Tag Archives for " teachers "

Larry with Linda Dawson from RAPSA

Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students

Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students

Over a decade ago, I presented at a SIATech Conference in California. In my presentation, I spoke about the importance of using the term “at-promise” as opposed to the term “at-risk”.

Larry with Linda Dawson from RAPSAI had been promoting this concept for years because of my belief in the necessity of focusing on a student’s potential and positive attributes as opposed to their challenges. It was at this conference that I met Linda Dawson. She told me that she believed it was important to embrace the term “at-promise” and she intended to make this a priority.  

A short time later, she contacted me to discuss using my term “at-promise” as the premise for forming the organization RAPSA, which stands for Reaching At-Promise Student Association. I agreed and thought it was a wonderful idea!

However, I never could have imagined that RAPSA would go on to use this concept to successfully push for, and eventually pass, a law called AB-413 that changed the California Education Code. Yet, that’s exactly what they did. 

Changing the Mindset of Teachers Working with At-Promise Students

This action is so much more than semantics. AB-413 is about changing the paradigms, or the mindsets, of teachers that work with these students. This idea is essential in getting teachers to recognize the potential of these students and use that potential to guide them to success. 

Larry with Ernie Silva from RAPSAOn November 13, 2019, I presented on Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students at the RAPSA Conference in San Diego. What made this conference exciting was the fact that RAPSA is building a successful movement to create change. It’s a movement that is grassroots.

Most of the people involved are teachers or principals that work directly with students that are struggling. This is not a top-down change. This is a change practitioners feel is imperative, and they’re fighting the fight to make it a reality. They were successful in making the change in California, and they’re now helping other states to do the same. 

Getting AB-413 passed is a tremendous accomplishment, and I congratulate all of those who worked hard to get it done. However, we all are aware that much more work needs to be done going forward. Now the rubber must meet the road. Now teachers and principals must implement the strategies necessary to provide the support these students need.

It’s one thing to believe it, and it’s another thing to have strategies to act upon it every day. This is why when RAPSA asked me to conduct a workshop that was designed to specifically show teachers how to do that, I jumped at the opportunity. 

Using Specific Strategies to Empower Teachers 

I provided the teachers with a multitude of simple strategies they could implement every day that would help students academically. I also gave them specific strategies to use to build positive relationships and create positive classroom cultures.

In addition, I modeled ways to make the classroom more engaging and talked about how to determine if students are, in fact, engaged. We discussed ways to bring these strategies back to the school and help others to get on board and use them as well. It was a fun, strategy-packed workshop! Workshops like these will help teachers and principals ensure that all of their students are successful. 

There is much that remains to be done in California to create learning environments that support the students of today. The challenges that these students face are different in several ways from those of students in decades previous. As a result, our schools and classrooms need to be different as well.

As we move forward in doing this, we will create schools that are relevant and that embrace and support all of our students, allowing them to reach their greatest potential.

Attend a Larry Bell Seminar in 2020!

For any of you that are interested in creating a movement like this in your state, you may contact me and I can put you in touch with RAPSA. You can also visit their website at RAPSA.org. 

For those of you interested in learning more about Reaching the Promise of At-Promise Students, you can attend my two-day seminar on this topic which will be held in two locations. The first will be held from February 24-25, 2020 in Milpitas, California. The second will be held from March 2-3 in Carlsbad Beach, California.

For more information on these seminars, you can visit the seminar page of my website Larry-Bell.com. Hope to see you in California!

Effective Strategies Seminar

A Dynamic Opportunity in Memphis

A Dynamic Opportunity in Memphis

Memphis will soon be the site of a tremendous opportunity to help your students. On October 28th and 29th, a seminar entitled “Effective Strategies for Struggling Learners” will be held.

Effective Strategies SeminarThe purpose of this seminar is to help educators work more effectively with students that struggle in the classroom. The main thing that many take away from this seminar, other than the specific strategies, is this main point—all students are capable of academic success regardless of their social or ethnic background. High expectations transcend all barriers. They transcend race, gender, and economics.

