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Culture-Gram: Hanukkah Edition

December 13, 2017

Special thanks to our guest blogger Kelly Steiner.

Here’s what to expect with your students in terms of Hanukkah along with some FAQs about this often misunderstood holiday.

Will the kids miss school?
Generally, Hanukkah doesn’t require missing of school. However, for some Jewish families the mandate to light the candles at a specific time (connected to sunset) is very strict. Since the sun sets just after school these days, it may mean that some Jewish students aren’t available for after school activities/ help.

Can they still do their homework?
There is no religious expectation to not work, so it is still reasonable to ask students to complete their work. However, exceptions might be needed for kids who are either traveling to be with family or have lots of family staying at their house, which can make it more difficult to manage. I don’t have any doubt that all of you would treat these cases the same way you’d treat any other family time. All eight nights can have associated family time and festivities so there may be more on kids’ plates this next week, just something to be mindful of.

Isn’t it weird to send e-mails about religion?
I hope it isn’t weird. Judaism is a bit different in that it is both a religion and a cultural ethnicity. Lots of people consider themselves Jewish culturally but don’t practice the religion. We’re an odd group that way. I hope that I don’t offend anyone, I aim to just help us better understand each other’s cultures. If it helps at all, Jews activity discourage converting to Judaism and so we’re one group where it is a good guess that there is no intent to sell the religion.

I thought Hanukkah happened at Thanksgiving, what’s with that?
The Jewish holidays happen based on the Jewish calendar which is lunar, as opposed to our secular solar calendar. This means that Jewish holidays fall at a different time in the secular calendar each year, even thought they are always at exactly the same time on the Jewish calendar. Previously we had “Thanksgivikah”, this year it starts at sundown on the 12th and continues through the 20th. You can search future secular dates of Jewish holidays if you’re interested. They are posted several decades ahead of time.

Is “Hanukkah” the right way to spell it?
There is no right way. Hebrew and English don’t share the same characters so all spelling in English of Hebrew words is just phonetic. Multiple spellings are considered “correct”, including starting it with a Ch since the first sound in the Hebrew word is a hard HCH sound.

What is this holiday all about anyway?
Hanukkah is not a biblical holiday like some of the others, it comes from early Jewish History. Because Judaism is both a religion and a cultural identity and has the added distinction of being a minority culture in many places there is a lot of focus on retelling of the history of the people and their struggles to maintain a sense of cultural identity, cohesiveness and common history. This holiday (like many others) follows the theme that would probably be a movie trailer like this: “in a world where the culture of power bans Judaism and Jewish practices, persecuting Jews for following their beliefs, a band of feisty Jews refuses to be oppressed and fights back against a much larger and stronger force to preserve Jewish culture for future generations!” In this episode, the oppressive culture of power is the Greek-Syrians and the rebel band of Jews was led by the Maccabee family. After the Greek-Syrians destroyed the temple, the Jews reclaimed it and rededicated it. Hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew. More information can be found at:

What about the presents?
Just like Christmas isn’t really about presents and trees, Hanukkah isn’t really about presents and fried foods. It is an opportunity to repeat the stories of a common history and focus on the victory of light over darkness (a key theme in lots of cultures around the winter solstice). That’s why the menorah is lit. The fried foods are a nod to the oil which, is the central miracle in the story. After the desecration of the temple, there was only enough oil to light the eternal lamp for 1 day, but it would take 8 days to get more appropriate oil. The 1 day’s worth of oil miraculously lasted for 8 days (according to the story as it is told every year). That’s also why the menorah has one additional candle each night for eight nights. It is lit, prayers are said and songs are often sung.

The last menorah I saw had 9 spots, was it a mistake?
Nope, there are 8 candle spots, one for each night plus one “helper” candle, the shamash, which is lit first and used to light all the other candles- making a total of 9.

What’s with the dreidel?
The dreidel game was originally a way to cover up the teaching of the Jewish traditions from the oppressive regimes. When soldiers came by it was a basic game of chance. But when the soldiers left, it could be used to teach children. The four hebrew letters on the dreidel are the first four letters of the phrase “A Great Miracle Happened There” which allows for the telling of the story. Interesting factoid- in Israel, the last letter on the dreidel is different so that is says “A Great Miracle Happened Here”.

