Thursday, June 18, 2015

Change Your Classroom with Random Acts of Kindness

“Don’t write in the margins.”

“Don’t sharpen your pencil while I am talking.”

“Don’t distract your neighbors.”

It is all too easy for an educator’s day to become filled with well-intentioned negatives. Instead of a constant barrage of negative directives, though, consider the positive environment you could create if you could 1. Help students learn to be considerate of others, 2. Build community in your classroom, and 3. Encourage self-motivation.


It’s easy: encourage your students to perform frequent random acts of kindness.

Because classes vary so widely not just in age, maturity, ability levels, and general class chemistry, you will have to spend a little time determining how you want to unleash this powerful classroom tool.


Start by thinking about your students’ strengths and about the areas that you would like to see improved. Next, think about your students and the things that you know they enjoy. Just one or two simple actions would make a positive difference and is a great way to begin. Perhaps you could ask students to bring in extra pencils to share or write thank you notes to the cafeteria workers.


Small things can make a big difference in helping students think about how they can make their world a better place just by being kind. Here are a few more ideas for random acts of kindness written for students to follow that you can adapt for your own classroom.

  • Compliment two of your classmates this week on something that they have done well.
  • Bring in a book to donate to the school or classroom library.
  • Help pass out papers that need to be returned.
  • Make a study guide for a quiz or test and share it with classmates.
  • Clean up your area of the room at the end of class and encourage others to do the same.
  • Put a sticky note with an encouraging message on someone’s desk on in a book.
  • Make sure that everyone is included in a conversation.
  • If there is a new student in your class, be a buddy.
  • Tell the bus drivers how much you appreciate them.
  • Be on time to class and follow the rules so that you help everyone learn.
  • Be willing to share materials when other students need them.
  • If a classmate is absent, volunteer to get the handouts for the day and make sure that person knows how to make up work.
  • Check with your teacher first, but offer to bring in healthy treats for the entire class to share.
  • Pick up litter in the hall or around the school whenever you see it.
  • Tutor a younger student.
  • Play a charity game at to help those less fortunate.
  • Donate rice to the World Food Programme by playing Free Rice at
  • Make inspirational bookmarks and share them with classmates.
  • Bring in classroom supplies such as paper towels, tissues, or hand sanitizer.
  •  Write the custodians a thank you note and be sure to leave the classroom clean.

For more ideas about how to encourage your students, check out.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Let them be these:
  1. Spend your energy on large problems first. Choose to deal with the problems that will provide the greatest benefit right now.
  2. Use your strengths.  You are stronger than you realize.
  3. Problems can move you forward when you choose to work to solve them. That's a good thing.
  4. Make room for more emotional energy. Ask for help when you have a problem. Ask lots of people for help. Be willing to give help as well.
  5. Learn to see problems as challenges that you can overcome.
  6. Be proactive! Plan what you are going to do if...
  7. Don’t forget that small attitude changes often create bigger patterns of success. What small attitude change can you make today?
  8. If you can’t say it in front of the school board without looking silly, don’t.
  9. Let professionalism be your guide.
  10. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if the problems you have today will be important next year.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Be Everyone's Favorite Teacher

It’s not hard to be everyone’s favorite teacher. Really, it isn’t. If you think about your favorite teachers, there are some common denominators that they shared.

  • You felt important.
  • You felt as if your opinions mattered.
  • You looked forward to class because while there was lots that was predictable, there was also lots that was interesting. Time flew by most days.
  • You knew that you could ask for help without embarrassment.
  • They made you feel intelligent and worthwhile.


So, whether school is out for you now or still in session, it is not too late to be everyone’s favorite teacher. Here are some easy tips that will make your students glad to be in your class.

