The TCL Blog

Student Perspectives on Remote Education

I get tired of having conversations about masks. I got a cool one with the Chicago Cubs emblem that fills me with pride, I wear it everywhere and I feel responsible about it. But the discussion is stale. It's as riveting as a weather review in mid-August or late February. I want to talk about something interesting. My suspicion is that all you teachers are exhausted planning and thinking about online learning, let alone discussing it with EVERYONE. My understanding of the parent perspective is not lacking either. It's a tough scenario. And as I was just realizing this it dawned on me that I haven't heard from students. Is it as much a drag for the kids I know? Are there silver linings, other than the enticement of skipping the tablet conference and building a mud pit in their Dad's prize garden?

With this idea in mind I went shopping for bribes (sugar!) and set them down in front of my niece and nephews with the condition that they answered my questions about their learning experiences last spring and to date early in this first quarter. The insights proved interesting.

Some useful data:

Shiloh - 12 years old, seventh grade

Lorenzo - 10 years old, fifth grade

Tristan - 10 years old, fifth grade

Rosco - 9 years old, fourth grade

What do you think of online learning?

Lorenzo: It's ok, but I wish I could see my friends. I like it because it's not as boring as class, and it's a little easier.

Shiloh: It's better this fall than last spring. There is more teaching and learning this year; it's more structured and organized and I know what I'm supposed to do.

Rosco: I haven't decided.

Tristan: I don't really like it. No friends, no recess and I'm stuck at home. 

We discussed recess at this point. In my head recess is about playing, but Tristan pointed out that recess is a time to convene with his favorite confidants and review school and social life. They don't just get their physical energy out but also exercise their social needs. We discussed the possibility of virtual recess for that emotional purpose. I revisited this with Shiloh and apparently she and her best friend keep a separate GoogleDoc open to discuss happenings on the side. Kids are so tech-savvy.

What is the hardest part?

Shiloh: The live classroom setting is much more controllable. Everyone is aware of the issues with focus, but cheating is also common. I don't cheat though.

Tristan: Signing in and keeping track of the schedule. My schedule changes every day and it's written on a piece of paper and sometimes I can't get into the meeting or I forget which meeting I am supposed to join. If I come in a few minutes late I have no way of catching up.

Lorenzo: I get lost sometimes - maybe I lose internet. The teacher has to give us permission to re-enter and I try to catch up but they can't stop and review what I just missed.

What is the best part?

Rosco: I'm not at school (mischievous grin).

Tristan: I have a thirty minute lunch break and I get to watch TV!

Shiloh: I love being in my own room. My room is comfortable and I have all my things and the comfort helps me to focus.

(I thought of this next question because Mr. Pearson, my sophomore chemistry teacher, sat in the same old chair and wrote mundane equations on the same grubby transparency sheet in the same monotonous voice day in and day out for all the years leading to his retirement. He was an exceptionally kind man in a conversation but his colorless teaching style did not incite my love of chemistry. I know this was commonplace in 1996 and for fifty years leading up to it, and after two years of interviews and discussion with modern educators I recognize the style is all but obsolete.)

Do your teachers have methods for making online learning fun and engaging?

Tristan: We have not yet played games but we have discussed ideas and plan to play them soon.

Lorenzo: We have been playing Classcraft. We divide into teams of 4 or 5 for the whole term, some students are healers and some are warriors. We get action points for correct team answers and tally them up to see how our teams and characters progress through the story. It's really fun.

Rosco: My teacher often starts with "Zoom around the room." They say "find something blue" or "find something square" and we get up in our room and find it. This is an active way to get our brains working, and it's fun.

Shiloh: Ms. Provinsal asks a thought generator question to loosen us up and start our brains - like "Everyone tell me your favorite movie."

I looked up Classcraft. I've been pretty curious about gamification for learning. From their home page:

"By enabling educators to use common gaming mechanics in their instruction, Classcraft helps their students see meaning in school and develop the competencies to become better learners. Classcraft's features are all connected to developing different facets of intrinsic motivation and as such, are extremely effective at driving engagement. In fact, one study by UNC Charlotte showed student participation in online classes increasing from 53% to 97%."

Is it getting easier as the quarter progresses?

Rosco: Definitely!!

Tristan: It hasn't changed. It was difficult last year, it's difficult this year and it's not as good as being in school.

Lorenzo: Entering the fourth week it is finally getting easier. I'm starting to flow through it with less problems.

Shiloh: Now that I'm used to the format and schedule it's much easier.

Do you have any advice for teachers?

...crickets...truly...all four.

At this point I mentioned that their teachers would be unlikely to read this article, and they wouldn't be getting into trouble. It's not that I thought they would pour out their unfavorable reviews, but I was surprised at the utter lack of suggestion to this open question. Everyone is trying their hardest, but most of you must believe that you could be more effective in a classroom, and you probably critique yourselves. Does the fact that none of them could formulate an encouraging suggestion or reveal a tip from their own experiences mean that their teachers are nailing it? Does it imply that teachers are (at least by middle schoolers) always received as authoritatively correct in their delivery methods? Or have they never thought of how their learning might benefit from something different than what they have? I haven't found my opinion; it's just really interesting.

How many teachers do you have this term?

Tristan: I have four teachers - music, writing, P.E. and one for all the other subjects.

Lorenzo: Four, one each for music, library and P.E. and one for the basic subjects.

Shiloh: I have a music and a P.E. teacher and then our grade has two teachers working as a team dividing the rest between them. (This is atypical at Shiloh's school but they decided to split up the subjects to be more effective. It has to be easier and more practical.)

How do you do P.E.?

In preparation for this interview I wondered how it could possibly work. I did P90X and online yoga a few times, but two of the most integral concepts instilled in gym class are team play and group effort to achieve a common goal. That's basically impossible online I think. I wondered if you just do jumping jacks and squats on screen.

Rosco: Our PE teacher assigns an activity to do out of class or we do exercise vidoes, usually dancing.

Tristan: She assigns activities to complete off-screen.

Lorenzo: We watch videos and copy the moves, and we do burpees. I like it.

Shiloh: We did some jumping jacks the first week but I haven't had the class this week. I don't know what it'll be like.

I don't want to proclaim that I was right, but it does sound like a curriculum that's really difficult to optimize online. Any P.E. teachers reading that have some great ideas to share (comments at the bottom)?

Which subject is the most difficult to learn online?

Tristan: Social Studies!! It's still boring and it's still hard whether in school or online.

Shiloh: They're all about the same. I'm interested to see about P.E. because we have no equipment to use.

Lorenzo: Following along is difficult with any of the heavier subjects.

Rosco: Math - it's even more boring now...

Do you have an on-screen avatar?

I had seen a few articles about personalizing your online avatar and background. I thought it was a pretty cool idea.

Shiloh: Some of the students have one, but only because they don't have a camera on their computer.

Lorenzo: We can only change the background but no avatar because the teacher has to see us to know we are paying attention to the screen.

Rosco: Mine is my Roblox BokuNo character.

Notable details:

There are four kids in the house (obviously) in four rooms and rule number one is that THE DOORS SHOULD BE CLOSED. They've tried the living room or the dining table with multiple students on multiple machines and it does not work.

Headphones are a MUST. Outside noise is too distracting to hear and stay on task so they all use headphones. Shiloh said the ear pods start to hurt after awhile so she switched to ear cups. Good tip.


People always say kids are resilient. I'm not there every night asking them how the day went or what they're learning or being completely lost with an assignment because the instruction didn't prepare them for that specific homework lesson; but it sounds to me like they're all adapting. So yeah, they miss their friends, it's still a shock to everyone, and it's not as easy as it once was for all involved. But learning persists. Parents, teachers and kids are all being forced to grasp new skills and adjust to new concepts. And just imagine how grateful everyone will be once things go back to "normal". Instead of "I had to walk to school barefoot uphill in the snow" this generation will tell their grandkids "I had to do school from my room on a tablet."

In the spring excuses, justifiably, abounded. It was triage. Faculty has now had time to prepare, they've had the break to brush up on weaknesses and the parents and kids knew this was coming. Of course I can't speak for everyone but these four kids are doing a good job of it. They aren't running outside to dig a mud pit or drinking two liters of Sprite before class.

There are gaps. Some things must be done in-person for sufficient results. I can learn how to change my spark plugs from a YouTube video but nothing beats hands-on instruction with a seasoned mechanic at my side. The core curriculum and standards of learning can be met, albeit with added struggle. But social and emotional learning will suffer greatly. Detachment might be the greatest concern. How are you going to reach students without adequate support at home, or without connectivity? I've spoken to so many teachers and am always inspired by their caring disposition for each kid and I recognize the inability to reach the ones needing the most help will be brutal. Community will be more important than ever for the next little while. Maybe I'll explore ways to contribute to mine.

Classroom Calendar Connections: September 2020


Resource Roundup for the Virtual Classroom

Normally I would be writing about activities and resources to incorporate into your teaching practices about Labor Day, 9/11, the first day of fall, and/or other significant events associated with September (as I did l in this blog post from September 2019). However, it is 2020, and with so many educators and students getting prepared for online teaching and learning, I decided to unofficially deem September as National Virtual Classroom Month!

In honor of this newborn holiday, I gathered several valuable resources for your reference – topics include: building relationships online, supporting English learners and students with special needs, co-teaching in a virtual classroom, designing accessible online assignments, and utilizing clever technology gadgets. 



A Meeting of (the Great) Minds –
My son (top left) and his friends discovered they all have
 the exact same headphones during a recent Zoom session.


How do we build relationships in the virtual classroom? The educator featured in this video focuses on social and emotional learning by having her students create personalized digital bulletin boards using Padlet and by encouraging her students to perform random acts of kindness to foster relationships with and among her students.

Collaborative Learning
The physical classroom provides ample opportunities for small group collaborative learning and problem-solving, but what about the virtual classroom? From pairing compatible technology tools to “distant socializing” discover 13 ideas for facilitating productive and meaningful breakout rooms using Zoom in this article.

Special Education
This Edutopia article includes the input and survey results of nearly 100 educators across 30 school districts regarding what they learned about (and how to improve) distance learning -specifically with students with IEPs. Educators offered insights on enhancing parent engagement, synchronous instructional strategies, and asynchronous strategies for students across grade levels.

Special education teachers weighed in on their favorite apps and assistive technology tools to support the needs of their students while learning from home. Check out the list of their valuable suggestions here. And, from toddlers to youth transitioning to adulthood, PACER Center offers helpful COVID-19 and distance learning resources for students with disabilities and their families.

The author of this article shares tried and true ways of effectively partnering with a co-teacher in the online environment to make learning inclusive for all students. 

Accessible Online Assignments
The focus of this article includes important considerations for designing online assignments accessible for all students based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

English Learners
In his 7-minute video, high school teacher, Larry Ferlazzo, shares insightful tips for virtual instruction with English learners. (I outlined his tips below for your reference but be sure to watch his video as he goes into further detail about useful strategies to implement in your own virtual classroom.

  1. Incorporate student choice in curriculum subjects and independent activities.
  2. Incorporate synchronous teaching - keep it short and simple.
  3. Incorporate FUN with your students.
  4. Offer time for students to connect with each other.
  5. Connect with parents as much as possible.
  6. Set up one-on-one meetings with your students – include a focus on their social/emotional health.
  7. Try your best.


Last, but not least, my fellow TCL bloggers recently wrote these informative articles to help make virtual teaching and learning successful and engaging for you and your students. 


As you know, virtual instruction (during a global pandemic) presents challenges and opportunities. As you navigate your own virtual classroom, remember to give yourself (and your students) grace as we all continue to learn and adapt. 

Please share your own ideas and resources for taking part in National Virtual Classroom Month!

Engaging Online Learners through Gamification


Ok folks, here we are. I haven't taken the time to verify every state and district, but for the most part you can expect to begin the 2020-2021 school year teaching partially or fully online. Let's have a round of grumbles and then get down to planning. To be fair there probably is a faction that prefers this delivery model, and there is likely another faction that's more astute teaching virtually. But many are still feeling imperfect and most are probably hoping to be more prepared than last time. And honestly how could you expect otherwise - that was a shock to everyone.

A few common pain points regarding online teaching are clear:

  1. Distractions abound
  2. Engagement is less than optimal
  3. Follow-up often falls short

If we bind all three together the question becomes "how do we keep our students engaged in learning when we have lost the unifying focus of the classroom environment on which we have relied our entire lives?" I'm most impressed with gamification.



My Mom is not bashful about her abilities as an animal trainer. She began with horses at eleven years old and was perfecting her communication with dogs not long after. Every animal trainer implements a unique style, as does every teacher, because essentially they are the same thing. Mom is pretty forceful, sometimes tyrannical. She lets the horse or dog know that she's the boss, but this is acceptable because the animal's happiness is her ultimate goal and she simply follows the straightest path. One of her most essential tactics is gamification. Her horses play soccer, riders abreast, with a big inflatable ball. They love the game "Touch It" where you ask them to touch an object on the ground with nose or hoof. The dogs play "Touch It" but with added specificity: "touch the wrench", "touch the glove", "touch the shoe" or whatever is around. Many dogs love obstacle courses (this video is halirious BTW), other dogs love Flyball. The game keeps the animal's interest while solidifying learning - in these cases they are learning to listen to and understand the human partner. Using games as a method for engagement is great for kids too. Making learning a fun challenge beats rote memorization and repetition anyday.



Most of you are probably familiar with the online educational game-building site Baamboozle. It's pretty awesome. You can play the games organized in the library on the home page, or you can register for free and start creating games. Here's a helpful video introduction. In order to utilize this tool for remote learning you'll have to start a Zoom session with your students, then screencast the game from your computer. Organize the participants into groups and orchestrate the game precisely as you would in class.

This isn't a revolutionary idea and it's not a game changer by itself. Students are more likely to be involved if competition and reward are involved, but it's the design of the game that maximizes results. Best game design requires an optimal blend of content and inclusion of extrinsic rewards and intrinsic needs to foster best engagement and results. In other words, it takes some effort and creativity to make it fun, interactive, rewarding and effective at once. How can you improve at this (other than trial and error)? We found some good research.



We introduced SSRN in an earlier blog article, and still can not say enough about its utility. When hunting for good research there have traditionally been so many problems, from unreliable information to lack of centrality to limitation of topic. Here's another great paper from SSRN on gamification in online learning:

Fostering Engagement with Gamification: Review of Current Practices on Online Learning Platforms by Hansch, Newman & Schildhauer - 2015

"We examined the relevant literature on gamification in online learning, reviewed ten platforms and conducted four in-depth case studies to better understand both the status quo and the possible directions the field of gamified online learning might be heading." (Hansch, Newman & Schildhauer)

The paper includes overview, findings and quantitative data. Some of the more helpful points include:

  • "Gamification takes advantage of a spectrum of motivations by combining extrinsic rewards such as levels, points, and badges to boost engagement while simultaneously aiming to appeal to the intrinsic needs of achieving mastery, autonomy, and a sense of belonging"
  • "An additional concept that is discussed frequently in the literature on gamification is Csikszentmihalyi’s (1991) concept of flow. The flow state (also known as being ‘in the zone’) is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where people are fully immersed in what they are doing. Achieving this flow state is dependent on finding the ideal balance between the difficulty of a task and the skills required for the activity"
  • "Maximizing gamification’s potential in a learning context and integrating it in a meaningful way requires a careful instructional design guided by clear objectives."
  • "Structural gamification involves overlaying game elements to an existing structure to propel the learner through content without changing the content itself (e.g. by gaining points for watching a video). By contrast, content gamification entails the application of game thinking from the very beginning in order to alter the content to make it more game-like (e.g. by adding a storyline that leads learners on a journey through the content)."
  • "The most common gamification mechanics currently used on the platforms are personal feedback, rewards and progress tracking."
  • "We found in our case studies that gamification in online learning can be conceptualized as two dimensions: personal and social. The personal sphere of gamification refers to the individual learner’s experience and comprises game mechanics for personal feedback, progressive rewards (e.g. points and levels) and progress tracking (e.g. progress bars). The social sphere of gamification, on the other hand, describes the part of the online learning experience that is shared with other learners and interactive in nature. Relevant gamification elements used here include the ability to follow each other’s learning progress, upvoting other students’ posts in discussion forums and unlocking special privileges through gaining reputation points in the community."


Conclusion: Embrace gamification as an engagement method for remote learning. Begin by outlining objectives, then organizing content, then developing a game style, then by adding extrinsic rewards, and finally by offering social involvement in the form of student feedback.

We would love to hear from everyone about any successes and struggles you've had with game creation and use in your classroom and we can post it here!

Classroom Calendar Connections – August 2020


First as a student, then as a teacher, and now as a parent, I have experienced some level of “August anxiety” every year as summer winds down and a new school year begins. (In this blog post from our 2018 archives, I interviewed a veteran school psychologist who shared valuable insights about back-to-school anxiety.) 

This year, the month of August combined with the pandemic, has me reaching even deeper into my toolbox for coping strategies to manage the stress and anxiety associated with this upcoming unprecedented school year. Outlined below are a few of my tools that are getting a lot of use lately.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is a tool that I take with me wherever I go. The technique basically involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 8 seconds. I repeat the steps 3-5 times and almost always feel more balanced and calmer within moments.

Distract Yourself.
Distraction can be a good thing, especially when it takes our attention away from anxious and stressful thoughts and feelings. The key is to identify one or more satisfying activities that sustain your attention and can be repeated on a regular basis. For example, call a friend, listen to music, work in the garden, read a book, or take your dog for a walk. My go-to distraction activities lately are pulling weeds from my garden (an endless task, yet oddly rewarding for me) and doing simple artwork with my sons. I’m always amazed at how refocused and refreshed I feel after distracting myself. This article goes into further detail about how distraction helps to ease anxiety.

Be Mindful.
Providing a plethora of valuable tools and articles, the website is my new favorite resource. For example, I appreciate the guided meditation practices for all ages, including children and teenagers. And, the author of this article teaches us how to strengthen resilience with self-compassion exercises.

Interact with Nature.
According to the results of this study, simply and mindfully spending 20-30 minutes in nature will significantly lower stress hormone levels (as if we needed another reason to love the great outdoors!) As John Muir stated, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” For me, spending time outside often leads to a clear mind, a good night’s sleep, and feeling refreshed in the morning. Not an outdoor enthusiast? A different study suggests just listening to simulated nature sounds and looking at pictures of natural scenery while indoors can have similar benefits.

Know when to ask for help.
Finally, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seek professional medical attention if stress interferes with your daily activities for several days in a row, and get immediate help in a crisis. Your mental health deserves as much attention as your physical health. 


I hope these tools provide you with some relief as you prepare for what is going to be another historic school year. What tools have you been reaching for?

What is mindfulness for you?


Can you remember the last time we patted ourselves on the back as a country? Not something like "Hooray, an American won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest" (he ate 75 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes last Saturday, ugghh), but when was the last time media, mainstream or social, reported that most Americans are happy and collectively pleased with our status, or the same data for the world? How is it that I feel great about life 30 out of 31 days while our national demeanor is cast in a dim light every morning on every device? 

I just don't work effectively with an unenthusiastic mindset. There's a big difference between burying my head in the sand and choosing to focus on positives. Last time I updated my phone software it began automatically summarizing "the news" for me. I had to turn that off because days were kicking off in turmoil and frustration. I recognize the significance of our national conversations on public health, politics and racial inequality, but I can't survive if I spend all my time on critique and cynicism. I prefer to concentrate on positive solutions and constructive praise.

The constant distractions and pessimisms in our world can be crushing, and it's a collective sum. Not only do you have to set aside personal pressures and stressors to achieve success as a teacher but you have to help your pupils through the same process. This year, more than most, offers impactful frustrations: public anxiety, social segregation, cultural unrest. You have to learn to filter through all the interference and set your focus, to be mindful of your purpose. 

In Mindfulness in Plain English Bhante Gunaratana says "Meditation is intended to purify the mind. It cleanses the thought process of what can be called psychic irritants, things like greed, hatred, and jealousy, which keep you snarled up in emotional bondage. Meditation brings the mind to a state of tranquility and awareness, a state of concentration and insight." I agree and take this to define meditation as a way to cast off distraction and focus on priority.

Western culture is lately embracing meditation more than ever so you probably have your definition solidified, but it can take many forms. My mother's highest form of meditation is working with horses. Horses speak a language that humans began to shift away from when we learned to talk, but which is still imprinted in our subconcious. Speaking this language with horses helps her to recognize the futility of human distress.

As a long-time student of martial arts I'm familiar with the more traditional practices of meditation - breathing, finding stillness, clearing mental debris and designating intention. But I also meditate through creativity with my hands. I like to build things out of any, or many, materials; the processes of imagination and physical creation.

What is meditation to you?

Again from the book, "The purpose of meditation is personal transformation. The 'you' that goes in on one side of the meditation experience is not the same 'you' that comes out the other side. Meditation changes your character by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Your mind becomes still and calm. And your life smoothes out."

In the simplest sense meditation is an exercise of mind. The same way we exercise our muscles and stretch our tendons we need to work out our cognitive muscles. Particularly in an era of information overload and, in my opinion, deficiency of optimistm. If we take a quarter the time spent on distraction and criticism and alott it instead for personal, mindful growth improvements will abound.

But most of you are very familiar with this concept for yourselves. What you may find more useful is an in-depth exploration of research-based techniques and guidance on establishing these paractices in your classroom for yourself and your students. Brief and effective daily habits to clear the learning obstructions and set a focus will magnify your efforts.

Try our course in Self-paced or Structured online formats with Steve Novak or John Adams as your guide. You will be thrilled with the ramifications.

Mindfulness in the 21st Century Classroom

Teacher Appreciation Year


My brother has four kids, they are all between nine and thirteen, and I think he's going crazy having them home every day. He loves them of course, and gratitude for all the extra time together is given often, but he and his wife both manage businesses and balance home life. Staying on top of four pre-teens and their remote learning isn't something they expected. There are six or seven families on their block outside of town with similarly aged kids and if school does not resume on campus next fall they're planning to build a little classroom and hire a full-time teacher. I think this is a brilliant idea for the kids, for the teacher and for the parents' own productivity.

Our society stacks houses of cards upon houses of cards and that's easy to forget most of the time. It's really great to have occasional reminders. I'll explain. In my late-twenties I was teaching aviation one-on-one and I noticed pretty quickly that secondary and college students have more limber minds. They're so practiced at learning and retaining new things and they can absorb at a much quicker pace. Watching adults dive into new studies magnifies the disparity. As we continue in life most of us specialize into a more limited range of topics and without regular exercise our brains lose their versatility and strength as a muscle. Accountants are typically smarter about finances and tax law than almost everyone but they might steadily lose any chemistry prowess previously possessed. More broadly, they continue to improve at research and comprehension of regulatory code but deteriorate in the dexterity of theoretical testing. Conversely, particle physicists understand more about the design of and postulation about the physical universe than anyone but they are less likely to be adept carpenters. As we specialize in fewer disciplines those cognitive skills intensify while the rest fade into decrepitude.

I'm saying that professional educators excel at strengthening versatile cognitive abilities. If you teach second grade you have more experience than any parent helping individual learners to recognize letters, group them into meaningful words and discern sentences. You can help your students develop contextual understanding, practice personal relation to content and evolve individual expression. Parents don't spend nearly as much time teaching those skills to second graders as you do. Firstly, the average parent, according to US Census data, will only have 1.9 second graders to whom to teach reading in their lifetime; that's a pretty small sample size. Secondly, it's your job, and doing your job allows parents to do their job, whether it be accounting, chemistry, particle physics or carpentry.

Your amputation as a teacher affects your ability to effectively educate, which in turn affects student learning, which eventually impedes parents' efficiency in their daily lives. We are a less efficient society. Happy Teacher Appreciation Year!

Do I have any idea what will be the long-term results of this? No. I can only theorize on liklihoods:

  • Education will take a giant technological leap
  • Students will experience an historical anomoly (we hope it's as beneficial as detrimental)
  • Parents will be forced to revitalize their teaching muscle
  • We will all acknowledge the immeasurable value of organized education
  • Perhaps we will all be stronger and smarter for it

What are some goals we can set in order to take advantage of this anomoly? There are the obvious ones:

  • Keep advancing the learning
  • Don't fall into social and economic disaster

Then there are more obscure objectives:

  • Re-evaluate distance learning and hybridize its strengths with our classic model
  • Take advantage of the situation - let children learn via outside-the-classroom tasks
  • Recognize this break from tradition as a transformation - improve your teaching style

I only meant to tell you all that America is now realizing how much we rely on you for our childrens' advancement but also for our own daily efficiency, but then I got onto a positive spin tangent:) This lesson will endure, I think. We want to join the team and the movement to build the best possible version of education. We continue to consider your thoughts and feedback at

Classroom Calendar Connections - July 2020


Happy 244th Birthday, America! Provided below are several resources and activities that can be shared with students throughout the month to celebrate our nation and to learn more about the significance of the Fourth of July.

Independence, Illinois; Independence, Wisconsin; Point Independence, Massachusetts; West Independence, Ohio…In the United States, there are at least 30 cities and towns that include the word “Independence” in their names. (I’m guessing they have some of the best Fourth of July celebrations in the country.) But there’s also Freedom, Pennsylvania; Lincoln, Nebraska, along with 11 other cities with patriotic names you can read about in this article.

For our youngest learners, Sesame Street is always a big hit. This short video (starring Grover) provides a very brief overview of the challenges associated with drafting the Declaration of Independence with a focus on rhyming.

Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July? Why was the Declaration of Independence written? What is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? This engaging video answers these questions and provides additional interesting facts in kid-friendly language.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
-Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Fireworks and Independence Day go hand-in-hand. Quantum physics, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, and other seemingly complicated topics are brilliantly explained in this fascinating Khan Academy video featuring the science and history of fireworks. (And, when it comes to fireworks, remember – safety first!)

Have students in upper grades listen carefully to the popular and catchy song, “Firework” by Katy Perry to identify, label, and explain the types of figurative language and poetic devices used in the song lyrics. Examples might include metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, and rhyme. Download this chart for students to record and organize their work.

Add a little sparkle to your students’ math work with these Independence Day-themed math worksheets for grades 1-5. For older students, challenge them to use their graphing calculators to make a spectacular fireworks display.

Image Credit:


This patriotic-themed paper is perfect for writing letters of appreciation and support to military personnel. A Million Thanks collects and distributes millions of letters to active, reserve, and veteran military. And, encourage students at all grade levels to reflect on the holiday with these journal-writing prompts. Examples include:

  • My family’s Fourth of July traditions…
  • I am thankful to live in America because…
  • If I could visit any historical American site, it would be…
  • In 20 years, I think America will be…
  • What would the Founding Fathers think of America today?


Please share your own suggestions for celebrating and learning with students. Have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable Fourth of July, Educators!



Facilitation of Successful Online Learning Experiences: Pointers, Tips & Tricks


We are all dealing with difficult times in our day-to-day teaching. We’re working harder than before to bring meaningful lessons to life and making sure students are staying engaged and progressing through this unprecedented situation. But let's face it - now that we have done this and as we enter the final weeks of the year many of us recognize the value in incorporating virtual teaching in the future on a full- or part-time basis. With this fall’s format yet undetermined, we could be teaching virtually for a while. So let's look at a few pointers, tips, and tricks to making a virtual classroom a wildly successful classroom.  


A few things before jumping into your classroom:

Online environment setup

Make sure you schedule your time appropriately for your students. Take into account your students’ needs and lives as well. Ask yourself “do my students have siblings that might also be learning online, is the class being held too early or too late in the day, and how long should my class really be?” You can never create a perfect schedule for every student, but when you get frustrated that a couple students never seem to be online, maybe it is for one of these reasons.

You’ve all heard this before but it is ignored so often: be certain that you have an organized and quiet place to teach. As the teacher you will probably never be on mute so students will hear everything transpiring in your space. Also consider your surroundings. You might think sitting at your kitchen table is ideal as that’s where you are comfortable but keep in mind which way your computer faces. Are you in front of a window that causes focus and lighting issues, do you have a big open space behind you where someone can walk through inadvertently while you teach or do you have a pet that might interrupt your class? It may seem harmless but if you’re teaching young students an active pet will always distract them from the lesson. Neither are adults immune to cuteness - the cuter the pet the less work will be done once they become the focus.

Have a method for taking attendance. You’ll know who was in your class and who was absent. There are several available methods and you should find what is best for you. For example, there is a Google Meet add-on called Chrome Meet Attendance extension, by, that takes attendance automatically for you. I also encourage you to regularly check in with everyone. Be it a thumbs up, another attendance check or something else, you don’t want students to develop the habit of logging in then dropping out as soon as attendance is taken. There are apps and extensions out there that make it appear as if they are on when they have in fact left. A physical check-in like camera checks or another attendance check might be needed.


Considerations for the teaching session:

Efficient time use

Teaching your regular school day you have students anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes.  But is this how long you should be teaching them online? The answer should be no. You might schedule 45-60 minutes for class but you shouldn’t be teaching that long. Think about your normal day of teaching, do you teach for 45 minutes straight? And if you answer yes to this and you are not a college professor please think about this more. If you subscribe to the gradual release model of teaching you really should not be giving direct instruction for any more than 10-15 minutes in most cases. In the gradual release model this is the “I do”. Make sure you incorporate the “We do” in your classes. 

You might need more “We do” teaching remotely than in-person to ensure that everyone is grasping the lesson objectives. Use online platforms such as Padlet, SMART Learning Suite Online, Jamboard, or Twiddla to enable questions and answers, group work or sharing of ideas. This way your students can move on to “You do” as you monitor progress online and they can source you for questions.You shouldn’t need to teach the whole time. It can easily burn out your students, particularly if they have multiple online classes scheduled for the day.

It’s also incredibly valuable to post expectations and goals for the day, as you would in person.  Post them early so students know what to expect. Just like furnishment of an agenda ahead of a staff meeting, students like to know what they will be doing for the day.



Help your students feel safe

Make sure you have support in place to assure your students feel safe attending your online classes as you would in your normal classroom. Set up guidelines for sharing ideas, answering and asking questions. Be sure students feel it is okay to ask questions and inform them that if there is a private channel in place, whether a follow-up call or private message so students can get the help they need. Don’t let a few students dominate or intimidate your classroom. If possible make sure that students, if they feel obliged, have access to and are encouraged to change their backgrounds to their video stream. In Zoom this is built-in while in Google Meet you need to install a second program like Snap Camera to enable this function. Some students are embarrassed by their surroundings which can weigh heavily.  Give them the ability to use virtual backgrounds so they can hide everything but themselves. This also offers some personal expression, which bolsters comfort. 




Implement learning options for absent students

There are many reasons why a student may be unable to attend class. You need to have a method in place for those students to learn. The simplest option is to record your class. But some districts do have issues with this based on privacy or other board policies. If you can’t record, use a program such as Screencastify or Screencast-o-matic to record the “I do” part of the lesson. Absent students can watch the lesson later, all students can review the lesson, or even a parent looking to help their child can partake.  

I would also encourage additional office hours during the day. If you’re teaching classes in the morning, offer early afternoon time for students to check back in with you if they generate questions. Be available for study sessions, Q&A hour, or however you want to structure it. There will be questions and you should engage while the learning is fresh in their minds rather than the following day or later in the week.




Focus on fun

Plan some non-traditional learning experiences to include while we move through this time. If we were in school teachers would be planning field trips and end of year fun activities; why can’t you do that now? Work with a location where you would have taken a field trip such as the zoo, aquarium or a museum. Many of these places have staff on-hand that facilitate virtual field trips regularly, and now more than ever you might get even more access to locations without visitors with whom to contend. This is a great time to connect with an author, scientist, inventor, business person or another professional relevant to curriculum. With many of them stuck at home they too are opening their doors to talk with students.

Here’s a link to 25+ Virtual Field Trip - Spring 2020 from

If you are serious about conception of online field trips you can try TCL's How to Create a Virtual Field Trip course and earn 15 hours toward your certificate renewal.

Personal Space and Time

Even though you should make time for some follow-up office hours, remember your own health and well-being. Don’t respond to student and parent emails at 10PM, because if you do they will expect it all the time. Set boundaries for yourself as to when you will respond to emails or phone calls. If you go outside of your normal routine that then might become your normal routine.

Set time limits for yourself throughout the day when planning. Make sure you allot time between classes if you are teaching multiple times in a day. You need to be able to walk away from the computer screen and stretch, give your eyes some rest from looking at the screen, and remember you are at home where you can take a restroom break. Like your students, this is a stressful time for educators also and you ought to take care of yourself.



Looking ahead

We have no idea what the fall and winter might hold for us, but it remains that education has forever changed due to this crisis. Virtual learning is here; expect it to stay. It may not persist on a daily basis but as universities move to more online classes and as schools prepare for students being in the classroom less often, we need to look at tips and tricks for making virtual learning effective for all students. These are just some of the tips that have made my experience during this time successful and I hope they work for you as well.

Classroom Calendar Connections – June 2020


The Summer Solstice

Welcome to summer! Although there have been many disappointing cancellations in 2020, one thing is for certain - the solstice will still be held on Saturday, June 20 for everyone here on Earth. In the Northern Hemisphere, we will celebrate the start of summer-and the longest day of the year-as the North Pole is tilted closest to the sun. (The opposite occurs in the Southern Hemisphere where folks will be getting bundled up for winter.) This short PBS video provides an insightful demonstration of the location of Earth, relative to the sun, during the summer and winter solstice and the fall and spring equinox. 

Continue reading for ways to focus your and your students’ attention and learning toward the sun this month. (Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses!)


Last, but not least, take time to mindfully witness the beauty and power of a sunset (and/or a sunrise) this summer – it’s good for your mental and emotional well-being. Use the Old Farmer’s Almanac sun calculator to find out when the sun will rise and when the sun will set on any given day anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.

Happy Summer Solstice to you and your students!

My husband took this photo last week at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin.
(Believe it or not, the sunset was even more stunning in person.)

Co-Teaching with Mother Nature

“I hear a woodpecker.” “There’s another birch tree, Mommy.” “Look! I found a turkey feather, it’s soft.” These are a few examples of the many daily observations of my 5-year old son, Abe, that fill me with happiness and pride.

It’s been over two months since Abe’s beloved preschool physically closed and since then we've quickly become familiar with Zoom meetings three times per week. The teachers have been doing an amazing job of providing engaging online lessons (complete with different weekly themes) and supplemental learning materials for parents to implement between meetings. But it just doesn’t compare to the face-to-face instruction and peer interactions that the rich classroom environment provides.



Abe hanging in there during his weekly Zoom meeting with his wonderful speech/language therapist, Ms. Karen.

I have over 13 years of classroom teaching experience, but I am finding it to be more challenging to formally sit down and teach my own child than to teach other people’s children. During the first couple weeks of the school closures, I tried to force a “school” schedule on Abe (along with his 2-year old brother). Some days I felt like we were hitting all the learning standards, but most days my plans fell apart before 9:00 a.m. I soon tossed my broken color-coded schedule and the new flexibility allowed us to find our rhythm (while working around set online meetings and other obligations). 

Now that spring is officially here, a significant part of my son’s learning has involved the great outdoors - Mother Nature has become my new favorite co-teacher. Although we continue to work on an appropriate utensil grasp with a traditional pencil and paper, getting Abe to practice his writing skills is a smoother and more enjoyable process when we’re outside using sidewalk chalk or simply drawing with a stick in the dirt. We blow bubbles and fly kites on breezy days to learn about the cardinal directions and wind speeds. Abe will shout, “The bubbles are going to the Wild West where the cowboys are!” or “The bubbles are moving fast to the North Pole.” We also play a version of “I spy” to practice rhyming. For example: I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with bee (tree).

We take lots of sensory nature walks and talk about what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste along the way. We recently visited the Bjornson Education-Recreation Center in Menomonie, Wisconsin (near our home) where we explored the 400+ acre forest without any other humans in sight. We discovered animal tracks (deer and racoons) on the miles of nature trails, watched bumble bees pollinating wildflowers, identified birds and trees while discussing similarities and differences of the species, mindfully listened to the frogs, counted mushrooms, and noticed the variety of shapes, patterns, and colors that nature has to offer. 



Not unlike most kids, my children love to play in water, so we spent a lot of time along the picturesque spring-fed stream that runs through the forest. We collected rocks, pinecones, acorns, sticks, leaves, and other treasures to experiment with the concept of sink versus float. We also harvested fresh watercress – Abe will not eat anything green in our kitchen, but he miraculously tasted the watercress right on the spot. 



The curiosity, engagement, exploration, discovery, scientific thinking, problem-solving, sensory organization, motor development, and creativity that took place during our three hour visit to Bjornson far exceeded my learning expectations for Abe (no lesson plan nor schedule required). Overall, the adaptability, flexibility, and resiliency that both of my children (and so many other children worldwide) have demonstrated since the pandemic began has been impressive and inspiring. Our world has changed over the past several weeks, and so have my expectations of “normal”.

Finding your Identity through PBL


Part three of a three part series on The Community School, a PBL High School
Part 1: The Den & the Project
Part 2: The beautiful and fulfilling task of teaching project-based curriculum

David Goldbloom is fifteen and a 101 at The Community School, Spokane’s project-based curriculum high school. They don’t use the terms Freshman through Senior because those titles are so loaded up with positive and negative preconceptions. Thus David’s cohort are dubbed the 101’s, who spend a lot of time with the 201’s to institute a mentor/mentee dynamic.

My friend down the block, Cindy, is the principal and when I stopped in her yard (six feet away) at the end of a dog walk she was relaying her excitement about their first remotely administered project. On that ram-dash Monday when everyone was briefly briefed and sent home they elected to assign the new project Supporting a Community in Crisis. The faculty knew that preparation time for remote learning had been limited and they wanted to present a primer activity to transition into the new delivery method.


Supporting a Community in Crisis had a simple and useful premise, asking two questions:

  1. How have citizens been affected by and responded to crises in history?

  2. What kind of support can you, as an individual, provide?


If you remember from the first part of this series on TCS, their faculty designs, introduces, assesses and adjusts student-centered curriculum constantly to incorporate educational standards into real-life application and hands-on experience. The overall goal is to allow each student to drive their own learning and to engage in their community as they develop usable skills and knowledge. It works fantastically by the way.

This project garnered positive press and many of the other schools in the NewTech network adopted the concept for their programs. Cindy sent me this video of TCS teacher Nate Seaburg introducing the project. Cindy and David both tell me that Nate is reputable for his energy and entertainment value as well as his commitment to hands-on education.

David expressed the value of exploring historical crises in recognizing means to assist the community and also for the perspective on abnormal societal conditions. Sometimes things get weird and it’s good to remember that it does happen and we generally recover. As for his proposal, David and his friend are using Wix ( to develop a website providing details on all manner of COVID-19 fraud scenarios to avoid. I just discovered that someone fraudulently filed for unemployment on my behalf and that TCL received an affirmation letter to this extent; maybe I should’ve visited David’s website sooner.



I took this opportunity to interview David about his perspective on the TCS experience for the conclusion to this series. From the start he struck me as comfortable and talkative, so it surprised me that he mentioned his shyness just last September when he started the new school. As an eighth grader at an especially small religious school he was unaccustomed to large group settings. David said he never raised his hand and he preferred introversion. Some TCS students came to his school and sang its praises and he walked home and checked it out online. He really liked the idea of learning based around doing instead of exclusively listening. He loved the idea of applying learning in the real world. He mentioned this to his parents and they encouraged him to explore it.

Asked about his initial opinions of the school David noted two things specifically:

  1. The teachers offer trust in return for trust. “They began by trusting us to do the right thing rather than attempting to control everything we do.” Apparently one of their first assignments was to take their bus pass and go out into the community to “find resources.” First week of school, first year students and they tell them to leave campus to discover. When I asked what “resources” referred to he answered that part of the project was for each student to define the term: community services, free services, informative resources…

  2. David felt immediate inclusion into the student body. Everyone is different and not particularly cliquey, but each student feels welcome from the first day. Cindy had told me their sense of community is a major focus; it must be working.


We talked about Advisory. In fact, every time I’ve talked to anyone from TCS that term surfaced. Each student is assigned to a teacher for an advisory role for the duration of their attendance. I thought “oh yeah, home room,” but it’s much more than that. TCS is attempting to help students realize their goals and announce their aspirations while developing their skills, and their Advisor guides them through that process. 

David’s passion currently focuses on user-facing web-development, hence the motivation for his Supporting a Community in Crisis final project. If you get an email from David his digital signature at the bottom denotes “Councilor at Fandom” and I had to ask what that was. self-describes on their About page as “The fan-trusted source in entertainment, we provide a home to explore, contribute to, and celebrate the world of pop culture.” As a councilor David reviews submitted software applications to offer suggestions for improvement to developers. What I’m saying is: he doesn’t just play video games - he recognizes his desire to develop and he has actively engaged and begun experimenting. Plausibly he will be a talented developer before leaving high school, having a head start on someone just entering the IT field of study with college. Way to go David!



I’d really wanted the student perspective on project-based learning at TCS. Something had told me to save it for last because it’s the opinion bearing the most significance. No offense meant to David but I don’t believe Cindy cherry-picked the singular top-performing all star in an attempt to sway the results. Most of the students are as successful in cultivating their enthusiasms and identities at TCS, and they all get to do it in their own unique personal ways with educator guidance. The Community School exemplifies so many positive attributes:

  • Willingness to fail
  • Perpetual commitment to change and improvement
  • Inclusion
  • Community involvement
  • Individualism and collectivism in harmony


They also have the grades to validate their departure from tradition. And of course, they get an A++ from us.

Vocational Education in America


I left university after one year and spent the next six bartending while I figured out what direction to take in life. At one point I worked at this steakhosue in Portland and made a friend who was exceptionally artistic in a hands-on kind of way. He was working on a degree at the Oregon College of Art & Craft. Obviously a liberal college, OCAC provided the minimum of core academic classes like calculus and lit and concentrated primarily on material trades. Their four-year degree program cycled through seven media - metals, woods, ceramics, textiles, etc. I was envious of my friend Adam for having discovered such a college because after twelve years of traditional schooling funneling into university I had been utterly deflated at the prospect on arrival, and I would've thrived in a program like his at OCAC. Since graduating Adam has been building exceptionally beautiful decorative and functional art - boats, furniture, displays and structures.

I grew up in the shop making stuff with my family - birdhouses, stained glass, fences, outbuildings, cars. While I was learning math and English at school I was learning to make stuff with my hands at home. There were Career & Technical classes at my high school, I think, but no one I knew took them and we weren't ever asked if we might have interest. Those courses had an "alternative" brand, as if they were a secondary option for those who didn't make it in the primary subjects (I think this reputation is a huge hurdle for CTE).

OCAC closed last year after 112 years, having their final commencement in May. From the Board of Trustees:

"The path to closure was paved with years of restructuring, none of which could sufficiently eradicate the rising costs of running a private arts college in the 21st century. Since the most recent financial recession, it has been difficult to sustain our high level of academic programming in the arts and, unfortunately, we are not alone in this struggle."

It simply costs a lot more to teach hands-on skills than it does to teach curriculum out of a text book. This is why CTE programs become rarer - it's difficult to budget more per student for these programs, as mentioned in last September's feature on Steve Schank. But it seems like we've come to terms with the necessity for a skilled workmanship beginning in middle and high school and momentum is shifting back toward the center between vocational and acedemic curricula.

So for those of us not fighting to protect a CTE program, I wondered:

  • What does CTE encompass?
  • What is the status of vocational education?
  • What kind of CTE programs are evolving and how are they changing?
  • Beyond public wisdom, what does the data tell us about CTE in America?

What does CTE encompass?

