Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fourteen Resolutions for the New Year

It’s a natural combination at this time of year—New Year’s resolutions and a reflective teaching practice. While Winter Break gives us a few days away from school, we have an opportunity to gain perspective. No matter how busy our holidays are, most of us can’t resist the impulse to think about school and our students and the work that we need to do as soon as our break ends.

Now is a good time to use that impulse to create resolutions that can bring your dreams for a well-run classroom filled with successful, high-achieving students closer to reality. In honor of 2014, here are fourteen productive resolutions that you may want to consider adopting as part of your own teaching practice in the year ahead. Pick and choose what will work for you. If you would like to share your own resolutions, feel free to make comments. Learning from our colleagues is a great way to begin a new year.

Resolution 1: Respect your students. I know this seems simple, but too often we overlook what our students are capable of achieving because we are focused on what they don’t know or can’t do. Instead of seeing them as competent learners, we see them in terms of what they lack instead of what they are.

Resolution 2: Manage your stress. The last day of school is a long way away. Start employing as many simple strategies as you can to keep your work life and your personal life in balance. Using brief, purposeful actions to ward off the ill effects of chronic stress every day will make a huge difference in your fatigue levels.

Resolution 3: Plan as far ahead as you possibly can. For example, if you know that you are going to be giving a test in two weeks, you have time to create and photocopy it well in advance of the long line of frustrated teachers waiting their time at the copier on the day you want to give it. Knowing what your students are going to be doing for the rest of the year is a positive step that will make it easier for you to use class time wisely.

Resolution 4: Shake it up. No one says that lessons have to be dull to be effective. Use as many different strategies as you can to reach your students. Let them be creative and messy and loud if they are still learning at the same time. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Resolution 5: Explore different ways to increase your own productivity. If, for example, you have a tall stack of papers to grade, instead of plowing through it with a red pen, investigate other ways to use those papers to help your students learn. Ask your colleagues. Use your imagination. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment.

 Resolution 6: Use the resources available to you. Create a PLN, open a Twitter account, explore Tumblr, check out the images on Pinterest, invite community members to speak to your students…the list is endless.

Resolution 7: See your students as partners in learning, not little vessels waiting to be filled with your expert knowledge. Involve them in planning, listen to their ideas, and ask important questions. Encourage your students to assume more responsibility for their own learning and then watch the positive results that can happen.

Resolution 8: Make every minute count. Use those tiny blocks of time that can go to waste in any classroom to keep students engaged and learning. Think door to door when it comes to instruction.

Resolution 9: Make a deliberate effort to try a new strategy or technique each week. Some will be fantastic, some will be okay, and some will stink, but you will expand your repertoire of teaching skills and that’s always a good thing.

 Resolution 10: Use your students’ strengths. When you expand on what your students already do well, you will find it easier to remediate their weaknesses. Don’t just focus on the strengths of individual students; capitalize on the strengths of the entire class, too.

Resolution 11: Keep moving forward. At this time of year, it’s easy to get mired in the muck of undone tasks and a seemingly endless curriculum. Take a deep breath. Plan ahead. Look ahead. Bit by bit you can build your students’ skills and knowledge.

Resolution 12: Solve problems. If you wanted to, you could spend your entire planning period complaining about your students and trying to fix blame for what goes wrong in your class. Instead of wasting that time, look at the setbacks in your school day as problems that you need to solve. With this attitude, you can move forward.

Resolution 13: Be the role model your students want you to be. For some of your students, you are the only one who will take the time to show them how to be successful, how to read, how to write, how to speak well, how to behave. Whether you want to be or not, you are a role model and far, far more important than you can imagine. Rise to that challenge.

Resolution 14: Take time to enjoy your students. Share a laugh. Appreciate the unique qualities that they bring to school each day. Rushing through each day robs you of the available joy sitting right there in front of you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fifty Reasonable Options You Have When Students Misbehave