  • Don’t forget that the class is about your students and not about you. Be careful not to overpower your students with your knowledge or authority. Instead, be gentle and inclusive in your approach.
  • Smile. Be super polite. Overwhelm your students with niceness.  
  • Tell your students what you like about them. Make it a point to compliment them whenever you can. Compliment individuals, small groups, teams, pairs…the entire class.
  • Be prepared for class. When you are prepared, you will not have to worry about what you do or don’t know. Instead, you can just focus on your students.
  • Show that you have a sense of humor. Share a laugh with your students whenever you can. Playing together and laughing together will make school fun for everyone.
  • When you speak with students, lean towards them slightly. Let your body language indicate that you are interested and accessible.
  • Greet your students courteously as they come into the classroom. At the end of class, stand at the door and speak to them as they leave.
  • Take the time to reveal a little bit about yourself. For example, a brief story about a silly mistake you made or how you learned a lesson the hard way will make you much more accessible and appealing to your students than if you are always right.
  • Ask questions and wait expectantly for answers. Let your body language signal that you are interested in the responses that you may receive.
  • Move around the classroom. Every part of the room should be part of your circuit.
  • Use inclusive pronouns such as we, our, or us instead of ones that exclude students from ownership in their class.
  • Get your students up and moving. Sitting in a desk day after day will not just bore them, but it will also make the distance between teacher and students greater.
  • Find out your students' goals and dreams and help them work toward achieve them.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share their opinions and beliefs with you and with each other in a non-threatening way.
  • Be empathetic and sympathetic. Acknowledge it when a student is having a bad day.
  • Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to interact with your students on a one-to-one or personal level. Ask about their hobbies, problems, families…whatever it takes to connect.
  • Be fair. Few things destroy a relationship between teacher and student faster than a student’s suspicion that he or she is being treated unfairly.
  • Be tactfully honest. Students know when they are being lied to and those lies will destroy the relationship you may want to build.
  • Show respect for all of your students as well as for their families, neighborhoods, and cultures.
  • Use your students’ names frequently and with a gentle tone of voice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Do Something Spectacular!

Lots of advice for any teacher this time of year tends to focus on making it to the end of the year. You know how it is: Lots of gritting our teeth and grimly hanging on until the very end. What a miserable way to spend even one minute of our lives, much less convey that attitude to our students. If we are as miserable as the gloomy advice would make it seem, just think how miserable our students must feel.

Instead of glumly counting the days until we can be freed from the prison that school can be this time of year, how doing something---well, spectacular? And by spectacular, think fireworks, cheers, applause, celebrations, a huge smile on every student’s face.

Changing a negative mindset this time year can change everything. It’s a sure win-win. Best of all, it is pretty easy to be spectacular. Here’s how.

1. Hold a classroom awards ceremony. Celebrate the little things that have made the year special: most improved, neatest papers, most cooperative…the list is endless.

2. Surprise students with a bulletin board dedicated to their accomplishments. Take sneaky photos of them working and print them out. Then, use bright paper to spell out their successes. Maybe a Top Ten list of the best moments of the year.

3. Have students write each other thank you notes for the kind things they did for each other during the year.

4. Hold a Teach-a Thon to prepare for final exams or end of the year standardized tests. You can manage it, but students can be the actual teachers.

5. Bury a class time capsule to be opened when they graduate. Fill it with notes to their future selves, headline clippings, and other memorabilia.

6. Hold a charity event where students work together to help others less fortunate. Online games such as Free Rice are wonderful for this. Locally, there are many organizations that could use student volunteers or donations. The key to making this type of project spectacular is that students will be having fun with classmates.

7. Turn review sessions into sporting tournaments. Hold an Olympics or a World Series or a Stanley Cup Playoff. Have students make up rules and procedures and have a blast!

8. Break out giant sheets of bulletin board paper and have students write advice to next year’s students. They can outline each other’s hands or feet and write their names on it as well. You benefit from the relaxed time now as well has with a wonderful bulletin board next fall.

9. Have students make two or three paper airplanes each. Then, have them write facts related to the material understudy on the wings. Take everyone outside and fly the planes. Students have to pick up someone else’s plane, read the information, and fly it again. Chaos? Yes. Fun. Yes. Learning. Yes. Spectacular? You bet.

10. Somehow, find the time to write each child a two or three sentence note about his or her strengths and accomplishments. Wish them well during the next year. Tell them you will miss them. These will sure to be treasured for a long time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Redirecting Off-Task Students: Ten Tried and True Suggestions

