Sunday, April 15, 2018

Been There, Done That...A Bad Teacher Habit

One of the hardest bad teacher habits to break is learning not to repeat yourself when you give whole group directions. Part of the reason that it is so hard to break this habit is that we want to help students. It's simply impossible to refuse a student's request for help. Another reason is that no one has taught students to listen carefully and so repeating the directions several times may help students stay on track.

It’s one thing to clarify information or explain directions; it’s another to have to repeat yourself for students who are not in the habit of listening attentively. Don’t assume that your students are good listeners. Many have never been taught how to listen attentively. It's up to you to help students learn when and how to focus their attention when their teacher is talking to them.

To begin to break this time-consuming and frustrating habit, involve your students in the project. Tell then that you are going to help them with their listening skills and explain how that you want them to listen attentively. No talking. Eyes on you. No rustling papers. Create the procedure that you want for your students to use as they listen to you and take the time to carefully teach it to your students.

Set the stage by moving to an area of the room where all students can see and hear you. Call for attention and wait patiently. Remind students that they will be working on their listening skills and that they are to listen carefully since you do not want to waste class time by having to repeat yourself.

Practice with your students if necessary. Make it a shared endeavor and a pleasant way to work out a classroom problem together. With a bit of effort, this can become a part of the culture of your classroom, and you will find yourself not having to repeat directions or other information endlessly.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Most Useful Reflection Technique

If you are like so many teachers, reflecting on your own performance seems to come naturally. A  stickie note reminder on a lesson plan, a scribbled note in a margin, or even making an entry in a formal reflection journal are just some of the ways teachers can think about and review their days. Too often, though, especially after a tough day those reflections tend to center around what went wrong.

It's only natural that this should happen. After all, negative events tend to have a stronger emotional impact on us than positive ones. We seldom replay the positive things that happen in class on the way home from school, for example. Instead, we focus on the problems and challenges that we encounter during the school day. It's all too easy to obsess about what went wrong, the irritating things that happened in class, and our subsequent stress.

As helpful as reflecting on what went wrong in class may be, thinking about what went right is even more powerful. Instead of focusing entirely on the "Maybe I should haves" a more productive way to reflect about your performance is to think about what you did well and how you can repeat that success. Here are some questions that can guide your thinking along a more positive path so that you can use your strengths and successes to build a better classroom.

1. When was I flexible enough to notice that something was not working and change it? What was the positive outcome of this action?

2. What worked in today's lesson? How can I use this in the future?

3. When were my students most engaged? What did I do to create that engagement?

4. How did I help students make connections to the material they were studying?

5. What classroom management problem did I handle better today?

6. Which students seemed to have a good day? How can I help them continue this success in the future?

7. What am I most grateful for today?

8. What progress did I make today in becoming the teacher I want to be?

9. How did I help students interact well with each other?

10. What did I do today that I can be proud of?

Monday, April 2, 2018

Two Quick Tips for Successful Conferences

With spring comes warm weather, student restlessness, and the potential for stressful conferences with parents or guardians to discuss problems that may have been simmering all year. Whether the problems are academic, behavioral, or a combination of both, productive conferences can be powerful ways to resolve issues as the academic year moves towards a close.

Here are two simple ways to ensure that the conferences you will have this spring are positive and productive.

1. Never surprise a parent or guardian with unpleasant news during a conference. By the time a face-to-face meeting is necessary, be sure to have made several phone calls home, sent emails, and contacted counselors, administrators, and other appropriate staff support personnel in an attempt to resolve the situations that are keeping students from being successful. Document those efforts and take that documentation with you to the conference to indicate that you have done all that a professional educator should do in advance of a conference. Ideally, a conference should just be the final step in creating a solution.

2. During the conference itself, allow parents or guardians to speak first. Allow them plenty of time to express their concerns and opinions. Listen attentively. Until parents or guardians have had the opportunity to say everything they need to say, then--and only then--can they listen to you or work on a solution. Listening respectfully to the concerns of parents or guardians signals that you are willing to work together with them and that you value their insights.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is Anybody Listening?

One of the easiest mistakes for any teacher--and especially a first-year teacher--to make is to talk when students are not listening. There are lots of reasons for this, but none of them are good ones. If you are talking and your students are not listening, then nothing productive is happening and you are sending a strong message that what you have to say is not important.

If you only make one small change this month, then make that small change be that you will help your students listen to you when you speak to them. If you want a class to listen to you, catch their attention and then slowly lower the volume of your voice. If you really want to make students pay attention, a dramatic stage whisper works wonders.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Don't Give Up on Challenging Students

At this time of year, it's easy to feel discouraged about the potential success of students who have been challenging since the term began. By this point, you have probably had numerous conferences with administrators, counselors, case managers, parents or guardians, your lunch table companions, and the students themselves. When nothing appears to change, it's only natural to feel discouraged. Weary. Worn out. Frustrated.

Don't give up. All of your students--and especially the challenging ones--deserve the best from you. They need to feel that they can succeed. More important, however, they need to feel that you still believe in them. 

Because challenging students often have years of failure behind them, they expect to be singled out—to be different.  When teachers appear to give up, then the negative self-image that challenging students carry with them is reinforced once again. 

Teacher commitment to the belief that all students are expected to succeed is the bedrock of successfully dealing with challenging students. After all, if their teachers don’t believe in their ability to succeed, who will?

Instead of giving in to your frustration and viewing your students with expectations of looming misbehavior, if you can calmly treat difficult students with the same expectations as other students, they will often rise to the occasion. The self-fulfilling prophecy of their teacher’s acceptance and expectations will make it possible for them to achieve academic and behavioral success.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Brighten Up Your Winter Classroom with Free Posters

Need a little bit of inspiration for your students? It's just a click or two away.

Although the very best d├ęcor in any classroom is student created work, you can also make your classroom a friendlier place for your students to work without having to spend any of your own paycheck.

At Print A Poster (, you can find lots of free posters to brighten your walls and inspire your students. There are lots of categories to choose from with a wide variety of choices in each category.

Busy Teacher ( offers over sixty free posters for teachers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Need Help with Differentiation? Try So All Can Learn

Like many teachers, I always felt frustrated when I learned about a really good idea but had no real idea about how to implement it in my classroom so that it would work. One of those exciting but frustrating ideas is differentiation.

The benefits of a differentiated classoom are obvious to anyone who has ever faced a room full of students, but the nuts and bolts of how to make it work without losing control of the class environment or even your sanity trying to keep up with all of the moving parts can be intimidating.

While there are lots of helpful resources available to teachers online, John McCarthy's book, So All Can Learn, and his web site, are both resources well worth exploring. Practical, well-written, and filled with useful information, it is well worth your time to include these resources in your research about differentiation. You can also find him on Twitter: @JMcCarthyEds.