Peers Review and They Said What?!   February 25, 2017   Comments Off on Peers Review and They Said What?!

It’s nearly time for the annual Alaskan sled dog race from Anchorage, (or Fairbanks as it is this year) to Nome! This 1000 mile race challenges teams consisting of a musher and his or her sled dogs to run through the scenic, natural, dangerous, and frozen land of the Great Last Frontier of Alaska.  This amazing race is carefully planned and supervised by professional dog sled racers, veterinarians, and Alaskans. It honors the history of working dogs in the state, the native lands and people, and those that have gone before.

I love using this event as a teaching tool in my classroom. The pure adventure of it, and love of animals, engages students in learning in ways unlike any other.  In my previous post, Teaching with Sled Dogs, I talk about the history of the race, the amazing men and women who compete, the thrilling event, and how I teach through it.   I’ve made several teaching resources that you may find beneficial to your own teaching. But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s some things your peers are saying:

“I can’t even explain how awesome this resource is. It has everything you need!” Elizabeth S.

“This is exactly what our special education class needed for a unit on the Iditarod. The activities are easily applicable”  SpEdtacular Resources

“This is seriously amazing!!!!” Kimrich33

“Hands down, the Iditarod unit is the favorite every year, and this will add so much to what we do! Thanks!” Linda T.

“Everything I could hope for.” Melissa I

“Love this resource! Saved me a ton of time and work! I will use this year after year!” Heather S.

“Thanks for these activities! My first graders loved them!” Lucy M

“We do a small unit on the Iditarod each year and this provided a great supplement to the unit! The kids enjoyed it too. Amy K

“This was very helpful for our Iditarod unit. A lot of student engagement. So easy to use!” Deb B

“Thanks! This was one more way to bring the fun of the Iditarod in the classroom!” Melissa B

“So many fun activities and useful items in this!” Deborah R

“Was an excellent addition to our study of the Iditarod!” Jodi M

Now how about some links? :

So, come on! Mush into the adventure and learn about the Iditarod! It’s the Last Great Race!

Teachers’ Keeper




It’s SALE Time!   February 5, 2017   Comments Off on It’s SALE Time!

Come and join me in finding and purchasing great teaching resources at a great bargain.  Shop the February TeachersPayTeachers sale on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 7-8.  Use the Code: LOVETpT for up to 28% off those items on sale.

Teaching with Sled Dogs   January 15, 2017   Comments Off on Teaching with Sled Dogs


brochure.pic1“The Last Great Race” takes place in Alaska each winter.  Numerous strong and amazing men and women gear up their sleds and tether in their dogs in order to mush from Anchorage to Nome.  The race was created in the 1973, in memory of the great race to bring back serum to Nome after diphtheria threatened to wipe them out and to commemorate the use of dog sleds throughout Alaska’s history.  The official Iditarod website, www., states:

“The Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, had its beginnings as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast communities of Unalakleet, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and Nome. Mail and supplies went in. Gold came out. All via dog sled. Heroes were made, legends were born.

In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in; again by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs.

The Iditarod is a commemoration of those yesterdays, a not-so-distant past that Alaskans honor and are proud of.”

I was first introduced to the Iditarod when my family moved to Alaska in 1976.  Coming from a southern state, the event was unlike anything I had ever heard of.  Not only was it new and exciting, the event was grounded in a completely new culture for me. With our first year in Alaska, my family bundled up and ventured out to see the start of the race as it began on 4th Ave in downtown Anchorage.  I distinctly remember watching the dogs get so excited to be going.  They were barking and jumping, and ready to run.  There was no forcing these great athletes to go.  As soon as the driver was ready, the dogs ran!  They ran for the love of it and for the love of their driver.

I’ve come to respect this race a great deal and later learned about the Yukon Quest (an 1000 mile international race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse, Canada).  They are definitely unlike any other sport most fans/spectators cheer for in the lower 48 (also known as the 48 contiguous states).  I know that there are many that may be against this type of race, calling it inhumane to the dogs.  Yet, I have seen how these men and women care for, live for, respect, and love these canine athletes.  The mushers will voluntarily withdraw from the race if it is in the best interest of their dogs.  There are voluntary veterinarians all along the 1000+ mile trail inspecting the dogs and monitoring their health.  There are also members of the Iditarod and Yukon Quest committees that watch closely, and who will not tolerate any mistreatment of the dogs.  These races do not carry the same kind of cold-hearted competition that you may find in other sports.

Anyway, where I work now, students have had no experience with this culture or this sport.  When I introduce it in winter, the students become quite interested.  I believe, it is the unique qualities that this race holds that brings about new or renewed excitement about learning.  For that, I am absolutely thrilled.

My school district pushes for the improvement of test scores, like school districts all over our country. I believe we do need to push higher and expect more of our students.   So we work rigorously on our math and reading skills.  Sometimes there is little-to-no room for anything else.  But this kind of schooling can stop the love of learning for many students.  Research has shown us that we must differentiate our teaching; we must teach to the different learning styles and levels.  But when we are consistently pushing “fidelity to the curriculum” we can take out the fun of school.  Research has also shown us that if there is not some sort of positive feeling about the lesson or the activity, a student will not learn it…forever.

