Monday, April 25, 2016

emotional resilience

A growing area of interest in teaching and teacher professional development that impacts the work of all teachers, but new teachers in particular, is emotional resilience. Not only cultivating emotional resilience in students, which is influencing schools a lot lately, but also cultivating emotional resilience in teachers.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to attend the New Teacher Center annual conference and attend a session with Elena Aguilar, a teacher, coach, and writer who works with teachers about cultivating compassion and building strong communities of teachers. I went to her talk on emotional resilience. In addition to helping students develop emotional resilience in the face of adversity, we need to be talking (and doing something) about this to support teachers, particularly new teachers. You can read more from Elena Aguilar about emotional resilience here and here.

In this article (read the whole thing – lots of great tips!), Aguilar discusses ways to cultivate emotional resilience. She names three specific ways to develop emotional resilience: building community, knowing yourself, and creating a plan for self-care.

Building community helps teachers feel connected. When teachers know their colleagues, students, parents, and the community, sharing stories and learning about one another, it reduces the isolation teachers can feel. Another way to build community is through professional networks. I’ve written about that here.

Another important act for helping build emotional resilience that Elena Aguilar writes about is knowing yourself. What are your teaching motivations? What makes you happiest as a teacher? How can you build on knowing this about yourself? She recommends reading Daniel Goleman and resources from the Positive Psychology Center.

And finally, find time to care for yourself. I’ve written a number of posts about this. You are a better teacher when you are taking care of yourself.

Monday, March 28, 2016

text-dependent questions: craft and structure

I've been working with a lot of teachers lately that are really gifted at asking text-dependent questions that focus on Key Ideas and Details in the Common Core Standards for ELA in reading. But when it comes to thinking about the Craft and Structure set of standards, they feel less confident about developing those questions. The Craft and Structure standards are as follows:

    • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    • Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
For standard 4, the focus should be on the meanings of words and/or phrases and how those words/phrases impact the meaning and/or tone of the text. So, some of what teachers need to consider, then, is to determine the most powerful academic words / phrases in the text and explore the role of those words and phrases in the key ideas of the text. Examples might include:
  • What is the meaning of the word [ ____ ] in this text?
  • Which word means [ __________ ]?
  • Why did the author use the word [______ ] to describe [ _______ ]?
  • Which sentence helps you understand [ _________ ]?
  • How does the language in this section help set a tone for the text?
  • What types of figurative language is being used?
Standard 5 focuses on the structure of larger portions of text (sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, etc). So, for this standard, questions revolve around analyzing how those structures relate to the entire text. Examples of questions might include:
  • What type of text is this [story, poem, drama, etc.]?
  • What is the purpose of the first paragraph in this text?
  • Which best describes the structure of the fourth paragraph of this text?
  • How do the text features help me understand this text?
  • Which [paragraph/stanza/section/sentence] contributes the most to the development of ideas in this text?
  • How does the organizational structure help readers explain ideas presented in the text?

Standard 6 is designed to help students determine point of view and its impact on the text. Questions that help encourage this thinking include:
  • How do I know when a character is talking?
  • Who is telling the [story, poem, play] and why?
  • How does the point of view impact the [story/poem/play]?
  • Who is the subject of this text?
  • What is the author's point of view?
  • What techniques does the author use to develop/distinguish between the different characters'/ narrators' points of view?
These are just a sample to get you started. If you're looking for help unpacking the standards to get to the heart of what they mean for you and your students, among my favorite resources are the texts written or co-written by Jim Burke, for Grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8


Blauman, L., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 3-5. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 6-8. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Taberski, S., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Monday, March 14, 2016

interaction strategies

One of the best things teachers can do to support student learning is get them interacting with new content. We do this often by having students engage in the "think-pair-share" strategy. But sometimes this feels old and tired. Is there something else to try?


There are 10 great alternatives to "think-pair-share" found here at We Are Teachers. The "think-pair-share-square" gets kids talking to even more students. The "mingle-pair-share" is the same idea, but gets kids moving. "Sticky-note-storm" is a great way to get individual students to commit to paper their ideas in a low-stress way. "Sage-and-Scribe" also gets kids writing. And the "Tea Party" or the Circle Chat is a strategy that gets students up and moving while maintaining a structure for partner talk. Students form two circles, one inside and one outside, facing each other. Students have a set amount of time to discuss with the student they are across from, and then the outside circle moves one person to the left. Now they have a new partner to discuss with. Check out all the strategies described at the link.

Kagan Structures are also another way to think about cooperative learning. In particular, the "rally coach" strategy, where one partner works on solving a problem while the other partner coaches and then partners switch roles, can provide a different structure to the "pair-share" time.

