Sunday, July 28, 2013

TKES: Staying Ahead of The Curve

I don't know about you, but I want to be an informed teacher. I do not like surprises. The state of Georgia is moving to a new teacher evaluation system, and recently I've spent some time going over the standards and expectations.

Guess what? I am completely overwhelmed. These standards will keep teachers on our toes for sure. Administrators will be evaluating frequently throughout the year using specific rubrics, and students will be able to assess our teaching as well.

So, what is a teacher seeking excellence to do? Well, first take a deep breathe. Then, we must remember that teaching requires passion, but also planning. To plan effectively, excellent teachers must be informed. I suggest that teachers read the TKES handbook. My hope is to make a hardcopy, read, and do some highlighting. I did the same with the Common Core Standards, and it helped me to focus my instruction.

This is a one page document highlighting the most important components for teacher.

Link to the TKES handbook

TKES Performance Standards and Rubrics

Many times, teachers receive these big documents, and feel completely overwhelmed. It is fine and normal to have those feelings. But, we, as teachers, can't ignore that this is how we will be evaluated. As teachers of excellence, we must learn the standards and use them to gauge our instruction, so we can receive those "exemplary" ratings. Exemplary work does not just happen. It takes planning.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rising Above Poverty: Teaching the Importance of a Dream

As a child of the 80's and 90's, I grew up in a family that prospered financially. By prospered I mean that they kept their jobs, and maintained stable and successful careers. They both had college degrees, with my mother also obtaining a master's degree. They lived during a time when a degree meant a job. Sadly, that time no longer exists in America.

The older Americans who didn't save for retirement are now faced with working several part-time low wage jobs, which pushes the teenage population out. Personally, I've been working in some capacity since I was 16 years old. If I were a teen now, that would be almost impossible. Many mid-30's to mid-40's bracket professionals, who suddenly find themselves out of work due to "down-sizing" or "restructuring" find it nearly, if not impossible, to find equal opportunity positions that they worked so hard to obtain over the course of twenty years. Young professionals right out of college, disappointed from not finding work, must move in with mom and dad for months or years at a time. This is America today.

It is heartbreaking for anyone to deal with the struggles of unemployment or underemployment, but the children affected by unemployment is what motivates me the most as a teacher. The heavy weight and responsibility these children feel is immense. Many parents try to protect their children from the effects of unemployment and poverty, but the stress is so vast and deep that it is almost impossible. As a result, these children walk around with the weight of the world on their shoulders. This weight keeps them from doing their best in school. How can a child concentrate on a math problem or a grammar lesson when they don't know where they will be living next or if a parent will be home after school to greet them?

The absolute last thing these kids need is a teacher who doesn't believe in them or embarrasses them in front of their peers. They need teachers who are willing to listen to them, and provide an environment of safety and comfort. This doesn't mean we, as teachers seeking excellence, have to be easy on them academically. In fact, I believe children in struggling situations need to be pushed, and believe in something great. They need to know that it is ok to dream, and dream big.

Because, who are we to say that those dreams can't be achieved?

I am heartbroken that I live during a time, when children have lost hope in a dream, because of the hurt of their own parents' experiences. It is understandable. But, we must never give up as parents. as teachers, as a nation. We must believe in a brighter tomorrow, and teach our kids to dream big!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Oh no! We're Late: Planning Ahead

I love the three P's: passion, planning, perseverance. It sums up exactly what it takes to be a successful teacher. Today, I shall delve into the planning part. With less than 7 days before pre-planning begins frightened thoughts play in my mind, because not only am I a teacher, but also a mother of three children under the age of 10.
My new school year will include getting them packed up and in the car with me to head to school every morning. I am sure many mothers and dads can relate to the heightened anxiety that comes with a new school year.
I think my worst fear is for my children to make me late, or maybe I'll forget one of them at home like in the movie, Home Alone! No, I hope that never happens! But, that terrible feeling of forgetting something crucial. That is what hunts the working mother at night-- not being prepared.
I wish I could say I've developed the perfect system, or that I've got excellent words of wisdom to share. But, I really don't. All I can say is that I will strive for excellence everyday with passion, planning, and perseverance. With that motto is mind--it's sure to all be great!
Clip from Home Alone

Here is an article that I found useful with a few quick tips.

Why School and Home Routines are Important for Students—6 Tips

Posted by: Connie McCarthy on Aug 21, 2012 in Connie McCarthy, 1st Grade

Connie McCarthy

In my 1st grade class, we spend the first few weeks of the new school year establishing classroom routines. These routines are both academic and organizational.
Routines are important because they give children a clear sense of what to expect.  Rules follow a pattern and offer a sense of stability.
Here are 6 simple routines you can establish at home to ease the morning “time crunch:”

1. Schedule the same time for bed each school night, and stick to it. Be sure to include time to read a story together, before “lights out.”

2. Have a specific place for homework. Make sure your child puts the homework away in his backpack before going to bed. (This eliminates the “My Mom forgot to put it in my backpack” excuse!)

3. Strive to have your child finish  homework within a certain time frame. Work with a timer, in five or ten minute increments. Take a small break between, until it’s done.  Or, set the timer for 20 minutes and make it a game to see if she can “beat the clock.”