Redirecting students skillfully is not an easy task. There is often a delicate balance between trying to gently redirect a student whose attention has wandered and disturbing the entire class. Many of us wonder just when to redirect—at the start of a problem when it is confined to just one person or when a group of students seem to be off task? As a rule of thumb, most experienced educators will agree that it is best to act fairly early and with the least intrusive methods.
 When you notice students off task, try these tried and true suggestions for gently redirecting without raising your voice or embarrassing students.
  1. Matter-of-factly remind all students of the behavior you would like to see from them. The key idea here is that you have already made the expectations clear for every student. All you need to do most of the time is just to calmly remind students of what the expectations are.
  2. Praise students who are on task. Be explicit and direct so that any student who is off task knows what is expected and, even more importantly, how to accomplish the expected behavior.
  3. Put reminders on students’ desks. You could use one color of sticky note with a smiley face on it for students who are behaving well and another color with a frownie face for those students who are not on task. Another reminder that some teachers have found useful is to walk around placing stickers on the papers of students who are on task. If you announced that you only had five stickers and were going to give them to the first five on-task students that you see, then you can expect that your students will generally rush to earn them.
  4. Count 1, 2, 3 and then wait for everyone to pay attention to your directions.  Calm wait time is crucial to getting every student to pay attention to your directions and then to attend to them. Instead of a flurry of directions, count slowly and wait expectantly.
  5. Often students need redirection when their attention spans have reached their outer limits. Set a timer and give everyone a two minute wiggle break. When the timer buzzes, students can go back to work refreshed.
  6. Ask students if they would like help from a classmate or if they would like to help a classmate. This will often give students confidence as well as a shift in the lesson delivery that just might be effective at keeping them focused.
  7. Use your “teacher look” to remind students to keep working. Often just an inquisitive glance is all that it takes to remind a student to focus on learning instead of misbehavior.
  8. Ask students to restate the directions. If you notice a student off task, first move near that student. Then quietly ask for a restatement of the directions. If you then see that there is a larger issue, you could remind the whole class of the directions. If the problem is confined to one student, then it is easy just to clarify the directions and move on.  
  9. Ask students who are struggling with an assignment if they could use a little help. Often all it takes is a brief moment or two and students are able to go right back to work.
  10. Proximity is effective. Move to stand near the students who are off task. While you are near, smilingly glance at misbehaving students. This will almost always serve to keep them settle to work and stay engaged in the lesson.


Monday, April 20, 2015

If Kids Planned the Lesson

If you were to plug “Great Lesson Plans,” into just about any search engine, all sorts of useful information for teachers immediately pops up. Instead of going online, though, how about thinking about a great lesson from a student’s viewpoint? One good way to find out what students really want is to simply ask them how they would like to learn the day’s material. Or, administer a quick survey ( Solicit advice via exit tickets or suggestions dropped into a suggestion box. All of these are good ways to find out what your students would like to do in class. 

               At this point in the school year, though, we probably know our students well enough to be able to predict what they would do if they were given the plan book for a day. Here are some of the essentials that many students would probably like to see included in a great lesson plan.

  1. An opening exercise that allows them to chatter away while making the transition to the day’s lesson. The exercise should also be interesting while reminding them of what they already know. Something like a Round Robin exercise, for example.
  2. Silly videos related to the topic are always a plus. Even better are student-made videos.
  3. Games of just about any sort—low or high tech. Board games are always good no matter what. Student made board games are the best.  
  4. Any game that requires players to roll dice is immediately a huge (and noisy) success.
  5. The perfect student lesson plan will certainly include sharing, collaboration, or teamwork in every possible permutation.
  6. Students like questions that they can answer. This sets the stage for activities where they quiz each other. They would also choose to hold competitions where they can answer as a team and not be put on the spot individually.
  7. Beating the clock is always fun. So is setting a personal best goal and working towards it. Being able to work for a good short-term purpose is always a popular activity.
  8. One unusual student preference is being able to shift partners during an activity or switching teams in the course of a lesson. Movement instead of remaining seated all class keeps everyone alert.
  9. Music. Music. Music. Background music. Headphones. Music is always good.
  10. A countdown to something is always fun. Not a frantic, frenzied race, but a countdown that focuses an activity—like an online countdown clock to an activity.
  11. Students like learning something interesting or peculiar so that they have a good answer to, “What did you learn in school today?” They also like learning interesting and peculiar information just because it’s fun to think about. Weird facts are always fun to know.
  12. Students enjoy an opportunity to write on something besides notebook paper. The more outrageous the surface the better.
  13. If students were to design a lesson, there would be lots of gaudy coloring. Students would be writing on the board more, too.
  14. If there is a lesson with a reading component, students would design it in such a way that classmates read it together—and not in that embarrassing popcorn style either. With friends or friendly teammates to share the reading load.
  15. There would also be a component where students do something to help someone else. Whether it be playing an altruistic game such as Free Rice (, or just helping out classmates, students like to feel that their contributions to the world matter.
  16. Having several choices of meaningful and interesting activities to do in a reasonable amount of time would also be part of a kid-designed lesson plan. Having a free choice among the choices is even more interesting for some students.
  17. Manipulatives, three-D graphic organizers, paper airplanes, and squishy toys are almost mandatory in student-designed lessons. Rubber bands and paper clips would also find a way to be included as well.
  18. Finally, in the ideal lesson designed by students, the homework would be something that fits in with their out-of-school lives and interests and can be done simply—without fuss—and in just the right amount of time.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thirty-three Simple Ways to Be a More Compassionate Teacher

