Finding the Joy Of Teaching

Finding the Joy Of Teaching

One of the biggest things I hear is that there is no joy left in teaching for many. School shootings and violence against teachers seem to dominate the headlines. Social media is flooded with posts about a record number of teachers leaving their jobs. It would seem that there is no happiness in teaching if you look at the media. Without succumbing to toxic positivity, I believe that there are many ways that elementary teachers can reclaim the zest and joy in teaching, and no surprise–it starts with relationship building!

To begin with, find ways to connect with your students: Building positive relationships with your students can help you with finding joy in teaching. Make an effort to get to know your students on a personal level, and create a supportive and welcoming classroom environment. I have lots of tips for this on my Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook page as well as in our private group if you need help getting started or are just looking for fresh ideas.

Connect with your students

Look for opportunities to learn and grow

Continuously learning and growing as a teacher can be a source of joy and fulfillment. Seek out professional development opportunities, collaborate with colleagues, and try new teaching strategies to keep your teaching fresh and engaging.

I remember that I was at a high burnout point in teaching when my daughter was little. I had several difficult classes in a row, and honestly, my heart was at home–I just wanted to be a stay at home mom. Short of winning the lottery, that was not going to be financially feasible, so I knew I needed to make some changes in how I was approaching teaching. I mean, if I was staying in the classroom, I had a responsibility to make it enjoyable for all of us, right? A friend of mine suggested signing up for Pinterest and sent me an invite (remember those days when it was invitation only?) and it literally changed my whole perspective!

I remember the first thing I found was a really cool idea that my students were super excited about for the book Pie, which was our read aloud at the time. Thousands of pins later, I see it as a huge turning point for helping me find joy in education again. This is also when I found my first must follow Pinterest account by Angela Watson. I bought her books, signed up for her courses and devoured her podcast. You can find her here:

It’s important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem.

Take pride in the progress your students make. I definitely am not a huge proponent of over assessing children, but it does have to be done sometimes. Often, we just look at areas of growth needed, but I would encourage you to also look at what is going well. This information is just as important and can often lead to just the boost we need to feel like what we are doing matters (spoiler alert: it does!) and is working with children.

Teaching can be stressful at times, but it’s important to focus on the present moment and find joy in the classroom with the everyday moments of your job.

Take a moment to appreciate the beauty in your surroundings, the laughter of your students, or the satisfaction of a job well done. I find great joy in seeing beautiful classroom spaces, and could look at photos and videos of them for hours! One of my favorites is Schoolgirl Style. Her classroom transformations are amazing! I love seeing that lightbulb moment in students for sure, but even just sharing a good laugh can brighten my day. I have so many stories of truly joyful moments that bring a smile to my face every day when I remember them.

Pro tip:

You will obviously remember the “big” stories, but I would highly recommend keeping a journal for those special moments you want to relive after they have passed. It’s amazing to me how much I forget until I read some of those old journals.

Finally, mindset makes all the difference. If you think you are going to have a crappy day and your students’ behavior will be awful, it probably will. If, on the other hand, you go into the day believing things will go well—not perfect, because that is unattainable–and you have put in the work to be prepared, then I truly believe it will go well. Again, this is not toxic positivity at all. You will still have days that challenge you, but overall I think that what you bring will determine what you take from the day. By finding the joy of teaching again, you can create a more positive and fulfilling experience for yourself and your students.
If you are a new teacher, and looking for more ideas on any of these topics (plus a whole lot more), then I recommend that you sign up for The Thriving Teacher Summit, hosted by my friend, Helena Hains that will take place March 23-25, 2023. You can sign up here:

Tickets to attend live are free, but you can purchase the VIP option to get lifetime access and so many amazing bonuses. For example, VIP’s will get the best discount anywhere on their first month of The Teacher Success Club subscription box, which will launch next month. If you are reading this after that date, feel free to reach out to me to find out when the next summit is or how you can get access to the next Teacher Success Club subscription box.

Valentine’s Party

Valentine’s Party

It’s finally here–what is likely to be your last classroom holiday party of the school year.  Whenever you’re planning any classroom party, there are three main things that you need to take into consideration. You need to know your students, you need to know yourself, and you need to know your resources.

The first thing that is important when party planning is knowing your students. There are many factors to this–behavior, the age of your students, the interests of your students, and if you have any special needs to consider. An example of behavior you may want to consider would be if you have students who are really competitive and if they’re not first or the winner or whatever, then they get very upset–that’s something to keep in mind. You wouldn’t want to plan a party with several win/lose types of games, because that would be likely to backfire in that situation.

