The Words of a Teacher Matter Much

Once in a while, times arise in my lessons where I am tempted to say something potentially negative toward another person. As I pay attention to these times, I become better at turning them into positive messages.

phone2We as teachers should recognize that our words matter. It can be difficult to rein in every thought in the teaching day but we should make an effort to. Words we speak can shape realities in our students and even help define their self-esteem be it high or low. The worst part about reckless words is that we often can never gauge what they do to our students. When I hear that something positive I said HELPED a former student, I feel energized to continue being the best teacher I can be. On the other hand, when I get the occasional complaint, discover my words were misunderstood and it hurt someone’s feelings, I am often devastated. It can sap my motivation to be the cheerleader of kids I know I should be. Yes that’s right, a teacher should be a cheerleader with her/his words.

Pick a random way to share positive words. I am a big fan of using playing cards to pick random non-volunteers. I also use them to share what I call “positives” with my kids throughout the day. This in turn becomes a modeling exercise and they see how they can share positives with me and with each other. I even wrote a “Morning Positive Song” on my guitar and we sing it almost every day when we start this intermittent activity throughout the day. It sets the tone. A positive can be as simple as “I like your shoes.” After someone gets a positive, I always ask them: “How did that make you feel.” This shows the class that even the simplest of words can produce good feelings that we all crave.

Think before you speak. This may go without saying but I think we all can use a reminder. Once in a while, times arise in my lessons where I am tempted to say something potentially negative toward another person. As I pay attention to these times, I become better at turning them into positive messages. Example: I was coaching pairs through reading back and forth to each other and the kids did not understand the word karma. I knew that one child’s parents were Buddhists and I was tempted to make them the example. I caught myself due to the potential embarrassment there and made another analogy more suited to a universal positive. As teachers, we really really really need to think before we speak. This is true even in the face of a culture that thinks negatives and put-downs are ok and the norm.

To close, make a note to yourself tomorrow to try thinking more about what you say. I think your will find your day much more satisfying and chances are your kids will get a lot more out of what you have to say. Thank you for reading my post. I hope you will take the time to comment. What do you think of the power of words in the teaching profession?

What Teaching Strategies are You Using This Close to the Test

20130402-124441.jpgYou know I write these posts to archive the good teaching stuff I have run across. But more than that, I selfishly love getting your comments. Many times I find reader comments more helpful than my own material. PLEASE COMMENT.

As I have written here before, I am big into data. I use it to plan my instruction. Currently, I have used OARS and EADMS to dis aggregate student data. I can see the holes that need filling. Those are pare of the plan for the next 2 weeks. I plan to use white boards for whole class assessment. The time for tests before the test is long past. This is an exciting time of the year because it’s when you release your students to do what you’ve worked at all year. Now, great teachers, your comments!

Find Ways of Recognizing Good Student Behavior

IAT_CL1_PX00770There are hundreds of student recognition programs and they exist because teachers know they work. A colleague of mine spends a lot of her hard-earned dollars on certificates and treats and even trophies for her kids. I can tell you her kids benefit greatly and in turn, so does she as a teacher. I use trophies as well, only I don’t buy them. I prefer to get them for free through donations from families and the local thrift shop. You don’t even have to give them away. They travel all around the classroom for the best of the week in given areas. Continue reading “Find Ways of Recognizing Good Student Behavior”

Tips to Survive a Professional Evaluation

ELA HomeworkThis one is for my colleagues who are just starting out and maybe a little (or a lot) nervous about being evaluated. Don’t worry, you get used to it. Here are a few tips from my journey. Most teachers fall to pieces when it comes to their periodic evaluation. As a required part of this process, the principal usually comes in formally to observe a lesson. I have asked veteran teachers of more than 30 years if this makes them nervous and they have answered, “Yes, I go to pieces.” The reasons are pretty obvious but unless you’ve been observed for an evaluation you may not realize why it is one of the most nerve-wracking tests you face as a teacher. You could be an excellent teacher and still have a bad observation. It happens and you should do all you can to make sure it does not. There is also a good chance the evaluation will go well. As long as you plan little by little before the lesson and then “show them you came to play” (in a professional sports sense) in the actual lesson, you can be victorious and show your principal, as well as the district, that you have a purpose and a calling to do this that makes you worth your salt. Continue reading “Tips to Survive a Professional Evaluation”

Some Relaxation Methods

Teachers can get very stressed in their tasks and often feel as if their back is against the wall. As we attempt to mold the minds of the future, we must deal with other demands from our own evaluation by principals, parents, the community, and elsewhere. In the midst of all that, we are supposed to care. Depending on the teacher and the environment, this stress can be downright debilitating. I have good news though, you can do simple, quick relaxation techniques during lunch right at your desk to help tackle tension. Being responsible to keeping yourself relaxed and whole will translate in you being a better teacher and person. In being less stressed, you will have a more positive impact on the kids. In short:

You don’t have to put your hectic classroom on hold to chill out.