Participants hear the message “do not let anyone tell you who you can or cannot teach. Who you can or cannot reach.” This seminar revives spirits. It reignites the passion and love for teaching that many educators lose track of over the years.

In the past, administrators have sent some of their “naysayers” knowing that they’ll come back believing in their students and in their ability to reach them. This is just one of the reasons so many have attended this seminar in the past!

What else does this dynamic opportunity offer educators?

Specific Strategies to Improve Student Achievement

This seminar is entitled effective strategies because it features strategies I’ve developed that schools have used across the nation to help struggling students exponentially improve their achievement.

The results are usually a tremendous increase in student test scores for individual teachers, schools, and districts that take the strategies they learn at the seminar and use them consistently with their students all year long.

I became a teacher because I believe that students from challenging backgrounds like my own are just as capable of academic success as anyone. These strategies have helped to prove this point for many years.

An intriguing factor regarding the strategies is that they’ve been shown to be effective for Pre-K through 12th grade, and in schools that are economically well off as well as in those that are economically challenged. This opportunity to use additional strategies combined with what a school may already be doing is often the boost schools need to get to the next level.

Boost Teacher Enthusiasm and Creativity

 Another reason the seminar works so well is that bringing a group to the seminar is like taking the teachers on a retreat to bond, regroup, and refocus.

This fresh perspective can be crucial in October because it allows the group to assess what’s happened up to this point and acquire new ideas for the rest of the year. It’s like a breath of fresh air away from the day-to-day pressures of teaching.  

Educators can get back in touch with why they became a teacher in the first place. Many who attend mention how much fun they had while learning. I call this inspiration plus information, and ask each participant to practice this with the students in his or her classroom. It’s something that I model throughout the seminar. Just as when I was a teacher, I try to make it so much fun they don’t realize how much they’re learning!

Networking Opportunities 

This seminar is extremely interactive and allows participants to network with each other. This not only gives them more information and additional techniques, it allows them to meet and talk to people they can correspond with over time. I’m very proud to say that many have done this with excellent results. This seminar is an excellent opportunity for educators of all levels to supplement the strategies they have.

Let’s not forget that Memphis is a fantastic city to visit as well.  It’s conveniently located on the border with Mississippi, while giving quick access to those in Arkansas along with the great folks in Tennessee. It also has an international, world-class airport. Memphis offers great food, music, and entertainment to enjoy after a busy day at the seminar.

Register Online or Contact Me!

So what are you waiting for? You can register online or email me for more information. I hope to see you at this year’s Effective Strategies for Struggling Learners seminar on October 28-29, 2019.  If these dates don’t work for you, consider joining us in New Orleans February 10-11, 2020!  

Strategies to Develop a Positive Teacher-Student Relationship

Strategies to Develop a Positive Teacher-Student Relationship

In recent months, many educators have asked me about developing good teacher-student relationships. I see this as a good thing.

I believe this area of education has been grossly undervalued and overlooked for many years, especially at the secondary level. There is much research going back to the 1980s that demonstrates the benefits of a positive teacher-student relationship. These relationships are important in all schools, regardless of income levels or cultural backgrounds. 

The question is: what does a positive teacher-student relationship look like?  Part of the issue is that many teachers seldom take the time to figure out what a good teacher-student relationship means to them. In addition, many administrators tell teachers they want to see positive relationships but don’t explain what they’re looking for.   

There are probably as many ways to develop relationships as there are individuals on the planet. However, there are some basic fundamentals in relationship building between teachers and students that seem to work in almost any circumstance. What follows is a list of the fundamentals as I have observed them in the most successful classrooms nationwide!


There’s a saying that, “Kids don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” The most important thing is to build a foundation based on students knowing that you care about them.

