Life Lessons

Five lessons to make you think about the way we treat people.

1 - First Important Lesson - Cleaning Lady

During my second month of college, our professorgave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one:'What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?'Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50's, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. 'Absolutely,' said the professor. 'In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'hello.' I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. - Second Important Lesson - Pickup in the Rain

One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 60s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him.

Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read:'Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.'

Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.

3 - Third Important Lesson - Always remember those who serve

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. 'How much is an ice cream sundae?' he asked.

'Fifty cents,' replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled is hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.'Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?' he inquired.By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient.

'Thirty-five cents,' she brusquely replied.

The little boy again counted his coins.'I'll have the plain ice cream,' he said.The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill onthe table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left.

When the waitresscame back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

4 - Fourth Important Lesson. - The Obstacle in Our Path

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it.

Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road.

After much pushin gand straining, he finally succeeded.

After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand!

Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

5 - Fifth Important Lesson - Giving When it Counts

Many years ago , when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, 'Yes I'll do it- if it will save her.'

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, 'Will I start to die right away'.

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her but he had chosen to save her anyway.

From an email...


What Teachers Want To Hear From A Parent

This summer I will be doing home visits for the incoming freshmen. Our school is starting something new, where certain teachers are dedicated to be sponsors of the freshman class. I like to think of us as 'freshman mommas'. We will be doing home visits at the beginning of the year, homerooms with freshmen only, class sponsors for freshman activities, and forming a PLC just for freshmen. The PLC's will meet once a week to discuss any needed interventions, to collaborate, to work together, etc. We basically want a built-in support system for students new to high school.

For our home visits, we are creating gift bags for each student. The bags contain a school planner (required for 6th-8th graders), folder, pencil, pen, flash drive, school supply lists, standardized testing schedule, and various other school information.

These are all great ideas. My question is, as one of the [math] teachers participating in the home visits, what kind of questions should I ask parents? I expect to learn a huge amount just by meeting the family and seeing what home life is like. But this is a great chance to speak one-on-one with the parent with no underlying problem to discuss.

I want to do my best from the very beginning to help each student do their best.

What kind of questions should I be asking?

Here's what I have thought of or found so far.

What is the best way to contact you? What information/How often do you expect to hear from me?

What do you think your child is best at in school?

What does your child find difficult?

Does your child like math? Why or why not?

Do you use math at work a lot (are you an accountant, engineer, etc)? Would you be willing to visit our classroom and talk to the students?

Do you expect any issues for your child at school? What is the best way to deal with those issues?

What can teachers do to help your child learn best?

What is the most important thing I need to know about your child?

Please add your questions or tell me which of mine suck in the comments below.

@sheasmith What does your child like to do outside of school? (Sports, clubs,. church, hobbies...)

@CoachColeman What kind of technology is available to your child? Do you know how to use it?


In the Beginning...

President Barack Obama said in Turkey : "We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

I found this very interesting. Do you know the Preamble for your state?

Alabama 1901, Preamble We the people of the State of Alabama , invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution..

Alaska 1956, Preamble We, the people of Alaska , grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land.

Arizona 1911, Preamble We, the people of the State of Arizona , grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution...
Arkansas 1874, Preamble We, the people of the State of Arkansas , grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government...

California 1879, Preamble We, the People of the State of California , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom...

Colorado 1876, Preamble We, the people of Colorado , with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of Universe...

Connecticut 1818, Preamble The People of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good Providence of God in permitting them to enjoy.

Delaware 1897, Preamble Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshipping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences...

Florida 1885, Preamble We, the people of the State of Florida , grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty, establish this Constitution...

Georgia 1777, Preamble We, the people of Georgia , relying upon protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution...

Hawaii 1959, Preamble We , the people of Hawaii , Grateful for Divine Guidance ... Establish this Constitution.

Idaho 1889, Preamble We, the people of the State of Idaho , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings.

Illinois 1870, Preamble We, the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil , political and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.

Indiana 1851, Preamble We, the People of the State of Indiana , grateful to Almighty God for the free exercise of the right to choose our form of government.

Iowa 1857, Preamble We, the People of the State of Iowa , grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of these blessings, establish this Constitution.

Kansas 1859, Preamble We, the people of Kansas , grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges establish this Constitution.

Kentucky 1891, Preamble. We, the people of the Commonwealth are grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties..

Louisiana 1921, Preamble We, the people of the State of Louisiana , grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy.

Maine 1820, Preamble We the People of Maine acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe in affording us an opportunity .. And imploring His aid and direction.

Maryland 1776, Preamble We, the people of the state of Maryland , grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty...

Massachusetts 1780, Preamble We...the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging with grateful hearts, the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe In the course of His Providence, an opportunity and devoutly imploring His direction

Michigan 1908, Preamble We, the people of the State of Michigan , grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, establish this Constitution.

Minnesota, 1857, Preamble We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings:

Mississippi 1890, Preamble We, the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, grateful to Almighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work.

