Support Me!

Parent support.  I think it is the single biggest factor in a child’s education and many studies have proved that.  For me, getting to know parents and having them involved with their child’s education has proved to be extremely helpful.  I’ve used parent support to help my classroom management as well as increase student performance in my classes.  The important part though is doing this from the beginning, not just when report cards are coming out.  At that point its too late.

So my strategy is to kind of divide and conquer.  It can be a daunting task to call all the parents that you need to.  Therefore, I break it down, period by period, and then identify the students that need calling and prioritize them from there.  Some have issues with grades, others with attendance, and some with class behavior.  Once I prioritize, then I start making phone calls, a few at a time.

I know it can be hard to take the time to make calls in your ever hectic teaching day, but its essential to your students success, your classroom environment, and sometimes even your sanity.  Talking to a parent about students is the best way to understand them on another level.  Use these assets wisely that us teacher have at our disposal.  Parental support!  As someone once put it to me, parental support, or lack thereof is our Kryptonite.

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Starting Off on the Right Foot

Five weeks is up, and grades are due for progress reports.  All I’ve heard this week is shouts of “hey, what’s my grade in your class?!?!”  I get accosted in the hallway, in my classroom while I’m teaching a lesson, during lunch, etc.  I’ve tried to explain to students this is not only an unprofessional way to go about discussing their grade with me, but they should come talk with me either before or after school.  Regardless, they should not be late to a different class because they were trying to talk to me on the fly about what they are missing and what the proper recourse is.

So I keep asking myself, how can we get students to start thinking about their grades from day 1?  Many of the concerns they have over their grades would not exist if the first week had included turning in their homework.  Why is it that most students have a reactive way of approaching their grades, as opposed to being proactive?  I’m sure part of the reason is that they do not completely understand that starting off on the wrong foot makes it hard to pull a grade up.

Conversely, there are students that have done a wonderful job since day 1.  This makes me wonder why they do not always have an effect on their friends’ ability to perform in the classroom.  Obviously, each student is an individual with different personalities, but I would hope that all students understand the nature of their grades, and the importance they carry throughout their high school careers.

There are always going to be students that struggle to get all their work in, but I ask myself, how can I limit that?  How can I get all students on board with not only showing up ready to go, but prepared to turn in all work?

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Punch Me! and PBIS

Our school has rolled out a new PBIS system this school year, and we have really worked hard to fine tune it, and really get all faculty and staff on-board.  We have gotten rid of our security guards, and instead, hired two “Student Development Coaches” who not only perform in the regular roles of a security guard, but also redefine the role a completely different way.  They de-escalate situations with students, which is essential, and also are seen in after school activities acting as a model for our students.  Our school has a marked improvement in student tardies, dress code violations, and overall student behavior.  Part of this can be attributed to our punch cards.

Students are given punch cards where in they can earn a punch (all teachers have whole-punchers on them) for certain deeds.  If a student is on time, they get a punch.  If they are in full uniform, they get a punch.  If they are seen assisting another student or staff member somehow, they can earn an unspecified number of punches.  This system has really worked well with trying to positively reinforce student behaviors and also curb negative behavior.  Once a student accumulates a certain amount of punch cards, they can redeem them in the school store.  Sort of like Chuck-E-Cheese.

I know many argue against this form of extrinsic motivation, but for our population of students, its encouraging for them to have this positive reinforcement in their lives.  With this positive, and instantaneous positive behavior reinforcement, our school has seen a significant decline in the amount of teacher referrals that are logged with the office, and detention is on the decline.

So I wonder, do other schools have similar punch card systems for instantaneous, positive feedback?  It has worked really well for us, but there is a key component in this.  Staff buy-in.  If not everyone is on board and participating with the program, this will fall apart within a week of its launch.

What does your school do?

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The First Week – Redux

After an extremely long absence, I’m back.  I have taken a position as a technology teacher at a school in Chicago Public Schools.   The school is in its third year and has a great staff on hand.  Everyone has been extremely positive and motivated in order to hopefully make this school year a success.

Many of the teachers here on staff are very young and enthusiastic, and there are a decent amount who are experiencing their first year of teaching.  It will be fun to see how we come together as a staff, what lessons we will all be simultaneously learning.  A couple of us have already started collaborating on different strategies for different students that we are trying to accommodate.