             If you are like most classroom teachers, there is a great deal that can go right in the course of your school day and there is also a great deal that can go wrong. When the something that can go wrong involves student misbehavior, there are many different approaches that you can take to make sure that the situation is resolved in such a way that the student's dignity is intact and further misbehavior is prevented. Consider a these options the next time a student does not behave in a positive way. While are some geared to help you deal with the immediate situation, you will find that others will help you prevent further problems.
        1.        Praise good behavior and ignore as much of the bad as you can.
        2.        Call a parent or guardian to get help.
        3.        Hold a conference with the child.
        4.        Listen to the student’s version of an incident before taking action.
        5.        Determine on a course of planned ignoring to extinguish misbehavior.
        6.        Ask the offending student what the consequences should be.
        7.        Never allow “free time.”
        8.        Ask students to tell you alternative actions they should have taken.
        9.        Move the student to a time-out area to cool off and prevent further trouble.
       10.      Reward, reward, reward.
       11.      Make students feel worthy of trust.
       12.      Post and teach your class rules, routines, and expectations
       13.      Keep your students busy from door to door.
       14.      Discuss class rules periodically—daily at first.
       15.      Smile at a student who is getting ready to misbehave.
       16.      Give a potentially troublesome student a position of leadership in class.
       17.      If a child is perennially fidgety, work out ways to channel that energy in productive ways.
       18.      Consider putting friends close together so that they can help each other (and not talk across the room).
       19.      Always have a backup plan for your backup plan.
       20.      Appeal to as many learning styles as possible.
       21.      If an exciting school event is causing your class to be out of control, go with the flow. Plan assignments that can channel that energy productively.
       22.      Arrange a lending system for those students who do not have materials.
       23.      If an infraction is caused by a student’s minor slip of judgment, offer reassurances that you now it won’t happen again.
       24.      Make sure to build motivation into every lesson.
       25.      Create a reasonable policy for students to leave the room. Enforce it.
       26.      Set behavior goals for the entire group and reward them when they reach their goals.
       27.      Offer tangible rewards for good behavior at unpredictable times.
       28.      Be emotionally accessible to your students. Grouchy teachers have more problems than positive ones.
       29.      Give a child a second chance. Sometimes a warning is all that is needed.
       30.      Remind students of their future goals to help them remain focused on what’s important.
       31.      More closer to a student who is misbehaving.
       32.      Enforce the school rules.
       33.      Model the behavior you want.
       34.      Don’t waste time in debate when an infraction is clearly an infraction. Avoid being manipulated.
       35.      There is nothing wrong with being strict or in having high expectations.
       36.      Time your students.  When you say, “You have two minutes to finish, students will work with purpose.
       37.      Use inspiring messages and mottoes.
       38.      Be so polite that your students would have problems being rude to you.
       39.      Give students as many options as you can.
       40.      After an incident has happened, examine your own actions. What did you do to cause the problem?
       41.      Control the pace of a lesson. Lessons that are too hurried or that drag cause problems.
       42.      Move students to other seats.
       43.      Use seating charts from the first day onward.
       44.      Meet students at the door and greet them. Pass out handouts at this point in the day if you can.
       45.      Stay on your feet and move around. Monitor.
       46.      Make sure your students know the consequences of their good and bad behaviors.
       47.      Accept no excuses for rude behaviors.
       48.      Make sure students understand the criteria for success on an assignment.
       49.      Teach your students the “whys” of an assignment or rule.
       50.      Consider traffic flow issues.   Keep student movement areas safe for everyone.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Strategies for Managing Overcrowded Classes

My classes are overcrowded. Just like thousands of other educators, I teach in a school district struggling with tough choices when it comes to budget matters. The result? There are lots of student names on my rosters...lots and lots of names.
Too many students packed into a room designed for a much smaller class presents some serious challenges. Like other teachers, I struggle with managing the paperwork load. I work hard to figure out ways to return graded papers with meaningful comments in a timely fashion. I work hard to figure out ways to manage the traffic flow so that my students can work with their classmates and I don't have to leap over book bags in the aisles. I work hard at classroom management so no one gets lost in the crowd. I work hard to make sure that an overcrowded classroom is just a challenge and not a detriment. If you are in the same situation, here are some tips for managing an overcrowded class that I have found useful in my own practice.
An Excerpt from Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher
“In the recent past, many teachers have had to cope with classes that were just slightly above the recommended size for the grade and subject. However, today’s widespread and severe budget cuts have made critically overcrowded classrooms that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. As inevitable as overcrowded classes may be, the discipline problems associated with them are not. Overcrowded classes can be managed successfully by those teachers who meet the unique challenges they present.
Even though we know that smaller classes are the preferred option for our students, a positive discipline climate and a pleasant learning environment are possible in overcrowded classes. The following strategies can start you on the way to successfully managing the problems of overcrowded classes.

·  Even if you are not easily intimidated, confronting a large group of students who have been crammed into a classroom designed for a much smaller group can be more than a little discouraging. Unless you immediately assume a strong leadership role, you will be so outnumbered by your students that they will be in charge of the class, not you.

·         The room arrangement is very important in overcrowded classes. Make sure you have enough desks. Move all equipment that you don’t need to use right away to storage and do whatever else you can to further reduce the claustrophobic effects of clutter in the room.

·   Pay careful attention to traffic patterns and student movement. Try to reduce this as much as possible. Teach your students to dispose of trash at the end of class and to sharpen pencils only at the start of class.

