Monday, December 26, 2016

How Teachers Can Empower Themselves: Keynote Address at Merrimack College in New Andover, Massachusetts

I was recently honored with an invitation from the Merrimack Institute for New Teacher Support (MINTS) at Merrimack College in New Andover, Massachusetts, to be one of the keynote speakers at the launch of their new program--one that is designed to offer extensive layers of practical support to new and novice teachers in the area. The program is certain to be a success--mostly because of the insightful people who are its chief creators and their visionary approach to what new teachers need to succeed and the best ways to provide that support. For my part of the launch event, I chose to speak about the many different choices that we educators can make to empower ourselves. Here are my notes.  ~Julia

No one is a natural born teacher. No matter how easy some teachers make it seem as they arrange their students into well-behaved little lines on the way to the cafeteria or have their students conduct experiments in chemistry class without blowing up anything or hush an entire middle school class with just a teacher look, those teachers were not born able to perform those educational miracles. No. They write their lesson plans one word at a time just like the rest of us.
When I was first a teacher, I was completely intimated by other teachers. They seemed to know exactly what to do all the time. Their handouts looked professional. They never misplaced their room keys. They had taught all their students’ siblings and sometimes even their parents. And their classroom management? While I could barely get my students to sit down and stop poking each other, their students were models of perfect behavior. It was awe-inspiring and very discouraging all at the same time.
It took me years to realize that those accomplished teachers were not born with those skills. Instead they developed over time from new teachers full of dreams and mistakes into dedicated professionals. They had learned the secret of being great teachers.
What great teachers have figured out is that teaching is a series of deliberate choices that has a profound effect over time. Great teachers don’t wait for some mysterious outside force to make them into the kind of educators they want to be. Instead, they make deliberate choices to empower themselves.  
You can, too. Those deliberate choices are ones that are open to all of us.
Here’s how.
The first deliberate choice you can make right away is to EMBRACE professional growth. Notice that I did not just say “professional growth” but to EMBRACE professional growth.
Professional growth does not happen by accident. Great teachers don’t just passively say they are lifelong learners and then move on, instead they fully embrace the opportunities in each school day to become a student—to learn more about their subject matter, about pedagogy, and, most of all, to learn everything they can learn about their students. Great teachers even embrace the growth that comes from making mistakes. And there are plenty of opportunities in our profession to learn from your mistakes! Professional development is a way of life for a great teacher. So, if you are going to become the kind of teacher that you want to be, make professional growth a part of your everyday life. There are so many ways to do this…
·        Ask other teachers to allow you to observe them.
·        And ask them to observe you. Just a ten-minute snapshot observation can give you a new idea, a new strategy… or an ah-ha moment.
·        Or, you can video record yourself. It’s not always pleasant, but watching yourself teach is a good way to get rid of all of those bad teacher mannerisms that your students probably notice.
·        Read professional literature online and in books.
·        Join the thousands of other teachers on Twitter to create your own PLN or Professional Learning Network.
·        Set up a Pinterest board to store all sorts of great ideas and lesson plans that generous teachers across the globe have shared for you to use.
·        Seek feedback from your students—after all, they know more than anyone how well you are doing. Ask them to evaluate your lessons.
·        Join professional organizations and, if you get a chance, attend a conference.
We are here tonight to launch an exciting new program—one with far-reaching benefits that will not only impact the various communities represented here, but also its impact will echo throughout the years---just as it always does when caring teachers come together to support each other and to learn together. I can’t tell you enough how lucky you are to have this opportunity. If your plan is to become a great teacher and to EMBRACE professional growth, then the MINTS program is a terrific resource for you. Make a deliberate choice to take advantage of all the opportunities that this program will bring you.
 Seek growth. Make it happen. Take charge of your professional life. If you see EMBRACING professional growth as a helpful attitude, a way of life for a teacher, then you are already on the path to becoming one of those great teachers we all admire. Remember: great teachers empower themselves when they embrace professional growth
