What About Me, Teacher?

Blog - What About MeOver the summer my son, a rising first grader, read one book each week. While he read to me this morning he kept stopping to comment on how different characters looked like certain friends. The book he was reading is called Next Stop: Second Grade! It’s a cute book about the concerns different boys and girls have about entering a new grade level.

Finally I asked him, “Have you seen anyone that looks like you?”

“No.” He replied.

“How does that make you feel?”

“Well, kind of sad. How do I know that I will feel good? I don’t think anyone will explain how I will feel when I’m going to go to second grade.”

“I see. Well, let’s look at the cover of the book,” I replied. “Do you see anyone who looks like you?” I saw a little brown boy and assumed my son would pick out that child.

Instead he said, “No, Mommy. I don’t.”

So, I pointed to the brown boy and said, “What about him? Does he look like you?”

“Not really.”

“Ok? Describe someone who looks like you.”

“He would have short hair like me, light brown skin, and a round face.”

I smiled at my innocent boy. “I see.”Jace reading_blog

As a classroom teacher, coach/consultant, and certainly as a parent; I pride myself on creating spaces that are culturally responsive. Diverse. Inclusive. I realize that every face, every race, every religion won’t be represented all the time, but how can we try?

So, what about me, teacher?

An important part of creating a classroom environment where students thrive is making them feel like they belong. A couple of great places to start are the classroom library, read alouds, and novel studies. Ask yourself three questions about the text you will include.

1. Is this a mirror text? For which students?

Mirror Text

2. Is this a window text? For which students?

Intentional Teaching_window text

3. Is this a map text? For which students?

map text

Asking these three questions is a great way to be intentional about the text you are choosing to use in your classroom. Taking these three questions to grade level and department meetings continues the conversation beyond your classroom.

Concerned that you need new books, but don’t have the funds? Here are a few solutions:

  1. Do a classroom library swap with another teacher.
  2. Borrow books from the school or local library.
  3. Read eBooks. Sites like Planet eBooks, Open Library, and Open Culture are good places to start.
  4. We are Teachers has also compiled a great list! Check it out.

Being intentional in all of our teaching practices shows the students how much we care. It shows that coming to school is more than just textbooks, test prep, and teachers talking.

As a mother I pride myself on knowing my children well.  As a diversity and inclusion practitioner I pride myself on understanding the importnance of diverse literature, and it’s role in maginfying and reinforcing the beauty in each child.  This morning my son reminded me that creating a truly diverse learning atmosphere is a neverending journey.

Let’s begin our journey by being intentional with the books we use in our classrooms.

Cheers to using diverse and inclusive books!


Ready to get intentional? Check out The Intentional Teaching Series.


It’s time to “Power Up”!

Blog - Power UpAt the beginning of each school year teachers take the time to hang up posters, add eye-catching borders to bulletin boards, strategically place attention-focusing instruments around the classroom, and much more. All these elements are designed to create an atmosphere, an ambiance if you will. These elements help to set the tone. Throughout the year, teachers add anchor charts, rotate leveled books, change posters, put up student work, and design fun bulletin boards to encourage, support, and educate the students as they gaze around the room.

A+ for creating this space for your students to thrive.

But what about you? The teacher. What motivates, encourages, and informs you?

One key element you should consider adding to your classroom wall is a display just for you. It is your classroom after all. “Oooops! Did I just type that in real life?” I know there are other bloggers, administrators, and coaches saying to minimize the teacher footprint in the classroom. I get it, and I agree for the most part. Get rid of your huge desk and shelves filled with professional texts. Do not, however, erase your identity from the classroom.

Find a space on the wall near your desk or podium and encourage, support, or educate yourself.  This little addition is what I like to call my Professional Power Up space. It is an area filled with little reminders of greatness, tokens of strength, and dollops of wisdom to keep me going through my day.

Creating a classroom culture where students thrive begins with the teacher. YOU are the leader in the classroom. You set the tone from the moment the students walk through your classroom door until the bell rings. So, make sure the atmosphere nurtures you as well.

Keep in mind that just like every other display in your classroom, the Professional Power Up space needs to change from time to time. You may want to refresh your power up pieces based on the academic, sports, or calendar seasons. You don’t want this to be stressful.

Here are some examples of Professional Power Up spaces I have created.


Remember, these are just examples. This is the type of display that inspires me. Maybe you love a painting. Hang that. Maybe you have a rocking chair that was your grandmother’s. She inspired you and sitting in that chair while doing a read aloud energizes you.

Two things I love about the Professional Power Up space is 1) it allows your students and colleagues a chance to know you a little better. When your students know about you, they begin to trust you. They see that you are a person who needs encouragement and motivation, a person who is seeking to be inspired. 2) The Professional Power Up space is a conversation starter. Your students will want to know why you added something to your space. What a great way to start a conversation that is appropriate, but not purely academic. It is often these types of conversations that inspire students to do more and be more.