Missouri 1845, Preamble We, the people of Missouri , with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness . Establish this Constitution...

Montana 1889, Preamble We, the people of Montana , grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty establish this Constitution..

Nebraska 1875, Preamble We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom . Establish this Constitution.

Nevada 1864, Preamble We the people of the State of Nevada , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, establish this Constitution...

New Hampshire 1792, Part I. Art. I. Sec. V Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.

New Jersey 1844, Preamble We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors.

New Mexico 1911, Preamble We, the People of New Mexico, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty..

New York 1846, Preamble We, the people of the State of New York , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings.

North Carolina 1868, Preamble We the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for our civil, political, and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those...

North Dakota 1889, Preamble We , the people of North Dakota , grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain...

Ohio 1852, Preamble We the people of the state of Ohio , grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and to promote our common.

Oklahoma 1907, Preamble Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessings of liberty, establish this...

Oregon 1857, Bill of Rights, Article I Section 2. All men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their consciences

Pennsylvania 1776, Preamble We, the people of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance....

Rhode Island 1842, Preamble We the People of the State of Rhode Island grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing...

South Carolina, 1778, Preamble We, the people of he State of South Carolina grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution.

South Dakota 1889, Preamble We, the people of South Dakota , grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberties...

Tennessee 1796, Art. XI..III. That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience...

Texas 1845, Preamble We the People of the Republic of Texas , acknowledging, with gratitude, the grace and beneficence of God.

Utah 1896, Preamble Grateful to Almighty God for life and liberty, we establish this Constitution.

Vermont 1777, Preamble Whereas all government ought to enable the individuals who compose it to enjoy their natural rights, and other blessings which the Author of Existence has bestowed on man ..

Virginia 1776, Bill of Rights, XVI Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator can be directed only by Reason and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity towards each other

Washington 1889, Preamble We the People of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution

West Virginia 1872, Preamble Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God ...

Wisconsin 1848, Preamble We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, domestic tranquility...

Wyoming 1890, Preamble We, the people of the State of Wyoming , grateful to God for our civil, political, and religious liberties, establish this Constitution...

After reviewing acknowledgments of God from all 50 state constitutions, one is faced with the prospect that maybe, the ACLU and the out-of-control federal courts are wrong!

Regardless, let's all take a moment to honor those who fought and sacrificed more than we've ever dreamed of. May their lives inspire us to a higher standard of living. Thank you to those who have preserved all of our rights.

We remember.


My Blog Wordle

Classroom Management: Managing with Class

In order to be different, one must be irreplaceable.
-Coco Chanel

Being different has it's good and bad sides. While the majority of people feel that student engagement is the best way to stay in control, another 12% voted that rules and procedures are the secret.

I love order. I love lists, organization, alphabetizing, color coordinating, and numbers. Rules should come naturally to me, right? And they...don't. I like rules but enforcing them? Not so much. I'll admit, I'm too nice and I play favorites. I give way too many second chances and after every broken rule I think, "Is it really that big of a deal?" I usually decide it's not and forget the punishment. The few times I have put my foot down and sent kids to the office, they surprise me and like me more! One student even came back and apologized. Seriously.

That being said, I want to include different perspectives and a variety of tips. Todays tips are from Siobhan Curious (@siobhancurious), who teaches English at a Montreal CEGEP. She holds one undergraduate degree in English, one in second-language education, and a Masters degree in English and creative writing. She is currently working on a Masters in education. Check out her blog of the same name: Siobhan Curious

She writes,"When it comes to controlling unwanted behavior, I've found that clear rules with predictable consequences trump everything else. I have a number of posts that outline my struggle to be clear, consistent and fair when it comes to enforcing rules."

In one instance, she dealt with girls who could not stop talking or work independently. After separating them, things greatly improved and she states, "I’m going to strike a compromise – I’ll allow them to sit together, but at the front of the room, explaining to them that the improvement in the atmosphere was so obvious that I want to maintain it, but to reward them for their cooperation."

After a one-on-one conference, she summarized the situation by saying, "One way or another, this encounter has affirmed something that I have been learning and reinforcing for myself over the last couple of years: addressing the problem, and talking to students one-on-one, especially the difficult ones, is always the best thing to do. It may not solve all problems, but it takes steps toward addressing them."

She gives her own version of basic principles for dealing with classroom disruptions:
a) address the issue
b) let the offender know you’re aware of what’s going on
c) let the students know that you’re aware something is going on and you’re not going to just let it slide
d) don’t make accusations you can’t substantiate, even if you’re absolutely sure
e) don’t make the situation worse

On being taken advantage of she writes, "When I first started teaching, I gave students a lot of chances. If a student said his grandmother had died, I took him at his word and helped him make up the work. Over time, though, it became clear that students were taking advantage of this, and it was making my life more difficult and wasn’t helping them in the long run. Putting clear rules about late and missed work into place, and applying them consistently, has helped me deal with some ambiguous situations."