Another deliberate choice that can empower your teaching career is to set your own professional goals and then work toward them. I don’t mean those benchmarks imposed on us by our school districts, but rather the kind of professional goals that are meaningful only to you. I have found that when I set a goal for myself, I tend to focus on it until I master it. I know, I know, this is what everyone who sets a goal does, but it is an incredibly effective way to improve your teaching skills. For example, when I was a novice teacher, one of my goals was to improve the way I handled class discussions. I worked on that goal all year. I researched and observed others and thought about what was happening when my students were holding a discussion. Just think about what that action research did for me as a beginning teacher—I focused my energy on something more important than just making it through another day at school.
It required me to reflect on what my students were doing, what I wanted them to do, on what I was doing that was right, and what I was doing that was wrong. The focus provided by such a personal goal was invaluable to me then, and it still is today. And you know what, unlike those goals that are imposed on us, there was no tedious paperwork to contend with. No one knew my progress but me…and a roomful of students. This is how important setting professional goals has been to me: You can almost trace the ups and downs in my long career by some of my goals.
When I was teaching in a tough inner city school, one of my goals was to decide how strict I should be. I had to determine the boundaries of good behavior and how to withstand the testing, testing, testing of those boundaries by students who were used to intimidating teachers. I learned a great deal that year. For one thing, I learned it’s okay to be a strict teacher. I also learned that even the toughest kids are more comfortable when they know that the boundaries are fair and immutable.
When I was teaching in a middle school one of my goals was to learn how to settle my students to work quickly. I actually set little time goals for myself and tried to streamline the start of class so that they would settle right away.
By the way, I have the deepest respect for middle school teachers. They deserve a huge pay raise RIGHT NOW because they deal with hair-raising classroom situations that the rest of us don’t even want to imagine.
Because I am an English teacher, one perennial goal is this: How can I grade papers quickly and still have students learn from their mistakes as well as how to repeat what they did right? I hate grading papers. I mean it. I really, really hate grading papers. Learning to grade papers to maximize student value and minimize my tedium was definitely a good use of my time.
So you see, setting professional goals for yourself gives you direction. I try to have about three goals a year, except for this year. I tend to focus more on classroom management and general pedagogy rather than on specific content. I tape my goals to my desk. And in my plan book. And on a file cabinet facing my desk.  And on my calendar. I am serious about goals.
Goals allow you to move forward. To focus on improving instead of just coping. They add intentionality to your practice. And, they allow you to self-assess and reflect on what you do as a teacher. What a powerful and very personal way to grow as an educator. As far as deliberate choices go, setting professional goals is something that I know that all great teachers must do.
And for my goals this year? Because this is my last year as a teacher—my fortieth year--, I have set only one goal for myself this year. Here it is: I want my students to have the BEST. YEAR. EVER. Which, if you think about it, is a pretty terrific goal.
Can you imagine the power in making that deliberate choice for your teaching practice? Instead of having a short-time soon to be retired teacher attitude, every day I am figuring out how to make class meaningful, relevant, engaging. This is probably one the best goals I’ve ever had. Feel free to adopt it as your own. Making a deliberate choice to create your own professional goals is a positive step in empowering yourself to become the great teacher that you want to be.
A third way that great teachers empower themselves is by connecting with other educators. In the not so distant past, teachers were not expected to work together other than to attend occasional meetings. If you were an experienced teacher, this working environment was okay, but if you were a beginning teacher, it was a terrible way to go to school.  No one was expected to help you. No mentors. No official ways to get advice. If you were lucky, a kind-hearted colleague would help you out. Today, however, that has changed. Today’s schools are composed of intersecting communities of practice with one goal: successful students. It is easy to connect with other teachers who are in your building, your district, and through the internet, across the globe.  If you are a new teacher, and even if you are not, it is up to you to choose to make the most of these opportunities. Seek a variety of mentors. Ask questions. Join study groups. Participate in the MINTS program. Reach out. Ask for help. Share ideas.
One way to share ideas and seek advice that I have recently been involved with is something I started at my school called a Community within a Community. Since I also work with the new teachers at my school, I want to touch base with them every day—adding yet another layer of support. Several years ago, I started a simple email group where we could contact each other easily. Every day, as curator of the group, I send out a quick message, a link, a meme, a reminder of a school event, or I ask for opinions and advice.