It’s important they understand that they are more than just a test score to you. Find out about them as human beings, and interact with them as people first and students second. They’ll go out of their way to learn your material when they know you have their best interests at heart, and that your efforts are about more than just teaching the material.

So what does caring look like in a teacher-student relationship? Here are just a few examples:

  1. Asking questions. “How was your weekend?”
  2. Remembering the details. “I remembered you said your mom was sick. How is she doing?” 
  3. Paying attention. “You seem a little down today. Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do?”


Give the students individual time as much as possible. Too many teachers have the mistaken belief that they don’t have time to interact with the students individually.

Time can be made by prioritizing, and especially by the teaching methods that you use to present material. If too much time is spent lecturing, there’s less time for face-to-face interaction with the students.

Giving students more responsibility for their own learning using different modalities frees the teacher to do more one-on-one interactions. Face-to-face time is how humans bond!

So what might devoting your time to each student individually to build a relationship look like?

  1. Working out obstacles to learning. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to sit right here with you and we’ll do it together.”
  2. Devoting after-class time. “See me after class and I’ll help you with this assignment.”
  3. Consider group time. “Everyone, get a partner and share how you work the problem. I’m going to walk around and visit the various groups as you share your wonderful work with each other.”


Be understanding and positive when students make mistakes. All of us needed positive guidance as we were growing and developing.

When students know that you’re not going to be overly judgmental and critical as they’re learning, they are more likely to engage in the learning process.

What might being positive look like in your teacher-student interactions?

  1. Being understanding of mistakes. “It’s okay to make a mistake. This is how we learn!”
  2. Encouraging them to take their time. “It takes me a while to pick up certain things too. It’s okay. Take your time!”
  3. Showing devotion to their success. “I’m here to help and I love the way you’re working so hard on this. We are going to get this! Whatever it takes, because you are awesome!”

Pointing Out Strengths

Positive affirmation in the form of pointing out strengths is something some students rarely experience. Be that special someone. Let them know that you see them, the whole person, the wonderful often hidden talents others may not acknowledge.

Sometimes their strengths are things that they don’t recognize in themselves. Pointing out strengths is an example of one of the little things that causes students to bond with a teacher. It helps the student realize that you see them as a person and value them. It also builds confidence in the student!

How can you point out strengths in students to build that essential teacher-student relationship for success?

  1. Acknowledge their efforts. “You’re such a hard worker. I love the way you work hard and try hard in my class every day. Thank you for that!”
  2. Point out their attention to detail. “I love the way you’re always able to pick out the main idea in a story or a passage. You are absolutely phenomenal with this. Keep it up!”
  3. Praise a specific skill. “Your math skills when it comes to long division make me so proud. You are outstanding with this!”

There are obviously many other ways to build a good teacher-student relationship; these are just a few things that may help. If you have others, try writing them out and breaking down good examples of how to use these things more effectively and positively. Please feel free to share your ideas as well!

Creating Quality Staff Development for Your Teachers

Creating Quality Staff Development for Your Teachers

Although staff development should take place all year, the beginning of the school year is essential to setting the tone for the entire year. It’s extremely important to have an effective Back-to-School event to set the right tone!

Having been involved in literally thousands of staff development events over the last 20 years, I’ve seen many that have been highly successful. Successful staff development events have several things in common.

Taking Into Account the Mindset of Your Staff

The first thing to consider is the state of mind of your staff. This is something most people don’t think about. Regardless of what information you think your staff needs to hear, the biggest question is how they’re feeling at this point in time.

When Your Staff Needs Inspiration

If your staff feels beaten down, frustrated, and defeated, you need to consider this with the type of presentation you offer. At that point, I recommended a seminar that’s fun, light, and encouraging.

If last school year was a difficult one, I definitely encourage you to start the year with a positive but informative speaker. I never recommend a speaker who’s all fun but no substance. People may later feel it was a waste of their time.