This is my first post of what will hopefully become a weekly column with updates on my curriculum, instructional strategies, classroom management tactics, and of course mentoring stories.  I am looking to potentially establish some kind of informal mentoring program with teachers, even it is as simple as getting together once a week and discussing how our classes are going and sharing stories.

Check back for more!

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Music in the Classroom


I love music.  Love it.  As a result, I want to share it with people and one of the best outlets for that can be the classroom.  But as I have experimented with this, I’ve found that only certain music works, and moving within the confines of what is traditionally used sometimes frustrates me.  Over time, I have realized Top 40 songs will be too distracting and experimental/progressive music can be too weird and a disturbance.  Studies show that classical music is the best option for the classroom, as there are really no words to sing to, and it stimulates student’s brains.  Is there anything other than classical that really works though?

When I was student teaching, we were starting a Document Based Question (DBQ) group activity one day.  This was a new assignment for our students, and for a class that was already typically slow to get started each day, the change in desk arrangement would be an additional curve ball.  The re-arrangement was necessary for this group work though, so I wanted some way to create a soothing environment as students walked into a newly designed classroom.  I decided to go with Mozart, and played that over the speakers as students walked in from the hallway.  The result was a surprisingly smooth transition for students, who also had to find what group they were assigned to and sit at the right table.  As we started the DBQ and students got down to business, I put Mozart back on, and even though I got a couple of gripes, it went really well and the class was engaged in the material.

Miles Davis

In more recent months, at another school I have been working at, I have tried playing music other than classical for students while they work on projects or assignments.  Jazz such as Miles Davis has been used, The Beatles, and even some innocuous indie rock music like Radiohead, Deerhunter, and Real Estate was played.  I’ve had varying degrees of success with all of them.  So I wonder what other teachers have used in their classrooms, and especially in the social studies?  I have thought about playing music from the time period being studied, but that would only work for certain units.

Here is a small list of music/artists that have worked for me.

The Beatles, Mozart, Bach, Miles Davis, Local Natives, Radiohead, KRS-One (clean), Real Estate, Bob Dylan, The Weepies, John Coltrane, Jack Johnson, Simon & Garfunkel.


Tell me what has worked for you…

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That’s a Wrap – 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference

This marks the end of my dispatches from the 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumburg, IL.  I think its safe to say the conference was a success and there were many happy customers.  In fact, there were more attendees on day two of the conference than day one.  The afternoon of day two saw more great presenters and some who seemed to never stop presenting with a plethora of different topics to discuss.

K-Conference attendees at the conference registration table.

Judy Kmak was the first presenter caught during the afternoon and she presented “From Research to Reality.”  Kmak examined the effectiveness of different reading strategies for different grade levels and different schools settings.  She said to improve student literacy, “get parents involved in working with their child.”  Truer words were not spoken at the entire conference; that was also a running theme through many of the presentations I sat in on.  As a colleague of mine says, parental un-involvement is Superman’s kryptonite.  So as Kmak lobbied for parental involvement, she campaigned for the use of doing read aloud exercises at libraries during summer months when students are out of school.

Cyd Moore was next up, and she presented “Creative Thinking, Story, and Art” which relayed the importance of creativity as it relates to reading and story telling.  Moore’s presentation was just as much about her wonderful artwork as it was story telling though, and her artwork was the standout.  She talked about how she developed her craft through years of practice, which is what young students need as they develop literacy and critical thinking skills.

Following with the theme of fun in the classroom was Karen Graber with her upbeat presentation, “It’s Not Just Another Day in Our Classroom!  Using Special Days to Reinforce Math and Language.”  Graber told attendees of her “wacky clothes” day that she uses as a tool to boost literacy and phonemic awareness.  Students will have themed days to wear wacky clothes, for example: zipper day, and they will focus on pronouncing the first letter of the name of the day, identify its function, and sing a song about it, all while increasing their phonemic awareness of the letter.

The 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference was a success, and the group is looking forward to being back at the Renaissance Hotel for next year.  Executive Director Bills Dodds invites anyone interested in presenting to go the IL ASCD Web site and submit a proposal for next year.

Signing off for now and looking forward to next year; well done to all who put the event together.