So while there are definitely advanatages to engaging students, you will always have those who disrupt the class. Having rules [and enforcing them] are the next step in keeping the peace.
For more about Siobhan's experiences, click over to the following articles.

I'm Watching You
The Limits of Compassion
Failing the Poem

Thanks so much for reading this week! I hope your perspective is larger, your strategies are more radical, and that you found some new friends and blogs to enjoy.

If you missed part of the series, here's the links:
Part 1
Part 2

Part 3


Classroom Management: Managing with Class

Thanks for being part of this series on Classroom Management. I hope you are enjoying these people, learning new tips, and making new twitter friends!

Today's lucky contestant on who gets to write a guest post is Joel Wagner from So You Want To Teach?. Joel is a band teacher in southern Texas. I quote and link to his blog quite a bit and for good reason:

Behold, King of the Lists.

I always talk about how I love order, organization and lists. But no one could compare or even come to close to Joel's passion. This is just a glimpse into his list-loving-life:

That was one post. And who could miss his homepage?

Double lists.
So true to his style, he created a huge list on classroom management. [Where were all these people when I needed votes for my classroom management poll? lol] Oh sure, he tried to disguise it with a paragraph or six but you and me are too smart for that. So read, read some more, enjoy, and again make new Twitter friends!

When I started out teaching, I didn't know what I was doing. Oh sure I knew how an idea of how to teach kids music, but when I walked into my own classroom, things were way different than they were when I was teaching private lessons and student teaching.

I was all alone.

Perhaps you can relate.

My students and I suffered through more than a year and a half of me being a clueless punk kid fresh out of college who didn't know how to misbehave, and surely didn't know how to handle the punk kids who did! While the term classroom management may have come up somewhere in my teacher training, I was sure it didn't apply to me, and so I just glossed over it. Big mistake.

Perhaps you can relate.

So what did I do? It took a metaphorical slap in the face to really serve as my wakeup call. A trusted friend took me aside, told me that my class was out of control, and recommended to my principal that my contract not be renewed.

I was devastated.

I made it my personal mission from there on to try to figure out where I had lost control, and come up with some plan to get it back! Three years, I realized that other teachers might be in the same boat, so I started my own blog on Blogger. The blog started out small. In fact, I didn't even have a single comment until it had been up for nearly 5 months. That's just a background for where things are now.

Over the weekend, I asked my (almost 300) Twitter followers and my (almost 900) blog subscribers the following question:

What is your classroom management secret weapon?
I thought it would be interesting to find out what other people do. The responses began coming in via Twitter almost immediately. I also got a handful of blog comments and even an email from Germany! So here we have for your reading pleasure 27 Classroom Management Secret Weapons [Now normally, I would not allow a list of 27 items. I detest odd numbers. Luckily, 27 is divisible by 3 and 9 so I am being extra permissible. There's nothing worse than a prime odd number! Plus, one person posted twice, so really this is a list of 26]. The first 17 are Twitter accounts that you should be following (plus @sywtt and @misscalcul8, of course) :
  1. @k8nowak The Hairy Eyeball. [See Monday's post! Great stuff]

  2. @calvamom classroom secret weapon=silence and a great mom glare/evil eye. Kids always get quiet very quickly in fear of doom.

  3. @atlteacher On Clsroom Mgt: some kids are bullies and sometimes you just have to chump 'em out, make it very clear that disrespect is intolerable

  4. @jenbead capital punishment. Only choice is gallows or guilotine :-)

  5. @jenbead really is motivation equals participation leading to access and achievement.

  6. @abaaataylor popsicle sticks. i keep them at the front of the class, one per student. when they come out, it's time to quiz and encourage all

  7. @nataliewickham Classroom Management Secret Weapon: Trace behaviors to root character issues and praise or correct accordingly.

  8. @JasonFlom My Classroom Management Secret Weapon? Two: Humor and Engaging Variation (I want kids thinking, "What's he gonna do next?")

  9. @hrmason Class management secret weapon? Humor.

  10. @siobhancurious Confrontation. I used to just stop and wait or pretend stuff wasn't happening. Now I label. "Johnny, stop doing X. It's not cool."

  11. @anotherschwab I've found no secret to classroom mgmt. Clear rules and procedures, consistent and fair enforcement and mutual respect work so far.

  12. @atlteacher I posted my 2nd secret b/c I thought 1st was too obvious, but no one's said it yet. Clsrm Mgt Secret is "Like them."

  13. @Mrs_Fuller Positive "weapon" is starting the year by having students create "community agreements" then sticking to them. Negative: cell phone

  14. @yuglook Building positive relationships is my primary strategy. But my secret weapon when things go wrong: Being a broken record and smiling.

  15. @MissTeacha secret weapon be firm, consistent and organized.

  16. @librarylyon Classroom Management Secret Weapon? KNOW them...know what motivates and engages them, know who they are and what they need...

  17. @graemehenderson Shouting louder than them. Doesn't work and hurts your vocal cords.

