Classroom Ideas

8/12/2020 Letter Z – Be Zazzy! Be Zesty! Be Zippy
In normal times you would be feeling excited about the start of the school year, this time you may not be. With so much uncertainty it is difficult to bring that positive attitude and zest to this unique situation. All I can say is I am with you! I know how frustrated and even angry you must be with all the negative comments out there surrounding the virtual learning that will be replacing in person instruction in most of the country. Don’t listen to it! Forge ahead with as much zip as you can muster and know that you are appreciated and valued by many.  You will give this year all you have, just as you have in the past because it is who you are and I am grateful! 

6/8/2020 Letter Y – Be Youthful
I bet you feel anything but youthful right about now! You are tired, stressed, anxious about the near future, and probably feel pretty darn old! Well, go have some fun. Do what you can to wipe the old from you and find your youthful self! This has been the most trying time but you have weathered it so congratulate yourself, sing and dance, be silly, smile at yourself because you are fabulous! 

4/21/2020 Letter X – Be X-tra Everything
Right now you are being asked to be X-tra everything! You are still educating your students while being home maintaining your life. I don’t know what your situation is, but you are teachers and you are wonderful, beautiful, fabulous and deserving of X-tra praise and gratitude. THANK YOU!

03/30/2020 Letter W – Be Willing
In these times I think that my poem for the letter W is just so appropriate. We must all be willing to do what it takes to keep ourselves and others safe. We need to stay positive for our families and for the families who depend on us. We need to smile even when it is very hard to think positively, and we need to know when to step up and when to step back. Such a very difficult time requires a willingness to accept this reality and to do what is necessary to move forward. 

03/26/2020 Letter V – Be Vibrant
You are home and trying to stay connected to your kids, I am in awe of you. May you find some vibrant color in each day, something to make you smile, something that brings you joy. Stay well.

03/17/2020 Letter U – Be Someone’s Umbrella
Schools are closed and your students are learning from home, but you are trying to stay connected and supply your kids with learning opportunities. Teachers are always the umbrellas their students need, protecting, encouraging, listening, guiding. During this time you are needed more than ever. Keep reaching out, the kids are going to remember this time. I am so proud of all of you. 

03/10/2020 Letter T – Be Tenacious
I love the look on a very determined face. That focus that is a testament to real power over struggle is what we want to see in all of our students. Determination is just a necessary quality to succeed in the short term. Tenacity is what is needed though to be successful in the long term and that look is something we can’t see. We can’t see it because being tenacious is on-going. The tenacious student will frown over the missteps, smile over the wins and show little while working daily towards the dream. Most of our students show determination in the face of difficulty, but tenacity is born of real desire. What is it our students desire? 

03/02/2020 Letter S – Be Smart
Do you know who the really smart kid in your class is? It isn’t the one who always has the right answer. It isn’t the one who seems never to need to hear something more than once to understand. It isn’t the one who can always get the others to listen to them. The really smart kid is the one who just never seems to give up no matter how difficult a task is for them. It is the kid who might be very quiet but who is always listening. It is the one who is watching everything that is going on around them and taking it all in. Those students who struggle but in the end understand, those who say little but surprise with their thoughts, those who have a good read on others, they are the smart ones because they are working at their learning. Appreciate them. 

2/27/2020 Letter R – Be a Rebel
A rebellious student is not seen as a good thing in the classroom. We think of a rebel as one who is defiant and shows disrespect for established norms. Classrooms need to nurture rebels though because we need to allow for independent thought. Rebelliousness does not have to be unruly behavior, and it should not frighten those in authority. Let’s put a new twist on the “classroom rebel.” Let’s encourage questioning and give space for opinions and answers that were not what we expected. Those students who do the expected because they want to please might need to be pushed a bit to explore what they really think and understand. Those students who are always pushing back, pushing buttons and pushing limits do need to be reigned in, and we need to help them determine when they really need to take a stand and when they are just grandstanding. 