I know what the acronym stands for but which subjects fall under its umbrella? National Center for Education Statistics categorizes CTE into:

  • Communications and Design
  • Health Care
  • Public Services
  • Consumer and Culinary Services
  • Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Marketing
  • Construction and Architecture
  • Repair and Transportation
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Computer and Information Sciences
  • Manufacturing
  • Business

What is the status of vocational education?

Since the publishing of A Nation at Risk in 1983, focus on and funding for high school education has shifted to academic subjects and consequently away from vocational training subjects. From 1990 to 2009 the number of vocational credits earned by high school graduates dropped 14%, or two-thirds of a year of vocational education, which coincides with a 32% drop in federal funding from the Perkins Act since 1985 (the largest funding source for vocational programs) (Hudson, 2013).

Again from Hudson, the following chart respresents change in CTE courses taken between 1990 and 2009 by percentage:

Overall a decrease of 3.3% in all occupational areas, but I am more surprised that Computer sciences decreased and agriculture increased. I'd have thought the opposite. Released in 2013, these are the most recent statistical analyses avilable at NCES CTE Statistics.

So funding has decreased as has CTE course-taking in some subjects but it increased in others. I think it's important to learn, or at least try, to make things with your hands and your mind. But with the evolution of artificial intelligence comes a diminished reliance on manual labor to achieve the same output, so perhaps a decrease in CTE focus is acceptable, so long as we never lose the skill sets. I think we can accept a reduction in CTE students so long as those students maximize depth of learning for their individual focus areas.

What kind of CTE programs are evolving and how are they changing?

I've had opportunity to learn about changes in education departing away from the committee-of-ten model toward student-centered learning. Does a comparable trend exist specific to vocational education programs?

STEM - I think we all know this one by now. Is the program and its focus effective?

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) assessment measures whether students are able to apply technology and engineering skills to real-life situations. TEL uses interactive scenario-based tasks to gauge what students know and can do. The most recent TEL assessment was given in 2018 to approximately 15,400 students in grade 8. Reults indicate that, as compared to 2014 reults, TEL scores and TEL participation increased. (

According to this U.S. News article, average math and science scores improved between 2000 and 2013, high school graduation rates increased along with STEM-related college program entry, particularly for women. It suggests that focus on STEM has been a positive start but requires further improvement, particularly relating to stricter standards.

Industry Partnerships - Success is evident in partnerships between industry employers and CTE programs to offer internships, guest speaking engagements, job shadowing, mentoring or career day participation. This article from ACTE online outlines options for industry-education partnerships resulting in recruitement of more qualified employees.

Hybrid Learning - While this paper highlights an adult-education program for small-scale sustainable farm design, the combination of online learning and practical experimentation in CTE fields of study creates a modern teaching model with endless possibilities.

Consensus: a departure from vocational to academic curriculum did occur beginning in 1983 but refocus on CTE has been successful and career-readiness courses will not be left behind as learning becomes student-centered and hybridizes online.

Beyond public wisdom what does the data tell us about the influence of CTE?

Vocational and CTE in American High Schools: the Value of Depth over Breadth

Kreisman and Stange find that:

Students positively sort into vocational courses - this suggests that vocational tracks are not a secondary option after academic failure but instead an attractive option to many students.

Upper-level vocational training results in average 2% wage premium while Introductory-level vocational training offers no wage gain - This indicates that early selection of and long-term commitment to vocational training results in occupationally relevant work force earning higher wages. This should be the goal.

These results suggest (a) policies limiting students' abilities to take vocational courses may not be welfare enhancing, and (b) the benefits of vocational coursework accrue to those who focus on depth over breadth (Kreisman & Strange, 2017).


From 1983 to the mid-2000s concentration on academic "college-prep" curriculum pulled enrollment and funding away from vocational training, but recently a redicrection to CTE has been effective. New programs and adaptation of technology continues to augment career-readiness education. Focus on "depth over breadth" indicates best results.

These days I'm not a vocational professional so I develop my manual skills through art in the workshop. Had I paid attention to CTE opportunities I might have followed my friend Adam into a trade field. But I'm thrilled to realize that we (USA) did not commit the insane error of neglecting the importance of vocational training, and it's really exciting (as always) to see the evolution of Career & Technical education.

Thank You, Educators!


Although educators like you deserve to be honored and celebrated every single day of the year, the first week of May is designated as Teacher Appreciation Week. Here at TCL, we recognize and appreciate the many roles you play in the lives of students and want to express our gratitude. 

The 2019/20 school year is one we will never forget. So much has changed in our world over the past several weeks. However, the ongoing dedication, thoughtfulness, and the inspiration of so many educators continue to serve as the strong anchors students and families rely on.



Thank you for your ongoing dedication.

My teachers are always available to answer questions and to help me.
Olivia – Freshman, Virginia

Even though school buildings abruptly closed a few weeks ago, we know that you are busier than ever planning and teaching online lessons while maintaining relationships with students virtually and in other creative ways.

Teachers go above and beyond all the time – sometimes those efforts even capture national attention. When middle school math teacher, Mr. Waba, noticed his student, Rylee, struggling with a virtual algebra lesson, he showed up on her front porch with a whiteboard and marker in hand to give her a 1:1 lesson while she listened and watched through her screen door – maintaining social distancing guidelines. Rylee’s dad, James Anderson, expressed his appreciation of Mr. Waba with a Twitter post that went viral. Anderson shared, “The picture just shows the length that which teachers will go to help their students at any cost during these times.” (The full story is available to read here.)












Photo Credit:




Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

What I like most about my teacher is her kindness, she helps me, and she explains things in many ways to help us understand.
Kathryn - 3rd Grade, Illinois

My son’s preschool teacher, Ms. Maggie, recently emailed parents a list with links to the class’s favorite music videos. I didn’t realize how special that list was until I saw my son’s eyes light up in recognition of the first song I played for him. (He misses his teacher and his friends at school very much.) Ms. Maggie also wrote the sweetest, most thoughtful note to my son – just look at the details and personalization she included (she has 18 students and two kids of her own at home)!















Thank you for your inspiration.

I like when my teachers tell personal stories about their own kids and what they like to do outside of school.
Olivia – 8th Grade, Minnesota

Being asked to do more with less is sadly a common practice for teachers in many districts with shoestring budgets. However, teachers tend to rise to the occasion and do whatever it takes to inspire students. 

In lieu of acrylic paints and modeling clay, New York City teacher, Larry Minetti, used household materials and objects such as peanut butter, salad dressing, and milk cartons to recreate Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”. His students were inspired to create their own works of art using whatever they had available while sheltering in place. Minetti shared, “My students learned that they can be creative from scratch and express themselves through various items that are not considered “normal” for producing art.” What a valuable life lesson on flexibility and resourcefulness. 


While teachers go the extra mile for students every day, Rik Zortman - the “Human Etch A Sketch” – was inspired to go an extra 8.31 miles in honor of teachers. Check out his route on a recent run through the streets of Iowa.






















Here at TCL, we think you’re amazing, and we can’t thank you enough for the ongoing dedication you give, the kindness and thoughtfulness you show, and the inspiration you provide to students and families each and every day. From the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU.

P.S. Don’t forget to show yourself some appreciation by prioritizing self-care while working from home. This article provides simple, yet valuable ideas to help boost your physical, mental, and social well-being. 

Social Science Research Network


I liked Malcolm Gladwell after reading The Tipping Point and I love his podcast Revisionist History. On a long drive the other day I finished Season 4, episode 10 - The Obscure Virus Club. It was about three biologists from last century branded as pariahs for their belief that a virus could use RNA to replicate itself into mutated DNA. The Central Dogma of genetics stated that DNA makes RNA which makes proteins, and the concept that RNA could mutate DNA, the blueprint, was found laughable. Eventually these men discovered an enzyme, reverse transcriptase, that enabled RNA to change DNA. This discovery, reached despite five decades of ridicule, lead to the early identification and understanding of AIDS, among other retroviruses, allowing earlier mitigiation opportunities and saving countless lives. The Nobel Prize was awarded for this work.

I've listened to many episodes of Revisionist History but Season 4, Episode 10 was the first reference I heard to SSRN. The Social Science Research Network is "the greatest website on the internet - for dorks" according to Malcolm. It's a centralised and indexed collection of scholarly articles and research, all integrity-verified by staff. Search filters include Title, Author and Keywords, Top Papers, Top Authors and Top Organizations, subscription is available by categorical networks (Medical or Linguistics) or by discipline (Teaching & Learning or Life Sciences). So I can browse the ten most downloaded today or I can search for "Growing the greenest grass" or I can subscribe to ArchRN because I am an architecture dork. Oh, and it's free!

Friends and family have been privy to my excitement about this research in the eleven days since I listened to Season 4, Episode 10. Not all of them have cared. But as educators I thought you might personally like an introduction, and at the least you could pass it to your students as a resource, if you haven't already.

So here are my Top 5 papers so far:

Should Law Subsidize Driving? (Shill, 2019) Totally Fascinating!! For a long time I've been flapping my lips to everyone who didn't want to know about my belief that those who claim chicken farmers should care for their chickens more responsibly fail to realize $0.99 eggs by the dozen are the culprit. Start spending $0.60 per egg and the chickens will have better lives. This paper outlines in vast detail the fact that America is legally biased toward automobile drivers. With all this accusation floating around about drivers and greenhouse emissions we often fail to recognize that our laws and economy encourage private transportation and discourage pedestrain and public transportation alternatives.

Christianity, the Fall of Man, and Redemption (Zambakari, 2018) I grew up in Catholicism, I like religion, and I particularly like viewing it from different perspectives. I think it's alright to study something from a perspective that might not be your own and learn something whether you agree or don't. This paper is not a refutation of Christianity, and it's not necessarily about religion; he uses it as an example to point out that a set of rules given as a solution to a problem only makes sense if the solution-seeker believes in the problem. This can be applied to almost anything.

Validity and Reliability of the Research Instrument; How to Test Validation of a Questionnaire/Survey in a Research (Taherdoost, 2016) This has formulae outside my comfort zone but also describes the methodology for assigning value to surveys in simple terminology. We love surveys but don't usually take the time to think about whether they are correctly designed to answer the intended questions. This paper offers a method to grade a survey's ability to do so and educates us on how to properly generate one. It's a really useful skill.

Day Trading for a Living? (Jackson, 2011) This one quanititatively demonstrates how difficult it is to make money day trading as a private citizen in competition with high-frequency trading programs, and how the 3% who make money earn less than a low-level income. I wasn't tempted to day trade but have friends who regularly try convincing me they are great at it.

I Didn't Want to Offend You: the Cost of Avoiding Sensitive Questions (Hart, VanEpps, Schweitzer) I saved the best one (or my favorite, at least) for last. Results given in this paper suggest that question askers more often avoid the asking of sensitive questions to create a favorable impression and to avoid discomfort and typically overestimate potential discomfort in social situations. Aversion to asking of pertinent questions considered sensitive was found unneccessary and costly, as question receivers were equally favorable of those who did and did not ask sensitive questions and found questions to be less sensitive than the askers had assumed. If you ask around at the office I will be widely accepted as lacking sensitivity, so this paper might have my bias.

Anyway, you get the idea. This is like Reddit without all the inside jokes and foolishness - a giant, user-populated index of verified research on any topic you want to know about. I hope you find it useful and as entertaining as I do.

Lumen High School - a Charter for Teen Parents



Melissa Pettey is swirling in the rapids of a truly inspirational charter school project and I got to interview her about it yesterday. As usual my notes look like tornado fallout because excitement got the best of me and she could discuss it for days. I’ve said it more than once but I’m just so impressed with education now that momentum builds away from sit-and-get in a hundred creative directions. It’s like witnessing Gates and Allen and Wozniak and Jobs figuring stuff out in their basements and knowing something Earth-shattering might be forming. 

Melissa is the principal of Lumen, a new charter school for pregnant teens or teen parents opening fall 2020 in downtown Spokane, WA. But at the moment she works together with Katie Jessup, the director of the attached early learning center called G.L.O.W. Children (Go Light our World), and Shauna Edwards, the executive director of the whole project, to figure out EVERYTHING.

Educators will know, but many people won’t, that a charter school receives government funding but operates independently of the state school system in which it resides. I began hearing the term around 2000 when I lived in California and it wafted a negative flavor. The idea of “charters” was first spawned by the president of the American Federation of Teachers in 1988 as a laboratory for innovative teachers to experiment with and prove new methods. Education was stuck in a near century-long rut and, without re-appropriation of funding, motivated teachers couldn’t freely innovate outside a very established system. The concept was regionally approved and then occasionally abused by profit-seeking endeavors to grab slices of public funding. Like any new concept profiteers were enticed and the objective tarnished, but now, mostly, charter efforts persist with pure intentions. The exploratory value of charter schools has survived the parasites and reached a stage of optimistic embrace, and that history can be credited for many of these recent modernizations of which I am so enamored.

So it varies in every state, but Washington authorizes charters through a commission solely created for this purpose. Now approved, Melissa and her team have two years to design their school and four years to demonstrate success and reach self-sufficiency. Imagine designing a school from scratch with no template! Mel says that early on they had an explosion of great ideas but, relying on a decade of administrative experience, she kept coming back to the thought that they could not eschew the legalities of curriculum and seat hour requirements. Then she researched and found that those regulations had changed after years of rigidity. The ability to create their own curriculum opened up so many opportunities to tailor curriculum and design to the very specific demographic they are aiming to help. They’ve been answering questions, solving problems and sharpening concepts ever since.

Asked about her motivation for this project, she said she was working at Havermale, an alternative school, and Shauna approached her about a school for teen moms. The difficulty for pregnant or teen moms (and dads) breaks down to one choice: do I raise the kid or go to school, because I can’t afford to do both? And if they opt to work and raise the kid they can’t get back into high school four years later to finish. Then they are left out of the cycle and job options are eternally limited. The goal is to build a school to address this very specific dilemma. 

The right of equal opportunity is hard-wired into Mel – she thinks everyone should have the same chances to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves. If they don’t reach those goals that’s their responsibility, but they should get the chance to try. She says “nudges in her gut” were already pushing her in this direction when Shauna approached her with the idea. Sometimes she thinks this project is too big for her to handle, and she admits thinking that she isn’t the best person for it now and then. But the team reassures her as she does them, and together they continue to check things off the list and get closer to opening day. Total rock stars, right?

Lumen will host sixty students and Glow will offer early learning during school hours for their kiddos. Funding supports public education through age twenty-one, and Lumen is hoping to extend the traditional high school timeline to that age to allow for those who’ve been sidetracked. The student body will be divided into cohorts focused on specific standards and learning stages. Curriculum will be student-centered. Rather than adherence to required reading they can ask “what are you interested in learning about?” and assist each student in designing their own learning to meet standardization criteria. They also have the freedom to focus on subjects and skills pertinent to new parents, like financial literacy or, you know, parenting. 

There are some really cool traits saddled to this concept. Lumen has already hired five teachers and various support personnel, and they’ve also enrolled their entire student body for next year. This allows them to source opinion from the future members of the school while designing it. If you’ve ever built something you’ll agree how comforting it is to know in advance how your ideas will be received. And I should really emphasize the word members here - this school is about the students and the educators and the support personnel and all the supporters working together to build something for now and for the future.

Charters receive per-student funding but much more has to be raised or granted. Lumen is an attractive partner for many local organizations who want to help, allowing the school to offer assistance in the form of medical benefits, counseling, internships and obviously child-care. It’s no wonder they filled forty of sixty seats so quickly – this must be such an incredible option for teen parents.

Melissa elaborated on many of their big ideas but noted that they’re focusing on controlled development. The requirement to be financially self-sufficient in four years imposes a few limits on trying everything all at once. Eventually they may be able to offer part-time school and early-learning programs for parents who want to work full-time as well – for now they can only accept full-timers. In the future they’re very optimistic about internships to teach specific job skills, but at the moment they focus on curriculum inside the building. Katie, Melissa and Shauna are being realistic about their timeline but continue to inspire each other and everyone involved with their dreams and abilities.

It’s just so incredible to me that you can identify a demographic and receive public support to develop a facility and a program to help with their exact needs. It’s awesome. I’m definitely a rose-colored glasses liver of life but I almost want to congratulate America for making changes to something as vital as education. Or more likely the teachers and administrators deserve the credit. I’m excited to send my kids to school someday knowing how much it will help to shape them into wonderfully unique adults. Because the truth is this: one day a grown woman who was once a teen parent will change the world because the Lumen team gave her the opportunity to reach her goals despite her difficult situation. 

Teaching and Learning During COVID-19


As we begin another week at home adjusting to life with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s heartening to witness the commitment, compassion, and creativity of educators across our nation. 

Within my own community, meals were provided by the school district on day one of the school closures. Educators worked hard to connect with families to check-in and answer questions based on the limited information they had.

During week two of the school closures, Chromebooks were made available for students who didn’t have their own devices to support remote learning (anticipated to begin during week 3). Also provided was information about free and reduced-cost internet resources.

In this insightful article, “K-12 Learning During a Pandemic: Why We Need to Slow Down for Mental Health’s Sake,” Dr. Elizabeth Farfan-Santos states:

We are in the middle of a global crisis. This is not a time to overwhelm kids (or parents) with worksheets, web-based homeschooling, and the push to stay on track for standardized tests or college prep. This is a time to model compassion. This is a time to make sure our children feel safe and loved, and to make sure families have time to adjust to a new normal.

Safety, relationships, access, learning… As we try to make sense of this strange and unsettling time, I feel so grateful and proud to belong to a district that seems to be focusing on the needs similar to the COVID-19 School Hierarchy of Needs model provided by the COVID-19 Schools Resource Hub.



However, every school district has varying levels of resources available to support families with varying levels of needs. A teacher in a Facebook group (with over 130,000 members) called “Teaching During COVID-19” shared that a parent wrote to her asking for help because the family's tablet is old and unable to support the apps required for her 2nd grader for online learning.

This is an example of the importance of giving students grace and showing empathy if they do not complete assigned work - we don’t know what circumstances and stressors they are facing at home. Perhaps parents have lost their jobs or maybe the family does not have reliable internet service or devices to even access the online learning platforms. Sometimes parents are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask - therefore it's critical to reach out without judgment. This article provides important information for educators about a trauma-informed approach to teaching through Coronavirus.

The creativity and innovation of teachers never ceases to amaze me – especially now. No whiteboard at home? No problem – a math teacher in the Facebook group used her white shower wall to demonstrate algebra equations. Another teacher shared a picture of her student using his white dishwasher as a whiteboard. (I tested this out with dry-erase markers, and it works well – I would recommend erasing in a timely manner to avoid stains, though.)

Another teacher shared an iPhone hack of using the Notes app to scan documents. (So handy!) Other educators provided some levity to our current situation with humorous and relatable memes.

 Educators all over the county are parading through their students’ neighborhoods in their cars to say hello from a safe distance. I watched a teacher conduct his morning meeting using Lego characters to represent each of his students while another teacher did the same using Mii characters. I can imagine the big smiles on their students’ faces. 

Research shows students who feel a sense of belonging are more engaged learners. In this article, educators share strategies for maintaining relationships with and among students while we’re all separated in our own physical spaces. Be sure to check out this endearing video message from a first-grade teacher to his students.

Please feel free to join the 130,000+ members (including me) of the “Teaching During COVID-19” Facebook group – you just need to agree to follow the group’s rules and answer a few basic questions. It’s a wonderful place for educators to come together to have conversations, share resources, ask questions, and provide inspiration. 

Last week an elementary teacher shared how she is working on setting boundaries by shutting down her laptop at the end of each school day, getting outside for daily walks, and focusing on her own well-being and her family. What a valuable reminder for all educators. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Thank you for your commitment, compassion, and creativity, educators. Stay well, stay safe. 

How one Crisis will Change Education Forever


How will you take advantage?

When educators across the country started back to school in August and September having outlined classroom plans, prepared curriculum maps, planned field trips, auditioned students for plays, musicals, band, and sports they wouldn’t have imagined that in the blink of an eye they would all be out the window. I sure didn’t. 

I was fully engaged with students on two special STEM projects; one involved design and build of a PVC pipe piano for the band to use in their spring concert; the second focused on the  building of a full scale replica R2-D2 to teach students 3D printing, coding, and robotics. These can’t be achieved remotely and are obviously on hold. Typically in March I’m already planning for the following year: working on scheduling, registration, grant allotment and more. It all changed in an instant. 


Globally, educators are rethinking their teaching methods, strategies to reach students, and learning new skills quicker then they ever have in the history of education to effectively perform their jobs.


As the technology director for my district staying busy hasn’t been difficult. On a Friday I had to assemble a team to write an eLearning plan, in-service my staff on Monday outlining the plan, the necessary tools and instructions, and then started implementing that plan on Tuesday with students. We would never expect such an immediately radical shift from our teachers but we had no choice, as with thousands of districts around the world. And as I sit writing this today educators have stepped up to this challenge with might, integrity, and the desire to keep learning going, which is fantastic. 

And here we are in limbo with no clear end to this tunnel, and I recognize this has forever changed education. This has forced even the most technologically static educators to shift their educational mindsets. Because of this shift in mindset most educators will never go back to the way they taught just two weeks ago. They will continue to look at educating students in new ways and to utilize new methods. 

How do we proceed over the next days, weeks, and even years? There are so many tools available and right now company after company offer their services for free while we deal with this worldwide crisis. What an opportunity for change!

First and foremost, all teachers and schools need to be using some type of Learning Management System (LMS)

In most cases teachers will have little say as their district will likely mandate this selection. Common LMS platforms include:

  • PowerSchool’s Unified Classroom now with Schoology

  • Canvas or Blackboard, which are heavily used at the college level but are making their way down to K-12 districts

  • Open source platforms such as Moodle

  • Google Classroom for those districts keeping it in the Google application family

You have to gain proficiency in whichever LMS you have, and the fundamental directive (linking back to my previous post) is GIVE IT A TRY. But try, try, and try again because your LMS isn’t going anywhere and you must learn it. It’s your central bridge to all the teaching and learning you are facilitating in your classroom. Get to know the system, try out all the buttons. Almost all of them have free online training manuals or videos. Look at YouTube, which has videos on everything you would ever want to learn. But embrace your LMS and use it all the time. Don’t wait for a crisis or a snow day or a special occasion to use your LMS. Use it all year long. It will help you stay organized, it gives your students a one-stop shop for all things in your class, and there is no shifting of tools when a day off occurs. Students are prepared even if you aren’t in class one day or on an eLearning day.  No matter what, the students know where to go to get their learning framework for your class.


The next most valuable tool in your toolbox is going to be a screen recorder

Screen recorders are one of the most powerful tools you can use all year. This is the closest thing to having you in the room actually doing the lesson. You could go as low tech and easy as a voice recording or using your cell phone to record a video of yourself. 

But how often in emergency situations are you in a location where you can just set up a camera and teach like you're in your room? Short of having a giant whiteboard in your house or the advance notice needed to record in your classroom you’ll need alternatives.

  • This is where tools such as Screencastify, Educreations, or even something like SMART Notebook will come in handy. These allow you to record your screen and your voice as you work. 

  • If you’re a heavy iPad user I suggest Educreation as it works great when recording what is happening on an iPad.

  • As a Chromebook or PC user I would suggest Screencastify.

Using these applications you can talk through a lesson and show students click by click what you’re doing. They also incorporate writing and highlighting features to emulate writing on the board. This way if you’re ever out you can assign the video for students to watch to get your instruction. It’s also great for the absent student or someone who needs to see the lesson again. Additionally, you have a permanent recording of what you taught which is helpful to parents in a time when they need to relearn a lesson to help a student. 

In fact, the whole concept of recording lessons is how Khan Academy became so successful.  Sal Khan was helping his cousin with math lessons by recording what it was that his cousin, Nadia, needed help with and it just grew from there. 


Why not do this for your own students?  And don’t worry about recording all of it. You don’t need to record your whole lesson for it to work. If you teach math you might record just one sample problem rather than five of them because a student can watch you do the one problem over and over. Keep things simple and under five minutes. If your video is going to go longer, break it into multiple videos. The best part is you don’t need to be a video editing expert to use these programs. In many cases the buttons are easier to use and understand than an old Fisher-Price tape recorder and many of them have basic editing capabilities that help you edit out mistakes, long pauses, or to maybe add some text notes on top of the video.


The next important tool to have is teleconferencing capability

Currently the two most popular applications are Google Meets and Zoom. Both are excellent and fairly easy to use. Each have their pros and cons which I won’t cover here but I recommend choosing one and sticking with it.  The ability to connect with your students, other educators, and even parents in a live format from separate locations is powerful. 

With these baseline tools you can conduct class without skipping a beat. There are obviously challenges to teaching classes in this way, including students’ distraction at the excitement of seeing each other, limitations on devices, bandwidth struggles, or the ever common reminder to participants to mute themselves regularly to avoid hearing the dog barking or the car radio playing while joining the meeting from a car.  

It’s wonderful to see teachers embracing these instruments in response to the present situation but I encourage you to continue learning with them even when session resumes. In this way you can connect with students that are homebound, you can invite guests from around the world to participate in your classrooms, you can even work collaboratively with classrooms in other cities, states, or countries.

  • Why not have a scientist interact with your class when doing an experiment concerning which they are an expert? 

  • Conduct an interview with someone from the local zoo about endangered species and learn how you can do to help as school. 

  • How about just learning about other cultures by interacting with students globally? 

I can’t stress enough that these technologies can catalyse an educational explosion in your classroom by ripping down the walls and making it a truly global learning environment!


You will have your core curriculum and preferred textbooks, which are your resources in helping to guide the learning processes. But you’ll need a full arsenal of websites for expanding your students’ learning.

  • For example, take virtual field trips with something like Google Expeditions. You can go around the world and back utilizing 360-degree photographs to get a realistic perspective as if you were there. Museums around the world are set up for virtual field trips. Many students will never get a chance to go to France and visit the Louvre but they can visit it from the computer. 

  • Why not expand their ability to learn and understand coding by utilizing sites like or Tynker? You might not teach coding in your curriculum but every subject in some way hits on coding, from the math in a robot’s hard drive to the importance of spelling and punctuation. 

  • Have a site or two where students can get addtional textbook resources such as where there are hundreds of open source textbooks for students to expand their knowledge or even benefit from material presented in a new way.

  • Find a place for students to source casual reading books such as Google Books. They might not have the latest books to market but some students just want something to read. 

Continue to freshen your basket of learning tools and ideas - there is so much out there!


Through all of this take some time for yourself and learn. This is a great time to take advantage of all the professional development that is out there. This is a time to explore new things, jump on webinars from companies you have always wanted to learn about. Watch videos from some of the nation's best speakers. Right now some of the biggest names in education are doing free webinars and videos as they want to keep their name out there. There are presenters I go out of my way to see at certain conferences but now I’m getting all their sessions from the comfort of my own home. Also now is a time to take advantage of online learning experiences from organizations such as Connecting Link. With time to yourself at home you can take advantage of classes that you didn’t have time for before. Schools are offering what seems like less professional development then before and expecting teachers to find more on their own. This is the time to take advantage of that.


The last two points I want to leave you with in this time of crisis are: 

  1. When you are out on extended breaks or even for a snow day be wary of overwhelming your students. This is a time to slow it down just a little while maintaining learning inertia.  Give students new content but avoid too many new sites or tools at once. If you want to introduce a site like Tynker as a math teacher that's fine but don’t throw three other new sites at them also. Ease out the “new”.

  2. Don’t focus all the students' time on the computer. Absence from the classroom does not justify maximum screen time. That’s not authentic learning. Include some brain breaks from sites such as GoNoodle. Offer up some time outside to make an observation and report back. Have a student record themselves introducing their pets to the class. It's a tech based lesson but not necessarily sitting in front of a computer screen all day. Let them stretch their legs and rest their eyes.


These are uncharted times and it’s a challenge for educators everywhere. Now is the time to remember that students are feeling uneasy even if they think this is just time off. They have their concerns too. But being out for an extended period doesn’t mean learning should stop. We shouldn’t have a generation of students with a missing quarter of knowledge, we simply need to find new ways to teach them. There is a fantastic silver lining here: teachers are going to return to the classroom with new and fresh ideas and an evolved mindset on teaching with technology tools. This is going to change education for the better and I am ecstatic about that. Keep trying and learning to use these tools!

Notes from Captain Optimism


I was looking out my window and watching all these neighborhood folks walking, biking, playing with dogs, shooting hoops, throwing frisbees and smiling and I began considering the benefits of stay-at-home orders.

Typically we post blog articles on Monday mornings but I was grasping for an appropriate theme and utterly flailing. We can't pretend life is business-as-usual but we also prefer to avoid a panic reaction. I surmise that most of us are at a loss for words, just awaiting some concrete prediction or instruction.

My friend asked me "what are all of our pets going to think when we go back to work?" That's a fair question; mine are having the best times of their lives. If you remove the constant concern for the future and look at your life today it can probably be measured as improved:

  • I'm spending more quality time with my family
  • My dogs and cats are getting so much attention, and from their perspective I've finally learned to live life the right way
  • I've finally gotten to all those to-do's that have been pestering me
  • I have no choice but to eat a home cooked meal at the table three times a day
  • I'm getting plenty of rest
  • I'm listening to music, I'm reading books, I painted a picture of my friend's dog for her
  • My yard has the cleanest head-start it ever has and probably ever will
  • I met four previously unknown neighbors so far
  • I've been forced to consider my spending habits and identified the important things and the superfluous things
  • I realized sports on TV, while exceptionally entertaining, are merely a distraction
  • We've spent significantly less time in traffic, making and breathing pollution
  • I've seen every sunset this week
  • I've talked to all of my long-distance friends and family
  • I'm offering help to friends, family and neighbors like a good citizen ought to

I scan that list and realize I've been doing all the things I perpetually intend and rarely carry out. I'm living a better life. I know it's not sustainable but it's worthy of gratitude for the reminder.

While never a habitual newspaper reader I once happened on an article in the Oregonian that I can't forget. I've been to weddings that I remember less clearly. It was about a guy who'd been climbing the ladder at his corporate job - "ten more hours, one more account, one more year, another $20,000 and then I'll have the security to retire." And then one day he realized he might never stop committing more his time working in exchange for the time off for which he was working. So he quit. He had a look at his ledger and his assets and punched the calculator. He sold his extra cars, downsized his house, deleted some monthly payments and retired early. He spent his time gardening, hiking, making dinner for his family. The whole family was happier and healthier. He got healthier. He bacame a sage and the backbone of his household, just by adjusting his goals and pulling the trigger now rather than later.

This crazy little virus has us all on edge. We're facing an uncertain future and our security blanket is thinning daily. But it's also an incredible reminder of what is important and what we work for that we often forget to notice. I'm aiming not to get caught up in the hysteria but to notice the many silver linings. Just look out the window. It's incredible...

Optimization of Unexpected Time Off


For some enigmatic cosmic reason I've had four lengthy paid breaks from work since 2016. Being in my late thirties I did my best to embrace the recuperative value at an age when many Americans have to grind through life barreling toward some sort of mid-life crisis. Time off is definitely not something to complain about but somehow I did manage to do so now and then. Despite the regularity with which we say "I need a vacation" it is completely possible to be overwhelmed by unexpected free time and accidentally idle in neutral for too long.

Most recently I was expecting a month off starting early November and it became four. My intentions this time around were to be realistic about goals, to be happy with any accomplishments and to recognize an improved situation at the end of the hiatus, not that there was any specific need for improvement but it's a lifelong effort. I finally managed to do this, and considering the recent imposition of indefinite time off for so many of you I thought to share some insights, for what it's worth.

1. Try to be realistic

If you're goal-oriented be wary of the urge to set your expectations too high. This is akin to resolutions for the New Year. For example, you can't change your exercise or diet habits overnight and I've made the mistake of attempting both on many previous occasions. This is a strange and stressful time, so don't clutter it up with sky high ambition. Tell yourself "I wouldn't mind getting back to walking twice a week and maybe feeling a bit healthier" rather than "I'm giving up sugar, carbs and fast food and working out every day." Whatever you decide to do with your time, be content with some progress rather than all of it.

2. Make improvements to your living space

I can't tell you how many times I've tolerated some annoyance in my home only to be shocked at the psychological comfort earned from improving it. On this last break I found the perfect tiny shelf to fit under my bathroom sink and now it is organized rather than a pile of random cotton balls and Band-Aids hidden behind a door, and every time I open that door I feel great about it. And yes, I know this sounds like a Martha Stewart life tip or something but those little details make a huge difference in your daily mindset and will enhance the rest of your life by tiny increments.

3. Recognize the value of rest

Convince yourself that sleeping nine solid hours is a worthy achievement, because it is. Giving your body rest allows it to heal physically and mentally. If you don't have your regular task load and deadlines don't panic. In the absence of stress I often found myself creating some just to feel normal and it was difficult to learn to embrace rest, but it feels amazing. Include rest and sleep in your goals during this interval.

4. Remember the joy of learning

You all teach others for a living. I expect you get so focused on their progress that you might often forget yourself. If you have this free time accept it as a blessing and remember how cool it is to learn a totally new thing. I learned to weld, finally, after having a welder in a box in my garage for nearly a year. I welded the worst picture frame in the world and had a great time doing it. It just feels good to try a new skill.

5. Detoxify your lungs often

Thankfully spring is beginning so you'll be less likely to spend too much time indoors. From November to March in Eastern Washington and without the call of duty I regularly developed an odd malaise. I made a habit upon recognizing the feeling to leash up my dogs and take an hour's walk through the woods near my house. The air in a house can be as toxic as the smog over Shanghai and it's so important to exchange the stale atmosphere for the fresh. John Tesh told me a few months back on his handy radio show that people who have a consistent view of green plants live happier lives. If you feel crummy, take a walk.

6. Have a daily schedule

Now and then I think it's pretty good to watch four movies in a row, now and then. When presented with an unexpected break from work it is easy to fall into a detrimental routine, though. You want to allow yourself the freedom to relax but also to maintain some sort of schedule to secure your sanity. Endless days without a schedule is hard on our psyche when we typically live by the clock and its routine. I chose to wake up with the light, clean up the house, have some breakfast at the table, take the dogs for their walk, spend a few hours on projects, get some form of exercise, and then... So long as I got those things done to begin the day I was satisfied with whatever was or wasn't achieved for the rest of the day.

7. Optimize your productivity

When you aren't bound by the clock you encounter the great luxury of performing tasks when you are most capable of succeeding. I possess the most verbal clarity in the mornings so I prefer to communicate professionally just after the aforementioned morning regimen. By 1 PM that part of my brain is done and I move on to physical chores - organize the garage, install a new faucet, clean up the leaves. At 4 pm I lose the capacity to cross things off the list and I transition to creative endeavors. By sundown I'm typically worn out and the last few hours are for unwinding, maybe reading a mindless book or watching a dumb movie. If you've ever had to grind out an assignment at midnight or finish reading five chapters at 10 PM and you notice you keep losing your place, this is what you get to avoid without having to follow a clock. Take advantage of it. In fact, if you learn one new thing during this weird time that lesson would be a great one. Do things when you are mentally and physically inclined to flourish, and if you aren't then go do something else.


It'll be easy to slip into the frightful fervor of this situation but there is no benefit in doing so. Prepare yourself for the possibility and reality of free time at home and away from conventional routine. We may as well get the most out of it. Our best wishes for a healthy intermission:)

How to Embrace the 21st-Century Classroom: TRY


A Classroom Visitor

Let’s imagine for a second you are Abraham Lincoln standing in the middle of a modern day classroom in your long coat and stovepipe hat. You look around to see rows of student desks waiting for eager young minds to fill them. You see a teacher desk in the corner in the front of the room. A board in the front has the day’s lesson written on it. You nod your head in approval. As you stand there the bell rings and students start to enter, taking their seats. The teacher stands at the front of the room instructing the students to get out their pencils and books and asks them to start writing down the notes on the board. Now take a moment and think about this setting, which was very familiar to Abraham Lincoln who felt education was so important in everyone's lives. When he visited schools in 1860 while campaigning for President he was in a room like that I just described. But here is the fact: if Abraham Lincoln was able to visit a classroom 150 years later in 2020 he’d be right at home in a lot of them. The only thing to make him feel out of place would be leaving the classroom to see our world today, which is nothing like his. 

So what is the problem here? The fact is education is the one profession stuck in traditions that stem back hundreds of years but it is the one profession that every student preparing to enter the workforce needs to experience daily for anywhere between 12-18 years of their life. It’s time for educators to break tradition and update our teaching methods to meet the changing world that our students must face.

As educators we face many difficulties in trying to innovate and change our classrooms.  We have to deal with state mandates that many times come unfunded. We need to deal with the social/emotional issues of our students. We can no longer ignore what is happening at home as we know those issues carry over into the classroom. We worry about the impact that social media has on our students living in an era when face to face communication is lessening and online communication is on the rise. These are just some of the challenges we face as educators on a day to day basis and there are so many more.



So how do you deal with this and how can technology help innovate your classroom without adding one more thing to your plate?

My short answer to this is: just TRY. “Just try” is all I ask of my teachers on a daily basis. I ask my teachers to try a new tool to assess students just once for this unit. I ask my teachers to try and post something positive to social media that is happening in their classroom. I ask my teachers to try and incorporate an Internet Safety topic into their lesson this week. I ask them to try a new communication method with parents and see if they get a better response regarding their students. After my teachers try it I ask them to try it again, but a little sooner this time.  Then I ask them to try and add a little more to what they’re doing with technology on top of what they just tried. And we keep this cycle going. And you know what? The teachers that just try a little more each time are doing new and exciting things in their classrooms. Those classrooms have more engaged students and students who prefer to go to those classes compared to those where teachers haven’t tried. Just like teachers push their students to do better I do the same, with the mantra of TRY.


How can embracing technology help us teach?

I can’t get around things like state testing, but I sure can help students better prepare for the tests. I work with teachers to try new tools like Quizizz or Kahoot to get students assessing online instead of by paper and pencil. We don’t take state assessments on paper anymore so we need to get students to practice using things like touchpads and keyboards to navigate and answer questions. We also need to work on building students’ typing stamina so I push teachers to try and have students use things like Google Keep to take notes, or do their free writing in Google Docs or Word. Some teachers say they can’t do this because “our students have not been properly trained to type so they will never be good or fast enough typers and it is holding back their learning.”  What I say to that is, you guessed it, “just try it.” Yes, students do not necessarily have the proper form and technique of typing as was instilled years ago. Just like cursive writing has mostly disappeared from education so has typing class. But the question is “how effective would they be today?” To be an efficient typist you need to practice proper technique all the time. But as soon as a student has a chance they’re on their phone thumb-and-swipe typing. So they’re not practicing but they are aware of where the keys are. They are experienced typists just without classic technique. So let's encourage typing and try to get them to use classic technique. It will come to them over time.



How can we harmonize instruction and technology?

Another concern that teachers have is the idea of screen time. I can’t disagree with this but focus should be on the concept of managed screen time versus open-play screen time. There is not a classroom today, even in the most advanced one to one school in the country, that should have students in front of the screen all the time. Technology is there to enhance teaching rather than replace it. The moment students are learning more from their device is often when the teacher knows something is wrong in that classroom. Now I do believe in distance and flipped learning, but there still needs to be that human connection. As we grow into adults that methodology can shift a little, but with young students (especially in those K-12 environments) teachers should still be teaching but through facilitation versus direct instruction.  We need to let students learn by doing instead of memorizing. Students have Google for memorizing. I always tell my teachers, “if a student can Google an answer it is the wrong question to ask.” Yes, 2+2 will always be 4 and that is some of the push back I get. But if you change 2+2 into “Johnny has 2 apples and Suzie as 2 apples so how many apples do they have in total,” Google can’t answer that. And let's face it - real world math problems can better answer the question of why than just a bunch of numbers thrown on a page.

Lastly, one of the regular arguments I get is the idea that “students are being desocialized by technology so why should we push it in schools?” The question I pose back is “if this is your belief and we know technology is not going away, why are we not teaching our students to better utilize technology to be social in a positive way?” Those teachers aren’t wrong that technology as a whole has desocialized a lot of people. I have students that can barely talk to each other face to face but can do it online without problem. And I do believe we need to fix this.  But this goes back to my TRY mantra. We need to try and incorporate more presentations in class; more ways for students to present material in a verbal fashion. So many times this is looked at as just one more thing to do because we don’t test speaking skills. But it is one of the most important skills that we can teach. I also get feedback about how mean students can be to each other online. We do see a lot of that because many students see how adults are online as well. But why not teach our students how to be positive global citizens and have them practice by having them comment on each others’ work online in an application like Google Classroom, or Schoology? Identify ways for students to share positive feedback with each other to show them how that works so much better than negative comments. We need to do a better job of building our students up rather than stifling them by ignoring the problem or going the other way and punishing them. Let’s correct the problem instead of steer away from it.



As educators we need to start making our learning environments different enough that a visiting Abraham Lincoln would feel uncomfortable visiting our classrooms. We need to add TRY into our vocabulary and our daily practices more. And we need to look at ways to make our students better global citizens, not just people we see for a year to teach them from a book and move them onto the next grade. It just doesn't work anymore. By changing the way you view your approach to new methods of teaching you will soon realize how it is positively changing your classroom.

Classroom Calendar Connections – March 2020


Pi Day, the Ides of March, St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness, the spring equinox…these are just a few of the many teachable events of March!


Pi Day: March 14


“Beware the Ides of March”: March 15

Is the 15th of March unluckier than any other day? I guess it depends on who you ask – Julius Caesar would undoubtedly think so. Read about other unfortunate historical events that occurred on the Ides of March in this Newsweek article. Then, discuss Shakespeare’s famous play (Julius Caesar) and explore the historic and modern-day roles of superstitions and proverbs in our lives with this comprehensive Read Write Think lesson plan.


March 17: St. Patrick’s Day

There was an old man with a beard,
Who said, “It is just as I feared!”
Two owls and a hen,
Four larks and a wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!

-Edward Lear (the “father” of the limerick)

Looking for fun and educational ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with your students? You’re in luck! 

There once was a teacher named Jill, / Who got poked in the eye with a porcupine quill! / Given her condition, she couldn’t go to school. / So, she went to an indoor swimming pool, / Where the water turned her blond hair green as dill. 

  • Get your students sorting, counting, graphing, recording, and analyzing by creating Lucky Charms bar graphs.
  • Did you know…The color originally associated with St. Patrick was blue. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world was held in Boston, Massachusetts. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin was constructed on an ancient well that supposedly was used by St. Patrick to baptize converts to Christianity. Read and discuss more interesting facts about the patron saint of Ireland and his special day here.  
  • Make rainbows of all shapes and sizes in your classroom with these 25 hands-on science experiments. (Don’t forget the pot of gold!)


March Madness: March 17-April 6
Whether you and your students are basketball fans or not, these activities are sure to be a ‘slam dunk’ in your classroom. 

  • Bring out students’ competitive spirits while fostering a love of reading by creating a March Madness book bracket. A printable bracket is available to download here
  • Discover everything you and your students want to know about the history of basketball by taking a virtual visit to the Smithsonian. Did you know that the museum features artifacts representing college basketball (including ticket stubs, coach’s clipboards, and even President Obama’s completed NCAA tournament bracket)? 
  • Based on the odds, you are more likely to become an astronaut, win an Olympic gold medal, and even become president of the United States than…predicting a perfect bracket in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Check out this video to get your students thinking mathematically about March Madness. 


The First Day of Spring: March 19
Thursday, March 19 marks the first day of spring (the spring equinox). Hello, longer and sunnier days! It’s a wonderful time of the year but maintaining students’ attention can be extra challenging. Check out this past blog post for ideas to celebrate springtime with students at all grade levels, without sacrificing learning.

Happy spring, educators! Please share your own ideas for March in the classroom.