With that in mind, I take a couple of weeks in February or March to teach students about the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest. I still keep in mind the required standards that our students are expected to meet as I create my lesson plans. I won’t ignore those just so that we can do something fun.  Yet, there is so much we can do with this event to tie it to the standards.  Students can learn about scientific observation as they experiment with different types of insulation materials that a musher might use in his/her gloves.  There is a great deal of math that can be learned such as calculating miles per hour, time elapsed from one check point to another, poundage of food, temperature measurement, and problem solving.  For Language Arts students can write a narrative pretending to be a volunteer, musher, dog, or newscaster.  They can write a letter to mushers, volunteers, or organizers.  Poetry may be written about the race, Aurora Borealis, or the power of the dogs. New vocabulary will be gained.  Close reading and research opportunities are available as well conventions practice There are many books about the Iditarod or the history, such as: “Balto” by Natalie Standiford, “Iditarod Memories” by Jon Van Zylet, “Douggie” by Pam Flowers, and many more that can be used in book clubs, read alouds, and other comprehension activities.  Readers Theater activities can be practiced and performed in order to improve reading fluency. The students may also learn about geography, history, art, music, physical education, character education, and more.  In fact, with cooperation from Target stores, the Iditarod also has a “Teacher on the Trail” program in which a teacher is selected to spend time at the start of the race, at various checkpoints, and finally at Nome; all the while gathering more to use in future lessons, answering questions from students around the world, blogging, and even sharing with Alaskans various things that others far from Alaska have created.

But what about students I work with?  I love to start with having students randomly selected a musher from the list of teams.  For primary students, I might have one team selected for the whole class to follow.  We then follows the status of the selected team/s, write about the dogs and the scenery, and learn about diagrams through images of huskies, sleds, or the dog team. We even play a game with our sight words that uses a sled dog theme. Sled Game Multi use Cover  We work on poems and similes as well as engage in morning math problem solvers related to the race.  Our reading selections are related as well. To finish, we might create a brochure or trifold with facts about the race.   coverWhat excites me is the thrill that the students show each morning as we begin our Iditarod or Yukon Quest lessons.  Older students can’t wait to get on the computer to check the day’s stats. If you purchase a site license to you can follow the mushers via GPS.  At the time of this posting, the Yukon Quest provides Live Tracking and takes donations.  I love that!  In addition, the students’ writing often improves immensely because they are engaged and enthusiastic.  They want to know more. This kind of enthusiasm in class doesn’t regularly occur when I am solely teaching the adopted curriculum to its fidelity.

I’ve created several resources that offer a multitude of activities and lessons.  Some are geared for primary students while others are more for intermediated grades.  Two of those resources are linked above.  I have larger units for each race that provide a plethora of learning opportunities and idea. Slide1Interm. Cover

SMART Bd Iditarod 2017


Now, I respect my administration and will continue to teach to my district’s adopted curriculum, but I would like to also continue to use the Iditarod and Yukon Quest lessons.  They not only engage my students in a new way, but they share culture, and history that my students may otherwise  have not  experienced.

I am glad that I lived in Alaska and was introduced to Alaskans and their amazing, unique culture and traditions.  It has truly enriched my life.

Eleven Ways to De-stress During Testing Season   January 14, 2017   Comments Off on Eleven Ways to De-stress During Testing Season

Portrait Of Stressed Young BoyIt’s standardized testing season.  Unlike Mother Nature’s seasons, this season is not looked forward to, especially by educators.  You can turn to just about any Facebook page, Twitter feed, or blog of an educator and find some negative comment about these high stakes tests.  Many are even going to their legislatures and those in charge to share their concerns and frustrations.  But I’m not here to write about all the things we dislike about standardized testing.

Instead, I’m writing about how we can help our students decompress from the intense, often very left-brained, thinking that comes from the hours of standardized testing in the classroom.  Though we may not like these tests, we know they are going to happen for now.  So, I’d like to share with you some activities that will engage the right-brained thinking as well as engaging students in kinesthetic and emotional de-stressors.  These can be used after the test is over or during a short breaks that you might provide for your students.