2/26/2020 Letter Q – Be Quiet
A quiet classroom is a well managed classroom. A quiet classroom is a boring classroom. A quiet classroom is one where learning is going on and all students are engaged. A quiet classroom is one where students are filling out worksheets and no one is learning anything. A quiet classroom is good. A quiet classroom is bad. The ever changing school climate debate right? Well, we know we need both noise and quiet in a classroom. We need our students, at all levels, excitedly involved in hands on noisy, messy learning, and we need students able to quietly engage in individual learning and assessment. If there is a proper balance in a classroom then magic happens. Strive for this balance. Some of your lessons should require the exuberance of your students and some should require that they engage in stillness. Both are necessary to learning, both are required in life. 

2/21/2020 Letter P – Be Patient
When asked “What do you do?” and I replied “I am a teacher” I more often than not heard this “You must have a lot of patience!” I would think to myself, no I don’t, at least no more patience than the next guy. Why, I thought did people think that being a teacher required an exorbitant amount of patience? Teaching requires an enormous amount of diplomacy, a plentiful amount of creativity, and an extra amount of empathy tempered with a solid amount of toughness. The questioner of course was alluding to the fact that a classroom of children can be very difficult to manage and therefore much patience is required. Good teachers manage their classrooms quite well and deal expertly with their “kids.” Yes, patience is needed but it is with ourselves. We need to be patient when we are doubting, we need to be patient when we are feeling alone, and we need to be patient when we know we are right. So take care of yourself as the school year enters this next phase. Be patient with yourself and fulfill your needs. 

2/8/2020 Letter O – Be Original
It is difficult to allow our students to be original when the educational environment is one of conformity. The best we can do is applaud thoughts that are the result of curiosity and artistic endeavors that bring joy to the creator. We need to have our students align themselves to the expectations of our classroom and our school, but in doing so we overlook the beauty of the outlier. Oh if we could only bring to our classroom the opportunity for the outliers to teach a lesson to us all!

2/2/2020 Letter N – Be Neat
We know the neat kids from the not so neat ones right? The ones who come to school without their homework, permissions slips or lunches, we call them disorganized. The ones who have everything they need organized perfectly, we call them wonderful! In my years as an educator I often saw these wonderful kids as being a bit stressed, unable to let things go, and not able to handle imperfection in themselves or others. The disorganized ones were often the ones able to go with the flow, find alternative solutions to problems, and they often laughed just a bit more. I think it is important to be neat and to be organized, but I also think it is important to be able to find just what is needed out of the mess! Teach and expect neatness and organization, but don’t sweat the small stuff and in the messiness of daily life, help your students laugh a bit. 

1/31/2020 Letter M – Be Mindful
In our classrooms we do want our students to mind, to obey. We also want them to be acutely aware of how they feel in any given situation and to be able to be expressive about it. We encourage our students to be keen observers of all that takes place throughout the day. These are all ways to be mindful. The important thing for our student to know is that if their mind is to grow, if they are to evolve then they must be witnesses to their experiences, be questioners and problem solvers. We expect our students to grow in mind and body, but not paying attention or having opportunities to wonder will result in the mind staying small. Allow for observation and questioning so their minds grow as their bodies do! 

1/29/2020 Letter L – Be LOUD
I know, that kid who always has his hand up, waving it around, saying “Pick me, pick me!”, can be a real challenge. That very quiet one though, the one you try so hard to get to participate, that one is a real challenge too. How to get the eager one to calm down a bit is probably easier than getting the clammed up one to feel confident enough to share once in a while. We all try to make our classrooms a place where all students feel comfortable and safe, a place where they feel free to be a part of the learning, yet some children still fear their voice. Welcome them with a smile each day, make a point of letting them know they are seen throughout the day, and maybe one day not too far in the future, they will learn to shout!

1/28/2020 Letter K – Be a Keeper
We tell our students to keep someone’s secret unless by keeping it someone may be harmed. We tell or students to keep quiet when their noise may be disruptive. We tell our students to keep working hard so that they will see success. We tell our students to keep warm, to keep safe, to keep keeping on. We tell our students to keep believing. We tell them about keeping because we care, that is what the keeping is. It is caring enough to not let go, and to know that what you have and feel is worth keeping. 

