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How to Choose the Right Back-to-School Speaker

How to Choose the Right Back-to-School Speaker

Are your teachers excited to return to the classroom after summer vacation?

Are they looking forward to getting back with their students and getting them motivated to learn?

Believe it or not, a great back–to–school speaker can deliver those results. That’s why selecting the right speaker is so important. Your back-to-school convocation or event sets the tone for your school or district for the rest of the year. It’s extremely important that your teachers leave feeling inspired, motivated, and excited to start the year.

The next question, then, is how do you choose the right back-to-school speaker? There are three important steps to take during your search.

1. Visit the Speaker’s Website

You’ll want to research the speaker in question to gather as much information as possible. From perusing the website, you can hopefully identify the message or perspective the speaker portrays.

Is this message one that is in sync with your message? View the videos on the website to see the style of delivery the speaker uses. Does this style work with your audience?

2. Read Reviews and Follow Up with References

Read the references on the website and even email or call a few of the references with critical questions you would like answers to.

If a speaker did a good job, people are willing to share this information with other educators because they understand the challenge of finding a good speaker.

3. Schedule a Call with the Speaker

Call the prospective speaker and have a conversation. You can learn much about a speaker this way.

You can pick up on their tone and their perspective and get a feel for their level of comfort in addressing the theme you want delivered.

 In addition to the above three steps, there are four things to keep in mind when searching for a speaker and conducting your research.

  1. Is the Speaker Relatable?

Will your teachers feel that the speaker has walked in their shoes? Look for someone that has spent time in the classroom. The length of time isn’t necessarily important, but teachers are more likely to listen to someone who has been there. They want to listen to someone who understands the challenges, idiosyncrasies, and nuances of the classroom. 

  1. Is the Speaker Engaging?

 You don’t want a speaker that will bore your audience. Regardless of how relatable a speaker is, teachers don’t want to be bored out of their gourd, so to speak.

 Check references to see if words such as inspiring, up-tempo, or engaging are used to describe the prospective speaker’s presentation. My belief is that you cannot inspire people by boring them to death. You do not have to look for a standup comedian by any means, but a little humor and levity goes a long way towards keeping the attention of your audience.

  1. Does the Speaker Have Credibility?

 Make sure the speaker is thoroughly familiar with the topic and can provide new insights that complement your theme for the year. The speaker should be someone who has experienced success with the material, can document that success, and show your audience how they, too, can have that same type of success with the topic.

  1. Does the Speaker Involve the Audience?

 People love it when they or a colleague is involved in the presentation. Actually, this models what teachers need to be doing in the classroom with their own students!

 This engagement makes the audience pay closer attention and helps the group make a connection with the speaker. It doesn’t have to be a very long interaction, but should be interspersed at critical and appropriate junctures.

 A speaker who stands and reads an entire speech from their notes or who relies on overheads as the major connecting point won’t have the same impact as a speaker who can involve the audience in the presentation. Keep this concept in mind as you read the reviews or references of the speaker. 

It is sometimes a challenge to find a speaker that can deliver your message and energize and inspire the audience. But this should be the standard for all back-to-school events. Our teachers deserve no less and our students will reap the benefits!

Simple But Effective Motivational Techniques for Teachers

Simple But Effective Motivational Techniques for Teachers

A great motivating activity that worked well for me as a teacher was to simply have a one-on-one discussion with each of the students.

Take a moment to sit and talk to one or more of them about life. Let them do the talking. Listen as they discuss the challenges and obstacles they face in everyday life. Listen as they talk about things that we as teachers may not know they face.

Encourage them to talk about their hopes, dreams, and goals. It will very quickly remind you how much you can help inspire and guide them. This discussion will reveal how badly they need you. When I did this with students I had, I kept thinking to myself as they were talking, “I can help with that!” It almost always got me motivated once again.

Another simple strategy that worked extremely well for me was to drive through the neighborhoods where some of my students lived. Choose a safe but challenging neighborhood and experience again, or for the first time, where your students are literally coming from.

Every once in a while, I would see a young child in the neighborhood while I was driving around. I would always wonder if that child knew that they were just as capable and deserving as any child anywhere. Seeing that child and seeing those circumstances usually helped reignite a spark in me that said, “Go back and work harder”. Another benefit of taking that drive was that it reminded me of how blessed my family and I are and caused me to want to pass on those blessings.