One of the things they don’t teach us in education courses is how important it is to treat your students with compassion. Yet, this is one of the most significant hallmarks of a great teacher—someone who is able to see the spark of goodness and capability in even the most challenging student. Here is a quick list of thirty-three simple ways that we can treat our students with the compassion and care that will make a positive difference in their lives.

1. Smile at your students. Make a point of being glad to see them.

2. At the end of class, take the time to speak to them as they leave. Quickly tell them what they did well during class as they leave to guarantee a positive attitude about class and about themselves.

3. Show that you value and celebrate the diversity in your classroom and encourage your students to do the same.

4. Arrange a plan for students who are missing work to turn it in late. Being generous with accepting late work is one of the most positive actions a teacher can choose to take.

5. Make it easy for students who have missed class to get caught up. Have their handouts ready for a quick pick up and assign a classmate to fill them in on what happened while they were out.

6. Pay attention when your students talk to you. Really listen to all of your students without interrupting. Encourage them to share their ideas and opinions.

7. Maintain a birthday calendar for your students. Celebrate birthdays with birthday messages on the board. You don’t have to throw parties, but an acknowledgement of a special day goes a long way to making a child feel important.

8. If your students play a sport, participate in an after-school event, or perform in a concert, go and watch them to show your appreciation for their hard work.

9. Use good manners when you deal with your students and insist that they do the same.

10. When students confide in you, follow up. For example, if students have told you that they were worried about a test in another class, take the time to ask about how they did.

11. Make it very clear to your students that their dreams are important that you want to help them achieve those dreams.

12. Differentiate instruction whenever you can so that students can learn in a way that best fits their learning styles.

13. Have extra textbooks on hand or create a shared materials area where students who need pencils or paper can quickly borrow some without embarrassment or a hassle.

14. Ask about students’ families or others who play a significant role in their lives. If you know someone is ill, show your concern.

15. Speak to every student each day. Leave no one out of class discussions.

16. Teach students to be courteous to each other.

17. Write notes to your students. Use plenty of stickers and write positive comments on their papers.

18. Write more positive comments on your students’ papers than negative ones. If nothing else, change the color of ink that you use for the positive comments so that they are easy for students to find and read.

19. Pay attention to your students’ health. If students need to go to the clinic, send them. When students have to miss several days because of illness, call to see how they are doing, or send a get-well card. Be prompt in sending work to the student’s home if appropriate.

20. Be sensitive to the economic problems that your students and their families may face. Don’t embarrass a student by publicly asking about free or reduced lunch, for example.

21. Use this sentence to convey your concern: “What can I do to help you?”

22. Offer frequent progress reports so that students don’t need to feel uncertain about their grades.

23. Encourage kindness among your students. Notice and reinforce those acts of kindness that students show each other.

24. Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior. For example, if a normally serious student is neglecting his or her work, find out why.

25. Pay attention to the needs that your students may be ashamed of such as a lack of food at home, no warm winter clothing, or a lack of school supplies. Contact the personnel at your school who can best help your students with these needs.

26. Help students connect to each other so that they can have a support system to help them navigate school life.

27. When a new student appears, help that student by assigning school buddies or class partners. You can also ask students to write quick bits of advice or welcome notes.

28. Educate yourself about the agencies that can offer assistance and support to the various student populations in your school. Refer students who need help when it’s appropriate.

29. Ask your students for feedback whenever you can. It makes anyone feel valued and included when their opinions are sought.

30. Spend time encouraging your students to succeed. Praise and encouragement are effective antidotes to some of the biggest problems that many students face.

31. Help your students save face when they have made an embarrassing mistake. Helping a student avoid embarrassment in front of peers is one of the kindest acts any teacher can perform.

32. Assign the groups and arrange the seats in your class so that the students who may be left out can be comfortably included.

33. Treat your students as you would have wanted to be treated as a student.