#Classroom Community, Child Development, Education, Guided Reading, Higher Level Thinking, MTSS, Reading, Small Group Novel Study

A link in a chain

Being a teacher is truly one of the most essential roles in a child’s development. As they move from childhood to adulthood, a series of significant and necessary changes must happen for them to become healthy, functioning adults. Our job is to be a link in the chain towards this development of higher level thinking and functioning. Parents, siblings, family members, community members, and other caring adults have a role to play in this chain but teachers must recognize their role and act on it.

The human brain is a pretty amazing thing. As we develop and learn, the brain changes, grows, and alters with us. I love to tell my students about “growing synapses”. First, because it makes me sound really smart, but more importantly it encourages them to understand the growth mindset causes ACTUAL GROWTH. In the human brain, small neural pathways form as we learn new things. These pathways carry the electrical impulses throughout the brain that give the world around us meaning. When we learn something new, new synapses are formed connecting new information to existing in our brains. This is why if you learn a new word, suddenly you see it everywhere. The word was always all around you – but you literally had no pathway for the word to connect to meaning. Once you learn it, “POP”, a synapse is born causing a link between new information and what you already knew. Try it…the word canoodling is a verb that means hugging and kissing with someone. Bet you see the word canoodling now in lots of places! 🙂

So, how can you be a link in the chain of development for a child? Here are some important things to keep in mind as you work towards this:

  1. Recognize the importance of words – A pivotal study was done that examined the number of words between poverty, middle class, and upper middle class homes spoken to children by the age of 5. The gap between children living in poverty and upper middle class homes was nearly 30 million words. This article links this study to the growth mindset. It is a must read! https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/the-32-million-word-gap/36856/ In your classroom, value words. Read to them all the time, talk to them all the time, expose them to words all the time! Make the development of language essential in your classroom. Here is Authentic Teaching’s vocabulary contract on Teachers Pay Teachers which supports the use of vocabulary in context. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Vocabulary-Contract-4956632
  2. Don’t let fluency stop you from developing thinking skills – Fluency in reading and writing is an essential step in developing the foundation skills kids need. However, we must explicitly teach our kids to develop their thinking WHILE teaching fluency.
  • I love guided reading groups for this purpose. Guided reading allows students to talk about their thinking in a safe place where there are no right or wrong answers. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for details. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948
  • I also find ways around the fluency by using read aloud for non-assessment activities allowing students to access text and demonstrate their THINKING without fluency in the way. Readworks, Storyworks, ActivelyLearn, RAZ kids, and Newsela all have read aloud features to support students.
  • Voice typing which is free on most platforms allows students to demonstrate their written thinking skills without their writing fluency stopping them.
  • I sometimes have really low and reluctant writers record themselves in a video of their story (Flipgrid is an amazing tool to support this) to get their ideas out. Then, we work to move the story from the video to the page by listening, pausing, and writing each sentence.

3. Explicitly teach higher level thinking – Inferencing and Drawing Conclusion reading skills are the most challenging and essential skills in developing great readers. However, we rarely teach these skills explicitly. Both need to be taught the way we teach a math skill like adding fractions with uncommon denominators – in steps that build on each other. However, we rarely teach the steps to students. Check out these resources on Authentic Teaching TPT on both skills broken down: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Drawing-Conclusions-Flow-chart-4956576 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Introduction-to-Inferencing-4956564

4. Be aware of the impact of childhood trauma on learning – Brain development is altered by adverse childhood experiences (ACE). It literally CHANGES a child’s brain. Our students that have experienced this childhood trauma learn differently, need different supports, and literally REQUIRE US TO PROVIDE SAFETY, STABILITY, AND FOSTER RESILIENCE. This is an incredibly challenging prospect, but can literally save a child’s life. I was absolutely floored by this article and corresponding study from the CDC/Kaiser Permanente. I encourage you to carefully read this article and study to impact your students who experience trauma. It happens in all socioeconomic groups, in all commmunities, and we must be aware of its devastating impacts on brain development. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

5. Develop the social skills and behaviors required for their age – Understanding social cues and having the skills to navigate appropriately in the age group they are in is ESSENTIAL for a child. As a teacher, we must create a classroom that has high expectations of behavior in all areas: academic behaviors, emotional behaviors, social behaviors, and personal behaviors. Some students require explicit instruction on these skills to help them develop the self control to demonstrate these behaviors. If we do not teach the appropriate skills and behaviors to our children, we stop them from being able to function in the world. Stop and consider what the student who demonstrates the most appropriate age level behaviors in your classroom does in all areas. Now, start intentionally teaching ALL students in your class how to achieve these behaviors. Just like our academic instruction, we have to differentiate for some students and find alternate ways to help them on this growth.

Being a link in a chain of development is a daunting task. As a teacher, we can often lose sight of the pivotal role we have in our student’s lives. A friend of mine worked for years in high poverty schools. Each year at the end of the year, he would write a letter to each student in his class telling them what he hoped for them, admired in them, and what he celebrated in their growth during the year. He would frame these and give them to his students. Over the years, many students have found him on social media and shared the letters that they kept. They thanked him for being an essential link in the chain of their lives, helping them build resilience to overcome adversity, and for linking the broken parts of their lives with his teaching. We can all strive towards this kind of impact in a child’s life….THAT IS THE REASON WE SHOULD TEACH! Be a link in a chain for every child in your class…somebody’s development depends on it!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Character Education, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Self Care

Turn the Kaleidoscope

Sometimes in education, we have to take a step back, breathe, and look at things in a different light. We have to turn the kaleidoscope to see things uniquely. This can be what we need to do with a specific student we are struggling with, a class we are navigating, a team we work on, or our school at large. Shifting the kaleidoscope helps us take fragmented pieces and see them “lit up”. This light shining through the fragments often gives us our biggest breakthroughs.

Feeling like you are having trouble finding the next step forward with a problem at school? Here is my list of easy suggestions designed to help you move forward with a problem that you are unable to fix right now. Shift that kaleidoscope on the issue and see if you can find a new point of view.

  1. Identify your actual issue – Sometimes the work gets so overwhelming that you can simply feel like everything is awful. The first step is to identify the actual issue that is causing you the highest level of frustration and stress. For example, is it a specific student that you simply are unable to make a difference with? Or, is it a scheduling issue making you frustrated? Or, are you not getting enough time and energy to focus on the things that matter because you have too much paperwork? Dialing down to the actual issue helps to make it more manageable. Of course, often there are multiple issues – but take them one at a time starting with the biggest drain to your energy.
  2. Figure out what you are feeling – Now that you know what the specific issue is…take some time to identify what you feel about it. Sometimes our anger with a specific kid, team mate, or issue is masking a different feeling. Inadequacy, fear of failure, exhaustion, jealousy, or helplessness often come out as anger. Taking time to figure out what you are feeling in more detail helps to identify how you can begin problem solving. Often, I am frustrated because I feel helpless to fix a situation. Simply saying to myself “It is okay that you are not in control” will often shift me out of anger and into problem solving.
  3. Visualize what you want it to look like – Things happen so fast to us as teachers, it is hard to even know what you want. That kid who is out of control….I just want him to stop it. Lunch time with no time to sit and eat…I just want to sit quietly. But, visualizing the exact goal can help us achieve it. For example, that out of control student, what exactly would it look like FOR THEM to be in your class positively? Some students will never be a fully compliant, perfect little student. So, what would it look like for them to be in your class and for you to feel good about it? Visualizing more precisely can help you see the ways to make it happen.
  4. Think outside the box – Teachers by nature tend to be people pleasers and rule followers (not all of us….). We like our schedules precise, our bulletin boards neat, and everything to run smoothly. (not all of us…) But, we struggle to look for non traditional solutions to problems. My team has a reputation for finding a way to “make things work”. This is because we are willing to find solutions that nobody else thought of. Rather than struggling away with something that isn’t working, try something new and innovative to help you find a new solution.
  5. Determine the steps you need to take to make it happen – Now that you have a plan and vision for your problem, what has to happen to make it work? The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is true for any big challenge. Setting specific, clear steps towards the goal keeps you focused on getting there rather than frustrated if you don’t solve the problem instantly.
  6. If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again – The most frequent complaint about changing a student’s behavior from teachers that I hear is “I tried a behavior plan and it didn’t work…they didn’t care…the behavior was still happening.” Well – OF COURSE IT WAS! Changing a behavior, a class, a struggling team, a school-wide issue, takes time and effort to get better. Even more than this is requires PERSISTENCE!!! Ever tried to get a toddler to stop doing a dangerous behavior? Think about how many times you had to repeat the instructions, consequences, and praise to get them to stop that behavior. I bet it wasn’t a couple of times…and yet, we expected things at school to change with a snap of our fingers. Be persistent and keep trying to find solutions.
  7. Accept what you are unable to control – All this being said, sometimes you have to admit what you simply are unable to control. There are things with a challenging student that you will NEVER be able to fix or change. Love and help them anyways. There are challenges with a class of students that will remain all year. Love and help them anyways. There are difficulties with people you work with that you will not be able to alter. Love and help them anyways. There are issues and concerns at the school level that are out of your hands. Do your best anyways. Accepting what you are NOT in control of can help you stay focused on what you are in control of.
  8. Remember why you are there – My husband, who is also a teacher, often reminds me that I have a job to do. The job is inside my classroom shaping the lives of the people in front of me. Sometimes, I get so caught up in everything OUTSIDE my classroom that I forget why I am there. Taking the time to step out of the chaos and intentionally and purposefully refocusing yourself on your life altering JOB; can often simply remove the problems. Most of us got into teaching, because we love to TEACH! Take some time and consider how much of your time and energy is addressing problems with your TEACHING. If the balance is lopsided towards addressing problems that don’t impact your TEACHING, even it out.

