Learning Out Loud

On the first day of school, after I introduce myself to the students I ask, “Is there anything else you need to know about me that will help you be a better student?”

So, on the very first day of my very first year teaching I asked this question. I got some standard questions like, “Were you a good student?” “What was your worst subject?” “Do you think a kid is stupid if he fails a test?”

But then, a male student raised his hand and said,”Miss, you don’t look like you know what it is to struggle. We kids here at this school, we struggle. You come in here dressed nice. You smell good. You talk proper. You don’t know, so what can you tell me?”

I stood frozen at the front of the classroom.  I thought. All the students waited quietly for my answer, but I didn’t have one. I mean, I did, but I was debating in my mind. I was debating the value of sharing my personal struggles as a youth. I didn’t want them to think that a teacher had to have struggled the way they did to help them learn, grow, and transcend expectations.

So, I said, “Look, I could go into the details of where I come from and how I was raised, but would that really make me a better teacher? Here is what I can promise you. If you will come to class everyday ready to learn, I will share pieces of my imperfection. Because honestly, this journey that we will take together this school year will be a challenge. Exciting and interesting, but a challenge and a struggle some days. This is the struggle we will have together. I am not a perfect person. I will not pretend to be perfect. This year, let’s struggle together. Let’s learn together. Let’s grow together. Most importantly, let’s persevere together. If you stick with me, I promise you will see that I am more than the nice clothes and sweet perfume. I am sure I will see that you are more than kids that struggle. Fair?”

The class turned around to look at him. He gave a crooked smile and said, “Ya, Miss. That’s fair.”

Blog - Learning Out Loud II

So much of teaching is reflection. Thoughftul, purposeful reflection. As teachers we help shape the minds of the next generation.

Take a minute and reflect. What do you want your students to understand about life and learning?

Each year I tweak or add to my list, but one constant lesson is that everyone struggles; those who persevere make an impact.

I believe the greatest teacher of perseverance is the example I set each day in the classroom. Of course it is important to be appropriately dressed. It is important to have lessons planned. It is important to establish rules, consequesnces, and routines. It is also important however, to stop and be honest. It is okay to say, “I don’t know, how about we find out together.” I do not have an answer to every question, sometimes I misspell words on the board, there are even times when I stutter or totally forget what I was going to say.

I have found that the more verbal I am about my imperfections, the more honest my students are about theirs.

Transparency has been a key factor in creating a classroom environment where students thrive, and isn’t that the goal?

Cheers to persevering through struggles!



Don’t forget to pick up the FREE reflection guide below!

Teacher Reflection_Check Stats



Check Your Stats


People are always saying, “I wish I could be a fly on the wall in THAT room!” Well, today you get to be the fly.

Imagine you are buzzing down the hallway in a local school. You fly into a classroom on the left with the door open.



Classroom #1:

You rest on the white board in the front of the classroom and observe some students slumped in their desks half asleep. Other students are texting under their desks or generally off task.

The teacher lectures from the front of the classroom flipping through PowerPoint slides. The teacher stops twice to ask if there are questions and then continues after no one raises a hand.

After almost dozing off yourself, you decide to keep it buzzing. There is a closed-door on the right, but you can hear laughter and chatter.

Classroom #2:

As you slip under the door you see students huddled in groups around the classroom discussing a topic. Some are acting things out, others are taking notes, while still others are researching answers on their tablets. Almost all the students are engaged.

After a short time observing, you hear a bell ring. The students sit down in their groups and the teacher says, “Lecture 4. Tablets ready? Interactive slide show ready?” And then the teacher began a 10 minute lecture, pausing periodically for students to edit their notes.

At the conclusion of the lecture, students resumed conversation with their group regarding the new lecture topic. They asked each other questions, looked up answers, posed scenarios, and hypothesized. The teacher walked around the classroom monitoring student discussion groups and answering clarifying questions.

“Wow!” You thought, and buzz out the classroom. A short distance away you see another open door and decide to buzz in.

Classroom #3:

The teacher is sitting at a table with 4 students. The other students are sitting in groups and various places around the classroom on bean bags and couches.

You can see that all the students are engaged in different activities. They seem to be on a self paced schedule. Some are reading independently, others are typing papers or proofreading a classmates’ paper, still others are in small groups collaborating on a project.

Buzz Buzz. Time to head back to your classroom. What would you see if you were teaching?

So, what is the point? Is this a judgy judgy moment? No. This is a time for reflection.

Ask yourself:

  1. Which teacher am I?  -OR- Which teacher do I want to be?
  2. Why do I teach this way?
  3. What simple changes can I make to ensure student engagement is a priority?

Now that I am a parent I also ask myself, “Am I the teacher I would want for my own child?”If the answer is no, I know things need to change.

Ask yourself:

  1. How can I change my mindset?
  2. How can I change my habits?
  3. How will these two changes impact student growth and engagement in my classroom?

Time to check your stats. Will asking these questions require work. Of course! We know however, that anything worth having is worth fighting for. Is student growth and engagement worth having?

So begin by asking yourself these questions. Then, seek solutions. Maybe you know a colleague that can help you assess and improve upon your teaching practices. Maybe there is some online PD you can do to brush up on some teaching strategies.

Be reflective, encouraged, and proactive! Download the FREE Teacher Reflection to start putting together an action plan for success in this area.

It is often the smallest changes that make the largest impact.

Cheers to transforming our mindset, tweaking teaching strategies, and transcending student expectations of school.

Need some great professional development? Want some practical strategies you can take straight back to the classroom? Check out The Intentional Teaching Series.

Teacher Reflection_Check Stats

Grab the FREE Teacher Reflection on my Teachers Pay Teachers page!



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. This requires intentional teaching: being intentional about texts you choose to use in the classroom. 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 importance of diverse literature, and it’s role in magnifying and reinforcing the beauty in each child.  This morning my son reminded me that creating a truly diverse learning atmosphere is a never-ending 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!


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!