When Your Staff Is Ready to Grow

If recent experiences have gone well and you feel your staff is ready to learn and grow, deliver a session that’s content heavy yet still inspirational. The worst staff development is boring.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much information is shared. When teachers are bored during the presentation, they hate it. Don’t do boring! Find a presenter who’s lively and knowledgeable.

Determining What Type of Development Is Needed

One of the biggest factors when planning staff seminars is determining what type of staff development is needed. I always recommend asking for teacher input since they’re going to be the ones receiving the training. There are several ways to get staff input.

Conduct Surveys

Surveys that are anonymous are great because people are more honest and there’s less danger of one or two people dominating the discussion. If you want some control over the input, limit your survey to four or five topics. You may offer fewer topics or you may offer more depending on your circumstances.

I’ve found that completely open surveys are less helpful because responses can vary greatly. However, if you use an open survey and responses are very similar, this is particularly valuable because many are saying the same thing without any “guidance” from you.

Analyze Data

Another highly effective way to determine staff needs for a seminar is to look at your data in various areas. The most obvious is to look at student achievement data and determine which areas students scores are lowest and find professional development that strengthens your staff’s ability to teach those areas. This same data can be shared with teachers to help them decide which type of staff development is needed.

Create a Leadership Team

Another highly effective way to get teacher input is to have a staff development committee, teacher leadership team, or other teacher group that’s intimately familiar with the workings of the school involved in staff development decisions.

Considering the Desired Outcome for All Staff Members

A factor that’s often not given enough consideration is the desired outcome for staff members. What do you want your staff members to be able to do when they walk out of the training? This is a big deal because it’s a major factor in determining whom to select as a speaker and whether or not the training was a success when it’s over.

As a speaker, I always ask potential clients what is the main thing they want to accomplish with the staff development event. Then, I follow that up with a questionnaire and one of the questions is, “What are three goals you have for the training?”. It’s critical know EXACTLY what you want staff to be able to do as a result of the training.

Finding the Right Speaker for Your Staff

 Finding the right presenter for your staff is easy if one follows some simple rules. Unfortunately, most administrators fail to get this part right. The fact that most participants hate staff development days speaks volumes about the choices administrators usually make.

Yet, some administrators get it right over and over. How?

Know Your Staff

First, know your staff. Do they prefer upbeat or slower presentations? Are they talkative? Do they like to work together or do they prefer to work alone? These are just a few of the things to consider when looking for a trainer. Develop a list of questions to ask every potential speaker!

Evaluate the Speaker in Person

The best way to know if a speaker is right for your staff is to go and hear the speaker before you bring him or her in. Don’t just evaluate their material—every speaker has material. It’s the overall experience you should be judging.

For instance, how does the person interact with the audience? DOES the person interact with the audience? How does the person handle questions and, especially, any challenges that may arise? If you can’t see the person present, watch a video of the presenter that’s unedited for at least five minutes.

Check Out Their Website

Every speaker has a website, visit and study it. You may also want to have some of your teachers visit it and give you feedback. If the person is an author, read some of the written material. When you speak with the presenter, ask questions from your list. Ask about references if you’re not satisfied with what you see on the website for ANY reason.

Contact References

Next, call at least one reference and ask your two most important questions, being respectful of people’s time. For instance, ask if the person accomplished the major goal you wanted them to accomplish. You may also ask if the presentation was boring or interactive. I recommend you follow this procedure with at least three presenters in order to select your best fit.

Follow Up

When the presentation is over, debrief staff and, if everyone agrees, do at least one follow-up with the presenter. Staffs do not seem to follow through if they feel the presentation is a “one and done” event with no follow up or accountability.

You can create quality staff development training for your teachers by understanding the needs of your staff and taking steps to secure a speaker that fits their current mindset and goals. Don’t underestimate the power of quality training and motivational speakers for your team for the coming school year!

Enter Into a Bold New Frontier!

Enter Into a Bold New Frontier!

My friends, often I am asked about the latest things I see in the educational field as I travel the nation and indeed the world.