  1. Daydream: As your students finish their test or take their break, hand them a slip of paper that allows them to just dream. You could give them a prompt such as, “Imagine that you are a superhero or unique animal.” or simply state, “Now is your time to dream.” Let your students minds drift to something of delight for themselves.
  2. Walk or skip around: Our brains need oxygen to think and when we walk or skip around, it forces us to increase our oxygen intake. The Director of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, Andrew Scholey, at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England states that a dose of oxygen or glucose can improve performance on tasks that require great mental effort,” In addition, exercise prompts the brain to create endorphins and these endorphins are natural mood enhancing hormones. (
  3. Have a snack: First of all, know your students’ allergens and never offer food without consenting parents. That being said, berries and oranges are full of vitamin C and can help to reduce stress. Walnuts have been found to keep stress hormones in check. Other ideas might be cheese sticks, celery, peanut butter, pretzels, or other nuts.
  4. Eat Chocolate: Studies have shown that eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate, reduces stress hormones. The glucose may aid in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical known to raise a person’s emotional state.
  5. Draw: Drawing engages many parts of the right side of your brain. It also helps to take your mind off the things that might be increasing your logical thinking. When you are drawing you’re focused on the project in front of you and not on the hard work or problem solving. Art increases relaxation, enjoyment, and positive thoughts. To engage my students in this I’ve created a set of doodle and, what I call, creativity collage pages. Rocks
  6. Chat about anything but the test: During these standardized tests, our students are not allowed to talk. They sit for hours in silence expect to perhaps say, “I’m done.” Or “Can I go to the bathroom?” When your students are on a break or the whole class is finished, let them chat. But there should be one rule: No talking about the test. Not only is that a rule of these secure tests, but getting your students to talk about anything else is better for their break from the intense thinking involved throughout the testing period.
  7. Deep breathing exercises: You’ve probably heard this one a lot. In fact, you might just be one who uses this regularly. But it bodes well to include it here because it is so beneficial and regularly agreed upon as a stress reducer. (See notes above about getting oxygen to the brain.)
  8. Watch a funny movie: I know this one won’t work in many classrooms as there are regulations about movies in the classroom, but try watching a funny clip or short movie.   I’ve included some funny snippets here but I’m sure you have some favorites of your own that would be appropriate for your classroom.:; (Mahna Mahna); ;
  9. Play a game: There are so many great games out there. A quick game of tic-tac-toe, to good ol’ Heads Up 7 Up, or other games you play with your students can definitely break up the intensity of testing days.
  10. Dance: Dance has been proven to be a great energizer and re-newer of spirits. Not to mention how the kids love to laugh at our crazy “teacher moves”. Many of my colleagues are using for some terrific brain breaks. The kids have a lot of fun.
  11. Play: Get out the Playdoh™, Legos ™, or bubbles. I wouldn’t use these until all the class is finished, as I don’t want kids to finish early just so that they can play with the cool stuff on the table, but what a great way to end the day.

For many of us, the standardized tests are here and we have to get our students through them. There will be a lot of left-brain thinking, problem solving, text synthesizing, and the increased depth of knowledge questions being answered. Some students (and teachers) will take it in stride and others will stress. Let’s give our classrooms something positive to take away from the testing season. Maybe the season won’t be as obnoxious as its reputation.

Creativity in the Classroom   September 18, 2016   Comments Off on Creativity in the Classroom
Primary school children work together in class, close up

Being creative as a group may be easier than trying to think of something original on his/her own


“I’m not very creative.”  This easily may be a frequent thought for several of our students, especially those who generally prefer to work alone.  These students, whose strongest learning style is Mastery, like to work with logic and structure.  Creativity may feel as foreign as planet Mars.  But have you ever thought that perhaps we, teachers, have been contributing to this negative expression through our instructions and assignments?  You see, many teachers give an assignment to individuals and simply say, “Just be creative.”  The student asks, “How?” or states, “But, I’m not very creative.”  Fortunately, we can make changes and help our conventional thinkers turn to more unconventional notions.

Dr. Art Costa tells us that creativity is a means that we all have inside and that we just need to learn to unloose it (Laureate, 1996).  Children have creativity.  We see it on the playground and in backyards everywhere.  Yet it seems that some have learned to bind it during school hours; others might have trouble accessing it due to biological challenges.  Those that have learned this constriction place expectations of logic and control on themselves and their situations, thus hindering potential innovations.  For these students, we can use others to loosen the strings of restraint.

By having our students work with others they can bounce ideas off each other, generate new ideas together, bring out each other’s strengths, and find that being creative as a group may be easier than trying to think of something original on his/her own (Laureate, 1996).  Sometimes all a creativity-bound student needs is a jumpstart.  By talking, brainstorming, and problem solving for a short time, the creative juices get flowing and turn to a boil.  At other times our independent students may need the support of their group from beginning through to the completion of the project.  When we provide these opportunities we can help our students to become more creative and more self-confident in their creative abilities.

In my classroom we would a significant amount of time throughout the school year learning about various cultures.   The different cultures were introduced and examined through interviews, videos, projects, a mock trip around the world, and through literature.  One text that we read was Yoshiko Uchida’s The Rooster Who Understood Japanese (Uchida, 1976). In the story, a Japanese lady, Mrs. K., and her assorted pets live next to a young Japanese girl and her mother.  A problem arises when a new neighbor complains about the lady’s pet rooster crowing in the morning, and he threatens to call the police.  The young girl comes up with a clever idea to solve the problem.