What do I say to a Jewish kid?
It is polite to say “Happy Hanukkah” to Jewish kids on any of the eight days. It starts at sundown on Tuesday night and continues through December 20. “Happy Holidays” is also generally considered inclusive of Hanukkah.

Also, just like all cultures, actual practices and traditions vary greatly family to family. A student’s (or other staff member’s) description of their tradition and practices should trump my generalization.  I aim to just be able to straddle an insider and outside perspective since I have a multi-faith family.

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

Challenging School Environments

October 1, 2017

Many of you are well along in the school year, and some of you have shared that you have some challenging students and school situations.
Still good advice in this blog post. Enjoy!

From Surviving to Thriving

There is no doubt that many of you are in  challenging schools. Your student population may have challenges at school and often at home. Colleagues are often inexperienced and lack some of the skills needed to work in challenging schools.

It’s hard. I know it is. But you are there, so it is up to you to make the most of the situation for yourself, your students and even your colleagues. I would suggest there are three areas to begin your focus. You can be a force of change in your classroom and a model for others in your school.

 First: Take care of yourself.

Begin by taking care of you and recognizing what you have control over. You determine your attitude and you are responsible for taking good care of yourself.

  • Be and stay positive. This is one of my favorite quotes and I strongly believe it.

The Dilemma

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Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Coming Soon: Jewish Culture-Gram

September 18, 2017

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

Hello everyone,

The two biggest days in the Jewish calendar are coming up. Rosh Hashanah is Thursday and Friday, September 21 and 22 and Yom Kippur is Saturday, September 30. I wanted to provide information about how it relates to you in your work and also what’s happening for some of our kids. Since I’m a part of the majority culture most of the time, I know how easy it is to assume that all kids have similar experiences. Being a part of the minority culture in this one instance lets me experience how frustrating it is to not fit with what an institution expects.

Are there any days that kids may miss school or not be able to do homework?
Yes. Most Jewish students will miss school on September 21 for the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Some Jewish students will miss September 22 (second day of Rosh Hashanah). Fortunately (from my point of view), Yom Kippur is a weekend, so kids don’t have to miss school.

Do I have to do anything?
No, you don’t have to. I can tell you from experience though, it’s really hard to just be trying to figure out what’s what and how things work and to feel out all of your teachers and figure out what works for you AND miss two or three days of school 10 days apart. Please do whatever you can to help them navigate what they miss and still merge into your classroom culture.

Can they do their homework?
Probably not. Rosh Hashanah starts on a Wednesday night, but many kids will either be traveling to be with family or have houses full of family which can make the practicality of homework challenging. During Rosh Hashanah they are probably in services all day, and doing work is expressly forbidden. Yom Kippur during the day they are in services, forbidden from working, and for students who’ve already been bar/bat mitzvahed (about age 12-13), they will be fasting. It’s unlikely that their homework/ classwork will get done that day. Please, again, try to help them navigate this. If there is anything that you can condense or excuse, I’m sure it would be very much appreciated.

Why are the kids missing school?
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two High Holy Days. Think of them like the importance of Christmas and Easter, but only 10 days apart. They are super serious, generally solemn, and big deals. Different denominations observe different numbers of days for Rosh Hashanah. Some celebrate only the first day (Wednesday night to Thursday night- all Jewish holidays start and end at sundown). Others celebrate both days (Wednesday night to Friday night). Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” and it is the new year. Instead of a big party day like January 1, it is a serious holiday which starts the 10 days of awe in which you need to ask for forgiveness (from people and then the big guy) for sins from the previous year before your fate for the coming year is sealed. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement- the last chance to pray for forgiveness before fates are sealed.

Why isn’t at the same time/ day of the week as last year?
Because Jewish holidays are on the lunar calendar, they’re a slightly different time in our solar calendar each year. Almost all other North Shore districts are closed for the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

What should I say to them?
If you’d like to say something to your Jewish students, you can say “happy new year” although it’s a thoughtful tone instead of the party tone of December 31 since it’s such a serious holy day. Another way it gets said a lot is “have a happy and healthy new year”- that’s why we dip apples in honey. If you work with older students you can ask them if they are fasting for Yom Kippur or wish them an easy fast.