4. Together, take a minute to check the weather for the next day. Then have your child put out appropriate clothes for school, before she goes to bed. This tends to cut down on “what to wear” conflicts in the morning.

5. Limit breakfast choices to two main items that are nutritious, and you know your child likes to eat (such as waffles or cereal, for example.) Lay out dishes, glasses, and utensils the night before.

6. Let her have her own alarm clock, and set it to wake at the same time each school morning. You still might have to coax her a bit, but the alarm can do the initial work.

Setting up routines is often a challenge…but well worth the effort. Home and school routines develop the consistency and organization that young children need, and busy parents appreciate!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Teachers: You Gotta Have Heart--All You Really Need is Heart

I have always loved old movies--good ol' black and whites. As a young girl I would stay up late watching movies like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Sabrina, and the list goes on. The stories intrigued me, and they were comforting.

One movie I've always enjoyed is Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is a wonderful example of passion, planning, and perseverance. As a young man, he was suddenly selected as a senator. Bright eyed-- he approached the Senate seat with excitement and an eager motivation to make a difference.

However, sadly his vision for a national boys camp was not well received by the long standing politicians who had other plans for the space Mr. Smith wanted to use. At first, Mr. Smith couldn't understand what was going on, but Ms. Saunders wised him up pretty fast. In the end, the young senator fought back and won.

I believe that many new teachers probably feel this way at times: naive and excited to make a difference, only to feel discouraged. I feel thankful that although a new teacher, I'm not exactly a young one. I knew when I started back to graduate school what I was up against, and that the elements in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington can be found in any profession.

When I started in my graduate program, I knew what a wonderful opportunity it was for me. I studied and worked hard. I pushed myself to my absolute limit, offering no apologies to my classmates. Yes, other students rolled their eyes at me, and actually said I was crazy, but I didn't care. I was living my dream--my dream to become a teacher. Now, as a teacher, I continue to do the same.

I always strive to put God and my family first, but I will say that teaching is a strong third for me. I love it, and I feel so fortunate that my dream profession has been realized.

Above all--I want to stay that naive dreamer; passionate, excited, and craving to improve my craft until my final days as an educator.

My hope is that other educators feel that way too--stay passionate, work hard, do your best, and never apologize.

Clips from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Another song I loved growing up and still do--

You Gotta Have Heart by Peggy Lee

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice

As an ELA teacher I believe that it's important to work on my craft. Lately, I've been trying a bit of poetry. I love reading poetry, because it's so concise. So much is said with so few words, and it can be fun to write.

Anyway, here is a poem that I wrote today.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice

Be grateful for each day
For it may be taken away
God brings us life
But with it also comes strife

We were never promised perfection
That is why I honor His creation
Some things are beyond understanding
So we must have faith and stop pretending

That we have complete control 
I realized that long ago
When an angel spoke to me
And I knew my brother was set free
Into eternity

My prayer is that others realize that too
And don't spend their days feeling blue
But rejoice in all things small
Knowing that God loves us all

Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice

The Important Role of the Mentor and Mentee Relationship

Today, I glanced back at an e-mail I received from a wonderful mentor. I felt so supported by her, and her belief in me made me better. Isn't that what we all need? Someone to believe in us and our abilities? I believe it takes a strong person to open themselves up to support others with kind words and affirmations. I hope that I can be that kind of person to my students and fellow teachers as I begin a new school year.

There is another side to the mentor coin, however. It is great for mentors to believe in our abilities, but they must also push us to think and work smarter. They must be straight forward and specific with their advice.

I decided to add the e-mail below.not to brag about her kind words to me, but to demonstrate what I mean by mentors supporting the mentee's journey. My mentor's advice struck me, and has stayed with me. She began the e-mail with an affirmation as to why I was offered the teaching position, but she also went further by offering sound advice that I can use for my entire career.

Now--my job comes in. I must be open to her advice and use it, realizing the wisdom in her words. That is the job of the person receiving the mentoring.

I believe one of the best things new teachers can do is to be humble and open to the advice of more experienced teachers and administrators.We can only serve to grow from it whether we like the advice or not.

Humility is not cowardice. Meekness is not weakness. Humility and meekness are indeed spiritual powers.


 E-mail from a wonderful mentor--I've highlighted the advice all teachers can learn from.

Congratulations!!!  Your skills, personality, character, intelligence, and poise made you the person for the job!  I think you will love Heard County.  It is a unique place with wonderful people.
Early in my career a mentor told me to "always be a company man"  or woman.  I took that to heart and always positively supported the administration and kept any criticism or skepticism to myself.   A positive, loyal, agreeable employee always stands out among the burned-out and looking-toward retirement crowd....usually a big crowd!  (Sometimes that translates into something as simple as eye contact and a smile for the speaker in a faculty meeting....rather than eye-rolling.)   I think that attitude and behavior helped me move into administration.  You have great potential to move ahead in your career! 
Please don't take this as criticism.  I know that you know this and would never do such, but many teachers overlook this simple strategy of being professional even when they don't feel it.....and wonder why they are overlooked for promotions or recognition.
Congratulations and keep me posted,

Another article for new teachers concerning the mentor/mentee relationship.