You may want to instead play non-competitive games or activities, so as not to set those particular students off, whereas if you have a group that can get along well and understand that there’s a time for everybody to be a winner, then you can have some of that element of competition in some of your games or activities.

Another example that you want to consider would be students who may be affected by increased noise level. Let’s face it, emotions and energy in general tends to ramp up on party days. And you may have some students who are really affected by that noise level. And therefore, their behavior is affected.

You might also have students who don’t particularly get along. So you might want to think about if you need to have activities where they’re in separate spots or where they are just not in the same group for doing stations. 

Also important to having the best classroom party possible would be taking into consideration their interests. This is one of those things that can be a little bit more difficult because oftentimes what one group is really into another group isn’t quite so fond of, but there are those rare times when student interests seem to go across the board. For example, early in my teaching career I taught fourth grade and the Harry Potter books were still fairly newish, (I know for sure the whole series hadn’t come out yet, so this was definitely many years ago) we had a Harry Potter themed party. And that was something my whole group of students that year really enjoyed.. 

The last thing to think about when it comes to knowing your students is thinking about any special needs you may have. These can vary widely, from learning or behavior challenges to food allergies to cultural differences. All of these will factor into your decision making about the party.

Since this is a Valentine party, you probably already have a couple of class parties for the year under your belt. And more than likely, unless you have some really new students, you’re probably pretty aware of these things, but it is important to be aware of their impact on the decisions you make about the class party.

The next thing to think about when you’re planning a class party, besides knowing your students, is to know yourself, and you’ve got to do what feels right for you. For example–are you a person that wants to control every single aspect of the party right down to the last detail? Or are you more laid back and perfectly fine with letting someone else come in and take over? Do you want your party to be very regimented and scheduled? Or are you fine with having it be more open and free flowing? Do you want the party to be your responsibility and parents just send things in, or do you want the parents to take it over– plan it, run it, bring in all the materials needed–that sort of thing. Do you want a big giant elaborate event or are you okay with a “Netflix and chill” kind of thing. (A little side note to that, some of you may have heard about the big brouhaha with Disney suing teachers for public performance of their movies at school events. Our media specialist has told us for years that using your personal Netflix or your personal Disney plus, or your personal DVDs, things like that, are all against copyright law, so I am using the term “Netflix and chill” strictly as a euphemism for laid back here)

We talked about students who can get upset with noise levels. Maybe you’re a teacher who gets upset with noise levels. You don’t like it really loud and boisterous and active. You want something more calm and quiet and orderly and directed.  It’s kind of like that old saying, if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy– but in this case it is if the teacher’s not happy, nobody’s going to be happy, right? If you’re miserable doing a class party, then the kids are going to feel that, and they’re not going to have as much fun either. Everyone has to do what feels right for their personal teaching style.

The third thing that you need to take into consideration are your resources. And in this case,the resources that you are probably going to be considering are the resources of time, money and parent participation. When thinking about time as it relates to a party–think about when  the party is going to happen. Is it your choice when you have the party or does the school decide the time?

When it comes to money, do you have a budget? Is there PTA money or classroom money that you can use for your parties? Or is it whatever you have, the parents or you are bringing in. If you do have parent support, how much is going to be your responsibility and how much is going to be parent responsibility for this party.

Finally, when it comes to parents, you have to think about how much do you want them to be involved? Do you want them to just send some things in, do you want them to come in and help, but you’ve planned it or do you want them to control the whole show?

There’s no one right answer. I can’t tell you, this is the perfect formula for having the best party ever because these three factors are going to vary, not only from teacher to teacher, but classroom to classroom in year to year. Every year, you’re going to have to make this decision and decide what you have in mind for parties is going to work for this particular class.

And I’ve done it many different ways, depending what works best for the class. I’ve had years where I’ve had fantastic parents who just had these brilliant ideas that were better than anything I could have done. And the kids loved it– just absolutely loved it. And it was their chance to be able to get into the classroom and do something that was their gift or their talent. And I’ve had other years where we didn’t even have a tray of cookies sent in, so it was all completely on me. And I’ve also been a room mom where it was expected that the room moms planned, purchased, ran, cleaned up everything, sent the invitations out, everything for the party. 

