10 Ways to Flip a Kid - Sketchnote by @sylviaduckworth

10 Ways to Flip a Kid and Turn Their Day Around

In A Story of a Young Life Turned Around by Great Teachers, Kevin Honeycutt shared, “I believe you can flip a kid on any given day in one hour.” I've been thinking. Can you?

Well, when something horrific happens: death in the family or other trauma — maybe not. But on most days with most kids, I think this is true. I had an upset child just yesterday. We had a private talk as she was coming into the classroom (straggling behind everyone else). And yes, she was flipped. My words and our interaction FLIPPED HER and changed her day. When I saw that happen, I realized that it is true. We can flip kids (and perhaps each other) if we pay attention and notice.

Here are some ways you can flip a kid. Please share yours in the comments. Let's get this kid flipping conversation going!

10 Ways to Flip a Kid in Your Classroom and Turn Their Day Around

I've been pondering, “how do you flip a kid, like you flip a house?” Reflecting over fourteen years, here's how I've seen it done.

1. Rebelieve in a child.

Kevin Honeycutt talks about rebelieving on the show. Give the child another chance. Decide you're going to rebelieve in them and show it with your actions. It can be hard, but it is necessary. (Sometimes we need to re-believe in colleagues too.)

I believe you can flip a kid on any one day in one hour. Kevin Honeycutt

2. Stand there and care as they enter the classroom

Stand at the door, look them in the eye and call them by name as the day begins. If you look at their eyes, you can tell if they've slept. You can see stress. You can figure out all kinds of things. Call them by name. Ask them how their weekend was or if they're doing ok.

3. Notice kids who need extra attention and give it.

When you notice kids who are having a bad day (as they enter your room), ask them how they are. Connect with them on a personal level. Talk to them.

4. Be genuinely interested in your students.

Know what the student likes, ask them about their hobby or interest. If you can know about these ahead of time (see the 2 activities below), then you're ready. Here are two classroom activities to uncover their interests:

[callout]Classroom activity 1. Adapted from Dave Burgess.

Step 1: Set the Stage. I call my Computer Lab the “Wonder Lab.” I talk to students about how this classroom is filled with wonder. But the most wonder-FULL thing is them. They are full of wonder. Talents they haven't discovered yet. Strengths they don't even know are there. So, I have play dough under these pirate bandanas (hat tip Teach Like a Pirate – oh yeah) and ask the students to uncover them.

Step 2: Model their Wonder. I ask them to model something out of the play dough that is one of their wonderful things. I play “What a Wonderful World” and they make their wonderful item. They take pictures and upload them to our private site. (They are also learning how to take pictures and upload them.)

Step 3: Share their Wonder-fullness with Parents. I take pictures with their face in the picture. They explain why this is something wonderfull about them. I share these pics with parents on Bloomz, giving them a quick reason to go ahead and join our parent-teacher communication system. Plus, the first pic parents see is of their child smiling in my classroom.[/callout]

[callout]Classroom activity 2.

Great teachers unleash learning that feeds off student curiosity. Students write down “three things I wonder about in technology” on an index card. Now, as the teacher, I customize the classroom based upon their curiosities. It makes for a more engaging classroom.[/callout]

5. Be positive.

If someone wrote down everything you say in a class period, would it be positive, negative, or neutral. Positive people promote growth and change.

Learn how to give compliments. “High five.” “Fist pump.” “Knuckle punch.” “Oh yeah!” Try one of the growth mindset statements I've shared.

Awesome teachers celebrate wins. When I'm 100, I pray to have lots of laugh lines and no frowny ones. How about you? Are you positive?

6. Talk privately with kids who act out.

When the student seems to be having a difficult time often, they'll act out. Talk privately and ask how they are doing and if something is wrong. Don't give kids who are acting out an audience. After taking a child aside, I often like to say,

“This is not like you. Today is not who you are. What is happening that is causing you to act this way?”

