Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bright Ideas for Dark Days


bright ideas for dark days          The Teacher Was Absent

I post a new thought for teachers every Monday at this blog site.  However, on Monday December 24, my post was missing.  My apologies.  No, I wasn’t strolling on the beach as the photo seems to indicate.  I only wish that were the case.  My hubby was in the midst of a serious unexpected medical emergency.  I was at the hospital with him where I needed to be.  Yes, we spent the 10 days surrounding Christmas at the hospital, but our family came to see us there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  He continues to recover.  Thank you for your understanding.

Twenty Bright Ideas for Dark Days

Bight Ideas fo dark days

When the memory of those beautiful fall days begins to dim and spring still seems a lifetime away, we may feel our classroom enthusiasm begin to take a nose dive.  Some of you may drive to school and/or even home in the dark.  Do you need some ways to keep yourself upbeat for your students?  Remember:  We can’t pass along what we don’t possess.  Try some of these ideas that worked for me.

  1. Fake it till you make it.  This isn’t phony.  William James, the psychologist called this the “as if” principle.  If you want to feel enthusiastic act ‘as if’ you already are.  I learned this lesson clearly during a particularly tough time in my personal life.  It was my job to be at the school entrance to greet young children when they arrived in the morning.  No matter how down in the dumps I felt when I arrived, after 20 minutes of greeting one child after another with a big smile and a friendly observation or two, I felt better for the whole day.
  2. Allow for spontaneity.  Change your plans.  Put a new twist on an old lesson.  What is something you have never tried in your classroom before?  Now is the time!  When I was writing my two books for teachers I discovered something that surprised me.  The stories I wrote about were almost always the first time I tried an activity in the classroom.   If the activity was a success, then I would do it again in subsequent years.  But it was almost always the first time I did the activity that was the “memory maker.”  Fresh ideas spark our creativity and engage students in new ways. 
  3. Build an encouragement folder.  Whenever someone writes you a positive note for any reason, pop that note into a folder.  Pull out all those notes when you need to recharge your batteries.  It will pump up your confidence and make you feel great.
  4. Lighten up!  When you find yourself getting really angry about something, step back and try to laugh about it.  Mentally make it into a comedy routine if you have to.  In our profession we spend way too much time lamenting about policies and new systems that have really nothing to do with teaching.  Focus on your students and the teaching.  That is what attacted us to this profession. Let the other stuff bounce off you like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.
  5. Read motivational books or inspirational thoughts late at night or before work in the morning. The morning news depresses me.  I have found that I can’t listen to how many murders, rapes and fires happened overnight and then teach teenagers during the day.  But with the right music and uplifting thoughts in my head, I’m the best that I can be.  Don’t my students deserve this?
  6. Practice kindness.  Kindness helps absolutely everything.  It is the language the blind can see and the deaf can hear.  I’m far from perfect but I can tell you this:  The times I haven’t been kind haunt me.  Kindness lifts everyone, not just the receiver of the kindness, but also the giver too.
  7. Take a class that will help you reflect on your job in a positive way.  I teach future teachers, but still I take classes with the same titles as the classes I teach.  I always learn new ideas and teaching strategies in every class in which I enroll.  I can also be a valuable contributor to a class I’m taking.   Every time I have taken a class I’ve come back to the classroom with fresh ideas to try with my students.  I don’t care how experienced you are, there are always new things to learn if your attitude is in the right place.
