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Be a Part of Your School Community

July 30, 2014

This morning my husband sent me the flyer displayed below. At first I thought, I can’t put that on my blog. My blog is for professional posts only, but it is my blog. Then I reviewed my lesson for this evening, part of which focuses on the importance of building professional relationships or Engaging in School Culture. I know that my husband’s involvement and decision to chair this year’s Milwaukee Heart Walk, grew out of his professional relationships. While it is for a great cause and a disease that has affected too many of our family and friends, the walk itself will be a fun opportunity to connect with colleagues and friends outside of the work place. Relationships will be strengthened and new relationships formed.

Healthy connections among staff and faculty in the building serve as a model for students and their families. Often, dysfunctional school cultures can trace the root of the problem to poor communication practices, the inability to work together, or the isolation of staff and faculty. Building a community takes intentional effort. By reaching out to others and getting to know people, teachers build relationships.   It is only through positive relationships and effective communication that people trust each other and invest themselves in the community.

(Carpenter, Fontanini, & Neiman, 2010)

That all led me to the realization of the connection to today’s precept. It really is all about relationships, whether in the classroom, my school, my community, or my work place.

Precept of the Day

The relationships you foster with your students and their parents are extremely important. Children appreciate teachers who treat them like human beings. Parents appreciate a teacher who cares enough to include them in their child’s education.

(Working with Students and Parents, 2006, LDOnline)

Consider organizing a team for the Heart Walk at your school.


Feel free to support the cause in any way. Donations are welcome, but we would love you to join us for the walk.

David’s Personal Heart Walk Page



Interactive Notebooks – Best Practice

July 29, 2014

I’m using interactive notebooks as a strategy in my current class. It is a new tool for me, but I am enjoying it and I think/hope my students are too. I’m giving my students a lot of choice in how they use it. (Think learning style, differentiation, and Best Practice.) It’s a work in progress. So far we have used it in these ways:

  • We begin each class with the Precept of the Day which connects to the objective/focus of the lesson. (See previous posts.) I prepare a foldable with the Precept of the Day. Students create their page and add their reflections both written and graphically.
  • We end each class with a reflection. What have we learned? Do we now have a deeper understanding or appreciation?
  • During class students are encouraged to add any ideas or information they want to remember or learn more about. Students have added sections and organized in the way that is most meaningful and useful to them.
  • We have shared our pages and talked about them with classmates.
  • We have taken pictures of our favorite page and emailed/texted it to the instructor as an Exit Slip/formative assessment.


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I want a rationale for the strategies I employ in my lessons, and I want to share the supporting literature with my students. The Interactive Notebook connects well with principles of Best Practice.

From the Cognitive Cluster of Best Practice:

Constructivist: Children do not just receive content; in a very real sense, they re-create and reinvent every cognitive system they encounter, including language, literacy, and mathematics. Students’ work in school building knowledge through inquiry, not simply listening to someone else mention information.

Expressive: To fully engage with ideas, construct meaning, and remember information, students must regularly employ the whole range of communicative media–speech, writing, drawing, poetry, dance, drama, music, movement, and visual arts.

Reflective: Balancing the immersion in experience must be opportunities for learners to reflect, debrief, and abstract from their experiences what they have thought and learned. Putting that reflection to work, students set goals for themselves, monitor their progress, and take responsibility for their own growth.

(Zemelman, S., Daniels, H.., & Hyde, A., 2012, 8-9)

Effective teachers are continually trying new ideas and adding to their toolbox.

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H.., & Hyde, A. (2012). Best practice: Bringing standards to life in America’s schools (4th Ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Partnering with Parents

July 25, 2014

While the student-teacher relationship is crucial to classroom success, also important is partnering with parents and caregivers to support students in your classroom. Parents deserve to hear how their students are doing and to be involved in the planning and goal setting for their student’s growth. Remember it is your responsibility to foster this relationship with communication and invitations to partner with you. Parents who have not had good school experiences themselves need support and encouragement.



What can teachers do to encourage parent support?