Multiculturalism in Education


At fifteen I accepted an exchange program for the duration of my sophomore high school year to a city outside Osaka, Japan. It was tough going but I still feel the positive effects of such a radical perspective change. Least importantly I felt tall, which hadn’t happened before and hasn’t since. I had light skin and blonde hair in a sea of Asian pigments which gave me marginal fame and it took me many months to understand cultural idiosyncrasies. In the Pacific NW United States where I grew up we’re into frankness, but the Japanese have caste protocol combining with the three faces to confuse the heck out of people like me. They say every person has the face they present to the world, the face they present to their inner circle and family and the face they only know themselves. Regarding caste, behavior and etiquette are dependent on your role but also on the roles of those around you. Certain scenarios call for differences in tone, posture and diction depending on your setting, the people involved and your objective. Sometimes acting overly respectful is a sign of dominance. Sometimes foolishness is appropriate to offer someone above you an excuse from blame. Once I was lectured two hours for being one hour late, and when it was over my host mother instantly calmed and said happily “I’ve yelled at you so now you understand and it’s over. Let’s eat!” While the attention to respect and manners are admirable, I eventually found myself missing the “get it done” attitude we prescribe to here. Luckily, Japanese culture employs a foreigner clause that allows for substantial miscues based on ignorance, but it does expire and you are expected to learn.

As a lone foreigner in a mostly homogenous culture, differences are easily identified and accepted. Here, in America, we love to identify as a melting pot. We preach to Embrace Diversity AND Celebrate Equality. Most of us view the hybrid nature of our cultural stew as a strength. If American diversity results in a stronger combined culture the product is achieved through great struggle. It’s really difficult to mix many cultures together, consider the practices of each, give everyone equal scrutiny, maintain the big picture curriculum objective and avoid frazzling some sensitivities. In fact, I think it’s probably impossible to achieve this seamlessly. But I assume that’s the point: the diversity in our country is so unique to enable us to bring together many cultures to expedite globalization of culture, and the more we struggle the better the results.

Public school classrooms are often the first cultural blending experience outside the family for children from varying racial, religious and economic backgrounds. By 2023, students of color are projected to account for 55% of the elementary and secondary public school populations (National Center for Education Statistics). Diverse religious beliefs raise challenges for educators. The holidays to be celebrated must be considered, along with religious codes related to curriculum, school lunches, interactions of boys and girls, and student clothing (Gollnick & Chinn, 2021). Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. live below the official poverty level (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2014). These variances don’t even take into account learning styles or physical abilities. Diversity in America is unprecedented and rapidly changing; teachers should be prepared to manage in such an environment and avoid pitfalls.

Multicultural education is an educational construct in which students’ cultures are integrated into the curriculum, instruction, and classroom and school environment. It supports and extends the concepts of culture, diversity, equality, social justice, and democracy into the school setting (Gollnick & Chinn, 2021). That’s a whole lot to keep track of.

Responding to this emerging necessity we have a brand new course:

Embracing the Multicultural Classroom: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Environment for All Students

Global goals of the course include:

  1. To examine current research in the area of best practice in multicultural teaching
  2. To develop an understanding of the need for effective multicultural learning strategies in today’s classroom
  3. To analyze current multicultural instructional practices in order to create engaged practices to better support student learning
  4. To explore possible applications of multicultural teaching models in the classroom
  5. To explore research-proven methods of lesson plan development in a multicultural classroom 
  6. To synthesize best practice in culturally relevant teaching research and classroom applications to become multi-culturally competent

When asked about his inspiration to write the course, TCL instructor Paul Wright responded “For many teachers like myself, classrooms today look much different than the ones I attended.  This course will encourage teachers to reflect on their experiences as well as their students’ experiences, thus creating a more student-centered and culturally rich classroom that welcomes all students.” 

While the development of multiculturalism in the classroom presents many difficulties, it’s a wonderful opportunity for growth and change. We aim to offer strategies for success. Please let us know what you think and tell us how you’ve implemented learning in your own classroom!

“National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, Part of the U.S. Department of Education.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education,

Gollnick, Donna M., and Philip C. Chinn. Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society. Pearson Education, Inc., 2021.

“U.S. Census Bureau Report ‘Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2014.’” The SAGE Encyclopedia of World Poverty, doi:10.4135/9781483345727.n895.

Teacher Recommended: ADHD Classroom Strategies and Resources


Teacher Recommended: ADHD Classroom Strategies and Resources

From graphic organizers for math to literacy-based yoga exercises, teachers work endlessly to determine ways to help students learn and succeed. Outlined below are valuable resources and strategies to support students with ADHD in the classroom shared by educators in our online course ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies



Because students with ADHD have vast learning styles and needs, a high school math teacher shared that he provides multiple pathways for students to engage with the content – including group discussions, utilizing graphing calculators and Chromebooks, drawing on whiteboards, problem-solving with a partner, and Desmos-based lessons. Desmos is a free online tool used in classrooms all over the world that makes learning math interactive, visual, dynamic, and even joyful.

Graphic organizers are not just for writing. A fourth-grade teacher uses graphic organizers to help students stay focused while organizing their thought process and sorting through the vocabulary and problem-solving involved with their new math program. provides incredible (and free) math graphic organizers that can be tailored for students of all ages. Check them out!


English Language Arts

Writing is often a challenging process for students with ADHD. An upper-elementary special education teacher has her students utilize SpeechTexter in Google Chrome to complete writing tasks. SpeechTexter allows students to let their ideas flow more freely and cohesively without having to worry about spelling, punctuation, and even fine-motor concerns. What a great way to reduce frustration involved with writing for many students. 

Movement and stretching can be effective ways to refocus students with ADHD. A sixth grade English language arts teacher implemented a program called Literary Yoga (which connects movement and stretching to the reading curriculum). For example, after completing a long reading passage, students might be asked to stand up and get into “eagle pose” to discuss the point-of-view of the story. (I love this concept!) 

Audio books help to level the playing field for students who struggle with reading by enabling them to access the same popular titles as their peers. Because ADHD and learning disabilities often co-exist, a middle school special education teacher takes advantage of online programs such as Bookshare and Learning Ally which provide hundreds of thousands of audio books for students with learning disabilities at no cost. (Epic! is another digital library for children ages 12 and younger.)


All Content Areas

A high school biology teacher shared that she uses EdPuzzle in several classes to keep her students engaged when watching online videos. EdPuzzle is a free resource that allows teachers to edit YouTube, Khan Academy, and other online videos by adding questions and voice narration throughout. The customized videos enable students to work at their own pace – pausing and viewing segments as many times as necessary to enhance and solidify understanding within any content area.

A middle school social studies teacher utilizes QUIZZIZZ to create and customize engaging quizzes, (complete with Bitmojis) for his students. This platform also allows students to work at their own pace and retake quizzes until they reach mastery.

An elementary special education teacher’s classroom is furnished with a dry erase whiteboard table for students to stay active with learning. For example students use the table to demonstrate how they solved math problems, to draw “mind maps” before writing, and to share ideas with peers. Students with ADHD are known to be creative and appreciate opportunities to use markers and other art supplies besides pens and pencils. 

Finally, a middle school special education teacher recommends the 30/30 app to combat procrastination and to enhance time management and productivity among students. 30/30 allows users to add tasks and set estimates for how long it will take to complete those individual tasks – providing a visual schedule. Students report feeling accomplished and satisfied when they complete a task and “swipe” it away. (Who doesn’t love crossing an item off a to-do list?!)


Looking for more ideas to support your students with ADHD in your classroom? Join us in ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies to continue the conversation today!

Book report: Why We Sleep


Does anyone else think it odd that squirrels sleep an average of 15.9 hours per day? I guess because they're so hoppy and acutely aware it seems they're awake all the time. It's really a bias to think that animals which are alert must be more often awake and conversely those which sleep a lot must be fairly slothy. The brown bat sleeps 19 hours a day, elephants only 5 and guinea pigs 9.4. There's no obvious correlation between animal traits - size, predator/prey status, diurnal/nocturnal - and sleep amounts. But all animals sleep (even worms), though their patterns vary wildly.

Immediately as I began reading Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams I realized how little is understood about sleep, both by average folks and sleep scientists. The activity we spend one-third of our life doing is rather mysterious. Humans should sleep 8-9 hours and typically climb and descend through many stages. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the phase in which we dream, it induces paralysis and is thought to exercise the creative cortex. Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep exhibits much less brain activity and offers physiological recovery and memory organization. During NREM sleep our brain gathers the perceptions of the day and organizes them into meaningful groups. It's like defragmenting your hard drive every night, then turning the computer off and back on to have full, active memory to start learning the following day.

You can see from this hypnograph that we have more NREM sleep early in our cycle and the majority of REM sleep later. This is significant because shortened sleep sacrifices REM sleep more than NREM sleep. It's why I feel stupid after a bad night's sleep. We can't recover this sleep by taking a nap later in the day - it can only be achieved with a full 8-9 hour cycle.

Also interesting in the book was the outline of circadian rhythm. Each of us has a genetically determined internal clock. It averages 24 hours and 15 minutes, the overage designed to offer some surplus in order to adjust with the seasons. Some of us are morning larks and others are night owls. My wife can't truly fall asleep until about 1AM, while I pass out at 10 and pop up easily at 6. Our society is biased toward the morning larks, and we often accuse the night owls of laziness when in fact they are born as such. In evolutionary context this is logical; survival is a round-the-clock team effort so it's important for some members to be alert at different hours of the day. Additionally, we're biologically biphasic in our sleep pattern. This is why all of us experience a dip in alertness in the afternoon. Many mediterranean and asian cultures operate on this schedule, dividing their work day into mornings, lunch/naptime and evenings. Many of you kindergarten teachers follow the same pattern (or your students do). And considering the bias toward early work days, you are better off as a teacher to be a morning lark and I'm empathetic if you're a night owl.

Our primate predecessors sleep arboreally to avoid nocturnal ground predators and blood-sucking arthropods. Avoidance of such threats is wise, but sleeping in a tree posits the concern of gravity and a deadly fall. As such, tree-bound apes do not experience much REM sleep. Homo Erectus transitioned to terrestrial sleep with the advent of fire (the flames keep the predators at bay and the smoke deters the lice!) In REM sleep the body is paralyzed, so sleeping on the ground is safer under such conditions. With this transition came an evolution toward REM-rich sleep patterns. Homo Sapiens average 25% REM sleep compared to 9% REM sleep in other primates. REM sleep is theorized to exercise and improve the creative cortex of our brain, and Dr. Matthew Walker suggests this evolutionary change in our sleep allowed for the improved social communication skills which eventually led us to massively complex cooperative societies. In a nutshell, we have advanced exponentially because we developed the best sleep pattern in the animal kingdom.

Most fish sleep unihemispherically - half the brain at a time and alternating. This is because they have to keep swimming and cannot do so under the full paralysis that comes with bihemispheric sleep. When fully awake the brain operates in unison, but when it's time for sleep the two sides uncouple. FASCINATING! This also precludes them from REM sleep, leaving them only with NREM sleep. I guess that's why they aren't very creative.

Birds can sleep with one or both sides of the brain. When sleeping in a group the birds will line up, and all the birds in the middle experience full-brain sleep while the two birds on each end keep one half brain active and one eye open! At some point those end birds will stand up, rotate 180 degrees and switch brains and eyes. I would love to see that on video.

I wanted to share all this because it's incredibly interesting but also because it offers seriously useful knowledge. Sleep is not a bank account but a very necessary daily cycle upon which our health and efficiency rely completely. Both you and your students should be aware of the details of the process and conscientious about executing it properly.

For instance, someone once told me melatonin helps to sleep. Actually melatonin tells your brain it is time to start winding down to prepare for sleep, but it does nothing to encourage the actual action of sleep. On the flip side, coffee does not stimulate alertness or "wake you up." Caffeine attaches to the very receptor that interfaces with melatonin - meaning you aren't more alert you are simply less aware that you're tired. And in fact when you are sleepy your brain does not perceive as well as when fully charged so you are in a partially catatonic state. Like when you're trying to stay awake to drive on a long trip you are actually in a form of waking sleep. Scary! This is why sleep-deprived auto accidents are twice as common as chemically-influenced accidents.

And most importantly, once you lose sleep you can never get it back. It's not possible to sleep 24 hours and then function fully for 72. It's so important to sleep 8-9 hours every night and to follow the signals your body gives throughout the day when it asks for rest, even two minutes of quiet meditation. This enables you to learn more acutely, to be better at work, to live longer. Getting full and quality sleep as often as possible is as or more important than nutrition, yet we tend to ignore it because it's a passive activity. 

The book is as useful as it is entertaining. I highly recommend it.

Classroom Calendar Connections – February 2020


100th Day of School – The Actual Date Varies by School Calendars

Congratulations on making it to the 100th day of school (give or take a few days)! Students of all ages enjoy celebrating this special milestone. (Google “100th day of school activities” and you’ll get nearly 9 million hits!) My former elementary and middle school students seemed to appreciate this simple reflective, yet predictive writing activity:

Instruct students to pretend they are 100 years old and have them write a story about their life at that age. Encourage students to dream big! Guide them with brainstorming by providing prompts such as:

  • Where were you born and raised? Share any childhood memories.
  • Where did you go to school? What did you study?
  • What interest and hobbies did you have? 
  • How did you make a living? Where did you live?
  • Describe a memorable place you visited. Did you meet anyone famous? Are you famous?
  • Who are you celebrating your 100th birthday with? Describe the special people in your life.
  • What will you wish for as you blow out the 100 candles on your birthday cake?

Super Bowl LIV – February 2nd 

As a Wisconsinite, I’m a bit heart-broken that my beloved Green Bay Packers won’t be playing in the Super Bowl this year. (They were SO close.) Anyway, I plan to still tune in to at least watch the commercials. Visit the Super Bowl Advertising Archive and have discussions with students about persuasion, advertising, and marketing. (Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is rumored to make an appearance in a commercial this year.)

Here are a few other Super Bowl-related ideas to get your students ready for learning:

  • Graphing, linear equations, the science of NFL football, concession stand math – this website provides a treasure trove of football-themed math lessons.
  • Get your football fans interested in reading with this list of 54 things about the 54th Superbowl.
  • What is the number one food eaten at Super Bowl parties? Where was the first Super Bowl played? Which team has the most Super Bowl wins?  Send students on an internet scavenger hunt to find the answers to these questions and more.


Valentine’s Day – February 14th 

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a wonderful time to give students the opportunity to reflect on what they love while sharpening their writing skills. However, my students at the elementary and middle school levels often struggled with writing – especially with the first step of just getting started. Then several years ago a grad school professor introduced me to Heart Mapping – a prewriting strategy based on Georgia Heard’s book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I have been implementing and sharing this brilliant, yet simple strategy with students and teachers ever since. Read more about this prewriting activity in this blog post.

Or check out some of these other ideas related to Valentine’s Day that can be incorporated into the curriculum:

President’s Day - February 17th

Happy Birthday, George Washington! Celebrate President’s Day with your students by researching and writing about our nation’s founding father (or any other U.S. President of their choice). This outline (and essay example) will guide your students with drafting a five-paragraph informative essay about the lives and contributions of our presidents.

Below are a couple more classroom activities and resources related to President’s Day:

  • Students can print and collect trading cards complete with interesting facts about all 45 presidents and the first ladies. 
  • February 22nd? February 11th? When is George Washington’s actual birthday? Is the national holiday known as Presidents’ Day (to include Abraham Lincoln) or Washington’s Birthday? This video helps sort out the confusion.  


Have a fun-filled February, educators! Please share your own classroom ideas for the month.

3 Ways to Prepare Students for State Standardized Testing


It’s almost that time of the year again… Whether your students are in Illinois taking the IRA, in Massachusetts for the MCAS, in Washington for the Smarter Balanced Assessments, or anywhere else in the nation, outlined below are three ways you can help them feel ready to ace the upcoming state standardized assessments. 

1. Practice Stress Management

While moderate levels of stress and anxiety are normal and can even be helpful for learning, chronic stress can be detrimental for brain functioning. Help students understand the link between stress and test performance with this 5-minute TED Ed animated video.

During the weeks leading up to your testing window, take a few moments each day to teach (and practice) self-calming and stress management strategies with your students. You will empower your students to independently manage strong emotions associated with stress and test anxiety proactively while creating a peaceful testing environment. Below are links to my favorite go-to strategies:

In addition, this article by TeensHealth provides more information about test anxiety and includes three guided breathing exercises to practice with students. 


2. Familiarize Students with the Test Format

From selected and constructed response items to performance tasks, a variety of questions are likely to appear on the state tests. Help diminish uncertainty and increase confidence by familiarizing students with the overall format of the test and the types of questions they will be expected to complete. 

Sometimes it takes a bit of searching, but sample test items are available on many of the individual state governments’ and/or on individual school districts’ webpages.

For example, this link will take you to the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR) Digital Item Library. Select the subject and grade level you’re interested in to preview a comprehensive list of relevant test items. Below are a couple examples of what a seventh grader in Illinois might encounter on the state assessments.



The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides an online training of the same format as the state required Forward Exam. The training essentially provides a dress rehearsal of the exam by having students practice logging in and selecting an appropriate testing session, responding to test items, and utilizing testing tools (such as calculators and highlighters). What a great opportunity for students to become more comfortable with the online testing environment before the testing window opens. Below are a few sample items that eighth graders might see on the state test in Wisconsin.


3. Encourage Healthy Habits

Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are all factors that affect our dynamic brains – for better or for worse. Because the human brain is comprised of 73% water, even mild dehydration can affect attention, memory and other cognitive skills that students depend on for taking tests.

Encourage students to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and to fuel their brains with a nutritious breakfast on testing day. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating a nourishing breakfast improves brain function, enabling students to perform better in school. (Retelny, 2018) From breakfast wraps to protein shakes, this article features dietitian-recommended breakfast foods and recipes known for maintaining energy levels throughout the morning and combating mental fatigue and mid-test exhaustion. In addition, Dr. Sawchuk of Mayo Clinic urges students to avoid sugary drinks and caffeinated beverages, which can spike one’s blood sugar and increase symptoms of test anxiety. For optimal testing performance, students are also encouraged to get regular aerobic exercise and to consistently get 8-11 hours of solid sleep at night. (Sawchuk, 2017)

Finally, take confidence in all the hard work you and your students have put in this school year. You’ve set them up for success – they’re ready. Best wishes this standardized testing season!


PLU now offering Graduate Level Course Credit


Faithful patrons,

We’ve just forged an auspicious partnership with Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) out of Tacoma, WA. PLU offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Education since 1890, and has agreed to offer graduate-level continuing education credits for our best curriculum and instructors, which they are voraciously vetting as we speak.

They are thrilled to work with us in offering transcripts for all three course formats - self-paced, structured online and site-based. Online courses are immediately available, and we will be scheduling site-based courses across Washington state beginning in Summer 2020.

We’re in the process of screening the brightest instructors around the state to make a great impression for these initial offerings. We promise to keep you apprised of the schedule. Here’s to a great year!

Browse initial offerings on the PLU Partner Page

Winter Reading Log: 19 Books Recommended by Educators


This article was originally posted December 2018.

Perhaps it’s the introvert me, but when I wake up 30-60 minutes before the rest of my family and have quiet time to read (while drinking a warm cup of coffee), I feel so energized and ready to conquer the rest of the day ahead. (In a recent blog post, I highlighted the benefits associated with independent reading including mental stimulation, increased concentration, improved analytical skills, along with several other benefits.)

We’re here to help you practice what you preach in the classroom everyday – read, read, read! I’ve compiled this list of 19 fantastic book titles educators are reading for pleasure and for learning this winter. And while you’re at it, have you thought about starting your own reading log for 2019? This website provides a plethora of templates to download for all ages, including adults.


  • Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual by Jacko Willink
  • Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning – Classroom Practices for Student Success, Grades K-12 by Shell Education and Sharroky Hollie
  • Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
  • Fly Boys – A True Story of Courage by James Bradley
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Historical Fiction:

  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Guernsey Literacy and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Atomic City Girls: A Novel by Janet Beard
  • Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly


  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

*Bonus Category - Podcasts*
Perhaps you’re having trouble finding time to sit down and read. Listen to a podcast episode on your commute to work, while walking on the treadmill, or wherever you choose. An educator in California shared a few of her favorites:

From the school psychologist in Maryland-to the math teacher in Illinois-to the special education para professional in California, thank you to all the educators who shared book titles. What are you reading this winter? Please share this post with your own recommendations and keep our list growing.

Finally, please be sure to check out our list of fantastic, university-accredited English Language Arts courses that educators are also working on this winter including:

How ACEs Impact Students in School


Julie lived in a small trailer home with her mother, her older brother, and her mother’s boyfriend. (Her father was incarcerated for repeated drug charges.)  I was Julie’s special education case manager and teacher for most of her elementary school years. She and her brother often got themselves up and ready for school every day while their mother (who reportedly suffered from a mental illness) slept. Due to Julie’s emotional and behavioral disorder, she qualified for riding special transportation to and from school with a bus aide who would knock on her door when she wasn’t already waiting outside her home in the morning. We had a change of clothes and toiletries available for Julie when she came to school disheveled or when her clothes needed to be washed. I remember how she loved getting her hair brushed and braided while she ate the school-provided breakfast and completed her untouched homework in my classroom before heading to her general education classroom every morning.

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years) that can have serious long-term implications. ACEs are divided into three broad categories:

  • Abuse (emotional, physical, sexual)
  • Household challenges (divorce, mother treated violently, incarcerated family member, substance abuse and/or mental illness in the household)
  • Neglect (emotional, physical)

According to recent study by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, 61% of adults surveyed reported having experienced at least one ACE. (You can determine your own ACE score by answering 10 confidential questions in this quiz.) Based on what I knew about Julie when she was my student, I conservatively estimate she experienced four (possibly five) ACEs. 

There is an alarming correlation between ACEs and risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, and premature death. (The higher number of ACEs, the greater the risk of these serious outcomes.) Unresolved adverse experiences can manifest as chronic stress, anxiety, and emotional pain – potentially leading to risky coping behaviors such as substance abuse, smoking cigarettes, engaging in unhealthy relationships, and compulsive eating. According to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ research (California’s first surgeon general), children who experienced severe trauma were 32 times more likely to be diagnosed with learning and behavioral disorders than kids who were not victims of trauma. (Gaines, 2019)

In school, Julie qualified for special education services to help meet her academic, behavioral, social, and emotional needs. She received daily individualized reading and writing support in a small group setting with me, she worked with the school psychologist on developing and practicing anger management and other coping skills, she attended a weekly “lunch bunch” with peers that I facilitated to help her strengthen friendship skills, an educational assistant was available in her general education classroom when Julie required additional support – such as during math class, her classroom teachers often implemented mindfulness techniques such as breathing exercises for the whole class, I consulted with an occupational therapist to explore ways to address Julie’s executive functioning deficits, and Julie had unlimited access to my special education classroom when she needed to take a break throughout the school day.

As Julie’s special education teacher, I focused my efforts on her (along with my other students’) overall success, but there were many factors outside of my control. For example, I worked hard to develop a partnership with Julie’s mom to no avail. I made phone calls to Child Protection Services when I noticed signs of neglect and abuse - some of those calls were further investigated, but many were dismissed. And, after being evicted, she and her family moved to a different home in a neighboring school district when she was in the fifth grade, and I eventually lost track of her.

Although she didn’t always demonstrate it, I think Julie enjoyed, appreciated, and even craved the structure, safety, and stability provided at school. Her attendance was impressive, and she made overall good academic and behavioral progress throughout her elementary years. I can only trust that my fellow educators and I did our best to equip her with the tools and support necessary for continued progress and success throughout her school years and into adulthood.

Perhaps you have students like Julie who are living with one or more adverse childhood experiences. Poverty, suicide, abuse, divorce, and community violence are some of the many traumatic, yet common, life experiences and events students of today’s society face. Learn how you can incorporate effective trauma-informed practices to maximize student learning and success in our new course - Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety in Schools: Finding Hope and Building Resilience. 



Classroom Calendar Connections – January 2020


Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from high school when he was only 15 years old. He earned his Ph.D. when he was 25 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign against racial discrimination at the age of 35. Although his life tragically ended at the young age of 39, his legendary service and teachings continue to influence race and community relations today.

Learn and share more about the life of Dr. King with these engaging BrainPop activities – including a 6-minute video touching on King’s family background, the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington, the events leading to the Supreme Court decision to ban segregation, and more.

…everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.
-Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

January 20, 2020 marks the 25th celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. True to Dr. King’s mission, the Corporation for National and Community Service urges us all to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day) “a day on, not a day off.” 

Invite students to take “a day on” and empower them to make a positive impact in the lives of others through volunteer work. Discuss places within the community where there might be a need for help (animal shelters, nursing homes, food pantries, etc.) and have students consider where they are most interested in serving. (Click here to explore registered volunteer opportunities within your own community.) Also, discuss the fun and fulfilling benefits of volunteering (for example: making new friends, gaining work experience, feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment). More than likely, students will want to continue their service toward others beyond MLK Day.

In addition, this lesson plan, (designed for K-2, but can be easily adapted for upper grades) challenges students to perform 100 acts of kindness between MLK Day and Valentine’s Day. Examples of acts of kindness might include helping a younger sibling with homework, shoveling the sidewalk for a neighbor, washing the dishes, inviting someone new to sit with them at lunch – the possibilities are endless.

How will you celebrate MLK Day in the classroom this year? Please share your ideas!

Featured Teacher of the month Sheri Finklea


These articles are meant to spotlight excellent teachers with whom I've had the good fortune to discuss education and their unique perspectives, and yet I so often commit the sin of talking about myself. So here we go again...

On the path to career piloting many spend time as an FAA Certified Flight Instructor. To earn that certificate you have to learn to teach after having learned everything related to aviation, and to land the airplane of course. Two four-hour tests, one oral and one practical, must be found satisfactory. Prior to those, two written tests must be passed, one of which is called the FOI (Fundamentals of Instruction). This was the first time I spent any effort to study how the human brain perceives information and groups those perceptions into correlating categories to affect "learned behavior". Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the Domains of Learning, common Defense Mechanisms, Cognitive Theory and about twenty other things that I struggled to understand strictly through memorization were introduced. But as I started teaching people those little tidbits came back to me experientally and I began to see how different each person's learning process can be. It was totally fascinating and still is.

With luck, Sheri Finklea was my fourth student, an eager learner, a tenured elementary educator and a newly appointed teacher trainer. She, too, was fascinated with teaching and learning and had ten years more experience than me. I think it's important to immediately reiterate that she is a committed learner for life as are all the good teachers I have met.

We spent as much time discussing weather and aerodynamics as we did discussing teaching in schools and family. She deserves credit for some of my learning curve as I worked to find my teaching voice at that moment, and because she's an outstanding mom and teacher. She is preparing to become a CFI herself in two weeks.

Sheri has been with the same large district in Oregon for sixteen years. With fluency in Spanish she gravitated toward ESL. After just one question I needed clarity on the terms EL (English Learner), ELA (English Language Arts), ESL (English as a Second Language) and ELD (English Language Development). Regardless, when asked she told me "my favorite part of my job is working with students who are new to English. I love figuring out how to transfer what they already know in their own language to English and putting scaffolds in place for what they need to acquire." All of you know the all-encompassing joy avialable when your student has a breakthrough. The harder you've worked for it the better it feels, and not in a sigh-of-relief-because-frustration-is-over kind of way. After twenty years as a teacher Sheri still feels that.

As an ELD specialist for her district Sheri works side-by-side with classroom teachers on sheltering instruction for English learners. She explained to me that sheltered instruction aims to avoid watered down curriculum for LEP (Limited English Proficient) students, allowing them to move on pace toward higher education while learning English. That's code for learning Science and History and everything else in a foreign language while learning the language. Brutal. But apparently there's a developed methodology for this that requires a lot of thought, practice and planning and Sheri teaches the other teachers how to do that.

She's well-practiced at and a strong advocator for co-teaching. Co-teaching is at the heart of her effort as she trains teachers in their own classroom environment with their English learners. Not only is it helpful to have support and backup but integral in offering perpetual collaboration for the improvement of instructional strategies.

Since she's a team leader working with newer members I asked if she had any advice for incoming teachers. Actually she had two suggestions:

  1. You can be the best teacher in the world but if a student is not emotionally available to learn, s/he will not learn.
  2. Professionally, choose 1-2 things to work on every year and ask for help if you need it.

Yes, we are all catching on to the implications of emotion on learning. In fact (me again) it's really hard to teach someone to fly when they are deadly afraid of heights! And the second part reinforces the point - a great teacher is a learner first and always.

We talked about what she's working on this year. One thing was too complex for me and had something to do with ELPA21 and goals and data, which only served to remind me there is a technical side to teaching that I'll be unlikely ever to understand. Then she said she is developing a Language Passport for every student (they are in elementary school) that they carry around to practice target language with classmates. So they create their own quick reference guide to daily conversation and use it everywhere, not just in English class. She told me it's experimental but results appear positive. What a simple idea.

She says it's more important now than ever for students to take ownership of their own learning. I keep hearing that. On the one hand it seems so obvious, but then I recognize that it wasn't a focus for such a long time. Why is it so important now? Is it because there are devices and applications that will answer any question without teaching someone to learn? I still feel fairly young, but it baffled me that student pilots (I know....sorry) of the newer generation would answer "if you get lost in-flight how will you find your way?" with "I'd use Google maps." I could slide right off the edge of focus here into a chasm of tangential bickering, but I won't. I'm just suggesting that "owning your learning" also means learning to learn versus absorbing oration. It's the most vital skill a teacher can endow, I'd say.

My good friend Sheri is so good at it that she teaches all the teachers in her district how to improve at it themselves. That's pretty spectacular.

The names on our stockings - HAPPY HOLIDAYS!


Hello teachers,

Despite having lived 38 years I still have some immaturities to work through. There are a handful of things that I just can't seem to get over, like reality television. In a similar vein I find it pretty odd that we send birthday and holiday wishes for the sake of custom rather than genuine acknowledgement. I think telling my Dad that I love and appreciate him is appropriate any day of the year, and probably more meaningful on a random Tuesday in February than on Father's Day. My wife is more excited receiving "You are great!" flowers than "It's Valentine's Day!" flowers.

At Christmas, though, I have learned to get past the shopping frenzy and truly appreciate a time at year's end when we all calm down (or get fully dramatic) together and appreciate each other and the year that we've had. So it is with authentic gratitude that we say Happy Holidays and wish that you enjoy family, friends and great happiness.

TCL completed a top-to-bottom overhaul of our platform and operations over the last eighteen months. Our intent was to keep curriculum and instructor integrity intact and improve the process in every other way. Thanks for your patience during construction and please expect a seamless experience moving forward.

Lastly, we want to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves; it's always better to have a face and personality to match a name in the digital communication age. Although it took some time to identify our strengths and mould this team we are now operating in harmony and we love it. We are happy to help anytime you ask!

Melissa R - Registrar

Melissa makes the impossible task of organizing thousands of students into hundreds of classes year-round look pretty easy. Every registration process and the associated paperwork and transcripts at the end for everyone. Things wouldn't work without her. Raising teenagers may have taught her how to handle chaos, and she's really good at that too.

Pam B - Course Facilitator

Pam manages every course in our catalogue, including curriculum maintenance and associated instructors. She also fields and answers most of the questions on our web support, and most of the questions from the rest of the staff. That's because she is our longest-tenured team member and has encountered it all so many times.

Heidi S - Superintendent

Dr. Heidi oversees all course development and instructional integrity. Her extensive experience designing continuing learning curriculum lends itself to the accreditation and approval processes. She is the reason your district is typically happy to accept our coursework.

Steve N - Course writer/Instructor

There's a 60% chance you have taken one of Steve's courses, and a 100% chance you gave us positive feedback on it. Steve works as an administrator, teaches TCL classes year-round and still manages to write a rock solid course every year. He plays five instruments too.

Connor S - Marketing

We stole Connor from our office neighbors when we couldn't help but notice his graphic design and online marketing skill set. He infuses optimism, humor and the voice of youth. He's teaching us how to reach the newest generation of online learners. Connor is a first-time father as of last month.

Jill R - Course writer/Instructor

Jill wrote one of our most popular courses of all time, ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies. Recognizing her abilities and particularly her bright-eyed passion for teaching and learning, we've taken her on as a full-time instructor, course writer and blog contributor. Jill is a consummate student - recently she took on a small farm and started training dogs.

KC C - General Manager

KC coordinates operations for us. This includes planning the schedule, new course development, and working with our university partners. Her role is to make sure that students, instructors, partners, and the TCL team have exactly what they need to succeed . She plays outside twelve months a year.

Ann M - Administrative Assistant

Ann does a little of everything for anyone. She bridges the gap between sales, programming, administration and management. Anytime a new task surfaces unassigned she takes it on or finds the best person for the job and follows up. Read: utility player, at TCL and in life. She works with animals, fixes cars, understands plumbing and electric, makes beautiful quilts and amazing lasagna.

Michael S - IT Team Lead

We tell Michael about an idea and he blends his artistic and technical prowess to build it into a digital architecture. Software is often the crux of online business but thanks to Michael it's a top strength for TCL. He's a new dad but still manages to play competitive golf, though not in the snow.

Merri E - Controller

Officially Merri controls our finances and payment processing, but her real talent is in keeping us all happy and comfortable in three locations across the country. She manages the offices, keeps the plants alive, does all the shopping, acts as our HR director, babysits our kids and our pets, throws our parties, recommends good books and always roots for each of us at work and at home. There are few things more valuable than positive support in all endeavors.

Rob M - Managing Director

Rob only sits still at dinner. Some people have endless energy reserves for tackling projects, and he never lacks for ventures to explore. We rely on his experience and guidance in our efforts to perpetually improve. As it's winter he spends his scant free time fabricating in his shop, whether race cars, battle bots or inventive proptypes.

Paul W - Course writer/Instructor

Between his high school, the soccer team and his array of TCL courses Paul probably influences about 1500 students every year, and I would be surprised if he didn't know all their names and learning styles. He also writes TCL curriculum and coaches new instructors and writers. Most notably Paul is capable of delivering important lessons and balancing equity to each individual learning style. He's a gifted teacher, and teaching might be his career and his favorite hobby.

Ike M - Sales

As the youngest of six brothers Ike has perfected the art of asking for help. This ability to engage others gives him a unique capacity to learn every detail about a chosen topic from multiple perspectives. When we want to understand something unfamiliar we put Ike on the trail. He seems to have an authentic writing voice so he regularly contributes to our blog as well.

3 Ways to Prevent Regression for Students During Winter Break


When I think about the upcoming winter break, the words rest, relax, and regression come to mind. Regression, in terms of education, is the loss of learned skills or knowledge during lapses of instruction (such as during school breaks). The key is to prevent regression from happening by equipping students with resources and engaging tasks to do outside of school. Outlined below are three ways to help students maintain the invaluable knowledge and skills you’ve worked so hard on this year.

Provide Reading Lists
Winter break is a wonderful time to get cozy and catch up with a good book. Encourage your students to read for pleasure by sending them home with books from the school library or provide them with a few recommended titles to pick up at their local public library. 

What to recommend? Every year the International Library Association compiles three reading lists: Children’s Choices, Young Adults’ Choices, and Teachers’ Choices of must-read titles.  (Students can even apply to be on the selection committee for upcoming years!) Or have students embrace the cold and snow (from the comfort of the indoors) with this list of 15 favorite children’s books about winter.

Cultivate Kindness
For the third year in a row, this elementary school in Ireland replaced homework with acts of kindness for the entire month of December. Students were instructed to record their acts of kindness in a “kindness diary”. The teachers provided some ideas for students including (but not limited to) helping an elderly neighbor, showing kindness to someone feeling lonely, or anything else that might brighten someone’s day. The vice principal of the school shared, “Our message to the children is very simple: they can be the reason somebody smiles today, and they can definitely help make this world a better place for others and for themselves.”

Empower your students to make this world a better place by writing about their own acts of kindness in a journal over break. Have them reflect on how they felt and how the recipient of their kind deed probably felt. Have them think about how kindness is contagious and how one person can make a difference. Inspire students to get started by watching this beautiful portrayal of how kindness is set in motion and passed from one person to the next (and back again). 

Introduce Hands-on Learning Activities
Introduce students to Science Buddies filled with fun hands-on STEM learning experiences to do at home. (Check out this 2-minute video on how to make a popsicle stick chain reaction: Students can also get a head start on researching and testing out ideas for their next science fair project.

Math skills, problem-solving, vocabulary, creativity, nutrition…there is so much one can learn by cooking! This link provides 30 easy recipes that the author promises “kids can make all by themselves.” (I’m going to give the frozen banana cereal pops and the microwave egg sandwiches a try with my own kids.)


While some regression is normal for students, the impact can be minimized by providing students with ways to keep their brains engaged over break. I hope you and your students come back to school in 2020 feeling rested, relaxed, and recharged!

The beautiful and fulfilling task of teaching project-based curriculum


Part two of a three part series on The Community School, a PBL High School
Part 1: The Den & the Project
Part 3: Finding your identity through PBL

As I understand it Ryan Campanella was a pretty popular science teacher and soccer coach for most of his first decade as a public high school teacher. I didn’t ask why he sought a fresh approach to teaching, but when I asked how he’s feeling about having moved to project-based teaching at The Community School he said “It’s amazing. It’s hard every day and it’s difficult to be concise in explaining it, but I love the freedom of having authority over the curriculum. This is what I wanted forever and I’m thrilled that there’s actually a place where I can teach this way.” While everyone prescribes in theory to the adage “do what you love and love what you do” it can’t be too common. When analyzing such a positive scenario I can’t help but be energized. I think teachers like Ryan are the advocates for which the PBL concept is intended.

When principal Cindy McMahon initiated the effort to create a project-based high school in her district she sought to embrace a better curriculum and rubric for the students that were not reaching their potential in the traditional ‘sit & get’. She once told me “I looked around and saw that our Committee of 10 model was failing so many kids.”

In just two years of discussion with educators I’ve heard the adjective heart-breaking more than I would’ve expected. Despite my limited exposure I’m already aware of significant and exciting changes to an arguably antiquated curriculum design, but it’s sad to hear frustration as teachers are still handcuffed despite their desire to help many students. I regularly hear burnout in connection to this same description, equally sad.

As often happens in life Cindy recognized a problem but stumbled upon the solution. The district sent a group to visit a PBL school and she was immediately impacted. “I met students who were truly driving their learning that linked them to their interests and future goals. What impressed me was the passion that they had about learning. It mattered. It was personally relevant. They were empowered by knowledge and a path forward to their career goals. I came back home with a radical shift of mindset.”

Cindy was appropriately focused on the students’ needs but understood that she would need equivalently motivated teachers and families. The school has found success and improvement year over year since 2011 because of the collaborative efforts and passion of so many involved.

Sara Reijonen worked together with Cindy and their colleague Bobbi on the original Design Team. She told me “there were many late nights, meetings, book studies, and school visits before we landed on the New Tech Network and what we are doing now, which is unique even among project-based and other choice schools.” I wanted to hear her perspective as a more tenured party to PBL so I asked “how long did it take for you to feel like you had a firm hold on the method?” First she laughed, and then responded “the irony in the work we are doing is that it is always changing, not for the sake of change but for the benefit of our students. When individual student needs are at the heart of the work, the work must change for the heart of the student.” Well besides being pleasantly poetic, that last statement re-defined for me the ambition of student-centered learning. I mistakenly thought of it as classroom-centered, as in letting the classroom be the focus rather than the teacher out front. But what I am finally recognizing is the specialized development of curriculum for each individual student; let the student personalize their own learning to reach their potential.

Cindy suggests that “traditional schooling is designed around efficiency through batching students through a six-period day where learning is driven by the teachers' assignments and, usually, the traditional assessments of tests and quizzes.” Not one teacher or administrator at The Community School has indicated that practices are wrong elsewhere. They simply make an inspired and collaborative effort to offer the best possible student-centered learning environment at their own school and are happy to share their successes and defeats with anyone expressing interest.

Personally I was sold on the whole thing even before I got to have these discussions. So I really wanted to ask how they variously see it evolving and their hopes for its influence on education at-large. “Smaller is better” Sara said. “Knowing your students and families deeply matters. I want to see more options. Not little replicas of us but intentionally designed programs for the students who inhabit the walls of whatever building it may be in whatever part of town it may be. Students and families need and deserve choice. Educators deserve choice in what they teach and how they teach. They too need to have their passion reignited.”

Cindy answered as optimistically “there are obvious challenges that I have observed first hand.  We need autonomy to do what we do. That said, groups of teachers can make PBL powerful and engaging anywhere.  I hope that will shift the traditional model over time so that all students have the experiences that will better prepare them for college, career, and civic readiness. Isn't that our goal?”

I’m so impressed with the commitment required to go after this concept, to “build the plane in flight” as Sara put it. But it’s the perpetual evolution that most excites me. Ryan sort of represents that. He’s in his second year and his impressions of the now-established PBL structure at TCS speak to the potential of its foundation. He discussed his personal growth in new fields, mentioning “I had to adapt to teaching wellnesses in the afternoon” and “it challenged my traditional sense of teaching, particularly in allowing students to find a failure point and then mediating.” He told me that he works a lot more but finds himself driving away from burnout because all the effort pays off directly. Seeing and hearing the students’ reflections of their own work acts as an indicator that the concepts are prevailing.

He said his first year was a blur, particularly as they were building a curricular foundation from scratch that they can now adjust moving forward. “Full-scale collaboration with different subjects and finding connections between curriculum” required maximum cognitive capacity. I got the sense that Ryan experienced some uncertainty through that first year about his effectiveness in PBL. But then he told me the thing that I just can’t forget: “There were some students that came in who could barely express themselves in private and on the last day they publicly and confidently presented their cumulative projects for 15 minutes!” He was still awestruck seven months later as we talked.

Cindy, Sara and Ryan are all intoxicated by their passion project. The other six teachers exhibit the same dedication. The students appear happy and, each of them, comfortable in their skin while at school. Their parents support the decision to participate in student-centered learning and to focus on agency as the measurement of success. It’s a huge group project that’s well-represented by each representative.

I love group projects myself. It’s so amazing to see what collaboration can produce. I’ll have to keep my eyes on them all as they strive to improve each year.


Classroom Calendar Connections – December 2019


December is filled with significant events to be incorporated into the classroom curriculum beyond the traditional holidays that one might typically think of. This article features National Handwashing Awareness Week, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and the Winter Solstice.

National Handwashing Awareness Week - December 1-7
Computer keyboards, pencils, drinking fountains, cafeteria trays, door handles, oh my! Germs seem to be lurking everywhere in schools. The good news, though, is frequent and thorough handwashing can prevent the spread of harmful germs. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing can prevent 1 in 3 gastro-intestinal related illnesses (a.k.a. diarrhea) and 1 in 5 infections such as the flu. Don’t underestimate the power of handwashing! (Aim to wash your hands for 20 seconds, which is the rough equivalent of singing “Happy Birthday” two times.)

Celebrating National Handwashing Awareness Week (December 1-7) with students is a handy (pardon the pun) way to keep yourself and your students healthy this season. Here are a few ideas to use in your classroom.

There are numerous catchy handwashing songs for young students online. For example, check out “Wash, Wash, Wash Your Hands” on YouTube. Older students (and adults) could use reminders about the importance of handwashing, too. (According to the CDC, only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after using the restroom.) A few years ago, OneRepublic performed an original hand washing song on Jimmy Kimmel Live that is quite entertaining (and sure to get your older students’ attention).

Kids Health provides engaging and ready-to-go lesson plans and activities across grade levels to teach students the importance of handwashing to prevent the spread of germs, including colds and the flu:

National Pearl Harbor Day of Remembrance – December 7
December 7, 1941. A date which will live in infamy. - FDR

A few years ago, my upper elementary students and I read Pearl Harbor is Burning! By Kathleen Kudlinski which was a story about the friendship between a Japanese American and another boy who had just moved to Hawaii from the mainland of the United States. My students seemingly couldn’t get enough of the history and the personal stories behind the attack on Pearl Harbor. Discover more titles to share with students across grade levels on this Pearl Harbor book list provided by Scholastic.