I learned this early on in my teaching career. A normally docile student suddenly lashed out at me and said something awful. At first, I thought I should send her to the principal. Instead, I took her outside my door and said five words,

“What on earth was that?”

She burst into tears. Her parents had told her they were getting a divorce. She hadn't told anyone. Her profanity-laden outburst was a cry for help. There's no excuse for profanity, but sometimes, you have to be the adult and know that they are still  young. Sometimes they just want your attention.

If you respond poorly to acting out, you can permanently destroy a relationship with a child. You can also lose the respect of the entire class. Remove the class or remove the student. Either way — get rid of the audience and handle this privately. Because when you have a confrontation with a student in front of the class isn't isn't just you and them but a powerful third party called peers who will make them act differently than if it were just a one on one chat.

When you finish having the discussion, always make sure you address the inappropriate behavior. I typically say something like:

“Now, if you look me in the eye and I know that we have an understanding that isn't going to happen again, we can both move on.”

We talk about the behavior. Every single time, the child has apologized, we've made peace, and we have come out stronger. Every single time it has flipped their day (and often mine.) Teaching isn't easy, it is worth it. Acting like the adult in hard situations always makes you feel like a pro when you're a teacher.

7. Pull up a chair.

To interact with a child on an even level, pull up a chair. They are sitting, you're sitting. Sometimes a conversation or a little extra attention lets them know how important they are.

I teach quite a few introverts who don't like extra attention, so while projects are going on, I'll roll around and spend time with everyone. I never stop first at the introverted child's desk who I know needs time. Some students who are tremendously introverted will blush if I start with them.

So, as kids work on their projects, I'll roll my chair and spend time with each student. We'll talk about what they're doing. If a child is tired, ask if they feel ok. Sometimes a quick question will open up a conversation.

8. Compliment them to their parents or someone important to them.

Genuine compliments are my favorite type of thing to communicate to parents. As Joe Sanfellipo and Amy Fadeji said in 10 Awesome Ways to Build Parent Partnerships, the first contact with a parent should be positive. Then, after that we need positives to keep flowing. You can do that several ways:

  • Pictures of kids succeeding in the classroom (I post them just to the class in Bloomz as I don't like these pics to be on the public web.)
  • Genuine compliments of something a child is mastering quickly or excelling at doing. (I text them to parents via Bloomz.)
  • A funny story of their child's personality that also shows my appreciation of their individuality.
  • Notes on report cards or progress reports about each child's strengths.

[callout]Think about it.  When a child goes home, and someone says, “Mrs. Vicki says you are good at doing ___” or “Mr. Smith says you did a great job at ___ today.”  Your name has just been said in a positive way. That, my dear teacher friends, is a good thing. [/callout]

9. Use Grace in your Discipline.

Monday morning I was furious. I have a special chair that Kip bought for me that I sit in at my desk. It is expensive because I was having knee problems and I needed one with the right ergonomics for me. (See 5 Great Ways to Make Your Classroom a Healthier, Happier Place.)

So, I have one big rule — no one sits in my chair. Ever. The kids all know it. Several weeks ago, my own son and another boy broke the rule. My husband had to come in and fix the chair. I reminded my classes just last week.

Someone let three boys into the Wonder Lab last Friday. They sat in my chair. When I came in Monday, it was messed up. I was furious. I found out who they were, and I admit, I was angry. I communicated but I did not discipline them. I, literally, sat on it for a day. Instead, I went back to each of them on Tuesday and said this,

“I am sorry I was so angry yesterday. Mr. Kip had to come in last night and fix the chair. I know when you sit in the chair, you don't feel like you're messing it up, but it does. So, I have a rule that no one sits in my chair. My husband bought me that chair two years a go for my birthday so I wouldn't come home with my back and knees hurting. Now, whether you agree with it or not, do you understand the rule that no one sits in my chair?”

Each boy said yes.

“Now, I was pondering what to do on this because you broke a rule in my class. My question is: Do you understand the rule or do I have to put you in break detention so you remember it?”

“Mrs. Vicki, I promise that I will not break the rule, and I understand it.” each boy said to a T.