The response was overwhelming. Our simple little group grew into a schoolwide group where we share ideas—a digital teachers’ lounge. No longer just an email group for new teachers, our Community within a Community consists of experienced and beginning teachers all sharing ideas and supporting each other in a wide variety of ways. Our only caveats: every post much be about educational topics, must be of interest to the entire group, must be professional in tone and content, and must be supportive of the members of the group.
You can, with just a few clicks of a keyboard, create a similar group for yourself—building your own Community within a Community. The overlapping circles of collaboration that make up a school will allow you to grow and develop as a teacher confident that you are making sound decisions because you have had the opportunity to consult others.
Great teachers empower themselves when they choose to connect.
One of the easiest ways to empower yourself on the path to being a great teacher is to deliberately choose to master the practical responsibilities of your career. Well-organized, efficient teachers don’t have to spend time racing around at the last minute making copies or finding resources. Instead, they can focus on what’s important—their students. Successfully managing the practical aspects of running a class—passing out papers, collecting lunch money, taking attendance, and getting papers graded and returned—all those sorts of things can make the difference between a good day and a bad day at school. I have been asked many times what inspired me to write The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide.
Other than admitting that I was probably the worst first year teacher to ever step foot in a classroom, and oh my goodness, I was so na├»ve. I had a solid knowledge of my subject matter—I could quote Shakespeare for hours and diagram just about any sentence written in English—but I had no idea at all how to manage a classroom. I did not even know how to take attendance or how to set up a gradebook, much less any of the more advanced stuff like making a seating chart.  To my credit, I learned quickly to take good advice when it was offered to me.
But, it was not my own ineptitude that inspired my book for first year teachers, however. I had just been offered a second book contract to follow up my discipline book and was trying to decide what I wanted to write about. Early one morning, as I was waiting at the copy machine, I noticed a first-year teacher taking her time slowly and carefully cutting and taping her documents while standing at the copy machine. She was completely unaware that a long line of furious teachers who also had to make copies before class began was forming. That was when it dawned on me that lots of the problems that first-year teachers have come about because they do not have a grasp of the practical workplace skills that they need just to manage a classroom. So, even though it may seem mundane, learning to be an efficient, well-organized worker is one of the most significant deliberate choices that great teachers make because it frees them to do what is important. Here is what I have noticed that great teachers do to make the practical aspects of our jobs more manageable:
·        They leave their desks clean at the end of the day more often than not.
·        They automate tasks such as returning graded papers or passing out materials so that students can manage them.
·        Because students need a clean, comfortable, well-organized space in which to work, they teach students to clean up their work areas and to put things away.
·        They use every single second of their plan periods for school tasks.
·        They plan instruction in terms of the year, the semester, units, and daily plans. No great teacher ever says, “I’m staying one day ahead of my students.”
·        They make to-do lists and work calendars and use them.
·        They have a routine and a place for everything.
·        They make productivity one of their priorities.
·        They…well, you get the idea. Organizational schemes of various types can transform your classroom. I think you would be hard pressed to find a great teacher who is also a disorganized lummox.
Another deliberate choice that great teachers make to empower themselves is to take a proactive stance to discipline problems. It’s no coincidence that many teachers at all levels of teaching experience cite discipline issues as a significant factor in the dissatisfaction they feel with their careers. In my own work with new teachers, I have noticed that beginning teachers and preservice teachers almost always tell me that their biggest fear is not being able to control their classes. 
Let me tell you right now: you don’t have to be afraid of this. Instead, be proactive. Face those fears and make good things happen in your classroom! Making a deliberate choice to adopt a preventative approach to classroom management can certainly transform your teaching practice.