"Mentors: The One You're Assigned and the Ones You Find"

The transition to any new job can be tough, but especially a job as isolating as teaching can be. That's why it's great when schools assign veteran teachers to serve as mentors for new teachers. It's also great that so many veteran teachers are willing to be mentors--often with little or no additional pay.
At the same time, I've noticed that an assigned mentor is rarely able to meet all of a mentee's needs. This isn't a reflection on the mentor, but rather a limitation of mentor-mentee relationships in general and in the context of teaching in particular.
Worst-case scenario, a mentor and mentee don't connect well and, after a few uneasy--and usually unproductive--sessions, reach an unspoken agreement to stop meeting. In other cases, the chemistry is fine, but schedules prevent mentors and mentees from meeting regularly.
Yet even when a mentor and mentee click and meet often, there are still bound to be certain mentee needs that the mentor is unable to fulfill. Again, not a reflection on the mentor but a reality of the multi-faceted responsibilities and challenges of teaching. Classroom management. Curriculum and instruction. Technology integration. Record-keeping. Parent relations. Assessment. Bureaucracy. How could one teacher be the go-to person for everything?!
That's why it's important, new teachers, to create a network of mentors rather than just rely on that one person who has been assigned to look out for you. And though I'm a big fan of using social media and other outside resources to build your Professional Learning Network (PLN), you'll want to build the network I'm talking about within your school--where you can get timely support and advice from colleagues who have the context for understanding your challenges.
As for what to look for in a mentor, it's common to be drawn toward others who are most like you--gender, age, race, ethnicity, subject matter, outside interests, etc. But limiting your outreach like this can be a mistake. I've especially noticed this when new teachers only reach out to colleagues who have a year or two of experience themselves. It's fine to connect with colleagues who've recently experienced the same challenges you're now facing. Just be sure to also connect with others who've been confronting--and meeting--those challenges for years.
My own mentoring network as a new teacher included an assigned mentor and five colleagues I sought out after noticing the pride and professionalism they brought to their work. And none of them had a personal or professional background that resembled mine. What's more, other than two fellow math teachers, they were all in different positions than I was--most notably, the school's community outreach coordinator, Michael, an alumni of the school who still lived in the neighborhood. No one helped me understand my students and their families as much as Michael did.
One thing all my mentors had was the character needed to achieve lasting success as an urban educator. This doesn't mean they were all thriving in their jobs at the time. In fact, three of them--all teachers with over 25 years of experience--expressed frustration to me over being less effective then than they had been earlier in their careers. But you can learn as much from people when they're struggling as you can when they're succeeding. Such was the case for me with these teachers, all of whom took ownership of their struggles and responded with persistence and optimism. They were open-minded too, often soliciting my suggestions for solutions to their challenges.
As a group, my mentors helped me deal with the multi-faceted responsibilities and challenges of teaching I referred to above. Yet I'm as grateful to them for what they represented to me as I am for what they did for me. They were great mentors because they were great models. And without their support and guidance, I would never have achieved the fulfillment I've enjoyed as an educator the past 18 years.
I wish you similar support and guidance in the coming year--from the mentor you're assigned and the ones you find.

Image by Ciklamen, provided by Dreamstime license
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Classroom Makeover 2013

After spending time planning lessons, I always realize why I enjoy having a teacher blog. It keeps my thoughts above the mundane parts of teaching, and keeps me looking forward and up.

Yesterday, my mother, a retired educator and my daughter, a true go-getter, and I worked on my classroom. The process took much longer than originally anticipated, but our family lives by a motto of -- "no breaks until the job gets done".

As a result, I am proud to say that I feel that I have an attractive, functional space that my students and I will enjoy. I'm breathing a sigh of relief now that it is over, and I can spend time on my unit and lesson plans for the new year.

I decided not to use a theme like "pocka dots", "ladybugs", "movie theatre", etc. I am proud that I spent less than $20 on my classroom, yet I still feel that it is attractive for students.

I used material for the backdrop of the bulletin board. I can use it all year, which is great. It is very durable. I liked the colors and how they contrast well with the green chairs.
I placed the chairs in rows and students in pairs. I have found this to be the best strategy for middle grades. The students can see me, and I am still able to walk around the room to assess their work. It is also the preferred method from one of my "go to" books, Teach Like A Champion.
This is my new classroom library ordered alphabetically and labeled with Lexile scores. All of these books I got for free from former teachers. I hope to add more throughout the year.

Sydney, my daughter, labeled each book with the appropriate Lexile score. She even created an inventory spreadsheet! Way to go, Sydney!

Lexile Labels

Distraught, with my inability to be crafty with my strong verb list, my mother worked her magic, using only construction paper, scissors, and glue stick to create an awesome word wall!

Hint: Cutting paper in cloud form hides paper flaws.
There are still a few items that I need to add like the rules and procedures chart, but overall it is complete and ready for my new students. I feel so relieved!

