#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Class Meeting, Creating a Community, Distance Learning, Education

Get to know them…

Virtual learning, hybrid learning, synchronous/asynchronous, and all the other buzzwords and names about this unprecedented time in American education do not even begin to explain the complete revamping all educators have had to do over this last year. For some, this year has shaken them to their foundation. For others, it has been a renewed perspective and a shot of adrenaline as they were unceremoniously kicked out of any teaching rut they were in. Many have left education to maintain their own personal health, sanity, or both.

What has remained true is that successful teachers build relationships with their students.

My teenage middle school son and I were on a walk the other day (thank goodness for some outdoor time) and I asked him which of his teachers he felt had done the best last year and this year in distance/virtual learning. His answer completely shocked me. The reason why it shocked me is my son’s personality…he is a kid who does not often and freely talk about “touchy feely” stuff. He has the biggest heart and loves deeply, but any big warm fuzzy emotional displays seem to just annoy him. His response was “I think the teacher who has done the best is the one who wants to get to know us. She spends the first 5 minutes of class everyday asking us how we are and what has been happening in our lives.” Jaw. Drop.

It was a stark reminder that while there are a million different ways to approach this crazy time in education, there is one truth that remains unchanged. Students respond to teachers who care about them and build relationships; which is infinitely more challenging in a virtual classroom environment. Now, after I patted myself on the back for asking my students every day for the first five minutes how they are and casually chatting (WHEW…met the middle school boy criteria), I realized that building relationships is something we all can do even at this point in the year. Here are some great ideas from my own classroom and from what my friends and colleagues in education have done:

  • Be authentic – Any relationship that works is based on being authentic. With your students, admit the truth (appropriately) and share the joys and challenges with them authentically.
  • Don’t forget the FUN – Spirit Days, Classroom contests, Fun Friday (every Friday I have a LIVE fun event for any student I teach – we do trivia, escape rooms, we even played Yahtzee virtually), create Tik Tok videos, anything to create a school and classroom culture will build those important memories and relationships our kids need. .
  • Be genuinely excited about learning – Perseverance Rover just landed on the moon and you are excited, Amanda Gorman blew your mind at the Inauguration, or whatever you find amazing SHARE IT WITH YOUR STUDENTS – right now our kids need us to be EXCITED about learning. This is when shifting the lesson plans or pacing guides to find ways to share and celebrate learning is so essential. My daughter’s teacher got her so pumped about the bones of the body (all done virtually) that she was creating songs, making movable finger puppets…of the fingers and generally getting my daughter excited about bones.
  • Open the doors of communication – There are simply too many free and easy to use ways to keep the lines of communication open with your students – Flipgrid – I have one always open where kids can record a video letting me know what is happening, Google or Microsoft form surveys/check ins, email, and my new favorite parent communication tool – Talking Points (this is an app like remind that translates both ways – parent to you and you to parent in dozens of languages. I have found because it is on people’s phone as a text I get a ton of communication and it is super easy for me to respond.)
  • Get Creative – I keep looking for ways to solve problems my students are having in creative and new ways. This year I have done a 100’s Club for students who complete 100% of their work on time each week, Peer Squads where students can meet in small groups virtually and work together, and just recently I reintroduced Genius Hour to motivate students to get their work done and challenge my kids who are needing a push. Enjoy these freebies of those programs! I have seen teachers pretend to be “the Hamburglar” and steal student’s great paragraphs in writing only to be replaced with a candy hamburger. Your kids need to feel genuinely excited to see you – so get creative.
  • Don’t lessen the expectations too far – We have all had to adjust to the amount of work students will actually complete, the kind of work they can do independently, and what barriers students will have to getting their work done. We all understand it would be very different in our “old” pre-pandemic classrooms. But our kids need to know, we believe in them and expect them to achieve. They need to know we still care about their behavior and community interactions. I am still holding virtual class meetings, creating group norms, meeting with students that are struggling virtually, and making sure I let them know that I know and expect that they can do this.
  • Change your mindset – I have seen consistently that educators who have flipped their thinking from the negative, this is so hard, look at what we are missing mindset to a what CAN I do that will work and be successful mindset are doing some amazing things.