  • Send a welcome letter to all parents introducing yourself and sharing information about your classroom/content.
  • Include your contact information and times to call school. Invite parents to call you with information and concerns.
  • Call home. Begin the very first week of school and call all parents to connect and share something positive about each student. It will make difficult phone calls easier if you have already connected.
  • Send email updates and reminders about units, projects, assessments, class activities.
  • Publish a class newsletter or website.
  • Ask parents about their students with parent questionnaires.
  • Invite  parents to volunteer or share their expertise in your classroom.
  • Invite parents to school events.
  • Prepare well for parent-teacher conferences.
  • Consider home visits.

As you plan for a successful school year, include families in your plans.

A Welcoming Classroom Community for All Students

July 23, 2014

I am continuing my series on Precepts for the Classroom….


Providing a safe and welcoming classroom is vital to building relationships and community in the classroom. Getting to know students, celebrating who they are and where they come from, and providing needed social and academic supports are essential to student growth and achievement. Our students come from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds. It is up to educators to get to know and understand students.

Precept #2: Welcome and Accept ALL students.

Subtle and overt forms of racism and prejudice hinder relationships between students and teachers and impede learning. The more obvious one’s cultural difference is, the greater are the chances one may experience prejudice or discrimination.

(Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, R., & Jew, C., 2008, p. 12)

Seventh and eighth grade Reading teacher at Oregon Middle School in Oregon, WI, Amy Vatne-Bintliff teaches anti-bias standards as well as grade-level standards decrease bias and advance students’ reading levels.

Five Essential Elements of Cultural Proficiency

  • Assessing Culture
    •  Being aware of what you know about others’ cultures, how you react to others’ cultures, and what you need to do to be effective in cross-cultural situations.
  • Valuing Diversity
    •  Making the effort to be inclusive of people whose viewpoints and experiences are different from yours and will enrich conversations, decision making, and problem solving.
  • Managing the dynamics of difference
    • Viewing conflict as a natural and normal process that has cultural contexts that can be understood and can be supportive in creative problem solving
  • Adapting to Diversity
    • Having the will to learn about others and the ability to use others’ cultural experiences and backgrounds in educational settings.
  • Institutional cultural knowledge
    •  Making learning about cultural groups and their experiences and perspectives an integral part of your ongoing learning.

(Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, R., & Jew, C., 2008)


Cultural Proficiency – Making the commitment to lifelong learning for the purpose of being increasingly effective in serving the educational needs of cultural groups.

(Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, R., & Jew, C., 2008)

As professional educators we have made the commitment to lifelong learning….including a commitment to achieving cultural proficiency. Enjoy the journey.

Interactive Journal Precept #2




Lindsey, R., Graham, S., Westphal, C. & Jew, C. (2008). Cultural proficient inquiry: A lens for identifying and examining educational gaps. Thousand Oak, CA: Corwin Press.


Setting the Tone for Success in the Classroom: Building Relationships

July 21, 2014

I do start classes this evening and yes it is still summer outside. I’ve made a promise to myself that even though I am back to school, I will enjoy the sunshine and good weather by walking outside each morning. I enjoy walking outside, but I will admit that it is partly because I have a beautiful place to walk: a park with a lake, trees, birds, and wildflowers and a 1 mile trail around the lake. It is the perfect place for exercise and quiet reflection. The setting is so important to everything we do.lake

This morning as I walked I was thinking of my upcoming classes and especially tonight. The tone for a successful class begins as soon as students walk through the door. I’ve revised and updated my lesson plan with a focus on building positive relationships and modeling that for my students. I will be in the classroom an hour before class to organize myself and get the room ready to welcome my students.

Sometimes it is hard for me to convince my students that the time spent on preparation and building relationships and community is time that will ultimately give them and their students more time for learning. New teachers are so worried about meeting all the standards and covering all the curriculum that they just want to get the kids in the classroom and start teaching.

If I could teach that way, my life would be easier. I wouldn’t have spent hours reading, creating, and planning lessons to engage, instruct and model. Instead I would have just planned a 4 hour lecture on how to manage a classroom. I could certainly tell students what to do with a little lecture, a story or two, more lecture and a couple of “Turn and Talks.”