Normally I share things I’ve done or things that schools I’ve worked with have done for long periods of time. I have to tell you that what I will share now is new to me. It’s a tremendous idea that only a few teachers are using nationwide.

You must have some courage to do this, but I believe it will be the wave of the future. I also believe that it will be very helpful to students, including those at both ends of the achievement spectrum. I believe that gifted students will be able to take this idea and fly even higher, but it is with the struggling, at-risk students that I believe this strategy can have the greatest impact.

If you’re a teacher who likes to be at the forefront and interested in a dynamic, small project you can work on from now until the end of the year, and especially over the summer, read on and come fly with me!

Make a Video to Teach Students

First, for many reasons I advise you to get permission from your school administrator to do this project. I would love to give credit to the teacher who gave me the idea, but for the life of me I cannot remember where I was when the person mentioned this technique.

The idea is to video record yourself conducting a lesson regarding a standard that you really want the kids to get. Record the lesson keeping it under seven minutes, as though you were speaking one-on-one with the student. At the beginning of the video, clearly state your objective and what you expect the student to not only learn but to do after you finish the video lesson.

Show on screen the standard upon which you’re basing the lesson. Show the standard in writing the way the state has written it and then paraphrase the standard and objective in everyday language. Use charts and graphs to clearly make your points. When you come to an important word, stop and repeat the word, and then show the word on the screen with the definition beside it. Once you have finished the lesson, do a summary of the important parts of the lesson. Use chart paper of some sort as a part of your summary. This will allow you to go step-by-step through the summary.

Giving the lesson and then summarizing the lesson is important. However, the next part of the lesson is the most critical. Give at least one question regarding the lesson you just taught. Instruct the student to turn off the video and work out the problem. When they finish, they are to turn the video back on. When they turn the video back on, welcome them back and explain what the correct answer should be.  Whether you teach science, math, language arts, history or whatever subject, the most important thing is to walk them through the process by which you got the correct answer. Finally—and this part is very important too—ask the student to write down at least two questions or observations to turn into you the next day about the problem that you and they just when over. Thank them for their time and tell them you will see them next class.

Benefits of Video Lessons

I realize that for those school districts that offer virtual studies this may be similar to how some of those classes are conducted. However, I’ve not seen this kind of learning tool being used for students not registered for virtual classes. Video lessons are an additional way to review important information.

You can, in effect, create a YouTube channel with your top lessons and explanations on it. There are many reasons I’m extremely excited about the possibilities video lessons offer because they allow students to:

Replay parts of the lesson. First, many students, teachers, and parents already use YouTube to find the answers to almost every problem they face. This activity will give struggling and slow learners the opportunity to replay important parts of your lesson over and over again until they get it.

Get parental guidance for emphasis. A parent can sit down with the child and watch the lesson with them and have a better chance to help the student understand the process because they’re hearing it along with the child. It will give the parent the opportunity to stop the video at various stages and stress particular points that they see the child overlooking. As time passes, if a student wants to review difficult assignments, they always have a video post to go back to.

Not miss out just because they were absent. Consider the advantages of having a video post of the 10 or 15 most difficult standards available on your webpage or YouTube channel all year. If a child is absent for an extended period, she or he could watch the video and see at least the most important information delivered with the focus you want the student to have.  This would also be helpful for studying for semester exams and end-of-year state exams.

Have a greater access to a range of materials. Now imagine if your colleagues, who teach the same subject as you, posted their own version of these most difficult standards also. Think of the library of materials available to students and parents that would help them master material at home.

By working with other teachers who teach the same subject or grade level the workload could be divided up so that there could be videos on more of the standards. Imagine also, what a help these videos would be if you live in an area where they are many school closings throughout the year!

Have You Used Videos in Your Classroom?

Have you ever made a video to teach students or know of a colleague that puts this idea into practice? I would love feedback from any of you out there who may already be using this idea, as well as feedback from all others. Best of luck and enjoy this great strategy!