If you really want to take it to the next level, have your students create their own Power Up space. This could be a small area of their desk or binder. It should be located somewhere they can see it every day. This is a great idea for a beginning of the school year activity. Then, students can refresh it at the beginning of every quarter.

What I’ve found is that students liked my space so much they started to either create one on their own, or ask if it could be a class project. It gave them a sense of ownership in the class and provided an opportuity for self reflection and growth.

Taking time to think about who we are and what makes us happy is so important. One of the first steps in creating a classroom where students thrive is making sure you, their teacher, their cheerleader, their facilitator, their guide are able to find joy. The students can sense when you are running low. So… “Power Up”!

Cheers to creating a little slice of motivation!



Hey, friends!

In my last blog post I mentioned that we will dive into discussion about the components that comprise a successful classroom.  Well, here is something that can definitely help you create the ideal classroom environment. Money!  TeachersPayTeachers has a wealth of resources for every grade and every subject. There are both FREE and paid resources. So, enter the giveaway for a chance to win back to school TpT cash. Good Luck!

#HistoryRocks Graphic

Are you looking for some TpT cash to spend for back to school stuff?  Well, a group of social studies teachers want to show you how much #HISTORYROCKS ! To register for a chance to win, just click on the link http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/6b69ea121/ and follow as many stores as you want.  Each link you follow gives you another chance to win, so may the odds be in your favor.

The giveaway closes for entries on Monday, July 31st, 12:00 pm EST. Winner will be randomly selected within the next 24 hours after entry closes. By entering, you confirm that you are 18+ years of age. Winner must be a resident of the United States. This giveaway is not sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with Instagram or Facebook.

Cheers for giveaways!

Back to School? Back to Blogging!

Blogging 1

Have you started back to school already?  Are you in the middle of the school year, or are you preparing to head back into the classroom? Either way, I hear the school bells ringing because this blog is back in session!

So, whether you’re knee deep in a novel study, or just arranging your flexible seating I’ve got a few topics I think you’ll find interesting and helpful moving forward.

Blog - Back to School

One of the most important characteristics of a successful classroom is the environment. Inside the space that is room (insert # here), the dynamic should be noticeably different. It is more than just the smell or the colors on the wall. More than the flexible seating or neatly lined desks. The atmosphere in your classroom sets the mood, the tone, and the pace. The atmosphere energizes the neurons or zaps the curiosity.

No matter how great the lesson plan, your students will not have a growth experience that transcends your classroom and this one grade level unless you consider a few key elements.

Ready to energize?!

Great! Over the next few weeks we will discuss all things atmosphere.  Transforming the atmosphere to transcend all expectations. Hmmmnnn… I like that. Transforming to transcend. What do you think? Will you join me?

Tune in next week. Same day, same site.

Cheers to transformation!



Set Up for Success Pt.II

professional successWelcome back, Friends!

Hopefully you had a chance to pull out that calendar and schedule time for you. Self care is so important. If you are not good, you definitely cannot give your best. Now that we have our personal goals for success in place, let’s continue by discussing some helpful ways to be successful professionally. The three tips I’m offering are like a reverse gradual release strategy. LOL I do, you do, we do.

Blog - Professional SuccessAs I previously stated, if you’re not caring for you, you can not give your best, at least not for long. The same is true professionally.  If you are not investing in yourself professionally, you will become stagnant in your teaching practices.

So, the first thing you want to do to ensure professional success is to engage in professional development. Attend conferences, read books, participate in webinars, take courses toward an advanced degree or certification. And here is a little thing that I do that I’ve actually never told anyone. (Shhhh!) I like to explore other areas. I may be an English and social studies teacher, but I have taken courses in health studies, technology, and some that are spiritually rejuvenating. Now, this may not work for you, but I love to see how I can incorporate other aspects of life into my teaching. Taking courses that are unrelated to education often gives me a boost of energy. I have a new appreciation for other professions and the work my students will have to do to reach their professional goals.

Next, you should try to find unique growth opportunities for your students. What you do in this area is definitely going to depend on the age of  your students. Here are some suggestions that may work for your group:

  • Community Service or Service Learning – Although many schools now require students to have community service hours, all do not. Find places around your community where students can volunteer.

Ex. Elderly housing development, soup kitchen, or a place like Matthew 25 Ministries or the Red Cross. We have also done some cool lessons with the book Wear am I Wearing and Where am I Eating by Kelsey Timmerman.

  • Reading Buddies – Have your students visit students in a lower grade and read to them.
  • Attend a career fair. Before attending we talk about goals and potential career interests. For this type of experience I typically send my students with a clipboard and packet of questions to ask people at the booths. If you are interested in this packet please send an email to customteachingsolutions.com and I would be happy to provide you the template.

