Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Become a Charismatic Teacher

Who wouldn't relish the idea of becoming a charismatic teacher? Being the person who makes students feel so important that they would never miss your class or forget to do your homework or talk back? When you were first deciding on a career in education, the chances are good that you did not daydream about unruly students making your life miserable. Instead, you thought of all of the students who would thrive in your classroom.
Fortunately for the millions of teachers working in today's schools, classroom charisma is not a mysterious quality. The basics are quite simple. The tricky part is that you can't forget to work on your charisma. You will begin working on it on the first day of class and you will still be working on it on the last day of class.
Here are a few of the basic tenets of classroom charisma that you can adapt to meet your needs. Sart with the ones that you can manage with ease and then move on to work on the ones that are harder for you to manage.
  • Your class should be about your students and their work. Make them the focus of your attention. Some inexperienced teachers make the mistake of talking about their own lives too often while ignoring students, who are quietly tuning out.
  • Recall those teachers in your past who seemed to have that something special that made their classrooms an enjoyable place to be. What can you take away from those teachers that you could use know with your own students?
  • Smile at your students. No one likes a grouch. A teacher with a pleasant demeanor has half of the charisma battle won. What if you don’t feel like smiling? Do it anyway. You owe it to your students. Remember that your difficult students are the very ones who most need your smiling support.
  • Stand at the door to greet your students as they come into the classroom. You should greet your students to convey the message that you are glad to see them.
  • Overlook what you can. Although it is certainly OK to be strict with your students, there is a fine distinction between a strict teacher and a too-strict teacher. If you spend your day quibbling over minor problems with your students, you will not have enough time to attend to larger issues.
  • Early in the term, establish the procedures and routines your students should follow, and then stick to them as much as reasonably possible. Students who know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it are much more comfortable than those who are uncertain about what you expect.
  • Laugh at yourself. While you should not be the focus of the class—your students and their work should be—you should let your students know that you have enough confidence to not take yourself too seriously.
  • Make sure to eliminate distracting personal habits that might annoy students. Some of the most obvious behaviors that interfere with classroom charisma are a monotone voice, poor eye contact, sloppy speech patterns, and distracting gestures.
  • Charismatic teachers talk less than their students do. Ask questions that will encourage students to share their ideas with you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Want to Motivate Students? Make Success Attainable

It only makes sense. If students do not believe that they can be successful, why should they even try? One of the most important actions that we can do as teachers is to make sure that our students know that they can succeed at the tasks we ask them to complete. Sometimes the roadblocks to accomplishments are ones that are easy to manage, while others may require a bit more time and effort on our part.

            No matter what the obstacle is, though, teachers who want the best for their students will make school success something that is achievable for all students. Here are some actions that you can take to help students feel that their success in your class is something that is within their reach.

  • Teach students to pay attention when you are giving directions. Good listening skills and the ability to understand and follow directions will enable students to proceed with confidence because they will have a clear idea of what to do and how to do it correctly.
  • Offer plenty of models, samples, and examples of finished products so that students know what their own work should be. If you also offer examples of incorrectly done work, your students will also be aware of the mistakes that they need to avoid.
  • Offer detailed rubrics when you make assignments so that students are aware of the criteria for success.
  • When you make assignments, be sure to discuss the best study skills and time management tips that will allow students to make good choices when they begin working. Teachers who take the time to help students figure out the most efficient ways to do their work make it easy for students to do well.
  • Even if students are not officially working together on a project, provide opportunities for them to consult each other or periodically check each other’s work. Allowing them to do this often clears up mistakes before they become permanent ones.
  • Make sure students know how to seek help from you while they are in class or even after class. Making yourself available at appropriate times to help students can really make a difference for those students who may be struggling with an assignment.
  • Break down larger projects into smaller increments with specific mini-due dates so that students are not overwhelmed.
  • When you are working with student formative assessments, take the time to offer specific encouragement instead of just praise or error catching.
  • Check to be certain that all of your students have the resources they need to do their work. If a project calls for online research, for example, students will need access to a computer and printer. Even something as insignificant as the lack of a pencil can make it difficult for students to do their work well.
  • Be prepared to allow students who need extra time to complete an assignment to have that time. Be flexible and work together with them to determine an acceptable deadline. Sometimes just a bit of extra time is all that students need to really do a good job on an assignment.
  • Use the electronic resources available to you to share information and notes about class on a classroom blog or Website. Be careful to keep your postings about such important information as homework, classwork, grades, and other requirements updated regularly.
  • Appeal to your students’ learning style preferences whenever you can so that they can access the material as easily as possible.
  • Offer assignments that allow students to present their work in different modalities so that they will be motivated to work well. Vary the types of finished products you require whenever you can, also. Allowing students to have a choice in the type of final product they need to produce will encourage them to work to completion.
  • Show students how to take good notes for your class and how to maintain an organized notebook. Keeping up with notes and papers  is an important skill that can make it easier for students to succeed. Experienced teachers know all too well the frustration of watching students search overstuffed book bags for missing papers.
  • Design assignments so that the difficulty level of the work begins with items that are easy to manage and then progresses in complexity. This encourages student confidence and willingness to persist at completing the assignment.
  • Provide appropriate enrichment and remediation opportunities as often as you can. Both offer students a chance to improve skills and develop knowledge.
  • Make frequent checks of student progress so that students are aware of what they need to do to succeed.
  • Encourage students to reflect on and self-assess their own work. Students who engage in metacognition about their assignments and work habits tend to be more successful than those who do not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Prior Knowledge and Great Online Lesson Plan Sites

