Goal Based Teaching and Focus

My heart goes out to the teachers that have been (or will be) issued pink slips. Even if you know they will hire you back, it is still hard. You can still be successful and make a difference though if you don’t lose your focus.

Of course every teacher wants to be successful every day. Some days this is more possible than others. I say, it’s always possible if you set goals for yourself. The hardest times for me as a professional are when the rules change. In times of financial cutbacks, this is likely to be occurring across the country. In times of adversity, we can still be successful through what I call goal based teaching.

Whether you are teaching a math lessons or esl lessons, you have strategies and programs you can use to teach. This isn’t a post about showing you mine. You can find the best strategy I know of, EDI elsewhere on this blog. I have written numerous posts on how it works and how to use it. This post is, rather, about setting achievable goals and then gauging progress once the teaching day is done. In your quest, check out websites for teachers.

In the early morning minutes before the kids come in, take the time to write down what you want to achieve today. It might look something like:

80% mastery of Reading Standard 2.1 that will be measured through whiteboard answers.
-or-
Listen to kids more today. This will be measured by my journaling what one kid from each period told me.

You get the idea. It is possible to teach and be successful in these uncertain and often just plain “weird” times. My heart goes out to the teachers that have been (or will be) issued pink slips. Even if you know they will hire you back, it is still hard. You can still be successful and make a difference though if you don’t lose your focus. It happened to me my 5th year teaching. Then they called it “reduction in force.” They told me I would likely be hired back but I had to teach 3 more months with no guarantees. With a fledgling family of 3 at the time, I was nervous and it was hard to stay focus. Goal based teaching helped me define my own success.

I don’t see success as something you achieve. Rather, it is the daily, hourly triumphs where you take chances and then measure your own success. No one can tell you otherwise when you know you’ve met your own goals. What are your thoughts on taking control with “Goal Based Teaching.”

Staying Healthy and Inspired as a Teacher

A teacher’s mental and physical pressures should not be permitted to go on too long. He/she must be a responsible professional and take care of her/his own needs first. After that, the kids.

Those with careers in teaching are often under pressure. The administration wants the paperwork turned in on time and the parent wants accurate and full reporting of their children. Your own family wants and deserves your complete attention. Of course, as a teacher, this is your job so we shouldn’t whine too much about it. At the same time, it can feel overwhelming to have so many precise demands. It can affect you. A teacher’s mental and physical pressures should not be permitted to go on too long. The teacher must be a responsible professional and take care of her/his own needs first then the rest. This is a basic truth whether you teach English abroad or elementary school here at home.

There are certain basic “self-checks” you can do to remain sound of mind and body health in the classroom. Here are a few I do at yearly intervals:

  1. Check your blood pressure. Demands of kids and work can really raise this. If you don’t know already, a healthy blood pressure is below 120/80. If you neglect this, a heart attack or stroke could occur which would make you unable to be a great teacher.
  2. Plan your exercise routine. By that I mean, plan something you know you can do consistently and vigorously. For example, I really enjoy running outdoors but I seldom get to it. On the other hand, using my treadmill is much easier to be consistent at. If I choose the running plan, I will likely get no exercise whereas the treadmill is easy access and likely to get used. Vigorous exercise helps circulation and keeps you laughing through those challenging days.
  3. Get out of the house. If you are married, take your spouse out on a date. If you are single, go out and do something you love alone or with friends, good old fashioned “rest and relaxation.” You are “Mr. Riley” all week long, now go be you!
  4. Do your favorite pastime.

More than any tip, remember this: Those in education jobs are no good to your students, your school, or your own family when you are mentally or physically spent. Be responsible about taking care of yourself first and then the kids. Recharge your batteries. They will thank you for it!


This post was published first as Staying Healthy and Inspired as a Teacher on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Teachers and Public Image

I would say teachers are free to write and create art on their off work time. The trouble is, they are morally responsible for the effect their work has on children. For this reason, they have a responsibility to keep adult activities or art out of the classroom psyche.

How much does a teacher’s private life enter in to the job they do? In a recent article, ‘Fifty Shades of Who Cares’, I read about a teacher who has been suspended for writing and selling erotica. I wouldn’t have thought that was a giant problem until I read that the teacher used the school computer to use social media and compose this writing. Was this teacher dropped as a child or something? Things like this are so blatantly wrong they hardly merit an article. Still, the question of a teacher’s right to have a private life and to pursue other interests is an important topic I think.