The final area to focus on is growth opportunities for you AND your students. I find that when I am learning along side my students we grow together in a unique way. My students see that learning really is life long. I know this can be tough because teachers are ultimate planners and need to preview potential resources before exposing the students, but it can be done. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Field trips – Choose three experiences for a curriculum based field trip. These need to be trips that you have not previously taken. Then, allow your students to vote.
  2. Speaker – Having a speaker present to your class, or a group of classes is always fun. For example, as a social studies teacher I might contact the VA and ask if someone can come speak to the class while we are discussing war.
  3. Role Reverse – Allow your students to teach you how to do something. I typically have students get into groups of 2-4 and decide on a lesson they want to teach.

These experiences are really great ways to build trust and facilitate learning through the year. I would love for you to share some activities you have tried with your students.

Taking a fresh look at your classroom teaching practices allows for continual growth, but also gives you new reasons to love what you do. While teaching the same way every day of every year can make things easy, it also makes them boring. Our students thrive off our passion and excitement for educating.

So feed your passion by refreshing your perspective.

Comment below with your experiences or additional ideas. We love discussion. 🙂

Cheers to professional success!


If you missed part one, you can read it HERE.




Set up For Success


Happy New Year!

It is hard to believe that 2017 is over, but I am excited for 2018. A new year is like turning the page in a brand new journal. The page is fresh and crisp waiting to be penned with descriptions of life’s journey.

So, let’s get set up for the journey!

Blog - Personal Success

My aunt once told me that before she gets on a plane she does not begin by praying for the pilot, she prays for his family and his home. I thought that was strange at first. The pilot is the one operating the plane after all, not his spouse or cousin. She went on to explain that a person operates most effectively when their world is at peace.

This is true for us as educators as well. We are the pilots of our classrooms. Although we are great at powering through long nights, tough mornings, and afternoon slumps, we would certainly prefer peace. One of the ways we can have peace is through self care. So, before you reenter the classroom after the winter break, set yourself up for a successful second semester by making you a priority.

First, think about what makes you happy. Focus on things that are low cost or free. Now narrow the list to one or two things. Take out your calendar. Find time to incorporate the happy into your schedule. Taking this time for your happy will give you peace that translates into success.

Second, take time to renew and refuel. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R Covey emphasizes the importance of “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you. [By] having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual” you will have peace that translates into success. Think intentionally about these four areas of your life. How can you create balance? Exercise, counseling, meditation? For a FREE Renew & Refuel deep dive resource click HERE.

Third, say no so you can say yes. If you’re like me, it is tough for you to say no. I find however, that the more I say yes, the less quality me I have to give. Lysa Terkeurst says it so well in The Best Yes,

“Someone makes a request of me that I know right away is unrealistic. My brain says no. My schedule says no. My reality says no. But my heart says yes! Then my mouth
betrays my intention of saying no, as it smiles and says, “Yes, of course.”

I dread saying yes but feel powerless to say no. I dread saying yes not because I don’t love that person. I love them very much. But I dread what saying yes will do to the already running-on-empty me” (4).

How do we stop giving the “running on empty” version of ourselves? Well, we start by saying no. Because I really struggle with saying no, I have had to start with baby steps. Step 1) Pull out my calendar at the beginning of the month. Step 2) Block off one weekend. Now I can honestly say, “No, that weekend is blocked off.” Just doing this one thing has reduced my commitments and allowed for a quality me when I do say yes. This allows for a peace that translates into success.

Being an educator is one of the most rewarding professions, but also one of the most demanding on your emotional, physical and mental space. To give your students the best you, start by doing what is best for you.

Please comment below with other ways you prioritize you so that you can be set up for success.

On Thursday we’ll continue the conversation by discussing three ways to be set up for professional success.

Cheers to a vision inspired second semester!



Novel Study – Solid Structure

Reading Structure

The novel has been selected and the course has been charted on the calendar. Now it’s time to really dig deep.  While charting the course you thought briefly about the standards you would cover, the types of projects and presentations your students would complete.  Now it is time to tear the standards apart, pull out the meat, and create the actual assignments, craft the lessons, design the rubrics.