One of the best things about writing about education while still being an active classroom teacher is that the research I do for the book often translates into something practical that I can use in my own teaching practice. In the two excerpts from the manuscript that I am working on right now, the third edition of the First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, I found information that I can use right away. In the first excerpt, "Assess Your Students' Prior Knowledge," I revisited some successful strategies that I used to use but had forgotten.

I hope that some of them may work in combindation with lots of other techniques, to help you figure out what your students already know about what you want to teach so that they can buy in right away and begin learning without delay. In the second excerpt, I wanted to offer the new teachers who are the audience for this book some really good Web sites where they can find lesson plan ideas. Much to my happy surprise, I found several sites that I can use myself and I have been teaching for over thirty-five years. I hope both excerpts can spark your teaching as they have done mine (and as I hope they will the new teachers who will read this book next summer!)


“Your students’ prior knowledge is a gift that they bring to class each day. Before you can make final decisions about what you are going to teach, you first need to determine what your students already know.

            Determining your students’ prior knowledge is crucial because it determines the approach you will take with a unit of study. For example, if most of your students understand a concept, then you may wish to only review it briefly as a springboard to studying the next concept. On the other hand, if most of your students are unfamiliar with information you assumed they would already know, your approach will need to be more comprehensive. Because building on background knowledge is such an important component of successful instruction, determining that background or prior knowledge is essential.

            You can use what you learn about your students’ prior knowledge in many different ways. For instance, if you discover that one student understands a concept and can explain it to the rest of the class, that student’s success will motivate the others to succeed.

            To assess your students’ previous learning, there are many techniques you can use. Try adapting some of these to assess what your students already know about a topic.

        Ask students to write out a quick list of three facts they already know or think they know about a topic. After they have passed their responses to you, read some of them aloud (without revealing the author) and ask the entire class to judge their veracity.

        Ask students to write a brief description of what they have already been taught about the topic you are about to study. You could even ask them to tell you when and how they learned the information.

        Create a brief sampling of some of the questions you plan to include on a quiz or test later in the unit. Ask students to predict the correct answers.

        Divide your students into small groups and ask them to share everything they know about the topic under study. Set a time limit.  After the time limit is up, have a representative from each group share the group’s knowledge with the rest of the class.

        List the main points of the unit you are about to teach, and ask students to write what they already know about each one. Share their answers with the entire group.

        List the key terms that students will study. Have students write what they believe each term means based on what they already know about the topic. They should share their answers with the entire group.

        Ask students work to in pairs, and hand each pair a transparency or a sheet of poster paper. Have each pair brainstorm, listing everything they know about the topic. Share the lists with the class, or display them.

        Offer a puzzling scenario, and ask students to solve it, using what they already know about the topic. Have students keep their responses in order to verify their knowledge as they progress in their study.

        Show students a photograph, cartoon, diagram, quotation, or brief article related to the topic you are about to study. Ask them to share their reactions.

        Ask your students to create a Know/Want to Know/Learned (KWL) chart. The first two sections of the chart will give you a good summary of their previous learning.




Although there are dozens of online sites devoted to lesson plans, the sites in the list below offer a comprehensive assortment of free lesson plans and lesson plan resources for K-12 educators. These sites are not limited in the topics that they cover, but allow teachers to access lesson plans that cover a wide variety of content areas. At some sites, teachers may need to register to be able to fully use all of the resources at the site, but at the time of publication, all of these sites were free resources for educators.