All of us need to feel connected right now. Connected to each other even when we are unable to hug, hang out, or comfort each other in person.

Our kids need that connection – even surly teenagers who might act like they don’t care. So, make today a renewed commitment for the end of this school year (YEP – it IS going to end, we ARE going to be back in school someday like it used to be) that you are going to build relationships with your students. Because, after this is all over and our kids remember this time where the world stopped spinning – will they remember the lesson you taught, the test you gave, or the plans you made or will they remember that you got to know them?

Make that decision today…our kids need YOU!

Behavior Management, Child Development, Creating a Community, Education, Self Care, Wellness

No rest for the weary….

I am the child of true work horses. Both of my parents, by example, showed the value of working exceptionally hard and consistently giving effort. This is a valuable and important skill set. As a teacher, I am known for my high expectations for working hard, pushing beyond what you think you are capable of, and the value of constantly having a next assignment, activity, etc. I am not a fan of down time, games, hanging out….which is highly ironic given that these were my skill set as a student.

I am however being gently nudged to rethink this concept. Here is how the nudging has happened… First, I get tired and worn out more as I get older, teach longer, and face the challenges all teachers face. Second, this year my students have required me to keep moving in new directions to meet them where they are. I have realized that the stamina required to work hard all day with our extra long day may just not be there…yet (growth mindset)! Third, I watched a fascinating news story on the increasing research that supports the power of a daily nap or rest time. As I watched in awe, the CEO of a major tech firm, WRITES IN HIS CALENDAR DAILY A 30 MINUTE NAP!!!!! My first thought was, I want to work there…I last truly slept around 15 years ago pre-kids….and that I was mesmerized to hear him discuss that his most effective and highest resulting ideas came as he was drifting off to sleep or waking up from sleep. Here is the news story if you are interested: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/the-benefits-of-napping-on-the-job/

So – I would like us to discuss the power of rest. The news story today had lots of medical, mental health, and other experts discussing rest. They also shared that historically some of the world’s greatest minds and leaders (Aristotle, Leonardo DaVinci, Roosevelt, Truman, etc.) spoke of regular naps in their journals and other historical documents. It is clear, that the American idea of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make anything out of yourself by hard work” is just not aligned with the concept of rest. As Americans, we view rest for the lazy, uninspired, and somehow damaged people. The challenge now is to alter our thinking enough to see the value of rest in an educational environment. So, I got to thinking…what could rest look like in the classroom? Here are some ideas I have either used in the past without knowing what I was doing or even better, have learned about someone else using this with great success.

  1. Brain Breaks, Yoga, Mindfulness, Movement in the classroom: This is a growing trend in education for a reason. Teaching children the value and importance of the mind, spirit, body connection is literally life saving. Check out this amazing article from Mindful.org https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-in-education/ and my favorite calming video by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg
  2. Outdoor Education: My first career was in the non-profit world running large resident and day camps (along with many other programs). I love nature and KNOW its value. Yet – I have become stagnant with gritting it out in my classroom…some days never seeing the sun. Taking your class outside for a lesson, activity, or even a 5 min. refresh and regroup walk can center and refocus the mind.
  3. Genius Hour: Genius hour is a new, trendy academic concept of giving students time to spend learning about whatever they want, however they want. It is based on the idea that Google has in their company of giving daily “down time” for people to play and create. I just learned about this at a conference and am toying with the idea of when, where, why, and how to integrate. Here is a great starter site I found: https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/
  4. Maker’s Space – Every year after Spring Break, I have opened a “Maker’s Space” in my classroom. It is designed to help make the final push to standardized testing more balanced with this highly engaging and out of the norm concept. Every year, I vow I will never do it again and every year, I see the value of this program. Here is a link to Authentic Teaching’s Maker’s Space packet that helps align this concept with standards https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Makers-Space-Package-4777241
  5. Explicit instruction in work pacing, study, and standardized testing stamina and focus skills: For most of us around the U.S., we are entering the time of final preparation for standardized testing. In our state, students starting in 3rd grade (8 years old), are expected to sit for up to 4 hours, completely silently, no movement, while the teacher paces the classroom, and take a test. This is something most of us adults could not do. So, until this kind of rigorous testing changes (advocate and vote, my friends!), we must teach our students healthy ways to pace their class work, studying, and during standardized tests. I use this resource every year as a way to encourage students to realize stamina and focus are HARD, but skills they can learn. http://staff.katyisd.org/sites/raefourth/PublishingImages/Pages/default/Test%20Anxiety%20-%20Taming%20the%20Test%20Monsters.pptx

