Friday, April 28, 2017

Teaching - ULTIMATE practice of forgiveness.

Be honest. How many of us have that 1 student that we hope and pray will be out sick for one day just to give us break? And that student is NEVER absent. And when we see that student comes barreling through the door, what do we do?  Take a deep breath, pray for patience, and hope for the best. However, hoping for the best is not always the best strategy.  We have seen the power of positive feedback and positive reinforcement (  But how do we go from surviving the difficult student to creating a thriving situation?  

Grace Dearborn, author of “Reaching and Teaching All Students Requires an Understanding of Them inside and Out,” states that “most of us routinely invest huge amounts of energy into our most challenging students, more than is healthy or sustainable” (2015). I can attest that some of my more difficult students have kept me up at night wondering what I can do to make the situation better. However, staying up at night doesn’t help anything, if anything it makes it worse. Tired teacher + challenging student = bad situation for everyone.   

However, there are many strategies to work with challenging students, not just deal with them. When I googled “challenging students,” I got a wealth of knowledge.  However, not a lot was useful.  I don’t want “25 strategies for challenging students” because that sounds too overwhelming and not workable in the moment.  I don’t know about you, but I need something that will work in the moment - not 25 steps later.  

Michael Linsin, author of "The 7 Rules Of Handling Difficult Students,” states that “It’s your relationship with your students that makes the greatest difference” (2014).  I find this to be very true. When I take time to learn about a student, then I can appreciate the positive qualities about him/her. I don’t mean that I excuse his/her behavior or give false praise.  I mean appreciate who they are as a person, not just a student.  For example, I had a really difficult student - disrespectful, refusal to work, and basically did not want anything to do with school.  However, I found out this student trains rescue dogs, and my daughter is a dog trainer.  Every day that, I would ask about the dogs, how it was going, have her share pictures, etc.  Did all of our problems disappear?  No.  But did they decrease, yes because I appreciated her as a person, not just a student, and she responded to that.

Here is the rub - we teachers know that we teach more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic.  We can’t just look at the beings in our classrooms as “just students.” We work to help these young people to become responsible, compassionate people beyond the classroom. However, this is no easy task, especially with the difficult student. “The thing is, we don't have to exhaust ourselves in order to keep caring or trying to reach a student. We just have to believe in them, want to help them, and keep offering them the choice to do better. And we have to communicate to them in some way that we will be there for them, no matter what choices they make, because we care more about them than about their academic progress” (Dearborn, 2015).  But just building a relationship is not enough.  We need to practice the art of forgiveness  Now, I am not saying that we just forget what has previously happened.  That would only insure that the same behavior will happen again.  I mean to give the student the opportunity to have fresh start every day with no mistakes. All relationships comes the act of forgiveness.  We have to forgive in order for the difficult student to learn from their poor choices and grow into the wonderful people we know they can be.

Dearborn, Grace. "Reaching and Teaching All Students Requires an Understanding of Them
inside and Out." Compassionate Discipline: Dealing with Difficult Students. Association

Linsin, Michael. "The 7 Rules Of Handling Difficult Students." Smart Classroom Management.
Smart Classroom Management, 25 July 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2017. <>.

McNeely, Robert. "Avoiding Power Struggles with Students." Avoiding Power Struggles with
Students The Dos and Don'ts of Dealing with Classroom Confrontations. NEAToday, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2017. <>.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Transformative Professional Development through Differential Professional Development.

Show of hands - how many of us have sat through a PD during a sanctioned professional development day and truly thought “hey  - I am so glad that I am here”?  Now show of hands - how many of us have sat through PD thinking “Why am I here?  I could be doing something more productive - like grading papers!”?  This is a huge problem for teacher professional development - how do we create one professional development day so that everyone gets something out of it?  The answer is - we don’t!

I have A LOT of sympathy for the instructional facilitators for our program.  They have to develop professional development for a variety of teachers with a variety of backgrounds, level of teaching abilities, and a variety of attitudes.  They also have to develop professional development ath can be delivered virtually.  They have to mesh state standards with the expectations with our parent corporation.  And they have to work it in around our meetings.  Plus do it with a smile!  Their job is nearly impossible!  So they, like most people who are in these positions, they try to get the most bang for their buck.  Unfortunately, that means that there isn’t much for everyone.  

Amy Vracar, author of 3 Reasons Why Professional Learning Matter, highlights the main reasons of why teachers need professional development.  “A teacher’s professional learning journey is an ongoing process throughout their teaching career. The classroom is continuously changing, and teachers must be prepared to meet needs of their students. It is important for school districts to adopt rich professional learning opportunities for its teachers.” (2015).  I can attest that in my 20+ years of teaching, the classroom has changed.  When I first started teaching, I didn’t even have an email that I used frequently; now I am a virtual teacher whose students are spread out across the great state of Wyoming.  

