Monthly Archives: January 2016

Assuming the best isn’t always the easiest!

by Maggie Rietz

I always enjoy starting off a new year or a new term because it gives me the opportunity to start fresh. Every teacher gets burned out at some point during the year, and we need those breaks to recharge (which is why we want to fight anyone who says anything about how much “time teachers get off”), and that burnout seems to come more quickly when the classes are more challenging. So when I have a challenging term like the last two terms, I’m frustrated, and try as I might to not let it show, that frustration does tend to show by the end of the term. This was definitely apparent to me when one of my students came in a couple days after the term to ask if this block was a better one than the last class because he could tell that I was “just over it.” He was right, of course. But I know I need to get better at not making that obvious to the students.

In Lemov’s book, he talks about Positive Framing, and it was clear to me that I had something to work on: “Guide students to do better work while motivating and inspiring them by using a positive tone to deliver constructive feedback.” It’s the positive tone part that gets me sometimes, especially when I feel like I have tried all term to deliver constructive feedback and they just haven’t listened to it, but maybe that just isn’t the case. In “Assume the Best” he writes, “We often assume intentionality behind a mistake. . . statements attribute ill intention to what could be the result of distraction, lack of practice, or genuine misunderstanding. . . our language choices give us the opportunity to show in those moments that we still see the best in people around us.” I think many times, teachers get frustrated because we are seeing the same kind of issues over and over again, even though we think that we have tried to give constructive feedback before, so we let that frustration show through our language. But reading this reminds me that maybe, sometimes when the motivation behind actions is unclear, we do need to take a step back and analyze how we ourselves are addressing the situation. If we can try to “assume the best” in students more often, maybe we will see more positive results. It’s something that I will have to work on for sure so it’s not obvious to the students when I am “just over it.”

A New Year= A Revised Teaching Philosophy

By Alissa Hansen

It’s 2016 and a new year implies some changes that need to happen. My number one goal is to be transparent about all of the changes that I would like to make in order to make this second semester successful.

As Mrs. Choate had said in her previous post, teaching freshmen is rather a delicate matter. They come at learning with the mentality of a middle schooler, yet they are eager to gain knowledge and be treated like upperclassmen. They want freedom and independence, yet they need rules and structure. They need to be encouraged, but redirected when off task. They need to be “tricked” into learning, in other words in order for them to be motivated, they need to see that joy that Lemov talks about and they also need to see how the content is relevant to their own lives in for them to take a vested interest in what is being taught. I’ve taught upperclassmen for a number of years and last year was the first year that I have taught freshmen exclusively. They are an oxymoron at times; they want to be treated one way but act the opposite. Their emotions are a rollercoaster and most of them do not have a problem wearing their emotions on their sleeves. It’s quite the classroom to observe. I have to say that although these past two years have been challenging, they have also been the most rewarding as I have the opportunity to witness just how much students can grow, academically and socially, over the course of the year. This first semester has had its ups and downs in terms of students’ lack of motivation and negativity, so my goal is to make some changes in hopes that this second semester will end with a bang!


In terms of routines, I have them (I have a website with an agenda for students each day. I write clear objectives on the board. Students know where to go for missing or make-up work and where to pick up hard copies of work they missed due to an absence. I greet students as they enter my room each day). So, I feel pretty good about the routines I have established for my classroom and students know what to do when they enter my room; however, there are times that everything doesn’t align as wonderfully as I would like it to. Sometimes while I am greeting students at the door, inside the classroom, students are not beginning their Do No (which is clearly on the board) and not following rules so some of the routines do need to be tweaked. I like the idea of the threshold that Lemov discusses. It can be very difficult to try and reach out on a personal level with 150 students each day, but this semester I am really going to strive for doing this in a genuine way. My goal this semester is to make a personal connection with FIVE students each day. And when I say personal, I mean want to reach out to students and work with them one-on-one, despite the demands of the entire class. My plan to is to focus on one class each day and five students each day.