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fight The Good Fight

Fight the good fight
Even when the money is tight
When you lie down at night
Wondering when victory will be in sight

Fight the good fight
Stand strong and upright
Even when you feel a fright
From all that comes to you day and night

Fight the good fight
When someone is impolite
Not realizing your plight
Remember it will all be alright

Fight the good fight
Count blessings and write
What it means to breathe light
Into the hearts of others because it is right

Fight the good fight
Have faith and reach for a new height
Knowing that it's what is right
God is in sight

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's Ok To Be The Teacher--Students Need--Not Want

It's great to get positive notes from our students. Who doesn't love to be popular with students? But, it's ok to be unpopular, too.

Last year I got my share of hate notes. The beginning of my first semester of teaching I began with a poetry unit. A fellow teacher ran to me with various hate notes students turned into to her during that unit. I also found a few scattered around the classroom from time to time. I thought it was a bit funny that most of the notes were written in poetry form. I thought, "Well, hey, at least they're using what I taught them."

As a first year teacher, it never felt good to receive such notes, but I also realized that students rebelled because I was pushing them. I wanted them to perform, and work hard.

As I gear up for another year, I want to stay positive, love all my students, and greet them with a smile everyday, while also stretching and pushing their thinking.

I want to bring out their best--and be the teacher my students need--not always the teacher they want.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mrs. Farmer's Lexile Presentation

This year, the English teachers and I will be incorporating Lexile scoring to gauge and increase students' reading comprehension levels.

  1. The 6th grade teachers will begin the year with students filling out reading interest surveys by hand. We want to know the interests of students in their own words.
  2. Students will take a test that will determine their individual Lexile score. This score reflects the student's reading comprehension level, so Mrs. South, the school media specialist and I can match the student with appropriate level text.
    • The goal is to meet the students where their reading levels currently are, and grow their reading comprehension further over the school year.
  3. The goal will be for students to read a total of 30 books individually by the end of the school year depending on their reading and comprehension levels.
    • Based on their reading interest surveys I will preselect 3-5 books within their Lexile range from my classroom library or media center library. Students will spend time in class reading and they will choose one book from the preselected books to read at a time.
    • Students will record the chosen book in their personal reading record sheet.
  4. Every night students must read for thirty minutes, and write responses to what they read in their reading journal. This journal will be assessed during sustained silent reading time in class daily. I will monitor their progress daily.
The goal is to increase reading comprehension, but also develop a love of reading in students. This will require sustained silent reading time in class, and reading at home. As their teacher, I will do my best to match students with books that will keep them engaged, and move their comprehension forward.

                                                         VIDEOS ON LEXILE


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Benevolent Dictatorship- A Great Term For Successful Classroom Management

Dear Mrs. Farmer,

Thank you so much for improving my language and writing. You are an awesome teacher, and I hope I can be like you one day. You are so nice, and I love that you help me and push me to do my hardest! You help me use my grammar, and you tell me if my writing is good or bad. You are the best teacher ever!!!


I found this letter in my purse yesterday. I hadn't spent much time looking at it before, but there was one sentence that stood out to me.

I loved the line that is highlighted in yellow. "You are so nice, and I love that you help me and push me to do my hardest." I believe that students want us as teachers to be, what John Rosemond calls in the book, The Six Point Plan for Raising Healthy Happy Children, a "benevolent dictator".

"Authority strengthens parental love. Without the strengthening agent, love becomes indulgent and possessive, overly protective. Likewise, without the tempering effect of love, parental love becomes overbearing. Love provides meaning and a sense of belonging to a child. Love gives a child a reason to strive. Authority provides direction to a child's strivings. Love and authority are not opposite poles, but two sides of the same coin. To be authoritatively loving and lovingly authoritative--that's the balancing act parents must master. Achieving that balance is not only essential to a child's sense of security and self-esteem, it's also the key to the parent's sense of self confidence. That's what being a benevolent dictator is all about." ~ Rosemond

Over the years, as a parent, I have studied Rosemund's work a good bit. I love the term benevolent dictator and I believe that it fits for classroom management as well as parenting. First, students want teachers to lead and guide them. Students want us to be fair and weed out the miscreants in the classroom. Students want to learn, and they want to be pushed to their hardest. Finally, students want us, as their teachers, to believe in their abilities. I believe that this can be accomplished through benevolent (well meaning or kind) dictatorship (the class is ruled by the teacher).

I know dictator can seem like a harsh term, so let me illustrate it further. I love a student centered classroom. I love team building exercises such as "student contracts", but that does not mean that students run the show. I work to be at the center of everything that goes on in my classroom, and I am diligent that my students stay on task. Students must know that we, as their teachers, are in charge. But, we can accomplish this with a warm smile, and a kind voice. That is when benevolence takes place. Also, students know that I have control of the classroom. I keep them safe, and as a result they learn.

Side note: I experienced the following every single day during my full semester of student teaching. It was interesting seeing it from the student's perspective. My head hurt every single day.
Warning to New Teachers: So-- new teachers--don't fall into the trap of thinking that being the "nice teacher" means that you don't have to give students any rules, or that you should allow free time in class, or begin delving into casual conversations about what you are doing the upcoming weekend or disclosing inappropriate parts of your personal life because somehow that makes you cool. It is not cool, and the students, for the most part, will not think so either.