No teacher wants to deal with rude, out-of-control students who make learning impossible for everyone around them. Even if you don’t have to deal with severe discipline issues, the constant petty disruptions such as reminding students to stay on task can convert into hours of lost instruction time for the other students in the class as well as for the misbehaving ones.
By making the decision to proactively manage potential discipline problems, you will be able to avoid dealing with the unpleasant aftermath caused by problems that can become unmanageable. Believe me, it is no fun to have to ask yourself, “Well, now what do I do?” as you drive home from a long and probably unhappy day at school. And honestly, if you doubt the veracity of this approach, listen carefully. If I can do this, so can you. I could not intimidate baby bunny rabbit, yet I do have an orderly classroom—one that I work at maintaining every day.
Here's how I do it.
First of all, I try to think about the things that could cause misbehavior in my class. I constantly ask myself, “What could go wrong?”  Why? Unfortunately, experience has taught me that if something can go wrong, it will. When I plan lessons, I think about back up plans. When I arrange an activity, I consider safety, noise levels, student interactions, and all sorts of other factors. What is important is that I constantly work to prevent things from going wrong.
I also try to understand the forces that create my students’ misbehaviors. I try to look beyond the misbehavior to consider the reasons for it. This approach allows me to work toward a solution and not get stuck in the blame phase of a discipline incident. Also, just think about this. Even the biggest troublemaker in your class does not always come to school with the sole intention of making your life miserable. Students are complex beings with complex reasons for acting the way they do. Many of the reasons that students misbehave are ones that easy to manage once you are aware of the underlying causes and can deal with those causes instead of just reacting to the misbehavior. If you are going to be able to prevent or minimize discipline problems, you must be aware of the causes for those problems
Third, I also operate on the belief that, of course, my students will do what I ask them to do. I am steadfast in my expectations. I am calm about this. I make it clear that I have thought carefully about what I am asking them to do, that it is a reasonable request, and that I expect students to behave correctly. Just think what a gift this is to students with a history of misbehavior. They have a teacher who does not focus on their past mistakes. Instead they have a teacher who simply expects the best from them.  If you expect good behavior all the time, (and if you work to prevent bad behavior) then you are highly likely to get it.
Finally, I maintain an orderly classroom with an important attitude—one that I cannot stress enough:  I put my students first. When I am in class, I am to use a nifty expression, “where my feet are.” My students have my undivided attention. We all can experience legitimate distractions time to time—an illness in our families or our own fatigue, for example. However, those teachers who are so distracted that they do not fully attend to their students will have to deal with many more discipline problems than those teachers who are focused on classroom activity. Students should always come first when they are in the room with you.
Making a deliberate decision to empower yourself by taking a proactive stance toward classroom management and the prevention of misbehavior is one of the most productive decisions that you can make as a classroom teacher.
Another deliberate choice that can empower your teaching practice is to allow professionalism to be the cornerstone of your career. I think that we can all agree that one of the chief hallmarks of a great teacher is a pervasive sense of professionalism. Great teachers make a deliberate choice to wear their professionalism like a badge of honor—which of course it is. Professionalism means being the very best teacher that you can be every day. When you choose to conduct yourself in a professional manner, you send the message that you are in control of your classroom and yourself.
Although it is not always easy to be an educator, especially when you are just starting out, resolving to be as professional as possible is a sound decision with far-reaching effects. By behaving in a professional manner, you will earn the respect of your students, their families, and your colleagues. You will be able to enjoy your school days instead of struggling with the unpleasant consequences brought about by poor decisions.
If you want to be highly regarded as an educator, keep in mind that such regard does not just happen. Choosing to act in a professional manner is a deliberate choice made by every excellent teacher.
So how do you go about doing this? Well, one effective way is to spend time reflecting on what you want your students to say about you this year and in the future. Great teachers do this. They have created a professional persona that seems to permeate almost everything that they do at school: their dress, their ability to listen more than they speak, their deep content knowledge, the respectful way they treat every staff member, the positive relationships they develop with students, and their pride in their profession.