  8. Write down new ideas the moment they pop into your mind. Try to take some action on them within 24 hours.  Someone invented sticky notes just for me.  I’m full of ideas that are gone in an instant.  The creativity of the sticky notes compels me to use them to organize my thoughts.  There are arrows, tabs, neon bursts, and 4×6 inch sticky notes for more lengthy ideas.  Use them to jot down ideas and then take action.  Action will put you in a better frame of mind 100% of the time. 
  9. Improve your work space.  Buy a new organizer or select a new picture.  I work best when I’m surrounded by quotes that inspire me.  If you don’t have an extra nickel to spare, clean your desk area.  I’m very creative but my desk is always a mess.  Every time I take the time to clear my desk it lifts my spirits.  What is an added bonus?  I find great things.  I come across a new idea for teaching or writing that I only had time to jot down previously.  When I discover it again, I run with it.
  10. Purge.  Don’t stop with just your desk.  Clean out your files as though you were taking a new job.  That happened to me once.  On the last day of school I didn’t know that I would be taking a new job during the summer months.  I left years of files and had to start fresh.  At first it was scary, but it also felt great.  I now had room to file all the new ideas and items I needed to do my job now.  Purge as though you are moving.
  11. Record uplifting music.  Listen to it on the way to work and while you are grading papers.  I always play music as my students enter the room.  It feels as though something exciting is going to happen.
  12. Compliment a co-worker.  Better yet, put the compliment in writing.  It will uplift the person receiving the compliment, but it will also make you feel great.  Try to encourage and compliment at least one co-worker per day.  Make it your own secret challenge.
  13. Set goals that move and inspire you.  Don’t choose hollow goals or goals someone else assigns you.  Set goals that matter to you and move forward on them.  When we feel great about ourselves we can better inspire and motivate others.
  14. Create a new bulletin board or display in your classroom.  Visually appealing surroundings encourage us and our students.  Look at your classroom as though you are walking in the door for the first time.  What strikes you? 
  15. Keep a gratitude journal.  I record five things for which I am grateful every night before I go to bed.  During the summer months I do this in the morning instead of at night.  This activity will change the focus of your day.  You will begin to look for positive events rather than focus on annoyances.
  16. Solve a problem.  Instead of complaining about how things ought to be, come up with a solution.  Everyone will be grateful.  You’ll be a hero and that feels terrific.
  17. Attend an educational conference.  You’ll rub elbows with other educators who are serious about improving their skills.  You’ll return to school rejuvenated and ready to try some new ideas you discover.  Better yet, become a presenter at a conference.  Share ideas that have worked in your classroom.
  18. Change your routine.  Have a mental list of some things you’ve been wanting to do someday?  We all have a list like this.  Take a weekend trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit.  Call up an old friend or drop them an email.
  19. Share ideas.  You have so much talent among your co-workers.  Find a way to have each of them share their best ideas with the rest of you.  I once ran a monthly professional development experience in the school where I worked.  Each month I had a few teachers share their best ideas.  Don’t overlook the teacher next door.
  20. Most important tip of all!  Don’t eat lunch with the crab apples.  During this valuable time of day, surround yourself with people who speak highly of students and those who are excited about making their classrooms and your school a positive place to be.