I would say teachers are free to write and create art on their off work time. The trouble is, they are morally responsible for the effect their work has on children. For this reason, they have a responsibility to keep adult activities or art out of the classroom psyche. This might seem like common sense but in the past year I have read about teachers appearing in porn and others buying drugs. Teachers, let’s come together and get real. You may be a lousy teacher or the cream of the crop, you still work with kids. Teachers have an obligation to uphold a certain standard in the public eye. We are different from other public jobs that way but all public jobs to some extent carry that burden. Of course, one might say that just living a clean life is the best way to avoid negative public perceptions. That probably goes without saying.

Kids are Like Sponges: Use Stories to Teach Them

A great lesson plan should have at least one engaging story that teaches. It’s very helpful when introducing a new topic to tell them stories about your life as it relates to that new concept.

Using stories to teach kids is one of the best teaching tips I can suggest. Anything you give kids by way of your life’s anecdotes they will happily absorb.  It’s been said, “kids are like sponges.” It’s very helpful when introducing a new topic to tell them stories about your life as it relates to that new concept.  Until a kid can visualize something and compare it to something concrete, he/she will never have a chance at comprehending it.  It is vital to getting students to understand your message. In teacher jargon this is known as “comprehensible input.” One example for young kids might be when I took a cookie out of the cookie jar. For older kids say in adolescence if I am teaching respect for authority figures, such as police officers, I can tell a story of when someone was disrespectful to a police officer and what happened. If you can’t think of a story, there is so much free online education that includes some. Definitely go searching. For example, if you are studying a story like Akiak, you can type that in and find all sorts of related stories. The teaching materials of our day are largely free and available with minimal search effort.
A “Dynamite Lesson Plan” should have at least one engaging story that teaches.  This can often make the need for a discipline plan obsolete. The reason this is true is because the learner is engaged. Your own kids, as well as your students, in many ways worship the ground you walk on.  To them, you are an image of the real world they desire so desperately to enter.  Telling them stories from your life full of comprehensible input can bridge the chasm for them.

They have nowhere to go.  They are all ears! Make storytelling a part of every lesson you do to improve student engagement in education.

And if you think you have no interesting stories to tell, remember this: Everything you’ve done has value to kids. It’s all in how you tell it to them.  Make it fun and tie it in to age-appropriate input be it SpongeBob or Twilight.  You’ll teach them your objective without them even knowing it.

Do you have any life adventures you could tell your kids?

Why not add a few to your schedule tomorrow and see how your kids respond?

Teaching, Inspiration, and Rock ‘n Roll

The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

I started teaching at age 27. Though I thought I was old then, I look back now and see that I was most assuredly still a very young adult. Back then I was very much a self-starter. After subbing in a district for 3 months I managed to get hired on a year’s teaching contract with NO credential based purely on my wit and candor and my ability to speak Spanish and English. In California, this is called an “emergency credential” and it’s rarely done nowadays . . . for good reason. I had absolutely no classroom management skills, apart from being a sub which is vastly different from being the only grown-up in charge of 36 ten year olds for 185 days. Those first 3 years were very tough, but I got by on the inspiration of my twenties. It seems like my thirties have required more strategy than instinct to find success.

Now, 10 years later with a full credential and a Master’s degree, I still often find myself at a loss for inspiration. I never give up though. On those days that I am discouraged and unmotivated, I try and get away from the daily routine. I put aside the lessons I had planned (as much as is possible to stay within my responsibilities) and I focus on the things that I truly enjoy: guitar, art, poetry, reading, songwriting, nature, etc. Then I tap into that wonder I have for those things and bridge it to the material I have to teach. For example: if I have to teach reading data on a graph, I make a graph about the different guitars there are.

I adapt my lessons that day to whatever is really giving me personal inspiration at that moment. All people (even small ones) are attracted to a leader or performer who is passionate about what he is doing. Kids want to emulate that energy. I remember going to see REM in concert in my 20’s and being so drawn in to what singer Michael Stipe was doing onstage. I didn’t understand the weird symbols on the screen or the strange movements he made, like hitting a metal chair with a wooden rod on the off-beats on “World Leader Pretend,” but I tapped into his passion and energy for what he was doing, and when they left the stage I screamed for an encore. It was like a moth to a lightbulb, the lightbulb was passion. The world is so full of boring people. It’s important for leaders, teachers, writers, performers, and artists to share an influence that is NOT boring with this starved-for-passion world.