When you’re thinking about having the most successful party, I hope these tips have helped. And like I said, I’ll come back and talk a little bit more about some specifics for Valentine’s day so that you can have the best party ever. If you’re looking for the best place to get all the greatest tips and ideas for your classroom, consider joining our Facebook group,  Happy Classroom Collective. We’d love to have you join if you’re not already a member! 

Top 3 Best Free Apps For Self-Care

Top 3 Best Free Apps For Self-Care

Summer is here and flying by. I don’t know about you, but almost as soon as school gets out, my mind starts turning to self-care. We need to do this year-round of course, but the end of the year is especially hectic, so I know for myself I need to get in some R & R for sure. Ideally, there would be ways to carry this into the school year as well, so that I am not just counting on summer to recharge.  Friends, we are headed straight down the road to burnout if we only take time for ourselves in the summer. Rather, this needs to be a continuous process.

As many of you know, my summer did not start out so well, and I know I am not alone.  As much as we all may be looking forward to having time to ourselves and doing those things we love, sometimes life throws a wrench into those plans.  This is when it is even more important to take care of ourselves. 

Our family has had a lot of loss this summer, from friends and family in the Uvalde shooting, to one of my dear friends and greatest mentors. I also had surgery and they found cancer.  Luckily, they feel confident that they got it all and that it hasn’t spread.  I know those are definitely some common setbacks in life that many people have had to deal with, so I was inspired to write this blog post to share what has helped me. The best part is that these things can be easily carried into the school year as well! Everyone is different, so what works for me might not apply to you. One thing I want to make clear is that there is no right or wrong.  If these suggestions don’t help you–don’t worry, you will find what does help.  

Everyone has their own way of handling these common setbacks, but in this blog post, I am going to share what has worked for me.  I hope these will help you overcome disappointments that come your way as well.  As much as I like to focus on joy–you’ll hear me talk about it a lot–we all have those times when sad or upsetting things happen. I hope these suggestions help to get you through those times. 

In this blog post, I am specifically sharing 3 good apps for self-care that I use daily. This is just one part of what I am doing, but it might be the most significant, so I felt this was a good place to start.  The three apps I am recommending are all free.  Most have a premium (aka paid) option to upgrade and unlock other features, but I have found all three of these to be some of the best free apps for self care out there. The apps I am sharing with you are: Fitbit, Gratitude, and Insight Timer. 

Number One: Fitbit free

(this is the icon you will see in the app store)

Unfortunately, this was not my first cancer scare–it’s actually happened twice before.  I also have an autoimmune disease.  It didn’t take much to see these as a wake-up call to make some health changes. I am a person who loves many things, but two of them are challenges and my phone. I started wearing my Fitbit constantly and tracking health factors on the free app, because I knew I would be motivated by closing all my circles (how they measure progress) and it would be convenient because I almost always have my phone nearby. This is my number one of the best free apps for self care that there is. Yes, I understand it isn’t truly free, since you have to buy the Fitbit too, but it was something I already had and I appreciate that there is a free version to use.  It helps me track so many health related things –exercise, water intake, food I eat, weight, sleep, etc. Here is a screenshot of a pretty successful day. You can see I am not perfect, but this app is great motivation to do the best I can. (The marked out one is my weight and how many pounds I have left to lose.  I decided to keep that information private.)

Number Two: Gratitude – Daily Journal

Second of the self care apps for teachers I would recommend is Gratitude. For many people, being mindful and really turning inward helps to process all of the thoughts, feelings and emotions that we all are likely to  experience at some point. This app is a one-stop-shop for mindfulness practice.  You start by journaling something you are grateful for.  If you are stuck on thinking of something you are grateful for – and when we have those common setbacks in life we do often have trouble thinking about what to be grateful for – they have prompts to help you think of things to write about. Next, they have a selection of affirmations.  You can play them as a slideshow with voiceover and music, or just read them individually. There are many to choose from–a lot require the premium upgrade–but as I first began using this, there were many options available for free.  Now many are only available on premium.  I did notice it changes from day to day what is free, so that is good motivation to check the app daily!! Next is Daily Zen, which includes quotes and motivational images.  If you follow me on Instagram, you have seen these in my stories.  They also have gratitude images you can share with friends or family to show them how grateful you are for them. They also have links to their blog posts and affirmations to add to your collection. Finally, with the free version you can create a vision board. I believe you can have multiple vision boards if you upgrade, but one is good enough for most people.  You choose a theme and then photos from their stock images to go along with that theme. You can caption them as well.  So each day, I look at those images and read the captions to help me manifest the changes I want to make in my life. 