Lastly, remember that teachers are professionals. Every doctor, lawyer, business person, and all other professions got their start with a teacher.  I frequently hear fellow educators describe themselves by saying “Oh, I’m just a teacher.” Remember it all starts with teachers. Every hope, dream, and goal gets filtered through a teacher. You provide the tools to make those dreams come true. You have the power to encourage and enhance those dreams.  You have the power to be their greatest inspiration. Be that for all those that enter your classroom!

Staying Motivated When Test Scores in the School are Down

Staying Motivated When Test Scores in the School are Down

There’s so much emphasis on test scores that many teachers are constantly depressed and to be honest, many are getting out of the field. However, those of us who love our profession and our students don’t see that as an option.

So how can we keep our heads up when we know we’re teaching and doing the best we can? My first suggestion for you is to look for other indicators of success rather than just a child’s test score.

For instance, look at the effort your students give. If you’re getting your students to try their best, isn’t this a skill that will serve them well in life? Look at whether or not they enjoy learning and participating in class. Won’t this enthusiasm and engagement help them greatly in life? Wanting to learn for learning’s sake is something that helps students who may start out behind be able to catch up and eventually even surpass many others.

I believe there’s a place for testing but there’s little doubt that it has become the focus in too many places, even above learning. Therefore, I ask you to actually sit down along with some of your colleagues in the building and develop anywhere between 5-10 indicators of success besides test scores. For instance, consider how many books they read as being an important indicator of future success. Somewhere down the road, the experiences they encounter in those books can be life-changing and that doesn’t always show up in a test score.

An indicator of success that’s often overlooked in so-called low-performing schools is social awareness or social aptitude. For example, are your students interested in the well-being of others? Do they help collect food for the less fortunate or take part in other social campaigns? How many of them will someday give back to the community because of the types of things you taught them as a teacher or your school did as a community project? Don’t get down because the test scores aren’t as high as you would like. Work on test scores, definitely, but consider the whole child when determining her or his level of success.

You can stay motivated as an educator even when test scores aren’t optimal. Remember, there’s more than one indicator of success. By focusing on the big picture, you can stay motivated to continue to enhance the lives of your students!

How a Teacher Can Stay Motivated When There are Several Students Driving You Crazy in the Class

How a Teacher Can Stay Motivated When There are Several Students Driving You Crazy in the Class

There are times when a teacher loves a class overall but there may be one or two students who just seem to want to cause chaos. This can be demoralizing when it goes on day after day.

My first suggestion is to not let a few students do this to you. As you approach your time with the class, think about all of the kids in the class that you really can’t wait to see and work with. Think about how great working with these children is going to be and have plans to work with them immediately. 

Once class begins, focus on your well-behaved students first. It’s also important to anticipate some of the ways the few students may try to be disruptive, this way you aren’t surprised. Don’t let these students see that you’re bothered by what they’re doing to the point you can’t do what you need to do.

When the few students begin to act out, have it in your mind that you’re going to be direct yet calm when dealing with them. Always frame things to the student in terms such as, “You are so much better than the way you are acting now”, or, “I have a hard time believing that you really are the kind of person who would do the kinds of things you are doing”.

Next, direct them right back to the subject material at hand. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to not spend most of your energy and attention on these students when they are being disruptive. When the students start to come around, then spend more time with them to show them that this is the proper way to get your attention. It is a delicate dance, but you can do it!

Be careful that when you discipline the students, you do it with a reluctant tone. You want those students to know that whatever it is you have to do, you are not happy about doing it because it takes away from their academic time. It also shows that you are not a vindictive person and that their behavior is not the focus of your attention. Let them see that to be the center of your attention, they just need to act right and you will welcome them into your good graces.

Finally, although it’s difficult, do your best to keep a smile on your face at all times or at least as much as possible in front of the class. There’s an old saying, “Never let them see you sweat”. If what they’re trying is not working, it’s not likely that they will continue the behavior forever. There’s a song that says “just keep smiling” and in the children’s film, Finding Nemo, Dori told Nemo’s dad to “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” So keep your head up and put a smile on your face when you deal with those students and just keep swimming!

How Teachers Can Stay Motivated During Difficult Times

How Teachers Can Stay Motivated During Difficult Times

It’s often difficult to do your best work and stay motivated with so many things pulling at you every day. However, you can make it through challenging times and inspire your class to love learning!

The first thing to do during difficult times is to stay focused on why you became a teacher in the first place. When it’s hard to function, think of one thing: your students. Sometimes they may even be the problem. What that tells you, though, is how very badly they need you. Remember that on your worst day on the job, you are still some child’s best hope. Focus on your students.