I love the concept of a kaleidoscope and the way that there is beauty IN the brokenness and distortion. That kaleidoscopes require you to point this brokenness and distortion towards the light to see the beauty. Problems at school are no different. Take the problem with a student, class, teammate, or issue and point it at the light to see them differently. If you are feeling overwhelmed and angry you will never make good decisions that make things better. So, turn the kaleidoscope…

Here is one of my favorite videos to share with yourself, students, teammates that helps you to breathe and calm down! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg

# Professional Development, #Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, Teamwork

Beneath the Iceberg

One of my friends said this week “The honeymoon period is over”. Like all groups – a classroom, a teaching team or a school will move from a phase of endless possibility to the true work of creating a community. When the “honeymoon” ends…the real work begins. One of the best descriptions I have ever heard of about groups uses this concept developed by psychologist Bruce Tuckman of the stages of a group achieving success.

We have left the forming stage for most of our classrooms, grade level teams, or schools and are making the tough transition into the “storming” phase of group formation. This is where a group must find the ability to effectively work through their differences, problems, and concerns so they can transition into “norming” which ultimately leads to “performing”. This storming phase requires so much effort, heartache, stress, dedication, and attention that it is often the stage that zaps teachers of their energy and focus.

Like the iceberg concept of success, what happens during these darker times, is literally the most essential part of moving the group forward towards a successful team of people that are driven towards one goal. This time requires all of the growth mindset goals we see here to achieve that magical place where our class, team, or school is performing like a well oiled machine.

So – is the honeymoon over for you? Are you storming right now? Here are some ways to find your way out of the storm, set some norms, so your class, team, or school can perform!

  1. Stop to assess what the issues are so you can plan for how to address things positively. You might want to use the 5 How’s worksheet on Authentic Teaching TPT if this is happening in your class. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/How-To-Planning-Sheet-4750755
  2. Isolate out whole group issues vs. individual issues. You can then make a plan for whole group issues you need to solve and work on individual plans for those who need them. Here is a tool to help you evaluate what is happening with a specific student from Authentic Teaching TPT https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920
  3. Think about what is happening under the surface for a particular student or teammate that you may not be aware of. Just like the iceberg shows us only the tip of what it takes to achieve success, we only see the tip of a person’s life. Take the time to learn more and figure out what is under the surface.
  4. Think about new norms that need to be set for the group that can move you out of the storming phase. Sometimes having a tough conversation with students, parents, teammate that is said with love and care can solve many concerns and help create new expectations for everyone involved. I loved this article on all the steps of having a tough conversation https://www.judyringer.com/resources/articles/we-have-to-talk-a-stepbystep-checklist-for-difficult-conversations.php .
  5. Make sure you have a clear idea of what “performing” for the class, team or school looks like so you can create a shared goal that everyone is working towards. Sometimes we assume (and you know what that makes us) that our class, our team, or our school has the same goal we have for what it means for this group to be performing. I really like the simple, straightforward steps of this article on how to develop a shared goal https://magazine.vunela.com/4-steps-to-creating-a-shared-vision-that-will-energize-your-team-82b801e742ed .

Never forget that success is like an iceberg. People rarely see the work and effort put in to achieve it. So, if you are having one of those times where it seems to be too much – remind yourself that all this under the surface work leads to success. Hang in there and give others grace so that your class, team, or school can achieve success together by moving through storming and norming to performing.

Behavior Management, Character Education, Creating a Community, PLC, Recipes, Teamwork

Yin and Yang

I had the opportunity this week to attend a symposium for students with Down Syndrome. One of the presenters did an activity with us that I thought was profound in its simplicity. It made me realize the yin and the yang of so many things. So much of what frustrates us can be dialed down to how we see it. How do we see our teammates, administration, students, our families, etc? Our attitude towards anything shapes our reaction. Take a moment and complete this activity using the directions below. Then apply this concept to a challenging student, a difficult co-worker, or a family member you are struggling with. How can you see things differently and flip your perspective to react BETTER? See below for some yin and yang recipes (salty and sweet) to add to your week of looking at things from both sides!

FIRST – read through this list of character traits for yourself and pick between 5 – 10 that describe you. (I tried to remove my words that I circled – but if you know me…the smudges give me away!) Record the numbers on a sheet of paper. Don’t agonize over it, just pick the best words to describe your strengths. If you are not sure what a word means – look it up!

NOW – take that list of numbers and write the word from THIS list that matches it next to each number.

FINALLY – reflect on how our greatest strengths can be our biggest weaknesses. Think if you have a student with a specific challenge area – what strength could you build on in them BASED on that weakness? If you are struggling with a teammate – what weakness could you look at from the corresponding strength they probably have? If you are having difficulty with a family member – what negative character trait could you flip your thinking and see from the positive side? This activity is so fun and powerful when you begin thinking of the yin and yang in all of us. Seek to balance strengths and weaknesses by CELEBRATING strengths and weaknesses. Now – on to the yin and yang of food…

I am frequently put in charge of “appetizers” when I go to my friend’s lake house! We have moved to skipping dinner and just eating appetizers (really my favorite concept). Anyways – here is my sure fire favorite dip recipe with lots of possibilities. Below is my favorite brownie recipe! Salty and Sweet – the yin and yang of food! Have fun!

Creamy dip – YIN

  1. Begin with the “holy trinity” of dips – diced onion, peppers, and garlic. Use whatever amount, portion, size, etc. you want. Lightly saute these in a pan with olive oil or cooking spray until they are soft.
  2. Decide on the “main star” – today I am using Kale. I have made this with Spinach/Artichoke, shredded zucchini or yellow squash, roasted tomatoes, roasted eggplant, corn or any other hearty vegetable combo you like. You can definitely add in meats (sausage, pepperoni, hamburger, chicken) but for some reason I generally stick with veggies. I am counting my calories!!! Yep – that is it!
  3. Add the main star (in this case Kale – that I have taken off the stems and ripped into smaller pieces) to the pan with your holy trinity and cook until it is totally wilted down to pretty much nothing. (Amazing how much it shrinks).
  4. Take this off the heat and add in salt, pepper, whatever spicing you like beyond what you have (I have added some lemon juice to the mixture in the pan – dark greens LOVE lemon juice).
  5. In this large saucepan (or transfer to a big bowl) put in 1 block of cream cheese, 1/2 – 1 cup of sour cream, greek yogurt, or buttermilk, 1 cup of parmesan cheese (or whatever cheese you like best). Mix this up until it is all smooth and evenly mixed.
  6. Put this into a oven baking dish (I generally use a 9×9 square pan). Put 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh mozzarella cheese (or whatever you cheese you like) on top. Other great toppings include cracker or bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese, bacon bits, fresh herbs, chopped chives or green onions, etc. Some of this go on before baking, some after…you choose….
  7. Bake at 375 – 400 degrees until the top is golden brown and the pan is bubbling.
  8. Try to hold off as LONG as you can before burning your mouth completely…not something I am skilled at and then serve with bread (crostini – where you cut it thin and toast with olive oil or butter is fab), crackers of some type, pita chips, pita bread, corn chips (blue corn is my favorite). Sometimes adding a side of salsa makes this super rich creamy dip even better. ENJOY!