Before my class gets to the end of the story, and the solution to the problem, I would stop and engage my students in working together to devise their own solutions to the problem, being mindful of cultural differences, traditions, respectfulness, and needs.  After I being certain that the students understand the problem and its limitations, the students were assigned to small groups of three or four.  They were instructed to work together in order to present a unique solution to Mrs. K.’s problem.  At that point I wouldn’t guide their thinking other than to ask, “If you were Mrs. K.’s neighbors, what would your group suggest as a solution to this problem?”  The students are expected to work cooperatively to not only create a solution, but to creatively present the solution to the rest of the class as well.

At this point, students often began to ask questions for clarification or direction.  My answers provided limitations to classroom routines, time constraints, and redirection to discussions with their group members.  In this pre-problem solving time the students were not limited in ideas, other than to say that things must be appropriate for a school setting, and adhere to the context of the story.

Students usually begin by talking and brainstorming.  When I noticed my independent students not participating, I often would encourage their peers to invite them into the conversations.  (Using accountable talk would be a helpful element in this discussion time.)  The children gather together and discuss the various possibilities.  Sometimes groups chose to record their ideas with pencil and paper, and some did not.  For some groups, the ideas seemed to pop like popcorn, fast and furious, while others worked like delicious maple syrup.  It may have needed a little squeeze or change of angle, and it came out slowly, but it was a wonderful result.

Once the group had agreed on a solution, they needed to work together again, brainstorming, thinking, and planning to determine a unique way to present the solution to the rest of the class.  Presentations could be posters, a visual sample, dramatic play, a mock petition, a group explanation with questions and answers, or any number of other ideas.  For some children the lack of limitations might have been overwhelming.  In such cases I might have limited supplies to those found in the classroom.  I also might also limit the time to two or three class sessions.  Dr. Costa (Laureate, 1996) suggests that sometimes limiting materials is an appropriate instructional practice that fosters creativity.  Yet sometimes opening up the possibilities can work equally well.  I see this to be true when we engage in STEM challenges too.

When my students participated and worked together, they came up with various ideas; many of which I probably wouldn’t have thought of.  Sometimes my Mastery/independent workers would get an idea after a brainstorming session and then chose to complete the idea and presentation on their own.  I was completely fine with that.  I wanted them to not only determine a possible solution to the story’s problem, but be willing to consider ideas that may not have seemed logical and structured.  They don’t have to use the unstructured, out-of-the-box idea of a group, but they should be respectful to hear ideas and be inspired by them.  I must say that I never had a group not come up with an idea, though I have had individuals that really struggled with the lack of structure and fell into ideas that showed their lack of comfort or confidence with the task.  It was those situations in which I had to intervene and coach more, encouraging and pushing the child to put themselves in the shoes of one of the characters, or to let them select a peer/group’s idea that they would agree to take a truly supporting role in the idea.  Eventually they would come up with an idea that we could both agree was appropriate or they would join another peer/group.

Activities similar to the one mentioned here, allow the children to see that there can be more than one way to solve a problem, engaging their flexibility (Costa, Kallick, 2000).  It can also give the self-doubting student a safe environment in which to let loose his/her creativity, imagination, and ideas, which in turn may build his/her confidence.  When that confidence is built he/she may change his/her thinking from “I’m not creative.” To “I can try to think of something different.”

It’s important to allow students to work creatively for several reasons.  Much of school is logical, sequential, verbal or linguistic.  Our self-expressive learners (Silver, et. al.2000) need equal opportunities to learn with their strengths, and our Mastery students need to learn and experience being innovative, spontaneous, and un-harnessed.  Creative work provides opportunities for metacognition (Laureate, 1996).  Without thinking, we are like a rock in a river letting everything swiftly go by.  Finally, Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  I’ll take that, and fondly watch as my students demonstrate their creativity.


Silver, H. F., Strong, R. W., & Perini, M. J. (2000). So Each May Learn: Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (1996). Helping students become self-directed learners. [Video recording]. Los Angeles: Author.

Uchida, Y. (1976). The Rooster Who Understood Japanese. Encore Editions.

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (Eds.). (2000). Activating & engaging habits of mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Stoned Teachers   August 27, 2016   Comments Off on Stoned Teachers

That’s right. Our teachers will be stoned and I hope to be able to share with our office staff too.

Freedom woman with opened arms outdoors smiling

Oh…did you think I meant THAT kind of stoned?!  Goodness, No!  I may work in a part of the country that has legalized that sort of thing, but I would never expect a teacher to start the day at work that way. I’m talking about stoning my colleagues on our first day back to work.  I hope that they will enjoy the event, and I want to start the day off with just the right stones.  I looked for the bigger ones, because the little ones just wouldn’t have the same impact. I found a great bunch in two colors and I brought them home in an abundance to make the stoning happen.  It took several hours to prepare, but I think it will set the tone for our year in a solid way.

What? “Don’t cast stones” you say?  You think I meant to harm my colleagues?  Oh my.  Let me start again.

I am gifting my colleagues with stones; stones with words, thoughts, and phrases of positivity.   I want us to start the year with good thoughts and affirmations, but I didn’t want to just say it or give a note.  I am hoping that these stones, that they will take with them at the end of the day, will remind each person throughout the year of the good ideas we started with. Yet, I know that what some might think is affirming might be meaningless to another.  So, I’ve designed nearly 100 individual stones so that each person may select the encouraging idea that they need.