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions (I’m almost impossible to offend- I live in two cultures so I often get the opportunity to translate between them, it’s a privilege). I also invite you to consider parts of your culture that I might not be aware of and let me know about them so that I can be more responsive.

Kelly Steiner, NBCT
7th and 8th Grade Science Teacher

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

Successful School Year Tip #1: Learn Your Students’ Names

September 6, 2017

Some of the most effective tactics we can employ in our classrooms are the easiest to implement. Everyone deserves to be valued, and that includes having their names both remembered and pronounced correctly. I will admit that one of my biggest challenges as a teacher was and remains learning my students’ names. It’s extremely challenging for middle school and high school educators and elementary specialist teachers.  My most useful strategy is still #10, a picture roster.

Ten Tips for Learning Student Names

  1. Study the class list before you see the students and rehearse aloud each student’s name.
  2. Use name tags or name tents during the first week of class.
  3. Construct a seating chart and ask students to sit in the same place for at least the first week.
  4. Circle of Names – Make a circle in the classroom. Think of something that starts with your first initial. Teacher starts by telling what they picked and then add it to their name, example… my name starts with a L so I picked Lucky Linda. Next person would then say Lucky Linda, followed by their adjective and name. The next person would then say the first then second then theirs…on so on. By the time you go around you have heard each name several times and with that you remember names of your students.
  5. Focus only on first names.
  6. As you take attendance during the first week of school, say each student’s name deliberately and look at the student. Ask students to help with or correct your pronunciation.
  7. While you take attendance, write something specific about each student to help you remember his or her name. (This will help you really know the student and build relationships.)
  8. At the end of the first class, attempt to say every student’s name.  If you can’t remember a student’s name, ask that student for the first letter, second letter, until you can remember the name.
  9. Let your students know you are actively trying to remember their names.  If you can’t remember a student’s name, just ask!  Students will really appreciate your effort to remember their names.
  10. Use a picture roster. Your school may already have student photos available online in your student management system. If not, use time the first day of school to take photos and add them to your class list. Review these before and after class and have it on your desk for quick reference. You can use the digital photos throughout the year for various student projects.
Neiman, L.
(Updated  by Carpenter, L. 9/6/2017.)




Back to School ….again!

August 30, 2017

Wow! Time flies by. Where did summer go?

Many of you are back in your classrooms already and the remainder will be next week. I’ve enjoyed the “Back to School” pictures and comments my former students and fellow educators have been sharing on Facebook. They are full of promise and new beginnings. I love hearing about your plans and classroom activities. I’ve been in the classroom in the fall either as a student or as an educator for most of my life, and I still love it!

For the first time in many, many years, I do not have a class scheduled for this fall semester. It’s a good thing. I’ve entered a new phase in my life. Those of you who know me, know that I embrace change. It’s part of keeping an open mind and being open to new possibilities.  In most cases change is good. Now in addition to being an educator, mother, wife, and family member, I am also a Grandma, and I am thoroughly enjoying my day each week with my new grandson. My lesson plans have changed from relationship and community building to tummy time exercises, reading board books, eye contact and talking, talking, talking to that small miracle. We’re building vocabulary and phonemic awareness!

I will continue teaching a few classes, working with new educators, and collaborating with my colleagues at CSU. I will also continue to write and collaborate with my two partners at Surviving to Thriving  LjL adding useful products to our store on Teachers Pay Teachers.

One of my ongoing goals is to support classroom teachers using social media. I’m very active on Facebook and Pinterest. Daily I try to share resources and useful classroom strategies and interventions. My blog has suffered in the last year, so I am setting a new goal to try to blog at least once a week. I have also invited some of my very knowledgeable colleagues and friends to guest blog. I think that will be a treat for all of us. I know so many outstanding educators who have so much knowledge and experience to share. So, stay tuned for exciting new blog posts. If you have a topic you would be interested in, please let me know.

Here’s to new beginnings. May all of you have a successful school year. Enjoy your students and your time in the classroom. Treasure the moments!

To receive my almost daily shares, follow me on Facebook. You will also find tons of resources on my Pinterest boards.







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.

crayon box

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.

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.





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