Yummiest Brownie recipe – YANG

  • 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup of chips, chopped candy, or chocolate
  • 1/2 cup of nuts (optional)
  1. Get a big saucepan (that’s right for the stove…) and melt your butter.
  2. Once the butter is melted add in the brown sugar and cocoa powder – stir it up until it makes this thick paste of chocolatey goodness. Pull that off the heat and let it cool slightly.
  3. Get your flour, baking powder, and salt measure and add that into the super thick paste. Extra benefit of this recipe – super buff arms!
  4. Lightly beat the 4 eggs and add in the vanilla. Add this mixture to the now super dry mixture in your saucepan. AHHHHH…there it is brownie batter.
  5. Now – decide on what kind of chip, chocolate, or candy you want inside. You can use any bite size pieces that suits your fancy. Generally, I go with straightforward semi-sweet chocolate chips…but it works with anything. I even made it once with leftover halloween candy assortment…
  6. Think about nuts…who like ’em and who doesn’t…my kids don’t like nuts in their brownies – so I either skip them, put them on top (1/2 only) after they are out of the oven, or make them with nuts so my kids won’t eat them and they are ALL MINE!!!!!
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Now – here is the weird thing about this recipe – this is a really jiggly brownie recipe – almost like fudge. So – when you take it out, the sides should be set and the middle should be jiggly. Remember – under cooked brownies are just better – but be careful they are not fully liquid. Delicious – but much harder to eat!
  8. Today, I added a delicious peanut butter chocolate icing to the top – just for fun. (see peanut butter coca cola cake recipe).

https://youtu.be/9TkFCCvSF9Q

If you are not sure how to get kale or collard greens off the stalk….I made this fun little video….

Data Driven Instruction, Intervention, MTSS, Student Data Analysis

I do it self!

When my sister was very young, my mom said her first consistent sentence was “I do it self!” She had a strong internal desire to do things for herself and be independent. This desire to be independent and capable is in all of our students. Unfortunately, we have shifted in education to a culture of it being the teacher’s responsibility to ensure student’s success vs. it being the student’s responsibility to ensure their OWN success. The helicopter, lawnmower, snowplow parent plays a role. The cultural ease of technology doing things for us and instant gratification plays a role. We, as teachers, play a role when we do not expect and empower our students to be independent learners capable of overcoming adversity, growing, and changing.

The growth mindset is a big concept right now and one that I think is essential in the classroom today. Here is a great starter link if you are new to this concept: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/ and an excellent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU My opinion is most life-changing educators have always had the growth mindset before it had a trendy name. The growth mindset creates students who have these qualities of independence and grit. I often think of my daughter when I think of this mindset, who is the youngest of 2 much older brothers. We, like most families today, have an insane schedule of school, sports, family, homework, etc. Partially because she genetically inherited the “I do it self” mentality and partially because of these factors, she is incredibly independent. Last year, when she was in 1st grade, I started telling her when she problem solved something on her own (because I think I am waaayyy funnier than I am) that she would survive the zombie apocalypse. She then went to school and wrote a fantasy story about zombies. As she excitedly told me about it, I was mortified and told her to immediately go to school the next day and tell her amazing teacher that I did not and had not ever let her watch zombie movies. It was just a joke I liked to say. She smiled angelically and said “Yes you did, mama. Remember, we watched Zombies vs. Cheerleaders on Disney?” Sigh…never mind. Funny story aside, I am proud of her independence and problem solving ability that allows her to do some amazing things at such a young age.

As a teacher, I have always been known for high expectations and developing a strong internal motivation and work ethic. As a 5th grade teacher, I feel this charge to prepare my students for the transition to middle school and life. I am not always successful in this, but it is a major goal for me each year. Here is a short list of things I think all teachers should do to create the “I do it self” mentality.

  1. Use communication tools to make sure students, parents, and other staff are crystal clear about tasks, due dates, directions, and expectations. Agendas, emails, weekly newsletters, google classroom/microsoft teams announcements, whatever combination works for your classroom – use it consistently!
  2. Accept no excuses. This sounds harsh, but if you use the clearly communicated systems in place with no excuses allowed they will rise to the occasion. Use failures as an opportunity for the growth mindset to be practiced.
  3. Accommodate and Modify with explicit instruction. Wait a minute, didn’t I just say accept no excuses? Yep – but not every student is there YET. Students with special needs, in intervention processes, with significant behavioral/emotional needs, or massive organization issues may need modified expectations at the BEGINNING of the year. Again, communicate explicitly with parents and other staff, but set their bar where they can reach it WITH EFFORT, explicitly teach them what to do, and keep raising the bar. (Example of this: I had a student a couple of years ago who was on the autism spectrum and had never been able to log into his own school computer. I knew this child regularly accessed the internet on his mom’s phone. I thought if he can do that, he can log in. So, we wrote his log in information in large font on an index card, taped it to his desk, and had his special education teacher, classmates, and myself repeatedly direct him on how to log in. This took less than 2 days and he could log in to every computer and program needed.)
  4. Create a system for how students independently monitor their work for completion according to directions, how/where/when they turn it in, and what happens if it is late or missing. Once you set these systems in place and communicate them explicitly. Go back to #2 and #3, but hold the kids to the systems you create. My son’s middle school math teacher has this amazing system where students turn their work into one of 3 bins “Totally have it, I need some help, or I am lost”. This allows the teacher to know who needs them but EXPECTS the students to know and ask for assistance on their own.
  5. Don’t chase after students but expect them to do their part. My husband is huge on kids asking questions. I believe that taking academic risks is essential. So, set up students to do their part rather than you chasing them. Cooperative learning, asking good questions, answer banks to self-check work, help stations, whatever works for you – put it into place so students do their part to work independently.
  6. Know the difference between guided practice, independent work, and assessment. Guided practice happens right after my instruction. Together, with me moving around, I am helping students who need it. This might be a small group at my table that I invite or students ask to be a part of or me roaming the room. I am fully accessible to students at this time. Independent work time requires students to be INDEPENDENT! Each year, I do a system called “Try 3 and then try Mrs. B” where we brainstorm how students will problem solve during independent time. They must tell me the 3 things they have tried to do to solve their own problem BEFORE they come and ask me for help. This is when I expect and create a community of cooperative learning. Students can and should be helping each other during independent practice. Finally, assessment…totally alone. During assessments, I will NOT read a child the directions, answer a question about the actual assessment, or give any other assistance (of course, this does not apply with IEP’s or 504’s require specific testing modifications). I tell them this up front. We practice specific strategies for test taking. However, they have to have the stamina and problem solving to make it through the panic or confusing times in an assessment or I simply will not know what they have mastered and what they have not. We also do student data analysis consistently in class so this growth mindset allows them to learn from their mistakes. Test corrections are an excellent tool for students to earn back points AND practice the growth mindset. Here is a new package from Authentic Teaching Teachers Pay Teachers. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Test-Corrections-and-Assessment-Data-Review-4885164

Colleges and Universities today are reporting a generation of incoming students without basic tools to overcome adversity in life or their learning. While it may seem that stopping our kids from experiencing hardship, pain, and difficulty is our goal; it in fact may cause them significant, life long damage. We need to foster the “I do it self” mentality so that every child feels proud of who they are and what they can do…maybe to survive the zombie apocalypse…or maybe to be successful students and people!

Books, Character Education, Guided Reading, Reading, Small Group Novel Study

A teacher’s most powerful tool

I am, basically, a one trick pony. I am a reading teacher! I also teach writing, vocabulary, social studies, character education, current events….but all through the lens of reading. I have, in my career, taught math and science…shivers. I will leave that to my expert educator friends. I teach reading because I LOVE READING!

I love reading because it is every teacher’s most powerful tool to inspire, educate, broaden horizons, and teach tolerance. Reading can change the world. I do not say that lightly or as a platitude. Reading is the cheapest, most effective way to make a difference in the lives of your students so they can make a difference in the world.

So, how? How do you get kids to read? How do you teach reading when you don’t love it yourself? How do you inspire reluctant readers? How do you help students with reading disabilities? I want to preface this article by saying the tips are focused on improving reading comprehension NOT reading fluency to emerging readers. Although these ideas DO work to develop a love of reading in your beginner readers in K-2. Here are my best tips for teaching reading and changing the world as you do it!

