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Back to School…again!

July 30, 2017

August is here! While there is still summer left, teachers everywhere start thinking about their classrooms and the opportunities that await in a new school year. There will be new teachers and administrators to meet, old colleagues to connect and celebrate with, new students to build relationships with, and new goals to set for a successful school year. It really is an exciting time!

I’ve had too many first days of school to even count, but I still get excited for that “Back to School” feeling. I’ve written many times and shared lots of advice for getting ready to go back to the classroom, or for some of you to get ready for your first classroom. Check out these previous  posts. (I didn’t realize how many I had written.) It’s good stuff!

The newspaper and social media are advertising Back to School sales. It’s time to get ready!!

Surviving to Thriving LjL is dedicated to providing high quality curriculum based on Best Practices for today’s classrooms. We have products for grades K-12, and we too are “throwing a sale” on TPT on August 1 & 2. Visit our store to check it out.

Our most popular products are perfect for the first days of school. Best Sellers 2017

Visit our store at and check out our many other products.

Try our lesson plans for the First Days of School.

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Culture-Gram: Passover Edition

April 5, 2017

Today’s post is written by guest blogger Kelly Steiner. Kelly shares these insights with her faculty and administration. Thank you Kelly for sharing your culture with us. Happy Passover.

Monday night is the first night of one of the most important Jewish holidays-Passover. 

What is this one about?Passover
Passover is the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It’s Pesach in hebrew, but that just means passover. It is the retelling of how our ancestors came to be slaves in Egypt, their treatment under the Egyptians (spoiler alert- it wan’t good), Moses, the plagues and their eventual escape from oppression. The story is retold, pretty much the same way, every year. In the process of telling the story, families (who traditionally gather from all over) go through a ritual meal called a Seder (which means “order” in hebrew). It is full of symbols. For example, there are several symbols out on the table: Matzah (the unleavened bread that represents how the jewish people had to flee so quickly they couldn’t wait for their bread to rise and it baked on their backs while they fled through the desert- it’s why we eat unleavened bread for 8 days), a hard boiled egg (I think this one is the circle of life and new beginnings), a green vegetable (that gets dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears of our ancestors), a shank bone (the term passover comes from the fact that during the last plague- slaying of the first born- the angel of death passed over the Jewish houses because they marked their door posts with the blood of a lamb), Charoses (a sweet mix of apples, honey, cinnamon and wine that reminds us of the mortar used by our ancestors in their bondage), and bitter herbs (often this is bits of raw horseradish to remind us of the bitterness of bondage- it’ll definitely clear your sinuses).

You can see that this isn’t a party holiday (if you want one of those, ask me about Purim), but it is a real centerpiece of the Jewish calendar and a key gathering of family. For me growing up, this was the only time aside from Thanksgiving where everyone made sure to be in one place. This is especially challenging since most people don’t get time off of work or school for passover and so getting family from all over to the same place for this ceremonial meal meant lots of sacrifices. It’s also a really interesting one to visit. It is customary to leave an empty seat for any stranger since we were once strangers in a strange land. This is sometimes re-interpreted as just a wide welcoming of visitors that want to engage in a seder. So if you’ve always wanted to know more about Jewish culture, you could totally join in a seder sometime.

A highlight for me is the focus on social justice. In many Haggadot (plural for Haggadah- the book that lays out the seder and contains the story, prayers and songs) the readings focus on the need for all Jews to rededicate themselves at passover to the freedom of all, including freedom from hunger, freedom from oppression, bigotry, hatred, war, etc. We are reminded over and over that as a people we remember the pain of bondage and we are bound to commit ourselves to understanding and alleviating the pain of bondage of others. It is said several times that we should all think of ourselves as personally having escaped Egypt and experiencing the Exodus because if it hadn’t happened we’d still be there. I also think it’s cool that when we read out the ten plagues (because you haven’t really had a festive meal until you have discussed of boils, blood, and locusts) we dip our fingers into our wine and remove a drop for each plague. This reminds us that although the Egyptians were our oppressors, they were still people and their suffering should remove some of our joy from our cup.

