Tag Archives: planning for success

10 Videos You Must Show Your Class

Videos for the Classroom

In my post a few weeks ago, after listening to Duckworth discuss the importance of grit in the classroom I highlighted some approaches worth considering.

Well, after reading the post as it sits online, I just don’t think I gave you much help – which is the whole point of this blog.

So when convincing your students on the importance of doing one’s best, or how to live one’s life, or what each of us can do to make our world a better place, or the importance of love… here are some videos worth showing to your class.

I challenge you to use one a week or perhaps choose one that stands apart from the others (to you).

Have an honest conversation about what’s important in their lives, and yours.

  1. 10 Rules to Live By

Some classic rules to live by. Perhaps an excellent way to start your beginning of the year conversation about classroom rules as your students create their own to follow. A great way to building a classroom culture of care.


2. A Brave Kid Stands Up To Bullies

When a student speaks up about how others make him feel. Being a friend to others can make all the difference in the life of someone. Very short, but a great opener to starting a conversation in your class about being a friend to others.


3. Kids Who Need Medical Care Find Hope

A video about helping children who need help during their toughest days. A short film about helping even if helping doesn’t end well.


4. Pizza Shop Pays It Forward

One person’s idea to give others the opportunity to help others. If only more students, and more of us, would make the time to help others that need a boost of encouragement.


5. Teachers’ Inspiration

Students need to hear that they matter. Here’s a great video to share before you tell your students what they mean to you.


6. Unbroken Motivational Video

I love this one for its energy. Perhaps for our older students as some of the imagery is intense.


7. The Bar Mirror That Speaks

Definitely a video for the older students facing the challenge of making the right decision before getting behind the wheel. An excellent option right before prom.


8. The Unexpected Basket

When we look out for each other, it brings out the best in us.


9. Who I Am Makes A Difference

Each year, after a few months of getting to know my students, I would show this video to my 5th graders – a serious video I agree. I would then make slips of paper with “who you are makes a difference” that they could give to others after I gave one to each of them. A great video about taking the time to acknowledge each person’s value to others around them.


10. Truly Amazing Teacher

I believe I saved the best for last. Here is ten minutes of not just a great teacher whose enthusiasm is obvious as he attempts to blow up a pumpkin, but also a teacher who has enthralled his students during a conversation about love. This is one I’m going to have to put on repeat and from it, get inspired.


If you thought these were useful, take a look at these 12 videos I shared some time ago that may also work in your conversations with your students. I hope you find them empowering and thought provoking as well.

Do you a favorite video that you share with students? Send a link in the comments section. I would love to see others that have made a difference in you and your students’ lives.

Why Teaching Might Not Be For You

Are You Sure You Want To Teach?

Been thinking of joining the ranks?

There will be no special letter in the mail saying we’d be happy to have you join us.

Nor will your doorbell ring and on your stoop be a man dressed in his best and ready to have you sign on the dotted line.

However, allow me to say, we’d be happy to have you join us.

Teaching is a profession often misunderstood and has certainly changed from when you and I sat in the classroom – so it is misunderstood even more so.

Teaching shouldn’t, however, be misunderstood by those interested in making it a career choice.

Each year I have the privilege to speak to students at the University of Richmond who are in the process of earning their bachelors or masters and then their certifications to teach.

I tell them this:

“I will be honest with you about the teaching profession, if you honestly think about whether you really want to enter the profession.”

As a student sitting in an evening course over a decade ago, I so appreciated when a high school principal came to our class and shared with us the truth about his job. There were no punches pulled; it was all unfiltered truth.

Hearing him share his experience, made a difference to me.

I am hopeful the following has the same effect on you.

Before you decide to call yourself a teacher, here are six unfiltered realities about teaching you need to know:

  1. It isn’t just about the kids.
  2. It isn’t easy.
  3. You won’t go home and be able to forget about your day.
  4. You won’t go home and be able to not do anything until you go back to work the next day.
  5. The first year is hell.
  6. You will be under-appreciated.

You’ll notice that there isn’t much positivity there and I don’t like that a bit because I pride myself on being positive when life throws a curveball.

There’s no positivity in those six realities above because you should go into the profession knowing that it isn’t all popsicles, pigtails, patient parents, pink bowties, and paper bows. Being the teacher isn’t always pretty.

You’re reading this because you know there must be a reason you’ve been called to teach – I really do believe it’s a calling.

We all love the little people – I get that.

But do you love the little people enough to endure all the challenges you’ll have to overcome?

It Isn’t Just About The Kids

It’s about a lot more than what might have drawn you in at the beginning.