Another strategy to stay motivated during challenging periods in your life is to stop and take a step back. Think back over another tough time you went through and how you were able to persevere. In other words, keep in mind the old saying that trouble don’t last always.

As you think back to a prior time, remember and think about a success you were able to achieve against the odds. During tough times, take a step back and reflect on the good you have already done. Let it inspire you to continue doing good even if things feel difficult right now.

Another strategy you can try when life feels overwhelming is to get some exercise. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just to get out and walk even if it’s just around the building or inside the building. A little exercise every day seems to help keep negative thoughts away. Even a short daily walk during tough times can change your whole outlook.

A final method for dealing with tough times is to have outside interests. In other words, don’t forget that you need to have balance in your life. When one area gets out of balance, it can throw your whole outlook off. Use your hobbies such as biking, gardening, art, reading a good book, or just enjoying chocolate to help bring you back to where you need to be. During difficult times stay balanced!

As a teacher, putting your best foot forward every day can be a challenge in itself. When you’re dealing with other things in your life, achieving and sustaining a balance through self care and reflection can help you be your best not just for you, but for your students as well. You got this!

Motivating Unmotivated Students: Part Two

Motivating Unmotivated Students: Part Two

Many teachers struggle with feeling as though their students just aren’t motivated. The advice “Don’t wait on a blessing, be one” is a perfect way to approach students who seem unmotivated.

Besides making excitement a part of your lesson plans as we discussed in Part One, another element of an inspiring lesson plan is engagement.

By engagement, I mean having the students constantly involved in doing something. I recommend that 80% of the lesson be comprised of the students actively doing something. The first 10% or less of the lesson involves you getting the students started and the last 10% involves you closing out the lesson. The remainder of the time, your role as teacher should be to circulate, guide, and encourage.

There are numerous ways to keep students engaged during that 80% time block. First, you can have them work in groups of two and create a product that they share with the class or turn in to you for a grade. Also, consider occasionally having students work in groups of three or four to get more done but give them roles so that everyone has to do their share. Having students do group work is a tremendous way to ensure that there is hands-on learning. Students are more likely to be excited and engaged when they’re involved in the lesson.

One overlooked method of getting students excited through engagement is through a strategy known as call and response. Call and response is an effective method in getting students engaged and excited because they get to show what they know. For those that may not be familiar with this strategy, the teacher will ask questions frequently as he or she presents information to make sure students are engaged and listening. The class answers as a whole. This way, if a student doesn’t know the answer, then they’re not embarrassed but get the answer quickly. This method also helps to keep the presentation from being boring or monotonous.

Getting your class excited about your lesson and engaged in the learning process are excellent methods for helping your students to learn and achieve their best. As a teacher, you play an instrumental role in getting students fired up about learning. You can do this!


Our Words Matter

Our Words Matter

Have you ever read a joke and laughed out loud?  Have you ever read a quote and truly thought about it’s meaning? Have you ever read a book that you could not put down?  Words matter. Words are powerful. They can shape the future of a child.

The late Dr. Marva Collins, a consummate educator, constantly told her students, “You are brilliant honey!” And her students who grew up in one of the toughest and poorest parts of Chicago and who statistically speaking could very well have ended up in jail or on welfare or in some undesirable situation –thrived! They became lawyers, business owners, teachers and many other successful professionals. When asked what led to their success they said that when Dr. Collins told them every day that they were brilliant – they believed it!

What we say to students matters. How we as educators refer to our students matters.  Those of you who have heard me speak in the past know that one of my strategies for building a positive classroom culture is to call students positive names. “Wonderful Ones” has always been my favorite!. When teachers consistently and intentionally call their students encouraging names the students begin to believe. They believe their teacher believes in them and this in turn makes them believe in themselves.

This is one of the reasons why I have had a concern about the term “at-risk” when we refer to students. I am well aware that many students are “at risk” for failing or dropping out. Yet, these students are so much more than “at risk.” They are indeed “at promise.” They have the ability to be successful and productive members of our communities. What they need is support. With the proper support we know they can go far!

For this reason, in my presentations for the last 20+ years I have referred to students that could potentially fail or drop out as “at promise” students. I encouraged those I worked with to do the same. One organization that took my words to heart was SIATech a non-profit organization that has schools in several states including California that work directly with high school students that are indeed “at promise.” I presented at their conference many years ago and they told me that my message lit a fire in them that made them believe even more in their mission and their students. They adopted the term at-promise and promoted its use.