My new goal for remainder of this school year, is to shift my paradigm ever so slightly, to see the value of rest. I get the idea that students must learn balance in order to achieve. I tend to be so driven, that I forget that balance for myself and for my students sometimes. Take a moment and reflect for yourself, with your team, and/or with your students on ways to add a little rest into the school day and beyond! Maybe, the best idea, will come when we rest!

Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Classroom Organization, Education, Higher Level Thinking

These are a few of my favorite things….

I can hear Julie Andrews singing now! Sometimes it is just fun to take a moment and list some of our favorite tools, gadgets, or tricks to use as a teacher. I have listed my TOP 10 List here (David Letterman here I go). I just realized both of these references may be waaaayyyy too old for many teachers (I forget I am now the elder stateswoman of the bunch). Anyways, here are things I absolutely LOVE as a teacher. After I am done – share a comment on the site or social media of YOUR favorite things.

  1. Nearpod – This is an interactive powerpoint website which allows you to either use existing presentations or create your own. These are aligned with Google Slides if you want. The students log in and during any type of direct instruction ALL students can provide their feedback keeping engagement high. It has a free teacher account that gives you access to lots of free pre-made nearpods on pretty much ANYTHING and allows you to upload slide presentations to create your own.
  2. Storyworks by Scholastic – Hands down the BEST 3-5 reading resource for the price. This monthly magazine comes with an online version of all resources INCLUDING THE ENTIRE BACK ISSUE CATALOG. The magazine covers multiple genres of reading every month AND gives a ton of lesson plans, discussion questions, close reading, and activities for students on great skills, strategies, and covering a lot of social studies, science, and current event issues. The magazine aligns with Google Classroom and with a single click of a button it will upload your classes and/or post to your classes. Ask your school to cover the cost, do a donor’s choose, ask parents to donate, or use any classroom funds given (PTO, annual budget, etc.) to access this resource.
  3. Actively Learn – This online reading website has a TON of reading materials for every grade level, lexile level, and subject. The site aligns with Google Classroom and with a single click of a button it will upload your classes and/or post to your classes. You can search for items by subject, skill, lexile level, strategy, etc. They offer a free teacher version that has really innovative resources complete with teacher’s guide and additional resources for every article.
  4. Readworks – This FREE reading website allows you to create classes and assign students reading passages with quizzes, vocabulary, read aloud, and ESL support. It has a wide range of resources in multiple genres. You can individualize assignments based on student’s needs or assign whole class. It automatically grades all multiple choice, tracks students scores over a quarter (great for intervention data), and makes grading open ended responses super easy. It has a newer feature called “Article A Day” which has a note taking component for students. It also has content on almost every science and social studies standard.
  5. Read Write Think – If you are looking for really high level, well designed lessons on reading and writing standards, this website has a ton of super easy to follow lesson plans complete with resources. It is challenging and encourages higher level thinking in innovative ways.
  6. Document Camera for Read Aloud – It is great to bring students to the carpet for read aloud. However, in older elementary (3-5) it can be challenging to get them to the carpet and to sit comfortably during a longer read aloud. It also is hard to have students do work WHILE you read (note taking, close reading marking the text, plot arcs, etc.) from the carpet. I discovered that reading aloud while showing the book/text on the document camera (if it is not an online resource obviously), is super effective to allow every student to fully see both text and illustrations, stay comfortable, and do interactive work while I read.
  7. Easy Grader – As previously stated…I am a dinosaur now! STILL, there is NO tool better to have sitting next to you while grading a stack of work than the easy grader. I know there are a million online calculators, score keepers, whatchamacalits, but every new teacher that I have lent my good ol’ easy grader to LOVES IT!
  8. Behavior Plan and Tracking Tool – This item has been tweaked, modified, and used in many different ways over the last several years. However, when used correctly, this consistently yields results that make real changes in student behavior, parent support and involvement, and helps to move students in a new direction. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  9. Glitter Focus Jar – I like to have a plan in place for students who may need to learn calming or cooling down skills. I have a color picture, step by step plan I use frequently (in the plan above). I will often have a cool down corner if I have a higher need student with a variety of items designed to allow for calming. BUT, the one must have is the glitter focus jar. I first saw this used in a self-contained classroom with some of the finest educators I had ever seen. With profoundly challenged students, the glitter jar was a sure fire way to cool, calm, and relax. For myself, my teacher friends, and even the occasional parent in a meeting – this jar calms you down. I challenge anybody to look at the jar and not feel themselves relaxing! There are tons of “recipes” to make them on the internet. Check out this great article with 6 ways to make them from Preschool Inspirations. I highly recommend a plastic bottle, not glass for the obvious reasons. https://preschoolinspirations.com/6-ways-to-make-a-calm-down-jar/
  10. Coffee, Soda, and Food – I have shared many recipes here, lots of pictures of coffee cups, and expressed my love of sharing food with my team. https://authenticteaching.blog/2019/08/06/banana-bread-bribery/ I just don’t think we could make it through the day without coffee, sodas, and some delicious, sometimes nutritious food item!

