The TCL Blog

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 new course – LGBTQ Students: Meeting Academic, Social, and Emotional Needs, is one I’m excited to share with educators. The course was developed 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 suggests 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