Here are a few methods of relaxation you can use in the day at your desk during lunch or even as you teach throughout the day:

Practice yoga “lite.” Moving your arms and body slowly and meditating on your space can have a calming effect before the kids come back.

Take off your shoes and do toe scrunches under your desk. This is great and the minimal aspect of it carries great relaxation rewards.

Fake a smile. Studies have shown that the positive effects of smiling occur whether it is fake or real. “Fake it til you make it” in terms of merriment may lead to real smiles and laughter. Continue reading “Some Relaxation Methods”

On Teaching Without Paper, or Less Anyway

copierUsing effective teaching methods often requires all your wit and candor every day. When the copy machine takes more than you have, it kind of wrecks you. Since I started teaching in 1997, I have had a love/hate relationship with copiers and printers. It can be so cool when you have a crisp, stapled presentation ready for 30 kids stacked flush on your desk ready to deliver. It’s even better when the print actually enhances the learning transaction and the standard is internalized as a result.

More often than that though paper is a hassle.

Eight times out of ten when I get my stuff to the copy room, there is a jammed sign on it. Other times it is out of paper in which case I have to use my valuable prep time getting cut on the box and opening reams to load in the machine. Even more frustrating are the times when there is a line of 3 or more of my colleagues all holding their holy grails of lessons in their arms waiting impatiently for the one in front to gather her/his business out of the way. Let me assure you, youll wish you were in hell if YOU are the one who jams the machine with those lines watching over your shoulder. I know there is a longing out there among teachers for more paperless teaching materials.

I’ve often avoided the copier issues by printing the stuff at my computer. We have Brother laser printers and they often work well. It’s never mattered how many trees I massacred as long as the ink was dark and flowed freely, which up to now it always has.

Alas, printers like people, get old I’m afraid. They need routine operations and recently, two in needed to be taken to a nearby cliff (if we had one in the desert) and put out of their misery. I’m speaking of one-half printing. Sound familiar? Lines streaking? Drum light flashing Morse code?

At one point a couple years back, I had all these wonderful road-blocks to getting my lessons taught. You know what I decided? I decided instead of cursing the printing darkness, to light a candle. I declared power over paper.

It would no longer control me! Time for green school ideas.

I set down a what-if scenario for every paper event I can fathom. I decided that the wool had been pulled over my eyes long enough . . . paper and teaching . . . I saw clearly for the first time: I JUST DON’T NEED IT! I am going to learn how to save paper and still be a highly effective teacher. A teaching career can exist with less paper. I believe in that.

Van Gogh said art is done within limitation, not without. I indeed have to get creative at times in order to keep my one-day-at-a-time commitment. My students already have a mother lode of printed material in their texts and their consumable books. I see no reason why I can’t continue this until I retire. My mission is to find alternatives to paper.

Using Acronyms to Be a More Effective Teacher

Teachers can increase the productivity of teaching degrees by following an acronym. I’ve used acronyms a lot in my career to become an effective teacher. My “MAP” strategy below is an example of one.

Teachers can increase the productivity of teaching degrees by following an acronym. I’ve used acronyms a lot in my career to become an effective teacher. My “MAP” strategy below is an example of one.

Monitor – The M in MAP stands for the time you analyze and place students.  This can be through standardized test scores or results of local assessments.  Once you see where you kids need to be and then learn they aren’t there, you can better move on to sections A, and P.  Monitor can cover a whole slough of things teachers do when analyzing data for better instruction.

Assemble – Now don’t get that confused with assessment.  This is not that at all.  This is the step where you gather the curriculum you have to address the needs you discovered in “monitoring.”  If you’ve been a teacher the last 10 years you will agree with me that teaching is changing to less of a “district hands down the holy grail to teach with” and more to a “go through the smorgasbord and take the stuff you need” kind of approach.  The “A” represents that time to assemble the tools you need to address the need. One may be beginning to see the teaching degree requirements aren’t everything teachers need?

Prepare – The reason I created this method was for P.  My copier went out again and I had to time to get what I needed for the next day.  Later I went to the copy machine and realized I had no idea what to copy for the next day!  I created the 3 items in this acronym to keep myself aware of my students’ needs, the materials I have, and to be prepared.  The “P” is the copying, the getting it all together.

Time passes quickly in ones career. I recall when the online teaching degree came on the scene. Now, it is as common as a traditional one. If you follow the M.A.P. strategy as a teacher (or another professional) you can be a trendsetter. Of course, you may come up with a better one. Please leave your ideas in the comments to help us all be better teachers.

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

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?