1/23/2020 Letter J – Be Jolly and Joyful
So much stress in our students’ lives these days, even the very youngest ones. What can we do in our classrooms to bring a feeling of joy and jolliness to our students? Somehow fun must be incorporated into the day or the lesson so that even the saddest, most unhappy child feels a moment of glee while at school. 

1/20/2020 Letter I – Be Incredible
Who are the students that you think are incredible? I’ll bet they are the ones walking the most difficult path or the ones who are aware of the classmates who struggle and they offer to help them. Yet who wins the awards and the honors that say you are incredible in our school system? The top athletes take home the trophies, the top scholars win the accolades. How do we let the students who don’t win the trophies or receive the accolades know that we know they are incredible? We have to tell them, every day and in every way possible; a smile, a pat on the back, a “good job, keep it up,” “I know that was hard for you,” “Thank you for helping, I noticed.” You can also simply say, “I think you are incredible!”

1/18/2020 Letter H – Be Hopeful
We all hope for so much! Young people hope for things that can be so out of reach we are tempted to dash their hopes. It is sometimes a real balancing act to know when to encourage the hopes of our students and when to help them face reality. Unrealistic hopes can morph into something more attainable if we look deeply into what is fueling the hoping. Instead of saying that something is never going to happen or is just not probable, take the time to understand the longing, and see if it can be directed down a more possible path. 

1/15/2020 Letter G – Be Grateful
Our students sit out there, we look and see such diversity even in a small classroom community. Some have much to be grateful for and some, well not so much. If we can show our students that we see them all as the individuals they are, with the needs they have, and value them, they will be grateful, and those with much may learn to care about those who have less. We have the ability to help our students care for one another. We should be so very grateful to have the power to affect a child. 

1/13/2020 Letter F – Be Friendly
We all want a friendly classroom with our students sharing, lending a hand, welcoming all to play, being nice and being understanding of others. Well, young children do not like to share, do not want to play with all of their classmates and have little understanding for what their peers may be experiencing! Older children have learned that it doesn’t always serve them well when they reach out to the underdog, or try to be friendly to all of their classmates. Teenagers, well enough said right? So how do we encourage our students to show small signs of friendliness to their peers on a daily basis? I think the best way to do this is to lead by example. Teachers do not always treat all of their students in a kind way. I’ve witnessed some pretty unfriendly teachers. It isn’t always easy to walk the walk and make all of our students feel welcome. So maybe just being aware of how we feel towards those young people sitting before us, depending on us, needing us to notice them, will be a beginning to our own ability to be friendly, and then it may rub off. 

1/10/2020 Letter E – Be Effervescent
Burst like a shaken up can of pop that’s flipped its lid! When you look out at the students in your classroom, how many do you see looking joyful and carefree? The students sitting in classrooms today are bringing much with them that we can’t know or even understand. I will venture to say that because of the prevalence of technology and the decrease in physical activity, students of all ages are more subdued and less able to be exuberant. So, let’s shake them up a bit! Add something to your schedule everyday that will surprise and delight your class. Maybe a 5 minute brain gym activity. Maybe a quick game of hangman. Maybe a joke or two! Try something and share what you do to add some joyful noise to your classroom. 

1/7/2020 Letter D – Be Determined
What does it take to help kids understand that trying is good? I have seen far too many youngsters not want to try because they are so afraid that they can’t. We live today in a world of instant answers, thank you Google and Alexa, and one that is so full of busyness that taking the time to figure something out isn’t valued. The most impactful change to education today that directly influences that lack of determination is the testing culture. Our students must be right so we have succumbed to having the correct answer be the goal without appreciating the problem solving adventure! Help your students regain the joy of learning by actually letting them discover. Most discoveries are accidents or the result of failure on the way to something else. Determination is learned through adversity, don’t make it easy, make them struggle a bit! 

