Have You Modeled the Correct Behavior?

kids in a lineThis past week I experienced a relapse in my kids’ behavior. They were doing great for a few days then all of a sudden, BAM! They were out of the line, slapping each other, running, not putting their hands behind their backs, talking … shouting. I got bad comments from 3 grownups on campus and when I got the third I knew we were going to have to practice until they were blue in the face (figure of speech). Sometimes teachers forget to model the behavior they want to see in their students. I think this was one such occasion. I marched them to my door from the blacktop and out again about 10 times. Each time I repeated the things I wanted to see and each time, up until the last time, someone in line did not conform to the expectation.

The rest of the story is that they really line up well now. By showing them what I wanted and having them practice it over and over, the line problem was solved. I wish every challenge of student behavior would be solved this easily. Unfortunately, all teaching is a work in progress. Notwithstanding, when you feel like you are beating your head against a wall with your class and they just aren’t doing the expected behavior. It is wise to ask yourself, “Have you modeled the correct behavior?” I think 9 times out of 10, they will rise to your expectation if you get out there with them and SHOW them.

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.

Recognition Cards on Hand

Good News from SchoolIt doesn’t take much time to recognize kids in the classroom. It also pays huge dividends in the their self-esteem when you send something home to their parents. Every year or so, my school gets “Good News from School” postcards made up for the teachers to use. The offce leaves them by the teacher boxes and we are free to take as many as we like. When you are amazed at a child’s work, this is a good time to recognize her/him. If you are simply trying to encourage the child, this is another. Whatever the reason, cards like this on hand go a long way toward healthy emotions and well-being in the classroom. Continue reading “Recognition Cards on Hand”

Professional Learning Communities – Worth the Effort

Professional learning communities are revolutionizing teaching. We are learning at my school how powerful it can be when teachers work together. Unfortunately, it does require a lot of patience and work to make happen.

IMG_0045-1024x768Professional learning communities are revolutionizing education. We are learning at my school how powerful it can be when teachers work together. Unfortunately, it does require a lot of patience and work to make happen.

In teaching, as with any professional job, there are times when you have to make professional conversations happen. This might be be over an issue of student motivation or just plain getting along issues. They can be awful to do and they make your stomach churn but they are hugely important and have to be done whether comfortable or not. It would be nice if we could just stay in our classrooms until dismissal and not bother anyone and not be bothered by anyone but that is a fantasy land. To keep kids “moving” up from one level to another or staying at the top level, it requires teachers engaging in professional conversations on a regular basis. It’s not about who’s cool or not or who likes who or not. It is simply a commitment to moving kids upward by all means available. When teachers agree to work this way … everybody benefits and at the end of the year, great progress is inevitable.

The dynamite teacher ensures and fosters professional learning communities.

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?

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?

What to Focus on After the CST

Even if it’s only 30 days or so, It can be helpful and inspiring to teach subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. Teach them to sing American History songs for example.

3IsAfter the CST in most districts there are still around 30 days or so of instruction. When so much of the emphasis is on test prep and standards based instruction, then comes the question to ALL teachers after the standards test: “What now.” There are many things to teach once the CST is over for the year. Regular, district curriculum is still required and of course a balance of these things is in order throughout the year. Having said that, as academic instruction continues it can be a good idea to something like a field trip to the public library. This is a great way to get the kids a tour of “academia.” While most searching these days is done on the internet, the library remains an incredible resource the kids should know about. There are so many other things you can teach and do with your class after the CST.

Teaching kids music has a proven effect of increased academic performance. Get some Disney music or other choir based music and teach them to sing. You don’t have to be great at it yourself. Some of the old songs like “Davey Crockett” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” have historical content that you can teach across the curriculum with history. If you have access to musical instruments, take some time to expose them to those. Art or course has value. One type I like to explore with my kids each year is “rip art.” The kids come up with truly talented work when we try it. As you work more art, music, sports, etc. (stuff outside of Language arts and Math) I think you will find ways to embed the academic standards into these areas. Life included academics but that is not all there is to life. Teach them about jobs and nutrition, all the while bringing in what you have taught them in the content standards. The Sky’s the limit. I think it’s a great idea to continue imparting eclectic knowledge after the standards test. It can even be helpful and inspiring to try subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. In time, I hope teachers will be encouraged to teach and be tested more on topics outside of standardized testing. Now for your input: What do you teach after the test?

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!)

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”

Proximity and Presentation in Lesson Plans

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the physical proximity and presentation of our lessons.

Teaching can never be described as a simple endeavor. Planning lessons is a challenge that will always stupefy the greatest teaching minds. That doesn’t mean we give up though! Humility is a necessary ingredient in the dynamite teacher. If we ever reach a mental place where we feel we “have it wired” I think we will never reach our potential as educators. Through difficulty and yes, failure, we become great. Anyone who tells you failure isn’t a requisite for teaching greatness is not a great teacher in my opinion.

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the proximity and presentation of our lessons. Take this idea for example: say you have delivered guided practice to your class on a math topic for nearly 2 hours and you still do not see 80% accuracy in the kids. You might be tempted to blame them or even still yourself for not getting the lesson out in an effective manner. Quick, simple question:

“Where do you stand?”

Could it be possible the kids couldn’t see your numbers as you wrote them on the board? Could it be possible your glorious “steps” you created and taught were hidden from the students because the screen turns snow-blind at a given angle? Perhaps you should take the time to test and measure the proximity and presentation of your lesson before you begin. No time teaching kids is ever wasted.  However, you can make the most of your time by deciding the answers to some of these questions before, during, and after your lessons:

  • Can every seat see me and the content I am presenting? You might go to every seat with your content on the overhead to test this. Or, you might ask a colleague to pop in and test your visibility
  • Where do you stand? You should know the blind spots you create with your body and/or writing hand.
  • Is the overhead or document camera a better tool than standing at the board for the content you are delivering?
  • Are your visuals big enough for the back to see.

After you have addressed question like these, you are more likely to produce a dynamite lesson.  But don’t stop there. If you find yourself puzzled as to why kids aren’t getting it, you don’t have to wear yourself out asking questions like background checks for employment. Simply use proximity and presentation as a way to troubleshoot and pinpoint issues holding your teaching back. The reason you aren’t reaching all your kids may very well lay in the question: “Where do you stand?”