I really like the idea of STAR/SLANT too, but working this into a schedule with freshmen could be tricky. Students could view this as childish, so I think I have to be pretty sneaky about incorporating this into the curriculum. This will work out pretty well given that we are approaching the research paper and persuasive speech. I am going to have students start doing impromptu speeches more often and this would be a great tactic for them to learn how to be active listeners/respectful audience members and hopefully this will translate into how they approach being students in the classroom and really listening during lessons/instruction. Freshmen seem to have a really difficult time with this, so perhaps making it a game with incentives will prove to be beneficial.

So, with routines, although I feel like I have some pretty good ones in place, I still plan to include some of Lemov’s ideas for routines and be very transparent with students about the process.

Character & Trust

This is the chapter that really had some resonance with me because although I think I have a pretty good rapport with students, there are still many areas in this category that I need to work on. I NEED to live in the now, assume the best, allow for anonymity, to narrate the positive and reinforce actions and not traits. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and when I reprimand students for things they can no longer change, I know it defeats the whole purpose. And how can anything be learned through criticism, unless it’s constructive? So, instead of stating “ Student’s name, put your phone away” or “Student’s name, you need to stop talking” I can focus on what they can do to be successful like, “I need you focused for this lesson”. I can also fall into the trap of making students out to be deliberate about their off-task behavior, and although sometimes it can be, I am sure there is a reason and instead of focusing on the negative like “you’re being rude!”, I can be a little more delicate to make sure my words are not judgemental of the person, but instead the behavior. For example I could say, “That behavior is not acceptable.” I try to be as positive as possible, but even that can be difficult when students get frustrated and give up or are off-task and unproductive. I really need to do more focusing on what is going well and stop getting sucked into what is not because it brings me down. And even when things aren’t going well, I need to try to pull out an aspect that can be viewed as positive. For example, “I am glad that you are putting in the effort here. It looks like you started this part off well” or if a student is not being productive I could say, “ Student’s name, I really want to see your best work here as I have seen it before. We have a lot to do today.” I can also make sure to address students in a way that helps them become risk tolerant so they understand that they are fully in control of their learning and that their actions determine the results, not “how smart or not smart that they perceive themselves as being”.

I have a lot of work to do, but I do think there is plenty of time to do it and it’s a great time to begin this reinvigoration of teaching as it’s a new year!



Strategies by kroeningj

SLANT: As soon as I read this I knew I had been exposed to it before. It took me awhile, but I remembered SLANT from my KU days. In the mid to late 90’s, I taught at an intermediate school. The resource teacher there was very accessible. She came into one of my 7th grade classes to pilot a project on sentence writing. I was impressed! She explained her approach was of one several produced by Kansas University. She talked me into taking one of the classes offered by our AEA9. I was hooked; I took every KU class/seminar offered in our area by AEA9:Slant

  • Fundamentals in Sentence Writing
  • LINCS: Vocabulary Strategy
  • Routines
    • Recall Enhancement
    • Order
    • Survey
    • Vocabulary LINCing

Then I moved to high school. There was so much more to cover in the curriculum and the students should have the basics down, right? Yes and no. I spent a total of 15 years in the junior high/middle school trenches. I know the curriculum and I know the teachers work very hard to prepare students for high school. However, they get to high school and act like they don’t know what you are talking about!

So back to The Strategies. I am not sure high school students will buy into SLANT, but it is worth a try. If anyone in our book cohort would like to view the entire set of directions, please let me know. I also reviewed my manual for Fundamentals  in Sentence Writing.  I would like to use some of these strategies with the 9th grade students I work with in 9th Grade Success Room. They will soon be writing a research paper and I believe many of them could benefit from this. However, how do I get them to buy into it? This would be additional instruction and practice on their parts. Will students work with me to improve their writing if they are not receiving a grade for the practice work? We have talked about this before. You have to master the basics before you can step up to the next level. Is it more important to me than them? In the end, if a student puts in the extra practice, the reward should be a better grade. Too often the grade doesn’t matter; they just want the assigment completed. How do we change this mentality?