So, for classroom management think--benevolent dictator-- it's the way to go!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Demonstrating "The Fruits of The Spirit" in the Classroom

Galations 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

As a Christian and a teacher I want to embody Christ in my classes everyday. This is not always an easy task as any middle school teacher will tell you. But, I believe it is our duty to bring our absolute best, because that is what Christ desires.

I love the fruits of the spirit, and I keep a special bowl on my desk to remind me to illustrate them everyday.

Love: I love each of my students because I know that they are Christ's children.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Joy: Always being thankful for each day in the classroom, and remember that I have been blessed with a wonderful opportunity.

Peace: That God's peace rests within me, and I am grateful for every day that I am breathing.

Forbearance: I can remain in control and be patient with all of my students. Slow to anger.

Kindness: I'll keep smiling no matter what!

Goodness: I can offer help wherever  and whenever needed whether it be to my students or fellow teachers.

Faithfulness: I will be faithful to the purpose of God's will in my life. To educate and mentor the students in my charge.

Gentleness and Self-control: No matter what has happened or how bad the day has been I will always show gentleness and self control to my students knowing that words can pierce a child's heart forever if used wrongly.

I believe that if used everyday, the fruits of the spirit have the ability to impact many young people in phenomenal ways. My prayer is that I will never let go of them.

Inspiring Educators For The First Year Teacher

Today, I would like to share a brief post dedicated to the educators that inspire me to be better. I love them all for different reasons, but they share one thing in common: a passion to make a difference in the lives of others.

As an ELA teacher, I don't believe it gets any better than Nancie Atwell. She is amazing, and puts her students at the heart of everything she does albeit curriculum, classroom management, or instruction style. Atwell makes the most of every minute in the classroom. She organizes her materials to perfection, and is ready for her students everyday. She raises the bar significantly for all ELA teachers. I read her book In The Middle this summer and I highly recommend it.

                                         Watch these two clips of Nancie in action~

Ron Clark creates an electric energy. I love that he gets kids moving around, and he's not afraid to make a little noise. His spirit is what motivates me the most, and I love reading back over his book, The Excellent 11: Qualities Teachers and Parents Use To Motivate, Inspire, and Educate Children. Also, love that he's a Carolina boy!
Rafe Esquith is another great one. He's won multiple awards for his teaching, but no one would ever know it because he claims to just be doing his job. His website and talks inspire me to be better and push harder every day.

                                                     Check out his website at--                                                             

The principal and teachers at HCMS are another set of inspiring educators to me. I wouldn't even know about the educators that I mentioned above if it wasn't for their mentoring. Heard County Middle School offers so much for the beginning teacher and I am so proud to be a part of the school. A special thanks to Mr. Mike Roberts, who always finds a way to inspire me to be better, and another to Ms. Kim Stallings who offers any support materials that I might need including Nancie Atwell's In The Middle!

Mr. Roberts has written a great book as well. It is another inspiring read for teachers who want to make a difference.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Layers of Successful Classroom Management

A light bulb moment--Great teaching requires many layers, especially with middle grades. Adolescents are at a crossroads. They can decide to go one way (good) or another (bad). When I worked in ministry the youth director would often tell me that her favorite group to work with was the middle grades students. "Why is that?" I asked her. "Well, because I still have a shot to make a real difference in their lives. Once they hit high school, they just know it all, or at least that is what they think."

Her response comes back to my mind often as I plan and think about my instruction and classroom management. My takeaway from her response is that middle grades students want to believe that they can become someone and they are looking to us, as their teachers, to make a difference in their lives. To guide them, and create a sense of intrinsic motivation to be better people, to be leaders.

It is great to have rules for the classroom, to develop techniques like from the book Teach Like A Champion, but true teacher leadership goes even deeper than that. We must guide our students to be leaders for themselves and others. Great teaching then is developed in layers.

First Layer-- Rules and procedures for the classroom. Yes, all classrooms must have rules, and I believe that student teachers would gain tremendous confidence from Harry Wong's The First Days of School. It lays rules and procedures out clearly and concisely and Wong's techniques work for the inexperienced teacher. If a teacher does not have this first foundational layer he/she will not succeed in the classroom.

Second Layer-- Technique. Teachers should use techniques to keep kids on track during the instruction period. Techniques such as SLANT, strong voice, 100% percent, and all eyes from the book, Teach Like A Champion are great to keep the class on track. I will warn that for this to be successful in the classroom teachers must be consistent. The awesome benefits include not having to say, "SHHHH!!" "Be Quiet!!" throughout the class, which preserves teacher energy, which creates more enjoyment on the job.

Third Layer--Character Development. Middle grades teachers have a special calling here. Basic instruction is not enough. Character development is critical. This is an area that is difficult for many educators. However, I believe that teachers should read books on how to develop character in their students. Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire is a great reference for the importance of character development. He teaches his students Lawrence Kohlberg's Six Levels of Moral Development.

