Friday, December 14, 2018

Included in SML's Tops Resources of 2018 List!

Exciting news! One of my blog posts and a webinar were both included in Share My Lesson's Top Resources of 2018 list!

Since Share My Lesson presents excellent material that is of immediate and practical use for educators, it is an honor to be included in their list. Here's a link to all of the outstanding resources that made the list: 

The title of the webinar is "Warm or Demanding? Develop Classroom Leadership Skills." Here's the link:

The title of the blog post is "Create a Welcoming (and Functional) Classroom on a Budget." Here's the link:

Friday, October 26, 2018

I've (Sorta) Moved! Find My New Blog at Share My Lesson!

Hi Everyone,

After experimenting with various writing schedules, I've finally decided to focus my online writing at the wonderful Share My Lesson site sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers.

If you click on this link:, you will be redirected to the site where you can find my blog posts as well as others by knowledgeable thought leaders in our profession. Just find the icon about my blog posts and click. Easy and simple. You do not have to belong to AFT to access all the resources offered to educators by Share My Lesson. Joining the group is free and an excellent way to access thousands of lesson plans, communicate with other educators online, and create your own professional development ideas through the wealth of webinars and other opportunities offered by Share My Lesson.

If you are just looking for my work (thanks!), here are some of the topics that you can read about there:

10/15/18: Be Proactive: Maintain Your Work-Life Balance

10/1/18: 11 Teacher Traits: Develop Your Front-of-the-Classroom Persona

9/14/18: What to Expect During the First Grading Period

9/3/18: Setting Your Own Professional Goals

8/20/18: Two Important Document Collections: Your Professional Portfolio and Your Teacher's Daily Binder

8/6/18: Create a Welcoming (and Functional) Classroom on a Budget

7/23 /18:  Developing a Professional Mindset

7/9/18: You've Just Been Hired? Congratulations! Here's What to Do Next

If you need some professional development credit, you can also consider participating in the webinars at Share My Lesson. Here is a link to my latest one:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Like thousands of other teachers, I find the idea of flexible seating intriguing. Watching students squirm in uncomfortable chairs each school day is reason enough to see that a shift in the way that we design classrooms is necessary. However, like so many other promising ideas in education, being in a rush to implement can create even more problems. In fact, there are some serious pitfalls to be considered before tossing out student desks. In this except from the fourth edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, I offer some suggestions about creating flexible seating. 

"Although the idea of providing flexible seating options has customarily been more common in the younger grades than in secondary classrooms, it is a concept that is gaining in popularity in all grade levels as school districts recognize the importance of activity and student choice in promoting student achievement. In classrooms where there is a flexible seating arrangement, teachers create student work spaces in place of the traditional rows of student desks.

            Just a quick search of online images for classrooms with flexible seating arrangements reveals the endless possibilities and variations available to teachers interested in flexible seating. In a typical classroom with flexible seating you could find arrangements such as:

·       Soft cushions, bean bags, and chairs of all types

·       Work tables for students to share

·       Cubbies and bins for shared materials as well as for individual student storage

·       A small work space area for the teacher

·       Rugs and carpets to delineate specific work areas

·       Balance balls, wobble chairs, stools and other options for student seating

            Instead of being expected to sit quietly for long periods at a desk, students in classrooms where there is flexible seating can choose to sit, to kneel, to stand, to lean, to lie on the floor, or select another option their teacher designs for them. There are several unmistakable advantages to flexible seating arrangements in classrooms.

In classrooms with flexible seating, students can

·       Choose the work space that appeals to them

·       Learn to make good choices about how to work efficiently

·       Move around and be more active as they work

·       Be comfortable instead of restrained as they learn

·       Remain on task while working because they are engaged and focused

            While the benefits of flexible seating arrangements are unmistakable, there are some important negative aspects to consider, especially for first-year teachers:

·       Other teachers may not be as open to change as you are and therefore not able to offer help and suggestions based on their experience.

·       Switching from a traditional classroom arrangement where the furniture is already provided for you can create storage problems as you eliminate furniture.

·       Your school district may not provide you with the funds to purchase the new equipment that you need, and the cost for many teachers (even those who are thrifty and inventive) can be significant.

·       Classroom management problems may be an issue at first as you and your students adapt to new spaces and ways of thinking about how to work productively.

·       Flexible seating requires experimentation, tweaking, and careful planning at a time when you are already dealing with many other classroom issues such as instructional planning, building positive relationships, and classroom management.

            Despite these negatives, the advantages of flexible seating arrangements are unmistakable. If you decide to use flexible seating, here are a few suggestions to make the process a bit easier:

·       Make changes very gradually and after careful consideration. Add in a shared work space. Provide a comfortable chair or two. As students adjust to these and as you learn how to manage them well, you can then make other changes.