·         An overcrowded class requires more monitoring than a smaller one. Teach your students that they are to place their book bags under their desks rather than in the aisle to make movement easier.

·   A seating chart is an absolute must in an overcrowded class if you want to reduce the amount of off-task behavior. A structured environment will reduce the number of problems you will face.

·         Prepare yourself for the noise level. A large class can be a noisy class if you don’t establish some guidelines early in the year with your students to help them control the noise level.

·   Be extremely organized and a model of efficiency for your students who could be tempted to use overcrowding as an excuse not to do their best. Keep your personal space in good order and insist that your students leave their area tidy at the end of class. Encourage them to check to make sure their classmates don’t leave personal belongings behind when class is over.

·  It is important for you to avoid confusion and the discipline problems caused by failure to return papers promptly. Although it takes longer to grade papers for a large class, your students may feel lost in the crowd if you allow papers to pile up before you give them the feedback that all students need in order to stay focused on learning during class.

·    Routines are very important in a large class. Establish and teach them early in the term. Students should be able to predict what they are supposed to do in your class even though there are many students in the room.

·  Allow no horseplay. Even though you may be inclined to allow students some leeway in playing around, this is not a good idea when there are too many students in the room. Horseplay in a crowd is wasted time as well as dangerous. Stop it at the first sign it is about to begin.

·         Be especially careful in a crowded class to prevent the cheating that can happen because students have to sit close together. Provide a cover sheet and monitor carefully to prevent problems.

·  Enlist your students in a sense of togetherness and encourage a spirit of cooperation in solving the problems caused by an overcrowded class. A sense of humor and a positive attitude on your part will set a pleasant tone for your students to model.

·  It is important for you to speak with every student each day. Greeting them at the door is a good beginning to solving the problems of having to keep in touch with many students. Make a point to let your students know that you are aware of them as people, not just as faces in a crowd.

·         Creating permanent teams of study buddies is a good way to give students a sense of togetherness and connectedness in the midst of the larger group. When students have a few partners to turn to for help and support, they will feel like a part of the class instead of being just one of many.

·  Courtesy to each other and to you is especially important in a large class. Teach the importance of courtesy to the students in a large class and insist that they treat everyone with politeness. A large courteous class is much better and easier to deal with than a small rude one.

·  Your attitude is the most important factor in coping successfully with the demands of a large class. It’s not the number of students occupying seats in the room, but the careful planning, interesting lessons, and sincere effort to connect with each student each day that will determine the success or failure of the discipline climate in a class.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I am always looking for better ways to design and deliver lessons. Here is a quick bit of information from First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide with some of the sites that I have found most useful.

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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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. ( Maintained by the Educators Network, 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 ( 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 ( Scholastic offers thousands of free lesson plans, unit plans, discussion guides, and extension activities for all grade levels and content areas.

Share My Lesson ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Seventy-Five Quick Tips for Motivating Students

This post first appeared as an article written for a great tutoring organization:
Although it’s only common sense that motivating students is a complex activity that needs plenty of time, thought, and effort to succeed, this list can serve as a quick reminder of some of the most important aspects of motivation. While many of these brief tips may only be common sense, when used with care and deliberation, they can make it easier for us to encourage our students to want to work hard and succeed at the tasks we set before them.

1.      All learning must have a purpose. Teachers and students should work together to establish long-term goals so that the work is relevant to students’ lives and driven by a purpose.

2.      Students need the skills and knowledge necessary to complete their work and achieve their goals. Help students achieve short-term goals to develop the competencies they need to be successful.

3.      Specific directions empower students. When students know exactly what they must do to complete assignments, they will approach their work with confidence and interest.

4.      Students want to have fun while they work. Teachers who offer enjoyable learning activities find that students are less likely to be off task.

5.      Offer activities that involve higher-order thinking skills. Students find open-ended questions and critical thinking more engaging than activities involving just recall of facts.

6.      Curiosity is an important component of motivation. When students want to learn more about a topic, they will tackle challenging assignments in order to satisfy their curiosity.

7.      A blend of praise and encouragement is effective in building self-reliance. Teachers who offer sincere praise and encouragement establish a positive, nurturing classroom atmosphere.

8.      A combination of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards increases student focus and time on task behavior. When used separately, both types of rewards motivate students. However, when teachers combine them, the effect is much greater.

9.      Involve students in collaborative activities. When students work together, motivation and achievement both soar.

10.   Start with assignments that your students can achieve with ease. Success builds upon itself. When students see that they can accomplish what you ask of them, they will want to continue that success.

11.   Celebrate often with your students. After all, their successes are your successes. You do not have to dedicate lots of time to formal celebrations. A simple posting or display of good news, a class signal that allows classmates to acknowledge each other in positive way, or a quiet word with individual students will all establish a positive tone.

