Reflections on the Reflective Teacher

Taking time to reflect is beneficial to all human beings. My daughters seem to remind me it’s time to color or otherwise stop what I’m doing at the most inopportune times. I find, however, that those times yield some of my best ideas. Along those lines, it is crucial, in my opinion, to be a reflective teacher. Time off work, out of the classroom is an excellent time to practice being a reflective teacher. Like Winnie the Pooh says: “Did you ever stop to think and then forget to start again?” I think he meant because it can be so wonderful to “stop” that you neglect starting as you were. We need to stop as human beings, especially by our teacher definition. We are entrusted with children and teaching them academics. This is of course one of the highest callings of a society.

Quotes and stories can be excellent sources of teaching inspiration. I like to remind myself of the story of 2 lumberjacks trying to chop more wood in a competition. The first was a busybody with a great work ethic. He chopped until it hurt and then kept right on going limping to his bunk at night. The second was seen taking regular breaks and meditating. At the end of the competition, oddly enough the resting lumberjack had cut down far more trees. When number one asked him how he achieved such an accomplishment he replied: “I stopped regularly to sharpen my axe.”

If we don’t stop we can become fatigued and worse … burned out. Here are some ways I try to be a reflective teacher. Let’s define that here as a teacher who is willing to “stop:”

  • Meditate. While you should have a daily time to stop and meditate to stay healthy, set aside a short time to meditate on your class. Picture it empty, then any way you imagine it. Try this a few times and see the sort of ideas manifest themselves.
  • Make a list. Motivation theory shows that with pen and paper, it helps to start writing ideas down. You might start with the prompt of: “What could be better in my classroom?” Make up other questions and remember the reflective teacher is truly “stopped,” unstressed by the demands of every day work things. Only when you get outside of the routine can you see things differently and fix them.
  • Examine your daily schedule. Look for the times where the day goes smoothly. Can you think of a way to make the who day go more like that? Try the vice versa as well: Where are the long parts of the day that drag on. Chances are, they do the same for your students. Can you help that in any way?
  • Acknowledge the importance of stopping and being a reflective teacher.

In the past few years, I have come to know the healing powers of meditation and relaxation in my personal life. The same practice brings better lessons and better classroom management. Americans as a whole are so caught up with working and doing. I hope you agree that “stopping” and meditating as a reflective teacher will make you more effective.

Ideas for Better Teaching 2011-2012

This is my 13th year teaching public school. Like most things that matter it has taken time to achieve what feels like some level of mastery. This past year I found it helpful to keep a small section of my whiteboard for writing down ideas and solutions.This is important because many times I forget about “light bulb” solutions that take things like a trip to Staples or laminating to make happen. Here are some teaching strategies and tools I plan to use in the 2011-2012 school year.

  • Teach higher volume in answering voice – Teaches all and reduces class boredom.
  • Fruit: Our school gives each class a basket of fruit every day that is provided by a private grant. My rule: must eat all 10 minutes prior to recess or no recess.
  • Random Non Volunteer Cards. Begin use on day 1. #’s work better than name cards.
  • #’s on desk a priority that requires maintenance make a dedicated spot where you can maintain the numbers when kids pick them off etc. Make replacing damage they do an easy task I am prepared for.
  • Plastic “glass” overlay for desk to show observation papers etc. Helps with focus and anxiety over the unknown.
  • Homework is Focus Reading Comp etc. packets. Also Scott Foresman Math. CFU first thing in am with questions. They must be ready to answer my question of “why.”
  • Have a central location to file report cards etc. Organization takes effort but saves mental and physical energy in the long haul.
  • Desks rows and “away” areas for troubled students. Protect the rest.
  • Pick days to stay after school and do copies. This will avoid traffic jams there and hence discouragement. Take the let downs away before they happen.

These are just a few things I plan to implement to make my year better. Have you taken the time to reflect upon your year last year? What worked and what didn’t?

Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy. 