Your turn! What is on your top 10 list? Post here in the comments or on any of our social media sites!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Behavior Plan, Character Education, Child Development, Class Meeting, Education, Intervention, MTSS

Joy and Pain

Life is a series of moments….some are ordinary, some are joy filled, and some are full of pain. As an educator, you experience your own moments both at work and in your personal life. This is challenging enough. Then, you look at a room full of people, little developing people and you have to manage their response to life’s moments. It can be overwhelming, but for most of us that love teaching, it is our humanity with our students in moments of joy and pain that stay with us and make our job worthwhile.

Joy and Pain are a part of all things in life. As an educator, you are challenged with educating kids in whatever subjects you are asked to teach them in. This is a huge challenge in and of itself. One of my core philosophical beliefs is that students will not take academic risks (the foundation of learning) when they do not feel safe. Emotionally safe, physically safe, and socially safe are requirements for a student to be willing to take the risk that true learning requires. So, facing and managing your students joys and pains must happen to create learning.

This week, I experienced some amazing joys and some terrible pain. It was a roller coaster. I saw people at their very best – generous, thoughtful, kind and at their very worst – angry, irrational, and out of control. These extremes made me recognize the essential role a teacher can play in creating a classroom community that acknowledges and addresses these joys and pains. Here are a few ideas how you can do this:

JOY – Celebrations and traditions are a part of every culture and community around the globe. The reasons for this is that celebrating our human connections (birthdays, holidays, honoring tragedy) is the link that binds us. A strong classroom teacher focuses on creating moments of joy in their classroom both intentional and organic. Here are a few ways to foster joy:

  • Classroom Compliments – Fill your bucket, Leader in Me, Character Counts, and a host of other programs all highlight the importance of teaching children to compliment other children. Create a regular way for students to compliment each other. I use our school’s core values to have students pick one student each week at our class meeting to write and verbally present a compliment to. This is undeniably powerful.
  • Celebrations – It is a commonly held joke among my students and friends that I am not the most festive of teachers. We work…really hard…pretty much most of the time. That being said, I do make time for celebrations. Setting up class goals and then picking a whole class reward or picking a specific event to really celebrate with your students create a time for students to build community.
  • Content that focuses on life’s triumphs – Kids want to learn about people who have overcome adversity, heartwarming stories, or those fabulous silly moments in life (Mo Willems books anybody?). Read great books, study current events, history, or the magnificence of science and help kids see the joy in life.
  • Informal moments of joy – laugh, giggle, smile, take a moment to let joy into your classroom. Relationships based on genuine joy and care in each other will foster learning AND create a life long impact.

