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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.




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.


June 11, 2014

We are so excited. We received notice from AMLE that our proposals were accepted.amle

41st Annual Conference for Middle Level Education

Nashville, TN, November 6-8, 2014

Our Sessions…..

  • What Best Practice Looks Like in a Middle Level Classroom (3-Hour Half-Day) Workshop Session)

  • Mission Possible: Stayin’ Engaged

  • Formative Assessment: What Effective Teachers Use to Plan Next Steps

  • Homework: Who Needs It?

  • Kids Know the Teacher They Want (Speed Learning Session based on our research.)

See you in Nashville!

Teachers are Rainbows in the Clouds

May 28, 2014

Linda C.:

I discovered Maya Angelou as a young teacher and have always admired her strength and courage. I am so happy I had the opportunity to see and hear her last year. We have lost an artist and a kind soul.


Originally posted on From Surviving to Thriving:

Today’s blog post honors a strong woman and educator during Women’s History Month.

I first came to know Maya Angelou as a middle school teacher in 1979. I read her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,  as I was previewing literature for my classroom. What a powerful story! It has been a favorite book since.

Book Description

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age–and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great…

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Amazing Teachers

May 16, 2014

One of the advantages of teaching in the evening is that I have the mornings to work on grading,  lesson plans, social media, research, writing, and house cleaning. (You notice these are in order of priority. Sometimes I don’t get to that last one.) I don’t like quiet so much, so usually the TV is on by my desk. I’m not always watching, but it is there to keep me company.apple2

A couple of days this week Kelly and Michael got my attention. They honored a “Top Teacher” every day this week. It has been so inspiring. While these are only five teachers, they represent all those caring and effective teachers who are making a difference every day. It is gratifying to see teachers appreciated and noticed for what they do each day.

To be inspired and to read more about these amazing teachers go to LIVE with Kelly and Michael. Their profiles and videos are at the bottom of the page. You can even vote if you like.

Click to see these amazing teacher videos.

Be sure to thank the teachers who are not on TV. They deserve our recognition too.


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