We can still use "think-pair-share," but it can help to mix it up. And even better than "think-pair-share," try to be more specific than telling students to think. As this blogger wrote, ask students to summarize-pair-share, generate an opinion-pair-share, or estimate-pair-share. Instead of asking students to simply think, give them a clue about the strategy they should be using.

What are your most effective ways to get kids interacting with content in your class?

Monday, February 22, 2016

using encouragement as a management strategy

Hello dear readers. I've been writing quite a bit about classroom management strategies. No matter how many posts I write, I still hear that this is an area where teachers are hungry for more suggestions. So here's another strategy to add to your toolkit: using encouraging statements with students with whom you are struggling to connect.

This strategy comes from a text I've given to numerous new teachers When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game by Allen N. Mendler. There are many helpful strategies described in this book, some of which I've described in some previous posts. The strategy for today is to increase the number of encouraging statements providing specific praise and feedback to difficult students in your classroom. As Mendler notes, words of encouragement are important to help students feel connected, and can support building positive relationships with students. While useful for all students, this is particularly helpful for students that are struggling in school academically or with behavior.

Some suggested statements include:

  • You really hung in there to complete that assignment.
  • You got right to work after directions were given.
  • I was impressed today when you ____ .
  • When you did _____ , that showed special effort. 
  • It is not easy to _____ , but you are making progress by ____ . 
  • Your cooperation is really appreciated. 
  • You should feel proud of your work on ____ because ____ . 
Finding ways to incorporate more positive, encouraging statements with students struggling with behavior can help build your relationship and make a positive difference in their interactions in class.

What are some positive statements you use with students?

Monday, February 1, 2016

power struggles with students

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, 
anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending."

The year is halfway over, and while we can't really make a brand new start at this point in the year, there are ways to shift planning, instruction, assessment, and management to make a real difference in how a classroom functions. This post will focus on one management struggle common for new teachers: the power struggle. It is easier to set the tone at the beginning of the year, but can be done at a new semester or if things are not going well. Now can be a good time to test out alternative processes and procedures if classroom management is not working effectively. 

Teachers know that there is not a winner if a power struggle begins with a student. When frustrated, it can be difficult to know what to do in the moment to maintain the integrity of your instruction while addressing an issue with a student. Several key resources can help you find strategies that work for you and your students.

Intervention Central provides ideas for disengaging, distracting, and deescalating power struggles with students. NEA makes suggestions for planning and building relationships through a list of dos and don'ts as it relates to power struggles with students. And an article on Edutopia shares the perspective that it is not about getting the last word in these management struggles.

What are your most effective management strategies when faced with a power struggle?

Monday, January 18, 2016

disillusioned, 2016

Every year around this time, I start to feel a little down. The lights around town come down, I’ve overdosed on chocolate, and it’s just too cold. While I might have recharged a bit over break, goals I wanted to reach with students still seem to loom too large, and I’m not sure I’m making a difference.

While this time can be really frustrating, it is also comforting to know that it is normal and that it ends. It is very common for teachers to experience this phase. For some, it begins midway through the fall after the excitement of the beginning of the year wears off. For others, it happens in mid-winter, when the dark and cold make it harder to feel optimistic. While not all teacher experience it, most do at some point, especially in the early years of teaching.

What can you do? I’ve offered some ideas to help you through this time here and here. Other ideas are outlined in this article from Education Week include avoiding highs and lows, letting go of perfectionism, expecting obstacles, and seeking support. The article is worth a read for some helpful hints in understanding these suggestions and making them work for you.

Whatever you do, just know that others have been there, and that you can work through it. Find your support, and lean on them.

What do you do to help you get through disillusionment?

Friday, January 1, 2016

how to begin again after break

Hello dear readers! Happy 2016! I hope you've all been enjoying a lovely winter break. Once New Year's Day hits, signaling the rapid approaching end of break, thoughts begin to turn to lesson planning, assessments, relationships with students, and goals for the remaining months of the year. Returning to school after break can be a challenge. The time with family and friends is often rejuvenating, but all the holiday bustle can be tiring too. While the transition back to work is difficult for teachers, it can be equally difficult or even more so for students.

I recently read an interesting article with some great ideas for the first day back after break. In the article, the author, a neuroscientist, argues for planning the first day back around what the brain needs. For example, students are naturally curious about what their classmates have been up to over break. To ignore this and launch right into a lesson will likely set up the class for management issues. Give students a chance to talk and share with one another before beginning any lessons planned. Other suggestions include: active lessons, changing the room arrangement, and trying a new instructional activity. Find a great funny book or poem to read to get students engaged. Start the new year with an exciting new experiment.

Easing back into the (almost) second half of the year might take some time and planning. But do spend some time planning how you will help your students get back into it. They will appreciate the planning (and so will you)!