the floor with a student to let them know that you see they are struggling; offer them time and space to gain their composure: “If you need to put your head down for a couple of minutes, that’s okay.” A good repetition can precede and avoid a crisis.
To be clear, I am not a therapist. I am a teacher, a job title I am proud to proclaim. I love crafting lesson plans, setting up my room for success, greeting every student, and challenging every student to go a step beyond the limitations they might place on themselves. I also know, more than when 100 Repetitions was first published, that chronic inequalities in access to health care, nutrition, justice, and economic opportunity means that we all will have students who are not the perfect models of competence and compliance. There are no instant cures, no magic fixes. What still remains is that I do my best for this child who is in front of me this day, and create a good repetition on the path to mastery, whether this will be repetition number 40 or number 99.
As a school community, we engaged in intensive study of the work of Jeffrey Benson around the need for resiliency in adults that can create solid relationships with students. His article on “100 Repetitions” permeated our discussions. We believed that each of us had to try and make a connection and at some point, someone would be the 100th try that got the relationship going…We must believe in the power of the relationships, continue to strive for them and never forget the power of 100 repetitions.Dr. Margy Jones-Carey
I reference the article 100 Repetitions and concepts on a weekly or sometimes daily basis. The concept of needing 100 Productive repetitions for mastery has given myself and many of my teachers the strength to continue on even when all we see is the glimmer of progress. Remembering that it is a process to change behavior and to develop is comforting and allows us to do what we know is needed to support and empower students, even when it is hard!Charna Schubert