A to Z Teacher Stuff (http://www.atozteacherstuff.com)

A to Z Teacher Stuff is a teacher-created site designed to help teachers find lesson plans, thematic units, teacher tips, discussion forums, printable worksheets as well as many more online resources.


Discovery Education (http://www.discoveryeducation.com)

Discovery Education offers an enormous wealth of resources for teachers—digital media, hundreds of easily adaptable lesson plans, worksheets, clip art, and much more.


Explore (http://explore.org)

Sponsored by the Annenberg foundation, Explore’s library consists of hundreds of brief, original films and more than30,000 photographs from around the world on a  wide range of topics such as animal rights, health, poverty , the environment, education, and spirituality.


Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (http://free.ed.gov)

At Free, teachers can access more than 1,500 federally supported teaching and learning resources submitted from dozens of federal agencies. While these are not actual lesson plans in themselves, these resources  can be invaluable tools in designing instruction.


ForLessonPlans (http://www.forlessonplans.com)

ForLessonPlans is an online directory of free lesson plans for K-12 teachers. Created by teachers, this site offers lesson plans that cover many different subjects as well as links to other resources.


HotChalk (http://lessonplanspage.com)

At HotChalk’s lesson plans page, teachers can access over 3,500 lesson plan. The extensive selection of lesson plans at this helpful resource site were first developed by students and faculty at the University of Missouri in 1996 and later expanded to Website users.


The Independent Television Service (http://www.itvs.org)

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) presents award-winning documentaries and dramas as well as  innovative new media projects on the Web. Teachers can find interactive games and lessons plans that accompany the media presentations.


Lesson Planet (http://www.lessonplanet.com)

Founded in 1999, Lesson Planet enables teachers to search more than 400,000 teacher-reviewed lesson plans, worksheets, and other resources in an online, professional community. A free trial is available.


LessonPlans.com (http://www.lessonplans.com)

Maintained by the Educators Network, LessonPlans.com offers thousands of teacher-created lessons plans in an easy-to-search format organized by topic as well as by grade level.


National Education Association (http://www.nea.org)

The National Education Association Website offers thousands of lesson plans in an easily searchable format. Teachers can also find a variety of lesson planning resources as well as practical tips for classroom use.


Scholastic (http://www.scholastic.com)

Scholastic offers thousands of free lesson plans, unit plans, discussion guides, and extension activities for all grade levels and content areas.


Share My Lesson (http://www.sharemylesson.com)

 Share My Lesson is maintained by the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect. Developed by teachers for teachers, this free platform provides over 250,000 teaching resources and provides an online collaborative community. Share My Lesson also has a significant resource bank for Common Core State Standards.


Teachers Network (http://teachersnetwork.org)

Teachers Network, a New York City nonprofit organization for educators, offers thousands of lesson plans and lesson plan resources covering a wide assortment of topics in a variety of formats for teachers at all grade levels.


Teaching Channel (https://www.teachingchannel.org)

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Teaching Channel is a video showcase of innovative and effective teaching practices schools. Instead of traditional lesson plans, teachers can watch brief videos of effective teaching ideas that they may want to implement in their own classrooms.


Thinkfinity (http://www.thinkfinity.org)

Thinkfinity is the Verizon Foundation’s online professional learning community, providing free access to over 50,000 educators, thousands of  digital resources aligned to state standards and the common core, as well as blogs and discussion groups."



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stay Out of Trouble: The Do's and Don't's of Your School Computer

One of the most exciting moments of any new teacher orientation program is the issuance of  school computers. No matter what type of computer you are issued, it is exciting to be connected with all of the other employees in your district and to have access to the same resources that are available to them. Being issued a school computer also means that new teachers have to adopt a professional approach to the way that they use this ubiquitous tool. After years of working on personally owned computers, many new teachers are not always sure of the behaviors that
are acceptable and which ones are not even though they may have signed a document outlining their district’s acceptable computer use policies. To make sure that your use of your school computer is as professional as possible, be guided by these do’s and don’ts.
School Computer Do’s

  • Do remain aware that the computer is the property of your school district.
  • Do be cautious, conservative, and professional when using your school computer
  • Do transport your computer in the case or bag that was issued with it if you have a mobile devices
  • Do periodically go through your files to keep them organized and up to date.
  • Do back up your work to an external drive on a regular basis.
  • Do follow your school’s protocols for saving to a school network.
  • Do use bookmarks to keep your topics easy to find in a hurry.
  • Do use your computer only for school business.
  • Do create passwords for your various school accounts that are logical, easy to recall, and can be updated periodically.
  • Do respect the intellectual property rights of others.
  • Do make sure to lock portable computers in a secure place  if you don’t take them home each day.
  • Do keep your virus protection updated.
  • Do report problems with your computer as quickly as you can.
  • Do remember to take your computer to school each day.