Twenty tips may overwhelm you.  But I believe if you try even a few of these ideas you won’t be just counting the days until spring; you’ll be doing things that make every day count.  Welcome 2013 into your life and your classroom.

TEACH…To Change Lives

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TEACH...To Change Lives




Teaching Hope

The holiday season helps us remember that teaching our students to hope is our most important job.  While you enjoy your holiday break, take time to reflect on the important role that hope plays in your classroom.  How can you instill hope in your students in the new year?


Hope accelerates learning.

Hope is the lubricant for all future successes.

We need to sell hope harder than we push our subject matter.

Without hope winning in life is impossible.

Hope will help steer your students through all of life’s challenges.

We need to instill hope first before we assign any project.

A Dozen Ways to Build Hope

Building hope

  1. Look for ways to make your students shine.  Everyone has some kind of special talent. Find it and then find a way to capitalize on it.
  2. Describe in detail the successes you see in a student’s future.  Hope may first come from someone we admire visualizing our success and describing it to us.
  3. Make one-on-one eye contact with a student.  Don’t just glance or teach over their heads.
  4. Describe to your students a time in your own life when you may have felt hopeless.  Then recount how the situation resolved itself.
  5. Point out progress.  Don’t save all your accolades for perfection.
  6. Bring your own enthusiasm to the classroom. Not feeling it?  Fake it.
  7. Sit down next to a student at their desk and chat.
  8. Be approachable.  Let students know how they can find you for a private conversation.
  9. Listen!
  10. Hear them out as they describe all the reasons why they can’t win, be accepted, or succeed.  Then YOU make them listen to all the reasons why you know they can.  Support your opinions with stories, facts and observations.
  11. Reflect.  Think about specific students while you aren’t with them and brainstorm ways in which you can build hope within them.
  12. Let them know you were thinking about them.  Be specific.  “While I was driving to school, I was thinking about you.  Here’s what I was thinking…You have no idea how talented you are.” (It is so powerful to know that a teacher cares about us and thinks about our well-being even when we aren’t in the classroom).

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives
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 Autographed or in large quantities from the author

The Power of Quiet Words


Can You Hear Me Now?

heart wordsA few years back I spotted a small hand-made pillow at a craft fair which had wonderful words embroidered on it.  I purchased it and put in on the seat of an old-fashioned school desk that I kept in a corner of my classroom.  I used it as a reminder for me and all the future teachers that I taught.  What did the embroidery say?

“Words that soak into the heart are whispered, never yelled.”

Since I have retired from full-time teaching, that little pillow sits in a small child-sized wicker rocker that I have in my home for my grandchildren.  What powerful words those are.

Just this last week as I traveled from school to school to observe future teachers in training, one of them complained to me.  “My voice doesn’t travel well in the classroom.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to control my students because they won’t be able to hear me.”  I explained to that young aspiring teacher that a soft voice can be an asset, if you know how to use it well.  I quoted my pillow.

When to Yell

Never.  Alright, maybe if there is a tsunami wave on the beach right outside your school building and you quickly enter your noisy school cafeteria.  You must get them to listen to immediate emergency directions.  THEN you may yell…once.

But in every other teaching situation, to speak effectively, speak quietly.  When someone yells at us, we Don't yellfreeze.  Our survival instinct kicks in and we desperately try to separate ourselves from the environment.  We feel like a raccoon caught in bright headlights.  Unfortunately students usually cannot just get up and leave a classroom when a teacher yells at them.  But they flee mentally or emotionally when someone raises their voice.  The teacher may be yelling, trying to make a point, but the student isn’t really “there” at all.  And yet there is some kind of instinct we too often develop while growing up watching our parents.  Why is it we think, “If they don’t get it, we should just say it again…only louder.” ? We repeat the same explanations  in the exact same way only with more volume, then they’ll understand.  Right?  Wrong.

shhhhQuiet words sink in.  Words spoken softly don’t shut us down.  Quiet words encourage us and help us breakthrough to understanding.  They reassure us of our worth.  When you sit next to a student and give them kind, quiet, reassuring directions and compliments it opens a student to learning heights they may have previously doubted they would ever achieve.  Quiet words invite us into the learning process.  They break through our resistance to new ideas and thoughts.

I once watched a master teacher named Nancy McClimans demonstrate the power of quiet words.  She always spoke to her first graders in a quiet, calm voice.  When she really wanted their attention, she would speak quietly and with each sentence she would make her voice just a little bit softer.  Within seconds the students were completely still, giving her total eye contact and even leaning forward to catch every important word.  Try this strategy.  You will be amazed at its power.

Quiet calm words are even more important when working with students from an ‘at risk’ environment.  Too many of today’s children hear yelling in their homes.  It  also surrounds them on reality television.  On TV students watch talk shows and opinion panels during which every participant over talks or even over shouts every other member of the panel.  How do you effectively respond to a shouting out-of-control student? There is only one way… with quiet, calm words.

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An apology and a disclaimer.  WordPress (my blog site) has made some changes which I’m finding difficult to maneuver.  I usually post on Monday mornings, but last week on Sunday Dec. 2nd I apparently hit a wrong button and my article posted before it was finished.  It didn’t have a conclusion or even any editing. At that point words were spelled incorrectly and some words were even missing.  I fear some of my most loyal followers who subscribe to my blog got a far inferior version of my regular blog.  My humble apologies.  Please be patient with me as I learn the new twists and turns of wordpress.

