Change the World With Kindness

I know we are all affected by the most recent school shooting in Florida and those events have prompted anger, outrage, debate and discussion throughout the world.  If you haven’t already had a discussion with your students, don’t be afraid to allow the conversation to work itself into your class or even set class aside to hear your students.  It is vitally important that you truly hear them – and that students know you’re listening and that you care.

At times, students (and even teachers) come to the office after they have a conflict with a peer and most of the time someone’s feelings have been hurt and kids don’t know how to deal with the hurt feelings themselves and/or the guilt and responsibility of having hurt someone else’s feelings so they continue this cycle of one-upping someone until they’ve spun the conflict out of control and it’s too much even for them to understand.  As an adult looking in at the conflict, it seems complete nonsense, hardly comprehensible.  To the adolescent, however, the conflict is an all-consuming distraction that disrupts personal security, confidence, and rational thinking (not to mention learning).

Most recently, I worked with two young ladies who had hardly ever spoken to one another, despite having shared a class for half the school year.  Yet, here they were, enraptured by an all-consuming conflict, each dragging along friends and parents to witness and encourage or diffuse the conflict.  (Note that if any of those parties was effective at diffusing the conflict, it wouldn’t have come to me.)  It is hard to understand then, how two girls who had never spoken, not even on social media, could become embroiled in a hateful conflict.  It is hard to understand until you dig into the peer perpetuation of nonsensical drama (it is still really hard to understand) whereupon you begin to understand the power of peers and gossip and how easy (and fun for some) it is to spread lies.  The saddest part of this is that two young ladies, who are both charismatic and friendly, who share common interests, will miss out on friendship or even a good acquaintance, because other people, seemingly friends, spew ugliness and rumors about the other which are completely unfounded and petty.

Really, who can blame them?  This nonsensical conflict is just a reflection of life in today’s society.  One can look at our recent political climate and our President’s tweets, the social media popularity of a Kardashian who is famous only for drama, or look at television and the latest Housewives of Pick-a-City where women feud over the most ridiculous first world problems…or the Bachelor where the cattiest woman often wins what we know to be the temporary affections of some pretty, yet morally vile, young man.  There really are few celebrated examples of women, or anyone for that matter, supporting one another.

I go through all this to share the simplest message in working with these students:  Listen and be kind.  Listen – we have to listen, even if the story is long and can’t be followed.  Try to make sense of their story – and their feelings.  They need help understanding their own feelings and that it’s okay to feel more than one feeling about the same person, event, or idea.  Don’t just be kind, but teach kindness.  Kindness can be as simple – and EASY – as a smile.  Just smile.  It makes you feel better and makes everyone around you feel better.  Start with you – spread it to your family…your classes…to our school…to our community…   Kindness is the best way to immediately and positively impact the world around you.

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Tips for Keeping Your Cool

As we wind our way into the third quarter, snow days and delays can wreak havoc on your plans…and students’ behavior.  With no lengthy Spring Break to look forward to, it’s important to build community in your classroom, to have everyone working together to learn, get along – and stay sane.

This month, I was inspired by Education Update’s article, “Stay Calm and Teach On” which outlined some classroom management tips to help you keep your cool.  The major take-aways for me were as follows:

  1. If you have a management plan that’s working for you and your students, stick with it and don’t let up!  Consistency is key – when everyone knows what to expect, stick to the plan.
  2. When you issue a consequence or redirect behavior, don’t wait for a student’s reaction.  Give the consequence or state the expectation and move on.  The student will choose to meet the expectation or not.  If you stand and wait for a reaction, this can create a stand-off where you and the student will publicly struggle for power.  No one wins in a stand-off.  If you walk away and the student makes the right choice – win, win!  If you walk away and the student doesn’t comply – this if often a sign you need to get to know each other better…in private.  This can also be a win-win.
  3. Don’t be afraid to reset classroom rules and expectations, especially if your plan isn’t working as you’d hoped.  Provide a rationale for the reset:  “We’ve been on break…”  “Too many snow days…”  or “This just isn’t working for us anymore…”  Connect your reset to classroom goals:  “We need to nail down classroom routines and expectations so we can meet our learning goals.  We’re only 14 days from our unit test and we need to crush it!”

For more management techniques to keep your cool, check out the article here:  Stay Calm and Teach On

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Slow and Steady – Stay Consistent

Happy Hanukkah to all those celebrating tonight and in the coming days!  We’re cruising right through December!  I know for me, preparing for the most wonderful time of the year is just about the most stressful time of the year!  Work doesn’t slow down – lessons still need to be prepared, papers graded, phone calls made…kids’ activities are still going, homework still happens, laundry still happens, the family still needs to eat – never mind decorating, shopping, wrapping, and baking!  A good snow storm that puts a hold on all the craziness is just what is needed to settle the family by the fire to prepare for holiday cheer.