“Well, here's what I'm doing, then. I believe your word and that you'll do as you say. If you don't keep your word, you won't just have one day, you'll have three, but I don't think it will come to that. Let's move on with this understanding.”

We end with reinforcing the rule. Reinforcing that they are going to be men of their word and that I believe in them. I believe none of the three will break that rule again. You can call me naive but in 14 years of teaching, this discipline with grace always works. I've never had to go back and put them in detention for the three days.

Kids who are spoken to with respect like adults often act like functional adults. Also, note that I handled it privately and discussed it when I wasn't furious. You will be respected when you behave respectably.

In the end, handling disciplinary issues with tact and wisdom improves things.

It also flips their day when you are one adult who believes in them and lets them work situations out like adults. Certainly there are times I might send a child to detention but I can count them on one hand for the past two years.

10. Do Something Extra.

Kids notice when you go over and above. Here are just a few ways to be a little extra noticing:

  • Follow up. If you see a child early in the day, and they are having a hard time – try to find them in the hall or after school and check on them.
  • Do Things Related to What They Love. If a child says they love something, and you have it in your power to give them that thing or something related, do it. (For example, I had a student who loved a certain old SNL character. I used the clip and mentioned their name in a lesson plan. I'm celebrating that child!)
  • Talk About What They Love. I have a student who loves skeet shooting. No one else does this sport, but she loves it. Every time I see her, I ask her about the sport and what she's doing next. Another student loves her horse. I ask about the horse! New siblings. Favorite sports. Big accomplishments. Let them tell the story they love to tell just one more time.
  • Laugh with them. Make time for laughter.[callout] A funny story from yesterday.
    Yesterday in class I had some old dry cookies I was about to pitch. Some of my kids said – oh, could I have one. I said, “sure, they're dry — you can eat it over the trash can.”
    Well, they put it in their mouth, and they were so dry that they'd have little crumbs fly into the air like steam out of your mouth on a cold day.
    So, two of them looked at each other, and one said to the other ‘let's have a cookie-off'. The understood (somehow) and said, “let's do this.”
    So, they squared off like the old-timey cowboys having a gunfight over my trashcan. Each looked at the other and put the whole cookie in their mouth. I laughed when I realized what they were doing. It was kind of like the cinnamon challenge – dry dry dry – but it was hilarious.
    Now, some of you will fuss at me for having sugar (gasp) in my classroom. But we laughed our fool heads off for the 2 minutes at the beginning of class, and they sat down to work for the next 50. [/callout]
    You can't make this stuff up, and you can't make laughter happen except not to be so stiff and rigid that no one cracks a smile in your classroom except when you trip on a pencil and almost fall.
  • Plan Memorable Things. We to anticipate fun. Events. Activities. Trips. I want to be the one who has these things, but you can even have them with no notice. If the kids come in dragging, I'll pull out my costume kit (see Drama in the Classroom: 2 Examples with Bellringers), and we'll act out scenes. Memories and laughter can always turn the day around.
  • Stop Everything when a Crisis Happens. I had a child in a wreck a little over a month ago. The kids had just found out and came into my room with blank faces. I didn't know what happened, but I know my students enough to know something was up. I always ask where every student is and when I came to her chair — they told me. I stopped class and changed the lesson plan on the spot – We made get well cards on their computer for her. They needed to channel their skills into something constructive that would help them deal with their emotions. Believe it or not, this flipped the attitude of the whole class. While they were still upset, they smiled as they laughed about things that they could write to make her laugh. It changed the whole relationship for me with that class because they know I hurt when they hurt. I love them.

Be a Human Being Not Just a Human Doing.

I could teach like Einstein and preach like Martin Luther King Jr. but it would mean nothing without love. Love stops what it is doing when there is crisis.

Love looks people in the eye. Love believes in people. Love knows that relationships trump everything. Love — LOVES PEOPLE. And in the end, flipping a kid is the same as flipping any person — showing love.