  1. Read great books! This is a simple concept…if you want kids to love reading, read great books. There are so many books available today from every culture, tradition, genre, you name it. I make it my mission to only have my kids read books that make them feel something (joy, sorrow, inspired, an uncontrollable urge to laugh). I also strive to read really diverse books that appeal to all different kinds of students in my class who may be moved by different things. Common Sense Media https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews is an excellent website to not only find books for each age group, but if you select the book it will give you a detailed summary AND tell you what content you may find inside. Then for each category, it will give you specifics (a super important tool as a teacher and parent). Side note – you can also use this site for movies, video games, etc. to do the same. Find great books that YOU love, to allow you to share this love with your students.
  2. Talk about what you read! I am a huge fan of small group novel study or guided reading to allow students to really explore their higher level thinking and build skills as a reader. Check out Authentic Teaching Teacher Pay Teachers for materials to support this in your classroom: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948 (This includes a book list of some excellent 3rd – 7th grade novels that I love). There are lots of ways to talk about what you read – whole group discussions, Socratic seminars, online class discussion groups, and individual conferences. Kids who talk about their reading and thinking are more excited to read. They develop higher level thinking skills. You will be amazed, if you have never had discussions on books, just how powerful, exciting, and influential this can be with your students.
  3. Read Out Loud! I believe that every PERSON (not just children) innately craves oral storytelling. It is in our DNA to sit around a campfire and listen to stories. Reading out loud to your students AT ANY AGE fosters a love of reading that is impossible to replicate. I teach 5th grade and regularly use picture books to teach concepts and my students LOVE it. Kids from homes where they may not hear books read out loud, soak in a book read aloud. Kids who hate reading are often infatuated with a book read aloud. Many online reading programs have read aloud components (Storyworks magazine (my favorite reading resource), ReadWorks, Activelylearn, Newsela). I believe that if you are focusing on comprehension, allowing a student to hear the text read aloud in every setting except assessment will begin to build BOTH their fluency and comprehension. This will build both at a much faster pace than fluency drills alone while also allowing them to access the joy of reading without the fluency in the way.
  4. Have kids read for a purpose NOT A LEVEL! In my 17 years in education, the most significant damage I have seen done to reading instruction was the introduction of Reading Levels as the marker for what books a kid should read. Please read this blog post from Fountas and Pinnell (the tool that I have seen most closely associated with this practice) and their belief that a reading level is a teacher’s tool not a student’s reading label. https://fpblog.fountasandpinnell.com/a-level-is-a-teacher-s-tool-not-a-child-s-label I have had parents and students cry at the first conference in the Fall when they learned that their child could read any book they chose for free reading. They recounted the damage it had done to their child to hear “they were not able” to read a book of their choosing. Teachers had been taught to NOT allow a child to read a book above or below their assigned level and had misguidedly passed this information on to students and parents. Lexiles, F&P levels, etc. are meant to help you as a teacher select INSTRUCTIONAL materials that are appropriate for a student. If you have been told to have your classroom library set up by lettered bins of books at each level or to limit what books kids can read based on this – go and speak with your administration about the blog I shared above. If you want kids to love reading, it is counter intuitive to tell them NOT to read a book they want to try because they are simply not “good enough” level wise to read it. Let a kid try any book, give them tools to know when to abandon it and when to use supports (like read aloud) to read it.
  5. Get ready to gasp – The second most damaging impact I have seen on reading instruction is this phrase “The only effective way to teach reading according to research is….” There are HUNDREDS of curriculum models, methods, and tools to teach reading. Maybe thousands…. Children for HUNDREDS of years have learned to read using all of these tools and more. Years ago, I had a group of 5th grade students (4 boys to be precise), who were Kindergarten and 1st grade level readers in 5th grade. I had developed a weekly method to help them improve ( Monday we watched videos, looked at websites and discussed our passage topic to build background knowledge , Tuesday we discussed the tough vocabulary and used multi-media tools to understand the words, Wednesday and Thursday – get ready for it….WE READ ROUND ROBIN, and Friday we took the assessment to practice comprehension questions). Yep – you heard me right – we read round robin. These boys needed practice reading aloud, prompting each other through tough sections of the passage, and smoothing out their fluency. Round robin reading made that happen. It was a taboo, bad word, dirty concept when I did it. I know without a doubt, that my students grew to the level they did (2 passed our end of grade standardized test and 2 came within the standard deviation of passing) because of this rejected practice. Great reading teachers pull from a variety of resources, tools, and models and MATCH them to needs of the students in front of them. Remember, most reading curriculum is being actively promoted and sold to school districts with the intent of MAKING MONEY. So, if I convince people it is the ONLY effective method, I make more money. It is a shocking concept to consider reading can be taught in a variety of ways, but it is the truth.
  6. The best way to get better at reading…is to read! This is a quote from my husband about teaching reading. It is also a fact. If you want kids to get better at reading, they need to read. At home, kids can and should read ANYTHING that is interesting to them. Comic books, articles on video games, makeup tutorials, etc. all help to develop a love of reading. All of us read in our down time for pleasure IN OUR INTEREST AREAS and many times we read in snippets, not full novels. This is still good reading and helpful. At school, kids should be reading in every subject area as much as possible. Reading should be woven in to every possible corner of the day (books, passages, magazines, online articles, etc.) Now – here is another shocking concept for most reading teachers – I believe that NIGHTLY READING LOGS DO NOT ACHIEVE THE GOALS DESIRED. It is my firm belief that simply telling a child to read each night for a set number of minutes does 2 things (1) causes stress for parents and students that ultimately leads many people to simply “falsify”, for lack of a better word, the reading log and (2) causes reading to be a timed, miserable experience. Find a tool that uses how and what you are teaching in class in authentic reading practice at home. I use Storyworks magazine as my homework and it has consistently fostered some great reading homework. Message me if you would like the details. However, here is an excellent blog post with details on how to move away from nightly time based reading logs: http://www.giftedguru.com/the-problem-with-reading-logs/
  7. Read to teach, reinforce, or change a child’s world view. Our world today is in desperate need of tolerance. We need to explicitly teach our students that there is a big, beautiful world out there full of every shape, size, color, creed, or group of people. Having trouble in your class with unkind talk? There is a book for that. Need to expose a sheltered population to the experiences of people in a different community? There is a book for that. Want to develop empathy? There is a book for that. Get the point??? There is a book, article, passage, or online resource that can help you accomplish any character, community, or world issue you want to address with your students. I simply google the topic I want to discuss and the phrase “children’s books” (ex. empathy children’s books). We need our students to develop tolerance and understanding of those who are different from them, so that they can change the world one person at a time.

Reading has been the one of the most powerful tools throughout history. People risked their lives so that they themselves and/or their children could be taught to learn to read. Reading has been against the law because oppressive governments knew that knowledge was a weapon. Reading truly changes the world because reading provides you with the world. Foster a love of reading with your students by any means necessary….because our world depends on it.

# Professional Development, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Recipes, Teamwork

A cup of kindness

I saw this beautiful writing on facebook this week and I was completely struck by the idea of taking people as they are. First, I love trees, and so considering their beauty WITH all their flaws was like slightly turning my head and seeing something for the first time. Second, it truly hit me the importance of not only accepting the flaws that life has created for each person, but celebrating the beauty in them.

Each post, I take a picture of my coffee cup somewhere in my backyard (other than my family – my 2 favorite things). This week, as I thought about this revolutionary idea of truly seeing our differences and quirks as what makes us shine, I thought of the best gift I have ever received from a student. In my early teaching career, I was at a Title 1, high poverty school deep in the country of Union County, NC. It was Christmas time and my kids wanted to bring me presents. Some had parents who could afford the traditional gift card or tshotshkes. Others brought me items from the dollar store or homemade cards. All were appreciated and cherished. But one little girl, who was a struggling student and consistently unkempt, had really shown growth in my class. Quiet, focused, and hard working; she was drinking the Barberio Kool-aid of the growth mindset (way before I knew what that was). The last morning before break, she brought me an unwrapped box with ripped off labels and thrust it at me. She said loudly “DO NOT OPEN THIS UNTIL AFTER I GO HOME TODAY”. I was surprised by her volume since she was such a soft-spoken student normally. So I asked, “You don’t want me to open it with you?” Again, she said loudly “DO NOT OPEN THIS UNTIL AFTER I LEAVE..” So, I put my curiosity aside and taught for the last day before break (fun for everybody!!). When all the students had gone home and I was packing up my gifts, dirty coffee cups, and food containers to go home for the holiday break, I saw the box and immediately opened it. Inside, was a coffee mug shaped like a happy, little PANCREAS. The card inside made it clear this was a gift from the hospital to someone who had their pancreas operated on (I truly wonder what hospital staff thought that was a great parting gift!). I realized that someone in her family had received this and it had not been given away or sold. It was something odd that was probably shoved into the back of a cupboard where nobody cared about it. This sweet child, with nothing to give, desperately wanted to give ME a gift and took the one thing she had. I cried realizing my power to impact a child and vowed to keep my mind on this in the hard times as a teacher. It sits at the top of my coffee cup cupboard to remind me every time I run across it to treasure my students however they arrive. She saw me for all my flaws and loved me regardless and I hope she felt truly seen and loved by me.