As we prepare for holiday traditions, keep in mind that our students may be facing a first holiday away from “home” and away from friends and loved ones.  Students and families may be facing hardships that prevent them from celebrating with decorations, baking, gift-giving, or large family meals.  As much wonder and celebration some students feel this time of year, others find this time of year extremely difficult and these feelings can show up in students’ poor choices and unwanted behavior – love them anyway.

All of our students need us all – teachers and staff – to remain consistent in preparing quality lesson plans, sticking to classroom and school procedures, and addressing students’ inconsistencies.  A little extra kindness can’t hurt either.  Don’t forget to be kind to yourselves also – you can’t be good to your family and your students if you’re not good to yourself!  For some tips on being kind to yourself this holiday season, check out this article from NEA:

It’s almost the holidays. A break is so close you can practically feel it. Right?  Sure, it’s considered a break, but let’s be real—the holidays are hectic! They’re stressful, sometimes complicated and wonderful … all at the same time. Which is why we decided to put together the ten best tips for surviving the holidays, with the help of NEA Member Benefits. Teachers need to get more out of their much-deserved time off. We hope these tips will get you started!


  1. Say no to diets. If there’s any time to indulge, it’s during the holidays. You can finally enjoy the delicious hot cider and lattes your heart desires, without worrying about non-existent bathroom breaks. And the pies! Let’s not forget about the pies. You don’t have to give up any of these sweet treats with this easy-to-follow game plan to keep holiday weight gain at bay.
  2. Plan your indoor workouts. Winter is coming! If you’re an outdoor walker or jogger, it may be time for you to move your workout indoors. Try one of these fitness ideas that require little space and no equipment.
  3. Don’t sabotage your health with holiday buffets. Here’s a tip to make sure you don’t overeat when you’re face-to-face with a buffet: Tour the table first, and choose wisely. Also, contribute your own healthy holiday recipes like this quick white bean dip or quinoa confetti.


  1. Avoid seasonal sickness. Viruses like the common cold and flu thrive during the winter months. Don’t spend your long-awaited break cooped up inside with the sniffles. Here’s what you need to know about the most common seasonal threats and how to prevent them.
  2. Stay positive when it’s dark and gloomy. Long, dark, dreary days can certainly put you into a funk (we know firsthand). Don’t let it happen! Boost your mood with laughter—try watching a comedy or simply getting together with friends. Anything that elicits a good laugh is time well spent.


  1. Verify a charity’s legitimacy before donating. ‘Tis the season of giving, and many of you are probably considering donating to a charity or family in need this holiday season. Just make sure you do your research to avoid scams and losing your hard-earned money. Here are the things you need to know before you write a check for charity.
  2. Save big. If you’re an NEA member, there are tons of savings and giveaways available just for you this holiday season—get your hands on them here.
  3. Get rewarded for holiday shopping. It’s the happiest time of the year, but the holidays are expensive! These 10 tips for finding rewards programs will help you wrap up your holiday shopping for less.


  1. Ditch the guilt. Listen closely: You don’t have to choose between being a good teacher and being a good parent. You can be both. Use your holiday break to look ahead at busy times of the school year, like when report cards are due, and make plans ahead of time. Line up babysitters to help relieve stress, and do your best to not feel guilty about it. Also try any of these helpful tips to find balance.
  2. Pamper, pamper, pamper. This will be your favorite, and arguably the most important, tip we can share. Use winter break for “me time” with these fun ideas. You’ve worked hard and need a break to recharge your batteries—it will benefit your family and your students. Try taking a nap (because you can!) or skip your morning java for an herbal pick-me-up by adding 1 or 2 drops of essential oil of peppermint to a cup of peppermint tea.

Here’s to a relaxed and stress-free holiday season, teachers. Take care of yourselves! You deserve it.


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Gratitude – A Way of Life

I hope you’ve all had a restful Thanksgiving and found time to spend with family and friends.   While good health, family, and friends are high on the list of that for which I’m thankful, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my work family as well.  I’m truly grateful to work with professionals who are so caring and dedicated to their students.  I’m grateful for our students and the resilience and energy they bring to life and education.  It is such an opportunity to touch young people’s lives in the ways we do – thank you for all you do to teach, support, console, and counsel our students!

This time of year, it’s easy to reflect and consider all that we’re thankful for, but there is plenty of research that positively correlates gratitude with health and happiness.  Gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.  In Forbes magazine, Amy Morin reveals these seven benefits of living a life of gratitude:

1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2014 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or you send a quick thank-you note to that co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

2. Gratitude improves physical healthGrateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health.  They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.