Teaching is hard work and we often get muddled in frustration, exhaustion, and irritation. When we let those emotions get the best of us, we might take it out on others and that can make for very unpleasant relationships.  These emotions can also bring us down like a stone around our neck.  As an instructional coach, I hope to provide support that may stave off some of those emotions, to provide a confidential, listening ear to the emotions that fill our hearts, or an elevating word that will lift others up.

My plan is to lay the stones around each table’s supply bin so they are a part of the décor. At some point in the professional development session, I’ll instruct each person to select one stone that “speaks” to them.  After they’ve made their selection, I’ll invite them to tell the other people at their table why they selected that particular stone.  This will be a nice way to share a bit about ourselves, rekindle connections, and learn about our newest staff members.  I know that many people don’t like ice-breakers, but I hope that this will be a gentle way to build on positivity and connect with each other.  At the end of the day, each person may take their stone with them; walking away “stoned”.  I hope that whenever they see it they will be reminded of what it means to them and that they will not dodge the positive affirmation that goes along with it.

If you’d like to “stone” your staff, keep reading and I’ll share the steps I took to create them.


  • “Glass Gems” or clear glass stone
  • Mod Podge or strong adhesive
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Permanent fine tip marker or a computer program like Power Point or Photoshop
  • Magnets (strips or circles)
  1. Buy bags of “Glass Gems” or clear glass stones. I selected the larger stones that were one inch in diameter. You’ll want to measure them before you start designing. I found mine at our local Dollar Tree. There were about 36 in each bag. I selected a clear set and a set of blue gems.stones in bag
  2. On your computer, open up an electronic imaging/text program that you prefer. I used Power Point because I prefer the ease of manipulation of clipart and text.  You might like Photoshop or some other.
  3. Create a number of circles that measure up to the size of your stones. In PowerPoint you can use the measurements to the side and top to determine the accurate size. You can also hand draw the circles on paper if you need.   PwrPt circles
  4. In your program, insert text with the words or clip art that you’d like to include. If you are making them by hand, you can write the text or draw images within the circles. I selected various fonts and clip art so that there would be lots of uniqueness.
  5. Print your page if using technology. (Skip this step if you are making them by hand.)
  6. Cut out your circles. circles
  7. Select an adhesive medium that will dry clear. I used Mod Podge. Use a paintbrush to paint on some glue to the complete flat portion of your glass stone.glueing
  8. Place a circle, image/text down, onto the flat, glued side of the stone.holding stone back
  9. Let it dry.let dry
  10. Paint more adhesive around and over the edge of the paper so that the edges will not pull up later.glueing close
  11. Let it dry again.
  12. If you want the stones to be magnets, you can glue or adhere magnets to the flat portion of the stone after the original gluing has dried. I used magnet strips with adhesive backing. I cut the strips into smaller sections so that they could fit on the back or flat side of the stone without being seen from the front. I wanted circular magnets, but they were a bit out of my budget.Stones w.magnets
  13. Wipe off any glue smudges or fingerprints. Be careful that you don’t moisten any glued edges that may be water soluble.
  14. Gift to those that you’d like to the bucket


An Educator’s Nightmare…Again   August 13, 2016   Comments Off on An Educator’s Nightmare…Again

Well, Ladies and Gents, it’s about that time of year again. It’s the weeks just before students go back to school.  For families; it is a busy time of hitting the mall and finding great deals.  For educators; it’s a nightmare.  No. Literally… A nightmare.

Is this real?

Is this real?

I have found that many teachers experience a sense of anxiety about the beginning of the school year and it often exhibits through dreams. After many years of back-to-school conversations with my colleagues I have found that these dreams have one of a few common themes: embarrassment, lack of control, or a nuisance.  The setting for the dreams is in the school; whether that is the office, the playground, or the classroom, it is still a part of the school.  The characters are generally the educator and students/colleagues.  The problem is (select any of the following):

  • Arriving to school not fully clothed,
  • Arriving late on the first day of school,
  • Having a group of students that are out of control,
  • Trying to teach without any supplies,
  • Coming to school and finding that your grade or classroom has been changed without your notification,
  • Having a dreadful administrator or colleague or student return and you have to work with them,
  • Losing your voice on the first day of school,
  • …and a myriad of other stressful situations.

The educator can try desperately to fix the problem and yet that only exacerbates things or causes more problems. There is usually only one way to fix the problem and that is…to wake up.

Now there are a few that avoid this exhibition of anxiety. However, the method in itself is a demonstration of anxiety.  That would be…insomnia.  You know you’ve got to sleep, but you can’t sleep, so then you get more anxious about not sleeping which then makes it even harder to get to sleep.  It’s a vicious cycle.

I hear professionals say that the only true way to get over the anxieties is to face the very thing that is causing the unease. For educators, that comes by experiencing the first day of school.  Since that day is set in time by the district or college, we simply must endure and decide whether to sleep or not.  So, bring on the first day already!  I’m ready to get some good sleep.