However, getting the most bang for the buck is not the best way to approach professional development. Professional development should take the same form as teaching in the classroom - with differential instruction. I can guarantee that my needs as a veteran teacher are not the same as a new teacher’s needs.  Nor should they be. The article “Teaching Teachers: Professional Development To Improve Student Achievement,” states that: “If the sessions do not focus on the subject-matter content that research has shown to be effective, then the duration will do little to change teachers’ practices and improve student learning.” So putting everyone in a big room to discuss literacy across the curriculum or the importance of everyday math is just not going to work.  

What can work is having smaller sessions that focus on what those teachers need.  Our instructional facilitators have started having open room sessions.  They give a preview of what they will cover, then we come to session we think will benefit us the most.  For example, I may attend understanding the data sheet for beginners session while my colleagues may attend understanding the data sheet for advanced teachers.  We know what time the sessions will be offered, so we are able to plan our time accordingly.  The planning for this is really difficult, but so is planning for differential lessons in the classroom.  However, the planning is well-worth the time. Teachers can get the professional development that they most need to continue their own educational journey.  

Simon Quattlebaum, author of “Why Professional Development for Teachers Is Critical” states that, “Opportunities for active learning, content knowledge, and the overall coherence of staff development are the top three characteristics of professional development” (2012).  By offering differential professional development, teachers are learning how to best help their students in the classroom.  

Quattlebaum, Simon. "Why Professional Development for Teachers Is Critical." Why
Professional Development for Teachers in Critical. The Evolllution, 26 July 2012. Web.

"Teaching Teachers: Professional Development To Improve Student Achievement." Teaching
    Teachers: Professional Development to Improve Student Achievement. Teaching
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Vracar, Amy. 3 Reason Why Professional Learning Matters. TeacherMatch, 24 Feb. 2015. Web.
03 Mar. 2017. <>.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Teachers Supporting Teachers

Today I was asked by a teacher friend to help her with her national certification.  I was floored that I was even asked to help.  I can’t remember when I was asked by another teacher for help with something that didn’t directly relate to the classroom.  This got me to thinking about how often teachers don’t ask each other for help.

Now I must admit that I am a bit spoiled.  I have taught in 9 different school programs in 20+ years of teaching.  The team with which I work is one of the best teams I have had the honor to be apart of.  I think that this is because we created from scratch the program we work in.  Prior to 2009, virtual education in Wyoming on a large scale didn’t really exist.  We have had the honor to build our program’s policies and procedures from the ground up.  Because of this, we have our “battle scars.”  But we have built trust among our team.  Unfortunately, this has not been the norm in my experience.  I have seen teachers that purposely sabotage other teachers.  I have seen administrators purposely betray teachers for their own gain.  What does this get us ultimately?  A very toxic work environment in which students pay the price.  

Only a fool would think that a teacher has an easy job.  We teachers do more than just teach reading, writing and arithmetic.  We are coaches, counselors, and confidants for our students.  But burnout happens. Sue Roffey, author of “Teacher Wellbeing:  Five Ways to Help Each Other,”  states that: “Many teachers give so much of themselves they may feel their buckets are empty and they have little resources to draw on”  (2016).  Jill Rooney, author of “10 Ways to Inspire Your Colleague as an Educator” echoes this sentiment “There are days when we just can’t recapture our enthusiasm for teaching, or have to cover a topic for the millionth time, or are struggling with a class that just doesn’t seem to get it” (2013).  Very few people can understand the depth of issues that a teacher deals with, except another teacher.

We teachers should be each other’s support.  It doesn’t take much to show support to another teacher.  Derrick Meador, author of “The Importance of Effective Teacher to Teacher Communication” suggests that we teachers should “never let an opportunity to show kindness or encouragement to others to pass” (2016). It doesn’t take much to praise another teacher.  “It makes a significant difference to wellbeing when someone shows that what you did is acknowledged and valued” (Roffey, 2016). In my previous blog, Positive Feedback, I quoted McCarthy, author of the “The Power of Positive Feedback, “Positive feedback is so powerful and yet so rare. People crave it and when they receive it, it can change their performance and their life.” (McCarthy, 2017). This is as true for teachers as it is for students.

Listening is an important activity that we teachers can do to support each other.  This does take a few minutes of our day, but the impact of listening really outweighs the “loss” of a few minutes.  Brenda Ueland, author of “Tell Me More about the Fine Art of Listening, states, “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.” (1993).  Having someone just listening can help another teacher through a tough time.  Think about when you have had someone really listen to you and how you felt afterwards.  I teach in a virtual program, so we don’t have a copy room to hangout and chat while making copies.  Every so often, I will get an IM  from a middle school team member asking if I have a minute to listen or if I can schedule a call.  I always make that minute.  Most of the time, that teacher just needs someone to listen.  Something has happened, and they need to talk.  Usually, after a few minutes, the teacher is feeling better because I took the time to listen. “It is when people really listen to us, with quiet fascinated attention, that the little fountain begins to work again, to accelerate in the most surprising way” (Ueland, 1993). Being listened to helps to rejuvenates the soul.