When I was a beginning teacher, a veteran teacher told me something that, while it made sense, absolutely terrified me. He said, “You need to remember that everything you say today will be repeated over dinner tables across town tonight.” What great advice. It forced me to think about how I was presenting myself to my classes. Did they see me as a good role model? An adult worthy of respect?
I began then to create my teacher persona. I decided that I wanted my students to think of me as fair, approachable, knowledgeable, reasonable, and determined not to let them down. I began to hold myself to high professional standards. And I have noticed that the great teachers I have met along the way have done the same.
All teachers have a classroom persona—some better than others, but the difference is that great teachers thoughtfully and deliberately create a professional image and then work hard to live up to it. They set high standards for themselves and then work every day to meet those standards. Great teachers empower themselves when they choose to allow professionalism to be the cornerstone of their career.
And finally, probably the most significant way that great teachers empower themselves is by choosing to accept their students just as they are. Like so many of my colleagues, I became a teacher because I loved the subject matter I had studied in college. What is far more telling about those of us who are lucky enough to be experienced teachers, however, is why we choose to remain in such a highly-criticized, intense, often-stressful profession.
The reason is simple: children. It is fun and frustrating and fulfilling to work with children—from adorable preschool darlings to one-foot-out-the door seniors—they are all worth our trouble. I know that we are in the business of change—after all, isn’t that the purpose of an education—to effect change? But, I have found that we succeed best with students when we fully accept them for the complicated, intriguing people that they are. And, if you think about this, isn’t this really what differentiated instruction is all about? And IEPs? And 504 plans? And probably a whole host of other alphabets that all come down to one factor: students are individuals. Living, breathing, individuals who are worthy of their teacher’s time, effort, and love.
Great teachers know this: Education works best when teachers accept children as they are-with quirks, weaknesses, and strengths. Once students know that you care about them. That you appreciate them. That you take pleasure in their company. Then the real magic of education begins to happen. Instead of wasting time wishing that students could read better, write better, sit still, pay attention, or whatever else impairs their ability to succeed in school, great teachers accept their students and then work to move them forward to academic and behavioral success.
That means, too, that great teachers take full responsibility for what happens in their classrooms. Just think about the implications of what it really means to accept responsibility for your classroom. Instead of blaming poor parenting, or social media, or reality tv, or society or other teachers…great teachers teach. They get on with instruction.  They look at the students in front of them and TEACH. No excuses. No blaming. No whining. They teach.
Making a deliberate choice to accept and appreciate our students for the complex individuals that they are is a crucial step that great teachers make in accepting responsibility for their classrooms. Instead of wasting time wishing for the impossible, great teachers teach.
At the beginning of my presentation I said that there are no natural born teachers. I mean that. We are gathered here tonight to launch the MINTS program which, by its very nature, contains the deliberate choices made by great teachers everywhere to empower themselves. How fortunate you are to be a part of this wonderful resource.
When you decide become a teacher, you enter a very special universe. Our jobs are about far more important things than just the content we teach.
Just think of what it is that we REALLY get to do. We light a path for the students in our care. I like to think of myself as a missionary from the adult world who helps young people learn how to navigate life. To be kind. To be successful.  To accomplish dreams. To be a good citizen.
Research shows over and over again that the single most significant factor in a child’s school success is a classroom teacher.
What a responsibility. What a burden. What a privilege.  
Just think of what that research means. It is a classroom teacher who teaches a child to read, to do math, to cooperate with others, to write sentences, to think analytically, to do neat work, to solve problems.
It is a classroom teacher who protects a child from bullies and who is the first line of defense in the battle against racism, ignorance, and poverty.
There is one last way that great teachers empower themselves. They have an unshakeable belief that what we do MATTERS. That what we do makes a difference. That every day we shape the future one classroom at a time.
Behind every single successful person on this planet stands a long line of teachers. Someone taught our soldiers, someone taught our doctors, someone taught our scientists, someone taught our builders, someone taught our inventors, someone taught our mothers, and someone taught our fathers. And that someone was a teacher.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Avoid Confusion: Create a Transparent Classroom

