In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids

tony-lays-it-all-out-on-the-chalkboardI loved the Nike slogan in the 80’s “Just Do it.” This is something we as teachers in negotiations need to remember. If you read too much of the news around education, it will leave you feeling left out to dry. For some reason the climate in political circle is bad toward teachers. It’s not warranted however. We in education have seen so much good happening in our classrooms, schools, districts, and regions. We know teachers are continuing to pass on knowledge and students are receiving it. There is an issue of economics that has center stage. The conservatives for the most part want higher test scores and they want the ability to produce them without traditionally credentialed teachers. They open chart schools, of which some are very good I must say, that employ low paid teachers that are not unionized. I assume they still must be credentialed but if they can save money I am sure they will find a way around that. We studied hard to get two degrees in college and we long to show our ability in the classroom. We work hard to see measurable growth in our students. Unfortunately, this is not being seen by some voices in our culture.  Continue reading “In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids”

Igniting Brilliance (Book Review)

Igniting Brilliance is a powerful new book about teaching with the integral education model. Edited by Willow Dea, It consists of visionary writings by about 20 educators. This is a great book for any teacher but especially one who wants to try something new. To the left you see a graphic from the book showing one way of planning lessons with integral education. It is a concise visual summary of what the book entails.

The book offers more than traditional lesson plans have to offer. Concepts of the “whole child” as well as many other modern concepts are mentioned. As a teacher I have learned it’s not enough to just present the material, we need a way to reach all personalities. By outlining the needs and learning styles of our students we can make better lessons that have a deeper impact on our students.

This book concerns itself with reaching students. It assumes that will produce achievement. It has a scope that is larger than a standardized test but encompasses standardized test achievement. After perusing the book, I can tell you it is an excellent resource that any teacher will benefit by. A book like this is eclectic in its voice and scope and valuable in its universal practicality. I recommend it to my readers as a resource to help you plan modern dynamite lessons in the new milennium.


Great Visual Aid for Introducing Fractions

Fractions can be a tricky concept to teach but this visual aid can help. There are so many ways to illustrate fractions. Once kids start to get it, fractions become second nature and most kids can get there rather quickly. Until they do “get it,” however, visuals are invaluable in your lessons. In this photo, kids can laugh as well as learn. You might ask them before showing them this, “Is 2 more than one?” etc. In this cartoon, 1 is more than 2,3,4 etc. They may not get the concept fully right away but it makes a nice starting point to begin learning how fractions work.

Teacher as Student

tumblr_n19nvqQrgQ1r1kqreo1_500.jpgThis is true for teachers too. The next time you are leading your class, why not be open to the idea that some student in the class could teach you something new. If not about the standards you are studying, then about people and children the age of which you teach. We should be listeners as well as pontificators of lessons.

What Might Have Been and What Can Be

imageIn education, things are contantly changing. Some methods show up as new ones but they’re really just renewed from times past. We have to be comfortable with change. This isn’t just about technology, though it is true with that as well. Rather, it refers to Common Core and Madeline Hunter’s lesson plan and every other trendy style that has come down the pike with mixed results. We need to synthesize old and new based on the needs of the students. This is what makes us valuable. If we couldn’t do this, anybody could step into the classroom and pretend to teach. When things change a lot, there is bound to be a lot of failed attempts. We rely on those failures to learn what works. The key is to not give up. Keep your eyes on the prize. Continue reading “What Might Have Been and What Can Be”

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

Classroom Design – Less is More

Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Walking in your classroom has to be, at the very minimum, possible. At best it should be easy. If you are tripping over desks to get to kids and/or unable to get from one side to the other, you aren’t doing it right. Organizing a classroom design to let you walk around unencumbered will yield results. Feng Shui and general aesthetic principles guide architects toward minimalism every day. Less in the room is more in that it yields creativity and relieves tension. Having open space in a class is becoming more and more challenging. With internet for classrooms taking up necessary computer space, we are hard-pressed to create that calming, freeing space we want. Still, the internet and other computer tools are doing much in education so we have to make a space for them.

Teachers are given a mix of school furniture each year and usually the items are minimal. However, one should consider how much extra clutter a room needs. Getting rid of the unneeded furniture in place of items that add to the learning environment can be an excellent decision. At the same time, moving something like a bookshelf can open worlds of wonder to a classroom. It is amazing how much I have seen change by changing the wall my bookshelf was on. This will of course vary teacher to teacher according to preference.