Number three: Insight Timer 

The third self care app for teachers that I recommend is Insight Timer.  Once I started being more mindful, I knew I wanted to start a meditation practice.  I was for sure one of those people who thought that meditation was all just a bunch of hooey, but once I gave it a chance, I was hooked!  For this one, you start with a daily check in–it is super simple and quick–and then they suggest meditations that compliment your mood. They also have some free classes, like meditation for beginners, which I am finding helpful. 

These are my top three best free apps for self care.  I do use others, and would be happy to share those as well if you are interested. Just email me at (or just hit reply to the email about this post if you are part of my list) to let me know you want to see a Part 2 on the topic of overcoming setbacks and/or on more good apps for self care. I hope that you all are having a great summer and doing all the things that bring you joy and happiness! 

VIP Student Area

VIP Student Area

Do you ever feel like your students, that do everything they are supposed to day and in and day out, never quite get the recognition that they deserve? Do you wish you had a new approach to motivating those that struggle? Well, then a VIP student program may be just the thing for you!

I first heard of this idea from a blog called Life in Fifth Grade, who got the idea from Rachel Lamb (The Tattooed Teacher). Leslie (the author of Life In Fifth Grade) set up her VIP area midyear and offers great advice. I especially love the way she built anticipation for it by cordoning off the section of the classroom she intended to use for it ahead of time.  I think this really helps with student by-in and excitement!

Setting up your VIP Program

If you are thinking of having a VIP program in your classroom, here are the best tips for setting it up for success. To begin with, think about what it means to be VIP.  My husband and I often attend business conferences and always try to upgrade to VIP. For us, this means special seating, a meet and greet with the speaker, meals provided, and special areas marked VIP only, like a VIP lounge with snacks and a separate restroom.  We have a special designation on our conference badge and often get to check in earlier than others.  We have even gotten “swag bags” with stuff regular attendees don’t get. I kept all these things in mind when I was thinking of how I would structure a VIP area in a classroom.

1. Decide on the criteria

First, decide what criteria students must meet in order to be designated VIP, as well as how long VIP lasts.  Every classroom will be slightly different, but one rule of thumb is to make all of your criteria measurable. For example, “Be kind to everyone” is a great goal, but difficult to measure, whereas “No marks on the clipboard” or “No red dojo points.” Is easily measurable, with no room for argument. Explain to the students that not everyone is guaranteed to be designated a VIP.  It must be earned and it can also be taken away.

Also, share how long students will be allowed to be designated VIP.  Again, this is completely up to each teacher. For some, it will be for a week; for some a day; for still others, a longer period but maybe students only sit in the designated area during certain times, like writer’s workshop or math or whatever you decide. Again, these are individual classroom decisions based on what is best for the circumstances of that class. Remember, this is a huge privilege reserved for those students who demonstrate exemplary behavior. Once you decide on what the criteria will be, publicly post it and let everyone know what is expected.

2. Create a Special Area

Second, make a special area of the room designated strictly for those VIP students.  Maybe a special table or seating area.  You don’t have to go out and buy anything major, just use the desks or tables you already have and make it special by decorating that table with a tablecloth, balloons, table signs, confetti, streamers, you name it.  You might want to get chair covers for your chairs also—the possibilities are endless! I would also put a swag bag for each student filled with special supplies, stickers, and a small treat. There would be a VIP caddy of special supplies like smelly markers, colorful pens, and fancy pencils—anything out of the ordinary.

3. Create a Bulletin Board

Third, have a bulletin board where your criteria are posted but also serves as a special place to recognize those that have achieved this distinction. There are also many ways to let students know that they have been selected.  Leslie’s students are one to one, so she sends out an email to the students that are designated VIP.  Since I taught younger students and we were not one to one, I would make an announcement at our morning meeting.


Besides a special place to sit, special tools, and recognition on a bulletin board, some other ways to celebrate your VIP’s is to give them a badge to wear and send a letter, email or call home to let parents know that their child has been picked as a class VIP. Another option is if your school does some sort of announcements, it can be shared with the whole school that way. VIP’s might also get certain privileges, like the first to line up (or last if it is recess!)

The possibilities really are endless for this program, and every classroom will be unique in how they approach it. I have created a VIP kit for you that has table signs, badges, announcement cards, and a sample parent letter to help you get started.