There is an old teacher’s joke that goes something like this, “If you promise not to believe everything your children say happens at school, I promise not to believe everything they say happens at home.” Just think of all of the miscommunication that happens somewhere between school and home.  Few veteran teachers have avoided being startled at hearing from an angry parent about an insignificant classroom incident that appeared harmless at the time, but somehow morphed into a dramatic confrontation involving an overbearing teacher and an innocent student by the time the child arrived home.

Not only can unpleasant incidents such as this be avoided with just a bit of planning and effort, but the rewards of a transparent classroom are well worth the trouble: cooperative relationships between teachers and parents or guardians, a more peaceful and productive classroom, students who are held accountable for their actions at school and at home, and more successful students as a result of increased support and cooperation.

One of the easiest ways to prevent miscommunication and establish a positive relationship with the parents and guardians of your students is to make sure that your classroom is as transparent as possible by providing easily accessible information about your students and their learning activities. A transparent classroom is one where your students, their families, your colleagues, and community members can all view what is taking place in your classroom at any given time. There are no hidden agendas. No secrets. Just adults and students working together.

When you create a transparent classroom, you are not a teacher who grudgingly shares test dates or other routine information with your students’ families. Instead, actively reach out to solicit participation and support from everyone concerned. With today’s technology, making sure that everyone knows firsthand what is happening in your class is easier than ever. Your students’ parents or guardians expect to be kept informed about these topics:

·        Class policies, rules, and consequences

·        Beginning of the year information

·        Homework and major assignments

·        Tests and other assessments

·        Grading concerns

·        Due dates

·        Field trips

·        Special projects

·        Resources to help students learn

·        Behavior problems while they are still minor

·        Academic problems as soon as reasonably possible

·        Positive things about their children

When teachers take the time to communicate directly with the parents and guardians of their students, the trouble that can follow miscommunication diminishes. One frequent complaint that parents and guardians have involves homework assignments and important project due dates. Take extra care to make sure your homework policies are published in several different ways and that project due dates are announced well in advance. The parents and guardians of your students should not have to struggle to find out what their child’s homework is and when work is due.

Some of the ways that you can make sure students and their parents or guardians are aware of the expectations, rules, policies, procedures, and activities in your class include these low tech options:

·        Send positive notes home frequently

·        Maintain a daily class log or calendar

·        Use the bulletin board space in your room to post information

·        Photograph your students at work and display the photos

·        Make positive phone calls

·        Publish a syllabus so that students and their families can plan ahead

·        Send home progress reports frequently

·        Return all phone calls promptly

·        Make sure parents and guardians know that they are welcome to visit your class

·        Invite parents or guardians to visit your class for special occasions such as guest speakers, field trips, and exhibits of student work

Some methods that teachers have found effective for creating a transparent classroom using technology resources can include these options:

·        Create Power Point presentations of your students at work for parents and guardians to view at open house or other schoolwide meetings

·        Publish a class blog or have students maintain individual blogs as learning logs. An excellent free site for this is Edublogs  ( At this site over a million teachers and students around the globe maintain classroom blogs.

·        Create videos of your students working and publish them on a class web page. There are numerous sites that offer free sites for educators: Google and Weebly are just two that are easy and quick to use.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Remove the Barriers to Peer Acceptance in Your Classroom

It is important for teachers to make it easy for their students to work well together—an undertaking requiring diplomacy as well as dedicated effort. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life that the effort often results in beneficial dividends. What are some of the most common barriers to social acceptance in school? Many students could feel excluded because they do not know their classmates. It is a mistake to assume that students know each other well. Even students who have attended school together for several years may not know much about their classmates.

Another barrier is that your students may live in different neighborhoods. If you teach in a school where students may live at a distance or come from very diverse neighborhoods, it is likely that they have not had many opportunities to interact with each other outside of school.

In addition, students who have not been taught how to behave courteously or who have not learned socially acceptable ways to resolve conflict often struggle to form appropriate relationships with their peers.

Perhaps the greatest barrier that you will have to help your students overcome is the perception that they may not have much in common with a classmate whom they do not know well. With effort and persistence, you can assist students in learning to recognize their commonalities so that they can learn to accept and support each other. Use the tips in the list that follows to guide you as you work to help students remove the barriers to peer acceptance.

  • Make sure that each student’s strengths are well known to the rest of the class.
  • If a student has an unpleasant history of failure or misbehavior, make it clear that it is time for a fresh start.
  • Show your students the correct ways to interact with each other. They need plenty of models and monitoring until they have learned to cooperate productively.
  • Let each student shine. Every student should believe that he or she is really your favorite.
  • Be sensitive to the differences that divide your students and to the potential for conflict that those differences can cause.
  • Make it a point to recognize students who work well with others. Whenever possible, praise the entire class for its cooperative attitude.
  • Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other. These do not have to take up a great deal of time, but can be done in brief activities scattered throughout the year.
  • Plan enough work for your students to do so that they are focused on school and don’t have time to discover their classmates’ negative character traits.
  • Promote tolerance and acceptance with a display of posters and encouraging mottoes.
  • Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their family, culture, and goals while working together.
  • Make it very easy for students to understand class routines and procedures and to follow directions well. Students who know what to do are less likely to make embarrassing mistakes for which they can be teased or excluded later.
  • Be careful that you model appropriate behavior, thereby encouraging your students to do the same.
  • Don’t give in to the temptation of rolling your eyes or losing your patience when a student blunders in front of classmates. Your actions could set that student up for social exclusion later.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fifty-seven Freebies to Help You Organize Your School Paperwork

According to the old joke, the three best reasons to teach are June, July, and August. Although parts of these three months can be more relaxed than the other months when we spend so much time at school or thinking about school, summer is a great time to reflect, to look ahead to the upcoming year, and to plan.