A flip side or controversy is that another traditional custom is to say “next year in Israel”. This is hard for many cultures (including Palestinians) because if all the Jews who said that, actually went to Israel, it would cause some serious population dynamic problems. I don’t mean to be flip, I wanted to bring up why this is a hard day for many Arabs without getting into the whole ball of wax.

But can I expect kids do their homework?
In terms of the nitty gritty- you may have students absent Monday and/or Tuesday. This is probably because they traveled to be with family or are preparing on Monday since family is so important for this holiday. The seder traditionally takes several hours on Monday night (and some families do a traditional second seder on Tuesday night). This really takes almost all night and would make it very tough to do homework (even if the house wasn’t full of extended family). So, if you can, please cut your Jewish kids some slack on homework Monday.

Anything else I should know to be sensitive?
First, many Jewish students may not eat leavened bread (or lots of other things- there’s a lot of specifically Kosher for Passover foods) for 8 days starting Monday night. If you’re supervising lunch or other treats, you can be sensitive to this temporary dietary restriction.
Second, if you want to say something, you can say happy passover or have a sweet passover- it’s just with more of a happy Easter tone (a more serious one) than a happy birthday tone since the holiday is a solemn one. (Honest, Jews do have party holidays, just not big enough to write e-mails for- again, we just had Purim which is a riot).

I hope that this answered some of your questions.

Kelly teaches 8th grade science in Milwaukee, WI. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University.

April is Poetry Month

March 26, 2017

Poems are like messages in a bottle sent out with little hope of finding a recipient. Those of us who find and read poems become their unknown addresses.

From How to Read a Poem (and Fall in Love with Poetry)

by Edward Hirsch Poetry Foundation

As I prepared for today’s post, I again realized I am not as poetic as I would like. I am not as comfortable as I would like to be in my appreciation or teaching of poetry. I know that it is an essential part of who we are. It tells our histories, our dreams, and our secret aspirations, but most importantly it is a creative tool to communicate all of the above.

While we hope that poetry is appreciated in your classroom throughout the year, April is a reminder that our children deserve an opportunity to learn to love poetry.

Have a great day!


If you give a child a word….they will make poetry!


Resources for Teaching and Appreciating Poetry

Please share  ways you teach poetry in your classroom. Comments are welcome.

Updated and reblogged March 26, 2017 from the original March 30, 2012 post.





Add Some Fun and Excitement to Your Classroom

March 22, 2017

This year’s hatch will be around March 30. Check out eagle watch 2017.

From Surviving to Thriving

It’s February! It’s that time of year when students, classrooms AND teachers need rejuvenating. If you are looking for something new and exciting to follow in your classroom, consider the Decorah Live Eagle Cam. The Live Cam follows a pair of bald eagles from the mating season until the young adults leave the nest. The exciting news is that the first egg was laid yesterday. Mom and Dad are now taking turns keeping the egg warm and turning it. It is expected that another egg will be laid in the next few days. It’s fun, exciting, and educational to watch. Use it in your classroom and share it with your families. The Live Cam is sponsored by the Raptor Resource Project. Enjoy!

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Challenging Classrooms

March 15, 2017

I love hearing from former students. Often they are asking for help with challenging classroom situations. I also love hearing about celebrations and everyday triumphs, so feel free to send those too. Depending on the classroom these can vary tremendously.

This year, I have heard from several educators who have taken new teaching positions or long-term sub positions in the middle of the year. No matter what kind of school you are in, these can be challenging.

The first thing to remember is that you are dealing with students who feel abandoned. Even if logically they know their teacher is sick or some circumstance forced their move, they still feel abandoned. The new teacher has to prove him/herself as a teacher AND as a committed teacher that will not leave them. They don’t want to invest time in you, if you are not going to stay.

Remember it is all about relationships. Start over and treat it just like the beginning of the year…..clean slate. Go back to your management plan and use those beginning of the school year lessons. Include students in creating classroom norms and really start over. Begin each day with “morning meeting.” if you teach middle school, consider beginning each class with a class meeting like “morning meeting.” Involve the students. Talk about respect and teach it. Talk about relationships and community. Use a different relationship activity every day.

Consider having students keep a journal on community. Use it at the beginning and end of class daily for reflection.

Teach problem-solving and conflict resolution.