Gifts from the Classroom


1770209_sWhat is the best holiday gift you have ever received? From my childhood I remember a much wished for and cherished bike that sat in front of the Christmas tree, the only new one I ever owned.  This was a stunning event in the household where I grew up, because we usually didn’t receive what we most wanted.  However the elves must have been extremely busy that year because they didn’t do a good job of assembling this bike and it never actually worked just right.  Oh, it looked very pretty, but sometimes when you turned the handle bars, the front wheel didn’t turn – not a reliable characteristic for a bike.  I probably jumped more miles on my on my beloved pogo stick than I ever rode on that bike.  Oh, could this gal pogo!  I bounced everywhere.  Yep, I’d have to say that my pogo stick was my all time favorite gift from childhood.

What I Admire About You

What I admire about youBut as we mature we come to realize the truth of that adage, “The best things in life aren’t  things.”  They truly aren’t.  The best thing in life is making others feel good about themselves.  We all long to feel valued and appreciated.   About two-thirds of the way through my teaching career I discovered an activity that helped accomplish this goal.  I always planned this activity for sometime during the holidays.

As my students entered the classroom they received a stack of blank index cards…one for each of their classmates and one for the teacher.  Silently I had them write the name of a classmate at the top of each card and then write one thing they admired about that student.  I encouraged them to be as specific as possible.  General statements like, “You are a great gal” are not as powerful as “I admire the way you always have something encouraging to say when someone in our class is down in the dumps.”  They were required to write one about me (the teacher) also.  Let me tell you high school teachers need their encouragement too.  There were a few cautions and guidelines I voiced ahead of time.  Absolutely no ‘put downs” would be tolerated, only positive comments were permitted.

A Confession

I admit that occasionally I had a group of students so at odds with one another before we began this activity, that I didn’t require that they write a compliment to every classmate.  I might limit it to 10 or 12 compliments written using time parameters as an excuse.  I wanted to make certain no one was ever hurt by this activity.  But when you set limits like these, you always risk the omission of someone being complimented.  I only used these limits a time or two.  Here’s the real beauty of the activity.  Each time I limited the number of compliments they had to provide, they always got half way through the activity and then THEY requested of ME that they be able to write something they admired about everyone in the class.  That is how great is the power of writing positive words about someone.

Then Comes the Magic


At the end of our time limit, we circled our desks and orally read one card at a time.  One student would read aloud to one other student a single comment while all others listened.  Then the next person in the circle would read a comment about someone else.  I encouraged them to keep changing the people who were being complimented.  “Try and choose someone no one has yet read about,” was my occasional  reminder.  When it was my turn to read I always started by complimenting someone I felt was considered just a little outside the inner circle…the kids not quickly accepted by their peers.  As we listened around and around that circle twenty or thirty revolutions, you could feel the climate of our classroom change. They smiled more easily, eyes moistened, shoulders relaxed, heads nodded as everyone agreed with a compliment being shared orally, and teens relaxed their armor.  Kindness settled softly over our circle like a cashmere blanket. Friends became closer and former adversaries demonstrated tolerance.  When others validate us, we are more likely to notice and appreciate positive traits in others.  The students in my classroom became a family.  There is no greater gift for a student who will be walking into your classroom every day for an entire school year.

Just before our time together ended, I instructed them to pass their cards out to one another.  By taking the time to distribute their compliments in written form, everyone could carry the compliments away and read them again whenever they might need a morale boost. As dozens of students stood to distribute their cards to others, I anticipated it to be quite a noisy time.  It never was.  Why?  The moment they received a card from someone, their eyes were magnetically drawn to the compliments written on those cards. They hungered for that validation from their peers.

Our class was always changed from that day forward.  We became a community working together, a unit.  As a side (but not unimportant) benefit, a bully has a hard time finding a foot hold in a community where everyone has your back.

TEACH...To Change Lives

TEACH…To Change Lives

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