Listed below are a few other resources to help you and your students commemorate National Pearl Harbor Day of Remembrance this year.

  • This article published by National Geographic Kids provides an overview about the WWII events leading up to the attack of Pearl Harbor as well as the aftermath of the attack.
  • This video produced by the U.S. Department of Interior features excerpts of President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech. 
  • Meet a few of the last living survivors and listen to their emotional firsthand accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor in this CBS special. 
  • Finally, Scholastic provides this comprehensive, cross-curricular lesson plan designed for students in grades 3-8. The activities involved promise to be a “learning adventure” surround the events before, during, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Winter Solstice – December 22

What is a solstice? This brief, yet informative two-minute video answers this question and more (Nat Geo style) complete with awe-inspiring photography and powerful music. For younger students, leave it to Nature Cat and his friends on PBS Kids to find out what makes the winter solstice the shortest day of the year in this two-minute video clip. For a more in-depth look at the facts and folklore behind the winter solstice read and share this Farmer’s Almanac article.

Decorate an outdoor edible tree for animals, create a winter solstice lantern, make sun ornaments… For whatever reasons, winter activates the crafty, creative part of my brain, so I loved the ideas suggested in this article for celebrating the winter solstice

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” – John Steinbeck

Finally, this article includes 21 quotes about winter and the solstice. Give students the opportunity to reflect through journaling about any memories, thoughts, and feelings associated with winter-related quotes that resonate with them.


Happy December, Educators! What significant events will you incorporate into your curriculum this month?

Holiday reminders for Title One teachers


With the holidays coming up I thought that writing about some first-hand experiences with Title One kids and the ways they deal with the holidays should be helpful so that we can be more sensitive to their situations. Most of the time we do not know all the details that go into our students’ everyday lives. We see the daily changes in their behavior depending on how their home life is going, but it is rare that they really open up about everything. Holidays should be fun and, most of the time, celebrated with loved ones. Some Title One students who don’t have a lot of loved ones around start to feel anxious and sad going into the holiday season. Here are some useful practices I’ve discovered, things to watch for and ideas on how to support these types of kids every day at school.



For many kids holidays are just like any other day

When my students are asked what they are doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas, some will reply right away with extravagant plans including their families, but there are a handful who will just say, “Nothing.” 

When I ask them, “you really are not doing anything? Not seeing family or anything?” they will tell me that either their parents have to work and do not have time, or that they won’t see some of the important people in their lives until a later date. I’m sure this can be lonely. Some of their peers will show up after a holiday break and have stories to share or items to show from their break, while often Title One kids have nothing to show for what they did because they were home alone for the majority of the break. I have had a few students in the past say that they did not have any plans and they treat a holiday just like any other day. Keep this in mind when having class discussions both before and after the holiday season.



It is not just the holiday season that can cause anxiety for a kid

I say this because I have seen so many kids who get stressed or sad when a big life event is coming up and their “support system” at home is not around to celebrate. For example, a basketball player that I coached with a birthday coming up did not have a great home life. I always ask my students what they have planned for their birthdays and this particular student replied that she thought her mom would maybe take her out for dinner. When her actual birthday came I reached out to her and found out that she was sitting at home alone because everyone ended up working. She was very sad and I could tell felt alone. Since I coached this student on the girl’s basketball team I had a closer relationship to her and ended up driving forty-five minutes to pick her up to meet up with some of her teammates for a birthday dinner at the last minute. I could tell that even if I would not have been able to take her to dinner, the fact that I cared meant so much to her. 

From then on I have tried to be very intentional with my conversations with students to find out what is important in their lives and what events may be coming up that they need support with. I also try to tell my students, “Happy birthday!” if we are in school. They always look very surprised that I would know when their birthday is (I just have to do a little research at the beginning of the year). Although this was not a specific holiday, it is something to keep in mind because students’ personal causes for celebration often go unacknowledged - regardless of the time of year. 



School may be one of the only places where these students are cared for or have role models who are genuinely interested in them

This is sad but often very true. As mentioned above the support system at home may not always be supportive. I’ve met a lot of students who enjoyed coming to school and who sometimes remained there until they were told they had to leave in the late afternoon or early evening. Some that stay late do indeed have responsibilities that require them to stay late, but more often I see students hanging out on campus as long as they can to avoid going home. As educators we can take our role lightly at times regarding communication with our students. I believe if we really know and understand what each of our students go home to everyday that we will have more meaningful conversations everyday because these are the students who need it most. This is even more true when thinking about these students as they head home for extended breaks in the coming weeks. Often some of our Title One students may feel lonely throughout these long breaks from school. Let’s do our best to make them feel valued and let them know that we care for them.



Kids need structure

A few days before holiday break kids often get restless and their behavior may deteriorate. For some students this may be due to excitement. For others it’s because they know they are leaving a safe, structured environment for time off of school. And this may bring a lot of negative thoughts and feelings. When at school they have a consistent routine; while they may (like any student) talk about looking forward to not having school, if truth be told long breaks from school can promote stress. 

This can also impact them when they return to school as they struggle because they go from having no structure back to having the structure they were missing. One thing we can do for these students is to encourage them to do their best to keep a routine at home, even if they have to create one themselves. Setting aside specific time during each day to do things like read, write, take walks or anything similarly self-supportive will help these students maintain structure throughout a break.



In response to these concerns we as teachers or employees on a school campus have a great responsibility to impact these students when they are at school. Our words and actions impact them more than we know. Take time to find out what is going on in their lives, what their home life is like and celebrating things with them. These may be some of the best gifts you can give to your Title One students during the holidays. And don’t forget to take time to recharge your own batteries on break so you can return excited and focused!


This Connecting Link course, The Growth Mindset and Appreciative Inquiry: Getting the Best from Your Students and Getting Them to Believe in Themselves, provides many strategies to support all students, including Title One students learn to believe in themselves. 

Insights of Dr. Temple Grandin


Last month I had the privilege of attending Dr. Temple Grandin’s sold out presentation at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Dr. Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a young child and throughout her life has powerfully touched many parts of society including special education and animal welfare. In 2010, her exceptional life inspired the making of an Emmy-award winning HBO movie (starring Claire Danes).

That night’s audience consisted of a mix of college students (including education majors, animal science majors, and others), parents of children with autism, educators, and farming/agriculture professionals. Everyone went silent as she took the stage. 

To give us a glimpse inside her fascinating mind (literally), Dr. Grandin proudly shared an image of her brain scan, which highlighted her strong visual memory. “If I can visualize it, I can design it.” She described how she sees everything in pictures – she compared her mind to a Google images search engine. She pointed to another part of her brain scan, “Here you can see my trashed working memory.” She explained that she needs a pilot’s checklist (step-by-step instructions) to complete tasks involving multiple steps.

“When I learned how my visual thinking was different from verbal thinking, it gave me insight into how different people’s brains approach problem-solving.” Dr. Grandin pointed out that Steve Jobs was also a visual and logical thinker (and an artist), “That’s why your phone is so easy to use – it was designed by a visual thinker.”

Dr. Grandin expressed concern about the future of today’s children and teens and the growing addiction of video games. She candidly stated, “Kids are playing video games in their basements when they should be doing something!” Temple mentioned that some teens can’t even connect a garden hose – even worse, some don’t even know what a garden hose is! She passionately explained the benefits of kids experimenting with tools and creating hands-on projects. “People need to touch in order to perceive.” Her grandfather was a co-inventor of the auto pilot, “Tinkering was required to make it work.”

Stressing the need for schools to keep classes that foster creativity and problem-solving such as art, woodworking, theater, and auto shop, Dr. Grandin stated “We need students who can work in the practical world – plumbers, electricians, and mechanics. Even when projects are now being outsourced, things always need fixing.” She also stressed the need for coders in the technology world and recommended the book Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson.

During her talk Dr. Grandin discussed some “common denominators for future success” of students including:

  • They grow up with lots of books to read.
  • They have early exposure to career interests.
  • They are given opportunities for hands-on learning experiences.
  • They work hard at an early age (household chores and jobs working for people other than family members such as walking neighbors’ dogs, paper routes, and babysitting).
  • They have access to mentors to help with possible future careers.
  • They participate in internships (to “test drive careers”).
  • They learn how to do “real things” (such as drive a car, have a bank account, shop independently, and manage their time).


During the question/answer portion of the presentation, a young woman introduced herself as a college student with autism studying animal science with the aspiration of becoming a veterinarian. She asked Dr. Grandin for advice on reaching her future career goal. Dr. Grandin simply responded with, “Think more about the veterinarian, not the autism. Animals first, autism second.”

Referring to the brilliant innovation and technology that has been created in Silicon Valley, Dr. Grandin stated, “Geeks, misfits, and kids with labels built the stuff.” (She boldly estimated that “half the people working in Silicon Valley probably have autism.”)

She urged us to, “Look at what people CAN do!” and provided these “tips for working with minds that are different:

  • Never overload the working memory
  • Provide a pilot’s checklist for tasks with multiple steps
  • Stretch them slightly out of their comfort zones
  • Limit screen time
  • Provide choices of hands-on activities


Dr. Grandin expressed passion about young people becoming active and productive members of society - regardless of labels. She explained how she feels good when she figures something out or helps someone else figure something out – for example helping a parent understand why their child with autism is behaving in a certain way. Dr. Grandin believes a top priority for education is to foster lifelong learning among all students – starting at an early age. She went on to suggest some tips specifically for teaching our youngest learners including: 

  • Slow down when you talk.
  • Encourage use of words.
  • Give them more time to respond.
  • Use teachable moments.
  • Give instruction instead of saying no.


Dr. Grandin spoke for about 30 minutes longer than scheduled, but I could’ve listened to her speak all evening. That morning I had just finished reading her latest book, Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor. I waited in the long line for her to sign my book, which I had her dedicate to my two young sons - Abe and Owen. The book includes 25 inspiring projects for kids. I thanked Dr. Grandin for all her insights with a promise to give my boys lots of hands-on opportunities to tinker, create, and explore. 

From the special education professionals to the animal science students, I think Dr. Grandin left a lasting impression on everyone in the audience. 



Side Note: Since that evening I also read her book, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. The decades of research and experience Dr. Grandin shared in her book helped to give me a look inside the mind of the new puppy that my family and I just adopted from the Humane Society (along with the minds of the two cats who were already part of our family).

Beginning the Journey to Creating and E-STEM School - Part 2


In part one of this series there was an examination of the history, core principles, and general overview of both STEM and E-STEM curricular practices.

Beginning my work at an E-STEM school was an exciting opportunity that I was ready to take on in addition to my new role as a reading interventionist.  The task of fully understanding where I fit into this new school with little to no knowledge of E-STEM was overwhelming, but since my role as a reading interventionist didn’t directly connect with the E-STEM curriculum, I was able to adapt when I felt comfortable.  I quickly realized no one was going to teach me how to incorporate E-STEM into my curriculum.  I had to take the initiative.  At professional development days, and curricular and team meetings, there was a lot of verbiage I was unfamiliar with: “InSciEd Out”, “Green Ribbon School”, “Field Studies”, “Dodge days”, “engineering design process”, “ask, imagine, plan, create, improve”.  There were posters for LiveGreen club, Marine Team, and Lego Robotics clubs.  This all looked great, but how was it all incorporated and what was my place in it all?  

I decided to start small. I reached out to one of the science teachers and requested to get a “critter” for my 6th grade reading class.  I originally imagined a fish tank, but was pleasantly surprised by the new classroom pet, Ozzy the bearded dragon.  Ozzy was a hit.  I tried to think of ways to include the environmental perspective into my reading class.  We kept data on how much he ate, what temperatures and bulbs would create the most active environment, and how often he pooped.  The classroom collection of E-STEM books was sparse so I requested funding from my principal to add books about bearded dragons, reptiles, habitats, and global warming.  We were having so much fun and all were intrigued with the new lizard so I reached out to a local breeder to see if they would be willing to donate another lizard.  Our classroom adopted Miss Prickles and we were able to compare measurements of her growth over time to Ozzy’s growth.  We compared data of how much each lizard ate and even determined personality characteristics between the two.  

Using the following the engineering model for our school, we: 

Asked questions

  • Why is Ozzy so lazy?
  • What happens if we change the wattage to the bulb?
  • Where do we find the hottest part of the tank?


  • What would happen if we put the lizards together (Ozzy would eat Miss Prickles! Eeek!)
  • What the perfect home for the lizards would be 

Made a plan

  • for optimal warmth and lighting, 75 watt bulbs increased activity compared to 50 watt bulbs


  • a new space for them to live (we came up with a larger tank, more rocks for basking, a place for them to hide)

Last, we improved

  • we moved the tank to more “social” zones in the class to engage the lizards and added UVB bulbs to their tanks which increased activity

Once we completed the engineering cycle, students chose to write either an argumentative text or an informational text (according to the 6th grade common core writing benchmarks) regarding what was learned.  Most students chose to write an informative text about bearded dragons using graphs, charts, headings, pictures with captions, definitions, and relevant facts.  A few students chose to write a persuasive text stating their claim, giving relevant evidence with accurate and credible resources.  It was a struggle for those students, as well as myself, as it was their first experience trying to persuade their audience.  It wasn’t perfect, and the quality of work varied, but sometimes learning is messy and often the process is more important than the end product.  Making mistakes is how we learn.     

One of the most unique characteristics of the E-STEM curriculum at our middle school is the level of depth that goes into environmental projects.  We maintain partnerships with the local University, the local nature center within our school district boundaries, as well as an environmental camp our students travel to each year.  All of these partnerships have programs both at our school and offsite that include employees, volunteers, and yearlong curriculum.  An example of this would be the connection with the local nature center.  There is a monthly field trip that all 5th graders attend.  At these field trips students are expected to study bees, prairies, renewable vs. nonrenewable energy and build a shelter.  All of this connects back to the big question of “How do the products we use daily impact the earth?” 

Despite uncertainty early on I've found balance as a reading interventionist teaching inside the ESTEM curriculum, and basically I just needed to dive in and experiment. One of the observations our teachers continue to make is that the education of all of this is important and we are aware of the harmful impact humans have on the environment. The biggest struggle is in answering how do we turn all that education into thoughtful action?

American Education Week


The history of American Education Week (AEW) dates back to the World War I era when it was discovered that 25% of the draftees were illiterate. Alarmed by this staggering statistic, representatives from the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Legion teamed together in 1919 to determine ways to rally support for quality public education for all Americans. 

In 1921 the first observance of AEW took place with the purpose of “informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs.” (National Education Association)

This year the 98th annual AEW takes place on November 18-22, complete with the theme - “Reach. Educate. Inspire.” In recognition of educators, parents, administrators, education support professionals (including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, office staff, etc.) and substitute teachers  - the NEA describes AEW as: “A wonderful opportunity to celebrate public education and honor individuals who are making a difference in ensuring that every child receives a quality education.” It truly takes a village to educate the 50 million K-12 kids here in the United States.

Outlined below are a few of the many ways your school can participate in AEW every day of the week:

  • On Monday, November 18, kick off the week by having students design artwork that reflects this year’s theme, “Reach. Educate. Inspire.” Artwork can be displayed in school and within the community (the post office, library, etc.) to promote AEW. Consider organizing a door decorating contest to give students the opportunity to show off their creativity and spread their pride for public education throughout the school.


Image Credit:

  • According to the NEA, studies indicate significant benefits of parental involvement including an increase of student achievement and a reduction of absenteeism. Encourage parents and guardians to take an active role in their children’s education by inviting them to accompany their children to school on Tuesday, November 19 for National Invite Parents to School Day. (Click on the live link for a sample letter to customize and send home to promote the event.) Invite parents to have lunch with their child, read a book during story time to the class, work on an art project with their child, or sit in on their child’s favorite class. Consider shining the spotlight on the students by having them prepare a presentation for parents. For example, students could demonstrate a technology tool that is used in the classroom to illustrate the progression of education.


  • Wednesday, November 20 is set aside specifically for Education Support Professionals. As described by the NEA, education support professionals keep schools running and students safe, healthy, and ready to learn. Give your students the opportunity to honor their favorite cafeteria workers, office staff, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, resource officers, health aides, and custodians by writing letters of gratitude and/or creating thank you cards to show appreciation. Or consider having students work alongside education support professionals by serving food and assisting the custodians to gain a deeper appreciation for the work they do. Check out this brief, yet informative video about the essential roles education support professionals play in schools.



  • Give community leaders the opportunity to wear the many hats (and fill the big shoes) of a teacher by promoting Educator for a Day on Thursday, November 21. The Massachusetts Teacher’s Association deserves credit for this brilliant idea, which helps bring awareness and understanding of the significant roles and responsibilities of educators and underscores the need for adequate resources available to effectively serve students.


  • As the NEA put it, substitute teachers play a critical role in education by serving as “a bridge to provide continued quality education to children in the temporary absence of regular classroom educators.” Honor the wonderful substitute educators of your school on Friday, November 22 with a special certificate in recognition of their commitment to education. (Certificates designed by the NEA can be downloaded and printed here.)

Looking for more ideas? Browse through this list of tried and true ideas from past AEW observances provided by the NEA. 

Happy American Education Week, incredible educators! 


Teaching Title 1 • Part 3


Sustaining Success in 3 Simple Steps

Read Part 1      Read Part 2

Seeing students succeed creates one of the greatest feelings you can have as a teacher. It is seeing students accomplish their goals that makes the hard work worthwhile.

Title 1 students do not always have extra opportunities due to the economic difficulties of their family. So when success is reached this can be cause for great celebration with and for them as it likely took more time and effort to see their goals met. How can we encourage our Title 1 students, or any student for that matter, to have ongoing success in the classroom and in their lives? 

  1. Give them small goals at first and move toward bigger ones as they see small victories. Many times we may want to help students set stretch goals, but then they fail at it because they need stepping stones to get there. They often lack preparedness to approach a bigger goal by setting their own milestones along the way. 

  2. Encourage each and every student. Kids need verbal affirmation and positive reinforcement. Whether you're telling a student in person what a great job they’ve done, writing them specific feedback on an assignment, or (my personal favorite) calling home to tell their parents all the great things their child did in the classroom that day, kids thrive with affirmation! 

  • Students won’t often tell you this, but making a call home to a parent or guardian to provide positive feedback is one of the best things we can do. I called a few of my students’ parents and the following day the kids came to me and were so excited that their parents got a good report. Some of my other students overheard that I called their peers’ parents and immediately said to me, “Miss, here is my mom’s phone number, please call her and tell her what a great job I have been doing too!” (And remember, these are high school students I am talking about!!) I believe all ages and levels of students seek parental praise; what a gift we can help give by simply taking the time and effort to call parents and provide positive progress and praise.

  • While it may be easiest to see and praise the classroom and academic performances of students, I always try to find a character quality or two to include when I make positive calls to parents. I want parents and students to know that who my students are (attitudes, motivation, perseverance, and even kindness) matters as much or more than their academic performance.

3. Teach these students how to deal with failure. At some point they will fail! It is important to teach them that the world isn’t crumbling if they don’t succeed. By doing this, it will help them learn how to get back up and keep going. This helps in the classroom and in life. Investing in people and teaching them life lessons will help them achieve ongoing success! 

After seeing the results of these strategies being instilled in my students first hand, I can honestly say that I have seen more student success long term than I did in my early months of teaching. Early on in my teaching career I rarely thought about success past my class or past high school for these students. 

In utilizing some of these simple strategies, I saw students get their grades up, invest in becoming physically fit, build relationships with friends or family, become better role models for younger siblings, and I saw students continue on into college ready to thrive and take on the next challenge. This makes what we do worth it because we want our students to succeed, not just in our class... but in life! 

These Connecting Link courses may help you gain additional strategies for reaching and effectively teaching Title 1 students: 

Classroom Calendar Connections: November 2019 - Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving


“In November, some birds move away, and some birds stay.
The air is full of good-byes and well-wishes.” – Cynthia Rylant

Happy November, Educators! I have a well-worn/loved copy of In November by Cynthia Rylant sitting on my bookshelf ready for its favorite month. If you don’t have your own copy, you and your students can listen and watch a read-aloud of this cozy story here.  

In November, veterans are honored, and thanks is given... (My words aren’t nearly as eloquent as Rylant’s - nevertheless I’ve been inspired.) Below you will find links to valuable resources and ideas to commemorate Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving in the classroom with your students. 

Monday, November 11 - Veteran’s Day

  • The Veteran in a New Field, 1865 by Winslow Homer is an oil painting that depicts a Civil War veteran returning to the wheat field on his farm. This lesson provides activities and guiding questions related to this meaningful painting for students at all grade levels.


  • What does it mean to be a veteran? What do the colors of the flag stand for? What is the history of the “Star Spangled Banner?” This engaging lesson plan designed for students in grades 3-5 is focused on Veteran’s Day and patriotism. 


  • From 1775 when women served as nurses on the battlefields of the American Revolution to 2008 when the first woman was promoted by the U.S. Army to the rank of a four-star general, learn about the important role women have played in the military throughout history with this timeline provided by The Women’s Memorial



  • Give students the opportunity to honor veterans and active military service members by writing letters to say, “thank you.” Operation Gratitude provides guidance on how to get involved with their heartfelt mission. 


Thursday, November 28 – Thanksgiving


  • Young mathematicians will love exploring Thanksgiving through a statistical lens. In 2016, 243 million turkeys were raised in the United States. ‘Cranberry’ is the name of seven U.S. cities and townships. Over three billion pounds of sweet potatoes were produced in the U.S. in 2015. Find out more Thanksgiving Census Facts here.


  • Take a tour of a replica of the Mayflower, discover what life was like for the Pilgrims and the Wampanaog Nation, and travel back in time to learn about the first Thanksgiving with these free online videos, provided by Scholastic, for all grade levels.


  • This comprehensive lesson plan, designed by The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, for grades 4-8, gives students the opportunity to learn about Thanksgiving from the perspectives of American Indians.



Enjoy this lovely autumn month, Educators! What’s happening in your classroom In November?

Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences - Before, During and After


Parent-teacher conferences can be a great opportunity for meaningful conversations about how students can reach their full potential in school. To help ensure meetings are positive and productive for everyone involved, below are a few tips to consider before, after, and during conferences.

Before the Conferences

When scheduling conferences, try to offer parents a variety of times and dates to accommodate work and childcare schedules. Suggest phone or video conferences for parents who are unable to attend in person. When necessary, arrange for language translators to be present. To help ensure a good turnout, remind parents of their scheduled meeting date/time about a week before.

Gather student work samples, test data, progress reports, IEPs, 504 Plans, and any other documents with information you would like to share or reference. 

Create a simple agenda pertaining to each student, which might include:

  • Student Strengths/Successes
  • Student Challenges
  • Plan of Action/Next Steps

Create a welcoming meeting space with (adult-sized) tables and chairs, along with pens and paper for parents to jot down notes. When feasible, provide a box of tissues (there are occasional tears shed and we’re on the brink of cold and flu season!), mints, and bottles of water. Line your classroom walls and the hallway outside your door with student artwork and work samples for parents to view. Also, provide games, puzzles, coloring books and crayons for younger siblings attending the conferences.

Consider giving students more responsibility and accountability by having them lead the conferences.  Student-led conferences shine the spotlight on the students, but still involve a significant amount of front-end preparation and planning. For example, students should compile work samples (projects, tests, homework assignments, etc.) to create a portfolio, write a self-reflection about their progress and performance in class, and set goals for the upcoming semester/grading period. Students also need time to practice presenting their portfolios and explaining their progress and performance. You can learn more about student-led conferences here.


During the Conferences

Before getting started, take a breath and share a positive anecdote about the student. For example, “Did you read Beth’s persuasive essay about why cats are better than dogs? She was quite convincing!” or “According to Ben, it sounds like you had a memorable family trip to the zoo last weekend.” Small talk can help to put everyone at ease. 

Assure parents that their partnership with educators is crucial for their child by asking them to share about how school is going from their perspective. Ask questions such as:

  • “What do you want your child to accomplish this year?”
  • “What does your child enjoy/dislike about school?” and
  • “What has helped your child to be successful in the past?”

Use your agenda as a springboard for discussion – highlight the positives and address any concerns with ideas on how to further support the student. Oftentimes, parents primarily want to know if their children are well-adjusted in school. Who are their friends? Do they get their work in on time? Are they kind and respectful?  Encourage parents to share their own insights regarding their child’s strengths, interests, challenges, and next steps. 

Out of respect for everyone’s time do your best to stay on schedule. If a meeting is going longer than anticipated or if parents arrived late, invite them to continue the conversation later over the phone. 


After the Conferences

Send thank you notes to parents who attended. Better yet - have your students write the thank you notes! Invite parents to contact you if they have additional questions or concerns. Be sure to follow through by providing parents with any promised resources related to action plans discussed (for example: student accommodations, contact information for related service providers, work to be completed at home, etc.). And don’t forget to follow-up with answers to any unanswered questions that might have popped up during conference time.

Finally, give yourself something to look forward to by treating yourself to whatever you might enjoy after conferences are over. Dinner at your favorite restaurant, tickets to a movie, a massage, an hour to yourself – you deserve it!

Best wishes for a positive and productive parent-teacher conference season!

The Den & the Project


Part one of a three part series on The Community School, a PBL High School
Part 2: The beautiful and fulfilling task of teaching project-based curriculum
Part 3: Finding your identity through PBL



Driving question: 

How many sticky notes are stuck to the walls in The Den at the Community School at Bancroft?

The driving question begets the benchmarks, which influence the source materials, which support the research, which populates the presentation, which inspires the final product, all of which support the appreciative inquiry process that is the focus of the Community School. The idea is for students to learn how to learn through the lens of a project and to commit to positive community impact. Rather than listening to “the right answers”, taking notes and pumping them back out on a test this project-based method intends to cultivate curiosity, learning, teaching, cooperation and willingness to fail.

Last Thursday I was in "The Den" observing five of the first and second year teachers as they assessed and enhanced their projects in two groups. The room is roughly 20’x 20’, housing nine desks for the nine resident teachers and with a long conference table in the middle. There are shelves everywhere, by design and makeshift, and the walls are covered in poster board outlines of projects past and current. The place was kind of a mess in the dedicated artist way. I saw two bookshelves on wheels with multiple copies of some great titles including All the Light We Cannot See and Life of Pi and The Alchemist. These are my kind of books. I wanted to start an impromptu book club session so I could harvest insight on some of my other recent favorites but they were working. So I listened to their discussions and took notes, and focused briefly on the sticky notes from which no surface was protected.



In answering the sticky note question I had to employ logic, observation and averages. Nine desks, eighteen bookshelves, 720 square feet of wall space. The top three feet of wall is unreachable so I excluded 240 square feet immediately. Excluding the doors, the projector screen, the wall space behind desks and shelves left 272 square feet of wall space. Looking at the space next to me I counted nineteen sticky notes on a project poster and another twelve on the wall around it, occupying approximately fifteen square feet of space. So that’s 562 sticky notes for the usable wall space. Then I added the thirty-five for each teacher’s station multiplied by nine teachers and the estimated total was 877 already-used sticky notes in the room. With a few more hours I could’ve analyzed color and content to discover the function and utility of the sticky note method. To present the data I could then populate a color-coded data table and my conclusions, but I don’t think anyone would want to see it. In doing all this I could’ve sharpened my mental math, observation, computer and language skills, and probably learned some effective sticky note techniques.

There are approximately 877 sticky notes in The Den because, obviously, the nine teachers at the project-based Community School are constantly adjusting their curriculum. Last Thursday’s afternoon meeting is a daily occurrence wherein the teachers assess the progress of their students, analyze the effectiveness of their project design and identify process for improvement. Constantly adjusting curriculum. It’s such a simple description for a monumental advancement in pedagogy. They don’t teach from a textbook. They teach in groups, shifting to combine core subjects, by creating “meaningful projects that require critical thinking, creativity, and communication in order for students to answer challenging questions or solve complex problems” it says on the school website.

The sticky note question was more of a scenario-based math problem. The projects undertaken at the Community School last for weeks and progress through benchmarks and result in a final product. Students break into groups and divide work to research and collect information to be presented publicly; they sign individual contracts stipulating their commitments.

Every teacher contributes specialized knowledge to their project: science, ELA, math, history. The teachers work in groups to design projects aiming to teach the necessary skills and meet required credits to satisfy education regulations while focusing on cooperation and critical inquiry. It may sound pretty conventional when described here but a visit to the school will demonstrate the revolutionary simplicity of the concept. There is no hierarchy of knowledge at the Community School. It doesn’t look like Riverdale - no teacher standing next to the board administering knowledge with students at their desks scribbling notes. The kids call teachers by their first names – Bobbi, Sara, Bryan, Ryan, Cindy. There's no bell, they aren’t called Frosh, there’s no graffiti (unless it’s part of a project), there has been no fighting or bullying in its eight year history, and I couldn’t identify a single clique. It is a cooperative group of students, teachers and support staff focused on developing critical thinking, encouraging social justice and identifying the best path forward for each individual.

And the unifying matrix into which all of this effort is built is the project. Remember in The Karate Kid when Mr. Miagi asks Daniel to paint the fence and the kid is upset because he wants to learn to block, but then it turns out that the repetitive motion of painting mimics blocking and he learned without realizing it? It’s like that, sort of, but way more calculated. The Den is the innovation space where these creative projects are meticulously sculpted to achieve their five learning outcomes:

  • Agency
  • Collaboration
  • Oral Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Knowledge & Thinking



Follow the Money

Driving question: 

How is wealth spread throughout the US, why is it that way, and what should I do about it?


How is wealth spread throughout the US today?

  • Explore primary resource data to understand US wealth distribution
  • Product: a group Data Story presentation 

How did we get here? – US economic history through the lens of the African-American experience

  • Research the history of a demographic that is underrepresented in the wealthiest Americans today when compared to the US population
  • Product: Participate in a Socratic Seminar discussing the causes of wealth equality

How did we get here? – US economic history through the lens of an underrepresented groups’ experience

  • Research the history of another demographic that is underrepresented in the wealthiest Americans today when compared to the US population
  • Product: Declare and chronicle a “year of significance” for this underrepresented group

Final Product: What should I do about it?

  • Take a concrete action to help bring about change – document the action and explain how it impacts wealth distribution through a Justification Reflection.

Assessment focuses less on “did you submit the right answers?” and more on “were you willing to fail?” and “did you collaborate well?” and “did you commit to learning?” In the PBL description, “by making learning relevant to them in this way, students see a purpose for mastering state-required skills and content concepts.” They also absorb the greater lesson of taking knowledge and putting it to good use toward improving the world around them. It’s very powerful, and it all starts at the conference table in The Den.


Classroom Calendar Connections – October 2019


National Bullying Prevention Awareness, Fire Prevention Week, ADHD Awareness, Dyslexia Awareness, and so much more! October is a busy month, full of valuable learning opportunities for students and educators. Provided below are some note-worthy resources and activities to recognize a few of the many events this month.

National Bullying Prevention Awareness
The first Monday of every October kicks off National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and is known as “World Day of Bullying Prevention” (October 7, 2019).  Schools and communities around the world are encouraged to wear blue to represent solidarity against bullying and cyberbullying. Click on the live link to register your school to help raise awareness to bullying prevention.

This website, Stomp Out Bullying, provides student-led anti-bullying weekly themes to implement during October including: 

  • Make friends with someone you don’t know at school
  • STAND UP for others week
  • Week of inclusion

To learn more about how to prevent and respond to bullying, please check out our course, Bullying and Cyberbullying: An Educator’s Toolbox for Prevention and Intervention.

Fire Prevention Week
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has announced “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape!” as the theme for Fire Prevention Week (October 6-12). The NFPA provides a plethora of fire safety resources for educators including lesson plans, activities, videos, tip sheets, and games on their website.

Here are a few highlights:

ADHD Awareness
The theme of this year is ADHD Myths and Facts – Know the Difference.

Dyslexia Awareness
According to Mayo Clinic, Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language. Click on the live link to read more about the symptoms, risk factors, and complications associated with dyslexia.

The International Dyslexia Association provides this comprehensive handbook, Dyslexia in the Classroom: What Every Teacher Needs to Know, which includes the following topics:

  • Signs and symptoms of dyslexia
  • Classroom strategies, tips, and tools
  • Components of effective reading instruction
  • Screen, evaluation, and diagnosis

Getting out of bed in the morning, texting with friends, and even lunchtime – dyslexia can impact a person’s life in surprising ways. Read A Day in the Life of a Teen with Dyslexia about Henry, an 11th grader with dyslexia, to get a deeper understanding about dyslexia-related issues students might face.  

How will you recognize these and other significant events this month? Please share your own classroom calendar connections for October.

What is World Teachers’ Day?


I read yesterday that there are more planets in the universe than seconds have passed since the Big Bang. It’s not even close - 20 sextillion planets (conservatively calculated as one planet per star) to 435 quadrillion seconds, so like 46,000 times more planets. I love the perspective achievable by data like these - it takes me out of my tiny bubble and reminds me how many moving parts there are. It seems pretty crazy that we have yet to find a planet with aliens wandering around, or one where we could move our adventurous population, or one full of rainbow-colored waterfalls.

Some other interesting data: there are 105 day-of-the-year events listed for October on, averaging 3.4 per day, not including the actual holiday of Halloween. That’s a lot to celebrate. International Teacher Day (synonymous) shares October 5 with Card Making Day, Lash Stylists’ Day and three others. October 18th is Chocolate Cupcake Day, June 14th is Cupcake Day, April 3rd is Poet in a Cupcake Day, December 15th is Lemon Cupcake Day, and World Tripe Day has October 24th all to itself, naturally, because everyone just loves tripe. Most of these “special” celebrations are designated on the calendar, and in fact you can submit for approval anything you like to start marketing your day to potentially build a nice following on social media. There are a handful of sites that offer this service.


So I wondered - how do we differentiate between routine advertising and true cause for celebration and appreciation? Is World Teachers’ Day just another consolation trophy or does it affect positive change?

World Teachers’ Day was established in 1994 to commemorate the signing of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. From the foreword, “It sets forth the rights and responsibilities of teachers, and international standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions. It also contains many recommendations for teachers’ participation in educational decisions through consultation and negotiation with  educational authorities.” After 21 years of research and commitment to education UNESCO decided in 1966 to address conditions for teachers worldwide. From Wikipedia: ”World Teachers' Day aims to focus on ‘appreciating, assessing and improving the educators of the world’ and to provide an opportunity to consider issues related to teachers and teaching.”


UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, founded in 1945, based in Paris, operating under the umbrella of the United Nations and currently having 193 member states. UNESCO’s Mission & Mandate outlined on their website under the In Brief tab summarizes their many commitments and goals. My favorite is “UNESCO develops educational tools to help people live as global citizens free of hate and intolerance.” The goals are peace and the prevention of war, so the culprits are ignorance and hatred, and the tool is education.

UNESCO is gigantic, focusing on education locally and internationally. Following are some of my favorite samples of their open source library, which is humongous.

Focus on education:

Focus on policy:

Focus on cultural well-being:

Once again, the scale of Unesco, measured by pages or by people, is astronomical and reminds me just how huge the world is outside my bubble and how many moving parts are required to make this marble work.


You might read all this and say to yourself “I already knew all this, duh,” but I didn’t. Most of us can’t remember which organization does what and how they are funded and what is their focus and whether they affect positive change or engage in crooked politics. It’s like anything; thousands of articles and research for and against everything to the point where, unless you are personally affected, you may just not care or never need to follow up. In point of fact, the United States withdrew from UNESCO in 2017. Support for withdrawal cited the organization’s policies of hostility toward free society and free markets and an anti-Israel bias. Others point to inflammatory budgets and a dilution of American influence through UNESCO as its membership has grown. I don’t intend to rile up a sociopolitical debate; I’m just pointing out that the waters are always murky in the international policy pond. Sometimes it’s easier just to shut out the noise.

Maybe you wonder how anyone can be ignorant to such an enormous and established humanitarian organization, but I think I’m pretty normal. I had a great education in a medium-sized city, went to college, have a grown-up life and a grown-up job. I suspect that MOST people are unaware of UNESCO and its efforts and accolades. MOST Americans will pass out candy on Halloween, many will make cupcakes on June 14th, a couple might eat tripe on October 24th, but less than 50% will recognize World Teachers’ Day, and far less of that 50% will activate. World Teachers’ Day IS UNESCO’s DAY, and that of all the teachers, professional and otherwise, around the globe. Regardless of our country’s participation in the organization, the spirit of October 5 is positive. It’s a celebration of educators and education in the essence of peace, culture and sustainability on our planet.


How can we help?

  • Show gratitude - say thanks to teachers, on this day and others. Feeling appreciated goes a long way to maintaining motivation to do your best. Teachers feel the same.

  • Offer support - go into the classroom (when invited) or participate outside to help teachers do their jobs well.

  • Become a teacher - you don’t need a degree to educate someone on something you know well. 

  • Be mindful - whether you follow policy or steer clear, send positive thoughts out into the world for the advancement of education and positive change.

  • Celebrate - learning is an amazing process. It’s rewarding, fun and necessary. Embrace it with joy.

20 Ways Fellow Educators Manage their Stress


The trees are changing colors, pumpkin spice is back, sweater weather is here, and school has been in session for about a month already. How are you feeling? Hopefully you’ve hit your school mode stride, but if stress is starting to creep into your daily routine, you’re not alone.

According to a Penn State research brief, 46% of teachers report a high level of daily stress during the school year due to soaring job demands - including high stakes testing, challenging parents, managing students with behavior problems, and lack of school resources.

Stress associated with teaching has been referred to as an epidemic which leads to burnout and a high teacher turnover rate - also negatively impacting student learning and success. 

Not all stress is bad (sometimes it can even be motivating), but long-term stress can lead to serious health concerns including heart disease, anxiety, depression, diabetes, muscle tension, insomnia…the list goes on and on. This article published by Mayo Clinic outlines the effects of stress on your body, strategies to manage stress, and information about when to seek help from medical professionals.

So how are fellow teachers managing their stress now that school is back in session? We asked and educators from around the country have graciously shared their plans for making their own well-being a top priority in 2019/2020:

  • Get regular exercise – even if it’s just 10 minutes per day
  • Keep quick, healthy snacks in my desk
  • Join a book club with friends
  • Do jigsaw and crossword puzzles for brain breaks
  • Establish the Tap-in/Tap-out strategy with colleagues to recharge
  • Ditch my teacher bag by setting a limit to the number of days schoolwork is brought home to grade
  • Practice yoga, CrossFit, and deep breathing exercises
  • Play with my kids at the park after school
  • Keep a 9:30 p.m. bedtime
  • Go out to dinner with my husband (just the two of us)
  • Walk 30 minutes every day
  • See a therapist monthly
  • Keep a gratitude journal (list 3-5 things I am thankful for everyday)
  • Attend water aerobics one day per week
  • Play students’ favorite music as they enter the classroom
  • Create a weekly schedule – and stick to it
  • Implement “Mindful Mondays” (Lead mindfulness exercises with students in the classroom every Monday morning to transition from the weekend)
  • Organize monthly potluck lunches with colleagues at school to socialize and build relationships with each other
  • Read for pleasure (at least one chapter a day)
  • Spend time outside everyday (green spaces and fresh air can work wonders!)

Although teaching is demanding and stressful, don’t lose sight of how rewarding and fulfilling it also can be. Here’s a positive statistic to leave you with - according to an ING Foundation Survey, 88% of people say a teacher has had a “significant, positive impact” on their life. 

Every day you are making a positive impact, indeed. You can’t pour from an empty cup, though. How will you manage your stress and focus on your own health and well-being in 2019/20? Please share your own ideas.


Beginning the Journey to Creating an E-STEM School


From the first time I walked into my current school its originality was so apparent, like no other school, and after four years that authenticity endures. Approaching the main entrance, I was greeted with a sign saying “Rain garden” next to another informing “Our lawns have an adjusted schedule to promote pollinator growth.” A leopard gecko watched over the main entrance from its window, and while I awaited a first meeting with my new principal some “Nemos” entertained me in the main office fish tank. These were just some of the indications that really got me excited to start a new path at my E-STEM school where we are making a commitment to environmental awareness.

Concerns of climate change, environmental pollution and global warming have led a movement toward practices in our daily lives to protect our world. We see it every day in the ways we live whether through recycling, purchasing of environmentally sustainable products, driving of hybrid and electric vehicles or use of recyclable bags at the grocery store. I have always tried to live an environmentally friendly life and am proud to be the first neighbor on my block to maintain a bee-friendly garden. But often it just doesn’t feel like we are doing enough, and that nagging feeling was what brought me to start a new job teaching at an E-STEM school. I felt if I could impact students and grow their awareness I would be fueling a new generation to strive for a healthy environment.

Understanding the focus and purpose of STEM education is the first step toward implementing an E-STEM community of learners within a district, school and classrooms. STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications. The past decade has witnessed an undertaking to create and sustain STEM schools to prepare learners for a changing need in the demand for jobs in those areas. This push was the result of government actions from the Obama administration in 2009 under the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. Progressively the campaign expanded funding to STEM educational programs and agencies. 

Environmental Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (E-STEM) education is a newer initiative. This adds an additional layer of complexity to the STEM curriculum. While an E-STEM school follows most of the same practices as the STEM model, the environmental concern and impact are at the core of the curriculum of the four interdisciplinary subjects.  Communities of teachers, whether by grade level, teams/houses, or subject area start with a deep-thinking question related to the environment.  For example, the 5th grade team at our school comprised of Social Studies, Language Arts, Science, and Math uses the question “How do the products we use daily impact the earth?” This allows for multiple responses and the ability to experiment and analyze data. The key to this question is that there isn’t one correct response so it allows for greater thinking, which then generates more questions for the students to think about critically.  Students employ the scientific process to gather information, create a hypothesis, experiment and synthesize their findings.  This process is utilized across content areas with experimentation in Science, data collection using mean, median and mode in Math, analysis of current events that may impact government action and environmental laws that exists in Social Studies, and creation of a scientific report using grade appropriate informational writing standards in Language Arts.  While this may be an oversimplification of the process the most important difference to other STEM curriculums is that environmental learning comprises the essential components of the learning process.       

Throughout this series I would like to explore what E-STEM is at the core of its practice, steps involved in the implementation of an E-STEM school or class, and a guiding framework utilized in the E-STEM classroom setting.

Teaching Title 1 • Part 2


Motivating Title 1 Kids

Read Part 1      Read Part 3

We are all relational human beings and our relationships influence and encourage us as we grow. After recognizing firsthand how relationships truly impact adolescents (see Part 1 of this blog series), I now know this is the most significant factor in motivating Title 1 kids. 

In my health and fitness class, with 50+ students per class period, it was tough to learn every name and an important detail about each of them. Of course there are always a handful that you end up developing better relationships with, maybe due to where they sit in class, their personalities, or even how they tend to gravitate towards a teacher who really cares. 

Students with whom I built better relationships on a deep level performed so much better than those who were less reachable. For example, kids that I had a good relationship with would make comments like, “Miss, look what I did for you!” as they would hand in their homework, as if they were completing it to make me happy rather than simply for a good grade. I could see that my interest in who they were, what they were interested in, and what their individual goals were motivated them to produce good work for my class. 

Once I caught on to the kids' effort to do their work “for me,” I began to wonder, “How can I get them to do things for themselves?” My curriculum had a segment about goal setting. I designed an extra lesson to go with it to really help students think about what motivated them as individuals. Specific questions also encouraged them to hold focus on a particular goal set for the semester. The hope was that they would learn how to set and achieve goals and then use these tools later on in life, too. 