"I had been planning lessons around my favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird, and was reading a study guide that analyzed the novel's character in relation to Lawrence Kohlberg's Six Levels of Moral Development. I just loved it. The Six Levels were simple, easy to understand, and most important, perfectly applicable to teaching young people exactly what I wanted them to learn. I quickly incorporated the Six Levels into the class, and now they are the glue that holds it together. Trust is always the foundation, but the Six Levels are the building blocks that help  my kids grow as both students and people. I even used the Six Levels in raising my own children, and I am extremely proud of how they turned out." ~ Esquith


Excerpt from Esquith's book, Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire

I try to incorporate moral lessons throughout my teaching. My hope is that my units with have a high moral theme that will make my students think and reflect on their place in the world and how they will respond to it in a positive way. I don't preach to them, but I do guide them and ask questions. However, they come up with the discoveries themselves, which I believe is important. It creates more intrinsic motivation and internalization of moral codes within.

Fourth Layer- Developing Leaders. The final layer to classroom management is leadership development. This is when I reflect back on the statement made by the youth director. Middle grades students listen. They still believe in adults, and they are looking to us to develop them as leaders. I love the book, The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time by Stephen R. Covey. The book details case studies of schools around the world that put the 7 habits of highly effective people into action. The schools create strong visions of leadership and integrate their visions in everything they do to develop leaders in the classroom.

The 7 Habits are taught to students starting in kindergarten in very basic terms and in all varieties of ways, including through posters, stories, games, toys, movies, drama, poetry, contests, writing assignments, and art. ~ Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Habit 1: Be Proactive
I am a responsible person. I take initiative. I choose my actions, attitudes, and moods. I do not blame others for my wrong actions. I do the right thing without being asked, even when no one is looking.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
I plan ahead and set goals. I do things that have meaning and make a difference. I am an important part of my classroom and contribute to my school's mission and vision, and look for ways to be a good citizen.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
I spend my time on things that are most important. This means I say no to things I know I should not do. I set priorities, make a schedule, and follow my plan. I am disciplined and organized.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
I balance courage for getting what I want with consideration for what others want. I make deposits in others' Emotional Bank Accounts. When conflicts arise, I look for third alternatives.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
I listen to other people's ideas and feelings. I try to see things from their  viewpoints. I listen to others without interrupting. I am confident in voicing my ideas. I look people in the eyes when talking.
Habit 6: Synergize
I value other people's strengths and learn from them. I get along well with others, even people who are different from me. I work well in groups. I seek out other people's ideas to solve problems because I know that by teaming with others we can create better solutions than any one of us alone. I am humble.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
I take care of my body by eating right, exercising, and getting sleep. I spend time with family and friends. I learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school. I take time to find meaningful ways to help others.

Concluding Thoughts- This upcoming school year I hope to incorporate all of these layers together for my classes, and integrate them from the beginning. As a sixth grade teacher, I realize that I set the tone for their middle school journey. I know that this might seem overwhelming, but I believe that if taken layer by layer, we as teachers seeking excellence, can get there. It just takes time, and a concerted and consistent effort to use them everyday. Although seemingly arduous at times. I believe that the rewards are defiantly worth the effort given.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Classroom Management for Middle Grades Students

Over the last weeks I've poured over books in hopes to bring fresh ELA content into my classroom this fall, but now my mind shifts to classroom management. Excellent instruction is a great start, but a strong vision and plan for managing students is important too.

First, I will say that I am a little different than some teachers in regards to classroom management. I do not like many of the traditional methods of discipline such as point systems or checks for middle grades. For example, during my student teaching if a student misbehaved the teacher wrote a check next to his or her name. After three checks the student got after school detention. I tried something similar myself this past year trying a "three strikes your out"sticky note procedure. If the student got three sticky note warnings then they got a discipline memo. I found in both experiences that these techniques did not work with middle grades students. Adolescents are too smart. They try to use the points or sticky notes as a bargaining tool or try to push the teachers limit by seeing how many points or sticky notes he can accumulate, and usually laughing all the way. Some teachers put the students names on the board, and yes, I've tried that one too. I don't think that works either. Too many students get distracted by it, and then learning stops.

As the title of my blog states, I believe in excellence. I talk about excellence and what it means to my students often. I was not shy to point a student out in front of the class if I thought he performed a task with excellence. As a class we would talk about perseverance, and if a student demonstrated perseverance in his class work than I quickly praised his effort. The kids really responded to that method. I worked much harder to focus and put my efforts on the good than the bad. However, if a student misbehaved I was quick to act. Depending on the act it might be a quick non-verbal look, verbal reminder, or if needed, a step outside the classroom for a teacher student chat. Those techniques seemed the most successful for me, but I realize that these techniques also prove difficult if a foundation has not been laid.

So, let's talk about laying the foundation.

First, I believe that people are people whether they are 12 years old or 50 years old. We all want to be a part of something and belong. We want to excel and feel good about ourselves. We want to care for others and have others care about us. Our students are humans. Honestly, I don't think my spirit has changed much since I was 12. Yes, I am a good bit older now, and I have matured but my desires, my feelings, my person has not changed. So, it is important to remember that our students are human as well.