Every Other Year My Class is Crazy   August 4, 2016   Comments Off on Every Other Year My Class is Crazy

Two boys misbehaving in elementary school classroom

Do kids come to school with better behavior every other year?

Seems like a silly question, right? But it was one that I actually asked myself at one time. After several years of teaching, it seemed like every other year I had a great batch of students that made the year pleasant; while the alternate years provided a group of kids that drove me crazy due to their difficult behaviors in my class.  On the good years, the kids were generally self-managers, independent, responsible and easy to teach.  Now that’s not to say that there weren’t days or moments when someone got into a lot of trouble, but for the most part our days were filled with great learning and respect.  The years with the difficult groups were stressful, hectic, challenging, and just annoying.

Early on in my career I realized that my classroom management classes from college were NOT enough. I needed to learn more.  I took more classroom management courses, read books on the subject, and learned from colleagues various strategies that are proven to provide teachers with well managed classes.  In no time, I saw a huge difference in my students’ behaviors and was even being complimented by colleagues about how well I was able to manage my class.

When I became a mom I learned even more. Having a son diagnosed with ADHD caused me to find alternative methods to help kids that “don’t fit the mold” become more successful.  In fact, it got to the point in which I welcomed those challenges into my classroom.  Then, time went on and this weird pattern of easy then challenging classes began to emerge.

I knew that I was using the same strategies and practices. I still believed in my students.  I was even at the same school so I knew that the demographics weren’t changing.  What was the variable that was causing this mysterious difference?  Is there something in the homes; something about our society?  Was is just crazy luck of the odd and even draw?  It couldn’t be me.  I was the constant.  Or could it?

Yes, you guessed it. It was me.  I discovered that the year after a challenging class, when I was preparing for the next set of students, I would tell myself that “I refuse to have another year like last year!”  So I’d deliberately teach my new students what my expectations were.  I’d train them in the classroom routines and procedures and we’d practice them over again if they weren’t being done well or if there was confusion.  I even used visual aids as reminders.


Opportunities for student leadership and voice were also provided. In those first couple of months, I let them know that I believed in them, that I cared about them, and with purpose, we built a community of respect. It was those years that were smooth and delightful.

One way that I helped to reinforce those things in my primary classrooms was to have the students make a booklet or bulletin board about the things we learned. I especially liked the booklet because then my students could take it home and tell their family about the routines, procedures, and opportunities for learning throughout the school day.


Then came my error. After having such a great year with a community of students that were respectful, self-managing, scholars, I slacked off.  I’d go into the next school year with a happy heart, ready to join my next set of delightful students.  The year would begin and I would teach the routines and behaviors and expect the kids to pick them up with maturity and respect.  I entered the year treating them just like the kids that I had said good-bye to only a couple of months ago.

But that’s where I missed the most important piece. They weren’t last school-year’s kids and they hadn’t had the same training that the previous set of kids had had.  It took time to build the great community that we had had the previous year.  It took building respect not just assuming it was there.

I realized, later than I wished I had, that intentionally training my students every year, with the same purpose, explanation, rigor, and accountability made the difference. My students came to me each year needing my direction and deserving the respect of proper training in routines and procedures.  It wasn’t their fault that I didn’t give them my best.  I was being no better than a tour guide who tells you that there are amazing things to see in the city, but not giving you a detailed map.  You might be able to find your way around and see some neat things, but you’d miss out on the really great cafe that only locals know about or the cool underground tunnel that was coursing beneath your feet.

Teaching and training our students about the specific expectations of our classes, and respectfully holding them accountable for engaging in those routines and procedures makes a world of difference to them and to us. So take my advice and learn from my mistakes.  Take plenty of time, and then more time, to intentionally teach your students about your classroom, your expectations, and even your building’s staff.  Don’t cut corners.  It may seem like you just don’t have the time; that you need to get into the content as soon as possible and just manage the issues as they arise.  Or it may be that you think your students don’t need such specific guidance.  You can manage issues as they arise. But in doing that; you will only make your year more stressful, hectic, challenging, and simply annoying.  You don’t have to wonder what happened.  You might just prevent some of those funny questions rising in your head too.

Go forth and lead like an amazing tour guide that not only gives you a great map, but takes you with them to the cool café.

Summer Working Teachers   July 26, 2016   Comments Off on Summer Working Teachers

There was recently a letter to teachers from a WA state government leader that was posted on Facebook.  This open letter declared that the teachers were simply whining about not getting their cost of living raise and that if they didn’t like their job they should look elsewhere.  She also touted her beliefs about teachers getting the summer off.  Boy did that stir up emotions on both sides of the coin!  I’m not going to link the article or go into more details, but I will say that Washington State voters chose to give teachers a cost of living increase, but the teachers didn’t get it due to state budget issues.  This has occurred on more than one occasion.  I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about political things, especially when it concerns education.  But I’m not posting to rant or rave about political issues here.  I just wanted to put another perspective out there.