Strategies for State Testing Part Two: Providing Incentives

Strategies for State Testing Part Two: Providing Incentives

One of the most difficult things to do in teaching is getting low-achieving students and struggling learners motivated to take state tests. Often, these groups of students don’t care about the test or the score they earn.

Some states require that students pass the test in order to advance to the next grade, but most states don’t offer motivation for doing so. How then can you get your students interested in doing well on the end-of-year state test?

The Case for Incentives

I’ve found that offering incentives is a great way to get students to care about how well they do. I’ve heard the argument that we shouldn’t offer tangible, concrete incentives for student performance on state tests. That argument has some merit but it’s not realistic or practical.

Incentives are offered for everything in this world. Many business professionals make excellent salaries and then receive large bonuses at the end of the year.  Multi-millionaire athletes have incentives in their contracts because incentives work.

Until students are able to be intrinsically motivated themselves, I see no reason to let them fail to do their best on these examinations.  These tests prepare them for future examinations that will determine the type of life they’ll be able to have.

Appropriate Use of Incentives

Before I give you some examples of incentives that I’ve seen work for students at all levels, I’d like to discuss for what incentives should be given. The following are just a few examples that I’ve personally seen work very well.

Working through the entire test. In the schools I’ve worked with, incentives are given for actions that will help students do well during tests. For instance, give incentives, prizes or the opportunity to win a prize to students that work the entire test time.

One of the biggest enemies of doing well on a test is that students put their head down and go to sleep 15, 20 or 30 minutes into testing. Most of the students will have no chance of doing well when they sleep through the test. Therefore, give an incentive to those students who work through the entire test.

Using mnemonics they’ve learned. Consider giving incentives for using the mnemonics that were taught throughout the year. It’s unfortunate, but often students don’t utilize the tools teachers give them that will help them on standardized tests.

During the year, require students to write out the mnemonics on scratch paper or wherever allowed so that it’ll be automatic for them to do so during state testing. It is critical that students use all legitimate tools at their disposal.

Writing down strategies. Another incentive-worthy behavior is having students write out three main testing strategies they should use during the test. If they have those three strategies written in front of them, there’s a better chance that they will actually use them. An example of such a strategy would be to read the entire set of answers before selecting one.

Other behaviors to reward. There are other important things to give incentives for, such as being present every day for testing review, turning in all makeup work that relates to testing, and any other behaviors that each teacher designates as important for their students.

Ensuring Incentives Are Age-Appropriate

When considering giving incentives, the most important thing is to make sure that they are age-appropriate and things that students would go the extra mile for. The best way to determine what students will work for is to ask the students directly. Put it out in front of the whole class. Ask the question, “What types of things would you like as incentives?”

When dealing with high school students, there are many good options. Examples would be free tickets to dances, sporting events such as home football games, home basketball games, the prom, free parking spaces, etc. Examples of incentives that could be donated by members of the community are gas coupons, tickets to a professional game, tickets to a concert, etc.

At every grade level, consider getting the PTA involved to donate money or items. Items such an as PlayStations, bicycles, skateboards, video games that have been vetted, toys, computers, savings bonds, and grocery store coupons are all great incentives that can be donated to the school and used to get students excited for standardized testing.

Have You Used Incentives for Your Students?

I’ve found that incentivizing state testing is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that all of the hard work done during the year doesn’t go to waste because the students have no motivation to do well.

By using age-appropriate incentives for your students during state testing time, you can motivate and encourage them to do well on the tests. When education is the groundwork for their success in life, teachers can’t afford not to incentivize their students!

Getting Your Students Ready Now for the State Test: Part One

Getting Your Students Ready Now for the State Test:  Part One

I have to tell you, this is my favorite time of year. This is the time of year when you start getting students ready to take the end-of-year assessment. I am so excited, and forgive me, but I love it.