[callout]How have you flipped a kid? Please tell your story. [/callout]

I'll send free ideas and handouts to help your classroom be kinder

Join the Kindness Club and get this free kindness poster as your first gift. When I made this poster and started using it, kids started giving each other compliments -- literally. They tear them off and spread the kindness.

If you register today, I'll send you some helpful reminders, tips, and freebies to help you have more kindness in your classroom.

(I'll send you reminders every so often, once or twice a week.)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Kylie November 4, 2015 - 3:24 pm

Thank you! We’re in our last term of school for the year and I have a child in my class who needs all of these. I really appreciate this opportunity to flip both of us!

Vicki Davis November 4, 2015 - 6:02 pm

Flipping can be hard! And sometimes we try and try and nothing seems to work!

Mary Foster November 5, 2015 - 1:24 am

You couldn’t preach like Dr. Looking without love. He preached love.

Vicki Davis November 5, 2015 - 5:39 am

Is that autocorrect? Do you mean Dr. Martin Luther King?

Melanie November 5, 2015 - 8:07 am

I love your examples. Although I am now retired, this post brought up so many great memories. I truly believe talking to a student privately just outside the classroom can solve many discipline issues. I’ve seen it happen so many times. That quick talk can make a world of difference. Your chair example made me laugh. I bought myself a stool after foot surgery. I loved my stool and I did get a little crazy when students sat on it and moved it up and down. Haha

Vicki Davis November 5, 2015 - 4:33 pm

Lol! We all have our hot buttons Melanie!!! This is an awesome comment! The fact that you remember so much of this means you were a flipping teacher- the kind that flipped it well! Thanks for commenting!

Nashima Harvey, Ed.M January 4, 2016 - 1:22 pm

I totally agree with you and I am grateful for this post. The name of the game is r-e-s-p-e-c-t your students. When you respect them and show them that you believe in them, they will allow you to help them turn their day around. Reciprocity becomes key when respect is in the classroom. As an educator, being intuitive and connected toward your students needs and wants puts you in a position of having a positive day for not only yourself but others too! Organic teaching at its best and definitely what I do to show the educators, students, and parents that I work with that I do respect them and their feelings.

Vicki Davis January 8, 2016 - 7:03 pm

I agree with you Nashima! We must respect our students. Thank you for commenting.

Marcia Nowlin January 9, 2016 - 4:52 pm

Great tips! I think that when we LISTEN to kids, they feel valued and respected. Many of our students who act out are rarely heard. Knowing they’ve been heard flips kids.

Vicki Davis January 11, 2016 - 1:27 pm

Yes! Thank you so much!

Rob January 21, 2016 - 9:07 pm

Vicki, These are great tips that work on all students of any age. “Flipping a kid” is the surest way to get them to believe in themselves and fulfill all of their God-given talent. What kid wouldn’t succeed with 12 or 13 years of these kind of responses from all teachers? NONE! I stumbled over #8 my first year of teaching because Adam’s behavioral choices became worse with calls home for bad behavior. A positive ONLY daily journal home turned his (and my) year AROUND!

Natalia January 31, 2016 - 4:50 pm

Thank you for the wonderful ideas and examples. I too believe that if students feel respected they will allow us to help them and talk to them about their issues. While it is very important for an educator to have a great day, students need to have one too. 

Vicki Davis January 31, 2016 - 5:13 pm

Well said Natalia!

Lia Gyore February 12, 2016 - 11:13 am

I think (hope) all teachers actively “flip” students in their classrooms. What I want yo add is that you can flip a student in any classroom. You know those kids who “have a rep” on campus, the seemingly unflippable. Choose one you see regularly and make daily contact that is positive and encouraging. When you are not the one who is working the behavior plan and dealing with the disruptions, it is easier to seek out the positive, be the encourager and hopefully make an impact that will not only make the student’s day better but your colleague’s as well. It works.

Vicki Davis February 12, 2016 - 7:11 pm

Great point, Lia! Thank you for sharing it!