The Pancreas Cup by my woods…

This is a concept we have talked a lot about in our posts on Authentic Teaching. But, I want to change our focus from our students, to our teams of co-workers (PLC,PLT, Learning Community, whatever the popular name given to it is). Many of us get the idea of taking our students how they come and helping them grow. But, sometimes we do not give our co-workers that same grace. As I discussed in Banana Bread Bribery, you will not only need your team, but will be successful or not based on the tribe you create. I have been so fortunate to be on many amazing teams who have become life-long friends. However, I have also been on teams that required me to come to the table seeing the forest and CELEBRATING ALL OF OUR FLAWS. Here are the ways my teams have formed a true tribe of teachers willing to work as one to impact every child and each other.

  1. Be a Grown-Up – All of us have seen or been a part of grown people talking about people behind their back, gossiping, being jealous, being manipulative, or just being mean. Every time I find myself doing any of these things, I work to get myself back to being a grown up.  You are a grown-up. You have a responsibility to model grown-up behavior for your students. So, treat your team mates – ALL OF THEM- with respect and kindness because you are a grown up. Forgive their mistakes and flaws because you are a grown up. Work with them not against them because you are a grown up. Let people run their own classroom because you are a grown up. Just commit to being a grown up as often as you can.
  2. Have the tough conversations – On the teams I have been on where we just did not all click or there was true conflict, we had tough conversations as a group to fix it. This is part of being a grown up. Tough Conversations involve getting everybody in the room, most likely without an administrator, and respectfully discussing the issues with everyone. Be willing to hear what you have done wrong and be open to apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Then, the group should make real rules for the team, that everyone agrees to. (I am NOT talking about norms!!)) For example, your group may decide rules like – We will discuss our frustrations ONLY with the person we are frustrated with or We will always back each other up with parents or We will agree to follow whatever the group decision is or agree to not make a group decision. Setting clear rules that everybody agrees to follow and then holding each other accountable to follow, can turn a tough team dynamic into a functioning one.
  3. Become the amoeba – My current team refers to ourselves as “The amoeba” (we have a true science lover on our team!!). I realized this name has fit every highly successful team I have been on. The amoeba concept is simple – every single kid on our grade level is “our kid”. We all work together to support the most challenging students, discipline students, and to hold grade level behavior expectations. This means anybody can talk to anybody’s students or class at anytime. It means we think outside the box on challenging kids to serve them together. Second, problems are solved as a unified front. We meet with parents with at least one other member of the team, we solve problems with schedules, administrative assignments, or intervention needs as a team. We cover for each other when times are tough. We basically move as one body to serve our students AND EACH OTHER.
  4. Learn the flaws, See the cause, and Love the beauty of the flaws – My team jokingly refers to me as needing extra support from other team members. I never have a pencil or paper, I am frequently running my mouth when I should stay quiet, and basically have a bazillion flaws. But I am absolutely and unequivocally loved and supported FOR this, because I have other real strengths that I bring to the table. The same goes for every member of my team. We truly care about each other and work to balance each other out. Sure, we get on each other’s nerves and have to apologize for overstepping our bounds or failing each other in some way, but we are committed to each other and to building each other up.
  5. Keep it in the family – Like the mafia, we keep it all in the family. This means, that when times are tough for somebody on our team or there is juicy gossip to be shared, we keep it quiet and within our group until that person wants it shared. A team I was on several years ago, went through an absolutely horrific time. Everybody wanted to “get in on that gossip”. We were like a bank vault for each other. We did not allow our team’s heartache, heartbreak, or sorrow to be fodder for the gossip mill. This concept helps create a safety zone in your team and build trust.
  6. Break Bread together – One of my favorite historical stories of the integration of schools in Charlotte in the late 1960’s was found at the Levine Museum of the New South, which has an unbelievable educator program that explains the segregation, integration, and re-segregation of Charlotte schools. There was a casserole dish hanging on the wall and the information plate explained that one year prior to integrating Charlotte schools, the heads of the PTA for both the African-American and White schools, got together and decided to set up dinners for both sets of families so people could get to know each other. The theory was, that people who break bread with each other, have a much more difficult time disliking each other. These women were credited with being a significant part of integration working in Charlotte. If this concept can work in a time of true trauma like the civil rights era, it can definitely work with your team. When you have a new team member, meet them for a meal first. Find times to get together for drinks, dinner, backyard BBQ’s, whatever floats your boat. Getting to know people as PEOPLE, makes it much easier to work with them and love them for their flaws. In that spirit, invite everybody to a potluck at your house, and make my very favorite cake – a Peanut Butter Chocolate Coca Cola Cake! Recipe below.

Bent, curved, a few holes in you, a section that has died off, whatever your flaws are….when you are truly SEEN as being amazing and beautiful both by others and by yourself…life becomes much more authentic and meaningful. Take the time to see the trees in the forest for what they are….beautiful and valuable in all their flawed grace.

Peanut Butter Coca Cola Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 can(s)coca-cola
  • 1 cup butter,
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows (optional)
  • 1 cup chocolate and/or peanut butter chips (optional)

For the icing:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 to 3/4 can of coca cola
  • 1/2 cup pecans, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In your stand mixer or in a large bowl place first 5 dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) lightly stir these together with either a fork (my favorite mixing tool) or a few turns of the paddle on the stand mixer
  3. Get a good pot and place it on the stove. Take your butter and melt it in the pan. When butter is melted, stir in cocoa powder, can of coke (I use coke zero because that is what my husband drinks, but I have used regular coke and diet coke. DO NOT USE PEPSI BECAUSE THAT IS JUST YUCK…Okay, if you like pepsi… use it but I personally think it is against the laws of man and nature.) Whisk in the can of coke and cocoa powder. Bring this to a boil.
  4. Pour the hot mixture over your dry mixture and begin mixing slowly. Seriously….sloooowwwwwlllly…..hot butter/coke mixture is painful…or so I have heard.
  5. Take 2 eggs and lightly beat them in a small bowl or if you are lazy like me just dump them in and mix…
  6. Add in buttermilk and vanilla and mix
  7. Now – you have decisions to make. First, among coca cola cake connoisseurs this is grounds for war – mini-marshmallows or no mini-marshmallows. Mini-marshmallows make your cake extra, tooth hurting sweet – delicious. They also crisp up at the top of the cake giving a slightly “toasted marshmallow” flavor. Sometimes, I am in the mood for this…sometimes I am not. Decide what you like. Second, chocolate chips or peanut butter chips or both inside the batter? I generally choose chips OR mini-marshmallows. I like a 50/50 balance of chocolate and peanut butter chips if I have them…If not, just chocolate chips.
  8. Pour the batter (Don’t panic…this is a very liquidy batter) into a greased 13×9 inch rectangle pan and bake for 15 – 25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Now for that icing…..Melt your butter and peanut butter in the same pan you used to melt the other ingredients for the cake. Why mess up 2 pans when that leftover will just make your icing tastier? Once they are melted, add in your coca cola, and cocoa powder and bring to a boil. Pour this over the 4 cups of powdered sugar (again – I use the same bowl or stand mixer bowl I used for the cake batter) and begin lightly mixing.
  10. Again – you have a decision to make…pecans IN the frosting or pecans ON TOP of the frosting? I do pecans ON TOP because my picky kids “Don’t like nuts in their dessert”. So, I only put nuts on half the cake…booooo…..You can also leave the pecans off all together. Another option is to put chocolate and/or peanut butter chips on top with or without the nuts. Really, the possibilities are endless!
  11. Finally, let that cake cool for around 45 minutes – 1 hour. It should still be slightly warm. Take the icing that has also cooled for that same amount of time and pour on top. Put any toppings on top of the icing. This is a very loose icing and is meant to drip down when you cut the warm cake…mmmmmmm NOT a buttercream frosting that stays in place.
  12. Now – don’t forget – you have invited everyone to your house for a potluck or you have convinced the co-worker whose kids are in college and not destroying their house daily to invite everyone over. Pull out that literally spectacular coca cola cake and make everyone love you a little more – because chocolate, peanut butter, caffeine – it’s like the angels are singing!
#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, MTSS

A Fear Free Classroom

In today’s world, it is easy to feel fear. This first week of school, with all of its excitement and challenges, was colored by events in our local community and in the nation that fostered fear. As an educator AND mother, the events happening make me fearful for other people’s children I have been entrusted to keep safe and for my own babies in the care of another teacher. We have much to do as a nation to begin creating a safer world for the next generation. However, as teachers, we have the ability to create a fear free classroom which fosters learning.