But there are several problems with that approach. I wouldn’t like it, and my after-class reflection would not be a good one. My students would be bored and disappointed, and I don’t believe my students would actually learn anything. This is not how Best Practice teachers teach, and I would be a poor role model. It would not set the stage for a productive learning environment for the remaining classes. A grand opportunity would be lost.

So I will get to class early to put flowers on the tables and start the music. The stage will be set for an engaging class. I’ll use the interactive strategies and activities I have planned, and hopefully we will all leave class with a sense of fulfillment and a deeper appreciation for the relationships we build in classrooms.


More on Relationships:

Thriving in the High School Classroom

July 17, 2014

The Art of teaching is the art of assisting DISCOVERY.

Mark van Doren

We’ve talked about it many times. Three people from very uncommon backgrounds all became teachers, ended up at the same university and decided with very little planning to begin writing, presenting, researching and creating together. We wrote our first book five years ago. (Read about the authors.) This summer we have completed a new EBook focused on high school classrooms. All three of us began as high school teachers, so we between us we have more years of experience than we care to share. (Did I mention I completed student teaching 40 years ago this last spring?)

We are excited. Writing with like-minded colleagues focused on Best Practice and students is so rewarding. It is sharing, caring, reflecting, and growing professionally and personally all in one process….the highest level of collaboration.

WHAT EXPERTS SAY: “In short, the relationships among the educators in a school define all relationships within that school’s culture. Teachers and administrators demonstrate all too well a capacity to either enrich or diminish one another’s lives and thereby enrich or diminish their schools” (Barth, 2006).


Our new EBook, Thriving in the High School Classroom, is available from our store at  Teachers Pay Teachers.

thriving cover

This EBook is for new teachers, teachers who may need a reminder of the importance of planning for a successful classroom and school year, and those who work with pre-service teachers. Thriving in the High School Classroom provides a framework for tasks and dispositions that are an essential part of a thriving high school classroom community. Although not a theory book, Thriving in the High School Classroom, provides practical explanations and rationales in a context for the activities, strategies and tools it suggests. Chapter contents include the importance of communication with parents as well as school personnel, organizational tips, strategies for building community in the classroom, and a framework for classroom behavior. The Appendix contains lists, letters, class activities, samples, and PowerPoint presentations that are ready for use.

We hope you find it useful. We certainly enjoyed writing it!

A special Thank You to my students who kindly gave permission for their photos to be used for the cover.

Precepts: Principles to Live and Teach By

July 16, 2014

Where did summer go? I am busy getting ready for the start of school which begins in less than a week for me. In my courses a critical concept is the importance of building community and relationships. I am rereading Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community by Alfie Kohn for the umpteenth time. Every time I read it I become more deeply committed to the importance of student/teacher relationships and the idea of “Working With” rather than “Doing To.” I wish I had read this book as a young teacher. My journey to becoming the teacher my students deserved and the teacher I wanted to be would have been much shorter.

While I will begin the class with an activity and discussion of the Kohn book, I am also adding something new to my toolbox. I am combining two ideas I have thought about for a while. The first is from the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. In the book, Wonder, Mr. Browne is a memorable teacher who loves precepts. So I am sharing a Precept of the Day during each class session.

In the beginning of the book, Wonder, Mr. Browne’s September Precept was:


What an important principle to live by!

From the book Beyond Discipline, my Precept for our first class will be:

Kids may remember nothing we tried to teach them but they will always remember how they and their ideas were treated in our classrooms. Kids who come back…..remember climate, relationships, and how they felt. They are just like us actually. We loved the teachers who made us feel lovable, intelligent, important.

(Kohn, 2006, pp. 150-51).



My second tool is an interactive notebook. For us to easily remember and reflect on our class precepts, I am adding an interactive notebook with foldables, drawings, and whatever helps us connect our learning to our professional practice. Reflection is an essential tool for both beginning and experienced educators. I have already started my journal, and I am excited about the possibilities for my students.



I hope you are always looking for new ways to involve and engage your students. Have a great school year.

Choose Kind!


For more examples of Alfie Kohn and classroom community take a look at these blog posts by Pernille Ripp at Blogging through the Fourth Dimension. She has thoughtful ideas about classroom management including rewards and punishments in the classroom.

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