Therefore, to lay my foundation I start the year with a classroom contract. Middle grades students want more independence and voice in the classroom, and I believe that this is a great way to start.

I follow the technique of the classroom contract offered in the book, Discipline with Dignity by Curwin and Mendler. This text describes in detail the steps for implementing a classroom contract effectively.

I will offer a few quick steps that I use from the book:

Step One: Discuss the definition of a classroom contract with the class, and that we are coming up with the rules together.
Step Two: Brainstorm as a class what they expect from each other as classmates.
Step Three: Narrow down the suggestions to six or seven rules.
Step Four: Vote on the rules and narrow down to five rules.

These steps can be repeated for what the students expect from me as their teacher as well. I want to know what their expectations are of me.

In addition,  students can also develop the consequences to their actions with the teacher's direction.

Once the contracts are finalized, the teacher can print a large poster with the student rules and consequences and teacher rules on a large poster.

Finally, the students sign the poster. The poster can then be laminated and hung up for reference throughout the school year.

I find this to be a great team building exercise. It creates an atmosphere of team work, which I believe middle school students need and appreciate.

Another technique that I like comes from the book, The One Minute Manager. Although a book designated for business I believe it works in the classroom as well. Again, people are people, and teachers are in the developing people business.

The article below reviews the steps clearly. I believe that great leaders should praise quickly, reprimand quickly, and continue to state the vision or goal that needs to be achieved. It is so simple, but so wise.

Leadership : Book Summary: "The One Minute Manager" by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

Posted by kevinb on 9/28/11 (33870 reads)
Here's an oldie but goodie for you. Blanchard has coauthored over 30 best-selling books, including The One Minute Manager which has sold more than 13 million copies and has been translated into more than 37 languages. Kenneth T. Derr, former Chairman & CEO of the Chevron Corporation, once said of this book that "If you haven't read it, do . . . if you have, read it again." Well, I recently read it again and was reminded of its simple yet powerful messages.
In this 100-page story, a man is in search of an effective manager. Throughout his journey he learns many lessons which Blanchard and Johnson have centered on three primary areas or "secrets."
One Minute Goal Setting is the first secret and the foundation for One Minute Management. The authors advocate the 80-20 goal-setting rule: that 80% of your really important results will come from 20% of your goals. How do you get people truly excited about their work? Make it clear what is expected of them. One Minute Goal Setting is simply:
1. Agree on your goals.
2. See what good behavior looks like.
3. Write out each of your goals on a single sheet of paper using less than 250 words.
4. Read and re-read each goal, which requires only a minute or so each time you do it.
5. Take a minute every once in a while out of your day to look at your performance, and
6. See whether or not your behavior matches your goal.

One Minute Praisings is the second secret. The authors suggest that effective managers help people reach their full potential by catching them doing something right. "People who feel good about themselves produce good results." The One Minute Praising works well when you:
1. Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
2. Praise people immediately.
3. Tell people what they did right - be specific.
4. Tell people how good you feel about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there.
5. Stop for a moment of silence to let them "feel" how good you feel.
6. Encourage them to do more of the same.
7. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization.

One Minute Reprimand is the third and final secret to effective managing. "Clearly the number one motivator of people is feedback on results." Feedback is the breakfast of champions. The One Minute Reprimand works well when you:
1. Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing and in no uncertain terms.
       the first half of the reprimand:
2. Reprimand them immediately. [reprimand the behavior only, not the person or their worth]
3. Tell people what they did wrong - be specific.
4. Tell people how you feel about what they did wrong - and in no uncertain terms.
5. Stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel.
      the second half of the reprimand:
6. Shake hands, or touch them in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side.
7. Remind them how much you value them.
8. Reaffirm that you think well of them but not of their performance in this situation.
9. Realize that when the reprimand is over, it's over.

The authors write that, as a manager, there are three choices when it comes to getting the most out of an employee:
1. Hire a winner (can be hard to find and expensive to hire and keep)
2. Hire someone with potential to be a winner and then systematically train them
3. Prayer

They suggest that option 2 is best. However, isn't it ironic that most companies spend 50-70% of their money on people's salaries and yet they spend less than 1% of their budget to train their people?
It has been said that "The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people." Effective managers manage themselves and the people they work with so that both the organization and the people profit from their presence. So, in summary, how can you give yourself and others "the gift" of getting greater results in less time? 1) Set goals; 2) Praise and reprimand behaviors; 3) Encourage people; 4) Speak the truth; 5) Laugh, work, enjoy!
"Everyone is a potential winner. Some people are disguised as losers...don't let their appearance fool you."

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Leader In Me: A Teacher's Greatest Impact

In the text, The Leader in Me, Covey argues that students have several needs that must be met in order to be effective learners in the classroom.

These needs are listed as follows:
  • Physical: safety, good health, food, exercise, shelter, and hygiene
  • Socio-emotional: acceptance, kindness, friendship, the desire to love and be loved
  • Mental: intellectual growth, creativity, and stimulating challenges
  • Spiritual: contribution, meaning, and uniqueness
Covey states that many of these needs are not met in the home, so children come to school hungry for them, and in some cases practically starving. Therefore, although it might be nice for many teachers to just focus on the curriculum, it can be difficult when students are physically and emotionally hungry.