·       Safety should be a first concern. Furniture that has been purchased by a school district has been vetted for safety issues, while furniture you purchase has not. Some districts do not allow teachers to use classroom furniture that has not been purchased by the district. Check with your supervisors about the changes that you are planning to make before you begin implementing them.

·       Expect to rethink classroom management. Different spaces require different behavior. What was unacceptable behavior in a traditional space may not be unacceptable in a space where there is more student movement and interaction.

·       Continue to make your classroom as transparent as possible. Make sure your supervisors and the parents or guardians of your students are kept apprised of the changes you make in your classroom.

·       Consider assigning spaces and rotating students through the different options at first to reduce student conflicts (they are likely to argue over seating choices), to expose students to the various work spaces, and to reduce student anxiety about having to compete with classmates for spaces.

·       Help students make sound decisions about how and where they are most comfortable working. Student choice still requires teacher guidance.

·       Students with special needs, IEPs, 504 plans, or other accommodations that require preferential seating need options that allow for those accommodations. You cannot disregard this when planning new arrangements.

·       Enlist other teachers who may want to create flexible seating arrangements in their classrooms so that you can share ideas and resources.

·       Don’t overspend your own funds. Instead, be patient and look for bargains. If you are committed to flexible seating, work with your district to fund your classroom changes instead of paying for them yourself."

Monday, July 9, 2018

Super Easy Games to Play in Class

Playing learning games with your students can be fun for everyone involved. Students love the energy and change of pace and you get to watch your students engage in the material in new and meaningful ways. Games provide opportunities for interaction, offer immediate feedback, make the work relevant, allow practice, and motivate students to behave appropriately. The time and effort that you spend getting your students ready to learn through games is well worth the trouble.

Before you add games to your mix of pedagogy strategies, however, you will need to prepare your students. Here are a few tips to make sure that the activities work well with difficult classes:

Consider the geography of your room before you begin. Move furniture, put breakable items in a safe place, and plan how you will put the room back in order at the end of the game.

Pay attention to safety. If you see that students are so excited that the competition is becoming too intense, stop play at once.

You should select the team members so that no one will be left out.

Keep a container of numbers or other markers on hand for students to draw from to determine who goes first or to help with other decisions. Dice are helpful as well.

Have students assume the roles of scorekeeper, timekeeper, and master of ceremonies so that you can monitor activities.

Prepare to move your class to a location where they won’t disturb other classes if the game gets noisy.

After a game is over, be sure to ask your students to tell you what they learned.

While there are many sophisticated games available for teachers and students, sometimes it is just fun to have a few reliable simple no or low tech games ready when your students need to experience the material in a different way. Here is a list of some simple, low-risk, unplugged games that students of all ages can enjoy.

Flyswatter Badminton. Use masking tape to mark off a small badminton court. Blow up a balloon and hand each student a flyswatter to use as a racket. Divide students into teams and arrange them on either side of an imaginary net (indicated by a taped line on the floor). As you ask questions, students earn points for moving the balloon across the net and for answering questions correctly.

Quiz Bowl. Set up a tournament of quick questions and answers involving as many of your students as possible. To add interest, vary the level of difficulty, rules of play, way of scoring, and incentives.

Board games. Design your own board game to fit your topic. You can make small boards and photocopy them for students to use in a small group, or you can make a large board for the entire class to use. The tasks you assign your students in a board game can range from simply answering questions to solving problems. Students also enjoy creating and playing their own board games. You can find great ideas for board games at

Twenty Questions. Write an answer on a slip of paper, then have students take turns asking a question each until they guess the answer. Keep track of the number of questions that they must ask to guess correctly. In this game, the lowest number of questions wins.

Name That Person, [Battle, City…]. This game is similar to Twenty Questions in that students try to guess answers with as few clues as possible. You should make up the clues in advance. On game day, you’ll call them out one at a time until someone can name the targeted person, battle, city, or another item. x Ball Toss. Line up your students in two teams facing each other. As soon as a student correctly answers a question, that student tosses a soft foam ball to a student on the other team. That student must answer the next question.

Chain Making. This is an educational version of the old alphabet game that small children play. One player begins thinking of an object relating to the unit of study and beginning with the letter A. The next student must repeat that clue and add an object with the letter B. The game continues until students are stumped or until they reach the end of the alphabet.

One Two and You’re Outta Here. Stand at the door at the end of class with a set of flashcards or questions that require quick answers. For a student to leave class, he or she must answer two questions correctly.

Tic Tac Toe. Students advance play on a Tic Tac Toe board by giving correct answers to questions. Make a grid of three blocks across and down for a total of nine blocks. Photocopy so that students can play in small groups. 

Student-Created Board Games. Many students can be very skilled and creative at designing their own board games. Often, they will create games based on such old favorites as Candyland or Battleship using the material they have learned in class.

Sporting events. Divide your students into teams, and use the chalkboard to play games of football, soccer, or whatever sport currently interests to your students. Students advance by correctly answering questions or completing assigned tasks.


Free Power Point Games. One of the easiest ways to find great free games is to browse using the search term “Free Power Point Games.” There are dozens of free templates online for you to download and use with your class. At some sites, teachers even share their own games for other teachers who are teaching the same material. ( This commercial site offers a large variety of handheld, electronic, and traditional board games at reasonable prices.

Dave’s ESL Café ( Dave Sperling’s site lists dozens of classroom games, along with rules and suggestions. Click on the “Stuff for Teachers” tab and then the “Games” tab to access the large list. This site has many other resources for teachers, too.

Discovery School ( This page on the Discovery School site offers dozens of brain twister puzzles, activities, and games for all ages and ability levels of students. x Out of the Box Games ( This is also a commercial site with a large assortment of games for sale. You can find classic board games, dice games, and word games, as well as newer games

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Few things can establish a sense of community in a classroom as quickly as shared experiences and shared tasks. Students who learn to see themselves as a united group working and playing together learn to be supportive of each other’s efforts and tolerant of each other’s idiosyncrasies. This is especially important for difficult students who can easily be isolated because of their disruptive behavior and attitudes. In the list below you will find several ways that you can encourage your students to be part of a supportive classroom.

Taking frequent photos will encourage students to see how they have progressed and grown throughout the school year. Display photographs of students doing various classroom tasks such as maintaining the classroom library or managing a classroom recycling center as well as participating in field trips and other class events.

Keep a scrapbook of major events and experiences throughout the year. The scrapbook does not have to be elaborate to be effective. Even photos clipped into a three-ring binder will show your students that they are important to you and to each other.

Use bulletin board space to show collages of the interests students have in common, their contributions to the class, and personal quotations or mottoes that are important to them.

Set goals as a class and work together to reach them:
The entire class earns a certain grade on an assessment
The class goes a certain number of days without tardies
The class earns a specified class average on a test
The class settles to work within a specified time limit
The class strives for perfect homework completion

Adopt a class mascot, secret sign, or catchphrase.

Celebrate class “in jokes,” traditions, or rituals such as group cheers when something good happens or pinning stars on the bulletin board to commemorate success.

You can also observe milestones such as the twentieth homework assignment or the tenth day with no tardies or the Hundredth Day. An excellent resource for Hundredth Day celebrations can be found at Enchanted Learning ( Use “Hundredth Day” as a search term to access resources and lesson ideas to celebrate this occasion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When Frustration Leads to Defiance

No one wants to deal with defiant students no matter how young or old they are or the form that the defiance takes. Whenever I conduct workshops to help teachers cope with and support challenging students, the most common concern that I hear is always about students who are defiant and disrespectful. It is a serious discipline concern that we all share.

The toll that student defiance takes on teachers can be harsh. After all, few teachers go home at the end of a successful and productive school day worried about what will happen next class. Even the most stalwart of us find it hard to leave the emotional problems caused by defiant students at school. These tend to be the problems that cause us to sleep poorly and to contemplate changing careers.

One of the most productive ways to stop defiant students from acting out in your classroom is to first determine the cause of the misbehavior instead of blindly reacting just to the incident and its negative effects on the general atmosphere in the classroom itself. When you take the time to do this, several good things happen at once.

You treat the defiant student with respect despite the bad behavior

You send a message to the other students that you will not lose your cool

You preserve the dignity of the misbehaving student

You will be far closer to resolving the situation than if you just reacted to it

The cause of defiance is usually something that the student has been seething about for a while. Given the nature of the modern classroom, there are plenty of opportunities for students to have wounded feelings or a sense of frustration. And it is often  this frustration that causes students to react impulsively and to lash out.

To find the cause, first talk gently to the student who has been defiant. This is best done in private. If you both need a few moments to cool down, then be sure to allow that time. No one can hear even a reasonable explanation when they are stressed and upset.

As you talk, don't be accusatory. Keep your language as factual and dry as possible. Describe what you saw and heard. Then, tell the student that you want to listen carefully to what he or she has to say.

Listen carefully. Ask a tactful question or two. Figure out what caused the incident.

Try not to be preachy. Do not induce guilt. Your relationship with the student has no place in this discussion. Stick to the facts at hand. Determine the cause and act accordingly.

Once you have had this conversation with the student, then you can make the decision about how to proceed. Not every defiant act deserves a harsh consequence. Your innate teacher's judgement will allow you to make the best decision that you can make now that you are informed about the cause.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Most Useful Reflection Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. What am I most grateful for today?

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

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

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Two Quick Tips for Successful Conferences

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Is Anybody Listening?

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Don't Give Up on Challenging Students

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

Brighten Up Your Winter Classroom with Free Posters

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

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

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

Busy Teacher ( offers over sixty free posters for teachers.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Need Help with Differentiation? Try So All Can Learn

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

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

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