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Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting

Morning meeting is one of my nonnegotiable times of the day. It is also one of my favorite times of the day! I don’t know of any other block of time in our schedule that accomplishes so much:

  • All 6 of the language arts (reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and visually representing)? Check.
  • Social/Emotional Learning (SEL)? Check.
  • Routines, rules and procedures? Check.
  • Community building? Check.

What is a morning meeting?

If you ask me, that is a pretty powerful 20-30 minutes! There are many ways to run your morning meeting. If you are just starting out, I highly recommend The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. That was the book that started it all for me. There are so many great, helpful tips in this book. There are also dozens and dozens of other bloggers extolling its praises. Everyone does things just a little bit differently, so I am going to share what has worked best for me.

My morning meeting consisted of Greeting, Share, Activity, Schedule, Rules and then I wrapped it up by picking our “lucky duck.” Other people also do News and Announcements, where the teacher handwrites or projects a message about the day’s events; Reflection, where students reflect on their learning; Poems; Singing/saying a class song or motto; Exercise or movement (GoNoodle is great for this); Reviewing behavior expectations and/or learning targets for the day; or Mindfulness/Yoga. The possibilities are endless! You have to decide what will give you the most bang for your buck and meet the needs of your students. For me, the routine listed above did just that.

Teach the kids first

Before I ever began morning meeting, I taught the procedure we would follow. This step is crucial no matter what you are trying to implement. Kids need to know what is expected of them to be successful. So we take each component on its own at the beginning of the year and teach the routine and procedure specifically. For example, I started by teaching the way we would begin the meeting each day. I called the students one table at a time to hang their things up and go to the carpet.

Then I showed them how to sit (we sat in a circle around the perimeter of our carpet—and I sure enough did use those words, so now we can add math to the list of standards met during this time!). I explained that although we normally sit in our assigned squares, for this time of day, they would get to choose where they sat as long as it was a good choice (and we discussed what “a good choice” meant in this instance as well). We also went over how to sit on the carpet and do whole body listening. I used the “Criss-Cross Applesauce” song by Harry Kindergarten to review exactly how they should sit.

We talked about the fact that morning meeting is a time when we could feel free to share our ideas without fear that anyone will laugh or think they are silly. I let students know that participation was voluntary (but it isn’t long before they are all participating in some way!) We discussed how they would respond (each section is different) and that it is important to always treat each other with kindness and respect. Then I began teaching the components of morning meeting we would use.

Step 1: Greeting

The first part for me is the greeting. This is when students greet one or more students depending on which greeting you choose. To begin with, I simply have one student turn to the one next to them and say “Good morning, __________.” Eventually we add a wave, a high five or some other gesture, but we build slowly. It is important for kids to feel comfortable with one step before moving on to another. There are lots of greeting ideas in The Morning Meeting Book, and I am working on a comprehensive product for my ‘teachers pay teachers’ store that will have many of them listed.

Step 2: Sharing

Next, is sharing time. This can also be done in many different ways. I typed all of my student’s names in a two column chart and just used a clothespin on the first and last student to share. We picked about 4-6 per day so that everyone had the chance to share once during the week. I let them share anything that they wanted to. Very rarely did I have to cut a student’s time off, but I did have the occasional chatty Cathy that would talk all morning if I let them! This was a great way to get to know the children as individuals. Another option would be to pick a discussion topic and let everyone contribute their idea on that topic.

Step 3: Activity

Next was an activity. For my class, I loved using the Chit Chat Messages from Deanna Jump. These were a perfect ELA review for my kiddos, and I had enough to last almost the entire year. She has several versions available in her TpT store. Sometimes, I would do sight word review or listen to an alphabet song (Jack Hartmann has lots of great options on his YouTube Channel!).

Step 4: Schedule for the day

Finally, we would go over the schedule for the day. When I first came to my school, we studied the work of Ruby Paine in high poverty schools (mine is about 80% low socioeconomic status) and one of the things that was stressed was the need for a visual schedule. Many times children of poverty live in homes with much randomness to their day, so providing them with the step-by-step plan of how our school day will unfold helps them understand planning and routine and allows them to feel in control of what will be coming next. I had a pocket chart with all of our daily activities with picture cues listed, and trust me, they noticed right away if something new popped up on our board!