  18. Scribbler says: This is going to sound goofy but my stopwatch is my secret weapon. If a class is a bit noisy and I have asked for quiet and been ignored, I start my stopwatch. I put on my best bored look while I wait for quiet and I stop the stopwatch when I get quiet. At the end of the lesson EVERYONE stays in the accrued time. They only have to stay in after class once for it to work and it only takes one kid to notice I have started the stopwatch for word to spread. An oldie for me, but a goodie.

  19. Mister Teacher says: My secret weapons are little blue tickets. Like the kind you get at the fair or a raffle. I give them out for good behavior (or lack of bad behavior), and I have a drawing for goofy little prizes each week. The pronouncement of, “I’m looking for someone to earn a blue ticket” can change a disorganized group of misfits into a military-precision line of silence!

  20. W84ME2 says: I just say, “I am looking for a secret student.” anytime we go into the hall. Wow! Silence signals go up and they make a straight line tout de suit. The prize if you are the secret student and make it all the way to our destination? You can pick a new scissors, cool pencil, pencil top eraser, or bookmark I got free from a book club. As a bonus I no longer need to provide so many school supplies ;)

  21. Tom Anselm says: Depending on the social development of the group, sometimes I can just stand next to the offenders, close enough to make them know I am there, and keep a silence. Sometimes they look up and say “Oh, my bad,’ or “what?” or “Dang, Mr. A, you scared me.” any reaction stops the disquieting behavior and then I can redirect. Doesn’t always work, tho, especially if the gang is very out of hand or the kids in question really don’t see their actions as inappropriate or just don’t give a good rip. Call it Proximity Control, but in effect it is mild embarrassment. Not foolproof, but sometimes very easily effective.

  22. Mrs D. says: Congratulating/thanking students who are doing the right thing- my students love to hear their own names . . .

  23. Jason-O says: I am a student, but think these will work. All 4 at the same time. Mainly for regular classes.
    1. PBS Tickets as Mr. Teacher said, but for schoolwide events like a walk to the park and cutting class.

    2. Draw a desk on the board. Draw 4 circles around it. Make the one closest a different color as the rest. Once that line is crossed, ut oh. THIS IS FOR IF THE WHOLE CLASS IS DISRUPTIVE.

    3. Use your whistle as a warning and to get attention and when talking is too loud.

    4. For individual student problems, 1. Give warning. 2. Write name on board as warning. 3. Give 100 lines and send out until the lines are finished. 4 or more: Detention, more lines, etc. The line to write is: “I must follow all rules and must not disrupt class.”

  24. Tina says: I give out warm fuzzies (pom poms) for them to buy stuff with during end of the day tutorial time or before class starts (sit with friend, pillow, eat with teacher, sit with stuffed animal, etc). I also have from Hallmark some buttons when you push them they say or sing different things. I use the Darth Vader/Star Wars march for when the class is too loud. Others for good behavior. I sometimes think a sound rather than a voice is better to get attention.

  25. Jonathan says: Deep, calming breath. Like Antonio Banderas in Shrek. I get about a head an a half taller, voice drops a few octaves - and I’m only half kidding. I stand like a teacher, pause like a teacher, and take control. Breathing, honestly, is big. And no, it didn’t come naturally. Not close.

  26. Pat says: Calling parents often to brag about their child’s good behavior. This stops the cycle of acting bad to get attention. The more I call, the better behaved my students are.

  27. Monika emailed:

    1. Be consistent! Say what you will do and then do what you said!

    2. Be reliable! Say what will expect for a test and then stick to what you said.

    3. Don't engage in futile discussions! However, make sure you leave time for talking things over AFTER the lesson.

    4. Whatever you do, make sure your students know that you like them, even if you make clear that don't like their behaviour at times.
So tell us about your Classroom Management Secret Weapons! What do you do when all else fails?

If you're interested in learning more about classroom management, I highly recommend you start reading my current series:

The Total Teacher Transformation [where the lists are]

Or go back and start off with Questions That Will Save Your Career


Classroom Management: Managing with Class

Thanks so much for coming back to my series on classroom management. The majority of content is coming from my guest posters so make sure to check out their blogs as a way of saying thank you!

From the results of my classroom management poll, 88% of voters chose student engagement to be the most effective way to keep a class under control. I thought it interesting that no one chose the option of creative lesson plans/projects. It raises a good point: creative content does not necessarily mean the students are engaged- or learning.

How do we keep students engaged?

The million dollar question will be answered today by Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) of Angela Maiers Educational Services, Inc. She is a former teacher and is currently an independent educational consultant from Iowa. She started writing a blog because 'Teachers need to be great learners to lead great learners. I believe that learning is a lifelong journey, an ongoing exploration and way of life. I challenge myself and others to always be striving to find and share big ideas in every million dollar conversation.' [Notice I said million dollar, she said million dollar...Great minds think alike!]

So, here it goes: 26 Keys to Student Engagement.

Authenticity: We are more motivated to learn if we see a clear connection to the purpose and use. If our desire is for students to engage, the work they do must be significant, valuable, and real.