Discouragement that saps inspiration is the teacher’s biggest enemy. By tapping into and bridging my passions with my students, I am able to get through those tough days when I have to methodically put one foot in front of the other and keep remembering that I got into the profession to make a difference. With a brief look inward, it works every time.

My Solution to the Copy Machine Conundrum

If you are like me you have been frustrated many times by a traffic jam at the copy machine. You got your materials together and went to the copy room only to find two or three teachers ahead of you with what looks like reams of copies to make. You sort of get deflated at that point. If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years, you might recall my article on “paperless teaching.” This was a cool concept and one of those that is excellent “in theory.” Unfortunately, the energy required to come up with solutions for paper really wears you down. As a result, it defeats the whole purpose for trying paperless teaching in the first place. I know I am a better teacher because I have some tested alternatives to the copy machine. At the same time, I now know it is unavoidable in our profession. That leads me to my solution.

One excellent solution to the copy machine conundrum is to pick one day of the week to do all your copying. It is definitely a paradigm shift because you can’t be successful “on the fly.” You must get a rhythm and a system to select your papers to copy so each week you have them sorted and ready to hit the copy machine. Of course you will still collide with other teachers but only one out of 5 days right? If you are mentally prepared to wait, it will cause you less stress as well. I have been doing this all year so far and it is going great! What do you think of my solution to the copy machine conundrum?

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation

Professional evaluations for teachers can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria for evaluation can alleviate much of that while also aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip.

Teacher evaluations can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria on teacher evaluations forms can alleviate much of that while aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip. Throughout the teaching year, good teachers create and innovate daily to produce results in their students. The federal and state governments set goals for us and we strive to meet those goals, and hopefully exceed them. Unfortunately, during the time of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the goal was, and I am being 100% frank here, to have EVERY child in America score proficient on the same standardized test given each year. I never agreed with this goal for education but I have always striven to make it happen. Now that Obama and Arne Duncan are in office, I understand they are out to revise NCLB rules and expectations. That may be a good thing, time will tell. I can say the most trivial of teaching materials made a world of difference in my evaluation: a plastic desktop cover. Continue reading “Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation”

Kids, Choices, and Consequences

Successful teaching requires a “choice and consequence” system. These are my experiences and a few tips I have found useful in my 4th grade classroom.

I’m not sure any college can fully teach you how to become a teacher completely. There’s a lot of stuff you can only learn while doing it. A police friend I know has been shot at, threatened and scared half to death by some of the criminals he’s dealt with. Another fireman has almost destroyed his back pulling people out of burning buildings. So the issue is raised: What does it take to be a teacher? We deal with something every day just as ominous: surly kids. In my career I’ve had issues with kids that that few non-teachers will ever comprehend. I’ve had kids flat out tell me “no” to my face. I’ve had kids shout profanity at me. I’ve had kids tell me they are sending their dad, uncle or brother to beat me up. (yes that happened once). It can be difficult to stay focused and motivated toward teaching when so many behavior problems exist. The good news is, there are ways to get through them.

Along with the challenges there is plenty of good I must add. Teaching certification is rigorous for a reason. In addition to the small number of students who have tested me, many more have made me so glad and happy to be a teacher. Let’s talk about how to deal with these challenging kids, because teachers are always going to have them.

There are so many plans at your disposal as a teacher to control behavior in the class. You can have a warning/consequences chart, you can do positive reinforcements, you can even take entire blocks of time to model your rules and consequences. In my opinion, nothing works better than a certain type of psychology with kids who won’t behave, it is called “Choice and Consequences” teaching. Let me explain:

When a kid misbehaves it is usually either because 1) They don’t realize it and are just being “slap-happy” as kids are wont to do while young -or- 2) They know it’s wrong and they do it anyway hoping they won’t be seen or caught. You should only give consequences if the child disobeys or is defiant. The first consequence is: give them a warning. Make sure you state clearly the rule they have broken when you do so. ie;

Johnny, you kicked someone’s leg and they complained to me. You did not respect your classmate and that is rule 3 on our list on the wall. If you do it again, you will get a consequence.

Now the child knows what to refrain from. If s/he continues, it is defiance and deserves the next consequence. When they do it again, here is the only thing you should say:

Johnny (Jenny), I asked you to not do that and you did it. Now you have another consequence.

Do you practice “choice and consequences” in your class? There are sites for teachers discussing that right now. In fact, our discussion is below. I hope you’ll leave your 2 cents.