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.