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“Let’s Dance” Day 2 – IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference

Day two at the Kindergarten Conference started with a big name speaker in Jack Hartmann.  Hartmann brought his brand of fun to the K-Conference with singing and dancing as he sang to attendees the importance of getting students up, moving around, and singing in class in order to increase learning.  He had many conference goers up in the front of the room dancing and singing his familiar songs, including ones about learning the alphabet, about animals, and more.  For more on his presentations, go to

Literacy expert Steve Layne hosted “Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers.”  Some of the highlights from his session included creating an “Elementary Cafe” where, once a month, students come to school early for a book club discussion hosted by a teacher in the school about their favorite book(s).  School parents can host the session and make it kid friendly, including bringing donuts and chocolate milk, and maybe some celery for the health conscious.

Conference attendees participate in a session hosted by Kim Adsit.

Later in the morning, Michael Heggerty and Christine Turso discussed “Early Childhood Phonemic Awareness”.  Turso claimed 2-3 minutes of letter naming activities per day will help kindergarten students develop their phonemic skills.  She also mentioned that multi-sensory activities such as writing in sand are great for students struggling with a letter and its sound.

For more information on other presenters and to see some handouts for the conference, go to the Kindergarten Conference Web site.

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“Stop Bullying” and More from the IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference

Yesterday, President Obama and the First Lady hosted a video on Facebook that they created about an anti-bullying campaign the White House is starting.  The White House is promoting a new Web site,   As I attended a variety of presentations on the first day of the 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference, I wondered how influential a student’s kindergarten teacher is in creating the foundation for positive behavior?

Dr. Jenny Edwards presented “Teaching Positively and Powerfully” at the end of the day Thursday.  There, she talked about her book, Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students. The book is based on seven principles, and a couple of those featured were “stating what we are saying positively” and “letting students know that they have complete choice in the ways that they feel and react in any situation.”  I think these principles serve as a good anecdote for Obama’s anti-bullying campaign.  If students are presented with a positive environment, and they understand that they are responsible for their actions because they control their own actions, bullying may become an afterthought in our classrooms.

Getting students to talk amongst themselves and with teachers is a great way for them to learn and come to understand each other as different human beings.  Donna Whyte discussed this in her poignant and funny presentation, “Seven Skills for Learning Success!”  She maintains that students need to talk and communicate in order to build their ability to listen, and their enthusiasm for learning.  Whyte says, “you build language by using language to describe things.”  So as students explore their language, helping them use encouraging words can foster a positive environment.

The evening concluded with a Gala Ball for the 30th anniversary of the Kindergarten Conference.  Conference attendees were entertained with Wii, karaoke, and raffle prizes from many of the conference vendors.  For more information on the vendors, go to the Kindergarten Conference Web page.

This morning, some of the highlighted speakers are Jack Hartman, Mary Brummel, and more.

Conference attendees check out exhibitor booths at the 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference.

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2011 Kindergarten Conference Updates

So far the morning has been going well here on the first day of the 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference.  Some of the featured speakers this morning included Wendy Halperin, Kim Adsit, Kim Jordano, and Shari Sloane.  There has been a great crowd with a lot of turnout at most of the presentations.

Halperin discussed the importance of drawing as a building block to getting students to read.  She also discussed the importance of coloring and drawing from left to right as it develops patterns that help children learn to read from left to right.  Halperin also says drawing gives children a visual vocabulary that allows them to have fun while learning to read.  For more information, go to

Kim Jordano, a kindergarten teacher from California, talked about the importance of singing, dancing, and making sure to have fun while doing lessons.  She said the single biggest factor in having a kindergarten student tune out can be a stale, dry environment.  Follow her at

Shari Sloane presented on “Writing with Young Children”.  Sloane mentioned the importance of using dry erase whiteboards with students as a great tool for interactive writing.  Her presentation was standing room only, as seen in the photograph below.

Continue to follow the 2011 IL ASCD Kindergarten Conference here, on Twitter at @IASCDKinderCon, and blogging on ASCD’s social network EDge.

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IL ASCD 2011 Kindergarten Conference

I will be “Web 2.0izing” the 2011 Kindergarten Conference put on by the Illinois chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).  You can follow Twitter updates at @IASCDKinderCon, and I will be blogging with updates on the conference.  I will include information about various speakers, interesting things overheard at a variety of sessions, and hopefully some interviews with speakers and conference attendees!

For more information on the conference, go to the Kindergarten Conference Web site. Hope to see some of you there.

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