PAIN – It is hard to live through or watch those painful times in life. Teaching is filled with moments that can be agonizing, hurtful, and challenge you to decide again if you really want to be a teacher. Watching students struggle with pain from trauma, social pressure or isolation, or self doubt to name a few can be a very helpless feeling. A teacher has the power to provide a child with tools to address their pain and offer a soft place to land. However, a teacher must acknowledge and address their own pain with honesty and courage to do the work that must be done. You know, take the oxygen mask for yourself first philosophy! Here are some ways to address pain with our students:

  • Manage Anger – Anger is an emotion that is always masking some other feeling (anxiety, fear, stress, hopelessness, etc.). Angry kids in our classrooms don’t know effective coping skills to deal with their anger. Managing anger through a specific plan of learned skills is a gift to the angry child and your classroom. Check out Authentic Teaching TPT for great resources for managing student behavior full of tips. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Motivation-Educator-Plan-4800920 https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
  • Create a tool to check in with students regularly – Weekly reflections, class meetings, a “concern” box, or daily individual check-ins with students can foster a way for you to key into a student’s pain. Once you know what is hurting them, you can be their advocate and guide through the pain allowing them to function better in your class and life. Check our Authentic Teaching TPT for my weekly reflection: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Weekly-Reflection-4750316
  • Build relationships – Your students will learn from what you say and what you do. They will watch the way you care for them, your colleagues, and yourself. Build an authentic relationship with your students that allows them to see you work through painful moments for you at school and gives them the freedom to face their painful moments.

Watching some really angry people this weekend and feeling their overwhelming pain masked by anger, I realized that educators in today’s world are more essential than ever. We could be the only person who will look a child in the eye and say “Amazing, this is wonderful, you are wonderful, let’s celebrate!” We may also be the only person who says to a child “your pain is allowed here and let me help you find a way through it”. Creating a community of caring people who honor each other’s highs and lows may the most important teaching we will ever do. This will not be measured by any standardized test or score. This may be a tiny seed a teacher plants without ever seeing it grow. In today’s world that seems full of anger and pain, we must consciously and intentionally be the voice that calls out – I am here and I care!

#Classroom Community, Behavior Management, Books, Creating a Community, Education, PLC, Reading, Self Care, Teamwork, Wellness

Giving Thanks

We are just a few school days away from Thanksgiving and every teacher and student is counting down the days. For some of us the countdown is all about “the break”…getting ready for sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever we want, drinking HOT coffee out of a regular coffee mug, eating food at a table at our own pace and other basic joys of the teacher at home. We may be excited about family, friends, and a big feast. Our students may be ready for no homework, video games, travel to distant relatives, or long days spent doing what they want.

For some children (and some teachers), the break is not a break they are looking forward to. 5 days is a long time to go without consistent food, experience domestic violence, addiction, or family fighting. For some it is 5 days to survive until the safety of school returns. Many children will escalate their negative behavior at school to prepare for the transition to this tumultuous environment. Studies have been done that show that our most challenging students must create chaos at school to mentally prepare for the chaos they may experience at home. So, as teachers we must pay attention to these needy children and help them these last few days before break with a little extra kindness and patience.

This year, our team of teachers, has started a “wellness plan”. Each month, we set up 2 – 3 wellness based activities a week to keep us as healthy as possible. We share food, take a power walk together, practice the calm app in PLC, schedule nights out, and every Friday after school meet for Gratitude Friday. This has rapidly become the most important part of the week for me. We share some candy, cry, vent, laugh, and then we each take a moment to write things we are grateful for. We read them aloud and then pass our books around to write for each person present what we appreciate about them. I enter the room miserable many Friday afternoons and leave the room ready to go home and be mom. So, let’s give some thanks and gratitude for all we have. Here is my list of things I am grateful for:

  1. My family and its good health.
  2. The students in my class are growing in many areas.
  3. I have made a difference in people’s lives – a true gift to me.
  4. I have friends who I can laugh or cry with.
  5. Teachers have a voice growing with unity across our state and nation.
  6. I have food on my table, a warm house, and all I need to live a comfortable life.
  7. I am constantly learning new things because I am teaching new things.
  8. There are endless books to read that give my life meaning.
  9. I have health care… which is a surprisingly important thing that almost wasn’t… here in NC.
  10. I saw 2 former students working at fast food restaurants in the last 2 days…their joy, excitement, and enthusiasm when they saw me made every hard day worthwhile.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? Share your list here or on our social media sites! Let’s start a gratitude chain! Wait and see how powerful it can be!

#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….

#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!

#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.