Here are some of the questions that I challenged them with as they began to think about areas in their life they would want to change:

  1. Why do you do what you do? Do you do things for yourself, your family, or your friends? I would have students write down their answers and describe “why” in their response. 

  2. How can you keep yourself accountable to change? I gave them examples like setting reminders in their phones, establishing an accountability partner, or writing a goal on a mirror or in a place that they would see each day. Most kids had never thought in depth about accountability or some of these simple, free strategies.They really had to evaluate accountability and what it was going to look like to them. 

  3. What motivates you most? This was an interesting question, because I know that relationships motivate a lot of people’s desire to be liked and accepted. It was fascinating to see how kids were wired so differently. For example, some kids were motivated to do well in the classroom so they could be the first in their family to go to college. Some were motivated by seeing tangible results in their life which would cause them to want more. And some were motivated by money and success because their current situation at home may not have had much of either. 

Asking questions and getting to know kids helps motivate them because they know they will have a cheerleader to come alongside them to give hope and encourage them to push on when things do not go their way. Finding out what motivates each student will help build a sincere relationship and helps them think rightly about themselves to know how to go about reaching their goals. 

If you seek gaining additional strategies to motivate students, explore and consider taking this Connecting Link course: Transformative Classroom Leadership.

A Connecting Link course you may want to explore that may help Title 1 students’ motivation when it comes to assessments is Differentiated Assessments: Alternative Ways to Assess All Students in your Classroom

3 Steps Educators Can Take Toward Suicide Prevention Among Youth


This article was originally published on our blog 06-29-2018 and we think it's appropriate to revisit as September is Suicide Awareness month.

Suicide touches everyone, in one way or another. Perhaps you welcomed Anthony Bourdain into your living room by watching his popular CNN show, Parts Unknown. Maybe your favorite handbag was designed by Kate Spade. Maybe a close friend, family member, or student died from-or attempted-suicide.

            According to the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, tragically, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24.  As educators, we encounter hundreds of students each day, students with complex needs beyond academics.

Given the current staggering statistics and the recent tragic events involving suicide, we’ve outlined three steps for you to take toward suicide prevention among your students.

  1. Know the warning signs of suicide, but don’t stop there.

The Suicide Prevention and Resource Center, has identified behaviors that may indicate an individual is at risk for suicide including:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live 
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Following the loss of her 16-year old student from suicide, high school teacher, Brittni Darras, explains how watching for signs of suicide alone is not enough. In this video, find out how she is fighting the battle against suicide in her classroom.

  1. “Fuel Connection” with Empathy.

Perhaps you’ve already seen this Brene Brown video, but it’s worth watching again. The difference between empathy and sympathy is brilliantly explained in this short animation involving a fox, a bear, and a deer. (Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.)

Sometimes we think we need to solve other people’s problems. Sometimes we avoid others because we don’t know what to say. However, as you heard in the video, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

Make a point to connect with your students (beyond academics) and encourage them to connect with one another every day. Here is some inspiration from a kindergarten classroom:

  1. Share Resources with Your Students.

We can’t assume our students know where to go when they (or their friends and loved ones) need help. Listed below are some valuable resources to pass along to your students:

In this final video, teenager, Sadie Penn bravely talks about her personal experience with attempting suicide and the importance of positive mental health and suicide awareness. Pay attention as she recalls what one teacher said to support her in a very powerful way.

Regardless of age, gender, race, religion, fame – suicide doesn’t discriminate, but it can be prevented. As noted by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, “Everyone has a role to play.” As educators, we can take steps to meet the diverse and complex needs of our students and, ultimately, save lives.

Please share this post and keep the conversation going. What steps toward suicide prevention do you currently have in place in your classroom or in your school?

Featured Teacher Steve Schank - September 2019


I’ve been looking for someone with whom to discuss alternative teaching methods, and Jill Rockwell introduced me to the best possible teacher to begin. I forgot to ask Steve Schank for an inclusive title for his teaching position, but he did say he teaches:

  • Animal Science - Livestock

  • Animal Care - Horses, Dogs & Cats

  • Veterinary Science

  • Forest & Wildlife

  • Floriculture

  • Production Greenhouse

  • Ecology - Water & Fish

  • Agronomy

...he was still listing courses when I interrupted (sorry Steve) to ask how he keeps track of all that. I think maybe the River & Fish Ecology was part of the Forest & Wildlife class. He teaches six per day and divides between two semesters and also touched on a sort of shifting balance for each subject with seasonality. That was my term, but essentially he was saying that the river walks and fish counting are prominent in fall, then deer with hunting season. As the weather closes things down they move inside to work with animals, do a unit on Christmas crafts, and move to production greenhouse then agronomy with spring planting season. P.E. is probably the only other remotely seasonal subject, but seasons dictate our lives and they’re important to recognize. Besides the logistical prowess to keep all of this in order for a big group of students at varying grade levels, the sheer volume of knowledge required is seriously impressive.

I would say Steve is teaching students to work and interact with the natural world for preservation and production. The lessons and curriculum create the structure for the unspoken lessons though. We talked about how quickly people are losing touch with the skills and tools that kept our species alive for eons. Steve says it’s awesome to watch Arcadia High Schoolers get excited about seeds, and planting them and admiring their growth. It is awesome. And vital. We both believe (and I am optimistic having noticed a trend in mindful food quality recently) that near-future generations will need to know how to grow their own food outside the megatech farming trend we see now. Also, he points out, tactile learning and active movement away from a desk are skills often overlooked. Appreciation for the outdoors and for biology leads to a whole slew of important ethics.

Steve is teaching in his hometown of Arcadia, Wisconsin where he grew up around farms and dairies. His brother still operates a local dairy and many of his students have gone on to work in related fields. Being active in these fields with forty years of experience helps him to polish his curriculum as technology and methodologies change.

I asked about how he uses technology in teaching these subjects and he says you have to. Agriculture and horticulture are at once centuries-old and modern. They have a drone! Drones are employed in agriculture for many purposes, my favorite of which is using infrared vision to trace underground pests below crop fields. He says the iPad application for cataloging and tracking soil samples on precise GPS coordinates is groundbreaking (accidental pun). They maintain a modern productive greenhouse.

We talked about the difficulties of keeping an “alternative” department funded. Apparently it’s a tougher sell than it was fifteen years ago when there were more farmers and dairymen who were paying the taxes and sitting on the school boards. He admits that equipment and facility costs are higher and that a regular topic of debate revolves around class sizes. It is nearly impossible to keep thirty students engaged in the complexities of a greenhouse under the guidance of one teacher. Steve credited parental as well as organizational contributions from FFA, local department of ecology and seed producers. (That was my favorite part: he was saying that reading of seed labels is a little-known but difficult skill, and it evolves as fast as the rapid updates from seed companies.) I love learning things that I never, ever would have otherwise. Apparently all those organizations are helpful with their time and donations and he can interweave them into specific lessons (like the one centered around water sampling of local streams).

Yes, he says, he is always prepared to maintain the quality of his program and classes as concerns about cost and necessity ebb and flow. I bet that affects all of you who are inspired to educate your pupils about your passions. You fight to put your best product out there. I pointed out that at least students are filling up his courses. It would be awfully hard to put your heart into something for a lukewarm reception, like an empty book signing or something. Yuck. Steve doesn’t have this problem.

At some point he referenced the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 which I jotted down quickly by a star to research later. This Brittanica article was published in 2014 and one of the most interesting points beyond the history of the Act itself is the critique that it led to differentiation of curriculum. That’s the word of the year for 2018 in teaching trends and it’s amazing how quickly things turn from detriment to desire.

I was going to tell Steve after our conversation that I love the blend of modern and ancient in his curriculum, but he beat me to it. He told me he grew up outside doing these things and after earning his degree in Agricultural Science he chose to teach because he wanted to share the knowledge with students. My compliments to Steve, to Arcadia High School and to the local community for maintaining something so immeasurably valuable in a time when budgets work against it. I see these gardens popping up at schools in my neighborhood and am optimistic that we will remember not to forget such intrinsic skills.

For more on this topic read our blog article:

We don’t offer a course on outdoor sciences, but if you send enough requests to we can consider it for the future.

Classroom Calendar Connections – September 2019


For many educators and students, September is the first full month of the new school year. It’s a busy month as we transition from summer to fall and get acquainted with a new group of students. Provided below are some ideas to bring a few of the significant events of September into the classroom.

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Please click on the live link for informational resources provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Show students how farmers in Wisconsin turned their cornfield into a giant billboard to remind us all how much our lives matter. And, in this blog post, find out three steps educators can take toward suicide prevention among youth.


Labor Day – Monday, September 2

On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland officially made the first Monday in September an annual national holiday in honor of America’s hard workers. Here are a few resources to learn about and celebrate the 125th anniversary of Labor Day with your students this year:

9/11 – Wednesday, September 11

September 11, 2001: It was my senior year of college. I was grabbing a coffee on campus when I noticed students gathering near a TV as the news of two airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers spread. Alex, my boyfriend (now husband), was in Washington D.C. doing his internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He commuted to the Pentagon every morning where he caught a train to his office. I was in class watching the news coverage with my professor and peers when another airplane hit the Pentagon. I frantically tried to get in touch with Alex using my flip phone (it was 2001 and texting was not yet part of my world), but all I got (over and over) was a pre-recorded woman’s voice telling me, “All circuits are busy. Please try again.” Meanwhile, classes were canceled for the rest of the day and everyone on campus was glued to their TVs. I didn’t get to talk to Alex until late that evening when he finally got a call through to me.

I know 9/11/2001 is a day I will never forget, but how do we commemorate that tragic day with students? You could start by sharing your own story about where you were and how you were personally impacted by the events of September 11th. 

Also, visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website for free lesson plans aligned with the common core standards for all grade levels across the curriculum. Lesson plans are categorized into themes including Community & Conflict, Heroes & Service, Historical Impact, and Memory & Memorialization.

Autumn Begins - Monday, September 23

Falling leaves, football season, pumpkin spice lattes…  September 23rd marks the first day of fall this year! Here are just a few ways to celebrate the new season with your students.


Unfortunately, I’m not able to highlight every historical and significant event happening this month, but I’d love to hear what’s on your classroom calendar for September – please share! Happy new school year and best wishes as you transition from summer to fall.

Teaching Title 1 • Part 1


Understanding Title 1 Kids

Read Part 2     Read Part 3

Four years ago I moved from a small middle-class town in Idaho to a low socio-economic area in South Florida. The culture was much different as you can imagine! Thanks to technology and virtual interviews, I took a job at a Title 1 High School before I had stepped foot in Florida. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. During the interview process I was asked a few times, “You know what a Title 1 school is, right?” and, “You are comfortable teaching here?” Of course I said yes (not really grasping what they were driving at!) and was ready to take on whatever adventure awaited me. Beyond what classroom learning for educators had taught me, how tough could it be? I only hoped to constructively impact kids by building relationships.

I am so glad to have been in the mindset to take on a challenge! As I began teaching at Santaluces Community High School four years ago it had 2,500 students, most of whom were Haitian, Jamaican, and Hispanic. The demographics were far different from what I had known in Idaho and the students’ cultural heritages were even more different. Kids from a Title 1 school often go through things most adults never face in a lifetime. They come from low income with few opportunities at home, many times with little parental involvement, and sometimes entirely removed from family presence. 

While I had a heart to reach these students and positively impact their lives, it took me some trial and error to find my way in doing so. Over the past four years of teaching at this school, here are three important things I learned that helped me better understand Title 1 kids:

  1. Title 1 Kids desire relationships with people who take the time to get to know them! Each class I taught had 40-55 students (about 200 everyday). There were many names I could barely pronounce, let alone remember, but I made it a goal to learn every name associated with a face at the beginning of each semester and practiced this to perfection. It is amazing to see how kids who often lack parental involvement light up when a teacher calls them by name and asks how they are doing. I will touch on this more in Part Two in this article series because I believe relationships motivate Title 1 kids more than anything. 
  2. Title 1 Kids have goals; sometimes they just don’t know how to get on the right track to reach them. I had countless students say they wanted to go to college yet did not know the requirements for acceptance nor what kind of work ethic it would take to get there. Since I mostly worked with Freshmen I saw a greater opportunity to speak truth into their lives. I wanted to help them see that just because things weren't easy at home that did not exclude them from going on to college to earn a degree. They could certainly make a better life for themselves. I helped kids dream about their goals, create a vision for their lives, and also helped them think practically about the steps needed to get on track. Teachers must make an effort to build solid relationships with these kids, because waithout a genuine relationship they won’t trust you enough to share their goals.​​​​​​
  3. Title 1 Kids need extra help believing in themselves. We focus on this in our speech - what we say and how we communicate with students each day. Many of the students I have been around only think and speak negatively about themselves. This could be because of friends, family, or even social media. Speaking face-to-face and giving them encouragement goes miles with these kids. I saw this first hand with the girls’ varsity basketball team, which I coached. When I took over, the team had gone 1-22 the prior year and no athlete saw her potential nor believed she could be good individually or as a member of the team. I had to preach to them as a whole and as individuals that they were worth more than they thought and had talent! It took two years to see some of these girls believe in themselves. Taking time to verbalize belief and encouragement to them meant more than it would to the average student.
  • By the way, in the 4 years that I was there this basketball team changed the culture and became one of the top 8 teams in the state and had 7 athletes go on to get college scholarships. All of these students never thought they actually had what it took until I got to know them, helped them with their goals, and encouraged them to do what they were good at in the classroom and on the basketball court. 

Title 1 students are undoubtedly my favorites. They love educators that truly care, and trust me...they know if your care for them is genuine. I encourage you to get to know your students, help them think critically about their goals and give them the tools to reach them. And lastly, encourage them with your speech!

If you are interested in learning more about how you can meet the needs of ESL students, register for The Connecting Link’s class: Meeting the Needs of the ESL Learner: Essential Knowledge for the Classroom Teacher

This Connecting Link course, The Growth Mindset and Appreciative Inquiry: Getting the Best from Your Students and Getting Them to Believe in Themselves, provides many strategies to support all students, including Title 1 students learn to believe in themselves.

Tried and True First Day of School Activities in the Classroom


Google the words ‘first day of school activities in the classroom’ and you will discover nearly two BILLION results. Thanks, but no thanks, Google - we don’t have time to weed through all that! Provided below are some tried and true activities your fellow educators have shared for all grade levels.

Play Games

Paul, a high school math teacher in Illinois, has six Jenga towers (modified to include get-to-know-you questions) placed throughout his classroom. When a student pulls out a block, he/she reads the question and everyone in the group answers. “It’s a great team-building exercise, plus kids get to know a little more about each other.” Paul also shops at garage sales for old-fashioned board games to play with his students at least once a month, which encourages students to read directions and to communicate with each other.

Below is a list of suggested questions/prompts to be included with your own get-to-know-you activities:

  • If you could have lunch with anyone from history, who would it be? Why?

  • Would you rather be super-fast or super strong? Why?

  • If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Why?

  • What is your favorite song?

  • What’s one thing that makes you happy?

  • What’s something that annoys you?

  • What problems of the world do you want to solve?

Write Letters

Amanda, a middle school special education teacher in Minnesota also devotes the first several days of school to building relationships. One way she gets to know her students is by asking them to write her a letter. She guides them with questions such as:

  • What are you looking forward to in this class?

  • What are you hoping to learn?

  • How do you learn best?

  • What is a goal I can help you accomplish this year?

  • What is something you would like me to know about you?

Amanda’s letter-writing activity reminded me of an article that was published by The New York Times a few years ago, “What Kids Wish Teachers Knew.” In the article, the 3rd grade teacher asks her students to finish the written prompt, I wish my teacher knew…. Some of the eye-opening responses included:

  • …that my family and I live in a shelter.

  • …that my mom and dad are divorced, and that I am the middle child of 7 kids.

  • ...that my mom might get diagnosed with cancer this week and I’ve been without a home three different times this year alone.

Having students privately share what they want their teachers to know about them is a powerful way to connect and empathize with them.

Complete Learning Styles Inventories

Are your students visual learners? Auditory? Tactile/kinesthetic? Shannon, a 3rd grade teacher in Wisconsin, finds out how her students learn best by having them complete a learning styles inventory. The results of the inventory guide Shannon as she plans and implements lessons and assessments throughout the year. Completing the inventory also empowers students with self-awareness about how they learn and what they need to maximize their success in the classroom. 

Provided below are links to free learning styles inventories to use with your own students on the first day of school:

Elementary: How do I Learn?
Middle/High School: Got Style? Understanding Your Own Way of Learning

Finally, please check out these past blog posts for a few more ideas on how to spend the first day of school with your students:

Heart Mapping: This is an ongoing prewriting activity that my students always began on the first day of school. It’s a wonderful way to get to know students on a deeper level while brainstorming meaningful writing topics.
Celebrating Students’ Names: Discover three different creative ways to learn and celebrate students’ names while building relationships with them.

How will you spend the first day of school with your students? Please share your own tried and true activities!

5 Back-to-School Reminders for Educators


Although August has a sneaky way of suddenly showing up, I’m sure you don’t need any reminders that it’s almost time to go back to school. However, hopefully these five friendly reminders will help you start 2019/20 on a positive note.

Reminder #1: “You can do anything, but not everything.” -David Allen

Last fall I had the honor of interviewing Mary Jo Tein, a school psychologist in Minnesota with valuable, firsthand knowledge to help educators navigate the beginning of the new school year. Here is her advice for teachers who feel anxious about returning to school (you can read the full interview here):

Teachers need to be cognizant of the stressors placed on them – and be gentle with themselves. Just like with the students, there are emotional demands associated with a new schedule and new faces – students and parents. Try to go with the flow and do something fun away from school (go to the Minnesota State Fair!). Exercise or do whatever works best to release stress. Things will get better soon as the new routine is established. Teachers often want to do it all and get everything done. We all must let things go - and that is okay.

Reminder #2: YOU are appreciated!

Many people appreciate educators (even if it doesn’t always seem that way). According to an ING Foundation Survey, 88% of people say a teacher has had a “significant, positive impact” on their life. Below hear from a few famous people who have, indeed, been significantly and positively impacted by teachers:

  • “For every one of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn’t always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” -Bill Gates
  • “They inspire you, they entertain you, and you end up learning a ton even when you don’t know it.” -Nicholas Sparks

Reminder #3: “…I am human. And that’s what us humans do. We make mistakes.”
Whole Hearted School Counseling created this visual as an important reminder about how to handle the inevitable mistakes we make as we transition back into school mode. (It’s also a great resource to share with students to foster a growth mindset in the classroom.)

Reminder #4: “The trick to having happy students is to, first, be happy yourself.” – Unknown
This school year, don’t forget to take care of yourself and make time to do what makes you happy. This article published by Psychology Today, provides 23 practices to boost your happiness, according to science.

Reminder #5: You are making the world a better place.
Be inspired by this 3-minute video, Because of a Teacher. Feel proud about all you do - from providing a safe refuge for children to inspiring students to become scientists, teachers truly change the world!

Best wishes for a positive start to the 2019/20 school year, educators!

Fair is not Equal: Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom


Fair is not Equal: Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom
Written by Jill Rockwell

Image Credit:

In her book, How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson, explains:

At its most basic level, differentiating instruction means "shaking up" what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn. In other words, a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively.

Differentiating Instruction (DI) is meeting students where they are at with their learning and development while taking them to the next level. It’s a mindset of making learning content accessible for all students – a mindset focused on equity, not equality. 

As a special education teacher most of my students had learning and behavioral accommodations, which were (as Tomlinson put it) the “different avenues to acquiring content” (the same content as their grade level peers). 

However, sometimes students would complain, “That’s not fair. Why does Jack get to listen to the book on the iPad, and I have to read the book?” or “That’s not fair. Why does Jack get to take a break?” 

After spending a lot of time explaining (sometimes defensively) the notion of “fair does not mean equal” multiple times to individual students, I knew I had to find a more effective and proactive way to handle this. 

Moving forward I began deliberately to make my presence more known within the general education setting by introducing myself to the entire class and offering my assistance to everyone (not just the students with special needs on my caseload). I gave mini lessons on the difference between equality and equity and led class discussions that were centered around the images shared in this article. I explained how many of us benefit from accommodations - such as wearing eyeglasses and hearing aids to see and hear adequately. We discussed how ramps provide individuals who use wheelchairs (and parents with babies in strollers) accessibility to buildings and sidewalks. Students also reflected on and shared their own strengths and limitations during our insightful conversations.

Image credit:

Soon the classroom culture began to noticeably change. I no longer heard complaints of, “That’s not fair. Why (fill in the blank)?” Instead students began offering more help to one another and discovered different ways they could learn while still reaching the common academic goals and objectives. 

Because learning looks different for everyone, a key foundation of DI is establishing a positive classroom environment, where differences are embraced, and classroom accommodations are accepted as additional avenues leading to student success.

Interested in learning more about how to accommodate students with diverse learning needs using differentiated instruction? Check out our new course - The Differentiated Classroom: Creating Pathways for All Learners to Succeed.


Featured Teacher Meghan Lanouette - August 2019


In each conversation I’m noticing a similar pattern, which is somewhat attributable to the line of questioning:

Why did you become a teacher?

I've known for a long time that I wanted to work with kids.

Why did you become the kind of teacher you are?

Well I just sort of arrived there.

How did that happen?

I had planned to do one thing but a different opportunity arose and I fell in love with it.

And yet it still strikes me as surprising that candidates earn their degrees in education and then drop into the industry with one idea and so often follow an unexpected pathway to someplace different. It’s not like a business degree which points in no particular direction. Maybe a mountain is being made of a mole-hill. Perhaps I’m assuming that since all of you plan out your school year so deliberately that you also had your lives scheduled from the beginning. But teachers are learners at heart, and it makes sense that you would learn and grow and find more specific things to light your fire than the ideas you finished college with.

Meghan Lanouette found her way to the second grade at St. Anne Catholic School in Seattle, WA by the shotgun route of substituting for the archdiocese. She graduated from USD, she wanted to come home to the Seattle area, she expected to go into the public system but took the first job subbing with the Catholic school system and never left. She loves it. She says that filling in for various grades and environments gave her sufficient insight to know where to aim. Now she’s the only second grade teacher in the school. That makes her the sole point person for the transition between first grade and third. It also means all the academic and mental growth of all the seven-ish year olds that attend the school flows through her. There is obviously support from administrators, colleagues and parents, but the buck stops with Meghan, which she embraces.

This was the first time I started thinking about teaching as a year after year commitment to improving your segment of growth. We were talking about how May comes along and you start analyzing how the year went and what you want to remember to do better next year. Every year I vow to write down the dumb mistakes I make in Fantasy Football so I can win the big fake trophy the next year and every year I get distracted by something else. Kudos to teachers for bridging the summer gap with new ideas and motivation learned from prior experiences.

I asked what are the specific areas for advancement during the typical second grader’s year. Meghan told me that students move from reading mechanics to reading comprehension. Just imagine how huge a step that is in our society - teaching kids to understand what they are reading and to then infer their own opinions. Also math goes from a single step to multiple steps. Real life application: how much money can I spend on a big screen TV and still pay the bills tomorrow? Writing letters, which present more hurdles than we remember, she mentions. “You have to start the letter with ‘Dear so & so’ and that’s just the way it is so please do it.” It is rather arbitrary if you think about it, but necessary. To complement reading and comprehending she teaches her kids to infuse their voice into writing and create a structure while doing it. These are the foundational skills in our society that allow us to inform, understand, research and survive. Kind of a big deal.

And then, this always comes up, she told me that the bigger lessons speak to social justice. When I asked what that was she let me know it meant being a good person. Also a big deal. Also her favorite part about teaching.

We talked about teacher weaknesses. She said she has a few of hers identified and works really hard to improve in those subjects. She tries different approaches, takes courses, adopts curricula and takes advantage of Teachers pay Teachers. I guess that’s why Continuing Education is a requirement and why we are in business. 

I usually ask about the status of American education because I’m seeing it for the first time after my own education and it looks so amazingly different. I feel like we were so rooted in historical methods and about a century behind the pace and now I’m filled with hope. Meghan agrees. She points out that teachers can reach each kid individually now with all the effort toward differentiation and engagement, major factors in the positive inertia of education. She’s very committed to the concept of tenacity for her students and their parents. Encountering and accepting setbacks, engaging problem-solving skills, maintaining positivity, learning from mistakes. This defines the Growth Mindset, if there can be a singular definition.

Meghan is joining an accreditation team that visits other schools and analyze teaching and curriculum. It’s an alternative method to securing required professional growth and she prefers it as an opportunity to glean new ideas and creativity. I was asking if teachers feel uncomfortable having a judge in the room while they do their thing. Yes. She says even when the principal sits in on social studies once a month she feels a little tilted. But I’m sure the observers understand the feeling and grade on a curve in consideration.

Maybe it’s my rose-colored glasses but I’m impressed after every one of these conversations, both with the teachers and the evolution of education.

If you're looking for new ideas for teaching reading comprehension to second graders have a look at our course Strategic Literacy: Topics in Reading K-5

If you’d like to nominate a Featured Teacher for the future send details in an email to

7 Practical Tools to Enhance Executive Functioning in the Classroom


As defined by Understood, executive function is “The ability to organize cognitive processes. This includes the ability to plan ahead, prioritize, stop and start activities, shift from one activity to another activity and monitor one’s own behavior.”

Time management, organization, planning, paying attention, problem-solving, initiating and completing tasks, managing emotions – executive functioning is responsible for these essential skills for life. However, these skills don’t come naturally for everyone.

 Perhaps you have a student who is often late and unprepared for class, who has difficulty with organizing his/her thoughts when writing an essay or struggles with paying attention in class. Maybe you have a student who gets easily frustrated and can’t go a day without having an emotional meltdown. Outlined below are seven practical tools to help students develop and strengthen their executive function skills in your classroom.

Tool #1: Self-Monitoring Questionnaires
Teach your students to self-monitor their behaviors by having them complete a simple yes/no questionnaire at the beginning and/or the end of class based on whatever behavior(s) you are working to target. For example:

  • Was I on time for class?
  • Was I prepared for class with all necessary materials (books, pen, completed homework)?
  • Did I record the homework assignment in my planner?
  • Was I attentive in class?

Take it a step further by helping students set behavior goals each day or week and have them track their progress over time.

Tool #2: Timers

Help strengthen students’ time management skills by incorporating timers into your teaching practice. To give them a better sense of time awareness, assign students a task and have them estimate how long they think it will take them to complete the task. Set a timer, then have students compare how long it actually took to complete. The visual Time Timer is a wonderful option for students who might feel anxious when digital timers are set. (There is also a Time Timer app available.)

Tool #3: Detailed Schedules

To assist students with punctuality and preparedness, sit down and take a close look at their schedules with them. Talk about the routes they are taking from class to class and how they are spending their time between bells. Maybe they’re taking a longer route to class because that’s the way their friends are going. Or maybe they are making unnecessary stops at their lockers. Discuss and map out the most efficient routes around the school to maximize their time. Rewrite their schedules to include the most opportune times to stop at their lockers and to use the restroom.

Tool #4: SODAS

Help students strengthen their problem-solving skills by explicitly teaching them the potential consequences (positive and negative) of their actions. The SODAS decision-making model is a user-friendly and effective way for students to process situations while giving them ownership of  their actions.

 SODAS is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation
  • Options
  • Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • Solution

Tool #5: Mindful Breathing Exercises
Take a few moments to teach your students self-calming and stress management strategies, such as deep breathing. You will empower your students to manage their strong emotions proactively while creating a peaceful environment that is optimal for learning. My go-to self-calming strategy is the 4-7-8 breathing exercise. (Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds. Repeat.)

Tool #6: Checklists




This is my husband’s mental checklist that he uses before leaving the house every day to ensure he’s prepared – and it works!

Help students create their own mental or visual checklists to ensure they are prepared for whatever lies ahead. Check out this customizable luggage tag for students to attach to their backpacks. One side includes a list of items to take to school (completed homework, lunch, books, etc.). The other side includes a list of items to take home at the end of the day (planner, homework folder, dirty gym clothes, etc.).

Tool #7: Graphic Organizers

Enable students to organize their thoughts and ideas for essay-writing by providing graphic organizers. This website provides free, downloadable graphic organizers for different forms of writing. (The graphic organizers are also fillable, so students can easily type and print when they are finished.)

Interested in adding additional tools to your toolbox to enhance executive functioning in your classroom? Check out our new course Executive Function and Creating Effective Learning Assessments.

Weaving Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into Your Teaching Practices


My grandmother, a former teacher, recently passed away (July 11, 2019) - living a full and active life of 105 years. She was my inspiration for becoming a teacher, and we had a countless number of conversations about teaching and how things have changed from then to now. (She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s.)

I saved every beautifully handwritten letter and card she sent me, and I have a special folder in my email account filled with every message from her. (I taught her how to use the Internet when she was 94, and she was seen using her iPad nearly until the day she died. You can read more about my tech-savvy grandmother in this blog post that I wrote last year – 3 Teaching Practices of the 1930s Reimagined: Using Technology in the Classroom.)

I always knew she was well ahead of her time, but as I was cherishing the memories last week by rereading some of her emails, I stopped in my tracks. In one particular email she shared her teaching philosophy with me: 

My teaching philosophy was to try to instill in the pupils a sense  of living and thinking. Of meeting all problems, big or small with calmness and self-possession, which I truly believe will result in mental balance. This was correlated with the subject matter being taught.

 -Florence Urbick (1914-2019)

Life skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, self-awareness, self-management, mental health…her teaching philosophy was based on social and emotional learning (SEL), decades before it was known as SEL!

Grandma Florence had nearly 40 students on any given year, ranging from grades 1 through 8. Her duties also included keeping the school clean (no custodian on duty) and building fires on cold Wisconsin days to keep the school warm – she had a full schedule!

In one email, she stated, “We were sure to have all the lessons (reading, penmanship, history, geography, spelling, and some art and music) every day because the Superintendent of Schools would sometimes come without notifying us.”

She didn’t have time for separate lessons to support the social and emotional learning needs of her students, so as stated in her philosophy – “This was correlated with the subject matter being taught.” THIS is exactly what the educators and I in Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum talk about in the course!

I don’t know exactly how Grandma Florence specifically correlated SEL into her teaching practices, but I imagine she set a positive example for her students with her calm and caring nature, her positive attitude, and her growth mindset. I know she also fostered relationships among her students by encouraging them to work together on academic skills and life skills. She also reserved a full hour of the schedule every day for lunch and recess to build relationships and to stay active. Below are a few excerpts from her emails:

The older pupils would help the younger ones a lot, and they loved it. Sometimes I would let them go in the hallway to do so because of the interruptions from the class being held in the front of the room. How anyone learned anything in that small classroom, with the commotion there was at times, is quite unbelievable.

The pupils had certain jobs to do each day – to see that the water jug was filled with fresh water; raise and lower the flag, fold it, and bring it in each day; to see that there was enough firewood in the wood box for the next day, and to keep the outdoor privies (bathrooms) as clean as possible.

…Then at 12:00, we had a noon break, eating our lunch together and getting outside for fun and exercise until 1:00. After a few years, we were given some food from the government, which helped the children enjoy their meal more.

 -Florence Urbick (on teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in the 1930s – 1940s)

Perhaps you’re feeling inspired and wondering how you will weave SEL into your own modern-day teaching practices. Here are a few ideas recently shared by educators in Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum:

Andy, a high school social studies teacher, uses self-reflection with his students to have them think about how they prepared for a unit of study and what they will do differently the next time. “For many, it is beneficial to realize they are in control of their learning.” Andy also shared that he will use class discussions about current events as an opportunity for students to consider how the events are impacting them emotionally.

Sara, an elementary band and music teacher has integrated the pillars of the Character Counts program (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship) into a musical called “Choices Count!”

Jackie, a middle school special education math teacher, incorporates self-management skills such as: encouraging students to take a break when they feel frustrated, deep breathing exercises, and the use of stress balls. She plans to implement more group work and collaboration to further support the SEL needs of her students.

Toni, a high school special education teacher, works hard to build relationships with her students from day one. “By getting to know my students, I have the ability to learn why students feel the way they do about school, giving me a more personal connection with each individual student.”

Stacy, a third-grade teacher makes connections with her students by hosting monthly lunch dates in her classroom. After recess, the students bring their lunches to the classroom where they sit at a special table to eat, visit, and share special things about themselves. Stacy noted, “I know that my students come to treasure these lunch dates just as I do because they talk about them for years after when they see me.”

On my grandma’s 103rd birthday, she wrote, “I just can’t believe I’m still here on Earth. There are still some things I do want to see, like a better world for my descendants, which is a pretty big order.”

A big order, indeed, but perhaps sprinkling a little more SEL into the classroom curriculum is just what our students need to prosper in our world. Please share how you implement SEL into your teaching practices – we’d love to hear your ideas!

Journaling this Summer and Beyond


Mindfulness, emotional intelligence, achieving goals, communication, healing, creativity, the list goes on and on. There is a plethora of surprising benefits associated with journaling for people of all ages.

Perhaps you’re looking for a healthy way to manage stress associated with the demands of your job. Maybe you’d like to devote some time this summer for reflecting on the 2018/19 school year while preparing for 2019/20. Or maybe you’re interested in improving your self-awareness or working towards a long-term goal. Journaling can serve a myriad of purposes.

There is no right or wrong way to journal – the options are nearly as plentiful as the benefits of journaling. However, if you’re wondering how to get started (which is often the hardest part), a few suggestions are provided below.

  • Practice Gratitude

Psychology Today outlines proven benefits of being grateful, including improved physical and mental health, resilience, sleep, empathy, and relationships. Reflecting on and making a list of the people, places, things, experiences, etc. that we are thankful for every day enhances those benefits as we remind ourselves of all the good in our lives. This is my preferred journaling method as it helps me maintain a positive attitude and helps keep things in perspective. Every night I jot down what I am grateful for (usually this includes 5 bullet points). Sometimes I include special moments from the day, life lessons, or conveniences that I often take for granted (such as running water).

  • Create a Visual Journal

Don’t feel like writing? Whether you’re artistic or not, draw or sketch your feelings, dreams, or ideas instead. Or create a collage of images and/or words that resonate with you. Your collage could also include meaningful items such as ticket stubs, photographs, or pressed flowers. Journaling invites us to be creative with no boundaries.

  • WRITE.

If you’re looking for a more traditional approach to journaling, the Center for Journal Therapy provides the acronym WRITE as another way to guide us:

W – What do you want to write about? What’s going on? How are you feeling?
R – Review or reflect on it. Begin with statements such as “I feel…” or “I think…” or “I want…”
I – Investigate your thoughts and feelings. Start writing and keep writing.
T – Time yourself. Aim to write for 5-15 minutes or whatever works for you, just try to be
E – Exit your journaling sessions by rereading what you wrote and reflecting on your words. Jot
      down any action steps you will take.

Once you get started this summer, you might choose to incorporate journaling within your teaching practices in the fall. Like adults, students benefit from journaling in many ways including:

  • Identifying and managing difficult emotions and feelings effectively
  • Enhancing literacy and communication skills
  • Effective and responsible decision-making
  • Reflecting on difficult situations
  • Keeping life events in perspective
  • Having an outlet for sharing feelings that are difficult to verbally express

Consider giving students the opportunity to explore different ways of journaling to see what works best for them individually. This article outlines several suggested ways that journal writing can be incorporated into the classroom.

Whether you choose to write, type, or draw I hope journaling provides you with peace, happiness, and good health this summer and beyond.



Featured Teacher Karlee Hunt - July 2019


Karlee Hunt has taught the third graders at Little Elementary in the Denver suburb of Arvada, CO for four years. The school is named for John R. Little, who neither of us know much about, but it’s also actually somewhat little and even shrunk a bit last year. The district opted to move sixth grade students and teachers into middle school. Change is stressful but necessary for evolution. Outside of the logistical considerations needed to achieve that task over summer break though, the idea sounds practical. Spreading out the students to optimize resources makes sense for facilities, administrators and students. 

Further, the teachers at Little are all shifting to different grades this year. Karlee is moving to second grade. She says second and third graders don’t focus as much on standardized testing as the fourth and fifth graders, which would be a big modification for her. She’s ready for the adjustment but will miss working with her teammate who taught the other third grade class across the hall. I asked if the school mandates a team approach to teaching and she told me “No, but it’s logical and effective.” I might’ve asked a dumb question there because, of course, all the teachers would benefit by working together.

Oh, and Karlee and her husband, John, are having their first son, Grafton, in a couple of weeks. (Interesting anecdote: picking names can be harder for teachers because they know a lot of kids with a lot of names and they might want their own kid to be independent of those associations. I definitely hadn't thought of that.)

She has a lot of things in flux this summer, obviously.

We talked about why she became a teacher because I never tire of the variety of reasons and stories that lead passionate teachers to their careers. Karlee said she told her mom in early elementary school that she wanted to teach. She mentioned that she was babysitting as early as ten years old and that the plain and simple reason for her interest is “I just like kids.” A top five answer right there, I think.

Exactly contrary to last month’s Featured Teacher, Karlee focused her degree in Special Education but took a third grade spot because it offered a continuous position, a more secure option in Colorado. This has worked out well because she has the ability to engage one-on-one but enjoys the group learning design. “Engagement” was actually her response when asked about her favorite trending topic in education. She really enjoys helping her kids find ways to take ownership of their learning and goals. She also says you have to adapt to the more student-centered approach these days because society has shifted away from the authoritarian role of teachers in classrooms. If you try to spend the day orating they’ll probably tune out and never develop respect for the effort. I don’t feel like she learned this from a college course; I think she just figured it out.

I’m continuously impressed with all the teachers I talk to, including Karlee, but recently I considered that these interviews are pretty biased. Who would recommend I talk with a half-hearted teacher? No one probably. Karlee and I discussed that also. I said “I feel like everyone I speak to is exceptional but aren’t there some crummy ones?” She replied “probably, but they don’t often start out that way.” We got to talking about how you earn your degree and certificate but you really aren’t prepared for the realities of public education, and some people rise to the challenge while others can doubt their career selection. Budgetary restrictions, impoverished students, student anxiety on the rise, parents who don’t participate, parents who participate far too often, regulatory changes, standardized testing, bullying and liability are just some of the issues facing teachers. Is the reward worth the risk in the long run? Karlee admits that she has wondered if she can keep up the passion and energy for 25 years as she raises her kids and maintains her life on the side.

I’ve heard the term "teacher burnout" quite a few times. Apparently this is a common affliction over the course of a year, like in October and March, but also throughout a career. And I realized listening to Karlee that the teachers get their energy from the students and vice versa, so the effects of a long, arduous month are amplified from all directions. It’s a wonderfully rewarding job because it's difficult.

Having a child and preparing to raise him into a happy and capable person gives you a lot of perspective. It’s an appropriate time to analyze and consider your options. I understand why Karlee is mulling over these questions at this juncture, though I think she is far from the burnout stages. She’s just thinking it through. But like she told me, she just likes kids, and that won’t change.

If you want to focus on improving engagement in your class, try our course Building an Engaging Collaborative Classroom.

If you’d like to nominate a Featured Teacher for the future send details in an email to

Developing and Maintaining a Growth Mindset


Almost 2 years ago, my family and I moved from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota to a rural part of western Wisconsin. After some training, practice, and several mistakes, I learned how to use a snowblower and a lawn tractor (allowing me to do my part of maintaining the acres of land we now owned). Before then, I never thought about learning how to operate those machines - I didn’t think I needed to, and I was too intimidated to try.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone to learn new skills took me to a deeper level of understanding of what it means to develop and maintain a growth mindset. So often I hear people use their age as an excuse to stop learning and growing, preventing them from living a rich life. On the other hand, my grandma (a former teacher) learned how to use a computer when she was in her early 90s. She is still alive, well, and continues learning every day at the age of 105. (I featured her in a blog article last summer, 3 Teaching Practices of the 1930s Reimagined: Using Technology in the Classroom.)

I’ve found that many of the resources and activities created for students focused on developing a growth mindset can be generalized to our own lives as adults to maintain and strengthen our own mindsets. Provided below are a few resources I have found especially valuable:

This infographic provides a snapshot of the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Which behaviors do you tend toward? Which behaviors do your students tend toward?

Image Credit:

Carol Dweck, professor and researcher at Stanford University, stated, “We were born to learn.” But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to continue to work on maintaining and retraining our brains with positive thoughts and attitudes. A growth mindset is like a muscle - it needs to be exercised to maintain strength and resiliency. In this 10-minute TED talk, Dweck shares fascinating and promising research focused on “the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems.”

Because learning can be intimidating, consider how you frame and approach new concepts and skills. Mindset Works provides this document with suggested phrases to use for communicating learning goals and high expectations. Here are a few examples to be used with your students or as part of your own self-talk:

  • Today your brain will get stronger.
  • We’re in the learning zone today. Mistakes are our friends!
  • Our classroom is a place for everyone to learn challenging material. I am here to help you meet that goal.
  • I have seen you stretch and succeed in the past. Let’s do it again.

Finally, the educator in this 7-minute video, Stephanie, provides a concise and understandable explanation (with visuals) of how thoughts shape our brains. She also offers suggestions on how to help develop a growth mindset with the use of gratitude journals, visualization, and power thoughts/mantras.

Learning how to operate a snowblower and a lawn tractor filled me with the confidence to embrace challenges and the motivation to keep learning and growing as an adult. It was also a valuable reminder of how learning feels for students.

Interested in learning more about your own mindset and how to foster a growth mindset in your classroom? Register for our course The Growth Mindset and Appreciative Inquiry: Getting the Best from Your Students and Getting them to Believe in Themselves.

Featured Teacher Tammy Johnson - June 2019


Tammy originally wanted to teach history, but there were no vacancies. In preparation for the open position in Special Education, she completed two post-secondary courses and dove into an unexpected passion. She didn’t rate it out loud to me, as such, but she is so obviously into teaching, and improving at teaching, and succeeding at teaching, and candidly offering her affinity for teaching to her students and colleagues. I won’t get to verify this with them, but I don’t need to. Authenticity is never counterfeit.

Antioch Upper Grade School, Antioch, IL

She’s wrapping up her twelfth year as a professional educator this Friday. She was actually taking a break from packing up her room to talk with me. I asked if she would be sad to leave her students and she taught me about something new - at Antioch Upper Grade, an Illinois middle school, her classes cycle through. Her incoming sixth graders stay with her through seventh and eighth grade. I think that’s so cool, for everyone. They get to rely on her support from start to finish in middle school, which she says many kids are pretty concerned about coming from elementary. They also get some mentorship from the older kids in her group; as the youngest of six brothers I affix substantial value to mentorship. And, most beneficial to Tammy, she gets to work and grow with her pupils to see three years of progress.

Tammy and her two boys Ryan and Reed

Tammy was nominated to be our Featured Teacher this month by Steve Novak, one of our most-loved instructors. I’m not using that generically. We hear “I love Steve’s courses” a LOT. I asked her why he might have suggested her first, and almost immediately she said “Professor Novak is such an excellent teacher. As a committed teacher and mother of two, taking his courses has been so instrumental in offering directly useful upgrades to my classroom skills, and I learn so much from him on a schedule that works with mine.” I think he nominated her because she wholly embraces professional development and loves putting it to good use. Great teachers love committed learners.

Tammy told me she’s averse to online learning. She gets so much more out of a live interactive classroom with structured guidance. She told me there are many Illinois universities offering continuing education, but that the topics are outdated and the classes are inconvenient or unsubstantial or nearly impossible to complete due to scheduling. It sounds like our scheduled site-based courses are designed with teachers’ lives in mind. The first sentence of our ‘About Us’ page starts “Founded in 1981 by educators for educators…” which I always saw as a standard marketing line, but in truth our whole program was originally designed by active teachers to be relevant and convenient to the busy life of a school teacher. We are motivated to stick with that M.O.

