Monday, September 12, 2011


"Respect seems to be like a boomerang in the sense that you must send it out before it will come back to you."
-Author Unknown

We have a young man on our team this year who has had a less than ideal middle school experience. He's a good kid, but his impulsive nature and short attention span often gets him into trouble (sounds like most middle school boys, right?), and he has also been on the receiving end of bullying more times than most. I have helped him out of a few tough spots during the past year and I'd like to think we have a pretty good teacher-student relationship because of it. He's well-behaved in my classroom and he works hard. In return, I keep an eye on him.

I keep an eye out for all my students. My team has always worked hard to build a strong community among our students, and it shows. We rarely have cliques form and every student can – at the very least – tolerate working productively with anyone else on the team. Discipline issues are also a rarity in our classrooms. I always tell students that we look out for each other, and I mean it.

Recently, my school hired a new music teacher who also happens to be a friend of mine. On the first day of school, I dropped by her room to take a peak at her roster and I noticed she started the day with this boy in her class. Knowing his track record in off-team classes, I decided to beat him to the punch and talk to him before trouble brewed. I started the conversation by reminding him about how I always say I look out for my team. I then explained that I also look out for my friends and this teacher happens to be a friend of mine.

I didn't have to say anything else – he understood that I'd be all over him if he caused trouble. And you know what? He has been excellent so far.

Does this boy suddenly love music class? Doubt it. Has he learned to control his impulsive nature? Unlikely. Instead, his good behavior is a testament to his respect for me and his understanding of my expectations.


A Quick Note: If this post seemed like it was just me patting myself on the back, you're not far off. I recently joined Steve Hargadon's Teacher 2.0 experience on MightyBell and the first “experience” called for me to write about one thing I'm good at. For some reason, the situation with this student immediately popped into my head. If you would like to learn more about Hargadon's social assignments or perhaps want to join me, you can learn more about it here.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

10 Ways to Makes This the Best School Year Yet

The first week of school is always my favorite. I'm still motivated enough to iron clothes the night before, my wife is still making me courtesy bag lunches, and my students are still trying to impress me with a good first impression. Come June, my clothes will likely be wrinkled and lunch will consist of a banana and a can of Diet Pepsi, but that doesn't mean this year won't be a success. Here are my 10 suggestions for making this the best school year yet.

1. Start a Blog
I've mentioned in previous blog posts the advantages of keeping a blog and I think this is a great way to make this school year stand out from previous years. Not only does a blog provide valuable communication that narrows the gap between school and home, it also serves as an archive for all that you do.

2. Take on a New Responsibility
This year I am serving as my department chairperson. It's a big responsibility, but it has motivated me to look at my building from a different perspective and ask myself how I can best make a difference. It's easy to stagnate in the safety of your own classroom and taking on a new responsibility forces you to engage and act outside of your comfort zone.

3. Collaborate with a Colleague
Two heads are better than one. It's an old adage, but it's true. Find a colleague that you haven't worked with before and create a co-curricular project.

4. Become a Mentor
Being the new teacher in the building is no fun. Use your experience to help that person hone his/her skills as an educator. You'll probably make a new friend in the process... Maybe even someone that you can work on a project with at some point (see number 3).

5. Change and Old Unit or Create a New Unit
Everyone has safe, go-to units. Dare yourself to throw one out and try something new. Even if it's a miserable failure you'll still learn a lot from the experience and this will improve your teaching.

6. Join Twitter and Develop Your PLN
Some of my best ideas have been inspired by the folks that I follow on Twitter. Create an account and follow other educators (maybe these 57 to start). You'll be surprised by how valuable 140 characters can be.

7. Volunteer
Connect with your students at a different level by volunteering to chaperone a dance or field trip, or by becoming an adviser for a club. Seeing kids in these different contexts will help you to gain a greater perspective of your students' strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs.

8. Make Reading a Priority
Practice what you preach. Make it a point to find 15 minutes each day for recreational reading. Maybe choose adolescent fiction books that you can then recommend to your students, or find education-orientated "trade" magazines to inspire new ideas and teaching techniques.

9. Attend a Workshop or Conference
Take the initiative to find a workshop or conference that you actually want to attend rather than one that is required for you to attend. This is yet another way to foster new and innovative ideas.

10. Find Better Ways to Connect with Parents
Bottom line: if parents are on your side, you are going to have a better year. Make it a goal to call one parent each day with something good to say.

(When I was a kid my mom took my picture every year in front of our house on the first day of school. Now, my wife continues the tradition. Old habits die hard.)

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