School Computer Don’ts

  • Don’t download any software program without permission—preferably in writing.
  • Don’t have food or drink near your computer. Spills can be costly.
  • Don’t forget that your email account may be monitored by district personnel.
  • Don’t leave your computer unattended if you have to leave your classroom.
  • Don’t allow students to use your computer.
  • Don’t use other teachers’ accounts without their permission.
  • Don’t visit sites that could indicate that you are not a good school employee such as pornography or extreme political views.
  • Don’t decorate your computer’s case with stickers, images, or anything that has not been approved.
  • Don’t open suspicious attachments that could infect your computer.
  • Don’t share your passwords with others.
  • Don’t conduct personal business on your school computer.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Too Busy for the Most Important People in the Room?

At the start of a new school year, we all have too much work to do. It can be tempting to focus on paperwork that we are required to complete instead of our students. When teachers do this, it sends a powerfully negative message to all of our students.If you have an inkling that you may be one of those too-busy and distracted teachers, try this self-assessment from the professional development guide to the First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide to see how effectively you put your students first.

Use this self-assessment to help determine just how distracted you may be in class. Use these questions to reflect on how well you stay focused on your students while you are in class.
  1. Do you grade papers in class instead of working with students?
  2. Do you leave your cell phone on while you are supervising students?
  3. Do you check e-mail during class?
  4. Do you conduct personal business or deal with your family responsibilities during class?
  5. Are you distracted by routine paperwork tasks such as book counts, attendance forms, or parent contact documentation?
  6. Do you spend class time on extracurricular activities such as clubs orsports that you sponsor?
  7. Do you confer with other teachers while you are supervising students?
To combat the tendency that many busy teachers have to be distracted during class and to make sure that you put your students first, consider these remedies:

  • Learn to ask for help and to delegate whenever possible. Your students can often offer valuable assistance to make routine tasks quicker and easier.
  • Arrive at school a few minutes early and stay a few minutes late.
  • Plan ahead so that you can use your planning time at school as efficiently as possible.
  • Establish routines that will allow you to maximize the time that you have available for the tasks that make your classroom run efficiently.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


One of the most important things that all teachers should do at the start of the school year is to direct their students' thinking about themselves. A class that perceives itself as filled with toublemakers will, without a doubt or any hesitation cause trouble. If, instead of allowing students to create negative images of themselves as a group, think what would happen if you teach them to think highly of themselves. Here is a brief excerpt from THE FIRST-YEAR TEACHER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE to help you get your students headed in the right direction.

Unless you create a positive identity for your class, students may take your smallest misbehavior

correction to mean that you think of them as troublesome. This will happen even more quickly if

students in your class have struggled with school in the past. Once a group starts to think of itself in

a negative way, it is almost impossible to change the group’s self-perception into a positive one.

            Sometimes students have been dragging this negativity around for years. If you can eliminate the negative image and give your class a positive self-image, you will all receive the rewards. But this is no easy task. What you must do is make a conscious effort to praise and reinforce your class’s positive group attributes. Thus, you will promote the group’s desirable behaviors and extinguish their negative ones.

            Even difficult classes can have positive attributes. If a group is very talkative, for example, you can put a positive twist on it and praise the students for their sociability. Further, focus on students’ strengths, rather on what they do poorly. To create a positive group image, you must find and reinforce their positive attributes. Here’s how:

Step One: If you learn that your class has a negative self-image, let students know that you disagree with it.

Step Two: Observe two things about your class: how your students interact with each other and with you and how they do their work. Find at least one positive attribute that you can reinforce.

Step Three: Begin praising that positive attribute as often as you can. In a few days, you will notice that your students will accept it as truth and will start to  bring it up themselves.