Covey argues that the spiritual need is the most important.

"But, perhaps the greatest need that teachers impact each and every day is the spiritual need. The word spiritual has its root in spirit, for which dictionaries provide many definitions, most of which are nonreligious in nature, such as "disposition of mind or outlook" or "a mental disposition characterized by firmness or assertiveness. Thesauruses likewise put forward many synonyms for spirit including disposition, courage, determination, vigor, will, moral fiber, heart, enthusiasm, innerself, fortitude, and strength. Combine the dictionary definitions with these synonyms, and that is what I am referring to here when speaking of young people's spirits, or spiritual needs." ~ Covey

In my opinion, this is called building perseverance in our students. There spirits become filled with the courage and will to continue and fight the good fight when we fill this spiritual need within them. I've heard it said many times, "You can knock me down but you can't knock me out!" I love that saying and I say to myself when the need arises.

I totally agree with Covey on developing our students' spirits. I believe that their spirits must be nurtured to achieve. This is not false praise, but teaching of determination and will. Although, this is probably one of the most difficult needs for teachers to demonstrate on a continual basis in the classroom.

Why is that? Well, because they must carry those spiritual traits themselves and bring them into the classroom every single day. That is not easy. That takes a very strong person, and someone who can continually put his or her personal problems aside to be there for the students. Although, this is difficult. I do not believe that it is impossible by any means.

Teachers should understand that teaching goes beyond the standards and the curriculum. We, as teachers seeking excellence, must dig deep, find our sources of inspiration and continue to feed our spirits so that we can be successful in the classroom. Sometimes, actually most times, we must find this inspiration on our own. No one is going to do it for us.

I feed my spirit for the classroom by reading texts about education. I pray about the success of my students, and how I can help them. I pray that my mind will stay alert to how my instruction can  make the biggest impact in the classroom. I exercise to relieve stress. I count my blessings every day, literally. Things could always be much worse. Focusing on the good, helps to overcome the bad. As a result, I feel charged up and excited to see my students, so their needs can be met everyday. It's not to say that I never stumble, but I always try to catch myself, and change my attitude as fast as I can.

So, Covey gives us all something to think about. How can we grow the spiritual needs of our students so that they become more determined to achieve academic success and reach for their dreams?

                             TED TALK: The Key to Student Success: Developing Grit

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Steven Covey: The Leader in Me

Sometimes I think I must be a little bit crazy, and I guess I am. Every time I think I'm going to take a break from reading educational texts somehow I get drawn to another one. Well, today is was Steven Covey's The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time. What a great title! How could I refuse!

Tonight, I read the first couple of chapters, honestly, it is difficult to know what to focus on as a reflection. Everything I read just popped! I thought, "yes, I agree with that...oh, I like, I really love that" and so it continued throughout my reading.

Covey offers the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but relates it to the field of education. He was inspired to write the book based on one school principal in particular who decided to use the habits as the basis of her magnet school theme. All magnet schools must have a "theme" that makes them unique. After attending a seminar by Covey, Muriel Summers, the principal of A.B. Combs Magnet School in a small town in North Carolina, decided to change the theme under the supervision of the superintendent to "leadership". Their mission continues to be "to develop leaders one child at a time."

"Soon the school had a new mission statement: To Develop Leaders One Child at a Time. They wanted the clear message sent to each child that his or her worth exceeds anything that is ever placed on any grade report or any score on a test. They wanted to ensure that no student of theirs would ever feel hopeless or desperate to consider being a part of any action so tragic as those at Columbine. And those are the reasons, the purposes, and the account behind how and why "leadership" was chosen as the school's new magnet theme and how the early seeds of success took root at A.B. Combs. Leadership was the umbrella term they would encompass the many character traits and basic life competencies that parents. business leaders, educators, and even students were all voicing in common." ~ Covey

Covey goes on by stating that although it is great to think about the future. How does these leadership attitudes apply to right now--today?

"I can say with confidence that most executives are more concerned about today's bottom line than they are about tomorrow's workforce. Surely most young people are far more interested in "What's for lunch today? or "Who will I hang out with after school today?" than they are about what company will hire them out of college. That is exactly why I believe that parents, teachers, business leaders, and even students are enthused about what is happening at A.B. Combs and these other schools. Not only are they teaching skills that will impact students' futures, but they are teaching skills and principles that are making an immediate impact, today. Students are making better choices, today. And, that, in my opinion, is what stakeholders want most from a school, and why so many people feel this is the right thing to be doing." ~ Covey

I have read and listened to Covey's work many times, for my own personal growth or my families growth, but I never thought about it in context of the classroom. I do believe that I have illustrated some of these character traits with my students.  However,  I love the idea of making an intentional effort to foster leadership in my students by developing and delivering instruction that connects and builds strong foundations of personal growth that results in strong academic achievement.

If these habits were valued, modeled, and implemented by teachers, I believe that there would be very few discipline problems in the classroom. The vision is so intentional, so acute. I cannot wait to read the case studies further tomorrow.