Christine February 19, 2016 - 8:03 am

I love this! I have a boy in my class who has very low self esteem and doesn’t come from a loving home. He tries very hard to ignore instructions and is labelled by other teachers as a problem child. I have even heard a teacher call him a psycho once. I try treating him with love and kindness and he responds now and then. Today he was late for class. I stopped him at the door and asked why he was late (in a curious way, not a mean one). He refused to respond and just walked past me. I told him that he must remember to apologise when he is late, as I know he takes pride in being polite. He kept telling me he doesn’t want to apologise. I then told him I will give him some time and I am sure he will feel differently. Barely 5min later and he was at my desk apologising and begging me to check his book because it was up to date. I hope I am reaching this young man by believing in him!

Vicki Davis February 19, 2016 - 6:17 pm

Keep believing. Keep trying. Persist and don’t quit. You never know what is going on in the heart or life of a child. As for the teacher who labeled him a psycho- that is not what is professional teachers do- I just hope your teacher friend was having a bad day and decides to give him another chance!

Sarah Bolema February 28, 2016 - 6:56 pm

In not wanting to give attention to negative behaviors, we often miss opportunities to help the child turn their day around. When they disengage and put their head down or if they argue or yell…simply state, “I can tell you must be having a really hard day, I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do? ” If they don’t answer, just remind them, “Ok, if you change your mind, let me know, I’d love to help.”

Khadijah M. March 17, 2016 - 8:13 pm

I first have to thank you for this post! I am a new teacher in a prek classroom and I have been searching for new ways to redirect challenging behavior and challenging thoughts for me. You have given me multiple ways to do both so thank you! I will be visiting your blog again for some more valuable information!

Becky March 30, 2016 - 6:31 pm

Thank you for this article. Very thought provoking and a good reminder for this veteran teacher.

Jeanne Fimmen April 11, 2016 - 10:52 pm

This is a GREAT reminder to us that all behavior needs to be treated with respect. I especially connected to, “This is not like you. Today is not who you are. What is happening that is causing you to act this way?” We as teachers need to be the adult and realize that young people have very real ‘stuff’ going on in their lives.

This past December I had a boy who could not get himself settled to read during our silent reading time. It was out of character for him to be defiant, and so I decided to go and ask him what was up. He confided quietly that his father had left and told him he wasn’t coming back. I replied to him that I could understand why he wasn’t able to read when he had such a heavy thing on his mind, and then asked him how I could help. He replied that he was pretty tired and that he needed to just rest his read while everyone else read. I’ve continued to check in with this student, and I know he appreciates it.

Vicki Davis April 13, 2016 - 6:52 am

Wow, Jeanne – what a story! This happens so much! And this is what changes EVERYTHING. Care. Tune in. Love the kids! and you’ve done that Jeanne. Your insight and love honors our profession and this child. I have chills as I write this at 6:45 in the morning before heading to school. Thank you!

Richard January 8, 2018 - 7:41 am

Great examples and stories from an inspirational teacher! Was it just me or is there an added layer to your choice of words?
I just have this image of these kids coming into class like little bugs — some of them wrong-way-up, on their backs with their legs flailing about unable to progress forward. As a thoughtful teacher, it’s our job to help right those ones by ‘flipping’ them, so they can scurry along like the rest of them, join the rest of the class in a day of happy learning! Hehe :)

Vicki Davis January 12, 2018 - 5:25 pm

I love that one, Richard! That is GREAT! I’ll never see it the same either!

Debbie March 8, 2018 - 7:55 pm

Great ideas! Thank you so much for sharing and reminding me of the importance of these!

Rylee May 6, 2021 - 5:32 pm

I am a college student majoring in elementary education. I really enjoyed this post as a future teacher and will definitely use these tips in the future! I especially loved the wonderful things activity, it incorporates creativity and self-love! I am also a fan of your discipline technique, I know it might be frustrating but it is so much more effective and respectful to speak kindly with the children. I found this post VERY useful, thank you!


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere