Monday, December 30, 2019

How to Help Students Adjust after Winter Break

I first published this post in 2015 and from the responses then and in the years since, it still resonates with many caring educators. Here it is again with best wishes and hope that the new year (new decade!) will begin successfully for you and your students.

For many students, returning to school from the long winter break is not an easy transition. Staying up late, sleeping in, unstructured time, family stresses, or holiday travel can all make it hard for students to return to school ready to work productively. You can expect to see students who are tired, cranky, and just not as cooperative as usual because their normal schedules have been disrupted.

Experienced teachers know helping students readjust to their school routines requires understanding, patience, and a solid plan to make that first day back as pleasant as possible for everyone involved. Here are a few brief suggestions to smooth the reentry process for your students.

  • If you have a class website or group email system so that you can contact your students, consider sending an upbeat message a day or two in advance of their return. Remind students about the materials that they will need to bring to class as well as other relevant information to make the transition back to school life easier.  
  • Think back to the first day of school and the techniques you used then to make your students feel welcomed into your class. After all, returning after a long break is really just a mini-first day of school. Adjust as needed, but consider incorporating some of those same techniques to let your students know that you are glad to see them. Take the time to reconnect with each student so that they know that they are a valued member of the class and that their well-being is important to you.
  • Have extra books, papers, pens, and other materials on hand for those students who lost the habits of organization during the break.
  • If your students are old enough to communicate well by writing, pass out small slips of paper or note cards and ask students to tell you about their holiday in one hundred words or less. You can gain some valuable insights into their time away from school with this brief activity.
  • Have students use a checklist to work through the normal class routines on the first day. This will not only remind them of what they need to do, but will also get them back into the habit of working in a purposeful manner. Delivering a flurry of verbal directions will only stress everyone out.
  • Plan activities that are pleasant, but fairly low-key.  Brief games, review activities, pair shares, small group discussions, and other similar strategies are ones that can gradually and successfully reintroduce students to class routines without creating more stress.
  • Photographing or videoing students on the first day of class in the new year is also a good way to celebrate the milestone together. Print on ordinary copy paper and display in the classroom or share on a class website or in a class newsletter. 
  • Take advantage of the time of year as you plan the day’s lessons. Ask students to make predictions about the year ahead or to share their new resolutions. You could even develop class resolutions such as setting a goal for homework completion, improved study habits, or making sure the room is tidy at the end of the day. 
  • Allow time for students to visit with each other and to catch up with each other’s personal news. While this can be done as a whole group activity, small groups really work best as students can engage meaningfully with each other. You could offer open-ended questions for everyone to discuss as conversation starters: What is your favorite memory of 2019? What do you want to do in 2020? If you could change the world in 2020, where would you begin?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2019 Honors

I've long been a fan of the extensive website for educators, Share My Lesson. An offshoot of the American Federation of Teachers organization, SML offers a wealth of resources for educators everywhere. From blogs on myriad topics, webinars for PD credit, curated lessons contributed by site partners and members, as well as classroom-tested lesson plan collections, Share My Lesson makes it easy for educators to connect with valuable, high quality information in an easy-to-use format. 

I'm thrilled and humbled to announce that three of my Share My Lesson blog posts have made it into the top blogs list for 2019!
Here they are:
# 9: It's Not Too Late to Create, Teach, and Enforce Classroom Rules
#4: Five Classroom Procedures to Make Your Classroom Life Easier
#3: Classroom Discipline Problems: Ten Mistakes You Could Be Making
To access these blogs and all of the other 2019 winning blogs, just click here:

In addition, my webinar, How to Work Successfully with Defiant Students, was voted as the #2 most popular webinar in the entire Share My Lesson collection of webinars! This free and on demand presentation is available for you right now. Just click on the link here:


Monday, December 2, 2019

Use Your Teacher Voice

What teachers say to students has more power than anyone can possibly imagine. It's not always easy to remember the powerful effect of a teacher’s words when a student is defiant or rude or determined to hinder others from learning, but it is important to never forget this inherent power.
The words you use when you speak with your students and the way you express yourself are just some of the tools you have to use when creating a strong bond with them. 
There are very few rules about how you should speak to your students. The age and maturity level of your students will guide how you speak. For example, it is usually a serious offense for a teacher in an elementary classroom to tell students to shut up. In a high school classroom, this phrase is not as serious; it is merely rude. You should avoid using it, however, because there are more effective ways to ask students to stop talking.
Kind words spoken in a gentle voice make it much easier for your students to connect with you. If you say something unkind to a student, it will hurt even more than an insult from a peer because it is from someone the student should be able to count on. 
The one language mistake you should never make is to swear when you are with your students. When you do this, you cross the line of what is acceptable and what is not. If you are ever tempted to swear around your students, remember that teachers have been fired for swearing at students. If a word slips out, you should immediately apologize to your students, let them know that you are embarrassed, apologize again, and then continue with instruction. After your class is over, you should speak with a supervisor and explain your side of the situation as soon as you can and certainly, before your supervisor hears about it from an angry parent or guardian.
While swear words are clearly not something you should say around students, there are other language issues you should also pay attention to. Make sure your own words are ones that help your students and do not hurt them. Never make negative or insulting remarks about any student’s

·       Race
·       Gender
·       Religion
·       Family
·       Friends
·       Nationality
·       Clothing
·       Neighborhood
·       Body size
·       Sexual orientation
·       Disabilities
 You should also make a point of using “I” messages whenever you can. “I” messages are statements that use words such as I, we, us, or our instead of you. For example, instead of the harsh, “You’d better pay attention,” a teacher can say, “I’d like for you to pay attention now.” “You’re too noisy" becomes “We all need to be quiet so that everyone can hear,” and “You’re doing that all wrong!” can become “I think I can help you with that.” With these simple changes, the statements are no longer accusatory, harsh in tone, or insulting. The language points out a problem but does not put anyone on the defensive. “I” messages work because they state a problem without blaming the student. This, in turn, creates a focus on a solution and not on an error the child has made.
Another way to make sure to use your teacher voice effectively is to match your tone to your purpose. Teachers who do not use a serious tone when the situation warrants it can confuse students who quickly pick up on the discrepancy between the tone of voice their teacher is using and the seriousness of the moment.
You may also recall teachers in your past who had unfortunate verbal mannerisms—repeating “you know”; or clearing their throat; or using annoying filler words, such as “like.” If you suspect that you may have a potentially distracting verbal mannerism, one of the best ways to be certain is to record yourself and listen critically. You can also ask for honest feedback from colleagues or from your students.
A final way to use your teacher voice to make it a more effective teaching tool is to vary the speed at which you speak. Teachers who talk very quickly or in a slow monotone in front of the class are not tuned in to their audience. Remember that when you are in class, you should not be in the same conversational mode that you would use with your friends. Instead, use your voice to make it easy for your students to understand you.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Quick Tips for Redirecting Off-Task Students

Your most important goal when redirecting students who may be off task is to quickly and quietly help them get back on task without missing even a moment of instruction. The difficulty lies in trying to be as unobtrusive as possible while still stopping the misbehavior.  Fortunately, there are many different ways to redirect students without disrupting instruction. Here are just a few of the techniques you can use to help your students stay on track during class.

·       Use sticky notes to write reminders and put them on the desks of students who are off task.

·       Set a timer and give everyone a two-minute break.

·       Change the pace of the assignment.

·       Ask students if they would like help from a classmate.

·       Use your “teacher look” to remind students to keep working.

·       Call home if several attempts to redirect are not successful.

·       Remind students of their long and short-term goals.

·       Ask students to restate the directions.

·       Ask students to estimate how long it will take to finish the assignment.

·       Count 1, 2, 3 and wait for everyone to pay attention to your directions.

·       Ask students who are struggling with an assignment if they need help.

·       Move to stand near the students who are off task.

·       Have students stand, stretch, and then return to work.

·       Put your hand on the desk of a student whose attention seems to be wandering.

·       Discreetly remove distractions.

·       Ask students who are off task to sit near you.

·       Pleasantly remind students of the behavior you would like to see.

·       Sometimes the problem is not off task behavior, but noise. You can also establish signals such as these with your students to let them know that they need to moderate their noise level:

o   Flick the lights

o   Fan them so that they “chill out”

o   Tell them to use a six-inch voice

o   Ring a bell

o   Wave your hands over your head

o   Snap your fingers until students snap back

o   Blow a whistle

o   Play calming classical music

o   Raise your hand until they raise theirs                                                         

o   Clap your hands until they clap with you

o   Clap twice until they clap three times

o   Stand near a noisy group

o   Give them a thumbs up when they are quiet

o   Give them a thumbs down when they are noisy

o   Shush the nearest group and have them pass it on

o   Place your finger over your lips and have them do the same

o   Hold up your hand in a “V” for volume sign

It’s also helpful to remember that alpha commands tend to be more effective than beta commands when redirecting students. An alpha command is one that is simple and direct while pointing the student in a positive direction. For example, an effective alpha command for students who are lollygagging in the hallway would be, “It’s time for you to go to your seat.” A less effective beta command would be, “Why are you guys still in the hallway?” The effectiveness of an alpha command is that it does not just stop misbehavior, but instead focuses on a desired positive behavior.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Giving Your Class a Positive Label Makes All the Difference

A healthy self-esteem is not handed out at birth—not even to those enviable individuals who were born with such advantages as intelligence, good health, and loving families. The reasons for this are not hard to determine, but the negative effects of a poor self-image can devastate a classroom when challenging students don’t make even the smallest efforts to try to work or behave.  When students regard themselves as capable learners, they act in ways that perpetuate their positive beliefs. They resist the negative effects of peer pressure and learn to develop the social skills that will help them be positive members of class.

Self-confident students are courteous, willing to offer help, tolerant of others, and willing to take risks. Their positive attitudes will make it possible for you to create the inclusive class identity that you want for them. Promoting self-esteem in students is not something that should replace the curriculum; instead, it should be a natural part of the positive approach with all students.

It is also important to remember that in school self-esteem must be based on achievement. It can’t be founded merely on personal qualities; but must be solidly based in the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing a job to the best of one’s ability. Although there are some simple activities that teachers can do to help students see themselves as part of a successful group, the best ways to bolster a healthy self-image are the ones that will appeal most to your students.

Here are some simple suggestions to help create the positive class atmosphere that will allow you to create a positive class identity for your students.   

·       Improve your listening skills; students are acutely sensitive to the nuances of body language. Treat your students as if they are important people in your lives by attending to what they say, even in the frantic press of daily activities.

·       Pay attention to the way you talk to students. Use a pleasant, soft voice. Be friendly as well as firm with them.

·       After a particularly long or difficult unit of study, hold an awards ceremony to celebrate its successful completion.

·       Encourage them through specific praise and encouragement, not just by saying, “Good Job!” no matter what a student does.

·       It is also important to avoid needless negativity with students. For example, instead of saying “Don’t interrupt me,” try saying “I’ll be with you in a minute” if you want to send a more positive message.

·       Offer help to those students who need special help and encouragement. Some students need an extra tutoring session or a bit of extra time with you to become more capable and confident. 

·       At the end of class, ask students to tell you something important that they did well or learned.

·       Hold your students accountable for participation in class. Do not let them sleep, refuse to work, neglect to make up work, forget homework, or ignore what you have assigned for all your other students. Students who opt out of participating in class may be relieved for the moment, but they are not going to feel good about themselves or about your class if you allow this behavior. Other students will also be watching how you handle their difficult classmates, as well. 

·       There is a great deal of personal reward to be found in activities that help others. Involve your students in class activities that are geared to helping other people. Students who tutor each other or younger students, collect money and goods for the needy, participate in an Earth Day clean-up, or are involved in other compassionate and helpful activities will reap tremendous benefits in the form of improved self-esteem.

·       Ask students to describe the most difficult part of a lesson and what they did to overcome that difficult part.

·       Take a no-nonsense approach to how you provide correction for your students, but be gentle. Over and over again, research and common sense both prove that it is the positive actions teachers take with students that promote a productive classroom climate. Students who have teachers who show sincere approval for their actions are more successful than those students whose teachers intimidate them into compliance.

·       Create opportunities for students to reflect upon and recognize the contributions of their classmates after a shared assignment, project, or discussion. Teach the importance of recognizing each other’s accomplishments.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Connect Connet Connect

Although you may want to connect with your students right away, it takes time to not just build the necessary rapport, but to gather as much information about individual students as you can. Even if your class size is small, you will have students with various quirks, life experiences, and personalities to try to decipher and that cannot be done in a hurry.

Another reason that it takes time to learn about your students is that every day will bring new maturity and growth. Interests will develop or evolve, and life experiences will create change. Even though this can be challenging, learning about your students is one of the most rewarding aspects of your teaching practice. Here are just some of the ways that you can learn about your students:

·       Review your students’ records. Be sure to follow the correct procedures and confidentiality regulations. You may want to jot quick notes on each student as you scan his or her information.

·       Make a point of observing your students as they interact with each other. Who appears to be shy? Who is a peacemaker? Who is generous? You can learn a great deal about them simply by being mindful of their interactions with each other.

·       When you make a positive phone call home, you have an opportunity to ask questions. Likewise, when you send home an introductory letter, you can add a section asking parents or guardians to tell you about their child.

·       Your students’ previous teachers may be another good source of information. One drawback of this method is that you may sometimes get information that is not completely objective and that may bias your view of a child.

·       One of the best ways to get to know your students and to help them get to know each other is to use icebreakers. As you watch students interact with each other, you will learn a great deal about them. In addition, icebreakers will give your students an opportunity to learn to value each other’s contributions to the class. Try these icebreaker strategies to learn more about your students:

o   Have students work in pairs or triads to fill out information forms about each other. Include questions that will cause them to learn interesting and unusual details such as their favorite performers or athletes or a pet peeve.

o   Pass around a large calendar on which each student can record his or her birthday. Also consider having students mark their birthplace on a large map.

o   Play “Would You Rather?” with your students. In this quick game, you call out a question with two answer choices. Examples would be, “Would you rather be famous or be rich?” or “Would you rather have a dog or a cat as a pet?” Students can indicate their choice in a variety of ways such as standing, raising hands, or moving to a designated area of the room.

o   Put students in pairs. Give each pair a blank Venn diagram; have them chart how they are alike and how they are different. After the initial pairs have completed the diagram, each pair should then join another pair and create another Venn diagram that shows how the pairs are alike and different.

o   Have each student create a timeline of his or her life. If you let students use large sheets of bulletin board paper and bright markers, you will be able to decorate your classroom with work that students will find fascinating.

o   Have students group themselves according to birthday, eye color, favorite sports team, favorite music, or other common interests.

o   Check out the many icebreaker sites online. One that is particularly useful for classroom use is Youth Group Games (

o   Ask your students to list five things they do well. You will be surprised at how difficult this is for many students; too often, students focus on their weaknesses, not on their strengths.

o   Put your students into pairs and have them determine seven things they have in common. Insist that they go beyond the obvious to discuss such topics as shared experiences, attitudes, or aspirations, or other appealing topics.

o   You can also learn a great deal about your students from brief writing assignments in which students respond to quick questions. Here are some quick suggestions for topics in the form of statements to be completed by students that you could use at any time of the term.

1.     When I am grown up, I want to...

2.     My favorite things to do at home are...

3.     My favorite things to do at school are...

4.     The subjects I do best in are...

5.     The subjects I need help in are...

6.     I am looking forward to learning about...

7.     I like it when my teachers...

8.     I would like to know more about...

9.     I am happiest when I am...

10.  I handle stress by...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

How to Make a Good Impression When You Meet Your New Students

The first day of school is one of the most exciting and stressful days of the entire year for teachers and students alike. One of the most important tasks that any teacher has is to make a good impression so that students can relax and look forward to the rest of the school year. As you begin thinking about that important first day, keep in mind that while your worries may be keeping you up at night, your students are also worried that they may not have a good teacher or even a good year.

Because it is so important that the first day of school be an encouraging experience for your students (and for you), you must present yourself to your students in as positive a manner as possible. This will be easy for you if you focus your energy on the following broad strategies.

Take Charge of Your Class

·       Have a seating chart ready so that you can show students to their respective seats and get them started on their opening exercise at once. Have an assignment on the board or give students a handout as they enter the room.

·       Before the term begins, when you have made up your introduction, class rules and expectations, consider having a friend record you presenting them. You can really have fun with this if you film your presentation at the beach, on a boat, or even in your own backyard. This would allow you to be creative and to make a polished presentation. When school starts, show the video and give your students a handout on the class expectations to fill in as they watch and listen. Showing a video instead of having to remember details on an already stressful day makes the day easier for you as well.

Calm Your Students’ Fears

·       Stand at the door of your classroom and welcome students to your class. Wear a bright name tag. Make sure to prominently display your name and room number so that students and their parents or guardians can be sure that they are in the right place.

·       Smile. Look glad to see every student. Greet each one pleasantly, using his or her name if you can.

·       Teach your first lesson as if it is the most important lesson you will teach all year. In many ways, it is. Your students should feel not only that they learned something interesting but also that they will continue to learn something in your class every day.

Introduce Yourself

Because you want the first day of class to go well, and because you want to control the amount of speculation about you, the new teacher, you should introduce yourself so that students can start to connect with you. While you should select the information from this list that would be most appropriate for your students, you can tell your students the following information:

·       How to spell your last name

·       Your title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr.)

·       Where you went to college

·       Where you grew up

·       Why you are looking forward to working with them

·       The positive things you have heard about them

·       The positive things you have heard about the school

·       What your favorite subject was in school

·       Why you chose to be a teacher

Engage Your Students’ Minds

·       Design fast-paced, interesting instruction that will appeal to students with a variety of learning styles and engage their critical thinking skills. Solving puzzles, completing a challenge, quick writing assignments (if students can write), and other brief activities often work well.

·       Consider a lesson that will allow you to assess your students’ readiness levels as well as give them an overview of the skills they will learn or the material they will cover during the term. Make sure that the lesson is one that encourages them to be active, and not just one that requires them to listen passively.

Begin to Teach Class Routines

·       Teaching acceptable school behavior is part of what teachers do and is certainly part of what students expect from their teachers. For example, when it is time for students to turn in the day’s written assignment, take a minute to show them the procedure for passing in papers that you will expect them to follow all term.

·       If students lack supplies to do the assignment, lend them what they need for class and gently remind them that they will need to have paper and a pencil in the future. Instead of harsh reprimands, stick to gentle reminders instead.