  • Previous blog on Problem Solving.
  • Previous post on Conflict Resolution.
  • If you teach problem-solving think about having a place in your room. where students can remove themselves to if they are upset or need to settle down. Previous Post

For the most challenging students consider working with them to set individual goals. Remember to give positive reinforcement when they make good decisions.

Connect with parents. Start making positive phone calls home! Build relationships with parents. Previous Post on Positive Phone Calls.

I realize you are busy and  you do not have time to read, but I highly recommend these two books:

Go to Pinterest for more resources:

Be persistent. It will not be quick, but it will happen if you keep at it. Remember to take care of yourself and stay positive!

If you have advice for these teachers who are beginning in new situations, please leave comments below.



Working with Challenging Students

March 14, 2017

It’s that time of year….problems begin to surface in your classroom. Excellent strategies and interventions in this post.

From Surviving to Thriving

We frequently get emails from former students – Subject Line: HELP. They begin with, “I have this student….What do I do?”

In one scenario the teacher had a troubled student who was especially challenging. “Mary” had been abandoned by several adults including her mother and was currently living with her grandmother. In a typical day there would be a midmorning meltdown. My student was trying all sorts of ways to build a relationship, but seemed to be getting nowhere. It was almost as if her student was afraid to make attachments. (She was.) Mary no longer trusted adults, including teachers. So many people had let her down that she was afraid to trust, afraid that connecting would mean losing someone again ……when they left or she was forced to move again.

We talked about the fact that it would be very difficult to build a relationship of trust when…

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Happy Hanukah Culture-Gram

December 22, 2016

From Guest Blogger Kelly Steiner


What is Hanukah?

Hanukah is actually not a very important Jewish holiday. It ranks WAY down the list, which is one of the key ways that it differs from Christmas. It is a celebration of a victory in about 165 B.C.E. (Jews use before the common era and common era instead of B.C. and A.D. since those focus on Jesus’ birth as the key date set). In this victory a small group of Jewish farmers, led by the Macabee family defeated a much larger and better prepared Syrian army who had desecrated the temple. It’s an underdog story. The menorah (9 candle holder) comes from the story that after the victory the Jews went to re-establish the temple but only had enough oil for 1 day of the holy light that never goes out but it would take 8 days to get more sacred oil. Miraculously, the oil lasted all 8 days. So at Hanukah we light one candle for each night (1 on the first night, 2 on the second night, etc.) to celebrate this. Like most Jewish holidays the focus is on repeating the story and explaining it, especially to younger generations to maintain the communal cultural memory. There are 9 candles because one is a helper (Shamash) that you light first and use to light the others (so on the first night it’s the Shamash plus one for the first night, etc). Hanukah actually means “dedication” as in the re-dedication of the temple.

How do you spell it?
There is no one correct english spelling since Hebrew doesn’t share letters with English, all writing of hebrew words is just a sounding out. It’s just as correct to write Chanukah.

What do people do?/ What is reasonable to expect from my students?
People often get together with families. It’s customary to light the lights, tell the story, sing songs, play dreidel (a top with 4 hebrew letters that represent the phrase “a great miracle happened there” because teaching Jewish tradition was banned so it hid the education as a gambling game but allowed the teaching of the story) and to eat fried foods (to focus on the oil, and well, it’s delicious).
It’s reasonable to expect students to do their school work but you may need to be sensitive to kids who are traveling to be with family or who have a ton of people over to their house.

How do I say something to them?
You can say “Happy Hanukah” or “Happy Holidays”, just preferably not “Merry Christmas”.

When is it this year?
Short answer: starts at sundown December 24. Like all Jewish holidays it starts at sundown the night before the first day. It continues for 8 days. The Jewish calendar is lunar so it’s not in synch with the Gregorian calendar. In order to make up the difference in seasons there is a leap month added to the Jewish calendar 7 times every 19 years. This was done since last Hanukah.

Is it just a Jewish Christmas?
Very much not. It’s got a very different origin, much less significance, and very different symbols. What they have in common is a focus on light (which is found in many northern hemisphere cultures near the winter solstice) and the potential for gifts (although this is down played at Hanukah since it’s such a minor holiday).

Kelly teaches science at Shorewood Intermediate School in Milwaukee, WI. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and an adjunct professor at Cardinal Stritch University.

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