Brain: Every school day changes the brain in some way. We can influence and ignite that change when we understand the way the brain learns, and act accordingly.

Collaborative: Collaborating with others in solving problems or mastering difficult materials prepares students to deal with the messy, unscripted problems they will encounter in life. If they have opportunities to engage and explore topics, assignments, and content in a collaborative way, understanding and engagement are natural outcomes.

Disengagement: Students are sometimes labeled as lazy, unmotivated, off-task, and disrespectful. These behaviors can and often are a direct result of disengagement. When learning involves wondering, dreaming, playing, interacting, communicating, exploring, discovering, questioning, investigating, creating - the disengaged become engaged.

Environment: The decisions we make -- from the arrangement of furniture to the feeling students experience -- greatly influence conditions of learning.

Feedback: Feedback that is specific, nonthreatening, and frequent changes performance, attitude, and behaviors. So, the next time we say, "good job", we must follow that with, "...and here's why!"

Generative: Generative learning is the active process of process of linking, sharing, re-creating, and co-creating. Engagement comes about when we encourage learners to construct and produce knowledge in meaningful ways by providing experiences and learning environments that promote active, collaborative learning.

Habitudes: Successful people learn to be successful because they develop specific attitudes and behaviors to ensure their success in all aspects of life. We can teach students the specific habits of preparedness, mindfulness, and persistence to use and apply when engaging in any task, challenging or otherwise.

Joy: If we want a better class of thinkers and innovators -- people with explosive curiosity and creativity, we need to bring FUN back into our classrooms. We need giggles and laughter, enthusiasm and excitement. School can become a place remembered for the love of learning.

Kaizen: Kaizen is the Japanese term for "continuous improvement", a concept we should take to heart if we want students to achieve their personal and professional best. Small changes, if done every day,can make a big impact over time. Continuous improvement can only be achieved with continuous reflection. And with continuous reflection, students will become more and more engaged in their growth and learning.

Listening: Both learning to listen and listening to learn are critical to literacy in the 21st century. Listening is a powerful and essential means of developing and mastering both old and new literacies. In any culture or community, listening first will earn the right to be listened to.

Motivation: Motivation is essential to learning at all ages. Students have the primary responsibility to own their own learning, yet we have a shared responsibility in the task. The environments we foster, the cultures we contribute to, even the aura of a classroom, all make a difference.

Networks: One of my mantras is Together we are Smarter. Students are connected to friends and family outside the classroom; creating a network inside the school makes sense too: schoolmates can become brain mates.

Outside: We must bring and allow some of the their outside life into the classroom. If we can identify the engaging and creative ways they do their work outside of school and find ways to bring that into the classroom, students may start to see that school is not such a bad place after all.

Participatory: We know community begins within ourselves. Encouraging participation fosters engaged student body. Engaged learning is active; it is hands-on, minds on, eyes on, and demands participation at all levels.

Questions: Questions that stretch student minds, invite curiosity, provoke thinking, and instill a sense of wonder, keep students engaged.

Relationships: To grow 'em you must know 'em. Knowing our students seems obvious, yet many students claim that we do not "get" them. When students feel valued, honored, and respected, there is an interest and energy in the process of learning that reaches far beyond the content we teach.

Self Efficacy: Students with a strong sense of efficacy are more likely to challenge themselves with difficult tasks and be intrinsically motivated. These students will put forth a high degree of effort in order to meet their commitments, and attribute failure to things which are in their control, rather than blaming external factors. Self-efficacious students also recover quickly from setbacks, and ultimately are likely to achieve their personal goals.

Teacher (as student): Students see the teaching part of our persona every day. Do we stand before them as learners? What would that do to engagement, if we shared with students how we came to know, how we faced and conquered learning challenges, and most importantly how we can help them do the same?

A wise saying goes, "Seek first to understand and demonstrate that understanding before seeking to be understood." How do we demonstrate to our students that we understand and value them; in our words, with our actions, and by our expectations?

Variety: Variety adds spice to life and to our teaching. No matter how gifted a teachers you are, using the same method to teach each class can become monotonous- for you and the students.

WWW: The information super highway. It is not only the pathway learners in the 21st century seek out and locate information. It is a place where we engage in the creation of content and understanding.

Xtra: I have heard educators say that there is no time for engagement, there is too much content to cover. Giving kids time to collaborate, create, talk, and reflect is just Xtra work. Can we turn "Xtra" into "Xpectation", so engagement is no longer an option, it becomes an expectation?

You: This alphabet list of student engagement from A to Z will only become alive if you take these thoughts and ideas and put them into practice — did you notice the only thing missing from the Corporate Alphabet picture at the start of this article was “U”? What letter is missing from this list? I. It takes U and I. Engaged learning requires leadership. As a leader, U can coach, model, mentor and support our colleagues in the process of creating and sustaining engaging classrooms.