Why is a fear free classroom essential? Children will not learn when they are afraid. It is that simple. I have over the years done an exercise with my students at our class meetings where I put up Maslow’s hierarchy and ask them to rate which level they are operating on most of the time. When a student is at the bottom, attempting to get their most basic safety needs met, you have a true barrier in the way of their learning. When a child is on the next level, seeking the approval of peers and not receiving it, learning will not happen. Only when a student reaches emotional, physical, and social safety will they be open and willing to learn. This is the true secret of why schools are “performing” or not according to whatever standardized scale used. FEAR – the biggest roadblock to learning and the underlying cause of the most significant behavioral, social, and emotional needs. So, how can you foster a fear free classroom? Read on to see some of the most common types of student fears and how you can address them. My favorite communication tools for students to share their concerns and fears is my weekly class meeting and my weekly reflection both of which are available on Authentic Teaching TPT. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Class-Meeting-Lesson-Plan-Template-4837084

Children whose fear is based on missing basic needs – These children often enter our classrooms with the most challenges. There is much research being done today on creating a trauma sensitive classroom. If I am not sure where my next meal is coming from, where I might sleep, or experience violence regularly…how can I focus on learning? This child needs a teacher who first seeks out ways to support the child using every resource at their disposal. They reach out to the school counselor, psychologist, social worker, other teachers, cafeteria staff, community organizations, etc. They need a teacher who is advocating on behalf of them loudly and consistently. Even with this, a teacher may not be able to change the child’s circumstances. This is where a classroom should become a safe haven with consistency, routine, whatever basic needs the teacher or school can provide available, and where the child is explicitly taught ways to cope and overcome adversity. Here is an excellent starter article about ways to help as a trauma informed teacher. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-and-why-trauma-informed-teaching

Children whose fear is based on a history of academic failure – These children come in all forms… quietly detached, outwardly obnoxious, or openly uninterested in learning. I have seen dozens of students enter my room with the weight of being a “bad reader”, “dumb student”, “in the low group” on their shoulders. My goal is to foster a new sense of purpose in their learning by 3 specific actions. (1) Openly discussing the growth mindset and how I believe anybody can learn anything. (2) Teaching passionately about subjects that kids will be interested in (3) Looking for ways for that child to shine beyond the traditional modes of learning (check out guided reading on Authentic Teaching TPT for the way this model fosters this excitement in learning). https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Small-Group-Novel-Study-Guided-Reading-4836948 If you consistently and authentically do these 3 things, even the most reluctant learner can overcome their fear of failure and that is why we should all teach…for those moments.

Children whose fear is based on socialization issues – Kids who do not receive the support of their peers, only seek the praise of their peers, and/or are mistreated by their peers will not learn. Why? Because if I am at risk of being mocked, laughed at, made fun of, or ostracized, what are the chances I am going to take an academic risk? The truth is, the learning will not happen at all or will happen to a very limited amount. This is where your classroom community, procedures, and expectations are essential. Take a look at an earlier post “You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s” to address these issues. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/02/you-wont-get-the-wows-if-you-dont-know-the-hows/

Children whose fear is based on a special need – As a 5th grade teacher, I have seen several students make it through all of elementary school with a special need that is not diagnosed, misdiagnosed, or not addressed. Frequently these students are labeled as “serious behavior problems” who enter your classroom with a reputation of concern. If you have a child with a special need (anything that would qualify for an IEP or 504 Plan – Anxiety, ADHD, ODD, Autism Spectrum disorders, Sensory needs, etc.) and you do not actively create and implement ways to address their unique needs, you are fostering a climate of fear for that child and because of that child in your classroom. Simple things that meet that child’s needs can often stop many of the most serious fear based behaviors (like written, visual schedules or verbal cues before changes/escalation). Children with special needs frequently have the highest levels of fears THAT DO NOT LOOK LIKE FEAR. Their fear often looks like anger, tantrums, withdrawal, or disruption. Here is a great resource from Authentic Teaching TPT that can help you identify, address, and implement systems to minimize the fears of these students. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920

Fear…it is an essential emotion that is genetically designed to keep us safe. Flight or fight – the response that stopped our neanderthal ancestors from being eaten by a saber tooth tiger. In today’s modern world, we often forget that fear is still consistently a part of our lives. We like to act as though we are impervious or oblivious to fear. As teachers, helping students face their fears and learn to use fear for positive outcomes, is our most essential and underlying goal. Seek out a fear free classroom so that in today’s world your room becomes the calm in the storm for every child!

Recipes, Self Care, Teamwork

Preaching and trying to Practice

I may or may not be a bit of a know it all! I knew it had probably gone too far when I was called by a co-worker in my classroom to request orthopedic advice! That being said, I try to be a resource for my friends and family about experiences I have had that I hope might help them. One of my friends suggested I write about #ASKBARBERIO…which made me laugh out loud. Then, I decided to once again take the suggestion and write some advice.

By now, most educators have gone back to school. We have endured setting up our rooms, endless professional development, those calls to parents to welcome their child to your room, open house, the first day with students, and much more. The excitement of seeing your colleagues and starting a fresh year may have worn off. Many of us have hit the phase of overwhelmed, overworked, and overtired. So, I want to offer some ideas of my favorite things to relax, rest, indulge, unwind, and hopefully rejuvenate myself for the long year ahead.

As educators, we are in a marathon not a sprint. Today’s teaching world expects more than any one person could accomplish in the regular work day. It is so essential that we keep ourselves balanced to allow for us to do the truly pivotal work with our students. Many teachers are Type A overachievers and this can lead to burnout. So, as we start the year, I want all of us to practice what I am going to preach below regarding my Top 10 favorite ways to take care of myself as an educator, mom, wife, friend, daughter, and several other hats I wear. I am going to preach and try to practice! Hope you will do the same!