As we look to the future and consider the virtual classroom, the physical room environment should continue to be at the forefront. As hybrids continue to emerge, we may see that the classroom is not less important but more because kids are in it less. Since classroom time is the most important time in the learning day, we as teachers definitely need to be thinking about how less is more in classroom organization decisions.

Monetary vs. Non Monetary Rewards in the Classroom

Here’s another topic for my teacher journal and I hope to get some external input in the comments on it. In every class there should be some sort of rewards system. Kids are small adults and adults work for rewards, why shouldn’t they? In teaching, I have found the PC and mainstream way most teachers take is the way of monetary rewards. Kids follow the rules and get junk the teacher buys with her/his own money or other sources. There is a problem I see with this monetized rewards system. If kids do right to get a tangible physical reward, they will only do right when they can get a reward. This is a poor way to prepare kids for life because many times in life we are not rewarded monetarily for doing the right thing.

I prefer non monetary rewards. When I was a Pizza Hut manager, the trainers told us that people will do more for a compliment than they will for a slight raise. People want to be seen. Again, students are small people so why wouldn’t they behave the same way grownups do? Throughout the day, I make sure I am giving high fives and compliments when they are warranted. I don’t go out and buy a bunch of monetary “prizes” for my students. Once in a while I will buy my kids stuff but I keep this few and far between because I know training them to crave non-monetary rewards is a more suitable training for the world we all live and work in.

It’s possible I’m a little bitter because in 1997 something happened in my classroom that really changed me. I bought a small mechanized Harley Davidson motorcycle toy to give away at the end of the month. (I also regularly bought monetary rewards for my class at that time). The $40 toy was stolen off my desk and I never retrieved it. The kids never revealed who and how it was taken. I decided pretty soon after that event that it was not the best idea to have monetary rewards in the classroom. That’s my view, what do you think?

Proximity and Presentation in Lesson Plans

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the physical proximity and presentation of our lessons.

Teaching can never be described as a simple endeavor. Planning lessons is a challenge that will always stupefy the greatest teaching minds. That doesn’t mean we give up though! Humility is a necessary ingredient in the dynamite teacher. If we ever reach a mental place where we feel we “have it wired” I think we will never reach our potential as educators. Through difficulty and yes, failure, we become great. Anyone who tells you failure isn’t a requisite for teaching greatness is not a great teacher in my opinion.

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the proximity and presentation of our lessons. Take this idea for example: say you have delivered guided practice to your class on a math topic for nearly 2 hours and you still do not see 80% accuracy in the kids. You might be tempted to blame them or even still yourself for not getting the lesson out in an effective manner. Quick, simple question:

“Where do you stand?”

Could it be possible the kids couldn’t see your numbers as you wrote them on the board? Could it be possible your glorious “steps” you created and taught were hidden from the students because the screen turns snow-blind at a given angle? Perhaps you should take the time to test and measure the proximity and presentation of your lesson before you begin. No time teaching kids is ever wasted.  However, you can make the most of your time by deciding the answers to some of these questions before, during, and after your lessons:

  • Can every seat see me and the content I am presenting? You might go to every seat with your content on the overhead to test this. Or, you might ask a colleague to pop in and test your visibility
  • Where do you stand? You should know the blind spots you create with your body and/or writing hand.
  • Is the overhead or document camera a better tool than standing at the board for the content you are delivering?
  • Are your visuals big enough for the back to see.

After you have addressed question like these, you are more likely to produce a dynamite lesson.  But don’t stop there. If you find yourself puzzled as to why kids aren’t getting it, you don’t have to wear yourself out asking questions like background checks for employment. Simply use proximity and presentation as a way to troubleshoot and pinpoint issues holding your teaching back. The reason you aren’t reaching all your kids may very well lay in the question: “Where do you stand?”

Parent Conference Coffee Selection and Method


Parent conferences go best with a Melitta pour-through using a mild coffee, like Gevalia or Starbucks.

Once that is done my best advice is to try and get them to talk. You learn more about the child that way. Tell about progress and show some sample work. Most of all listen. (It’s harder for some than others) I wrote a short article on it if interested: Listening at Parent Conferences