Yesterday I was up at my school district’s main office taking care of some technology business.  After doing so, I found several colleagues in various points throughout the building.  At first, I found a few of my fellow Instructional Coaches, a Dean of Students, and many classroom teachers working on materials for the Common Core.  In two other rooms there were many teachers participating in some staff development courses.  In the Human Resources office, teachers were turning in new transcripts for classes that they recently completed.  All these encounters were evidence of the “work” that teachers do during the summer.

In addition, this wasn’t my only day in the district building this summer.  I’ve been there several times myself, and there has yet to be a day where classroom teachers were not participating in some sort of extra work.IMG_20150730_132510

As part of my job as an Instructional Coach, I have to record how many minutes I work each day doing the various parts of my job.  I track my 1:1 coaching sessions, small and whole group instruction, time working with the team, professional development for myself, reading/writing emails, and other various activities.  Our district then turns this in to the state in order to demonstrate that we are adhering to the terms of the grant that supports my role.  In 2014-15, I was contracted to work 1207.5 hours. You see, as teachers we only get paid for our contracted hours, not the actual hours we worked.  I worked 1493.5; 289 hours UNPAID.  That’s equal to a little over 7 weeks.  In 2015-16, I was contracted to work 1281 hours.  I worked 1460.5; 179.5 hours UNPAID. That’s equal to about 4 weeks. (It would have been more, but I had taken extended sick leave in order to recover from surgery.) So, technically, I already worked my summer hours…and DIDN’T get paid for them.

I know this is a heated topic in some realms of public conversation.  I know that I have worked for much less when in the private sector.  But I also know that the education of today’s children is, without argument, a most important endeavor.  We can agree to that.  Sometimes I think we get wrapped up in emotional issues and forget to find the common ground.

I thank all my colleagues for continuing to work during the summer months because I know that the work will benefit the students in our classes.  A good, growing teacher wants to do his/her best and without the extra work much can be lost.  So, we will continue to work in all seasons and keep up the good fight.  Our students are worth it.

Job Interview Tips   July 21, 2016   Comments Off on Job Interview Tips

Stock Traders Conducting InterviewDo your homework, don’t be afraid to brag a little, be prepared for questions about racial competency, show your confidence, and smile. That is what I would say to anyone preparing for a job interview today; especially any of those applying for the positions that schools have today. By following my advice, you’ll put yourself high up on the list of hopefuls vying for new employment.

I recently was on an interviewing committee for one of several positions in the school at which I work. We had some particular qualities, experiences, wisdom, and enthusiasm that we were looking for.  I know that there are many of you out there that are looking for a new job, so I thought I would share my behind the scenes insight.

Do Your Homework:  Take the time to learn about the place in which you might be working.  Get on-line, and/or ask colleagues what they might know about the new place.  Most schools have a web page with data and information.  You might even be able to find links to specific teacher web pages of those you might be working with closely.  If you haven’t at least looked at the school web page, you haven’t begun to do your homework.

Another part of your homework is to find the answers to the following questions: Is the school in a low-income, rural, affluent, or suburban area? About how many students does it serve?  What curriculum do they use?  How have they done on the past state tests?  What does the data say? What type of teacher evaluation system do they use?  These are just some of the questions you should answer for yourself before you walk in to the interview.  By doing so, you get a sense of how you might answer some of the questions the committee might pose to you.

Don’t be like “Ida Nough”. When asked about how she might teach a math lesson, Ida spoke about the greatness of the curriculum that her past school district used.  Unfortunately, that curriculum was dropped the year before by the interviewing school district due to its lack of lessons that met the state standards.  The fact that she was unaware of the change, and reasons for the change, lost her “points”.  Then, at the end of the interview, Ida was asked if she had any questions.  She proceeded to ask about how many kids were in the school and if a lot of teachers leave after a few years.  Ouch!   She could have talked about what she had done in the past, followed by an openness to learn more about the curriculum that would be new to her; perhaps by taking additional training.  She was not one of their top contenders.

Don’t be afraid to brag a little:  If you have earned an award, if your past students made significant gains on standardized tests due to your teaching, if you have planned/organized special events for your past schools or if there are other such important pieces to your resume; tell the interview team.  Do not assume that everyone on the interview team has had the opportunity to read your resume.  In some situations, the administrator prescreens all the candidates prior to setting up an interview.  Members of the interviewing team may not get to look at a resume until after the interview when the team has a bit more time in discussion.   So brag on yourself.  Tell them the things that you especially want them to know about.

Let me tell you about “Cheyenne Coy”.   Cheyenne knew much about the school and its demographics.  She smiled and answered the questions quietly, but thoroughly.  Just before the interview team was about to dismiss her, Cheyenne shyly brought up the fact that her previous school was a struggling one, but that her students scores on the state standardized test improved by 27%.  That is a significant jump.  This caused the team to look more closely at her skills and potential.  When they called one of her references, the team was told that her previous principal actually considered nominating her for a significant award in their district. She was one of the interviewing team’s top contenders.