Step 4: Review the rules

To wrap up our meeting, we would go over the rules. I used Whole Brain Teaching rules, which have gestures to accompany them. We would stand and say the rules and then I would pick our class helper (we called them the lucky duck because everyone wanted to be chosen!) and begin the rest of our day.

Morning meeting looks different in every classroom, but I think if you try it, you will find it becomes one of your favorites too!

Interested in hearing a bit more? Check out my Facebook Live here.
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Make It Personal

Make It Personal

My favorite movie of all time is “You’ve Got Mail.” One of the best scenes in the movie is when Meg Ryan’s character is sick and at home just after her store has closed, aka put out of business, by Tom Hanks’ character. He tries to cheer her up and says, “It wasn’t personal,” to which Meg launches into how it was personal to her and “Whatever anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” While I realize it wasn’t her purpose in the movie, truer words were never spoken about a classroom.

I am making it my mission to help transform classrooms into more personal spaces for children.

This one is personal to me, so fair warning this post is a bit longer than normal, but I hope you will hang with me to the end. I promise it is worth it. (Alternatively, you can watch the Facebook Live I did on this topic here)

“Personal spaces”

“Personal spaces” can have many different meanings, but for this discussion, I mean making classrooms a place where students feel heard and are recognized as individual people, with all their unique abilities, quirks, and needs. This philosophy stems from events in my own life, both as a teacher and a parent. I have a daughter that has struggled in school since she started. She was diagnosed with ADHD in the second grade. This was also the year I met my husband and we married when she was in fourth grade, so from third to fourth, I blamed the school struggle on the changes with our family. Immediately after we got married, I began a second and then a third job, so then I blamed it on being busy.

I knew there was more I could be doing, but I just didn’t have the time. Plus, as a teacher I know how much is already on a teacher’s plate, and I definitely didn’t want to be THAT parent. I talked with the principal of the school as she was transitioning to junior high, and she felt like that was the missing piece—our effort. She also stated as a private, parochial school, there was a bit more leeway on the accommodations that could be given without a formal plan if they were truly needed. This appeased me for the moment, because I felt my daughter could still receive support at school and I wouldn’t have to be Ms. Bad Guy adding more work to the overstressed teachers. I was spending at least 60 hours a week in my own classroom in a high poverty school which was an extremely stressful environment, so I felt very strongly about not making more work for her teachers. So that was sixth and seventh grade.

At the beginning of eighth grade, I changed jobs. I left the classroom to teach at a local university. My work hours were cut by almost half that first semester, and she started off fairly strong. She knew herself that effort on her part was going to be a huge component, and I was proud of the gains she was making. However, it wasn’t very long into the school year that she started slipping again. This time though, I really felt like we were doing what we could, and I was getting very nervous about high school which was looming large at only a few short months away.

Her pediatrician had always advised me to get a 504 plan for her, but again, I knew it would be adding to a teacher’s workload and so I always hesitated. I knew if she was going to have any chance of success in high school, we NEEDED one, so I called for a meeting with the new principal (her school has had five principals in her time there). She and the one resource teacher for the school (K-8) and I sat down to talk about my concerns and how to move forward. Again, the issue of Ellie’s efforts came up. I explained that while I definitely felt that was an issue, there was more to the story. It was late in the day, so we agreed for the resource teacher to do some more investigating and then we’d go from there.

In the meantime, I got more confused. On the one hand, my daughter would forget things, not turn in homework and need a million reminders. On the other, there were subjects that we studied, studied some more and then a little more after that, but she still couldn’t get her grades up. To me, it made the situation all the more confusing, because like most people, I was trying to figure out who’s “fault” all these things were. Somebody had to be the one responsible, right?

Getting to the bottom of things

Several weeks passed, and I finally get an email from the resource teacher. It was fairly lengthy but boils down to “We aren’t doing anything else here on our end until she shows more responsibility and effort.” I about lost my mind. I was absolutely at my wit’s end at what to do! So, I did what every mom does—locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes to gather my thoughts in peace. I was really trying to put myself in her shoes and understand what might be going on in her mind; what could be the explanation for these issues. And that is when I remembered when my father used to question me about things, I would just get nervous and say, “I don’t know,” because I was afraid of him being angry with me. And, as much as I am ashamed to admit, plenty of that anger was now bubbling up inside of me. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind not to give in to that emotion, but instead have her come sit with me, in a private conversation, to get to the bottom of things. Since her go-to answer was always “I don’t know” I told her that no matter what she said, she wouldn’t be in trouble for being honest. Then I proceed to ask her why specific issues were happening. And for every. single. one. she had a completely plausible answer. She just never thought she could tell her teachers about these things. It was an extremely tearful, but enlightening experience.