One of the most important traits that great teachers share is that they are very organized. It is just impossible to teach in chaos--whether that chaos is caused by students or by an unprepared teacher. There are simply too many things that we need to do all at once for teachers to be successfully unorganized.

In addition, being well-organized is an important way to be a role model for students. It's simply not fair to ask students to keep their notebooks straight, their desks neat, and to show up with the necessary materials if we have piles of folders and papers scattered all over the classroom.

Being an organized teacher also means that we are less likely to run out of handouts or other materials needed for class. When we are organized, we can be on top of the things that we need to do so that we can focus on our students and their needs instead of having to look for a missing book or pen or set of notes.

There are as many ways to organize our professional lives as there are teachers. What works for one classroom teacher will not necessarily work for another. The key is to find a workable system to manage all of the various components of the day and tweak it until it works for you.

One way that I have found to keep much of my school organized is to use a large three-ring binder as my catch-all Professional Binder. In this binder, I store the documents that I need often: student rosters, contact information, contact logs, hall passes, discipline records, lesson plans, and other useful information.

If you would like to consider a similar organization plan for yourself, I have posted fifty-seven documents that are ones that I use during the school year. You can access them by clicking on the "Professional Binder" page at my website: Many of these forms are ones that I have already published in my books, The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide and Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher,  but here you will find an electronic version that you can adjust for your own use. 

Feel free to download and print the forms that you need to make your own professional life easier, less chaotic, and more organized. If the forms you find at my website can help you be the kind of teacher you want to be, I will be glad!

Just go to and click on the "Professional Binder" page at

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to Survive the Last Few Weeks of School

Here is a post that I did a very long time ago for a wonderful, but vanished site called runs it now...still full of great advice on all sorts of topics for educators everywhere. Here is what I suggest to help all of us enjoy the last few weeks or days of school this year!

As the end of the school year approaches, students of all ages and ability levels become increasingly restless and distracted. Even the most studious scholars seem to lose interest in material that fascinated them just a few weeks ago. The result can be enormous frustration for the teachers of these fidgety and disengaged students.
Veteran teachers know about this unfortunate phenomenon and take measures to combat its negative effects. If you have noticed a recent change in your students and find yourself checking a calendar to count off just how many school days you have left until summer vacation, the list below just may help you resolve to end the school year with the best and most professional attitude possible.
The first part of this list suggests some attitudes that may remind you of coping skills you may have forgotten. The second part contains some useful strategies that you may have forgotten, but that can energize your teaching and make school more enjoyable and productive for your students and yourself.