3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

5. Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.

6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem- grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.  A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.

We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have – rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.

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You Don’t Have to Go Fast, But You Can’t Stand Still…

We blinked and the first quarter has ended!  By now you’ve had a chance to settle into routines and made real progress in establishing relationships with students.  There may be some habits students have settled into that you want to undo.  While it’s never too late to regroup with your students and start a new practice or routine, research shows that forming a new habit will take 15 attempts before you or others internalize the action; if you’re replacing an old habit with a new one, it can take as many as 30 attempts with the new behavior before it becomes a habit.  So be patient when trying things for the first time – give yourself a break and know new habits don’t form easily.

These routine-setting stats will be important to remember when you’re trying out new literacy strategies or responsive teaching strategies, but know you’re not alone in implementing them.   All of your colleagues will be finding the best ways to implement these strategies too – this teamwork approach makes those 15-30 attempts go by much more quickly if everyone is consistent in using the same strategies.  It will take everyone’s persistence and consistency if we are to truly change instruction and improve literacy outcomes for our students.

In the coming days, your department chairperson will be talking with you about, not only literacy strategies, but six specific teacher actions you can work on to make your instruction more responsive to students’ needs:

  1. Using word walls and visuals effectively
  2. Developing expectations, routines, and procedures for TSGI
  3. Utilizing formative assessment to adjust instruction
  4. Implement TSGI based on formative assessment data
  5. Provide meaningful opportunities for students to read, write, and discuss; implement literacy strategies
  6. Utilize success criteria in the formative assessment process, including opportunities for feedback through peer and self-assessment.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your colleagues and find out who the experts are – go see them teach.  Find out who the novices are – go see them teach.  If you’re an expert (or slightly comfortable!), find out who the novices and other experts are – work with them.  If you’re a novice, find a group of novices and work on actions together.  It’s okay to be where you are, but you can’t stay there.  Set goals and make a plan to work on one action at a time.  Everyday is a new chance at improving.


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Student Empowerment

As we enter the second month of school, I’ve had a chance to talk with many of you about your goals for the year and hear what you want for yourselves and your students.  So many of us have talked about the desire to see students take responsibility for their learning and truly engage.  No doubt, increasing student autonomy and ownership of learning is a work in progress, nation-wide.   The good news is there are some easy steps you can take to help build these habits in students.

When we explore responsive instruction and attempt to meet students where they are, this requires a bit of metacognition on the part of students.  Before they can buy-in, they not only need to understand what they’ll be expected to know and do in terms of skills and process, but they also need to know where they stand now.  Students tell me they appreciate “I Can” statements more than lesson objectives because they’re often written more simply and students can see a progression of skills and concepts among them.  (This doesn’t mean you should ditch objectives.)  Students can pick out “I Can” statements to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, but sometimes need help aligning the statement to specific tasks or applications they might perform in class.

Another great way to improve student autonomy is through the use of rubrics and success criteria.  Students not only reported greater understanding of tasks when given a rubric, but teachers reports greater time-on-task for students when students referenced a high-quality rubric.  When a peer is involved in assessing one’s work against a rubric, student-ownership and attention to quality increases two-fold.  Crafting a quality rubric or set of success criteria is also easier said than done.  If you’re not sure of the quality of your rubric, test it out on your students – their feedback, and the quality of their initial work, will give you a good idea about how to improve it.

For some other ideas about empowering students to take ownership in learning, check out this article summary from The Marshall Memo and consider how you can build lesson-closure routines around this teachers’ idea:

Getting Students Actively Involved in Consolidating Their Learning

In this article in The Reading Teacher, Kathy Ganske (Vanderbilt University) recalls that when she was in elementary school, her father would ask almost every evening what she’d learned in school that day. Knowing the question was coming, she recalls, “I kept my eyes and ears open throughout the day for potential candidates for demonstrating understanding…”

When she became a teacher, Ganske began to ask her students as they waited for their afternoon buses what new ideas, concepts, facts, or processes they would share with someone at home. “At first, students were slow to generate responses,” she says, “but that gradually changed. In anticipation of the talk, they sifted through our day’s journey, as evidenced by the occasional announcement of ‘I’m going to hang on to that one!’ that punctuated our classroom learning. The end-of-day wrap-up provided a satisfying sense of closure, and the recap of learning made students aware of what they’d accomplished.”

A few years later, Ganske took this a step further: her second graders began to publish a Friday parent newsletter of the week’s learning dubbed The Koko Report (in honor of the class’s bake sale support of Koko the gorilla and the Gorilla Foundation). It emerged from a meeting on the carpet in which Ganske jotted key content areas on chart paper, had students suggest other events – field trips, visitors, special projects, birthdays – and together they constructed a web of the week’s learning. Initially students had difficulty remembering what had happened during the week, but the routine improved their ability to retrieve information from several days ago. “[U]nless we make a conscious effort to help them solidify their learning,” says Ganske, “they may lose a great deal of it.”