It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it

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I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

Value Criticism as Much as Praise

tumblr_nhul7x1xor1u06rnxo1_500Teaching is a job that requites intrinsic motivation. Like an artist will get many varied criticisms of her/his work, so it goes with a teacher. So how do you keep it all together and improve? I say you need to keep an open mind, have a thick skin, and learn to separate the helpful from the useless remarks and criticisms that come your way. Those who offer valid criticism should be appreciated. They point our your weakness so you can fix them. Keeping a humble attitude will take you far, especially when you start with one. As you teach and learn and grow, people will be drawn to your humble attitude like moths to a light bulb. It’s very rare to find in fact. It makes you more approachable. Continue reading “Value Criticism as Much as Praise”

Think Outside the Box with Kids

One thing I have learned in years of teaching is that kids remember better when you teach non-traditionally.  There is a lot of value in traditional frameworks but it is when you step outside that you really imprint to memory.  I remember when I was in college I had a college algebra professor who would pick a chair up and smack through the seat to show how important the correct equation was to building a chair.  If you got the equation wrong, the seat would fall through.  i will always remember that as the importance of math.  Kids of all ages are the same way.  use props, act things out, give visuals.  These quirky things outside the box are what make kids remember abstract concepts in concrete ways.

Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

tony-anticipates-his-next-classI’m convinced that teachers who are starting out need to learn this lesson with time. It makes little logical sense to tell kids the answers but it serves a powerful function toward mastery when you are starting a new concept. Students often don’t answer because they do not know what is being asked of them. This can be the actual math or language arts of the thing or it could just be the manner and style in which the teacher expects the answer. Sometimes when students say the predictable phrase, “I was gonna say that,” they aren’t lying. They didn’t know what you wanted from them and that is a simple problem to remedy. At the introduction of the lesson, go around pucking random non volunteers by your chosen method, I use cards. Use this pattern: 1) Say the answer 2) Ask the question and 3) Ask the question again and pick a random non volunteer. This will inform them how to listen and answer questions and get you more familiar with their process. It sounds silly to give the answer and then ask someone to say it back but it really decreases their affective filter and makes them more comfortable branching out and taking risks. In short, they become more comfortable with you so you can ease into more higher order questions like “why is that the answer?” Continue reading “Darn, I Was Gonna Say That”

How To Get Girls To Fall In Love with Science


Image via Flickr by daveparker

The United States is one of the few countries around the world where 15-year-old boys outperform the girls in science. This disproves the old theory that boys just have a better aptitude for science. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education believes that “improving girls’ beliefs about their abilities could alter their choices and performance.”

Inspiring a passion for science early could also help girls close the gender pay gap and gain financial independence for themselves and their families. But how do we get American girls to fall in love with science like their peers around the world?

Start Early

Studies show that societal and peer pressures make girls lose confidence in their ability to master scientific concepts by about fourth grade. It’s crucial then that they learn about science early so they have faith in their scientific skills. Conducting regular, simple scientific experiments from as early as kindergarten will help build their confidence.

Appeal to Their Desire to Solve Real Problems

Image via Flickr by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Studies show that girls tend to choose their career path based on their belief that it’ll make a difference in the world. This is why girls tend to favor nurturing professions, like nursing and teaching. Teachers can help their female students become passionate about science by emphasizing the ways it can help people, animals, or the environment.

“They see that there’s some value to it, that they can make a difference in the world,” explained Tamara Hudgins, Ph.D, the executive director of Girlstart, a charity that provides science-based after-school and enrichment programs for girls. “So when we do robotics, we look for ways to apply it to real world problems, such as creating a robot that can go into an oil spill and save a pelican.”

Encourage Girls to Participate in Special Programs

Girlstart is just one initiative that creates science-based programs specifically for girls. Many local universities, zoos, museums, and parks and recreation departments also run similar schemes. Seek out information about these and other after-school and enrichment programs available, encouraging your female students to participate in them. Since these initiatives are tailor-made for girls, they can provide more targeted instruction than most teachers who must try to engage male and female students.

Teach Them About a Range of Careers That Use Science

Many girls shun science because they think it’ll lead to a masculine career. Teachers can counteract this by teaching their classes about the many varied opportunities a career in science holds. For example, a student that loves science could become a family nurse practitioner, a marine biologist, a nutritionist, a product designer, or an industrial chemist.

It’s best to speak about these careers without any references to gender, as girls are certainly capable of entering any male-dominated profession. Instead, pique their interest with descriptions about the jobs available. If possible, you could also invite male and female professionals working with science to speak to your class. These positive role models can inspire the young science professionals of the future.

Changing the way we teach science in schools is key to getting girls to fall in love with this important field and pursue it in the future.