We discussed the Special Education department at her school. There are nine co-teachers and two cognitive specialists that work together to maintain one of the premium programs in the area. She mentioned how rewarding it is for all of them to take PD courses and improve and succeed in collaboration. That does sound rewarding. I can remember just two jobs of the twenty I’ve probably had that stand out for the team harmony, and the feeling is nearly indescribable. It’s really just magic. She also said that her students’ parents are so willing to augment her efforts, whether by reading extra books, working on specific goals or communicating about future goals. That justifies her animation when discussing her profession.

I assumed, correctly I think, that raising two active boys and being super committed to her program might leave less free time than most of us enjoy. But she has a “summer shack” on Lake Wisconsin where they go to fish, kayak, jet ski and probably to escape the city. Maybe communing with nature and being active recharges her batteries for achievement, like me.

View from the summer shack on Lake Wisconsin, Poynette, Wisconsin

I didn’t ask for a list of all the classes she has taken but she did specifically mention the value gained from her Response to Intervention (RTI): A Roadmap for Successful Classroom Implementation course. I suggested Co-teaching for Success in the Classroom and she said that’s on her agenda for the summer. When I asked, Tammy also suggested we could explore more courses related to teaching for diverse backgrounds. Be it sexuality, class, race, learning style or any other identification, it’s not really about enforcement of a stance but rather having the tools and being prepared to handle those situations when they are presented. She also turned me onto a new book by Ruby Payne called A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I’ll read it and we can explore coursework in that area.

Our premise for this concept was to recognize the efforts of our teachers but I feel like I’m getting more of the benefit from the conversations. I learn so much about the teaching community interacting with people who are so talented and committed, and the result is that I am inspired. But that’s what great teachers do, right?

4 Ways to Refocus and Recharge this Summer


Congratulations! Another school year is almost in the books! It’s a well-known fact, however, that educators’ responsibilities don’t end when the final bell rings. Whether you’re teaching summer school, participating in professional development opportunities, meeting with your grade-level team, working a second job, or packing up and moving to a new classroom, we hope the change of season provides the change of pace necessary to so deservingly focus on your own well-being. Here are four suggested ways to refocus and recharge this summer.

  1. Bask in Nature

From stress management to heart health, the American Society of Landscape Architects provides links to study after study supporting the mental and physical health benefits (for both adults and children) of spending time in nature. You don’t need to go camping in the woods or go on a strenuous mountain hike to reap the benefits of nature, though. Head to a local city park or other urban green space, pick up some fresh local produce at the farmer’s market, take a walk along river or lake, fly a kite, watch the sunset, plant flowers – you’ll have fun and will improve your overall well-being at the same time.

  1. Try Something New

We present our students with new tasks to try every day. This summer foster your own growth and learning by trying something new or going someplace new. According to this Huff Post article, the benefits of new experiences include: overcoming fears, getting to know yourself better, increased creativity, and becoming more marketable. Try a new recipe. Take a new class at the gym. Sign up for a 5K run/walk or participate in another community event. Practice mindfulness. Volunteer (search for opportunities in your community here). Explore a museum you’ve never been to before. Start a daily journal. Learn a new language. Find something you’re interested in and give it a try - the possibilities of new experiences are endless!

  1. Spend Time with Friends

As rewarding as it is, teaching is also stressful and exhausting - most likely your tank is empty. Spend time with people who fill you up! According to this article published by Mayo Clinic, friends are good for our health. Spending time with friends increases your sense of belonging and purpose, boosts your happiness and reduces stress, and increases your self-confidence and self-worth. Strong social support is attributed to a reduced risk of depression and high blood pressure. Studies even show adults who spend time with friends have a healthier body mass index (BMI) and are likely to live longer than adults without strong social connections. This summer, stay connected with friends from school or get reconnected with old friends.

  1. Read for Pleasure

It increases one’s sense of achievement, confidence, and self-esteem; it alleviates stress and widens horizons – reading for pleasure has a range of benefits and can be done almost anywhere. Looking for a book recommendation? Last winter I compiled a list of fantastic titles educators from across the U.S. shared in this blog post. And last summer, educators made these recommendations. Consider starting or joining a book club or read in a local park to maximize the benefits.

Whether you’re spending some extra time with Mother Nature, experiencing new things, visiting with friends, or reading good books, we hope this summer provides opportunities for you to recharge your batteries and refocus on your own well-being.



Activities to Commemorate Memorial Day in the Classroom


Memorial Day presents unique learning opportunities for students at all grade levels. Officially enacted by Congress in 1971, Memorial Day is a somber national holiday held on the last Monday of May every year. (This year Memorial Day is on May 27, 2019.) It is a holiday intended to honor and remember fallen veterans of the United States.

Below are several ways you and your students can commemorate the upcoming holiday by learning more about the historical significance of and the traditions associated with Memorial Day.

From Decoration Day to Memorial Day, this short PBS Learning video gives a brief history of the holiday. Go into further depth of the history of Memorial Day with this DOGO News article, “Celebrating Memorial Day” which includes a list of relevant vocabulary terms and definitions.

Give students the opportunity to get to know the brave men and women so worthy of our honor and respect by exploring The Veterans History Project, which provides firsthand accounts (including stories, photos, interviews) of U.S. veterans dating back to World War I. Students can search the veteran’s database by state of residence to learn about their own local military heroes.

Show students how fallen military personnel have been memorialized throughout history. Begin with this 6-minute video tour featuring Arlington National Cemetery where over 400,000 people are buried, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The video highlights three main sites of Arlington: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (including the elaborate Changing of the Guard ceremony), the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, and Arlington House.

Then, give students a glimpse of one of the most visited monuments in Washington D.C., the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which includes the names of 58,000 fallen soldiers and is filled with symbolism. There is an abundance of interesting and sacred memorials in and around Washington D.C. that can be accessed virtually, but don’t stop there. Do a little research to find out if there are smaller scale monuments or memorials locally. The small Wisconsin town where I grew up is home to Memorial Park, which includes 20 impressive monuments that honor local veterans.

Like many other holidays, Memorial Day includes unique traditions. Communities across the country will be hosting annual Memorial Day parades and events - encourage your students to attend. (Vet Friends provides an online directory of Memorial Day parades nationwide.) Or give students a preview of The National Memorial Day Parade with this upbeat and touching 4-minute video. Held in Washington D.C. every year (it is also televised), the parade is a touching 3-hour salute to America’s veterans and involves several high school marching bands from across the nation.

Another Memorial Day tradition involves poppies. Every May the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) raises millions of dollars for active-duty military, veterans, and their families by distributing red poppies. The red poppy, which represents the blood shed by fallen soldiers, was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae during World War I.

In December of 2000, President Clinton established the National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause at 3:00 p.m. local time for one minute and reflect upon the meaning behind Memorial Day. Encourage your students to participate in this unified act of reflection and honor wherever they are on Memorial Day. Share about how NASCAR will be participating in the National Moment of Remembrance this year.

“As we contemplate the comforts and blessings of our lives and the well-being of our nation, I ask you to pause just for a moment to remember those who gave their lives to protect the values that give meaning to our lives.” – President William J. Clinton

Other suggested resources and activities:

Memorial Day provides the opportunity to teach students about the sacrifices made by brave men and women to protect the liberties that we enjoy today. How will you commemorate Memorial Day with your students? Please share your ideas.

Thank you, Educators – We Appreciate You!


For opening your classroom doors every day and unlocking students’ potential – we thank you.

For sharing your wisdom with students while they share their germs with you - we thank you.

From teaching students how to compute complex math equations to showing them that they count – we thank you.

For awakening hearts and inspiring minds – we thank you.

The first full week of May is all about you, educators! The National PTA established Teacher Appreciation Week in 1984 and has been designated as a special time to show appreciation and honor toward dedicated and caring educators (such as yourself!) ever since.

Many people appreciate educators (even if it doesn’t always seem that way). According to an ING Foundation Survey, 88% of people say a teacher has had a “significant, positive impact” on their life. Below hear from a few famous people who have, indeed, been significantly and positively impacted by teachers:

  • “For every one of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn’t always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” -Bill Gates
  • “They inspire you, they entertain you, and you end up learning a ton even when you don’t know it.” -Nicholas Sparks

We hope you already know how amazing you are, but if you need a reminder and have a minute (literally, just one minute), watch this video, Teach: Inspiration (the big takeaway - you are a life-changer).

And, if you have three minutes, be inspired by this video, Because of a Teacher. Feel proud about all you do – from providing a safe refuge for children to inspiring students to become scientists – teachers truly change the world!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, educators! We salute you and appreciate everything you do all 52 weeks of the year – thank you.



Maintaining Student Engagement in the Spring


The birds are chirping as I type, the grass is turning green, the sunsets are even more spectacular than usual - spring is here! It’s a wonderful time of the year but maintaining students’ attention can be extra challenging for teachers when competing with sunny blue skies, complete with temperatures in the low 70s. We have a few ideas to help you celebrate springtime with students at all grade levels, without sacrificing learning.

Freshen Up Your Schedule

It’s important to maintain schedules and routines but try freshening them up by moving your lessons outside whenever feasible. For example, have students engage their senses and practice mindfulness by journaling about what they see, hear, smell, feel, and taste while sitting under a tree. Or allow nature to inspire poetry or other forms of creative writing. During independent reading time, lead students outside with their paperbacks and find a shady place to read. Create Venn diagrams (or other graphic organizers) with sidewalk chalk to compare/contrast topics in any content area.

To go further in depth on how to incorporate the great outdoors into your curriculum, check out our online course: No Child Left Inside: Examining Rationale and Methods to Use the Outdoors as a Classroom.

Meteorologists in the Classroom

Rain, sleet, sunshine, thunderstorms, snow – spring is an eventful weather season! Track and log the temperatures, humidity levels, wind speeds, precipitation, etc. daily. Compare the season’s weather to the predictions made in the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Take it a step further (and have your students brush up on their geography) by examining the national weather radar on The Weather Channel. Find out which regions are being impacted by severe weather, including tornados, hail, mudslides, and flash flooding. Finally, watch and listen as Bill Nye (the “Science Guy”) explains what happens with the earth and the sun during springtime (as well as the other seasons) in this engaging 5-minute video.

Virtual Fieldtrips

Spring is a beautiful time to travel, but many of us simply can’t get away. Plan B: Invite your students to explore and learn more about places they’re interested in by going on virtual fieldtrips. For example, Discovery Education offers free, standards-aligned virtual field trips and hands-on learning activities in all content areas. The Johnson Space Center, a dairy farm, and the NBA headquarters are just a few of the fascinating places waiting for you and your students to visit.

To learn more about taking your students virtually anywhere (no permission slips required), register for our online course: How to Create a Virtual Fieldtrip.

Experiment with Gardening

Nutrition, science, art, poetry, history – the roots of plants growing in gardens reach every content area. Kids Gardening offers free lesson plans and other gardening activities for grades K-12, from studying state flowers to creating a school garden business. I recommend starting with the Petal Attraction lesson plan. Students learn about different types of flowers and pollinators. Then students are challenged to design a flower that will attract specific pollinators (bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths) of their choice. And, when you and your students are ready, level up to the Planning a Pollinator Garden lesson plan. Or simply get your students thinking about gardening with this guided writing activity - My Magical Garden where the possibilities during harvest time are endless!

Spring is a wonderful season, indeed. Be sure to acknowledge that it’s sometimes challenging to focus this time of the year but encourage students to make a strong finish. Share excitement about all that’s left to learn before the final bell rings before summer break.

Happy springtime to you and your students!

Featured Teacher Kaylee Lo - May 2019


Shiloh Martinson, Kaylee Lo, Tristan Martinson

Kaylee recalls with certainty “I knew in first grade that I wanted to be a teacher someday,” which to me seems early. I focused on jokes, snacks and naps back then. She was so impressed with her teacher that she made efforts to be her assistant, unsolicited, and offered the same instructional prowess to her younger brothers at home. I bet they are still thankful today.

It’s no surprise Kaylee has taught first graders at Cataldo Catholic School in Spokane, WA for the last eight years. She strikes me as a cosmic fit for that room, that school, that age group and those kids. Cataldo attracts a lot of parent volunteer time and they want their kids there for good reason. Kaylee appreciates that the communal efforts to educate students in cooperative learning, mutual respect and positive decision making are as strong as those focused on core subjects. I ask what makes her the most proud of her students and she confidently replies, “when they do their best,” which is a completely generic phrase that instead bears crucial significance when I hear her say it.

Kaylee is our first featured teacher based on a complete and utter bias: she made a substantial impression on two members of my family. She has thus earned a complimentary graduate credit course (she is thinking about Disciplinary Literacy) as well as a discount for every educator in her school.

She’s very comfortable shopping for PD and taking courses online but knows that some teachers in her school might shy away from the new-ish approach. She asks if I'm willing to come to a staff meeting and walk interested folks through that process. Actually, I’d be thrilled to do so. I hadn’t offered because I thought it might interfere with the important thing that occurs there - teaching. She feels like the teachers need a great option to engage professional development and simply need to be shown the ropes one time through.

Kaylee taught my niece five years ago and my nephew three years later. Her insights suggest things about them that I probably know but haven’t yet vocalized. “Tristan will pretend he doesn’t know how to do math problems because he wants you to do it with him. Just tell him a joke and get him laughing and he will finish faster than all the other kids.” This level of understanding has me awestruck. She spent more time with him than I did that year, so I shouldn’t be so surprised.

Last year she completed our Integrating iPads into the Classroom course online. Twenty iPads had been donated to her class and she was hoping to learn some useful educational suites and programs, but also sought tips on how to organize twenty first graders on twenty devices to work through a structured lesson in unison. That’s an issue I wouldn’t have considered and I plan to pass that along to our content writers. We’ve been discussing often lately the importance of staying ahead of an already accelerated curve regarding classroom technology; feedback goes a long way to keep us on track with that.

She loves to run, mostly because it happens in the fresh natural air of pine tree-peppered Eastern Washington. Her favorite treat from students is a cupcake. Those responses sort of cancel each other out. Let’s call them balanced, which is descriptive of our entire conversation which crawls all over the topical landscape. Kaylee herself exudes a wholesome and balanced demeanor which might be her best utensil in shaping the skills and personalities of twenty six-year-olds. Maybe I’m influenced by the atmosphere of her classroom and my nostalgia toward grade school, but I think she expresses the magnetic talents and optimism that we are idealizing in our teachers. She has earned this recognition and much more, as do most of you.

If you’d like to nominate a Featured Teacher for the future send details in an email to

4 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month (Even if Poetry isn’t Your Thing)


                                                                                         Roses are red, violets are blue,
                                                                                    When all this melts, I’ll need a canoe.


Welcome, April – it’s National Poetry Month! Even the business owner who displayed this poem on the letterboard sign outside his/her store in Minnesota decided to give poetry a try. After a long, cold, brutal winter with record-breaking amounts of snow, this poem made me (and I’m sure many of my fellow Midwesterners) smile in agreement.

It seems that people fall into two categories – either they love poetry, or they hate it. I used to think I fell in the ‘hate it’ category, but the more I used poetry within my teaching practices to reach and teach my students, the more I began to appreciate it. Outlined below are four fun and engaging ways to celebrate National Poetry Month (even if you don’t think poetry is your thing).

Poet Biographies

Give your students the opportunity to investigate the stories behind poems. Edgar Allen Poe was orphaned at the age of four and pursued his dream of becoming a writer, despite his foster father’s wishes for him to be a businessman. Robert Frost recited his poem, “The Gift Outright,” during John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Inauguration. Emily Dickinson loved spending time in her garden and greenhouse caring for numerous plants, flowers, and trees on her family’s property.

Sometimes learning about the background of poets will pique students’ curiosty about and will provide context around the poems they wrote. Finding out that Robert Frost was friends with John F. Kennedy might spark interest with your students who enjoy history and politics. Emily Dickinson’s poems referencing the peace and solitude she enjoyed while working in her garden might resonate with students who appreciate quiet time to themselves in the presence of nature.

Student Poet of the Day

Challenge your students to be on the lookout for poems that resonate with them to share with the class throughout the month (this takes less than 5 minutes per day). It could be as simple as a “Roses are Red” poem found on a letterboard in their community or as complex as an Italian terza rima found in a dusty book in the library – as long as students can explain their connection to or their appreciation for the poems they chose.

Poem Generator Tools for all Content Areas

The free, online poem generator tools provided by ReadWriteThink helps guide students with creating diamante poems, theme poems, and acrostic poems that students of all ages will be proud of. Have your students author a poem of their choice to demonstrate their understanding of a concept from any content area. For example, assign students to create a diamante poem that outlines the differences between viruses and bacteria.

Poetic Language Mini-Lessons

Poetry can enable teachers to strengthen and build reading and writing skills. Incorporate mini-lessons on figurative language such as simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, alliteration, and onomatopoeia to inspire students to experiment with creative writing. This video provides specific examples of figurative language used in movies and TV shows that your students might be familiar with. Give your students opportunities to practice utilizing figurative language in their daily work.

Incorporating poetry into my lessons turned out to be beneficial, enjoyable, and rewarding for my class – and I’m so glad I gave it a try. My students who were reluctant to write standard narratives seemed to appreciate the freedom associated with writing poetry – it was a chance for them to experiment with words and language without the confines of grammar and punctuation rules. Poetry provided an outlet for my students who tended to be reserved and private about their emotions and lives. And, the rhyming words of Dr. Seuss and the silly poems of Shel Silverstein always made us smile.

How will you celebrate National Poetry Month with your students? Please share!

Teaching and Gardening: Providing Conditions for Growth


According to the calendar hanging on my refrigerator, spring has begun! (Although snow and ice still cover the ground here in Wisconsin, I have faith that I will be able to gather my gardening tools and start planting my favorite fruits, vegetables, and flowers soon.)

Just like teaching, gardening requires patience, problem-solving, and perseverance. Gardeners nurture their crops with proper soil, water, and sunlight. Teachers nurture their students with engaging and challenging lessons in supportive learning environments. Both teachers and gardeners have unwavering drive and dedication, living by the words of the famous quote - “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Well-known educator and author, Sir Ken Robinson was my inspiration behind this week’s blog post. In this 2-minute video clip, he brilliantly discusses the relationship between teachers and gardeners. He explains that gardeners cannot make plants grow, just as teachers cannot make students grow. The plants grow themselves when the gardener provides the appropriate conditions for growth. Robinson goes on to explain that like great gardeners, great teachers know what makes their individual students grow and flourish.

So how can we provide the conditions for growth in the classroom? This article provides several characteristics of an ideal learning environment for students. Here is a summary of what to keep in mind for your own classroom:

  • The students ask more questions than the teachers (Cultivate curiosity among your students – questioning leads to deeper understanding.)
  • Ideas come from divergent sources (Invite families and community members to speak in your classroom.)
  • A variety of learning models are used (Give project-based learning, peer instruction, and/or flipped classroom a try…there are so many learning models to choose from!)
  • Classroom learning ‘empties’ into a connected community (Help connect the content from your lessons lessons to the “real world” of your students.)
  • Learning is personalized by a variety of criteria (Focus on students’ interests and choices, their developmental and academic levels, as well as formative and summative assessment results.)
  • Assessment is persistent, authentic, transparent, and never punitive (Communicate with students about why they are being tested, what’s in it for them, and what they can do to improve.)
  • The criteria for success are diverse, transparent, and co-created with students and families (Be sure rubrics and other grading criteria make sense to the students.)
  • Learning habits are constantly modeled (Let students in on your own curious, collaborative, and creative sides that demonstrate your lifelong quest for learning.)
  • There are constant and creative opportunities for practice and growth (Provide your students with an environment where they feel safe and confident to take risks – where mistakes are used as opportunities for growth and learning.)

Most likely you already have many of these characteristics in place. But like gardeners, teachers have high standards and expectations. They reflect upon what’s going well, what needs further attention, and the progress of their efforts.

To further improve or enhance the conditions for optimal growth in your classroom, begin by focusing on one or two of the characteristics outlined above. Collaborate with a colleague to share methods, strategies, and tools. With permission, observe a well-respected teacher in action and take note of the conditions provided that enable student growth. Last, but not least, fulfill your professional development requirements by enrolling in one or more of our engaging, university-accredited courses designed to help you provide the classroom conditions which enable your students to  beautifully blossom and thrive in the classroom and beyond.

5 Creative Formative Assessments for Learning in the Classroom


                                                       When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment;

                                                  when the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.

                                                                          -Paul Black (assessment guru)


Formative assessments are methods used to gauge the effectiveness of instruction and student learning while it’s happening. On the other hand, summative assessments are used to measure student progress and achievement at the end of an instructional period (for example: at the end of a unit, semester, school year, etc.).

Formative assessments are generally implemented without students knowing they’re being assessed because they’re infused into instruction. (Whereas summative assessments are usually set apart from instruction.)

Below are five creative formative assessment methods that will provide you with valuable student data and will help guide your instruction while students are still learning:


When you’re short on time, instruct students to create a hashtag of one key takeaway from the lesson. Invite students to share and discuss their hashtags the following day as a review of the lesson.

Customizable Puzzles

Students can challenge each other by creating customizable crossword puzzles, math puzzles, and more with this free online puzzle generator from Discovery Education. This is a fun and effective way to review vocabulary and other subject-matter content.


Acrostic poems, limericks, haiku…choose a form of poetry and inspire students to write about concepts from a lesson. Encourage students to be humorous and imaginative!

Get Moving

Get students out of their seats by quickly transforming your classroom into a giant multiple-choice assessment. Designate and label four separate corners as A, B, C, and D. Present students with multiple-choice questions (one at a time) related to your current lesson. Instruct your students to select their answers by standing in the corresponding corners for each question presented. To discourage students from simply following the majority, try presenting questions with more than one correct answer and ask students to explain the reasoning for their choices.

Artistic Summaries

Challenge students to channel their inner Leonardo Da Vinci or Walt Disney by having them draw pictures to demonstrate understanding of a learning concept. Display the illustrations in the classroom to help visual learners deepen their understanding of a lesson.

As you know, formative assessment is an ongoing and critical component of student growth and achievement. How do you assess your students? We’d love to hear your own creative ideas!

Interested in learning more about how formative assessments can guide your teaching and promote student progress? Check out our online and site-based course – Assessment and Grading: Promoting Student Growth.



Trust, Safety, Challenge, and Joy: Fostering a Classroom Culture Ideal for Collaboration


As teachers we’re encouraged to work together and share expertise, energy, and inspiration with the common goal of increasing student engagement and success in our schools. Research supports benefits associated with teacher collaboration including more creative and meaningful lesson plans, shared responsibility for student achievement, improved staff morale/career satisfaction, and an increase of academic rigor for students.

When I think about the various teams I’ve worked with over the years, I found the four key themes of: trust, safety, challenge, and joy were essential for productive and genuine collaboration. For example, trusting my colleagues with confidential conversations, feeling safe when brainstorming ideas, advancing my knowledge and teaching skills, and finding enjoyment with our time together - even during stressful times – all had a positive impact.

Like teachers, students also benefit academically and socially by working with one another. And, the same four key themes foster a classroom culture ideal for student collaboration and learning. Below are four ways to create a collaborative learning environment based on trust, safety, challenge, and joy:

Build trust and safety among your students by getting everyone on the same page.

Guide your students with establishing group norms before group work begins. Norms are agreed upon rules (or expectations) for behavior among the group members. The author of this article, “Developing Norms for Successful Collaboration during PBL,” suggests having all students share their ideas about what makes group work unpleasant or difficult. The ideas are compiled on chart paper, then transformed into norms. For example, a common theme found within the students’ ideas might be, “No one listens to my ideas” - which would become the norm - “I will use active listening skills when others are speaking.” The author of the article also offers other helpful suggestions such as having students agree to the established norms by signing contracts, as well as potential consequences for breaking the norms.

Facilitate community-building games and activities.

Games are a great way for students to learn and practice teamwork and social skills (building trust and a sense of safety among them) while challenging them with academic content. We are Teachers offers 26 Awesome Team Building Games and Activities for Kids which can be modified across grade levels. My favorites include: Hot Seat (a fun way to review vocabulary), Marshmallow-and-Toothpick Challenge (which brings out the creativity in students), and Tick Tock (where students work together to complete tasks within a set amount of time – I suggest also including content area tasks to the list, such as simplifying fractions or arranging historical events in chronological order).

Hold students to high academic and behavioral standards.

The author (a retired teacher) of this article, “Setting High Expectations and Believing in Students,” used memoirs of successful people who overcame adversity, such as Maya Angelou, to reach and teach all students. The memoirs helped the teacher/author look beyond the circumstances of students, and instead, was able to “see them full of promise.” Research shows when students know teachers believe in them, they have an increased attendance rate and perform better in school. We can show students that we believe in them by consistently challenging them with appropriate academic rigor and by holding them to high behavioral expectations.

Help your students spot hidden joy.

This 13-minute TED talk - Where Joy Hides and How to Find it – by best-selling author, Ingrid Fetell Lee, explains the difference between joy and happiness and how tangible everyday aesthetics can make us feel joy, such as pops of color and round shapes. Ingrid shares fascinating research - conducted in four countries - that shows people who work in colorful buildings are more alert, friendlier, and more confident than those working in drab spaces. In this video, you will see how Sandy Hook Elementary School was architecturally transformed with curves and waves to make it feel more welcoming and joyful. Be inspired to create more joy in your own school and beyond.

Building collaborative communities takes time, effort, and practice. Don’t give up - give your students plenty of opportunities to work together. Finally, ask your students to reflect upon the successes and challenges associated with collaborating with their peers by having them gauge their own levels of trust, safety, challenge, and joy within the classroom.

Interested in learning more about creating a collaborative learning environment? Register for our online course, Building an Engaging Collaborative Classroom. We’re looking forward to collaborating with you!


Additional Resources

Brain-Based Learning in the Classroom


Your brain is 73% water. Even mild dehydration can affect attention, memory and other cognitive skills. (Drink plenty of water!)

The human brain doesn’t reach full maturity until around the age of 25 years. (That explains a lot.)

It is estimated that the brain’s memory capacity is one quadrillion bytes - which is about the equivalent of the storage space of the entire World Wide Web. (Although, I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner last night.)

Brain-based learning is more than just random, yet fascinating, facts about the brain. It involves implementing research-based strategies that support brain development and function. Author and researcher, Eric Jensen, defines brain-based learning as: the application of a meaningful group of principles that represent our understanding of how our brain works in the context of education. Brain-based learning is simply the engagement of strategies based on body/mind/brain research. A few examples of the principles Jensen refers to include:

  • Brains are dynamic, not static
  • Human brains are social brains
  • Physical and cognitive connectivity (body/mind/brain connection)
  • Humans are emotional by nature

So how can we use these principles to guide our brain-based instruction and optimize learning in the classroom? Here are a few suggestions to consider:

Strengthen social conditions and social awareness in your classroom.

The school and classroom environments provide countless social opportunities for students. However, social skills such as cooperation, effective communication, problem-solving, and empathy do not come naturally for everyone. These skills can be learned and strengthened with direct instruction and opportunities to practice in the classroom.

Eric Jensen warns against allowing “random social groupings” for more than 10-20% of the school day. According to the Journal of Social Neuroscience, feeling isolated, unaccepted by peers, or otherwise poor social conditions correlates with decreased brain cells. Jensen suggests teachers work to strengthen “pro-social conditions” by using “targeted, planned, diverse social groupings with mentoring, teams, and buddy systems.”  This link provides several ideas to consider for grouping students in your classroom.

To increase social awareness, provide students with opportunities to collaborate and work together on common goals - but don’t stop there. When the projects are complete, give students time to reflect by journaling about the process involved with working with their partners or groups of peers. Use prompts to guide students with their thinking. Here are a few examples:

  • How did you feel about working with your peers on this project? Please explain.
  • What were the advantages of working with your group on this project?
  • What challenges or roadblocks did your group experience while working on this project? How were those challenges overcome?
  • How do you think your group viewed your efforts as a member of the team?
  • What might you do differently the next time you work on a project with your peers?

Promote healthful lifestyles.
Nutrition, exercise, and sleep are all factors that affect our dynamic brains – for better or for worse. Aim to incorporate health and fitness discussions and activities into your daily teaching practices. For example, allow students access to drinking water throughout the day. Encourage students to participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs that promote physical activity. And, of course, be a healthy role model for your students by eating nutritious snacks, getting plenty of sleep, and participating in your school’s wellness programs. The Centers for Disease Control provides this handout of practical tips for teachers on promoting healthy eating and physical activity in the classroom.

Teach students how to manage stress.

An increased level of learning, better decision-making skills, increased cooperation and teamwork among peers - never underestimate the power of calm brains. Take a few moments to teach your students self-calming and stress management strategies. You will empower your students to manage their strong emotions proactively while creating a peaceful environment that is optimal for learning. Below are links to my top go-to strategies:

While moderate levels of stress can be helpful for learning, chronic stress can be detrimental for brain functioning and development. This 5-minute TED Ed animated video brilliantly demonstrates the link between stress and memory.

KidsHealth provides free, engaging lessons and activities that address stress management at all grade levels. Download them here:

Interested in learning more about brain-based learning? Register for Principles of Brain-Based Learning: Teaching 21st Century Minds. This online course will give you a deeper understanding of how the brain develops and functions in the context of education with a focus on the principles of brain-based learning. This course will enable you to design lessons and activities that optimize learning and success in your classroom.


March is National Women’s History Month: 5 Activities to Celebrate in the Classroom


Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks - the history of the United States is comprised of inspiring and intriguing women. March is National Women’s History month. We’ve put together five activities to help you and your students honor and learn more about the notable women of our past and present.

100 Years of Incredible Women
The first female self-made millionaire in America, an activist for peace and gender equality, the first female aviator – these women, along with four others – are spotlighted in this short video, 100 Years of Incredible Women. Most likely this video will pique students’ curiosities about women who inspire them.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame
Take your students on a virtual fieldtrip to Seneca Falls, New York - home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. From Faye Glenn Abdellah, a pioneer in the medical field, to Olympian Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, students will admire beautiful portraits while discovering legendary stories behind the many influential Women of the Hall.

A Timeline of Women’s Rights
In 1920, women won the right to vote. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on gender, religion, and race. In 1978, discrimination against women who were pregnant was outlawed. Have your students create a timeline of major milestones involved with women’s rights. No doubt they will be amazed to learn about the persistence and sacrifice behind the rights many of us now take for granted.

Inspiring Quotes
“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” – Audrey Hepburn
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Give students the opportunity to explore and select quotes of notable women that resonate with them. Display the quotes on a “Words of Wisdom Wall” in your classroom or in the hallway.

Career Women

Doctor Elizabeth Blackwell; Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor; and American-born French Chef, Julia Child are just a few examples of successful women who were pioneers and leaders within their career fields. Invite students to research and discover the inspiring women within their own future career interests.

We hope these activities will help your students discover the important contributions women of our past and present have made while giving them hope and inspiration for the future. How will you be celebrating National Women’s History Month in your classroom? Please share your own ideas.

Social and Emotional Learning Part 5 of 5: Responsible Decision-Making


Responsible decision-making is the fifth of the five components of social and emotional learning (SEL). (Click on the links for teaching strategies designed to support your students with the other four components of SEL including: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.)

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines responsible decision-making as: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

Strictly for the sake of argument, if I had to choose just one of the components of SEL, I would propose that responsible decision-making is the most critical component for our students – here’s why:

As humans, our brains aren’t fully developed until around age 25. Those of us over 25 rely on the prefrontal cortex (the “rational” part of the brain) to make sound, responsible decisions. However, research shows children, teens, and young adults use the amygdala - the “emotional” or “reactionary” part of the brain to make decisions. Because the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala is still a work in progress for young people, our students often base their judgements on their emotions, rather than considering long-term consequences.

The good news, though, is that we can help students strengthen the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala – here’s how:

  • Open the lines of communication about the power of our choices with this entertaining 5-minute Kid President video.
  • Explicitly teach students about the potential consequences (positive and negative) of their actions with the SODAS decision-making model. SODAS is an acronym that stands for situation, options, disadvantages, advantages, solution.
  • Give your students the opportunity to reflect on the roles they played in past or current experiences involving conflict and decision-making. This worksheet encourages critical thinking by asking questions such as: What happened? Describe the facts using all 5 senses. What was your internal response to the situation? What is significant about what happened? How was this important to you? What are the implications for the future? What are your next steps?
  • Use academic content to challenge your students to think critically about their own morals and ethics. For example, examining and discussing the roles of historical figures and characters from novels, as well as people involved with current events can provide valuable teaching moments
  • Link students’ choices and actions with their future goals. Ask students to make a list of their favorite classes, hobbies, and other preferred activities. Have students consider career opportunities of interest that align with their lists. Give students time to research the education, training, and other commitments involved with their career choices. Discuss how the choices they make today will impact their future goals (both positively and negatively).

Interested in learning more about fostering responsible decision-making among your students? Registration for our new course Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum opens soon! Until then, head to our blog archives for classroom strategies to support your students with self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills.

Did you read the rest of the series?

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 1 of 5: Self-Management Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 3 of 5: Social Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 4 of 5: 5 Strategies to Improve Relationship Skills in the Classroom

Additional Resources


Heart Mapping: A Prewriting Activity for Valentine’s Day and Beyond


My trip to Southern Germany with my husband, the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls baking in the oven at my Grandma’s house, taking my dog to the beach in San Diego, my two little boys, reading good books – I love writing about the people, places, things, and memories closest to my heart. With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a great time to give students the opportunity to reflect on what they love while sharpening their writing skills.

My students at the elementary and middle school levels often struggled with writing – especially with the first step of just getting started. Then several years ago a grad school professor introduced me to Heart Mapping – a prewriting strategy based on Georgia Heard’s book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I have been implementing and sharing this brilliant, yet simple strategy with students and teachers ever since.

Heart Mapping involves examining our hearts and identifying fond memories, defining moments, people we love, our favorite places, ways we spend our free time, and any other topics most important to us. This document includes step-by-step instructions on how to implement Georgia Heard’s Heart Mapping strategy.

Over the years, I’ve taken some liberties with Heart Mapping based on the needs of my own students and have included my own step-by-step instructions based on Heard’s method.

  1. Although I introduced Heart Mapping to my students at the beginning of every school year, it was an ongoing activity throughout the year. By thinking aloud, I mapped my own heart by identifying people, places, and things close to my heart, as well as defining moments in my life and how I spent my free time. Using specific words/details, I placed the topics on a larger version of this heart template on chart paper. For example, I included: playing fetch with my dog, celebrating my grandma’s 100th birthday, the smell of pizza baking in the wood-burning oven at my favorite restaurant, my parents’ divorce, along with other topics that my students might be able to relate with.
  2. I encouraged students to ponder several questions to get them started with mapping their own hearts:
    1. Who are the people most important to you? Why?
    2. How do you spend your free time?
    3. What memories make you smile? What memories make you feel sad?
    4. What are some defining moments of your life? (moving to a new home, parents’ divorce, the loss of a loved one…)
    5. What experiences have you had that you will never forget?
    6. Where do you enjoy hanging out?
  3. I gave students 10-15 minutes to reflect on and identify topics most important to them for their own heart templates (or students could simply draw a big heart on a sheet of notebook paper to use). Common student topics included: family members, pets, their bedrooms, family vacations, friends, teachers, favorite foods, hobbies, moving to a new home, along with other more specific topics and memories.
  4. Finally, I gave students the opportunity to share their hearts with the rest of the group (on a voluntary basis). Sharing helped spark more memories and topics to be included on their individual hearts.
  5. The hearts were stored in the students’ writing folders to reference whenever they needed meaningful topics to write about. (Gone were the days of hearing, “I don’t have anything to write about!”) As students made new memories throughout the school year – or uncovered additional old memories – they added them to their heart templates. (Sometimes students filled their templates and needed additional copies.)

Writing about topics close to our hearts as well as our defining moments can be very enjoyable and therapeutic. This Valentine’s Day consider introducing Heart Mapping in your classroom – you and your students will be equipped with meaningful topics to write about for the rest of the school year. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Social and Emotional Learning Part 4 of 5: 5 Strategies to Improve Relationship Skills in the Classroom


Maintaining friendships, asking for help, working cooperatively, etc. - interpersonal skills are a critical component of the development of children. When students demonstrate strong relationship skills, instructional time increases while conflicts, arguing, and fighting decreases. Class cohesion increases self-confidence among students as they help one another and interact positively with adults.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), defines relationship skills as: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed.

Effective relationship skills do not come naturally for everyone. Fortunately, these skills can be taught, modeled, and practiced in the classroom. Here are five ideas to weave into your teaching practices to support your students.

Inspire your students to work together as a team with this short video clip where the members of the marching band are the stars of this football game! Discuss the communication, practice, and teamwork involved with this impressive performance.

Class Meetings
Foster a sense of community in your classroom by facilitating regular class meetings or “circle time.” Class meetings give students the opportunity to voice their concerns, opinions, and ideas. From discussing current events to resolving conflicts - the purpose of meetings can vary from day to day. Read more about how to facilitate class meetings here.

Asking for Help
Remind students that even adults struggle with asking for help sometimes. This CBS This Morning segment gives us all a different perspective – people like helping! As highlighted in the segment, helping others often boosts our moods, self-esteem, and sense of belonging and well-being. Have a discussion with your students about how it feels to ask for help, and how it feels to help others. Talk about how accepting help and offering to help others will positively impact their futures.

Cooperative Games
Mix things up in your classroom with game time. Critical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills - the benefits involved with playing cooperative games are well worth the time invested. Check out this link for a list of eight teambuilding activities for students of all ages. Or organize a New Friend Scavenger Hunt to foster connections and bonds with and among your students.

Peer Interviews
Turn your classroom into a press conference by facilitating this peer interview project from readwritethink. Students will strengthen their listening and speaking skills (as well as their writing and research skills) while connecting with their peers at a deeper level.

Interested in learning more about cultivating a classroom filled with students who demonstrate cooperation, teamwork, and problem-solving skills? Registration for our new course Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum opens soon!

Did you read the rest of the series?

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 1 of 5: Self-Management Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 3 of 5: Social Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social & Emotional Learning- Part 5 of 5: Responsible Decision-Making

Additional Resources

Social and Emotional Learning Part 3 of 5: Social Awareness Strategies in the Classroom


Welcome to part 3 of our social and emotional learning (SEL) series - today’s focus: social awareness! (Head over to our blog archives for parts 1 and 2 which address self-management and self-awareness classroom strategies.)

Constructive communication, conflict resolution, peer learning, responsible decision-making, perspective-taking, empathy, an appreciation for diversity, and respect for others are at the heart of social awareness. When students demonstrate these skills, they maximize their learning potential. There are lots of ways to help students strenghten their social awareness skills! Here are a few ideas:

“Take a Seat & Make a Friend”
Inspire students to start friendly conversations with others outside of their typical social circles with this video. Watch as two people (who are strangers) share their bucket lists, create secret handshakes, ask questions to find commonalities, and end their conversations with selfies and hugs as new friends.

Reflect on Group Work
Provide students with opportunities to collaborate and work together on common goals - but don’t stop there. When the projects are complete, give students time to reflect by journaling about the process involved with working with their partners or groups of peers. Use prompts to guide students with their thinking. Here are a few examples:

  • How did you feel about working with your peers on this project? Please explain.
  • What were the advantages of working with your group on this project?
  • What challenges or roadblocks did your group experience while working on this project? How were those challenges overcome?
  • How do you think your group viewed your efforts as a member of the team?
  • What might you do differently the next time you work on a project with your peers?

Active Listening with Share Time
Active listening skills don’t necessarily come naturally for everyone. Teach, model and provide opportunities for students to practice using eye contact and respectful body language; asking questions to show interest; celebrating good news with smiles, high-fives, and congratulatory words; and making connections to what others share. As an elementary special education teacher, I reserved the first five minutes of my small group sessions to practice these skills daily by having students share one thing about what’s happening in their lives. At the middle school level, I carved 10-15 minutes of class time weekly for “share time.” (Students at both the elementary and middle school levels loved this activity!)

Gallery Walk
Conduct a “gallery walk” featuring students’ individual exhibits and presentations on topics of their choice. I love gallery walks because they give students an opportunity to learn about their peers while sharing their own knowledge and expertise about something they are passionate about. (This is another great opportunity for students to practice active listening and constructive communication skills.)

Learn about Empathy Through a Crying Baby
This worksheet approaches the concept of empathy by focusing on the innocence of and the unpredictable moods of a baby. Students will ponder questions such as:

  • What are some things that make a baby cry?
  • Babies can’t speak to tell us what’s wrong, but older kids can. What are some ways you can express yourself or communicate?
  • When a baby cries, it can be upsetting for the parents. A crying baby isn’t a “bad” baby, just a baby who needs help. Are there times when others do things that are upsetting to you, even though they don’t mean to?

This worksheet can be tailored for different grade levels to guide students with the process of understanding what it means to be empathetic toward others.

Interested in learning more about how social awareness and the other SEL competencies can increase academic outcomes and promote positive mental health among students and educators? Registration for our new course Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum opens soon!

Did you read the rest of this series?

Social and Emotional Learning - Part 1 of 5: Self-Management Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning - Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 4 of 5: 5 Strategies to Improve Relationship Skills in the Classroom

Social & Emotional Learning- Part 5 of 5: Responsible Decision-Making


Social and Emotional Learning - Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom


Welcome to part 2 of our social and emotional learning (SEL) series. Let’s begin with a brief review. SEL involves teaching five core competencies to students in grades K–12: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. In a recent blog post, we discussed strategies to implement in your classroom to promote self-management, which involves impulse control, stress management, self-discipline, self-motivation, and goal-setting.

Today we will take a close look at self-awareness. As defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), self-awareness is: The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”

Self-awareness plays a critical role in how students learn and grow. When individuals are self-aware, they build upon their strengths while efficiently focusing on areas they need to improve upon – a key step to setting and achieving goals. Continue reading for strategies to implement into your teaching practices to encourage an optimal level of self-awareness among your students.

Identifying Emotions
Regardless of what grade you teach, head to the children’s section of your friendly neighborhood library! Picture books can be a valuable tool for teaching students how to identify, understand, and manage their emotions. Click here for a list of recommended book titles which promise to help children navigate their feelings and emotions.

Thinking about Values
Identifying and reflecting upon one’s values can lead down a pathway toward responsible and respectful behaviors. As suggested in this article, give students writing or conversational prompt questions to encourage them to think deeply about their values. Examples of prompts include:

  • What three qualities do you admire in a friend? A teacher? A parent?
  • What is one rule that you believe is important to live your life by?
  • If we lived in a perfect world, how would people behave differently than they do now?

Recognizing Strengths
Gratitude, love of learning, and spirituality are my top three strengths, according to the results of this free character strengths survey. This 96-question survey is available for students (ages 10-17) and for adults and takes less than 15 minutes. Give it a try!

Students often thrive with an increased level of confidence when given ownership of their learning. Learning menus are an effective way to meet the diverse needs of all students and allows students to focus on their interests and strengths. This document showcases examples of creative learning menus that can be tailored for your own classroom.

Self-efficacy refers to one’s ability to learn, grow, and make progress toward accomplishing goals. Character Lab offers this lesson plan to help students understand and practice the components of a systematic learning strategy known as “Expert Practice,” which guides and supports students with learning challenges outside of their comfort zones.

Interested in learning more about how self-awareness and the other SEL competencies can increase academic outcomes and promote positive mental health among students and educators? Registration for our new course Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum opens soon!

Did you read the rest of this series?