1/4/2020 Letter C – Be Curious
We teachers are always asking the questions and anticipating the answers. When a student answers incorrectly we let them know, in some way, that the answer given was wrong and call on someone else. What if we were more curious? Instead of just saying, “no, wrong.” and moving on, what if we said, “why do you think that?” or “That’s an interesting response, tell me how you got to that answer.” In my experience testing students in reading, I often asked them to tell me why they answered as they did. Many times, while their answer was not the one the test maker wanted, it also wasn’t wrong. So, while I want kids to be curious, to look around and find out, I am asking you to do that too. Delve into why they answer as they do, you may find that although not the answer you were expecting, it isn’t entirely wrong. You also may find out more about your students’ background and that will benefit everyone. 

1/2/2020 Letter B – Be Benevolent
When I visit classrooms I love to say this word slowly with the students; ben-ev-o-lent. I tell them to just let it roll off their tongue and they all do! Then we talk about all of the kind things they can do for others and the kind things done for them. As teachers we all see students being unkind to each other, and we step in to say that the way they are acting isn’t right and that we need to treat each other better. But what about those children who just always seem to be mean or the real bully in your room? I wonder if their inability to be kind is because they have been shown so little of it? Perhaps that is why we have been put in their path, to be kind to them so that they can develop it. Maybe being extra benevolent to the most difficult of your kids, showing an extra kindness every day will make a small difference in them. Try it and see what happens by the end of the year. Let me know! 

1/1/2020 Letter A – Be Affectionate
Kids need hugs. If you teach lower elementary then I think it is easy to give the little ones you teach physical hugs when they need them. It isn’t always possible to physically hug all of the children you teach, and it isn’t always appropriate to hug older students. So how can you make sure your students feel hugged? Notice them. Comment on a new hairdo, pair of glasses, or fun outfit. Tell them you see them working hard, trying their best, being friendly. There is so very much to do in a day of teaching that it is easy to forget that our students, no matter their age, need to be recognized and appreciated by someone every day. In this new year, perhaps make a point to give “hugs” to those students who may need them most and get them the least. Sometimes a smile is the best hug of all!

Hello Teachers,
I would love to visit your classroom and share my book, The Way To Be from A to Z, with your students. My book is a cute, fun, inspirational guide to character development and is truly appropriate for all ages. If you decide that an author’s visit is something that will fit nicely into your curriculum plans here is what I will do. I will send you a copy of my book for your school’s library, and ask you to share the book with your students in the best way that fits into your instructional plans, so that they are familiar with the book and have ideas to share when I come to visit. You will be able to download from my website a character development chart to use with your students where they decide which traits they have fully developed, which ones they still need to work on and which ones they think will be difficult for them to develop. When I visit your classroom I will share with your students how my book came to be and a bit about the writing process itself.

  • For K through 2nd grade, I will focus my talk on just some of the pages of the book as I have found that reading the entire book at one time is a bit too long for this age group. With these little ones, I also do more of a picture walk and talk about the importance of the illustrations in telling a story. I will ask the questions that are on the pages that I read so the students can share their ideas and feelings about the traits. I will emphasize the new and big words. The book sharing and discussion lasts about 35 to 45 minutes for this level.

  • For 3rd through 5th grade, the writing process discussion takes longer, and I read the entire book. I ask the questions and have the students share their thoughts. In the classrooms I have visited we have had some lively discussions! Students in this age range are able to determine the character traits they feel they have developed and the ones they need to work on. The presentation lasts 45 to 60 minutes.

  • For 6th through 8th grade, I go much more in depth about my journey with the book and the writing process itself. I discuss the picture book concept and talk about how good picture books have value at all educational levels. I read the book and ask questions that require more introspection on the part of the students. I want the students to see how the character traits apply inside and outside of school. The presentation will take a class period.

  • At the high school level, I have worked with special education teachers who use my book to discuss how the character traits fit into the students’ transition goals.

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I look forward to visiting your classroom and sharing my book and my journey as an author.