12.   Be as consistent and as fair as you possibly can. Students of all ages are quick to react negatively when they detect even a small hint of suspected unfairness. They will shut down quickly when this happens.

13.   Post motivational signs, mottoes, and other messages to encourage students to give their best effort.

14.   Reward effort as well as achievement. It is important to make sure your students see the link between success and effort.

15.   Create a risk-free environment in which students can risk trying new things without fear of failure or ridicule.

16.   Tell your students about your confidence in their ability to succeed. Tell them this over and over.

17.   Teach your students how to set measurable goals and how to achieve them. Model this for students. Set goals as a class and have students set small daily or weekly goals until it is a habit and part of the culture of your classroom.

18.   At the end of class, ask students to share what they have learned. Often, they are not aware of how much they have really actually achieved until they have the opportunity to reflect.

19.   We all know that open-ended questions and assignments can serve as sparks to deepen critical thinking skills. They can also serve to motivate students to work hard because of their intrinsic interest and risk-free nature. Open-ended questions and assignments are a respectful way to demonstrate your faith in your students’ ability to tackle tough work.

20.   Teach your students how to handle the failures that everyone experiences from time to time. Help them understand that they can learn from their mistakes as well as from their successes.

21.   Formative assessments can be helpful tools for those teachers who want to empower their students to believe in themselves. Use a variety of assessments to help students evaluate their progress and determine what they need to accomplish to finish assignments.

22.   Offer the entire class a reward when they meet an agreed-on goal.

23.   Use tangible rewards such as stickers or new pencils.

24.   Write positive comments on papers.

25.   Change an onerous chore into a pleasant one by allowing them to work on it together.

26.   Hold a weekly contest.

27.   Ask your students their opinions by surveying them from time to time.

28.   Provide an authentic audience for your students’ work.

29.   Display their work.

30.   Have students work on solving a real-life problem.

31.   Incorporate their interests as often as possible.

32.   Chart small successes so that students can see that small successes create large ones.

33.   Encourage students to compliment their classmates.

34.   End class with an intriguing riddle, poem, or question.

35.   Take photos of your students working.

36.   Have students teach the material to each other.

37.   Bring in interesting objects for students to use as part of a lesson.

38.   Play games.

39.   Arrange for students to mentor younger students

40.   Provide opportunities for peer tutoring.

41.   Teach a different study skill each day so that students will find it easier to do their work well.

42.   Use visual demonstrations such as graphic organizers or illustrations to make the work easier to understand.

43.   Time students as they think for thirty seconds before responding to a question.

44.   Give them puzzles to solve.

45.   Slowly give clues to the answer to a question one clue at a time.

46.   Have students wear fictional name tags related to the lesson.

47.   Have students sort items into categories. Take the time to get to know your students as people.

48.   Use a kind voice when speaking with them.

49.   Set up your classroom where you can walk around to every desk.

50.   When a student speaks to you, stop what you are doing and listen.

51.   Be clear about your role as a teacher who will enable students to achieve their dreams.

52.   Use humor. Laugh when funny things happen in your class.

53.   Show your appreciation for the good things your students do.

54.   Stress that you won’t give up on your students.

55.   Allow your students to get to know you. Often our students are convinced that we sleep in the teachers’ lounge all night and eat only lunchroom food. They need to see your human side.

56.   Agree with your students as often as you can.

57.   Move your desk to the back of the classroom if you can. This small action signals a student-centered attitude on your part.

58.   Call parents or guardians when good things happen.

59.   Share your feelings with your students and allow them to share theirs.

60.   Use positive language with them. Be careful not to appear overly negative or critical.

61.   Take notice of the special things that make each student unique.

62.   Stop and chat with pupils anytime: when you are monitoring their progress, in the hall or cafeteria, or even when you are away from school.

63.   Create opportunities for success every day.

64.   Speak to every student each day. Include everyone in class discussions.

65.   Make pens, paper, and extra books available when students need a loan.

66.   Set aside an afternoon or morning for “office hours” when you can provide extra help for those students who need it.

67.   Offer small perks whenever you can.

68.   Be sincere, generous, and tactful in your praise.

69.   Keep students busily involved in interesting work.

70.   Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior or attitude. If a normally cheerful student, for example, seems distracted or upset, there’s a good reason for the change.

71.   When students confide in you, follow up on it. Ask about how they did on the history test that was troubling them or check to see if their grades have improved in math class.

72.   Be concerned enough for their futures to help them set long-term goals.

73.   Involve pupils in projects that will improve the school or community.

74.   Stress that you and they have much in common: goals, dreams, and beliefs.

75.   Focus on students’ strong points, not on their weaknesses.