            Think of a positive label or two for each class and use these labels frequently. Each of your classes should believe they have a special place in your heart. Here are a few positive labels your students should hear you use at the start of the year:

·       Caring

·       Motivated

·       Intelligent

·       Prepared

·       Successful

·       Friendly

·       Polite

·       Accurate

·       Efficient

·       Reasonable

·       Adaptable

·       Reflective

·       Adventurous

·       Energetic

·       Creative

·       Studious

·       Realistic

·       Cooperative

·       Industrious

·       Likable

·       Helpful

·       Dependable

·       Ingenious

·       Determined

·       Thoughtful

·       Deep thinkers

·       Punctual

·       Curious

·       Inventive

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to Have a Great First Day of School

As an experienced teacher with more than thirty-five "First Days" to my credit, I am all too aware of just how important the first day of school can be for teachers and students alike. In the writing that I am doing right at the moment, revising the second edition of First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, I focus on the first day and how teachers, both experienced and novice, can make that day as special as possible and get their students' year off to a fantastic start.
     In this post, you will find three exerpts from what will be the new book next spring. One is just some ideas that may help you plan a good first day, another is a template you can tweak to help you plan that day, and the third is a checklist of things that you will have to manage on the first day.
     I hope these make your first day a positive one for you and for your students!


 In addition to the day’s lesson and class expectations, your first day of class can include many other activities to engage students in meaningful work. Using the planning template in Teacher Worksheet 4.3: Planning Template for the First Day of School and the checklist in Teacher Worksheet 4.4: Checklist for the First Day will both make it easier for you to make sure that the first day of school will be a productive and positive one  for your students. When you are trying to decide just what you want your students to do on the first day, consider some of these activities:

  • Fill out forms together. While you are explaining your class expectations, students can fill in the information on a handout instead of just listening passively.
  • Photograph students in their new school clothes on the first day of class. This is a good way to begin your class scrapbook.
  • Show examples of the supplies they need.
  • Pass out colorful paper, and ask students to write on it what they can contribute to make the class a better one for everyone. Display the papers in a giant collage.
  • Issue textbooks, and have students skim their new texts, looking for items in a textbook treasure hunt.
  • Have students work with a partner, telling that person one thing that they can do well and one thing that they would like to learn how to do. Have partners introduce each other to the class by sharing this information.
  • Ask students to write you a brief note, telling you three things you need to know about them so that you can teach them well.
  • Place a large sheet of paper on the wall. Hand students old newspapers or magazines, and have them tear out words and photos that describe their strengths and talents. Focus on what students have in common. Glue the photos and words in place to create an instant piece of art that will interest every student.
  • Have students jot down what they already know about the subject you are teaching and then share this information with the class.
  • Have students fill out one of the student inventories you’ll find later on in this section.
  • Give students handouts with questions directing them to find out what they have in common with their classmates. Some possible areas to explore are hometowns, hobbies, favorite movies, pets, vacations, and sports. Go beyond the obvious and include attitudes for success, goals, or other mental traits.
  • Have older students create bookmarks with inspirational messages for younger students.
  • Have students play a people bingo game where they try to discover interesting facts about each other. Items to include on the bingo board could include types of pets, hobbies, past school experiences, favorite colors or foods, siblings, strengths, or favorite sports just to name a few.
  • Ask older students to recount a memory from their earlier first days of school.
  • Put a quotation or unusual word related to the day’s lesson on the board, and ask students to tell you what they think about it.
  • Have students write exit slips explaining what they learned in class on their first day.


While not all of these items may be applicable for your class and for your students, this template can give you some idea of how you will want to plan for your first day.

Opening Exercise (Time Allotted: _____________)


Supplies, Materials, Books to Be Issued (Time Allotted: _____________)


Student Information Forms and Inventories to Be Used  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Rules, Policies, Procedures  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Introduction of Self  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Welcome to Class Activity  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Forms that Need to Be Sent Home  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Fees to Be Collected (Time Allotted: _____________)


Icebreaker Activity  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Lesson  (Time Allotted: _____________)

Teacher input________________________________________________________________

Student activity______________________________________________________________

Closing  (Time Allotted: _____________)




In this checklist of the most important things you must accomplish on the first day, you will find reminders of the tasks you will have to manage.

o   Stand at your classroom door to offer your assistance to those students who may need help in finding their new classrooms.

o   Meet every student at the door and direct them to their assigned seats.

o   Begin learning your students names as quickly as you can.

o   Introduce yourself to your students.

o   Teach an exciting lesson guaranteed to make your students want to learn more.

o   Begin building a classroom community among your students.

o   Set about creating  a positive identity for your class.

o   Help your students get to know each other.

o   Distribute the necessary forms and the welcome packet that your students must take home.

o    Project an attitude of enthusiasm and positivity about the class, the year ahead, and your students.

o   Begin gathering data about your student’s levels of readiness, learning styles, and knowledge of the material in the course.

o   Begin teaching the rules, procedures, policies, and expectations for your class.

o   Make every student feel comfortable and welcome.

o   Assign an appropriate homework assignment to help students transition from vacation back to school.”