Keep On, Keepin’ On

-Angela Staber

Chapter 12 is entitled “Building Character and Trust”, but what jumps out to me is found on page 426 when Lemov is detailing a teacher-to-student conversation.  Lemov writes, “In this conversation, you may change his perceptions of you or of school.  You will assuredly (and without realizing it) change your perceptions of your work:  Are you successful?  Are you changing lives?  Are you respected?  Is it worth it?  Should you just get your real estate license?”  This made me stop–is it worth it???  Man, now that is a question that punches a teacher in the gut when it is January.  For some in our group, this is the 3rd time this school year that you are starting over–new students, three different courses to prep and grade for, and crowded classrooms with students who are longing for Spring.  You are teaching 9 week courses; you have taught roughly 150 students, and now term 3 brings that number up to 225.  Why not look to the end of the school year?  A teacher, on the block, with 9 week classes, will have had 300 students–300 students who will have caused joy, laughter, and pride, but who will have also caused frustration, hurt, anger, and worst of all–questioning your worth.  So, why do we do it?  Why do we put our own personal lives, our families on hold, for other people’s kids?  The answer–because we have to.  We have to show these students that we care, and that we will not give up on them.  We have to show them how a responsible adult speaks, reacts, and shows compassion.  

This past weekend, to avoid facing my own personal/professional issues, I went beyond our book and read more of Doug Lemov’s blog.  He wrote a nice entry connecting Dr. MLK to student potential.  He writes,  “But maybe the thing that struck me most deeply this morning in reflecting on King’s life was a simple picture, which I saw for the first time this week.  It’s of King as a child- at six. To look at the photo as an educator is to be transfixed in a distinctive way.  He looks so much like the children we teach everyday: The sweet smile. The face of childhood gazing into the distance of the future. He could be in that picture, just about any child whom we teach- the greatness within him waiting to emerge. If you looked at the picture now and someone asked you who it was you would not likely know it was one of History’s great men–you would more likely think it was one of your next year’s second graders.  It reminds me of  the potential in the children we teach.  Part of honoring King’s legacy is to honor not only the greatness of the man in his adult life but the potential represented in his childhood when he was challenged by his parents and his teachers, loved, pushed to strive for excellence.  It all started, here, the picture reminds me, with love and belief and teaching.


The last few lines of Lemov’s post hit a home-run; we are not chasing that real estate license because we see the potential of our impact on students.  We will continue to modify our classroom procedures and our delivery of content because we want to be our best; the young people of today need us…and we need them.  
So…keep on, keepin’ on, great colleagues!   



Narrating the Positive

by Katie Choate

Teaching 9th graders can be both rewarding and challenging.  They are at a strange age where they would still like to give their teacher a hug, but it’s really not the “cool” thing to do any more.  It’s better for them to play the “too cool for school” thing, yet they really do still function like intermediate students.  They are searching for positive feedback and they like to be told when they are doing something right.  Because they act one age and are really “at” another age, I find narrating the positive to be very difficult.


I want to treat these students parallel to how they act toward me.  However, this is not the right approach.  It’s a tricky, little game 14 year-olds like to play, and I tend to fall into their trap.  A student may shut down, sit and stare at the wall for 15 minutes while they’re supposed to be doing something else, and I will call out, “What are you looking at, Ayden?”  In my defense, I probably only do things like this a small percentage of the time.  The other half of the time, I am aware and follow the “warm/strict” approach to these students.  Something more like walking closer to Ayden, looking at his work, and commenting on what he’s done right (even though that was 20 minutes ago).  This gets him back on track and acknowledged to him that I noticed he spaced off.  


I have to remember that I am the adult…they start to rub off on you after awhile!