  1. Be one thing at a time. I decided when I first had kids while teaching that when I was at school I was going to be 100% teacher and when I was at home I was going to be 100% mom as much as I could. So, I rarely take work home (unless grades are due). I participate in my kids school as a volunteer by taking a day off here and there. I leave work at a reasonable hour to be with my family. I try to keep answering emails to a minimum after school hours. It will all still be there when you get back and believe me you will get it done! Basically, whenever I can, I try to be present in the place I am at. It makes me a better teacher and hopefully, a better mom.
  2. Find your mental escape. I need something that takes me totally away from all my “hats”. So, every day, I look for an opportunity to escape with something I love. For me, it is a ridiculous fantasy novel series, Real Housewives of any city, or a binge worthy show on your streaming service or TV. (Stranger Things and Outlander were my summer binges. I began speaking in a Scottish accent for awhile…I was in that deep. ) The reality is that we are all capable of thinking, talking, breathing education at every minute of every day. You will bring more to the table, solve more problems, and just generally be happier if you intentionally give yourself a mental escape every day.
  3. Sleep enough and well. Teachers are early birds by necessity or design. Many of us continue to wear our “hats” well into the after-school and evening hours. This can make shutting off our brain and truly resting really hard. We care too much and it can impact our sleep. Every adult needs 8 solid hours of sleep daily….which sounds semi-impossible. I am working consciously to get as close to 8 hours of sleep nightly (which almost never happens – preaching not practicing yet). I have a consistent bedtime routine that involves prayer, meditation, gratitude, and reading to allow my brain to get the message to shut it all down. My electronic devices are plugged in for the night in another room. Work with your doctors if insomnia is an issue to ensure that you get true rest. Remember when you had a newborn baby, new puppy, or thought you were invincible in college? Exhausted people are more emotional, make less sound decisions, and have a host of physical repercussions. So, get some sleep!
  4. Ice Cream Yep, for me ice cream is a true piece of joy. Obviously, you are not able to eat it every day, but whenever I need a little gift to myself it is ice cream (or brownies, or salty chips, or the entire back the truck up appetizer menu at the local tavern…ok…focus….it is ice cream!) So, here are my favorite ice cream options – Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie, Market Pantry (Target brand) Peanut Butter Fudge, McDonald’s Oreo Mcflurry snack size, Shake Shack’s Pie oh my (they work with a local bakery and change up a specific pie flavor every month or so…they mush up the pie into the most luscious vanilla custard ice cream), and if you live, specifically, in Union County, NC Dollar Cone (a mom and pop ice cream shop IN THE MIDDLE OF A CORNFIELD with the best soft serve ice cream cones they dip in the chocolate shell that hardens and you can have a variety of toppings FOR A DOLLAR!!!!)
  5. Monitor and address your physical and mental health early! Educators are one the largest groups of people on anxiety and depression medication. We need to make mental health without stigma – it is just another chronic, chemically based health concern. This is because teaching is one of the most challenging jobs in the world – more decisions per minute than most other careers. If you are going to be a great teacher, you have to be physically well and mentally well. Plus, is there ANYTHING worse than making sub plans? Teachers are notorious for waiting too long to address a physical need or a mental health need. It is time for us to bravely and confidently take care of ourselves first so we can take care of others. You know…put on your oxygen mask first….
  6. Purposefully have gratitude every day. Due to some ongoing health issues, I decided a year ago to start a nightly health journal that covered everything (sleep, diet, stress, physical, reactions, etc.) It has helped me find all kinds of trends in my physical and mental well being. But, the last thing I do every night is list 3 things I am grateful for from that day. I have heard this suggestion for years, but until I faithfully did it I was unaware of its benefits. Literally, the last thing I think of every night is what I am thankful and happy for. It has changed my focus completely! I now can take any day ranging from horrible to amazing and remind myself of how lucky I am. That is a gift!
  7. Get back to nature. Did you know in Japan a prescribed treatment for depression is go sit in a forest for an hour daily? WHY? We are inter-connected with our world and on some primitive level we all crave nature. Now, I have a few friends who like nature to be the well-groomed shrubs they pass on the way into Nordstrom’s…and some who literally “go off the grid” for a week. Regardless of where you fall on the back to nature spectrum, find a way to connect with the natural world. Plants in your classroom, walks in the park/greenway, go sit by a body of water that makes your happy (pool, lake, ocean, etc.), find a local park that has a great gazebo to grade papers at, whatever works to get you back to nature. It is a big world out there and there are days I literally never walk outside my building. Being in the big world keeps my focus on more than the little world I inhabit and create each day.
  8. Keep your friendships strong. Banana Bread Bribery discussed the importance of developing relationships with your colleagues. I am so lucky to have friends from all phases of my life (some for over 25 years….yep…I am that old). I make it a conscious goal to be a good friend. I seek my friends out and foster time to be with people who make me laugh, hold my hand when I cry, and listen when needed. Your friends will make every aspect of your life better – so keep your friendships strong.
  9. Laugh. Period…just laugh! Life is absolutely absurd at times. There are times as a teacher or parent if you don’t laugh, you will cry. Teachers can get waaaayyyyy too serious about everything. My husband, who is an elementary teacher surrounded by women every where he goes, is often amazed by the things that I get worked up about at school. He regularly encourages me to keep my focus on what I need to do for the people in my classroom and to stop worrying about the other stuff. He also makes me laugh. My friends make me laugh uncontrollably. I watch TV shows and movies that make me laugh. I diffuse so many situations in my classroom and with my kids with humor and laughter. Remember, we should find joy in what we do and who we are with…so laugh!
  10. Bake something delicious that makes your house smell fantastic! Banana Bread Bribery was a popular column, so I am going to give you my second favorite, foolproof recipe below for scones. Did you know that smell is the strongest of all the senses in impacting memory and emotion? I promise these scones will make your house smell fantastic and if you don’t want to eat them yourself consider them “Sucking up Scones” and give them to your co-workers!

Basic Scone Recipe

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Get on a good apron or old clothes because it tends to get messy. Now – look in your fridge for some fruit that appears to be closing in on not that great. You can also make chocolate or cinnamon if you are not a fruit fan.

  • 2 cups of Bisquick OR 2 cups of AP flour with 1 Tablespoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 – 1.5 cups of something (fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, some combo of something)
  • 1 cup of some kind of milk (buttermilk is my favorite, but I have made it with everything from almond milk to heavy cream)
  • Spices or zest that match your “something” above (apples and cinnamon, blueberry and lemon zest, strawberries and nutmeg, etc.)
  • For the glaze – 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 – 4 Tablespoons of some liquid (depending on how thick/thin you want it – fruit juice, milk, syrup, etc.), real vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon or so of zest or spices that match above, and a Tablespoon of butter.
  1. Look inside your fridge for that fruit (if you are going the fruit route). I have made this with apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, mixed berries, you name it. Cut up the fruit into small, bite sized pieces. I like them about the size of your thumbnail. Get about a cup to a cup and half of this fruit. Now set it to the side. Skip this step if you are going with chocolate or some other flavor of chips. You will just measure those out and pour in. No chopping required. Side note – If I am using apple, I put sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice/zest on the apples and toss before I set aside (like an apple pie filling).
  2. Put the 2 cups of bisquick or flour mixture into a bowl. With a fork (my favorite mixing tool) add in the sugar and briefly stir together. Now, I am NOT a sifter….I know…things are lighter and fluffier….so if you would rather sift them together it will probably make it better. Ain’t nobody got time for that….
  3. Your 5 Tablespoons of butter should be in the fridge or freezer so they are rock hard COLD. Take your trusty, regular sized cheese grater and grate the cold butter into the flour mixture. Use that fabulous fork and stir that around. Again, you can use a fancy pastry cutter tool and get the butter in chunks – but I promise the grating trick is AMAZING!
  4. Now decide what zest or spices or both goes well with what you plan to put in. My favorite combinations are apples with cinnamon, lemon, and nutmeg; blueberry and lemon zest; strawberry and nutmeg; or mixed berries with lemon zest. Stir this zest (use a microplane – buy one if you don’t have one…best tool ever!) or spices (again buy whole nutmeg and use the microplane – seriously, your life will be forever changed by grating in fresh, whole nutmeg…but if you don’t have it no worries!) Stir this in….
  5. Now take the fruit you cut up or measure out chocolate or other chips or nuts or do some combo… (apple, pecan, and chocolate would be delicious or peach and pecan) and make a well in your flour mixture (dig a hole like in the sand). Pour in the fruit/chip/nut and gently toss it around with your fork until each piece is coated with flour and spread throughout the mix.
  6. Next…even more gently to not smush up the fruit…dig another well. Pour in your 1 cup of milk product and stir until it forms a pretty dry ball of dough. If your batter is really wet and sticky – add in more bisquick or flour. If your dough is too dry and not coming together (lots of bits everywhere) add in more milk.
  7. Word of advice – I always skip this step and remember AFTER I do step 8. Believe me… you will get flour and dough EVERYWHERE! I know this from experience. So…get out 2 cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper, spray them with cooking spray, or the old fashioned butter and flour method. Have them RIGHT NEXT TO WHERE YOU PLAN TO ROLL OUT THE DOUGH!!! Seriously….
  8. Okay…at this point…MAKE SURE YOU ARE WEARING AN APRON OR OLD CLOTHES…put flour/bisquick all over your counter (clean it first) or a cutting board or your kitchen table. Somewhere you can spread out basically! Dump the bowl over onto the floured surface, put some flour on your hands, and lightly smush/form/pat the dough into a rectangle shaped, 1/2 inch thick even layer. Cut the dough down the middle like a hamburger fold (all the teachers know what I am talking about – if you are reading this and not a teacher…ask a teacher you know, what that is). Then, on each half begin cutting triangles. Take each triangle and place it onto that baking sheet you remembered to prepare and put next to you.
  9. Once you have cut them all out and they are on the baking sheet, I take cooking spray and spray the tops of each one. You could make an egg wash (one egg with some water or milk) or use milk or melted butter and brush it on – but I love the cooking spray method. Then I take some sort of sugar (regular old granulated, a coarser kind, etc.) and sprinkle with a spoon on top of each scone. This will give them a lovely, crunchy, sugary top!
  10. Watch until the scones are brown on the top and bottom and seem pretty firm (not hard). Start checking them around 10 minutes. They usually take 10 – 15 minutes. Take them out and let them cool as long as you can stand it. I generally leave them on the pan to cool, but you can put them on a cooling rack. Now, for our Step 10 of this article above remember to smell….isn’t it lovely????
  11. While they are cooling (this will stop you from eating them right away), make the glaze. Put 1 cup of powdered sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Pour in the 2 – 4 Tablespoons of liquid that matches the flavor of the scone. Try apple with maple syrup glaze…unbelievable. If you are going to add in zest or spices, put those in now. Pop this in the microwave for 30 seconds. Take it out and stir until it is smooth. If it is like water, add more powdered sugar. If it is a rock, add more liquid until you get it the way you want it. Once you like the texture pour in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and add in a softened or slightly melted tablespoon of butter. Stir until smooth and glossy. NOW HERE IS MY BEST ADVICE…. POUR THAT FABULOUS GLAZE IN A MASON JAR OR OTHER AIRTIGHT CONTAINER. Once you glaze those scones, their shelf life is going fast! They will be mushy and gross by the evening. Keep the glaze in the fridge and pull it out each time you plan to eat a scone or share a scone. You might have to shake it up if it has separated. Unglazed scones will last up to a week in the fridge. You can pop them in the toaster oven or regular oven – put on a little glaze and it is delicious. You can also freeze the scones once they have cooled and pull out individually to re-heat.
  12. Now…your house smells fabulous and is probably covered in flour. You are happy and calm. Decide if these are all for you scones, my secret treat in the freezer scones, my family can have a few scones, or if they are “Sucking up scones” and you are headed to school with them. Bring the scones in one container and that mason jar of glaze in the other and make some new friends or keep your old ones!
#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Creating a Community, Education, Intervention, MTSS