Zeal: Energy and enthusiasm are contagious. One of the best compliments I ever received from a student, "I did not really like the topic you were presenting on, but you were so excited, I couldn't help but pay attention!" When we show kids our zeal and passion for what we believe in, we welcome them to share their own. Love what you do, and present it with zeal everyday! Even if it is the 100th time you have presented it, remember it is the first for these students!

As you can see, student engagement is as simple as ABC. What are your keys to engaging your students?

I edited this for space but go here for the full article. For tons more information add her on Twitter or check out some of these articles [some of my personal favorites]:

Mini Lesson - Teaching the Habitude of Curiosity
Many "Views" of Parent Involvement
Personal Branding and Education - Thoughts on "Me 2.0"
Classroom Habitudes Lesson: Courage - The Fear Gradient

Keep up the clicking and come back tomorrow for Part 3!


Classroom Management: Managing with Class

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
-Coco Chanel

I hope I have the 'fabuliss' part down but I try to be classy. Essentially that means raising my standards. This applies to me personally and professionally. Classy goes a long way, even in the education world. Part of being classy is being prepared- you don't just act out however you feel. Being prepared is something any teacher can relate to.

Classroom management is a hot topic for every teacher. It's something to be prepared for and something you can never prepare for. You can never control the actions and responses of other people. But you can control your own. The best plan is to at least have a plan. In the next few days, I'm going to devote some blogspace to my teacher friends so they can come and share their wealth of knowledge on this topic. This is not a manual on how to perfect it, more like a cookbook that has something for everyone. Think of it as a menu: sample what you want and leave the rest for somebody else. (I can relate anything to food!)

First up is from Kate Nowak (@k8nowak), math teacher at a large, American Northeast, suburban high school. She is in her fourth year of teaching and writes a great blog at http://function-of-time.blogspot.com/. Here are four of her most used principles.

1. A bored kid is a disruptive kid. Every kid should be aware of what he should be doing - a task that is non-trivial but within his capabilities - pretty much the whole time he is in your room. During a typical 43 minute lesson for me, kids are working on a warm-up question, then looking over their homework, then having a discussion and maybe taking a few notes, then completing an activity, then completing a short wrap up question. When someone gets distracted, and ignores the Ugly Eyeball I throw him, I invoke the classroom management magic bullet: I rest my hand on his back, lean in close to his ear, and say quietly, “You know what you should be doing right now.” Sounds a little creepy, I know, but it works.

2. I am not a great lecturer. If you are a great lecturer, this post isn’t for you. I don’t know how you do it. But me, no kid wants to listen to me yommer for more than 5-10 minutes. (Isn’t “yommer” a great word? My mom says it all the time.) I try to plan so that I don’t have to do all the talking for more than about 10 minutes, maximum.

3. Whoever is doing the work is the one learning. Not only does no kid want to listen to me yommer for the whole period, but they learn very little that way. I don’t need to do 10 different dramatic performances of the Law of Cosines. I already know how to use the law of cosines. So what are they doing instead? A variety of things. I write about many of them on my blog. They are brainstorming ways to solve an unfamiliar problem. They are practicing with repetition in a small group or partner structure. They are working multistep problems in a roundtable. They are playing a vocabulary game. (Wow, I just got, like, 4 ideas for new posts I can write.) What do I do this whole time?

4. Take every opportunity to inspect their written work. You need to sit down and put eyeballs on the work they are producing, as they are doing it. Come to terms with the reality that some of them smell better than others. Find yourself a rolling chair, make everyone get his backpack out of the aisle, and LOOK. (The rolling chair is less intimidating than standing over them, in my opinion. Also if you are at their eye level and unpredictably scooting about, they will put the cell phones away. Sometimes Authority Figures will glance in your room and think there is no teacher there, and walk in the door. That’s okay. Shoo them away.) [Backpacks and cell phones aren't allowed in the classroom at my school. Ha Ha]

Whether it's throwing the Ugly Eyeball, less yommering, or a creepy whisper, everyone has their own style. It's not important that you exactly imitate Kate [that rhymed] but that you think and plan ahead. Do what works for you and what you feel comfortable doing. Students can sense the fakeness a mile away and they don't fall for it. Ever.

To learn more about Kate's teaching methods, check out the following posts:

What She Does All Day
Things It Took Her Way Too Long To Learn
How to Become a Teaching Expert
Why Her Students Know More Than Bill Gates

Thanks to Kate for contributing and stay tuned for tomorrow's edition!


Lessons of the Square Watermelon

Japanese grocery stores had a problem. They are much smaller than their US counterparts and therefore don't have room to waste. Watermelons, big and round, wasted a lot of space. Most people would simply tell the grocery stores that watermelons grow round and there is nothing that can be done about it.

But some Japanese farmers took a different approach. If the supermarkets wanted a square watermelon, they asked themselves, 'How can we provide one?' It wasn't long before they invented the square watermelon.

The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn't nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn't assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done.

It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box.

This made the grocery stores happy and had the added benefit that it was much easier and cost effective to ship the watermelons. Consumers also loved them because they took less space in their refrigerators which are much smaller than those in the US, meaning that the growers could charge a premium price for them.