I love it because I know so many students have used the strategies I’m about to discuss to help them excel. I love it because so many teachers have been able to see the fruits of their labors by using these strategies when teaching their students.

I designed these strategies because I sympathize with teachers who spend the entire year teaching all to have the students be unable to demonstrate their knowledge on the end-of-year assessment.

I’m fired up today to give you the following suggestions regarding testing to prepare your students and ensure the knowledge they gain in your classroom during the year can be demonstrated on state tests!

Use Regular Tests as a Model for the State Tests: The ABC’s of Testing

First, realize that it’s critical to use your regular weekly or bi-weekly assessments as practice for the state test at the end of the year. It’s something I hope you did all year, but if you didn’t, now is the perfect time to double down on what you want the kids to do while they take that test.

Immediately instruct every student to write three critical strategies in the margin of the test or on scratch paper they can use while taking the test. I like to call these three strategies the ABC’s of testing.

A might be, always take my time.

B might be, be sure to circle keywords in the questions before answering them.

C stands for carefully check and double check all answers before turning in the test.

You can make your own strategies based on the mistakes you see your students make when taking an assessment. This strategy is critical and has to be done on every test you give until the end of the year. Practice helps strategies such as these become automatic.

You want these methods to be ingrained in your students so that on test day they don’t panic but do what comes naturally, which is writing down the strategies and using them.

Watch the Clock: Prepare Students by Conducting Longer Tests

The second important suggestion I would like to give is to make sure your tests and quizzes—especially your regular assessments—are longer than usual.

But why?

Lack of endurance during testing is one of the most common issues teachers see from students during the end-of-year test. Now is the perfect time to make sure your students are able to sit for long time blocks so they’re accustomed to doing this on state test days. You cannot give 20-minute tests all year and think students can sit for an hour or an hour and a half on state test day without becoming exhausted.

Add more questions to your weekly or bi-weekly assessments. Add more open-ended questions to these assignments. Give extra credit questions at the end. Whatever you do, make sure that the students are sitting for longer periods of time now and it will pay dividends at the end of the year on your state tests.

Utilize Questions That Mimic Those on the State Test

My final suggestion in this part of the testing strategies series involves preparing your students for the rigor of state assessments.

Immediately begin using as many released state test type questions and items as you can with your students in every capacity possible. These items contain the same rigor, nomenclature, and structure your students will see on the state test.

You don’t want to teach and test one way all year and have the questions on the state assessment look completely different at the end of the year. That’s not fair to your students and it’s definitely not fair to you. I recommend using these items, as long as they aren’t copyrighted, on your quizzes.

I especially urge you to use as many of these types of items on your weekly and bi-weekly assessments as possible. During this time of the year, 80 to 90 percent of your questions should be released state test type questions.

Like many educators, I was also a coach. Every coach knows you make practice more difficult than the game. You want your students to walk out of the test on test day saying that your assessments were more difficult than what they took on state test day. Consistently and repeatedly using released state test type items will help you accomplish this.

Encouragement for Teachers

I want to leave you with these words of encouragement.

When you prepare students for the challenge of the state test, they will perform better.

If you use the strategies I’ve outlined here and you use them consistently, you will give your students a better opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they’ve learned throughout the year.

If you peruse my website, you will see many examples of schools that made tremendous gains in their test scores. These schools used many of my strategies including those mentioned in this article.

Start by implementing the strategies discussed here and see the results. Teachers—you can do this!

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Creating an Engaging Classroom

Student engagement is one of the most challenging problems a teacher has to overcome. According to research, when students aren’t engaged, they’re more likely to disrupt class, less likely to accept challenges, have lower grades, and aren’t confident in their ability to learn.

It’s also become clear to me that a teacher can’t teach someone who’s bored. In a study of high school students, 66 percent said they were bored in class every single day.

There are ways to dramatically increase student engagement at all grade levels. The first thing that needs to be done is that a teacher has to define what student engagement means to him or her. In other words, what does it look like in your classroom? For the purposes of this blog, engagement means getting students to accept challenges and to be involved in classroom activities.