Revising Your Teaching Strategy

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed

clip1Try as we might as teachers, sometimes we don’t get classroom management right. To adapt and fix it, we must be open to change. This often requires tweaking little things here and there and sometimes it means a complete overhaul of your lesson plan and classroom management approach. Even when you’ve been at it many years, you are never immune to change. Ours is a career where change is always happening so we must adapt. Revising your strategy is the solution to the challenge we call change.

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed:

  1. PLAN. Identify focus standards. Most schools in California are focused on the California content standards. Gone are the days when teachers’ differed in their opinion on what should be taught. While shades of that remain, teachers know the biggest recognition comees from high standardized test scores. Even though I know that is the best target, I will be flexible and say a teacher should identify what they want to teach. You’d do well to simply identify standards but the point here is that you are focused on something. It has been said, and it is true, that if you aim at nothing you will surely hit it. Get a yellow pad and write down 2-3 focus standards a day. These become the measuring rod of whether you did you job.
  2. TEACH. For each standard use a teaching method such as edi or the Madeline Hunter lesson plan and write lesson plans. Teach them, check for understanding throughout and finally, assess that 80% or more of the class has achieved mastery.
  3. PLAN CONSEQUENCES. Plan how you will control classroom discipline. Some classes will not require much of this and others will demand hours of planning in a trimester. Read up on the subject and be open to trying things other teachers do that are working for them.


I hope as you are revising teaching strategies you don’t feel like a failure. It can feel like that sometimes as a teacher in a challenging environment. Make sure you take the quiet time to reflect, research and converse with positive colleagues. In time, the hardest challenges will become your greatest strengths. The reason I am qualified to tell you this is because I have revised my teaching several key times in my career and the end product is seeing myself as an accomplished teacher. You can have that assurance as well if you always stay open to revising your teaching strategy.

Teachers Who Create, Innovate, and Integrate Add Value

I have learned the value of these three words”Create. Innovate, and Integrate.” Whether you are teaching creative writing jobs or the alphabet, as a teacher your innovation will always yield a lot of value.

Teachers who invent solutions are my heroes! Sometimes after getting a teaching degree, one is surprised that what they learned isn’t reality. In other words, for some challenges, there is no beaten path. This can be due to legislative changes or just the needs of a particular area in education. In those situations, I have learned the value of these three words”Create. Innovate, and Integrate.” Whether you are teaching creative writing jobs or the alphabet, as a teacher your innovation will always yield a lot of value.

The teaching certificate is just the beginning. After that you must conform to your classroom needs and use all your talents to meet them. Here are a few examples, feel free to add more of your own in the comments. This will help us all be better. Continue reading “Teachers Who Create, Innovate, and Integrate Add Value”

Goals Help Solve the Riddle of Setting up a Classroom

If you have clear and concise goals, your priorities and actions will be predicated upon them. After that, when review measurable progress toward goals, you decide if you are a success or not. Don’t let other people decide if you are a success or not in your classroom, only you should determine that.

I wrote this post last year upon setting up my classroom. After reading it just a couple weeks before I do the same this year, I found it had some very helpful reminders. Today was my first day setting up my classroom. I made a LOT of planning notes and I am far from done. It was a challenge as always and at times overwhelming. There is so much you COULD be doing that you often get caught up majoring in the minors. I am proud to say I was a success today based on my goals set beforehand. My dad shared with me in my youth the concept of SPIDOG. It stands for “Set priorities in direction of goals.” The theory being that if you have clear and concise goals, your priorities and actions will be predicated upon them. After that, when you review measurable progress toward goals, decide if you are a success or not. Don’t let other people decide if you succeed, only you should determine that.

I recently wrote about my goals for the 2011-2012 school year. I followed them the entire 8 hours I was working. It saved me from time wasting. In fact, according to my goals, I was darn productive if I do say so myself. Below are a couple shots taken on my iPhone. They show first day progress toward consequence based rules, my primary goal this year. I am putting the desks in a “U” so I can walk around easily. I did other actions based on the goal of consequence based rules. Are you setting priorities in direction of goals thi year?

U desk formation left side
U Desk formation Right
Taping names on the desk for calling on random non-volunteers is part of a consequence based rules system

Tell me about your goals for setting up your classroom …