After we talked, it hit me that I had probably done the same things as a teacher. I’d just assumed a kid was unmotivated or more interested in other things besides school. While I firmly believe there are people out there that are lazy and unmotivated, I think it is definitely the exception and not the rule. Far more often, it is that they are like my daughter—a kid who stopped trying when it just became too difficult to keep it up.

I have never wanted a magic wand to go back in time more in my life than I did in that moment—not just for my daughter but for all the kids I hadn’t tried hard enough for. But that is impossible, and I am now left to do what is possible—make a plan to move forward. I have a plan for my daughter and will be bringing it to her school when the time is right, but what about everyone else? I can’t go back and reteach those students I slighted, but I can use that experience to help new teachers (and even ones who have been at it as long as me—I’m proof that it is never too late) not fall into the same traps.

Taking my cue from Meg’s character in “You’ve Got Mail” again, and believing that whatever else our classrooms are, they ought to begin by being personal, I am going to share every tip, strategy and idea I can to help teachers get to know their students as real people, not just another body in a seat that needs a grade assigned to them at the end of the term. What makes them tick? What do they like? What do they dislike? What fires them up? What drags them down? I want classroom environments to be a place where every student feels heard and welcome. That instead of labelling or writing off a child, we take the time to dig a little deeper, go a little further and truly understand that child.

Three Strategies to Personalize your Classroom

To that end, I am proposing three strategies you can take into your classroom tomorrow that don’t require any prep, and the only materials you truly need are two listening ears, but will pay huge dividends in building the community that facilitates learning and growth for all children.

Morning Meeting/Class Wrap-up

Tip #1—Morning Meeting/Class Wrap-up. I am a huge proponent of starting every day with a morning meeting. I tried to be as diligent with a class wrap-up but wasn’t as successful. If I were still in the classroom, I would definitely be making time for it knowing what I know now. My morning meeting consisted of some type of greeting, sharing time, an activity, and then going over our schedule/learning targets for the day. If you are truly starting this tomorrow and that feels overwhelming to you, just start with share time. As I mentioned before, all you really need for this activity is two listening ears. If you don’t feel like you have time for everyone to share, pick a few volunteers each day or create a schedule. I will be doing more blog posts on morning meetings in the future, but this is a great place to start.

Rose, Thorn, Bud.

Tip #2—Rose, Thorn, Bud. This is an activity I first saw on Edutopia, which is a fantastic website for teachers. It was just the rose and thorn in that article, however. A “rose” is something that makes you happy, that you are proud of, a celebration, etc. A “thorn” is something that is bothering you, or went wrong, or is upsetting you. This is a whole class discussion, and usually the teacher starts by modelling this with her own comments. So, for me, I might say, “My rose is that I got all the green lights on the way to work today and then a front row parking spot when I pulled up. My thorn is that it is super cold outside, and I don’t like winter.” Then each student in turn would share their rose and their thorn. At first, they will likely be superficial things like my sample, but over time, if this is done regularly, you will be amazed at what kids will open up to you about. When I did this with my college students, I had one student tell me that she did a similar activity as a camp counselor, but they added a “bud,” which is what are you most looking forward to tomorrow (they would do this at night, just before lights out), and they added the rule that you could do them in any order except to end with the thorn, so that they end on a positive note. I loved this addition and will use it this way going forward. I also loved that I learned it from a student. I think being open to suggestion and treating them as equals in this regard goes a long way to foster community as well, which in turn will lead to kids being more comfortable to share more personal things.

2 x 10 Strategy

Tip #3—2 x 10 strategy. In this strategy, you pick a student and spend 10 minutes a day for 2 weeks just getting to know them. Talk about anything not school related—their hobbies, their interests, their extracurricular activities, whatever helps you to get to know that particular child. Ideally, you would do this with each student in their own turn, but if that seems overwhelming, start with the kiddo that is a tough nut to crack, so to speak—that kiddo that seems to be having a hard time, but you just can’t put your finger on why.

Hopefully, these strategies will put you well on your way to establishing and maintaining a “personal” classroom. I’ll be sharing a different strategy to #makeitpersonal every weekday in March on my social media channels, and I would love for you to join the conversation, because kids deserve it!