So let’s talk about how you can increase student engagement and create excitement around learning!

Try Low-Risk Engagement Activities


One method of increasing student involvement immediately is to start with low-risk engagement activities. Try this right away. Put a question up on the whiteboard that involves students answering something about themselves that may help lead into the lesson of the day.

For example, as an earth science teacher, I would put a question or a statement on the board such as, “Tell me about a time when you were caught outside in a thunderstorm and may have been concerned about lightning.”

Another such statement for a language arts teacher may be something like, “Tell me about a time when you were upset about a friend not living up to your expectations or letting you down.” Students love to talk about or write about themselves. There are many lessons that this could lead into.

What you’re attempting to do is to make it safe to answer and to take away the fear of not getting an answer right. Low-risk activities are a great way to begin getting students involved. This activity works great as an opening to stimulate interest in what you’re about to teach.

Encourage Student Interaction

Another tactic to get students engaged is to have students interact with each other. Many students will engage with other students before they will engage with teachers.

Once students have worked on the activity mentioned above, have everyone in the class stand up, hold their paper in one hand and their pen in the other, and go around the room and share their answer with someone. Give them about two to three minutes and have them write down key points their classmate shares.

Now, have them rotate and find another classmate to share with; about three rotations is all I recommend. These interactions usually generate some excitement in the classroom.

Student interaction is also a great tool to incorporate into other instructional lessons that lend themselves to student sharing. For instance, as an earth science teacher, I may ask students to share their opinion after a lesson about why more hurricanes form in the Pacific Ocean than in the Atlantic, which can lead to great class discussions later.

There are other versions of getting students up and moving, such as having students travel with partners, or my favorite—having them travel in groups of three. For some reason, a group of three really seems to get more ideas flowing and generate much more excitement.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Surveys

Engagement can mean different things to different teachers. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, consider asking the students what method they might like to use to help them engage in the class the way you want them to be.

Survey your students on paper and list the various ways you engage students. Ask them to rate the activities you use and then ask them if there are other types of activities you didn’t list that they feel help them to engage more.

Study the surveys and try incorporating the activities they feel best help them to engage, keeping in mind the need to vary activities on a regular basis. This survey is also a great tool for seeing how students in your class best learn, which can be a bit different than being engaged.

List the various ways you present information to students, then have them rate those activities on how they best help students to learn or retain information. Remember to ask them if there’s a method you don’t use that would benefit them. Use the results of both these surveys when constructing your lesson plans.

Leverage Technology to Your Advantage

There are some things a teacher can do that never fail to involve all students. For example, using technology is a great way to get students involved. Some ideas are:

  • Having students work on computers.
  • Putting short videos up on the whiteboard.
  • Using YouTube lessons the students create which are also great for review or to help those that are absent.

Technology can be a powerful tool when it comes to engaging your students and supplementing your lessons!

Learn More about Creating an Engaging Classroom

As you approach the idea of making lessons more engaging, it’s important to take the key concepts that are important to teach and create engaging and fun activities around them. Don’t do an activity simply because it’s fun but has little to do with what you’re teaching.

The key is for the teacher to be excited and involved. If the teacher is enthusiastic about what he or she is teaching, that enthusiasm spreads to the students. Enthusiasm is contagious!

If you’re looking for more ideas about creating an engaging classroom, join me in Pittsburgh at the Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Airport on March 25, 2019 for my “Creating an Engaging Classroom” seminar.

It’s going to be great fun and you’ll leave with a plethora of ideas to get your students excited about learning! Visit the seminar section on my website for more information.


Brewster, C. and Fager, J. (2000) Increasing Student Engagement and Motivation: From Time-on-Task to Homework. Portland. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Macklem, G. L. (2015). Springer briefs in psychology. Boredom in the classroom: Addressing student motivation, self-regulation, and engagement in learning. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-13120-7

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!