What does this have do with anything besides square watermelons?

Don't Assume

The major problem was that most people had always seen round watermelons, so they automatically assumed that square watermelons were impossible. Things that you have been doing a certain way your entire life have taken on the aura of the round watermelon. You probably don't even take the time to consider if there is another way to do it.

Breaking yourself from assuming can greatly improve your overall life. Constantly look for new and better ways to do things. Most assumptions seem perfectly logical on the surface, so constantly make an effort to question them.

The best way to tackle these assumptions is to question your habits. If you can make an effort to question the way you do things on a consistent basis, you will find that you can continually improving. Most of us have adopted our habits from various people and places without even thinking about them. It's a never ending process, but you can consistently strive toward making all aspects of your life more enjoyable instead of defaulting to what you have now.

Be creative

When faced with a problem, be creative in looking for a solution. This often requires thinking outside the box. Most people who viewed this question likely thought they were being asked how they could genetically alter water melons to grow square. By looking at the question from an alternative perspective, however, the solution was quite simple. Being creative and looking at things in different ways in all portions of your life will help you find solutions where others can't see them. Look for a better way: The square watermelon question was simply seeking a better and more convenient way to do something. The stores had flagged a problem they were having and asked if a solution was possible. It's impossible to find a better way if you are never asking the question in the first place. Get into the habit of asking yourself, 'Is there a better way I could be doing this?' and you will find there often is.

Impossibilities often aren't: If you begin with the notion that something is impossible, then it obviously will be for you. If, on the other hand, you decide to see if something is possible or not, you will find out through trial and error.
Try! Things are not always what they appear.

Taken from an email


Ready For Whatever

I'm doing part of Joel's Total Teacher Transformation series at So You Want To Teach? and the assignment for today is to Be Prepared. Joel gives a list of hypotheticals and asks you to plan out your response.

"There’s no right or wrong answer here. But having a plan gives you so much more
confidence when this type of situation arises. After you plan through some of
these things and begin to actually see them happen, your reactions to unplanned
events will fall much more in line with how you had planned for different
circumstances. Planning is the key. -Joel"

Today’s assignment
Plan how you will respond in the following situations: (I'm going to be so truthful it hurts.)

1. A student chews gum or willfully violates some other clearly stated school policy.

Hopefully I will have given the students a warning at the beginning of the year and after that, it's free game. If they willfully violate, then I willfully write a referral. If it's a disruption to the class, I send them to the office and then write the referral.

2. When a student’s misbehavior is brought to his/her attention, the response is ambivalent at best ("So what?") and insubordinate at worst ("No way!")

I would take this time to point out a few prime examples of that exact misbehavior.

3. Two students get into an argument that escalates (or almost does) to the point of name-calling or violence.

I step in and tell them both to calm down before I have to write both of them up. Or send one student in the hallway to dispel (ha ha) the disruption and write a referral for both of them at the end of class.

4. A student confides in you that another one is picking on him. One day in class, you observe it happening.

Again, step in and advise the bully to watch their language, not call names or make fun of others, etc. That serves as the warning. I would then talk to the student to see if this is happening in other classes. If so, I'd let other teachers know to be on the lookout for this behavior and watch to see if it escalates. I think if I don't allow anyone in class to pick on anyone else, then the student knows they have at least one safe place.

5. You have a student who is repeatedly tardy to class.

Our school's policy is after two tardies, you get after-school detention. That deters a lot of it. If it persists, I would talk to the student and see if there was a situation we needed to handle (move their locker, keep their supplies in the classroom, late getting to school, etc). Other than that, the administration pretty much handles this issue.

6. A paper airplane is thrown across the room, but you didn’t see who did it and nobody else is willing to tell you.

This wouldn't bother me so I would ignore it and leave it on the floor until class is over. I'd just pick it up and throw it away. It's not an issue unless I make it one. (I'm responsible for what goes on in my class!) I don't want to waste class time interrogating the students about something they won't admit anyway.

7. As you are sitting down, a student makes a “fart noise” with his mouth; the entire class begin uncontrolably giggling for minutes.

I would probably say excuse me in a dead pan and go on with my business. I'd make some kind of joke out of it. I like to have a good laugh- but I want to keep it under control.

8. A student loudly and clearly uses profanity; everyone hears it.

This is my pet peeve and students will definitely know this rule at the very beginning. I would probably say "Language!" in a stern tone and then write a referral after class. I have no tolerance for ignorance.

9. You are walking down the hallway and see two students making out.

Truthfully, I would probably say, "You do know I can see you, right?" followed by "And that will be a write up." Continue walking and write the referral. (Not at the same time as walking though)

10. A parent interrupts your class and begins asking you questions about his/her child.

Just randomly a parent shows up? That's definitely unexpected. Um....I would step out in the hall and ask the student if there was another time we could meet or talk. Or I would try to exchange e-mails or phone numbers. I guess if it was anemegency I would try to quickly address the issue. Luckily, the office handles visitors so I think they would make arrangements for the parent to see me or for someone to cover my class so we could speak.