Beans in my Pocket

Teaching in today’s world requires a variety of skills my educator grandmother most likely never faced. Our students enter our classroom as they are and we must become experienced in how to positively affect children who may have childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, poor parenting, or a host of other issues. This can seem like an overwhelming task when we are there to teach, right?

Today’s educators have the ability to shape and change the next generation for better or for worse. What may have been up to the family, the neighborhood, the community in the past often rests on the shoulders of educators in today’s world. Because WE are human beings with our own challenges, issues, and biases; this makes our job seem monumental at times.

Every educator has one or two “types” of kids that they just are not their best with. All educators struggle with the behaviorally, emotionally, or socially challenged student. I had a student many years ago, that despite my true desire to love him and welcome him, I simply did not like him at first. Worse, he knew it! So, one day, I read an article that described how a teacher had put beans in her pocket. Every day, she made it her goal to compliment the student she was struggling with one time for each bean in her pocket. Once she gave the compliment, she moved it to her other pocket. Desperate, because I am normally a “I love ’em all” kind of teacher…I put 5 beans in my pocket. I found that at the beginning, I struggled profoundly to find anything to compliment this student with. The first few days…I would realize shortly before dismissal I still had 4 beans to go. Gradually, my compliments became more authentic and my dislike of this student began to be replaced by a true care for him and what he walked in my door with.

You see, I had forgotten, that every kid walks in your door carrying some stuff. For many kids, their load is pretty light. But for others, the most challenging ones usually, they are weighed down by so much “stuff” that they simply are unable to be a productive member of your classroom community because of it.

As an educator, I have watched colleagues who struggle with taking kids AS THEY ARE when they enter their classroom. There is frustration and anger that the parents have not done their job or the kid must love upsetting everyone or worse yet, is doing it ON PURPOSE! All of those things are probably true to some extent and NONE OF THEM MATTER IN WHAT YOU MUST DO.

You have 2 choices with a challenging kid that are really simple. (1) Keep the beans in your pocket, dislike them, battle them, and every single time YOU, THAT CHILD, and YOUR CLASS will lose. OR (2) Work the steps below to move those beans to the other pocket and find a way to love that kid AS THEY ARE while you help them learn WHAT THEY CAN BE!

The Steps –

  1. Before you even begin to think about an individual student’s needs and concerns – you need to make sure your classroom community, expectations, and procedures are working for everyone! I suggest you take a quick look back at the article here on the blog “You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s” to help with this. Challenging students more than any other need consistency, routine, kindness, and calm in order to begin learning new skills in your room. So make sure, you are truly reflective with yourself about the culture you have in your room before you try to impact a tough student.
  2. Let them know you care! It is without a doubt, the most important and essential part of making a difference with a challenging student. If they believe you care about them, you have already won half the battle.
  3. Look at the whole child! What do you know about this kid? Start building a picture in your mind of what you know about them and what things they are carrying into your classroom every day. Here is a great thinking sheet to help you start building a picture of the challenging student beyond their behavior. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eesN5yavnKMJPB4LzWfnoXyq0C-3K3ZKITIHW12NBs8/edit?usp=sharing
  4. Identify their needs and growth areas! Once you have taken some time to really reflect on this, you will be able to plan your strategy of attack to help this student change and grow. Academic Learning for the challenging child will take a backseat until you begin systematically replacing poor behaviors that stop everyone from learning with positive behaviors. Here is a great thinking sheet to help you start determining where to begin. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eesN5yavnKMJPB4LzWfnoXyq0C-3K3ZKITIHW12NBs8/edit?usp=sharing
  5. REPLACE, REPEAT, AND REWARD! Once you have identified the most significant behaviors in that student’s way, you need to pick a couple to start with and purposefully REPLACE that behavior with a better one. You need to explicitly teach this child the replacement behavior when they are NOT IN TROUBLE! Then, you need to REPEAT, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat (get the point) the replacement behavior with cues, re-teaching, conversations, and consistency. Generally after the “newness” of a replacement behavior wears off, the challenging student may exhibit worse behavior. This is when the repeating of the new behavior calmly and consistently is the most essential. This is typically the point most teachers give up and say “it’s not working”. No – its working really well and the kid is beginning to realize they are going to have to change which scares them. They need you to not give up. Finally, you need to reward when it is working and provide consequences when it is not. I DO NOT MEAN A PHYSICAL REWARD OR BRIBE (like candy, pencils, etc.) I mean reward them every single time they do they right thing with praise, an increased role/job, a positive mark on a behavior plan, or simply with a quick smile that lets them know you care. Be prepared to have a solid consequence that the student KNOWS in advance when it is not working. Here is a link to my favorite book for finding quality replacement behaviors/interventions you can use. https://www.amazon.com/Pre-Referral-Intervention-Manual-Stephen-McCarney/dp/B001NOHFD2/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=52PTJ7NV7CYVHMFZTZCJ Literally ANYTHING a child could do/not do in your classroom is in this book with anywhere from 20-150 possible ideas. Pick an idea that matches you, the child, and the way your classroom runs. Feel free to comment below for ideas from our Authentic Teaching community on replacement behaviors. Check out this link on my TPT page for a behavior intervention plan that can make a real difference! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  6. Go back to Step 4 and now that your student is improving – pick the next set of behaviors or skills you want to work on. Generally, this is the point at which things begin snowballing and you will start to see things falling into place.
  7. The last few tips….
  • Make sure you are consistently, positively, and honestly communicating with the parents/guardians even if you are unsure of their response or do not get a response.
  • Be prepared for setbacks – kids who live in trauma filled situations will have times that life throws them another curveball and their behavior will regress.
  • Use the whole team! When I start a new “plan” with a student – I send an email to special area teachers, my team, admin, etc. Everybody should be aware and utilizing the same system as you!
  • NEVER battle a student for control – because you are ALWAYS in control. Just because a student is exhibiting behaviors that disrupt and impact your classroom, does not mean you are not in control. Control your reaction while working your plan.

I hope these steps will help you on your journey to dealing with all students, not just the challenging ones. Look for upcoming information on a podcast series on different concerns with a student and ways you might handle it!

In the meantime, remember how pivotal your impact can be on a student that challenges you the most. You never know what seeds you are planting and when they will grow.