Category Archives: Respectful culture

Reading Aloud

By Katie Choate


As I was flipping through the Teach Like a Champion text, the words “The Challenges of Reading Aloud” caught my attention.  How fitting for an English teacher, right?  The problem is we all have different views on reading aloud in the classroom.  Recently, I’ve heard from someone “up above” that teachers should never force a student to read aloud.  Personally, I find that to be crazy.  We’re talking about 14 year-olds or older!  These students have been reading aloud since at least first grade.  They’ve actually been assessed on their skills as far as reading aloud in their younger years in school.  So why would we allow them to opt out of this as they become older and better readers?  The answer they give is that it puts pressure on the student, makes them feel “put on the spot”, or demonstrates their reading flaws.  I don’t believe this.  I think these students have learned that “playing dumb” or announcing that they have self-diagnosed dyslexia will earn them a pass.  If you watch these students, the second they are allowed to be skipped in regards to reading aloud, they tune out completely.  They know they have won and that they will forever be able to do their own thing during this part of any lesson.


My personal philosophy: you will read aloud.  When I call your name, you will read at least the paragraph we are on at a minimum.  If you struggle, we will help you.  If you have a legitimate issue, it will be documented somewhere and we will discuss that.  I can honestly say I’ve never had a student officially diagnosed with dyslexia.  I’ve had numerous students with stuttering problems or other speech impediments, and these students often do not have issues reading aloud…they’ve been working on their speech all their life.  It’s something that stems from a self-conscious issue.  Once these students realize I will not give them a pass, they are magically healed.  I love that Lemov says, “The argument further assumes that struggling is a bad thing and that classroom cultures are incapable of making it safe to struggle and take risks “ (173).   Isn’t this our job?  To make them comfortable with things they are unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with.  I think hearing others read and encouraging inflection and enthusiasm during reading is great.  You never know when you might be asked to read something aloud.  Wouldn’t these students rather be rehearsed in this skill rather than proving that they struggle with something?


Without Apology

By Katie Choate

No matter what I do, I still find there are topics that I can’t make interesting for freshmen.  Even if I’ve made attempts, many of them have it ingrained in them that school, English, writing, reading, etc. is “boring”.  On some levels I can see their point.  Let’s say I’ve managed to actually pique their interest on their current research paper.  I’ve allowed them to choose their own topic and they are really into it.  Now they’re ready to move on and take notes.  For many kids, the very thought of notetaking, citing, outlining, drafting, and editing is the antithesis for interesting.  This is where I lose a lot of them and understandably.  I’m essentially ruining their “good time” that they’re having with that topic.  One student actually asked me, “Why do I have to learn how to learn when I already know how to learn?”  I get it…especially from a 15 year old’s perspective, but I’ve never apologized for my content.  I am always trying to find a way to connect what we’re doing to the outside world.  I try to find ways that it will be relevant for them.  I don’t tell students we just need to “get through” something.  However, I am guilty of luring a student through something by saying, “Once we finish this personal narrative, we’ll be starting Greek mythology.”  I do this knowing it might perk them up.


“Making the content ‘accessible’” discusses how to introduce a topic.  I like the idea of telling students that once they grasp something, they will know more than others.  That means a lot to many of them.  I think the majority of students do embrace challenges, but there is a percentage who never do.  They want to be left alone.  This is the percentage that leave me and other teachers baffled.  And we tend to focus on those students more than the large percentage that are working and enjoying learning.  That is something I personally want to work on: focusing on the focused students.  I want to give more attention and concern to the students are enjoying the learning process and not fighting it.  I think if students see that more of my attention is being given toward the positive, they might seek out that positive attention.  I hope.

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!



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!

No Apologies by kroeningj

“It’s in the curriculum.” I have said this to my students. However, this is ironic because I had a hand in revising the curriculum. It’s not acceptable. No more apologies.

The alternatives to apology listed on p. 124 remind me of my bulletin board-Change your words; change your mindset. I guess it works for teachers, too!


Last year I had a group of less than motivated students. When it came time to do Romeo and Juliet, I used the alternative text. I told myself we would never be able to get through the original text. Now, I wonder if I really did for them or was it for me? The alternate text was easier to understand, but I robbed them of “the hard necessary to scholarship (122). If I am going to make my students talk standard English and in complete sentences, I should not be introducing them to alternative texts. It’s in the curriculum for a reason!

I saved this a couple of years ago. Fits in nicely to Chapter 3! I Don’t Know

Students Are Always Watching


good teach

It is only the beginning of our journey together as a book study team, but I cannot express how happy I am to have solid time set out of my hectic life to brainstorm, vent, and most importantly, learn from my colleagues.  Our focus (beyond Lemov’s 62 teaching techniques) really is to connect what we do every day in the classroom to our building’s indicator–this term Respectful Culture.  It is only fitting that we moved from the Introduction to Chapter 3 about setting and maintaining High Expectations.  On page 90 Lemov really hits a homerun with his statement that “the goal is to build a “culture of better” in which being pushed by your teacher to go a little further is normalized–is as commonplace in the schoolroom as a pencil.” AMEN; however, stating this is so much easier than the battle of always enforcing it.  Sadly, not every student enters our classroom with the internal drive to learn and leave with more knowledge than they entered with.  Our job, as teachers, is to help foster learning habits and care/respect for everyone in the classroom.  


I, personally, take great pride in my classroom management.  Yeah, yeah, I have an Honors class this term; however, this isn’t always the case, and I have my share of struggles with Contemporary Literature and the absences of the “good kids” in Advanced Writing.  No matter the class, though, I encourage respectful culture in my classroom by not accepting the beginning shenanigans of students at the start of the term when they are testing the waters to see what I will let slide.  The answer is NOTHING…we are here to learn and grow.  I state that from the beginning, and I model that by my own care and respect.  I SHOW my students daily who I am by sharing in the learning process; I show my own examples or I share tales about students in the past who took an assignment further than expected.  What this does is that it shows students that I’m not just following the curriculum but that I see the importance and try it out too.  I want students to trust me.  


Trust–now that is one of the most powerful tools in the classroom.  If students trust you, they will do work for you.  Also, as Friday proved to me, they will come to you when something is wrong.  They look to you as someone who always does right or who knows what to do.  Well, Friday I had my students inform me of a situation that is very wrong and very possibly dangerous that was occurring in the restroom.  The moment they told me, I literally felt all 24 sets of eyes on me…waiting to see my reaction…and what I was going to DO.  To be honest, I looked up at that classroom clock and saw that there were only 15 minutes left of adult-teacherhood; I could ignore this situation or I could take action.  Well, with those eyes on me, I knew that I had to grab my Superwoman cape and see that justice was served.  With heart-pounding, I flew out of the classroom, assessed the situation, did the right thing, and saw that the situation was resolved.  When I came back into the classroom (with only 3 minutes left), I began speaking rapidly to close out the day and apologize for not having time for our remaining presentation.  However, I was met with protest– “Mrs. Staber, we did the final presentation.”  “Yeah, E—— got up and did her movie.”  “Ha, yeah, and K—- even asked her the questions you always ask at the end.”  


What the?????  My jaw fell open, but then I recovered with my usual smile.  Wow, my students respected me and knew I was busy “taking care of business,” but they knew I would want class to go on. They felt badly for poor E—–; she was nervous and wanted to present.  
So, with my long-winded rambles here, I feel like what occurred in my classroom can happen anywhere; students look to us for guidance, and we must never ever forget that their eyes are always watching.   

superwoman  Angela Staber