Thoughts to consider:

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  What do you want the students to learn?  Start there and work backward.
    1. What will the final assessment look like – project, presentation, test?
    2. What assignments are necessary to achieve the learning goals?
    3. What passages need to be highlighted?
    4. What supplemental reading materials will be needed?
    5. What movie clips might increase understanding?
  2. We want the students knowledge to go deep, not wide.  When our students have a deeper understanding of concepts, they are more likely to remember the concept long after the story’s plot line has escaped their memory.  In addition, the chances of cross curricular and real world transfer, and application are greater.
  3. Guiding students toward greater independence should always be a goal.  What resources are available to help you gradually release reading responsibilities to your students while still holding them accountable?
    1. Literature Circles – Student led reading and learning groups designed to get all members engaged.  Students are held accountable by their peers and the teacher.
    2. Literature Labs – Students are placed into concept focus groups.  While reading, the group focuses on finding examples of one concept.  The group shares their findings, working together to design a lesson to teach their classmates.  The students then create groups containing one or two members from each strategy focus area to begin teaching, sharing, and discussing.
    3. At home reading – If you have enough novels, and the students are responsible, sending the text home to be read is a great option.  Students should be given a specific number of pages to read and a focus for their reading.  Assigning a huge study packet is not necessarily effective.  Remember, we want the students knowledge to be deep, not wide.
  4. Preparing 21st century learners means more than paper and pencil assignments.  How can you use technology in the service of learning?  Is the novel available on Kindle, Nook, eReader?  Showing students how to highlight and make notations on an electronic reading device is a great way to make a real world connection.  Setting up a class blog site or Twitter account is a great way to make learning interactive.  Placing assignments on sites like Edmodo, Moodle, Engrade, or HaikuLearning is a fantastic way to prepare students to take online courses at the college or university level.

These are just a few ideas for consideration.  Let us know if you’d like help hashing out the rest!  🙂

Cheers to vision inspired growth and development!




Novel Study – Charting the Course

Welcome back! Let’s dive right in.

You’ve finished reading and annotating the book. It’s time to begin planning for student success.

First things first.  Pull out the school calendar and a blank calendar.  Why pull out the calendar?  Everything that we do needs to be purposeful.  Purpose is more than just identifying standards and creating a rigorous course of study, it is about being good stewards of time.

There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck between the right amount of time to spend on a unit of study and the amount of time available to teach all standards during the school year.

Charting CourseSo, get out a calendar and chart your course.  Here are some guiding questions:

  1. How many weeks are in the current quarter or semester?
  2. How long is the book?
  3. Will your students be reading this book in class and at home?
  4. How long do you want this book study to last?
  5. How many chapters need to be read in order to finish in the allotted time?
  6. How many major concepts will be covered? Minor concepts?
  7. How many new concepts will be introduced?  How many concepts will be reviewed?
  8. Will your students be engaging in discussion of a movie adaptation of the novel?  After which chapters will movie clips be shown?
  9. How many days will be needed for any final presentations, paper revisions, teacher and peer conferences, or tests?
  10. When will you pass out rubrics for assignments related to the novel?

A nicely plotted novel unit of study is a beautiful thing.  Now, the real fun can begin!

Cheers to vision inspired growth and development!



Novel Study – Preparation

CTS blog_novel study IYou’ve decided which book you want to use for a class novel study, what’s next?  Well, what shouldn’t happen next is educator and students reading the book together.  I can say with some pretty strong confidence that this is not an effective way to study themes, explore new vocabulary, facilitate literature circles, or discussion that encourages critical thinking.  I can say this because I did something very similar during my first year of teaching.  My poor, naive, frazzled brain.  I honestly thought I had done enough prep work.  I thought I knew the book well enough to create as I went along. Not true and not fair to my students.

Every lesson should be designed with the end in mind, and in a way that sets students up for success.  When the teacher has no idea of the lessons direction, the students do not either.  For this reason, the likelihood of student success is significantly decreased.

So, what should happen next?

Prep, Prep, Preparation

  1. Look at the standards so that you can engage in purposeful reading.  As you read the novel, you will be aware of standards that would be easier to cover based on the content.
  2. Read the book before you teach it.  To properly facilitate purposeful reading and discussion for your students, you should know the content beforehand.  In addition, some of the most innocent of texts can have a bit of controversial content.  Skillfully navigating sensitive topics is easier when you can plan for them.
  3. Annotate the text just as you would have your students:
    • Make inferences supported by text – jot down page numbers or quotes
    • Draw conclusions
    • Identify new vocabulary
    • Track WIT statements – What I’m Thinking
    • Do character analysis
    • Create a plot chart
    • Identify major themes supported by text – Why are these themes important?
    • Make text to text, text to self, text to world connections
    • Once you have finished the book, jot down your thoughts.  What did you like about the book? Why? Dislike? Why?
    • What do you think your students will like and dislike? Why?

Now we are ready to create the novel study plan beginning with the end in mind. Begin thinking about which standards to focus on based on the content covered in the novel.  Also consider what student learning targets will be outlined related to these standards.

In the next blog post we’ll continue our conversation by looking at the specifics of beginning the novel study plan.

Cheers to vision inspired growth and development!