Be prepared for questions about racial competency. These days, every interview that I have been a part of has asked some sort of question regarding racial competency.  Often the candidate is asked to rate themselves in regards to their racial aptitude and tell why they scored themselves that way.  Administrators are looking for understanding about how race impacts students.  You are encouraged to speak through your own personal, racial experiences, beliefs, and perspectives.  Yet understand that there are historical and contemporary issues that we should be respectful of.   Ask yourself, “To what degree am I conscious of how race impacts my life?”

So with that, how do you think “Mr. E. Quity” did in his interview? When posed with the question about his racial competency, he gave himself a score of 7.  He qualified that by stating that he had grown up in a neighborhood that was full of families of various nationalities and cultures.  There was a polish family across the street, an African American family to the right and a Hispanic family just a ways down the road. He was German.  He never thought anything about the differences, as child, until he found that the Hispanic family was being ostracized by some of the neighbors due to their culture and faith.  It didn’t sit right with him, so he decided that he would purposely become better friends with the family’s son who was about his age.  It didn’t turn out to be best friendship of his life, but he learned a lot about treating each other kindly and learning more about those that aren’t like you.  He went on to tell the interviewing team that he has since been a part of many other communities, some more culturally diverse than others.  He’d taught in schools that were in middle class white neighborhoods and in Title One schools that were filled with students of varying income and races; in fact, his last class has 10 different languages represented through his students.  He stated that race affects us personally and professionally. He felt very comfortable about talking about race and cultures, but wasn’t about to say that he knew it all.  His welcomed the opportunities to learn more.

So how do you think he did? He didn’t use the current buzz words or quote statistics that some might have been listening for.  He didn’t say that he was more privileged than others.  He didn’t even talk about how race is both positive and negative. He spoke his truth and acknowledged that he was open to learning more.  That served him well.  The committee appreciated his candor and his openness to growth.  They placed him in the running for the position.

Business woman smiling and doing a handshake in the office

Eye contact is a familiar sign of confidence.

Show your confidence:  You may feel confident, but your body language may say otherwise.  Eye contact is a familiar sign of confidence, but what if you are being interviewed by a team of people?  Give each person some eye contact throughout the interview, but not so much that you creep them out. Some teams will make notes while they listen to your questions.  Don’t worry, just keep talking and look for opportunities to connect visually.  Also, sit up straight, but relax your shoulders.  Don’t touch your face.  This might make you seem nervous or as if you are hiding something.

Let me tell you about “Diane Tooleve”. She had done her homework, answered the questions thoroughly, and even bragged a bit.  But there was something that just didn’t feel comfortable to the team.  In the team’s discussion after her interview it was noted that she looked at her watch at least two or three times.  Was she just keeping track of the time for good management or was she concerned about the time?  That wasn’t clear.   She could have taken her watch off and placed it in front of her in order to keep an eye on how much time she was using for each question and to manage that time efficiently.   It was also noted that she often scratched her nose or rubbed her chin.  Several of the interviewers felt uncomfortable or distracted by that.  But what bothered the team the most was that Diane slouched in her chair and didn’t seem very enthusiastic about her career choice.  Her answers were complete, but lacked the passion and uniqueness that others had given.  Diane was placed on the bottom of the team’s list.

Smile: Just because you have done your homework, you’ve exuded confidence, shared all your expertise, hold a Masters Degree, and have 15 years experience, that doesn’t make you the best candidate.  Most likely, the team is looking for a good fit personally as well. Remember to smile. People are more inclined to listen to you and want to know more about you if you are a positive person.  Also, if you are prepared and confident a smile is easier to share.  We all know how nerve racking an interview can be.  When you haven’t done your homework, and you’re not sure about your own abilities, you’re definitely going to up the stress level.  A stressful smile may look like a fake smile.  None of that will help you.

“I.V. League” came to an interview fully prepared to blow their socks off with his resume. He had been to several important colleges achieving his Bachelors and his Masters degrees as well as completing numerous classes to maintain his teaching certificate.  He had been in several schools over his 20+ year career, so he had been involved in many types of curricula.  On his own, he designed a program to help students improve their writing skills while participating in charitable situations.  The administrator was looking forward to meeting the man with the impressive portfolio.  When Mr. League entered the room he greeted everyone politely and took a seat.  As he answered the same questions that all the candidates had been asked, he never smiled.  His answers showed his knowledge, but he just didn’t fully connect with the interview team.  When the team later discussed his candidacy most were put off by his stoic manner.  The administrator was surprised that I.V. League was not one of the more popular contenders.   He had high hopes, but agreed with the other team members after the interview.   Mr. League was not asked to join the staff.

As of this posting, we have hired someone to fill the position that we were interviewing for. It took several weeks.  We looked for someone that was skilled, experienced, a life-long learner, enthusiastic, motivated, had done his/her homework, understood that race impacts our students 100%, and was confident and positive.  We had nearly 200 people that have applied for one spot.  When we met the candidate that showed us the most of what we look for, we placed her on the top of the list; and after being thoroughly vetted, we offered her the job.

To those of you still seeking a position: Good luck and be wise.