I returned this month to California to present again at the SIATech conference and they told me SIATech had encouraged the state legislature to ask California educators to begin using the term “at-promise.”  The California legislature agreed and passed ACR 197 a resolution that would “encourage the people of the State of California to recognize the potential and possibilities of our children, instead of focusing on their deficits.” This resolution encourages people to refer to the students as at promise – not at risk. This is a remarkable accomplishment for educators in California!  The people from SIATech also informed me that in the supportive literature for the resolution I was quoted on this issue describing it as a “paradigm shift ” that “encourages teachers to approach students from a positive place, one that keeps in mind the students’ promise not their failures.” (Assembly Committee on Public Safety, ACR197) I was so surprised and delighted to have heard this news. I am pleased to have been able to play a role in this amazing paradigm shifting movement.

We all have days when we wonder whether what we say and do actually makes a difference. I am here to tell you that what you say and do does make a difference. Your words to your students matter! Let’s work together to keep our words positive and encouraging in order to get the absolute best from our students!

Motivating Unmotivated Students: Part One

Motivating Unmotivated Students: Part One

One of the most difficult things to do as a teacher is motivating students who seem unmotivated.

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an unmotivated student. My belief is that every student who seems unmotivated is just waiting for their fire to be lit. Have you ever noticed that a student who seems unmotivated in one teacher’s classroom can be involved and engaged in another teacher’s classroom?

I want to give you one major idea to build around in your inspiring classroom lessons: excitement. When creating your lesson plans, include activities that generate some excitement. Music is a great tool to get students excited. It can be a song that you like that incorporates the theme of the day. Play the song and let the students sing along with it, then ask students if they know any other songs that relate to the theme. You can even give students extra credit if they write their own song that incorporates the points of the lesson.

Another way to get students excited is to get them talking about themselves. Ask students to verbally explain, write a paragraph, or even create a song or rap about how they may be familiar with the topic you’re teaching. In science when I talked about waves and oceans, I often had my students write two or three paragraphs about an experience they had interacting with waves or with any body of water. Then I would show them how they were impacted by waves and by the way oceans, lakes, or streams operate. This was a great segue to the discussion of the day.

There are other ways to build excitement into your lessons, such as using whiteboards with short impactful video clips that make your point about the day’s lesson in a dramatic and exciting form. Generate a lively discussion following the video by asking a series of probing, challenging questions. This can be enhanced even more when you put the students in groups of two or three to let them answer the questions together and then share with the class.

Finally, understand that motivating students is a mindset. If you believe you can motivate them, you will. As much as humanly possible, be motivated and excited when teaching. Be effusive with your praise when students have good answers. I’m not talking about overdoing it but just do it in a natural, genuine way. Motivating students is a state of mind. Be that which you expect of others. You can do this!

Ideas for Classroom Rules

Ideas for Classroom Rules

Classroom rules set the tone for the year. There are different philosophies concerning the development of classroom rules. One philosophy is to have well developed, clearly written out rules. Another philosophy is to keep classroom rules simple. The latter is the philosophy to which I adhere. The following are three strategies to do this.

  • Have Only a Few Rules

I suggest having only about three to five rules with three being the ideal number. Here’s why.

  1.    Fewer rules allow you to stress and concentrate on what’s really important. There’s an old saying that you should pick your battles. Do not set so many rules you cannot enforce them all. None of your rules will mean anything as time goes on. Also, you don’t want to spend your valuable energy dealing with students over trivial things.
  2.    Fewer rules allow you to help students focus on behaviors that are necessary for learning. Some so called “behavioral issues” have no impact whatsoever on student learning. Deal with these things at a later time. Do not stop class to write referrals or spend an inordinate amount of time confronting students with them because you have it as against the rules.
  3.     Fewer rules are easier for students to remember. It’s important that they know the rules in order to follow them.
  4. Having fewer rules that are more general allow you to encompass more possible infractions with fewer words, rather than trying to write down all of the things students may do wrong.
  • Keep Your Rules Simple

State your rules in a manner everyone understands. Each student should be able to tell you immediately in their own words what the rule means. Long sentences that require thought and contemplation are not helpful.

If a student has to stop and think about a rule, there will be problems. Also, each rule should be stated as a positive. For instance, a simple rule, such as showing respect, is very easy to understand. Rules that start with “Do not” and “Never” can set a negative tone. The only time those terms should be used is when warning of danger. Keep your rules simple, but short and positive.