Next, students signed up as “reporters” to write brief articles, working in groups of two or three or occasionally solo. “The talk and recording of information jump-started and deepened students’ recollections of our week,” says Ganske, “and the web provided support for their beginning writing skills, as did the discussion and feedback that took place in the small groups.” Students brought their reports to Ganske, who typed them on a blank newsletter template. After a group edit and the addition of a few teacher comments for parents and guardians, the Koko Report was photocopied and sent home. The whole workshop took 45-60 minutes.

Convinced of the value of daily or weekly closure/remembering/consolidating, Ganske researched the topic and was surprised to find that very few studies had been done to document its impact. “We need to be sure we plan time to cycle back to the what, why, and how of students’ learning to help them actively synthesize the parts into a whole,” she concludes. “Lesson closure provides space for students to digest and assimilate their learning and to realize why it all matters.”

“Lesson Closure: An Important Piece of the Student Learning Puzzle” by Kathy Ganske in The Reading Teacher, July/August 2017 (Vol. 71, #1, p. 95-100),; Ganske can be reached at

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Welcome Back!

We’re back in full swing and it feels great to hear the buzz of students and see the excitement on their faces.  Each school year brings an opportunity for students and staff alike to hit the restart button and get a fresh chance at building healthy habits, forging lasting relationships, and being a better student, teacher, learner.  Over the last few days, I’ve had conversations with students and teachers about their goals and what makes this year one of redefinition.

Consider the student whose middle school experience was characterized by average achievement, boredom, struggle to get along with peers, and the angst and anxiety of dealing with her parents’ separation.  Enter ninth grade:  “I don’t know that many kids here, but it’s okay; I didn’t have many friends in my old school anyway.  Everyone in high school has been so nice and there are actually kids who will look at me and help me find a classroom.  The teachers have been nice too.  No one has even yelled at kids…not yet.  I don’t think I have a teacher who would yell, well I don’t know yet.  And I can take art…and dance in the same year.  I LOVE to dance and everyone in dance seems so friendly and they all love dance too.”  How can you help this student make the most of her reinvention?  What supports will she need?

Consider the student who is in her third year, but has credits enough to be only a sophomore.  She’s been in three schools and assigned to home teaching in only two years.  While there’s no doubt some of those school placements have come as the result of poor decisions on her part, others are the result of the family moving to a new area.  In just two years, the family has had to move three times – pack up all your belongings, move into a new room, new neighborhood; make new friends; get along with new teachers.  “Friends” in most of those neighborhoods only wanted to be friends (or enemies) because she isn’t afraid to stand up for, even fight for, herself or her friends.  Her family and those who are real friends know her to be creative, take initiative, and demonstrate a keen business sense.  After all, she makes and sells her own jewelry and promotes local music and rap shows which draw hundreds of people – all using social media (for all the right reasons).  How can we guide this student to the academic success she’s certainly capable of?  How can we help her harness that initiative and intelligence to remake a junior year colleges will fight for?

Consider the veteran teacher who has always been successful, meticulously planned, and has great relationships with colleagues, students, and families.  She’s feeling as though it’s getting harder and harder to relate to students raised on instant gratification, on sound-bites of information on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat – where people are, let’s face it, often ill-informed – and mean.  She’s reinventing her approach too – “I’m making small groups work for me.  Not only does it make sense as students come to me with varying skills and degrees of understanding, but it helps me get to know kids in smaller settings.  That wouldn’t have happened in the past when I taught to the whole class the entire period.”  How can we, as peers, support and encourage her to be persistent, keep learning and trying new things?  How can you change some of your own practices to make a new difference?

Consider the first year teacher, fresh out of college, ready to change the world?  She’s not only figuring out best practices for planning and managing a classroom, but let’s toss in BCPS One LMS, SIS, Instructional Tools, Digital Tools, Microsoft 365…  “All that is a piece of cake – the technology makes sense to keep everything organized and efficient.  It’s learning the curriculum and trying to gauge what will interest my students that I think about most – and I think grading will take up time later too.  I’m just trying to plan the best lesson every day – and not have too much or too little planned.  I figure it out more every day.”  How can we help this teacher maintain her eagerness to change the world while supporting her in forming quality planning habits and instructional practices?

It’s an exciting time, for sure!  While there isn’t necessarily one of us who has all the answers to the questions posed above, together we can find solutions.  Here’s to fresh start and an excellent school year!



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