Social and Emotional Learning - Part 1 of 5: Self-Management Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning - Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 3 of 5: Social Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 4 of 5: 5 Strategies to Improve Relationship Skills in the Classroom

Social & Emotional Learning- Part 5 of 5: Responsible Decision-Making

Additional Resources

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 1 of 5: Self-Management Strategies in the Classroom


Happy 2019! Are you staying on track with your New Year’s resolutions? As I type, I have a large glass of water next to my mouse, and I am resisting the strong temptation of the remaining Christmas cookies and other holiday goodies in my pantry. After all, this blog post is about self-management, so I’m trying to practice what I preach.

As defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning (SEL) is: the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) involves teaching five core competencies to students in grades K - 12:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision-Making

Oftentimes, SEL instruction begins with self-awareness. However, for the sake of New Year’s, when so many of us are working on developing new habits, I’m going to start with self-management.

CASEL defines self-management as: the ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations – effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

Unsurprisingly, students who are armed with self-management skills such as impulse control, stress management, self-discipline, self-motivation, goal-setting, and organizational skills show immediate and long-term benefits including academic achievement and positive mental health. Although self-management skills do not come naturally for everyone, these skills can be taught.

Here are a few strategies you can embed into your teaching practices to encourage self-management among your students.

Take a break – Designate a specific place in your classroom for students to take a break and recharge when they start to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry. Breaktime should be a positive time to breathe and regroup (not a punishment). Learn more about implementing positive breaks here

WOOP – This acronym is a goal-setting exercise that stands for:

  • Wish – Students state challenging, yet achievable goals
  • Outcome – Students visualize how they will feel once they accomplish their goals
  • Obstacle(s) – Students identify possible barriers that could hinder success
  • Plan – Students devise a specific plan of action to work toward their goals

Character Lab provides these free resources, including a facilitator guide and student activities to implement WOOP in your classroom. (Go ahead and try it for yourself first - I did!)

  • Reflect and Record Progress – Have your students complete a simple reflection at the beginning and/or the end of class based on whatever behavior(s) you are trying to target. Perhaps several of your students show up to your class unprepared or tardy - have students self-monitor their behaviors by answering simple yes/no questions. For example:
    • Was I on time for class?
    • Was I prepared for class with all necessary materials (books, pen, completed homework)?
    • Did I record the homework assignment in my calendar?
    • Was I attentive in class?

Have students record their reflections over a set period of time and have them track their progress. Click here to learn more about the power behind reflection and how it can be used further to set goals and to hold students to high standards.

If you’re like me and need some additional inspiration to practice what you preach to your students, check out these resources:

  • This article outlines three strategies for educators to practice with the promise of improved self-management that take only five minutes per day. The strategies include: mindful breathing exercises, focusing on your strengths, and believing in yourself.  
  • This TED talk by Google engineer, Matt Cutts, has inspired me to give up refined sugar and to use an electric toothbrush for 30 days. (I’m on day 5). Matt suggests trying something new - something you’ve always wanted to achieve – and if you want to go back to your old habits after 30 days, you can. Knowing that eating chocolate and switching back to my manual toothbrush at the end of the month are options makes me feel less deprived. My goal is to have established new, healthy habits (with an improved smile!) and I will no longer have the desire to go back to my old ways. Test your own self-management skills by giving the 30-day challenge a try!

Happy 2019, educators! Here’s to a new year filled with impulse control, stress management, self-discipline, self-motivation, goal-setting and achieving!

Interested in learning more about how self-management and the other SEL competencies can increase academic outcomes and promote positive mental health among students and educators? Registration for our new course Social and Emotional Learning: Promoting Positive Mental Health Across the Curriculum opens soon!

Have you read the rest of the series?

Social and Emotional Learning - Part 2 of 5: Self-Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 3 of 5: Social Awareness Strategies in the Classroom

Social and Emotional Learning- Part 4 of 5: 5 Strategies to Improve Relationship Skills in the Classroom

Social & Emotional Learning- Part 5 of 5: Responsible Decision-Making

Additional Resources

2019 Winter Reading Log: 19 Books Recommended by Educators


Perhaps it’s the introvert me, but when I wake up 30-60 minutes before the rest of my family and have quiet time to read (while drinking a warm cup of coffee), I feel so energized and ready to conquer the rest of the day ahead. (In a recent blog post, I highlighted the benefits associated with independent reading including mental stimulation, increased concentration, improved analytical skills, along with several other benefits.)

We’re here to help you practice what you preach in the classroom everyday – read, read, read! I’ve compiled this list of 19 fantastic book titles educators are reading for pleasure and for learning this winter. And while you’re at it, have you thought about starting your own reading log for 2019? This website provides a plethora of templates to download for all ages, including adults.


  • Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual by Jacko Willink
  • Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning – Classroom Practices for Student Success, Grades K-12 by Shell Education and Sharroky Hollie
  • Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
  • Fly Boys – A True Story of Courage by James Bradley
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Historical Fiction:

  • The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Guernsey Literacy and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Atomic City Girls: A Novel by Janet Beard
  • Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly


  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

*Bonus Category - Podcasts*
Perhaps you’re having trouble finding time to sit down and read. Listen to a podcast episode on your commute to work, while walking on the treadmill, or wherever you choose. An educator in California shared a few of her favorites:

From the school psychologist in Maryland-to the math teacher in Illinois-to the special education para professional in California, thank you to all the educators who shared book titles. What are you reading this winter? Please share this post with your own recommendations and keep our list growing.

Finally, please be sure to check out our list of fantastic, university-accredited English Language Arts courses that educators are also working on this winter including:

5 Priceless Gifts for Students


Billions of dollars were spent by shoppers in the United States over the Thanksgiving weekend. The packages that arrived on my front porch - practically before the pumpkin pie was served - was evidence that I was one of the millions of online consumers wrapped up in the Black Friday/Cyber Monday frenzy.

Upon reflection, I soon realized all the toys and other gifts that I so badly needed to buy for my two little boys were unnecessary. My 17-month old, Owen, would be as happy as a Powerball winner if he found a stack of post-it notes and a roll of toilet paper in his stocking this year. He gets the biggest, most mischievous smile on his face when I catch him playing in our cat’s food and water bowls. And, washing dishes in the kitchen sink fills Owen with pride for being so “helpful”. The unconditional love, guidance, and stability behind the everyday experiences are the gifts my boys truly want and need – even if they don’t realize it yet.

Like parents, teachers provide a countless number of gifts for their students - gifts students might not fully comprehend the value of now but will be grateful for - and will continue to reap the benefits of - in the future. Below are five examples of those gifts to serve as a reminder that your everyday teaching efforts make a big difference in the lives of children.

Gift #1 – Reading Aloud

Award-winning and beloved children’s author, Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux) recently shared a personal school experience involving the power of reading aloud in this 3-minute PBS News Hour segment.

According to Reach Out & Read, reading aloud to children builds motivation, curiosity, and memory; helps them cope during times of stress and anxiety; enlarges and enhances the world of children; and creates a positive association with books and reading for a lifetime.

There truly is something magical about a good story! (Head over to our blog archives for read-aloud book titles to promote kindness, empathy, friendship, and other positive behaviors.)

Gift #2 – Connections

Establishing a strong classroom community by making connections with and among students enables them to feel safe, which leads to taking more academic risks to challenge themselves to grow and learn at a deeper level. Academic risks involve making mistakes – and learning from those mistakes – building resilience within students. The benefits of making connections are plentiful! Be inspired to cultivate creative ways to make connections in your classroom by these kindergarten students in Texas.

Gift #3 – Movement Breaks

Physical activity is a proven way of refocusing and re-energizing everyone involved. Movement breaks can be as simple as standing up to stretch, striking a fun yoga pose, or taking a quick lap around the school. (Check out GoNoodle which provides fun, free online videos to get kids moving.)

Movement breaks are well worth the short amount of time invested -  leading to better performance on tests and other academic tasks, reduced ADHD symptoms, and enhanced creativity and concentration. The “gifts” involved with physical activity can last a lifetime.

Gift #4 – Awareness

Have you ever walked into a room and reached for the light switch only to realize the light was already on? In our fast-paced world, filled with electronic devices that enable us to multi-task, we so often miss out on what’s happening in the present moment.

Mindfulness exercises such as engaging the five senses and focusing on breathing can bring clarity to our minds and can relax our bodies, making us feel more calm, happy, and productive with our work. Two of my favorite go-to activities to promote awareness for myself and students include the 4-7-8 breathing exercise (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds, repeat) and practicing mindfulness with chocolate. Give them a try with your own students!

Gift #5 – Civility

Showing appreciation, sharing credit, smiling, expressing gratitude, acknowledging others, and saying “hello” are all examples of civility that teachers work to instill on students every day. In this TEDx, researcher, Christine Porath, studied the effects of civility and incivility and shares eye-opening insights about the impact actions have on ourselves and on others. She explains how civil people are viewed as leaders, competent, and smart. (You won’t find these gifts in a Black Friday advertisement.)

Teachers, thank you for all the gifts you provide for students each and every day. You are truly making a positive impact with the care, dedication, inspiration, and support that goes into your everyday teaching efforts. Happiest Holidays wishes to you and yours!


Building Lifelong Readers with Independent Reading Strategies


Happy wintertime! What better way to spend the cold, dark days than cozied up with a book, complete with a blanket and a kitty on your lap? The warmth a good book brings to the soul is significant, and there are numerous additional benefits of reading – mental stimulation, increased concentration, stronger writing skills, improved analytical skills, knowledge, entertainment…the list goes on and on.

So how can we foster a love of reading among our students to enable them to reap the benefits for the rest of their lives? One way is by encouraging independent reading for enjoyment and for learning.

Reading Rockets defines independent reading as: children's reading of text — such as books, magazines, and newspapers — on their own, with minimal to no assistance from adults. It can consist of reading done in or out of school, including purely voluntary reading for enjoyment or assigned reading for homework.

With over 20 years of teaching experience, Amanda Hudak, middle school special education and reading teacher in Minnesota, shared how she effectively encourages independent reading in her classroom:

First of all, I address the students as “readers”- it is an expectation. We have flexible seating options for reading time and a variety of high interest nonfiction, graphic novels, books in series, and books made into movies. I have found middle schoolers are most likely to read when given choices of books on high interest topics and time to read and share them. Once a quarter I read aloud a book, or we do a reader’s theater play that also has a movie like Wonder or McFarland, USA. The kids always really like that.

Amanda went on to share that she gives her students time to read independently each day while she does individual conferencing related to the students’ reading goals. Amanda and her students communicate daily via their interactive reading notebooks, which encourages students to take their learning to a deeper level by reflecting on their understanding of text, making predictions, and asking questions.

Audio books are a great option for independent reading time. Amanda takes advantage of online programs such as Bookshare and Learning Ally which provide hundreds of thousands of book titles for students with disabilities at no cost. Audio books help to level the playing field for students who struggle with reading by enabling them access to the same popular titles as their peers.

Fourteen-year old, Alexia Safieh, considers herself a “reluctant reader.” Echoing some of the same strategies Amanda uses with her students, Alexia outlines four simple steps which helped her to “create a habit of reading” in this five-minute Tedx Talk:

Step 1: Pick One – Choose a book of interest to you. Alexia wisely noted, “There has never been so many choices and so many sources we can choose from. There is something for everyone.”

Step 2: Make Time – Decide what part of your day you will devote to reading each day.

Step 3: Set Goals – Set daily goals and persistently stick with them. (For example: I will read for 20 minutes per day.)

Step 4: Pick a Series – Book series help keep your interest from one book to the next. (Alexia also highlighted the interest movies based on books, such as Divergent, can spark with reading.)

Whether it involves traditional books – fiction or nonfiction, e-books, magazine articles, or newspaper articles, carve some time out of your busy class schedule every day for independent reading for your students (and don’t forget to bring your own book to read). Set your students up for success with the endless benefits associated with lifelong readers.

Interested in learning more about how to build lifelong readers in your classroom? Check out our extensive list of English Language Arts courses.


Making a Difference for Students Living in Poverty


Here in the United States, 41% of children under of the age of 18 years are part of low-income or poor families. According to the 2016 federal poverty threshold statistics, a family of four (2 parents and 2 children) with a household income of $48,678 or less is considered low-income, while a family of four earning $24,339 or less is considered poor.

Childhood poverty can impact students socially, emotionally, and academically. When I was in middle school, my parents divorced and my family of three (my sister, my mom, and me), slipped into the “low-income” status. When I think back to this period of my life in the 1990s, what still stands out is: The F on my report card that I earned in social studies, the coveted Guess jeans and Esprit bags that I couldn’t afford, and pink lunch tickets. This was a time before electronic lunch cards existed and we had to purchase individual paper tickets for lunch every week. Up until that time, my lunch tickets were green. I felt demoralized when the lunch lady told me I qualified for a “reduced lunch rate” and handed me the pink tickets. Why did the tickets have to be a different color? I wanted the green tickets - I just wanted to blend in and feel normal.

My story is minor compared to the challenges millions of other children have faced or are facing today. Unlike the 4.2 million children who experience homelessness each year, I always had a safe place to live. And, unlike the 12 million children today who are food insecure, I always had plenty of food to eat. Like millions of children, however, my circumstances still impacted me socially, emotionally, and academically.

Poverty can seem like a daunting problem, but we, as educators, can take steps – small and big - to make a difference in the lives of our students.

  • Begin here by learning about the misconceptions associated with children and families living in poverty and how our perceptions can shape students’ educational experiences.
  • Have high expectations of your students and encourage them to set short and long-term goals. The students in this video were invited to set “gaudy goals” – goals that inspired them to shoot for the stars!
  • Listen to this award-winning teacher explain why we need to rethink the way we teach our students about poverty - for the betterment of all students.
  • Watch and share the ‘Homework Gap’ to understand the disadvantages of and the challenges faced by the children in 5 million households without internet service.
  • Finally, be inspired by this former teacher in Florida who works to provide essentials for children in need, such as personal hygiene products, clothing, school supplies, and most importantly - hope.

Interested in learning more about how to make a difference for your students living in poverty? Register for our online course: Reaching At-Risk Students and Underachievers.


Putting Students at the Center of their Learning


Sixth grader, Tanner, runs a business with his classmates called LDInk. Inspired by patterns found on common, everyday objects such as manhole covers, they creatively design and sell t-shirts and tote bags. LDInk is complete with a budgeting department, a marketing team, and a communication department. Students work together to determine profits and costs, solicit sponsorship from other local businesses, and write press releases. These young entrepreneurs were recently featured on the local news. With half of their profits going to charity, students can also add philanthropy to their resumes.

This is Tanner’s first year at La Crosse Design Institute (LDI) in La Crosse, Wisconsin. As their webpage states, “LDI is an innovative school based on creativity and imagination that allows students to control their own education with help from advisors.” Problem-solving, accountability, teamwork, informed and responsible citizenship, leadership, integrity, and strong values are all at the heart of LDI. Check out a day in the life of LDI in this video.

Tanner’s mom is impressed by the solid academic skills as well as the organizational, leadership, and management skills Tanner has already acquired through his authentic learning experiences at LDI.  By having contact with all students (grades 6-8) and given opportunities to work together, Tanner learns from and teaches his peers everyday and has developed several new friendships.

In student-centered learning environments, the focus of instruction is shifted from the teacher to the students. Students choose what they will learn, based on their interests and how they will learn. Students also assess their own growth and learning through self-monitoring and self-reflection.

Tanner’s teacher, Dr. Maggie McHugh has embraced student-centered learning by giving up control of being the “information giver” and learning right alongside her students about anything from ancient homeopathic treatments to how to design a water filtration system. She guides her students on their quests for learning about topics of their choice by demonstrating the skills of research: evaluating resources for validity, relevancy, and accuracy; refining search inquiries; and respecting intellectual property rights of others.

Dr. McHugh reminds her students that the research process is not linear, “Sometimes we are led down the wrong pathways and that is okay - search and search again. No time is wasted, it’s all part of the learning process.”

Children are curious, so it can be motivating and empowering for students to take control of their learning. Tanner shared, “School’s better all around. This is more my style. I have learned so much and have had fun while learning.”

Perhaps you’re intrigued by student-centered learning activities, but you’re not ready to have your students start their own business, like LDInk. You can still take steps toward putting your students at the center of their learning. Here are a few ideas to try:

What is Wonderopolis? Who lives on Easter Island? Are footballs really made of pigskin? Do you think 13 is unlucky? How many bridges cross the Amazon River? Give your students opportunities to explore Wonderopolis, a website filled with thousands of questions to ponder. Encourage students to click on the “wonders” of interest to them. (They can even test their understanding with the quizzes and vocabulary challenges.) Invite students to ask their own questions and join discussions with others to quench their curiosities.

You’re probably familiar with the KWL chart. The KWHLAQ chart takes learning to a deeper, richer level for students. Enable students to research topics of their choice, using the KWHLAQ questions as an anchor:

  • What do you know?
  • What do you want to know?
  • How will you find out?
  • What have you learned?
  • What action will you take (to apply what was learned)?
  • What further questions do you have?

The Smithsonian offers this free, online resource for students in grades K-12. TweenTribune provides engaging, Lexile-leveled daily news stories about current events, art, history, culture, and science. Students can select stories of interest to them and engage with other readers by commenting on the articles to create further discussion.

Finally, here are a few more ideas to inspire you from LDI’s Twitter Feed:

  • 8th graders became fascinated by their own community by choosing and researching local historical landmarks - then they designed and built artistic representations of their landmarks.
  • 7th graders put their geometry and marketing skills to good use by partnering with local businesses to design and create promotional coffee mugs. What a fun way to learn about the surface area, volume, and circumference of objects!
  • 7th graders became experts in the field of human anatomy by creating and teaching lessons and activities to their class about the different body systems.

Interested in learning more about how to engage and enhance the learning of all students by putting them at the center of their learning? Register for our new course: Student-Centered Classrooms: A Constructivist Approach.


Teacher Recommended Strategies to Support Students with ADHD


Teachers have the best ideas for their students – and they love to share what works with fellow educators! Included below are some easy-to-implement strategies and ideas to support students with ADHD that educators have shared in our online course – ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies. We think these ideas are too good not to pass along and hope you and your students will benefit from this collaboration.

Smell the Flower, Blow out the Candle
Deb, a special education teacher, uses a visual of a flower and a candle to remind students to take a deep breath to calm down and to refocus. She prompts her students to: Smell the flower, then blow out the candle. We can all benefit from this simple, yet brilliant reminder to take a few deep breaths throughout the day.

Get Everyone Moving
In your classroom, promote physical activity by incorporating “movement breaks” throughout the day. This could be as simple as standing up to stretch, striking a fun yoga pose, or taking a quick lap around the school. Another idea is to throw a “one song dance party” to re-energize and refocus everyone involved. Students can make song requests for upcoming dance parties and they can invite special guests, such as the principal, to join the fun. Many participants in the ADHD course have praised the benefits of GoNoodle which provides free online videos to get kids moving.

Provide Inspiration
What do Michael Phelps, Justin Timberlake, and Lisa Ling have in common? They all have ADHD. Share and discuss this slideshow with students which highlights celebrities who have ADHD and other learning disabilities. Kathleen, a special education teacher, inspires her students to overcome their challenges by displaying a “People Like Me” wall in her classroom featuring smart, successful people who also struggled in school.

Set a Visual Timer
Help strengthen students’ time management and other executive function skills by incorporating a timer into your teaching practice. Amy, an elementary gifted & talented teacher, uses the visual Time Timer as a wonderful option for students who might feel anxious when digital timers are set. (There is also a Time Timer app available.)

Partner with Your School Occupational Therapist
Sarah, a 6th grade teacher, often taps into the expertise of her school occupational therapist (OT) to help her students self-regulate their bodies and minds. OTs are valuable resources who recommend accommodations such as sensory or movement breaks. They also introduce tools such as fidgets, wiggle seats, standing desks, and assistive technology programs to enable students with special needs to be successful in the classroom.

Are you interested in finding out how to further support your students with ADHD? Check out our online course - ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies. Learn alongside fellow dedicated professionals who are eager to share their perspectives and expertise. Hope to collaborate with you in class soon!

Bullying or Conflict?


Several years ago, I found myself (a special education teacher) in a meeting involving the principal, the director of special education, the school psychologist, a second-grade teacher, two concerned parents, and even the district superintendent.

A second-grade student on my special education caseload reported to his parents that he was “bullied” by another student in his classroom. This was a time when bullying seemed to be a major focus of the media, and my school district took all bullying allegations very seriously.

According to, bullying is: unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Bullying is not the same as conflict. Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying breaks down the difference:

  • Conflict is a disagreement or argument in which both sides express their views.
  • Bullying is negative behavior directed by someone exerting power and control over another person.

After a thorough investigation, it turned out my student was not being bullied after all. Rather, the behavior demonstrated between my student and the alleged “bully” was determined to be a conflict between two classmates.

I was relieved that my student was not being bullied, but I knew I was not off the hook. I needed to do a better job of teaching my student what bullying is and what bullying is not. I also needed to do a better job of teaching him how to handle conflict and bullying situations, including asking for help at school.

Together with my student’s parents and the rest of his Individual Education Plan (IEP) team, we developed and implemented a plan to check-in with the student on a scheduled basis and provided him with direct instruction and support with conflict resolution and social skills.

Provided below are links to free, online resources that I rely on to teach students about conflict and bullying:


Bullying is indeed a problem that needs to be taken seriously, and sometimes conflict behaviors can cross the line to bullying. Whether it’s conflict or bullying, students need to know what to do when they find themselves in challenging situations. It is our responsibility, as educators, to provide students with safe learning environments where they will be heard and supported.

Are you concerned about bullying behaviors in your school? Learn more about how to identify and prevent bullying behaviors, as well as how to intervene when bullying occurs by enrolling in our course:

Bullying and Cyberbullying: An Educator’s Toolbox for Prevention and Intervention

RTI 101: Think Progress


So often I would groan when the topic of Response to Intervention (RTI) was mentioned - mainly because I didn’t fully understand the process. It turns out it’s not so complicated when you think of RTI as working toward and measuring the progress of students.

The RTI Action Network best explains what RTI is, including the essential components involved for successful implementation. Here is an overview:

RTI is a multi-tier approach designed for early identification and support of students with academic and behavioral needs. All students are screened in the general education classrooms. Interventions at increasing levels of intensity are provided by general education teachers, special education teachers, and/or specialists for students who are identified as “struggling”. Performance data is collected frequently, and progress is closely monitored to determine the effectiveness of the interventions in place.

There are four components necessary for RTI to be successfully implemented.

  1. High-quality, scientifically based instruction in the general education classroom
  2. Ongoing student assessment (Multiple data points collected with universal screening and progress monitoring drive decisions regarding the level of support necessary to meet the needs of individual students.)
  3. Tiered instruction (Research-based interventions are implemented specific to student needs - more information specific to the three tiers of RTI is included below.)
  4. Parent involvement

The 3 Tiers of RTI

  • Tier 1: Students identified as “at-risk” based on the results of universal screenings and/or standardized assessments receive supplemental/differentiated instruction and/or interventions within the general education settings for no longer than eight weeks. Throughout the eight weeks, performance data is collected, and student progress is closely monitored to determine whether the student will return to the “regular” instruction or if the student needs an increased level of instruction or interventions at the Tier 2 level.
  • Tier 2: When students are not making adequate progress (or not responding to) the interventions provided at the Tier 1 level, students are provided with increasingly intensive instruction and/or interventions. Students at the Tier 2 level are oftentimes serviced in separate small-group settings by education specialists, in addition to the general education content. The amount of time students spend at the Tier 2 level varies, but generally does not exceed one grading period. Again, performance data is collected, and student progress is closely monitored to determine whether students will return to Tier 1 or move on to Tier 3.
  • Tier 3: When students are not making adequate progress with the interventions provided at the Tier 2 level, intensive, individualized interventions to address academic and behavioral needs are put in place. Sometimes students at this tier level are placed in small groups with students who are already receiving special education services or might receive 1:1 individualized support with special education staff members. In addition, students at this level are referred for a comprehensive special education evaluation. The data collected throughout the three tiers is one component of determining special education eligibility.

In summary, when you think RTI, think progress. Determine interventions “at-risk” students need to make progress with their academic and behavioral performance. Consider how student progress will be monitored and how data will be collected to measure student progress.

Interested in learning more about the multi-tiered RTI model, including practical strategies and tools to implement to increase student achievement and foster classroom engagement? Register for our new course: Response to Intervention (RTI): A Roadmap for Successful Classroom Implementation.


RTI Action Network: A Program for the National Center of Learning Disabilities

Creating a Chromebook Classroom: Chromebook Expectations


As I begin to share my journey with you regarding the implementation of Chromebooks into my classroom, I will start with the basics because that is where we always start when it comes to introducing anything new in an elementary classroom. I set clear expectations for how my students use the Chromebooks just like I set clear expectations for my students and how they conduct themselves in my class behaviorally. This is an area covered in milestone one in the course offered by The Connecting Link. The following are a few steps I took when I began creating my classroom culture with the Chromebooks:

  1. Create clear expectations for how your students will handle the Chromebooks.

            My favorite way to begin building a positive, productive classroom culture is to have a discussion with my students on what they want the classroom to be like and how they want it to function. For instance, when discussing behavioral expectations, I will almost certainly hear, “Well, we shouldn’t be mean to each other or make fun of each other.” I will also hear things like, “We should keep our hands and feet to ourselves,” or, “We should not mess with other people’s stuff.” Now, as a teacher, we all know what we want our classrooms to feel like when it comes to class climate and culture. We also more than likely have a set of class rules that we use each year. That being said, bringing the students into that discussion will allow you to gain greater buy-in from them because they feel like they are creating something from the ground up. They will be the ones setting the foundation that your school year will be built upon.

            The idea is no different when it comes to creating expectations with the Chromebooks. Allow the students to have small group discussions with one another to come up with ideas for how they should treat and handle the Chromebooks. This will allow them to take more ownership over that while also allowing you to point them back to those expectations at any point and remind them that they came up with the expectations themselves. It helps to create more real accountability.

  1. Make the Chromebook expectations something to strive for, not something to be avoided.

            Another way that I seek to build a positive classroom culture is to make my expectations something positive that my students seek to live by within my classroom. After the classroom discussion where the students are coming up with ideas for expectations, we still have a choice to make as to how we word those expectations. We can either be positive or negative. My Chromebook expectations are no exception.

Negatively Worded Expectations

Positively Worded Expectations

Don’t go on YouTube.

Use only the assigned apps or websites.

Don’t bang on the keyboard and mouse pad.

Treat the Chromebooks with respect.


That way the students have something that they are to aspire to when it comes to how they treat the Chromebooks. I have found much greater success when focusing expectations on what we want out of our students as opposed to what we do not want out of them. A few of my favorite expectations are:

  • Always carry the Chromebooks with two hands.
  • Keep your username and passwords safe and secret.
  • Use clean hands when working with the Chromebooks.

            Once these expectations are established and have been fully discussed, then you can begin utilizing the technology in a more meaningful way within your classroom whether you have a class set of Chromebooks or just a few desktop computers in the back of your room. In the next blog post, we will look at creating your own Google Drive where you can store assignments, documents, lesson plans, and so on.

Watch for the next post if you have ever wondered how to virtually manage assignments, paperwork, and other important documents!

Interested in learning more about implementing Chromebooks in your class? Check out our course:

Activities, Lessons, and Resources for National Bullying Prevention Month


October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness month. We’re here to get you prepared with a list of valuable activities, lessons, and resources designed to help prevent and address bullying among students in grades K–12. 

Let’s begin with a feel-good video for everyone:
Inspire kindness with this empowering 6-minute video that will draw students in as they watch how the act of kindness is set in motion and spread from one person to the next – and back again.
Life Vest Inside – Kindness Boomerang – “One Day” provides lessons and activities designed to teach children how to identify bullying behaviors and how to effectively deal with and prevent bullying and cyberbullying. Check them out here:

PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center is the founder of the National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month campaign and is a leader in the battle against bullying.

  • In 2014, PACER partnered with Nick Vujicic and shared this inspiring video, full of hope:

Nick Vujicic – No Arms No Legs No Worries

  • In 2015, Disney supported PACER’s initiative with this touching PSA based on Winnie the Pooh’s wise words:

You are Braver, Stronger and Smarter than you Think

PACER also provides numerous free resources on their website including:

  • Lesson plans at the elementary level
  • More engaging activities for elementary students, including Spookley, the square pumpkin - just in time for October!
  • Curriculum materials designed for middle and high school students
  • A pledge-signing event, student-created videos, a community run/walk/roll, and more are all included in this list of activities to educate and inspire middle and high school students

Second Step is a PK – grade 8 curriculum focused on social and emotional learning (SEL) and provides free lessons and activities created to address and prevent bullying:

Using children’s books and novels is a great way to teach any topic, including bullying prevention. provides lesson plans and activities based on popular books:

  • Grades K-5: Pique your students’ interest with the five books featured in this podcast episode about how to handle bullying and difficult friendships.
  • Grades 3-5: “A Bad Case of Bullying” is a lesson plan targeted for students in grades 3-5 based on the popular children’s book, A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.
  • Grades 6-12: This podcast episode features ten books about bullying targeted for older students.
  • Grades 9-12: This interactive, engaging unit plan is based on the high-interest novel, The Bully by Paul Langan.

Below are a few additional general resources dedicated to the bullying prevention initiative:

  • The National Association of School Psychologists provides helpful resources for families and educators including publications addressing cyberbullying, the connection between bullying and suicide, supporting the LGBTQ community, along with several other relevant topics.
  • provides numerous resources and tools specific to the needs of schools including: information on bus driver training, classroom teacher training, and webisodes for students.
  • Stomp Out Bullying offers a free online toolkit for educators designed to encourage students to “act out against bullying and cyberbullying.”

What are your favorite go-to resources and activities to address and prevent bullying? Please share! Interested in learning more about bullying prevention? Register for our online course – Bullying and Cyberbullying: An Educator’s Toolbox for Prevention and Intervention.

1st Steps in Creating a Chromebook Classroom


           What teacher wouldn’t love a class set of laptops? Engaging students with online content, differentiating instruction, and saving time by not having to make copies are just a few of the things that more technology in the classroom allows a teacher. I have the great privilege of being a part of a pilot program within my school district that has supplied various teachers within each school with a class set of Google Chromebooks. This is the first installment in a series of posts where I will share my experiences and provide updates on new strategies I am learning along with successes and failures that I will go through along the way.  My desire is to help other educators jumpstart their success with Chromebooks in their classrooms.

            I understand that not all teachers will have a class set of laptops or Chromebooks. However, any teacher with a handful of computers in their classrooms can use Google Classroom. For instance, in years past, I only had six or seven desk1st top computers that my students would use during a rotational learning model. All of the ideas I will share could be done using that model, just like I use them with a whole class set of Chromebooks.

The Chromebook Classroom course offered by The Connecting Link is a great way for teachers to become more than confident in their ability to employ Google Classroom within their class. I am utilizing everything covered in all of the milestones in this course, and I am only a month into my school year. To be transparent, the most daunting part of creating a Chromebook Classroom is the learning to be done by the teacher on the front end. Students today are growing up in a technology saturated world and tend to catch on very quickly when being introduced to new technology. My biggest piece of advice and encouragement for any teacher that is intimidated at the thought of bringing more technology into their class would be to jump in and learn with the kids as you go!

There have already been many incredible moments with my students this year as they participated in various activities in Google Classroom. For instance, the first time we used the Chromebooks in class I had my students participate in a “meet and greet” utilizing the Google Slides feature. The students loved the process of sharing about themselves while learning about their classmates as well! I am excited to share my journey as I am in the thick of integrating more and more technology into my classroom in hopes of gaining more student engagement in order to make a lasting impact on their education.

I have had many humbling moments where students have politely showed me that I made a mistake with the formatting of an assignment within Google Classroom, have completely forgotten to actually upload the assignment for the students to use in Google Classroom, and many more impactful lessons. Don’t be afraid to be human in front of your students. Learn alongside them! It disarms the students and makes them feel comfortable to explore and learn from their own mistakes if you are able to be human in front of your students, admit mistakes, and laugh at yourself as you go through the technology integration process. If we prove ourselves to be continual learners, even as teachers, the students will see what it looks like to have a true love for learning which will inevitably rub off on them in their own learning pursuits.

Interested in learning more about implementing Chromebooks in your class? Check out our course:

Activities to Celebrate Fall in Your Classroom


Your local farmer’s market is bustling, pumpkin spice is featured on every menu, mums greet us at doorsteps…fall is here, and it’s time to celebrate with students!

As an elementary teacher, I usually got the party started with picking up a few small pumpkins in mid-September for my students to hold and admire, which sparked interest and excitement for this special time of the year. Students would share memories of their experiences at a pumpkin patch and would take turns proudly displaying one of the mini pumpkins on their desks, like a trophy. (It’s amazing how happy a pumpkin can make you feel.)

Below are some of my students’ favorite activities that highlight fall staples, including pumpkins and apples. But before moving on to the student activities, though, l have one for you. Apples and teachers stereotypically go together, but do you know why? Listen to this teacher explain why “A great teacher eats apples” in this TEDx Talks video. I bet you will want to start eating more apples after watching (I did!).

*Pumpkin and Apple Recipes
If cooking isn’t an option for you and your students, reading recipes together can be almost just as fun. A few years ago, I had a student with a learning disability who loved to bake but was a reluctant reader. Providing her with recipes to practice her reading skills gave her interest, motivation, and a purpose to read.

Get started with these recipes from Super Healthy Kids:

*Pumpkin Math
Give your students the opportunity to practice their estimation and measuring skills using a pumpkin of any size. (I often brought in one or more medium-sized pumpkins that I could carry.) Students will estimate the pumpkin’s weight, circumference, and number of seeds and record their findings on this Pumpkin Math chart. Students will then compare their estimates with the actual measurements.

*Apple Tasting Contest
Provide students with two or more different varieties of apples and host an apple tasting contest. Students love being the judges and can keep track of their apple rulings on this form.

*Celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day
Every September 26, the principal of the elementary school where I taught would disguise himself as Johnny Appleseed and visit all the classrooms – barefooted, of course. If nobody at your school is willing to dress up, you can still celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day with a variety of other fun activities.

*Fall Haiku
The beauty of fall can bring out the poets in all of us! According to Creative Writing Now, “Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that uses just a few words to capture a moment and create a picture in the reader’s mind.” Typically, a haiku has a focus on nature and is written in three lines with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. For example:

Falling leaves from trees
The air is breezy and crisp
Pumpkins greet my friends

Decorate your classroom or the hallway with your students’ poetry with illustrations to match. Learn more about how to write a haiku here.

*Picture Books Featuring Apples and Pumpkins:

  • How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Princeman
    This book will take you and your students to Vermont for the freshest apples, Sri Lanka for the most flavorful cinnamon, Jamaica for the sweetest sugar, and other exotic places around the world to gather the finest ingredients to make an apple pie.
  • Apple Cider Making Days by Ann Purmell
    Spend a day with this family at their farm as you see the process of making apple cider unfold.
  • Bad Apple: A Tale about Friendship by Edward Hemingway
    Students love this story about a unique friendship between an apple and a worm and how the apple stands “firm” against bullies.
  • Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White

When life gives you pumpkins…find out how Rebecca (who hates pumpkins) makes the most out of a pumpkin patch that grows out of control.

  • The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons
    “…from flat seeds to brilliant orange pumpkins!” Learn about the life cycle of pumpkins, fascinating pumpkin facts, how to carve pumpkins, and more with this fun book.

It’s time to pick up a pumpkin (or two) from your local grocery store or farm stand – just wait and see the excitement and wonder of fall unfold in your classroom. Happy fall to you and your students!

Functional Behavior Assessment: The Plan for Positive Behavior


Sarah punched a student on the bus this morning. What’s the plan? Luke is disrupting the whole class. What’s the plan? Raul is refusing to take his algebra test. What’s the plan? As a special education teacher, it seemed every student on my caseload with behavioral concerns had a plan in place. Sometimes the plan was as simple as a phone call home. Sometimes the plan was more complex, involving a behavior contract and individualized support from a school psychologist.

Before I continue, let’s back up with a quick review from my previous blog post, “Functional Behavior Assessment: The Whys of Problem Behavior”.

  The IDEA Partnership defines a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) as: A comprehensive and individualized strategy to:

  • Identify the purpose or function of a student’s problem behavior(s).
  • Develop and implement a plan to modify variables that maintain the problem behavior.
  • Teach appropriate replacement behaviors using positive interventions.

In my previous post, I focused on the first bullet point by discussing how the purpose or function of problem behaviors generally falls into two overarching categories: 1. To get attention or a reaction, and 2. To avoid a task or escape a situation. Once we identify the function of one’s behavior, we are ready to effectively intervene with a plan and positive interventions, which is the focus of this post.

Develop and implement a plan to modify variables that maintain the problem behavior.

Hunger, inconsistent doses of ADHD medication, sleepless nights, and noise on the school bus are all examples of variables that maintain problem behaviors. Sometimes developing a plan to modify the variables can seem as straightforward as:

  • Providing breakfast at school
  • The school nurse administering ADHD medication
  • Communicating with parents about child’s sleepiness at school
  • A reserved seat near the front of the school bus

Oftentimes, however, implementing the plan involves attention to specific components to be successful. For example:

  • Who will monitor the implementation of the plan? And how often?
  • How will we know if the plan is effective?
  • Where and when will the plan take place?
  • What interventions will be used?

Teach appropriate replacement behaviors using positive interventions.

Sometimes students require a behavioral support plan above and beyond what is already provided in the school or classroom environments. The plan could include one or more positive interventions. Here are a few tried-and-true examples:

Check-in/check-out is an opportunity to make positive connections with students on a consistent basis.  This scheduled time is individualized for each student, and might consist of taking an “emotional temperature” using the 5-point scale, completing unfinished homework, eating breakfast, getting students’ materials organized, and/or practice calming strategies.

For example, I had a student with ADHD who often came to school in the morning disheveled from her morning rush at home who just needed a “landing pad” each morning to brush her hair, eat breakfast, and take a few deep breaths. At the end of the day, she needed accountability with filling her in planner and assistance with gathering her materials to complete her homework.

Check-in/check-out can be tailored to work for a range of student needs and situations. Learn more about check-in/check-out from PBIS World here.

Scheduled Individual or Group Time
Sometimes students need individual or small group support from staff members who are specifically trained on working with students with challenging behaviors such as: school psychologists, special education teachers, behavioral specialists, social workers, occupational therapists, and guidance counselors. Students might work on how their behaviors impact themselves and others using Social Behavior Mapping, practice calming strategies and mindfulness techniques, role play relevant social and behavior situations, read social stories, play games to learn and practice valuable social skills (taking turns, sportsmanship, etc.), and address any other behavioral issues students are facing in a safe, confidential setting.

As a special education teacher, I hosted a weekly informal “lunch bunch” in my classroom for students who struggled with maintaining friendships. Eating lunch together is an authentic social situation, but sometimes cafeterias are loud and overstimulating for students. Having lunch in a small, quiet setting enabled students to develop friendships easier than in a noisy cafeteria. Once social connections were established in the small group setting, it was natural for the friendships to thrive across school settings, including the cafeteria.

Scheduled Breaks
Scheduled breaks are another proactive method to manage behavior. A few years ago, I had a student come to my room to take a break after lunch every day for about 10 minutes. During his breaktime, I was working with a small reading group, so he would independently set a timer, read a book quietly by the window until the timer went off, then he would join the rest of his class in his classroom. Because recess and lunchtime in the cafeteria were very stimulating events for him, he needed some downtime after lunch to successfully get through the afternoon.

Breaks for other students might involve other calming and refocusing strategies such as: deep breathing, drawing, listening to music, squeezing a stress ball, slowly counting backwards, yoga, stretching, or taking a walk.

Behavior Charts and Contracts
Behavior charts and contracts can also help manage behaviors. Charts and contracts need to be tailored for each student based on their level of needs, motivation, and interests. Provided below are a few examples that can be adapted to meet individualized needs:

It is important to involve the student (and parents) with the development and implementation of the chart or contract. When my former student, Sam, struggled with completing his work, I created this homework chart with him and his mom. We worked together to set a goal each week with incentives. The goal was easily attainable at first so that Sam would “buy-in” to our plan and to keep him motivated. When he reached his goals, we gradually increased the expectations.

PBIS World provides more information on behavior charts and contracts here.

            Just like any other plans, behavior plans often warrant adjustments as the needs and circumstances of students change. As a popular motivational quote suggests, “If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal.”

Interested in learning more about developing and implementing plans for positive behavior? Please check out a few of our courses which highlight research-based strategies and interventions to effectively address and prevent problem-behaviors:

Functional Behavior Assessment: The Whys of Problem Behaviors


When my son became mobile, we installed a baby gate in our living room at the top of the staircase leading to the basement. Late that same night, our cat – Little Miss – woke my husband and me up with loud, persistent meowing in our faces. (Those were the blurry-eyed days of our baby still not sleeping through the night, making every minute of sleep vital.) I love Little Miss, but my first reaction to her middle of the night visit was anger and possibly cursing. Why was she acting this way?

It suddenly dawned on me - We forgot to open the baby gate! Little Miss needs to use her litterbox! (which was in the basement). As she led me to the top of the stairs, patiently waiting for me to unlatch the gate, my cursing had turned into apologies and praise toward my good little kitty. She did the right thing by communicating her need to use the litterbox. What seemed like naughty behavior at first, had a purpose – or a function.

When we determine and understand the function – or the why - of one’s behavior, we are better equipped to appropriately respond and intervene in positive and empathetic ways. As a special education teacher, I have administered many Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs), which are often a component of comprehensive special education evaluations. However, assessing student behaviors doesn’t have to be a formal, complicated process. Here’s what I would like to share with you to help make FBAs a fluid and ongoing process within your educational practices:

The IDEA Partnership defines a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) as: A comprehensive and individualized strategy to:

  • Identify the purpose or function of a student’s problem behavior(s).
  • Develop and implement a plan to modify variables that maintain the problem behavior.
  • Teach appropriate replacement behaviors using positive interventions.

I will be focusing on the first bullet point by sharing common functions – also known as the whys – of students’ problem behaviors based on my knowledge and experiences. Generally, common functions of problem behaviors fall into two overarching categories: 1. To get attention or a reaction and 2. To avoid a task or escape a situation. Let’s take a closer look:

To Get Attention or a Reaction
Perhaps a student is feeling left out by their peers. Or, maybe circumstances at home are preventing a parent from giving their child adequate attention. Whether it’s verbal redirections from the teacher or expressions of disgust from a classmate – the accomplishment of consistently getting attention and/or provoking reactions by demonstrating problem-behaviors can often be reinforcing for some students and can give them a sense of power or control.

Sometimes students don’t have the skills necessary to appropriately communicate their wants, needs, and feelings. Remember Little Miss? She got my attention by standing on my pillow with her relentless meowing in the middle of the night. She did her best to communicate her need. Sometimes students miss breakfast or don’t get a good night’s sleep, and when they don’t have the skills necessary to effectively communicate that they are hungry or tired, they get our attention with problem behaviors.

To Avoid a Task or Escape a Situation
The cafeteria, the playground, art class, English class, physical education…this is just a short list of places my students have tried to avoid for one reason or another. Throwing food in the cafeteria, pushing peers on the playground, sitting under the table in art class, using inappropriate language in English class, and refusing to participate in physical education – all these behaviors were demonstrated by different students, but served the same purpose – to avoid a task or to escape a situation. However, the reasons why varied:

  • The cafeteria was too noisy and overstimulating (possible sensory issues).
  • There were “bullies” on the playground. (The student struggled with social/friendship skills.)
  • Art class was “too hard.” (The student appeared to lack confidence with his artistic abilities.)
  • English class was “boring” and the student struggled with understanding the content. He didn’t want to appear “stupid” in front of his peers by asking for help.
  • The gymnasium was noisy, and the student was nervous about getting injured.