Although listening is very important, it is equally important not to start engaging in negative behaviors.  It is very easy to go from listening to gossiping.  “Don't allow gossip to rule your life. In the workplace, morale is vitally essential. Gossip will tear apart a staff faster than anything else. Do not engage in it and nip it in the bud when it is presented to you” (Meador, 2016).  Gossip creates distrust and a hostile work environment.  I don’t know anything more destructive and toxic as a workplace froth with gossip and rumor.  I worked in a school that the teachers thrived on gossip and rumor.  It got to the point where I didn’t want to go to work, so I started not wanting to be there any longer than I needed to be. No one wanted to be there.   Even the students knew about the teachers that would gossip.  They didn’t want to be at school either.  

In order to make school a positive environment for students, we teachers need to support each other.  We need to listen to each other without judgement.  We need to feel as safe at school as we want our students to feel.  We teachers are a team - not just someone in a classroom.  How we teachers treat each other creates the school environment.  

Kerr, Rachel. "Power of Positive Reinforcement." Power of Positive Reinforcement. N.p., 24
Feb. 2016.  Web. 12 Mar. 2017. <>.

McCarthy, Thomas. "The Power of Positive Feedback." The Peak Performer. Thomas McCarthy
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Meador, Derrick. "The Power of Communicating with Other Teachers." ThoughtCo. ThoughtCo,

Roffey, Sue. "Teacher Wellbeing: Five Ways to Help Each Other." Teacher Wellbeing: Five Ways
to Help Each Other. Growing Great Schools, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. <>.

Rooney, Jill. "10 Ways to Inspire Your Colleagues As An Educator." InformED. InformedED, 5

Ueland, Brenda. "Tell Me More On the Fine Art of Listening." Choice Reviews Online 47.06

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Creating High Interest Reading Programs on a Budget

Creating High Interest Reading Using Magazines

I am that one Language Arts teacher that does not assign a reading list over breaks.  I think that students need to sharpen their saws over break just as much as I need to (Coveny, 2005).  I firmly believe that winter, spring and summer breaks should truly be breaks from school.  However, there are always parents who are asking what should their child be reading over the summer and how many books should they be reading over the summer.  I give the statistic “it is critical to include 20 minutes of reading in your child’s daily schedule” (   I tell them to let the child pick the book, even if it seems to easy or if he/she has already read it. I usually get that weird look - you know the one from those parents - let my child do something on his/her own?  Surely you jest!!  But I also get one of the two follow up question “But Sally doesn’t like to read books.  What should I do?” or “Brendan isn’t interesting in anything.  What should I do?”  I identify with these parents more because my youngest was a reluctant reader who refused to read any fiction from kindergarten until middle school.  My answer to these parents - find a magazine.

How many of us have googled “High Interest Low Vocabulary” and gotten lists of books to buy? Who has that kind of time to shift through all of that information to figure out which are the best books to buy? Who has that kind of money? Magazines are a cheaper option.  Many public libraries have a healthy selection of magazines. Anyone can go in and see what he/she find interesting.   My daughter was fascinated with dogs and cats. She loved Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy. So my mother-in-law, who is a reading expert, bought my daughter subscriptions to both magazines. Even though these magazines were of a much higher reading level, we couldn’t get her to put them down.  My daughter would look forward to the arrival of the magazines, which is the first key to a successful reader - motivation.  Even if the kids just flip through and look at the pictures at first, they are still using great pre-reading strategies - looking at the titles and examining the graphics.  They are making inferences and drawing conclusions - mostly answering the question do I want to read this?  Also, by having the option to not read something, they are learning that their opinions matter.  

There are two other advantages that magazines have over novels are that magazines have short articles packed with jargon.  The short articles are ideal for students with difficulties in reading and keeping  their attention focused. According to Read Write Act, a student coalition for action in literacy education, “By nature children are wiggly and fidgety and have difficulties in sustaining attention for long periods of time.” (2014).  Because magazine articles are shorter than novels, we teachers and parents can capitalize on the impact of reading and still not horribly exceed the average attention span of the student that a novel does.  Also, students are more willing to read magazine article because of that high interest.

Because magazines are content based reading, students can work on building their ability to understand jargon.  “Jargon is a type of language that is used in a particular context and may not be well understood outside of it” (  Think back to your content area classes from high school.  How many of us still use all of the terms from biology (with the exception of biology teachers!!).  But we had to have the skills to understand that jargon to understand the concepts of the class.  Magazine articles help to teach these content area reading skills - understanding jargon, reading to learn, and using graphics while reading- without over taxing the attention span and still tapping into the high interest reading.  

We all know the importance of reading. “There is a strong correlation between a child’s ability to read and her academic performance. Because so much of our schooling relies on our abilities to read, children must have strong reading skills to succeed and thrive in school.” ( And novels are a vital part of reading.  We also know that for students to want to read, they need to be interested in the material presented, which is not always possible in school.  Magazines will not replace the textbooks at school or the novels for literature.  However, they can be another tool in toolbox of reading materials.  

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