60 Helpful Attitudes

1. Be moderate in your approach. You do not have to be the world’s best teacher all the time. You just have to be a very good one.
2. Spend your energy on large problems first and allot less of your energy for the small ones. Choose to deal with the problems that will give you the greatest benefit right away.
3. Problems can move you forward when you choose to work to solve them. Use your creative strengths to make your classroom well-disciplined and productive.
4. Make room for more emotional energy. Ask for help when you have a problem.
5. Learn to see problems as challenges that you can overcome.
6. Don’t underestimate your students. They are capable of much more than you think they are.
7. Avoid negative people. Better yet, try not to be one of those negative people you are supposed to avoid.
8. Being optimistic doesn’t mean that you don’t have problems. A positive attitude means that you are working on a solution.
9. Make sure you have something fun to look forward to. Reward yourself when you achieve a goal.
10. You don’t teach a class. You teach complex, living, breathing people.
11. Cherish your students. Even the worst-behaved ones have redeeming qualities.
12. Carpe Diem! When a teachable moment comes along, TEACH!
13. Don’t forget that small attitude changes often create bigger patterns of success. What small attitude change can you make today?
14. When a task seems impossible, remind yourself of the teachers who made a difference in your life. You can do the same for your students.
15. The fun you have goofing around during your planning period is equal to the misery you’ll experience trying to catch up later.
16. Be proactive! Plan what you are going to do if…
17. Discard something you’re doing that is not productive. Figure out how to do just one thing more efficiently.
18. Practice deep breathing. You’ll be glad you know how to calm yourself when a student is defiant, disrespectful, or just cranky.
19. Make it your goal that every student will leave your class with a positive attitude every day.
20. Use your strengths. Focus on your positive attributes to maximize the potential for success in your classroom.
21. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if the problems you have today will be important next year.
Try Some Strategies You May Have Forgotten
22. Talk less and listen more to your students.
23. Change the pace. Try three new activities this week.
24. Break large tasks into small, manageable ones.
25. Plan to ignore the small stuff.
26. Get to work a little early and stay a little late.
27. Stop trying to rely on your memory! You have too much to do to recall everything. Write it down in an organized fashion.
28. Be sure to plan for the last few minutes of class.
29. Empower your students by designing assignments that allow for limited student options. Give them innocuous choices such as the even or odd problems, essay topics, group tasks, or the best day to take a test.
30. You probably need to model more for your students. Most teachers do. And don’t forget to show them what you don’t want them to do, also.
31. Ask students to justify their answers on a test to encourage deeper thinking.
32. Let your students know what activities lie ahead of them so that they have something to look forward to. Try a little countdown to an exciting event to focus them on the positive.
33. Encourage independence! Tell your students that they must “See three before me” to find answers to questions.
34. At the end of a lesson, encourage reflection (and positive attitudes) by asking students to tell you what went well during class.
35. Build in wiggle breaks. Even seniors need a break now and then.
36. When students are engaged in learning new material, periodically ask them to stop and write about these three topics: what they think about the subject so far, what they understand about the subject, and any questions they still may have.
37. Don’t work against the nature of your students. Make the material compelling by incorporating their interests and goals. When you were a teenager, you thought the world revolved around you, too.
38. Stimulate student curiosity by making your lessons as suspenseful and novel as possible. Ask students to solve puzzles or create solutions to problems.
39. Put some color in your classroom world. Break out the crayons or highlighters to help students pay attention to what’s important in their notes.
40. Lower your voice. Your students will be more likely to lower theirs than if you shout.
41. Avoid problems when students finish work early by having other activities for them to complete. Students with nothing to do will amuse themselves by annoying nearby adults.
42. Increase the frequency of the positive recognition you give students.
43. Display student work. Rewarding students in this way is worth the time it takes to arrange it.
44. Put a list of terms or facts on the board and ask your students to determine what they have in common. If you include unlikely names or items, the class discussion could be lively.
45. At the end of a unit of study, give students a sheet with the alphabet in a column on the left. To review, they need to tell you one important fact from the lesson is related to a letter of the alphabet.
46. Show a movie. Be sure to teach good movie viewing behavior before you do. Better yet, have your students make a movie or slide show.
47. Avoid acting in anger no matter how frustrated you feel. Manage the discipline problems in your class with a problem-solving approach instead.
48. Set a concrete goal with your students: 100% on every quiz, everyone on time for a week, all homework complete… Use a bar graph to illustrate their progress.
49. Graphic organizers are wonderful ways to engage students. Busy students are happy students and happy students make happy teachers.
50. Use a variety of media to capture your audience—movies, art, wikis, songs, podcasts, television, interactive game sites, magazines, advertisements, cartoons, and slogans are just a few of the ways that you can capture attention.
51. When they ask, “Why do we have to do this?” be sure to have an excellent answer ready.
52. Use your student’s competitive instincts to your advantage. Create teams to compete against other teams. Best of all, challenge your students to compete against themselves by working to improve their own best performance.
53. Center instruction around essential questions.
54. Ask students to demonstrate the best way to do something.
55. Make abstract ideas concrete. Ask students to produce a final product as the result of their work. This makes their effort visible.
56. Assign a set of questions to a group of students. Each student selects one question and becomes the expert about it. They can share with the entire class or with teams.
57. Your part of the workload should not always be greater than your students’ part. Hold them accountable for setting goals, monitoring their own progress, and self-evaluation.
58. Ask your students to invent a game for a review activity.
59. Take photographs of your students. Be thrifty and print them on paper. Your students just want to see themselves on the classroom wall.
60. Schedule in some fun every day—for you and for your students. Smile together and misbehavior will decrease.