Once I determined the why of the behaviors, I was better equipped to effectively intervene by working with the students on a plan to help them cope with the noise in the cafeteria, navigate the social nuances of the playground, and provide individualized support with English, art, and gym classes.  

I hope this helps shed some light on what FBAs entail and gets you started with taking a close look at the whys – or the functions of your students’ (and your cat’s?) problem behaviors. In my next post, I will cover how to develop a behavior intervention plan (BIP) to teach replacement behaviors.

Until then, please check out a few of our courses which highlight research-based strategies and interventions to effectively address and prevent problem-behaviors:

Promoting Positive Behaviors: There’s a Children’s Book for That


When working with students on kindness, empathy, friendship, and other positive behaviors, sometimes the characters from children’s stories say it best:

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” -The Lion and the Mouse

“If you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew.” -Pocahontas

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” -Charlotte’s Web

From read alouds to theme unit studies, children’s books can be a wonderful avenue for promoting positive behaviors among students of all ages. The characters in children’s books often evoke and model behaviors which become springboards for morning meetings and other important discussions. Older students enjoy taking a closer look at the messages and behavioral themes involved with children’s stories, which can be used as writing prompts and reflection activities involving their own experiences. Older students can also read children’s book aloud to younger students and design mini lessons or activities to promote positive behaviors; peer teaching can be very powerful!

A countless number of wonderful children’s books have been written with valuable messages. Included below are seven of my favorite tried and true titles involving honesty, embracing differences, friendship, empathy, teamwork, kindness, and gratitude. It was difficult to put these books into categories because many of them covered several themes.


The Empty Pot by Demi is a beautifully illustrated book about a little boy named Ping and an Emperor in ancient China. This tale teaches many valuable lessons about integrity, hard work, humility, and competition. I won’t give away the ending, but students will learn how honesty is truly rewarding.

Embracing Differences

Lucy, the star of Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun by Maria Dismondy, made me think of my husband who loves ranch dressing on eggs, pizza, chicken, hot dogs, and pretty much everything. He sometimes gets teased for his obsession with ranch dressing, but he always embraces it with grace and humor. When Lucy is challenged by Ralph (the “bully” of the story) about her own unique food preferences, she teaches us to embrace our differences and to do the right thing.  


My son received this Caldecott Honor winning book from our public library for hitting a reading milestone and it has become one of our favorites.  A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip Stead and illustrated by his wife, Erin Stead includes the most beautiful drawings – we notice new details every time we turn the pages. There are not a lot of written words in this book, but the themes of kindness, compassion, caring, thoughtfulness, and friendship demonstrated by the zoo animals and by Amos McGee are loud and clear.

Perspective-Taking & Empathy

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose uses rhyming words and humor to highlight perspective-taking and empathy. The themes of peer pressure and bullying are brilliantly addressed as the authors inspire respect for all living creatures. The open-ended conclusion leaves the boy with a moral dilemma - “To squish or not to squish?” and is a perfect segue for important discussions.


The watercolor illustrations of the ocean that fill the pages in Swimmy by Leo Lionni earned this classic book the Caldecott Honor in 1964. I would definitely give Swimmy an award for the teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and ingenuity demonstrated by the characters in this encouraging story.


More than just a story for Valentine’s Day, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, involves compassion, empathy, and the power of kindness and love toward others. Such a heartwarming book – have a box of tissues nearby!      


The title says it all. Good People Everywhere, written by Lynea Gillen, will touch your hearts as you celebrate the simple things in life that are often taken for granted. Mr. Rogers’ words always come to mind as I read this book, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” This book inspires gratitude, generosity, and compassion for all.

Google the titles of these books and you will likely find free lesson plans, activities, and other ideas to extend learning. I hope you will head to your library to check these books out. And, please share this post – we would love to hear your own book recommendations!

                  As J.K. Rowling stated, “I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” May the “magic” of children’s books inspire your students to be on their best behavior inside and outside of school.

Addressing Back-to-School Anxiety: An Interview with a Veteran School Psychologist


As a teacher with summers “off”, August has always felt like a long Sunday. June is the excitement of a Friday with the whole weekend ahead. July is a Saturday with plenty of time to relax, reconnect with old friends, explore new places, and maybe catch up on DIY projects at home. As the calendar flips to August, however, the realization of - and the anxiety associated with - returning to school becomes apparent.

Anxiety associated with returning to school each fall is real – for students and teachers alike. Google the words ‘back to school anxiety’ and you’ll get about 181 million results! Thanks anyway, Google, but I had the honor of interviewing Mary Jo Tein, a school psychologist in Minnesota with valuable, firsthand knowledge to help us navigate the beginning of a new school year. With 38 years of experience in the field of education as a fourth-grade teacher, a special education teacher, an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) specialist, and a school psychologist - she is truly one in a million.

What behavioral trends have you noticed among students as they begin a new school year?
I think anxiety plays such a big part. So many changes in daily routines, new relationships, etc. Kids are expected to learn and adjust to so many new things in a short period of time.

How do students show or express their anxiety?
Refusing to go to school, tantrums, difficulty sleeping, tearfulness, acting out, regression…

Writer’s side note: I recently came across an article that includes adults reflecting on phrases they used as children that were code words for ‘I’m anxious’. Some of the phrases include: “I have a headache.” “I don’t want to!” “You do it.” The article was a good reminder that children often don’t know how to identify and express anxious feelings. Sometimes anxiety can look like avoidant and/or defiant behaviors. Check out the full article here: 14 Phrases Kids Said that were Code Words for ‘I’m Anxious’.

Have you noticed an increase with anxiety levels among children during your tenure as a school psychologist?
Yes. I think children are experiencing an increased level of trauma and stress related to more at-risk family situations (divorce, substance abuse, unemployment, etc.) causing an increased level of anxiety. Too much time with technology and not enough quality time with family are possible factors as well. Proper nutrition, an adequate amount of sleep, and structure in kids’ lives are so important for our students to thrive.

What steps can classroom teachers and other education professionals take to support students with anxiety associated with going back to school?
Be aware of the high stress nature of school, and work to establish positive relationships. Keep things calm and positive. Reassure them that it will get better. Start to establish routines so kids know what to expect. Finally, teach expectations, rather than just expecting kids to know what to do.

Another side note: I found that having students write or illustrate how they’re feeling about being back in school validates their feelings and helps them move forward. To transition from summer to fall, I created this writing activity, “Goodbye, Summer! Hello, Fall!” for my students that can be tailored for a range of grade levels.

What advice do you have for teachers who feel anxious about returning to school?
Teachers need to be cognizant of the stressors placed on them – and be gentle with themselves. Just like with the students, there are emotional demands associated with a new schedule and new faces – students and parents. Try to go with the flow and do something fun away from school (go to the Minnesota State Fair!). Exercise or do whatever works best to release stress. Things will get better soon as the new routine is established. Teachers often want to do it all and get everything done. We all must let things go - and that is okay.

Final side note: Mary Jo’s wise words reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “You can do anything, but not everything.” -David Allen

May the rest of August feel more like a Friday-than a Sunday-with the anticipation and excitement of the new school year ahead. Best wishes to you and your students for a smooth transition from summer to fall!

Have you Read any Good Books Lately?


Summer Reading Recommendations from Teachers

Whether on the beach or at a coffee shop, for many teachers, summer is an ideal time to catch up on reading for pleasure. There are an infinite number of great titles out there, sometimes it’s hard to choose. To narrow down all the choices, I asked my teacher friends from around the U.S. (including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and California) about books they’ve been enjoying this summer. Here’s a categorized list of what they recommended for us:

For More than Just a Love Story:

  • Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave
  • The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert
  • Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

For a Thought-Provoking Drama:

  • Small Great Things: A Novel by Jodi Picoult

For Some Historical Fiction:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  • The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

For the Outdoor Enthusiast:

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

For a Newbery Medal Winner:

  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

For Suspense and Mystery:

  • The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  • The Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
  • Murder at Rough Point by Alysa Maxwell

For Hope, Motivation and Inspiration:

  • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
  • The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. by Daniel Coyle
  • The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks

For Critical Thinking and Innovation:

  • Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools by Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton

This reading list should get you through the rest of summer. Don’t stop reading for pleasure when summer ends, though! Perhaps you and your students already participate in D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time at your school. If not, consider carving out about 10 minutes of your busy schedule for silent pleasure reading this fall. According to the American Library Association, even a short amount of daily independent reading time can increase test scores (in all subject areas), boost comprehension, increase vocabulary, improve spelling and grammar, and overall increase knowledge of the world. You get to read, your students get to read, and all these benefits are included - it’s a win-win-win!

For now, it’s time to head to a park bench or to a cozy chair with a book of your choice. May the rest of your summer days be filled with entertaining and insightful reading.

Interested in learning more about current literacy research and the components of teaching reading in your 21st century classroom? Click here for a list of our English Language Arts Course offerings.


Integrating STEAM into your Curriculum


If you have been a teacher for any length of time, you have more than likely heard of STEM in regards to instructional methodology. Like any other new or trendy learning system or instructional method, teachers can be intimidated by the STEM acronym because they simply don’t know enough about it. The Connecting Link offers a course titled Integrating STEAM into your Curriculum. Now, if you are like me, you may be thinking, “STEAM?! I thought it was STEM! Is that A supposed to be in there? Just like so many other educational initiatives, this thing has changed before I ever learned about it in the first place!”  The A is indeed supposed to be there, and it stands for Art.

One day I was trying to convince my students that all the learning they were doing was supposed to be preparing them for whatever future jobs and life paths they may take. As you can imagine, trying to cast this vision to a room full of fourth graders was somewhat challenging, so I turned to Discovery Education Network to try and find an online resource that would help me to get my point across. I was able to find a virtual field trip that we did as a whole class where we got to “tour” the NBA home offices and learn how math and science make a daily impact on what these people do for a living. This virtual field trip hit the spot as they talked in great detail about the various aspects of math and science needed to do jobs ranging from scouting opposing teams, keeping stats for a team, creating the schedules for all the teams, and even designing the courts with the correct dimensions.

We did not just stop there with the activity. Once the video was over, I launched into a discussion with my students about the various job their parents have. We discussed how math and science impact their jobs whether it was construction work, landscaping, and many others. Eventually, we even discussed the various jobs that the students would like to have one day and how math and science are involved in those careers. This discussion was one of the highlights of the school year for me because the students were fully engaged and excited about discussing the jobs their parents have as well as their own jobs in the future.

That was a simple idea that turned out to have great impact for both my students and myself. I say that because this was one of the first activities I did with my students where we all interacted and collaborated together regarding STEAM ideas. It enabled the students to brainstorm how the math, science, and reading strategies and ideas would allow them to pursue various professions later in life.

A big characteristic of STEAM is that it can work with any curriculum that a teacher is using. STEAM is simply a new way to allow your students to learn and grow as people while addressing the academic content in a new way. During my first year of teaching, I quickly noticed that my students were bored during class as I repetitively dished out worksheets and packets on a weekly basis. I knew something had to change. In my second year of teaching, I made strides towards allowing the students to take more ownership over their learning. Allowing more time for my students to participate in collaborative work through communication and problem-solving activities was a big focus for myself.  Major characteristics of STEAM include collaboration, communication, research, problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity. No matter your experience as a classroom teacher, some simple strategies to integrate STEAM may increase your effectiveness. When integrating STEAM into your curriculum, there are three things that stick out to me the most to engage students in their learning process.

  1. Remember to keep it simple in the beginning stages. Establish clear goals for each lesson so that the students have a great understanding of the expected outcomes for the lesson. Keeping it simple also applies to the teacher in the sense of keeping simple supplies on hand that will allow you to do many different STEAM activities. Things like popsicle sticks, duct tape, string, batteries, and marshmallows are all things that can be used in multiple ways for STEAM activities. STEAM kits are also a great tool for beginning STEAM teachers to look into ( is a great resource to find kits that may be of interest to you as a teacher).
  2. Do not simply have students use technology in the classroom and think that you are integrating STEAM correctly. Teachers must use blended learning to effectively integrate STEAM into the curriculum. Teachers must shift from teacher to student interaction to student-to-student interaction through the use of online forums, classroom discussions, and collaborative group work. Additionally, the teacher must evaluate the data they get from the various forms of technology that the students are using in order to better drive their instruction to meet the needs of the students.
  3. When done correctly, STEAM will allow the students to increase their creativity, increase their engagement, and increase their retention. What teacher wouldn’t want those things for all of their students?! That being said, the course offered by TCL is a great launch point for any teacher who is interested in integrating STEAM into their curriculum but may not know exactly where to start.

As a 4th grade teacher who has merely dabbled in STEAM integration in my own classroom, I can say that this course is one that is engaging and applicable on many levels. I look forward to exploring how to better integrate Art into my curriculum.  The course is structured so the learner gets a vivid idea of what STEAM means and why it is useful. The learner will also see firsthand examples of schools that have made incredible strides due to implementing STEAM into their curriculum.

Happy STEAMing!,

Interested in learning more about how to implement STEAM into your classroom? Check out our course: Integrating STEAM into your Curriculum

3 Creative Ways for Learning Students’ Names This Fall


“Sorry, I’m terrible with names,” is an apology you might often hear (or say).  Since I started teaching, I’ve gotten better with remembering names by simply being more mindful when introductions are made and repeating names aloud or inside my head a couple of times. I’m still far from perfect, though.

This fall many of you will be facing a whole new group of students. But before you dive into the curriculum, taking the time to learn students’ names and allowing them time to learn each other’s names is an important first step towards a successful school year.

            Research shows learning students’ names helps them feel connected to the classroom community. Students and teachers are able to communicate more effectively with and among each other, opening the door to a social and empathetic learning environment. Knowing students’ names also helps students become more accountable and can promote positive behaviors. As author and sociology professor, Karen Sternheimer, states, “…when we are known and not anonymous, we are more likely to behave in ways that reflect positively on our identities.”

            Below, I’ve outlined a few ideas for not only learning students’ names, but celebrating their identities, as well. Be creative, the possibilities are endless!

  1. Future Business Owners
    As my family and I were driving though a small Wisconsin town, my husband, Alex, pointed out a restaurant called, “Alex’s Pizza” and said, “I want that sign.” Obviously, the sign is special to my husband because 1. he loves pizza and 2. his name is on the sign.

Learn students’ names and get to know what they’re interested in by encouraging them to think about what type of business they’d like to own and operate someday. Allow students to get creative with a computer or with a set of colored pencils and paper to design a storefront or business featuring their names. You could take this activity a step further by having students design streets or entire communities named after themselves.

  1. Personalized License Plates

Invite students to personalize their own license plates using this template from Education World. Instruct students to feature their name, along with the state or country of their choice on their license plates. (Show students examples of license plates from around the country and around the world.) Encourage students to illustrate designs to represent their interests and identities. Take it a step further by having students include an illustration of their favorite mode of transportation (bike, Jeep, convertible, airplane, boat, etc.) for their license plates to be attached to. 

  1. Fresh Flowers

Rose, Iris, Lily, Jasmine…why can’t all our names be associated with beautiful flowers? Have your students imagine what kind of flowers their own names would represent. Encourage your students to think about the sizes, shapes, and colors of their flowers. What would their flowers smell like? Learn about places that are special to your students by asking them where their flowers would grow. Determine what is important to students by asking them what their flowers need to blossom (besides sunshine and water). Your classroom will look like a floral shop with all the lovely flowers on display!

How will you learn your students’ names and celebrate their identities this fall? Please share your ideas below.

Best wishes to you and your students for a successful start to the 2018/19 school year!


3 Steps Educators Can Take Toward Suicide Prevention Among Youth


Suicide touches everyone, in one way or another. Perhaps you welcomed Anthony Bourdain into your living room by watching his popular CNN show, Parts Unknown. Maybe your favorite handbag was designed by Kate Spade. Maybe a close friend, family member, or student died from-or attempted-suicide.

            According to the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, tragically, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24.  As educators, we encounter hundreds of students each day, students with complex needs beyond academics.

Given the current staggering statistics and the recent tragic events involving suicide, we’ve outlined three steps for you to take toward suicide prevention among your students.

  1. Know the warning signs of suicide, but don’t stop there.

The Suicide Prevention and Resource Center, has identified behaviors that may indicate an individual is at risk for suicide including:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Following the loss of her 16-year old student from suicide, high school teacher, Brittni Darras, explains how watching for signs of suicide alone is not enough. In this video, find out how she is fighting the battle against suicide in her classroom.

  1. “Fuel Connection” with Empathy.

Perhaps you’ve already seen this Brene Brown video, but it’s worth watching again. The difference between empathy and sympathy is brilliantly explained in this short animation involving a fox, a bear, and a deer. (Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.)

Sometimes we think we need to solve other people’s problems. Sometimes we avoid others because we don’t know what to say. However, as you heard in the video, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

Make a point to connect with your students (beyond academics) and encourage them to connect with one another every day. Here is some inspiration from a kindergarten classroom:

  1. Share Resources with Your Students.

We can’t assume our students know where to go when they (or their friends and loved ones) need help. Listed below are some valuable resources to pass along to your students:

In this final video, teenager, Sadie Penn bravely talks about her personal experience with attempting suicide and the importance of positive mental health and suicide awareness. Pay attention as she recalls what one teacher said to support her in a very powerful way.

Regardless of age, gender, race, religion, fame – suicide doesn’t discriminate, but it can be prevented. As noted by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, “Everyone has a role to play.” As educators, we can take steps to meet the diverse and complex needs of our students and, ultimately, save lives.

Please share this post and keep the conversation going. What steps toward suicide prevention do you currently have in place in your classroom or in your school?

3 Teaching Practices of the 1930s Reimagined: Using Technology in the Classroom


My grandma, Florence, was born in 1914 – years before the spiral notebook was invented, decades before the ballpoint pen began exploding in our pockets, and nearly a century before the Apple iPad hit store shelves. Remarkably, today-at the age of 104 years old-Grandma Florence has been using her own iPad for emailing, Facetiming, and Googling for the past four years.

Grandma Florence was a teacher in a one-room school house in rural Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s. Equipped with not much more than pencils, paper notebooks, a few crayons, and a chalkboard, she was dedicated to providing each of her students-she fondly refers to them as “pupils”-with a proper education.

Because Grandma Florence has always been open-minded and eager to learn, I began to imagine how she would have used the technology tools available today to enhance her teaching practices of the past. Read on to learn about her experiences in the one-room school house and find out how I gave three of her teaching practices makeovers with the infusion of 21st century technology.

Please note: There are many valuable technology tools available for educators—so many, it can be overwhelming! I have provided some suggestions, based on my own knowledge and experiences, just to get interested readers started with infusing more technology into their own educational practices.

Teaching Practice #1 – Class Recitations/Lectures

Grandma Florence shares what a typical school day was like in the 1930s and 1940s:

When 9:00 comes around, I round the pupils to come in to their single or double desks which opened at the top for their books, tablets [not to be confused with iPads or other electronic tablets], and pencils. We usually took a few minutes for telling what is new in their lives or ponder a question.

Then the time would be here to begin the class recitations [lectures] in the front. Each grade would come and sit on some small chairs for instruction on a subject -reading, penmanship, or arithmetic. The class lasted from 15 minutes to a half hour, so I had to be well-prepared to be able to get in all eight grades.

The afternoon consisted of more class recitations in front with each grade, and art or music as a whole class. We were especially sure to have the lessons everyday because the superintendent of schools would come without notifying us.

*My Technology Makeover*

Rather than standing in front of her students to lecture for the majority of the day, I think Grandma Florence would embrace the flipped classroom model by utilizing screencasting. This model allows students to access lessons anytime and anywhere with personalized learning to meet the unique needs of all students. She would have more time to further instruction for students who are struggling with the content and more time to challenge those who have mastered the content.

She would share her sense of adventure by taking her students on virtual fieldtrips all around the world. Special guests would be welcomed to her classroom via Skype to share knowledge and experiences, and to build relationships. Guests might include parents, community leaders, and authors. Perhaps she would host a “virtual career day” with professionals around the community.

Grandma’s students would become proud authors with help from Book Creator and Storybird. Her students would enjoy preparing for tests using the game-based technology, Kahoot and she would collect valuable assessment data to steer her instruction using Exit Ticket.

Teaching Practice #2 - Students Teach Students
Grandma Florence had nearly 40 students in her one-room school house each year, spanning from first grade to eighth grade. She was responsible for teaching reading, penmanship (much emphasis was put on handwriting at that time), math, history, geography, and some art and music.

Because of the large number, the students in the upper grades would often help the students in the lower grades. Grandma Florence recalled, “Sometimes I would let them go in the hallway to work together because of the interruptions from the class being held in the front of the room. How anyone did learn anything in that small classroom, with the commotion at times, is quite unbelievable.”

*My Technology Makeover*

If Grandma Florence were still teaching today, I imagine she would partner with another teacher to continue to enable students to teach (and learn from) each other. For example, if she were an 8th grade science teacher, she might have her students create videos using iPads to explain basic physics concepts to students in 3rd grade. The videos would be uploaded and stored on TeacherTube or her own YouTube channel for easy viewing access.

Grandma Florence would also have her 8th grade students create a blog using edublogs to provide an online platform for the 3rd graders to ask the 8th graders questions and to have discussions. Her students would do research and collaborate with one another using Diigo to accurately provide information for the younger students.

To further support productive student collaboration and learning (and to save paper), most likely Grandma Florence would utilize a few of the many features of Google Classroom including assigning, grading, and organizing student work. She would also take advantage of CueThink, which increases problem-solving and math skills through peer learning.

Teaching Practice #3 – Communicating with Families
There was, indeed, electricity in the one-room school house (I asked), there was even a telephone-but only to be used for emergencies. So how did Grandma Florence communicate with families in the 1930s and 40s? Smoke signals? Carrier pigeons? Nope-just word of mouth, which was miraculously effective at that time.

For example, when it was time for the annual Christmas program put on by the students, all the family members would be in attendance without any sort of invitations or reminders in writing. The same is true for the annual end of the school year picnic. Grandma Florence recalls it being “a much more simple time when families weren’t so stressed and overbooked.”

*My Technology Makeover*

In today’s world, Grandma Florence would have a classroom Facebook page and a Twitter account to notify families of upcoming special events and important dates.

Also, installed on her smartphone would be a school-home communication app such as Bloomz or Remind to coordinate events such as parent-teacher conferences, and to share classroom updates and photos (without having to share her personal cell phone number).

Once a school teacher and always a learner, my grandma is the most remarkable person I know. She was my inspiration for becoming a teacher and has instilled a deep appreciation for opportunities to learn and to grow. I hope you have been inspired with some ideas to expand and enhance your own teaching practices.

One final personal note: Although Grandma Florence agrees that the possibilities with technology are invaluable, one skill she would continue to teach today would be cursive writing. She has the most beautiful handwriting and will always appreciate handwritten letters.

Interested in learning more about how to implement technology into your classroom? Check out our new technology courses:

Four Methods for Rethinking Discipline


“That’s incorrect, Johnny. T-h-e-i-r is a possessive pronoun; T-h-e-r-e refers to a place; and T-h-e-y-’-r-e is a contraction. This is your final warning – if you get it wrong again, you’re going to the principal’s office.”

Okay…now that I have your attention – of course we wouldn’t punish a student for using the wrong homophone (or any academic struggle, for that matter). However, when students are disruptive and defiant in the the classroom, they are often punished.

Many of our students need explicit instruction on how to demonstrate positive behaviors, and when they struggle, they need further instruction and support, not punishment. We teach our students how to read, how to write, and how to solve math equations. Where does teaching students how to ask for help when they’re frustrated or practicing calming strategies with our students fit into the curriculum?

When you consider the definition of the word discipline, it basically means to teach. What are we teaching students by punishing them with a trip to the principal’s office or by suspending them when they break the rules? According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Education, not only are suspensions ineffective, they have negative consequences such as lower academic performance and higher rates of dropout. As noted on the U.S Department of Education’s website, it is time to rethink discipline by “Creating a supportive school climate,” which “requires close attention to the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students.”

            Reaching the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students is a tall order indeed! Provided below are four methods to consider (just the tip of the iceberg) when rethinking discipline.

Deconstruct Behaviors
Perhaps a student is being neglected at home and is seeking attention from peers and teachers through inappropriate, disruptive behaviors. Sometimes students demonstrate problem behaviors because they don’t have the skills necessary to appropriately communicate their wants, needs, and feelings. For example, if a student is struggling with understanding the content of an assignment he/she might become disruptive, defiant or withdrawn - rather than risk looking stupid by asking for help.

When we deconstruct the function (or the why) of one’s behavior, we are better equipped to manage the behavior in positive and empathetic ways.

Promote Calmness
An increased level of learning, better decision-making skills, increased cooperation and teamwork among peers - never underestimate the power of calm minds! Take a few moments to teach your students self-calming strategies and give them opportunities to practice those strategies regularly. You will empower your students to manage their strong emotions proactively while creating a peaceful learning environment. Below are links to my top go to strategies:

Teach Beyond the Curriculum
As mentioned above, due to a variety of factors, many students need explicit instruction on problem-solving skills and social skills. Below are a few suggestions to consider for infusing instruction of these empowering skills into your curriculum.

Call Upon the Village
Seek guidance/support from staff members who are specifically trained on working with students with challenging behaviors such as school psychologists, special education teachers, behavioral specialists, occupational therapists, guidance counselors, etc.). Also, other teachers who have worked with students in the past might be able to provide some valuable insights on how to best support those students who challenge us the most.

By rethinking discipline with effective teaching practices and support - rather than with punishment- we are empowering students with the social, emotional, and behavioral skills necessary to become respectful, responsible citizens. Interested in learning more about effective discipline practices?

Check out our new course – Positive Discipline: A Guide to Restorative Practices.


Gold Medal Methods to Manage ADHD Symptoms


Hyper-active, never stops talking, has a ton of energy, inability to sit still, talks excessively, nudging other kids…these were words used to describe Michael Phelps’ behavior, an Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, during his preschool and elementary school years. Perhaps he was bored in school? Maybe he was just an immature boy?

At the age of nine, when his symptoms continued to impact his academic performance, Michael’s mom consulted a doctor who diagnosed him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the definition provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is a brain disorder involving a constant pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

Upon diagnosis of ADHD, Michael was prescribed stimulant medication, which successfully helped him slow down and focus on his academic tasks. However, around the age of 12, Michael began feeling stigmatized by having to visit the nurse’s office for his daily medication. After careful consideration, his doctor agreed to allow Michael to go off his medication with the understanding that he would need alternative ways to manage his ADHD symptoms.

Outlined below are four methods that were used to help Michael successfully manage his ADHD symptoms, along with related suggestions to accommodate students with ADHD in your classroom.

Physical Activity

Even at a young age, Michael excelled with sports including: baseball, lacrosse, soccer and, of course, swimming. “Being able to get in the water, I felt more relaxed,” Phelps says. “The more time I spent in the pool, the more relaxed I found myself. It was something that was exciting and challenging, so I decided to stick with it.”

In your classroom, promote physical activity by incorporating “movement breaks” throughout the day. This could be as simple as standing up to stretch, striking a fun yoga pose, or taking a quick lap around the school. Another idea is to throw a “one song dance party” at least once per week. I have found this to be a great way to re-energize and refocus everyone involved. Students can make song requests for upcoming dance parties and they can invite special guests, such as the principal, to join in on the fun.

Consistent Schedule

Michael’s mom, Deb, saw the value and benefits of keeping Michael on a consistent, structured schedule, which consisted primarily of: schoolwork, nutritious meals (low sugar), and swim practice to keep him focused. Michael never missed a day of swim practice; you could even find him in the pool swimming laps first thing in the morning on Christmas Day.

Help keep your students focused by posting a consistent, structured daily schedule or agenda on your classroom wall. Students thrive when they know what to expect throughout the day. When there is an inevitable schedule change, inform students in advance any changes. During independent work time or other less-structured parts of the day, consider using a timer to encourage students to work on a given task until the timer goes off.

Interest-Based Learning

In an interview from, Deb Phelps explained how she applied her son’s interest in swimming to help him learn. She encouraged Michael to read the sports section of the newspaper and books about sports to motivate him to read. When Michael appeared uninterested in math, Deb had his math tutor modify word problems based on swimming (for example: How long would it take to swim 500 meters if you swim 3 meters per second?).

Find out what your students are interested in and tailor your lessons around their interests, whenever possible. Get to know your students by allowing a brief “share time” on a regular basis. For example, students might tell the class what they did over the weekend or they might share something they are looking forward to later that day. Through share time, teachers can learn so much valuable information about students that can be used to pique their interests which promotes learning.

Calming/Relaxation Strategies & Visuals

In the same interview, Deb Phelps recalls a time when Michael furiously ripped off his goggles and threw them on the ground after coming in 2nd place at a swim meet. After having a heart-to-heart talk about sportsmanship, Michael and his mom agreed to a visual hand signal (the form a ‘C’) which was a reminder for, ‘compose yourself’. Deb used the hand signal whenever she recognized that Michael was getting frustrated.

Students need to learn and practice calming/relaxation strategies before experiencing strong feelings or losing control. Some basic calming techniques include: deep breathing, slowly counting backwards from 10, using positive self-talk, requesting a walk to the drinking fountain or to the bathroom, drawing, reading a book, looking at a bubbler, listening to calming music, and squeezing a stress ball. Practice various techniques as a whole group on a regular basis (perhaps during your morning meeting time). Using visuals, post a menu of your students’ favorite relaxation techniques on the wall to refer to as needed (for example: a picture of a student listening to music). Visuals are an effective method for students with ADHD to regain control of their emotions and behaviors.

Our students with ADHD might not be gold medal Olympians, but they are champions in their own ways, with struggles that Michael Phelps can relate to. Research supports the positive impact in which one adult role model/mentor can have on a child’s life for determining future success. Michael’s mom, Deb, believed in her son and advocated to get the supports he needed. Michael acknowledged the important role his mom played in his life by presenting her with the flowers he received after winning his first Olympic gold medal in Athens. Who do your students have in their lives to guide and encourage them to victory? Perhaps you are that person.

Interested in learning more about ADHD, along with proven teaching strategies to help your students be more successful in the classroom?

Register for our new course – ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies.



The Connecting Link Announces Partnership with Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Professional Education announces today that they have entered a partnership arrangement with a nationally recognized professional development provider, The Connecting Link. Both entities share similar values and goals including a commitment to enhancing lifelong learning.

The Connecting Link was founded in 1981 with the mission of offering engaging and relevant courses designed to meet the professional learning needs of educators. Courses offered through The Connecting Link are aligned to national standards and designed to support teachers’ development.

The mission of the Seattle Pacific University School of Education is to equip educators for service and leadership in schools and communities by developing their professional competence and character, to make a positive impact on learning.

Founded in 1891, Seattle Pacific University is a premier Christian university that equips people to engage the culture and change the world. Its comprehensive academic program serves more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students. Known for both their competence and character, SPU graduates are bringing about positive change in communities around the globe.

According to Peter Renn, Director of the Center for Professional Education at Seattle Pacific University, “The Center for Professional Education at Seattle Pacific University is excited to partner with The Connecting Link to provide exceptional online graduate-level courses to enhance the professional skills of educators across the United States.”

The partnership is expected to enhance online learning opportunities available to certified educators in Washington.

For further information regarding the array of 5 quarter graduate credit courses visit

Create an Enrichment Experience in your own Classroom: Part 1


Gain a deeper understanding of forecasting the weather. Go on a trek through the Arctic Tundra. Learn about STEM careers in the United States Navy on board the USS Nimitz. All of these things are possible without even leaving the classroom through the use of Virtual Field Trips (VFTs)!

Teachers are often faced with figuring out just how to engage their students throughout the 180-day school year. How do we gain our students’ interest as we push through each lesson in each unit? Is there something we are missing – like a truly unique experience that may capture the attention of students in a more meaningful way than merely discussing a new topic in order to activate background knowledge?

The use of Virtual Field Trips is something that teachers may not even know is available to them. I was in a professional development seminar about Discovery Education over the summer when I first heard about the opportunity to use VFTs in my own classroom. If you are like me, sometimes I am skeptical when I hear about things like this. Allow me to explain the possibilities for a VFT through the following scenarios:

  • A whole class goes on a “field trip” where students stay in their desks and view a presentation through the projector. As the virtual field trip is taking place, students may be taking notes in order to complete an assignment that was discussed before the field trip started. This assignment will be to write an informative essay about the topic of the VFT.
  • As students move through a rotational instruction model, the students who are at the computer station will participate in a pre-selected VFT as a group. Again, they will be made aware of an assignment to be completed. Each group will go on a different field trip than the other groups. The assignment here is to create a PowerPoint presentation that will be presented to the class as a whole in the coming days.
  • Students will use individual laptops or tablets to go on a field trip all their own. This can easily be turned into an assignment where they will be allowed to do a presentation to their class. A part of this assignment, which is given out during a holiday/celebration week, will be to do a presentation while being dressed up as someone during the holiday/celebration who is living in whatever time period or location they choose to visit on their field trip.

All of these scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to utilizing VFTs in your classroom. They can also be used for building background knowledge before starting a new unit about a topic that may be foreign to many students. Teachers who instruct English Language Learners (ELLs) may use VFTs on a more scaled-down level on a daily or weekly basis in order to make the content more accessible to ELLs. Providing VFTs for these students can be effective as they will benefit from having visuals along with an auditory explanation of the content.

There are many resources and avenues to take for VFTs. Nearpod, Discovery Education, and Google Earth are all ways to integrate VFTs into your lessons. The Connecting Link offers a non-credit (15 clock hour) course in creating Virtual Field Trips. This course walks the learner through what a VFT is, the various ways to create a VFT, and how VFTs can be used in the classroom.

Check out The Connecting Link’s Virtual Field Trip Course

Preparing to Handle LGBTQ Issues in Your Classroom


As an educator, do I have a personal agenda in addressing the LGBTQ issues in our classrooms and lives?


Let me share the “why” of my answer.

I have two brothers. We three siblings grew up in the same Judeo-Christian family. Today one brother lives with his wife and has raised his kids. The other brother lives with his partner and has raised his kids.

As a sibling in my family, I get to choose how to love and respect and value each brother because of who each adult is.

In my career, I have worked with some truly gifted and brilliant people. On teams I have had the privilege of leading, the LGBTQ or straight “label” team members choose to identify or label themselves as, is part of the tapestry of who they are. Just as various celebrations, religions, ethnic culture, beliefs, and other categories of diversity come with us to work and our classrooms everyday across our world, to what degree are we equipped to respect and provide a learning environment to support everyone?

To what degree are we educated in how to best support and value every individual we work with and teach – regardless of their perspectives on LGBTQ issues in our society today? What does that perspective of respect look, sound, and feel like in a K-12 classroom?

Today as educators, regardless of our personal beliefs, how and where we were raised, and how we choose to live our lives, we share one common need. We must ensure we model and foster demonstrating authentic respect and value for each individual person we get to work with and teach.

Supporting human beings, or students, in the classroom regarding issues related to the LGBTQ aspects represented in our world is something we must do. Providing an optimal learning environment for ALL students, and building a classroom and school culture upon the foundational block of respect is a priority.

The Connecting Link’s course – LGBTQ Students: Meeting Academic, Social, and Emotional Needs, is one I’m excited to share with educators. The course was developed by educators for educators, through the lens of learning strategies to apply in the classroom to promote student learning for all. Check it out!


Mindfulness: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Classroom


Imagine coming to your neighborhood middle school one morning to find three dead bodies dumped in the schoolyard. This is exactly what students experienced one morning when coming to Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco.

As shocking as this might sound, the children at Visitacion were used to murder. Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s head of physical education (PE) commented that “In 2006 there were 38 killings in our neighborhood.” The culture of violence infected the school, which was the theatre of constant fighting, frequent suspension and poor academic achievement.

Anna Leach, who wrote about Visitacion Valley in a November 2015 Guardian article, shared how in 2007 the school decided to counter the culture of violence by introducing a “Quiet Time.” This was essentially an opportunity for students to be trained in the practice of mindfulness meditation.

That was before mindfulness—attentive, purposeful and non-judgmental awareness of one’s experiences—was trendy. Perhaps that is why teachers initially didn’t take this experimental practice very seriously.

Visitacion Valley a Month Later

A month into Quiet Time, the teachers began noticing changes in student behavior.

“They worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of fights fell dramatically,” O’Driscoll commented.

The results of mindfulness continued over the next decade. Here is what Leach reported in her Guardian article:

“In the first year of Quiet Time suspensions at Visitacion Valley – which has 500 students aged 11-13 – were reduced by 45% (pdf). By 2009-10, attendance rates were over 98% (some of the highest in the city), and today 20% of graduates are admitted to the highly academic Lowell high school – before it was rare for even one student to be accepted. Perhaps even more remarkable, last year’s California Healthy Kids Survey from the state’s education department found that students at Visitacion Valley middle school were the happiest in the whole of San Francisco.

How much of these changes were specifically because the students practiced mindfulness, and how much were due to other factors? Researchers wanted to know, and so they began testing mindfulness at other schools, including setting up controlled studies with rigorous research methods.

What We Now Know, A Decade Later

Over the next ten years, various studies and meta-studies began appearing in the peer-reviewed journals. These studies increasingly showed evidence of a consistent pattern: mindfulness (especially mindful breathing) is positively associated with improvement in student behavior and academic achievement. The organization, Mindful Schools, has a helpful summary of some of this research, which shows mindfulness programs affecting children’s grades, test-taking skills, emotional regulation, compassion, truancy rates, anxiety, memory, social and emotional learning, as well as improvement on numerous other metrics.

The research also shows that teachers who regularly practice mindfulness tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and better able to connect with students.

It isn’t surprising that taking time to calm down and engage in mindful breathing would improve student behavior. Calming down is always a good thing, especially for children prone to aggression and troubled emotions. But what is surprising about this research is the effect mindfulness is having on academic achievement. Some studies even suggest that mindfulness improves math scores by as much as 15%.

A clue to the relationship between mindfulness and academic achievement emerges when we consider the role that attentiveness plays for life success in general and educational success in particular.

Is Attention Key to a Successful Life?

The famous psychologist, William James, wrote about attentiveness in his 1892 book Psychology: Briefer Course. In James’ oft-quoted words, he pointed out that,

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”

Williams James recognized that the skill of attentiveness, or focus, lay behind the virtues that education tries to cultivate, but he was at a loss to know how this skill could actually be cultivated.

Modern research has confirmed James’ belief that attention is at the root of good judgement and character. In his 2013 book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman shared research showing that a child’s ability to focus (i.e., to exercise cognitive control, to remain focused on goals, to exercise impulse control) was an even greater indication of future life success than the child’s IQ or the social economic sector of the child’s upbringing. As Goleman shared on his website,

  • “…a 30-year longitudinal study of more than a thousand kids – the gold standard for uncovering relationships between behavioral variables – found that those children with the best cognitive control had the greatest financial success in their 30s. Cognitive control predicted success better than a child’s IQ, and better than the wealth of the family they grew up in.
  • Cognitive control refers to the abilities to delay gratification in pursuit of your goals, maintaining impulse control, managing upsetting emotions well, holding focus, and possessing a readiness to learn. Grit requires good cognitive control. No wonder this results in financial and personal success.”

Pause for a minute to think about the implications of these findings. As parents and educators we spend enormous effort (not to mention huge sums of money) trying to help our children be smart, to learn lots of information and to have high IQs. Ironically, however, when it comes to actual success in life, these factors are far less important than the simple skill of being able to exercise cognitive control, to voluntarily bring back a wandering attention over and over again.

If attention is so important, shouldn’t our schools be teaching it?

Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science

When Williams James was writing, brain scientists didn’t know how the skill of attention could be taught. However, if James had looked outside the confines of the science of his day, he would have seen that numerous civilizations have a practice for cultivating attentiveness, one that is thousands of years old. That practice is mindfulness.

While mindfulness practices have not always been called by the same name, and while these practices have differed from one civilization to another, they all involve deliberately drawing the wandering attention back to a point of concentration, usually focused on one’s breath. In some religious traditions, the focus has been on a prayer instead of the breath, although the same principle is at work: reigning in a wandering mind.

Try it yourself. For the next ten seconds breathe in deeply, then exhale deeply, all the while drawing your wandering mind gently back to your breath. Okay, go…

Welcome back. You just practiced mindfulness! It’s really as simple as that.

Although people have been doing this type of mindful breathing for thousands of years, it is only recently that science has been able to explain what this practice does in the brain.

Discoveries about neuroplasticity have shown that the brain is like a muscle: the more we use certain functions, the better they become. This means that when we struggle to gain control of our attention in the context of mindfulness meditation, we are actually strengthening the neuro pathways needed for exercising attention at other times, including times when attention is required for maintaining impulse control, managing upsetting emotions, focusing on a difficult task, and so forth. Think of mindfulness as spending some time in the brain gym, developing the mental fitness needed to be successful in life.

Pushing Back Against a Culture of Distraction

The dark side of neuroplasticity is that attentiveness can be eroded just as much as it can be strengthened. Many researchers believe that overuse of technologies like the Internet and the smartphone can habituate children’s brains to permanent distractibility and split attention. They are showing that the smartphone does this directly through drawing children into a stream of continually changing stimuli. But researchers have also suggested that the smartphone erodes these neuro-mechanisms indirectly, through distracting children away from attention-building activities that used to be part of the normal childhood experience (e.g., playing with dolls, building forts in the woods, doing craft hobbies, organizing neighborhood baseball or football games, reading, playing cops and robbers, creating imaginary worlds, etc.).

Mindfulness offers a push-back against this culture of distraction. Through mindfulness practices, students are given the tools for strengthening the capacity to exercise cognitive control and the opportunity to strengthen the neuro-networks involved in attention.

What’s In It For Teachers?

I know a teacher who used to love reading. But over the years this teacher found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on a book without being distracted. “If I have about 20 or 30 minutes to spare,” he shared, “it’s much easier just to go on the Internet or social media than to read. When I do try to read, I find my mind being distracted by all sorts of things.”

This teacher began practicing mindful breathing. After a while he found that he could apply to the same cognitive control used during his mindfulness sessions to the activity of reading.

“Now when I read,” he explained, “I am able to use mindfulness to draw my attention back to the text instead of being perpetually distracted. It’s great, because every time I do this, I visualize the positive neuropathways in my brain being strengthened.”

I know this is true because I am that teacher. Through practicing mindfulness, I have been able to rediscover my love for reading. But I also find I do better at my work, because mindfulness has given me the skills for knowing how to bring my full attention to whatever I am doing at the moment.

That brings me to the final point I wanted to share in this post, which is the advantages that mindfulness has for teachers. Although most of the research has been focused on the benefit mindfulness brings to students, another side of the research shows that teachers who regularly practice mindfulness stand a far better chance of reaching their full potential and avoiding some of the common pitfalls associated with the profession.

Some of this research has been summarized by The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley (for example, see HERE and HERE). Further research in this field is certainly required, but so far there seems to be good evidence that mindfulness can help teachers to:

  • remain present in the classroom;
  • maintain posture of self-control;
  • be more effective at managing stress;
  • experience decline in cortisol functioning;
  • achieve emotional balance;
  • be less affected by burnout and psychological symptoms;
  • have higher levels of self-compassion.

Mindfulness is certainly not a cure-all for the problems that teachers and students face. It works best when integrated into a teacher’s entire lifestyle, and into a school’s entire culture. But at the least, this research suggests that mindfulness is too important to be ignored.

Indeed, if attentiveness is really as central to success in life as researchers are discovering, then offering our students the chance to practice mindfulness may be one of the most important things we can do for them. A time may soon be coming when mindfulness is no longer considered merely an optional extra for our schools.

Learn more about Mindfulness: Mindfulness in the 21st Century Classroom