So that was interesting! Feel free to constructively criticize these reponses or give some better suggestions. Or feel free to respond yourself in the comments. And don't forget to go and join TTT too!

Classroom Mangement Poll

Thanks to responses from my last two posts and requests for articles about classroom management, I wanted to get some responses to the following poll. Your answers will help me give input for an upcoming blog series on classroom mangement. Guest posts will be involved so if you have life changing advice, tips, and tricks, feel free to contact me about contributing.

Thanks so much! I appreciate your time, loyalty, tweets, comments, and input.


Why Learn Math: Twitter Tweets

As a follow up to my post Why Learn Math? I wanted to post some answers from the Twitterverse to the question:

"How will I use this [math/english/science/history/reading/art/etc] in real life? How do you answer?"

iMrsF I like to throw it back at the students and get them brainstorming. (Of course, I sometimes guide a little..)

yuglook I tell them the truth. Most of them will probably never. But learning it teaches them to think logically and all that stuff.

pepepacha Math is like training for a basketball game, it makes you stronger and better but is not always fun nor always useful every day

And my favorite response of all:

k8nowak This is going to be an unpopular response, but that's the rallying cry of a bored kid. When I hear it I know lesson needs work.

This changed my perspective on the whole situation and motivates me even more to design a spectacular class where the thought of this question never occurs because they're doing it in real life as we speak.

As k8nowak goes on to say:

I don't know anyone who got interested in math because it's useful. More like puzzling, surprising, predictive, etc...

To hear more of their great perspectives visit the blogs of iMrsF, yuglook, pepepacha, and k8nowak.

Or tweet tweet.


Why Learn Math?

Why learn math?

Why is math important?
When am I going to use math in real life?
What does math have to do with anything?

As all math teachers know, we hear these questions on the daily. For one, we teach what we teach because the state and federal government tell us what we have to teach. So, there's that. But other than that, what are the real life answers to this question?
I wanted to post some excerpts from a forum that answered this question and get some responses from others.

Since football is big here, I use this analogy: You lift weights, don't you? (or, "Your brother lifts weights...") Why, because you want to be a weight lifter when you grow up? No! You lift weights to build muscles that you will use for other things: playing football, impressing your girlfriend... well, math is like building mental muscles that you will use for other things. You're building little neuron connections in your brain that you will need later, to learn things you really like. Weightlifting and math don't have to be fun, but they will take you where you want to go!"

Algebra, and much of math, is the study of problem solving. It teaches you to organize information and apply a step by step process to solve the problem you've been presented with.

Basically, learning math teaches a person how to think logically and abstractly. It trains your brain to notice details, to be logical, to make sure you have reasons for each step of your plans. These skills are critical for a person to be able to navigate our world, to be an informed citizen, to make decisions your whole life. I talked to them about people who get taken in by scams because they don't recognize when arguments don't make sense.

Algebra is just solving for unknowns -- which we do all the time, but most people don't write it down. When we figure out how much money we need to pay bills -- algebra. When we need to figure out what the loan payments will be for that new car or the house -- algebra...What they learn in school is just the formalized way of writing it down to show someone else, and/or the abstract version of it. It all applies, though.

Doctor Achilles, The Math Forum The idea here is that if you learn math now, then when you're confronted with math later in life, you won't have to worry about it at all and instead you can just pay attention to what you want to.Jen Peck, Karen Rosser, and Carol Pifer, Math and Education students at the University of Richmond, have put together a series of Web pages called "What Good is Math?" talking about the connections between mathematics and art, calculating grades, cooking, shopping, sports, and travel:

Art and Math: How Are They Related?
How Did I Get a C in Spanish?
How Do I Get the Most For My Shopping Dollar?
Mathletics! or Is There Math in Sports?
So You're Planning a Party?
So You're Planning a Trip?
Will I Ever Be Able to Fill My Piggy Bank?

How can math be so universal? First, human beings didn't invent math concepts; we discovered them. Also, the language of math is numbers, not English or German or Russian[...]

Why is this question asked now more than ever? In older days, students didn't ask why they asked how. Not why do I have to learn this but how do I learn it?

Teachers: how do you answer this question? Even if you don't teach math, how do you convince your students that your class work is important and has purpose?


True Story

Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High school in Little Rock AK, did something not to be forgotten.

On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks out of her classroom.

When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.

Looking around, confused, they asked, "Ms. Cothren, where're our desks?"

She replied, "You can't have a desk until you tell me what you have done to earn the right to sit at a desk." They thought, "Well, maybe it's our grades."

"No," she said.

"Maybe it's our behavior." She told them, "No, it's not even your behavior.

And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom.

By early afternoon television news crews had started gathering in Ms. Cothren's classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk less classroom.

Martha Cothren said, "Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he/she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you."

At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it.

Twenty-seven U.S. Veterans, all in uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall.

By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.

Martha said, "You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it."

True story.

For more stories like this, click the label to the right that reads "Inspirational".