  • Your Rules Should Be Reasonable

In other words, the rules should make sense. When students see a rule, they should automatically know why that is a rule in your classroom. If the rules match the environment and situation, students will have a better chance to understand and agree with the rules, and therefore, follow them. There should be discussions of the rules from time to time to remind everyone not only what the rules are, but why they are in place.

My friend, rules should facilitate instruction. Classroom teachers with many rules spend much of their time dealing with those rules. Do you really want to create more confrontations with students? Here are three rules to consider.

  1.     Be respectful.
  2.     Listen to the teacher.
  3.     Act like a champion.

You can do this!!

Starting the Year on a Good Note

Starting the Year on a Good Note

All teachers want to start the year off on a good note. I’m one of those people who believes how you start is how you will finish. You have a better chance to finish strong if you start strong. Here are some suggestions to try during the first two months of the new school year to give your class a great start!

1. Be Positive

Let the class know that this is a chance for everyone to start fresh. Explain that it doesn’t matter how they did last year. All that matters is how they perform now. Tell them that you don’t listen to rumors about students from last year and don’t encourage this type of talk in your classroom. This is a clean slate for everyone and an opportunity to do better!

2. Go into the Year Expecting Good Things to Happen

Expect this to be a super year because you want it to be. Know that you are prepared to do your best and that you are ready to make good things happen. Let your students know that you expect the same optimism and preparation from them for the new school year!

3. Tell Them about YOU

Humanize yourself. If you’re going to aspire to develop relationships, then show them your human side. Within reason and always keeping it appropriate, tell them about your family, children, pets, or any unique hobbies you may have. If you’re a coach or a sponsor, let them know. Much of what you share will depend on the grade level and situation, but sharing about yourself is a great way to establish connections immediately. I still get surprised at how much a student can feel connected to their teacher because they feel they have something in common.

4. Make Your Expectations Known Right Away and Make them Clear

There are three types of expectations I believe a teacher should highlight. The first is the social aspect. Let students know that you expect everyone in the room to be courteous and respectful to each other. Let them know that being nice does not cost anything and that it is the minimum that you expect everyone to be towards each other.

The second aspect is the academic domain. Let everyone know that you expect them to simply do their best, give their best effort, and turn in all work completed throughout the year.

The third aspect is the human domain. Tell the class you expect them to be a “family” by the end of the year. Let them know that you want every person to feel included, that no one feels ostracized for any reason and that everyone encourages each other rather than bullying. This takes time, but it’s important to make it a priority!

5. Let Your Students Talk and Get to Know Each Other

There are many activities (icebreakers) with which to do this. The better your students know each other, the more included everyone feels and the more everyone can work together to accomplish goals and help each other.

Some ideas you may want to try are:

  1. Play the blob game. Have students organize themselves in groups or “blobs” by things they have in common: hobbies, birthdays, eye color, or favorite sport.
  2. Play the name game. Have students say their first and last name then say something they like. The next student to go says their own name and something they like, but then repeats the name of the person that just went as well as what they said they liked.
  3. Play catch. Bring a beach ball that has the beginning of a sentence on each side, whatever side the student sees first when they catch the ball is the question they answer. For example, you can use questions such as “My favorite thing I did this summer was…”, or “My favorite subject is…”

6. Explain Your Rules

Keep your rules simple, have no more than three rules and make sure they are reasonable. If you can involve your students in creating the rules, this is great. That may give them a feeling of ownership. However, be sure they are rules you can live with and enforce.

7. Clearly Cover Your Procedures

Put your procedures in writing and discuss them with the class to be sure everyone is on the same page and understands what you expect of the students throughout the year.

8. Capitalize on Good Things

When good things happen, point out to the class how wonderful everyone is. Use positive reinforcement to create an environment where students are driven to succeed and can be proud of their achievements.

9. But Don’t Let Bad Things Define Your Class

When bad things happen, consider them to be an aberration and move on. Do not keep replaying things and do not focus on bad events that have occurred. Just as bad actions don’t define a person, so bad things won’t define your class, nor should you let it.

10. Early in the Year, Start with Easier Instructional Information

There is a saying that success breeds success. Start with material that’s almost like a review so everyone can feel confident going into the school year. This simple step will help students feel more comfortable and familiar and can help facilitate success right from the beginning!

My friend, as a veteran I can assure you your year will be a great one if you believe it, stay positive and, during difficult times, remember why you became a teacher—to change lives for the better!  And you can!