Teaching is about being with students for a year and then hoping you’ve imparted enough, impressed enough, for them to go on to the next grade. Hopefully, once there, they will leave upon others the impression that they can and will be successful.

It’s about the future and your impact upon it now – and how that manifests itself later.

It’s about those that your students live with at home. It’s their experience at school that often shapes dinnertime conversation. It’s their challenge at school that dictates the worry parents share with one another. It’s your students’ success that bring celebration at the ice cream counter.

It’s about the value of their parents’ homes – state test scores are often one of the first qualifiers prospective homeowners research when deciding to moving into a neighborhood. It’s about district accreditation and the politics of school boards and their decision making.

Again, it’s about more than kids.

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

It Isn’t Easy

In fact, expect to be frustrated.

If there’s anything I’ve realized it’s that teaching doesn’t come naturally. Sure, there are some that can command a room, but there’s so much going on in the classroom. It’s going to take some time to feel competent.

From assessments to learning objectives to group dynamics to motivational strategies. From  student meetings to recess duty to grade book peculiarities to district focus to recertification classes. From training modules to faculty meetings to student files to parent-teacher conferences to morning meetings.

It is going to take some time to get comfortable up at the front – and that’s to be expected.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Forget About Your Day

If my day didn’t go as well as I would like, I often want nothing more than to do a redo. Mostly though I’m trying to figure out how I could have done a lesson better or how I could have had a very different conversation with a student.

Your drive to your home may include a call to a student’s home to share not just challenges, but also a positive experience at school.

You are going to arrive at home and if you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have a family waiting for you then you’ll probably repeat the entire day’s experience to them.

There will be days you’re bothered by a parent’s remarks about you or the low assessment scores from the last test. Other days will find you smiling and laughing at the dinner table remembering what happened earlier in the day. Either way, you’re going to daydream about your students during the day, and perhaps even have some schoolmares at night.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Not Do Anything Until You Go Back To Work The Next Day 

I have yet to figure out a way to leave work at work – literally.

At the end of the school day I’ve seen teachers roll suitcases, pull milk crates on wheels and have canvas bags hanging from the end of each arm as they head toward home. Others use backpacks or shoulder bags. I’ve even seen a grocery bag or two.

I would very much like to tell you that you won’t need to do any work at home, but I would be lying to you.

I won’t lie to you.

Between beginning of the year reports, getting your classroom organized, figuring out your first week of lessons, getting to know your students’ names, remembering the copier code, and understanding the acronyms that are mentioned between colleagues in the hallway – you’re going to be exhausted.

There’s no way you’re going to be able do the other million and one items on your to-do list at school.

Well, you could if you got a cot, a nice soft pillow and warm comforter, but they frown on that nowadays.

Your family will most likely frown too.

The First Year Is Hell

I hate to say it this way because I am grateful that I really don’t know what hell is like, nor do I have any interest.

It got your attention though, right? The first year is definitely the toughest.

Like swimming in a pot of water being slowly heated on the stove, the first year is going to get increasingly uncomfortable.

For returning teachers, we all start the year on a positive note after we acclimate to once again not being able to sleep in as long as we would like (note: actually full disclosure: not all teachers start on a positive note which I don’t truly understand – the time we have with our families during the summer is awesome).

We envision great things and try to improve on areas in which we didn’t do well last year.

For a new teacher, you really do go into that first year largely blind no matter how well your college classwork might have prepared you. Perhaps though, ignorance is bliss as some would profess.

The year starts slow and consistent. The year then begins to get frantic.

And then it quickly becomes a rollercoaster of emotion brought on, not only by uncertainty and inexperience, but also from utter exhaustion.

Your students will test you, your colleagues will often be speaking a different language during team meetings, and your principal will try to determine whether they’ve made the right decision hiring you.

The experience will be similar to that of being on a moving sidewalk – the kind you find at the international airport between departure gates, with no exit point ahead that you can see. You can try to turn around and go backwards to seek an escape, but that’s no solution either. Face forward and you will be rolled into the unknown.

You’ll be on the ride every first-year teacher has taken – it ain’t much fun.

You Will Be Under-Appreciated.

Your own parents will initially be supportive (or not) – it’s hard, after all, to say with an honest face that one disapproves of teachers.

Your spouse will be happy that you’re now getting paid after all the unpaid student teaching you did, but they won’t have counted on all the extra work you’re now doing at home.

When people ask you what you do and you share your career decision, they will remember all the unhappy experiences sitting in the classroom.

They will ask how you in fact do it? How do you manage all those kids? They may even place their hand on your shoulder and proclaim that you are a saint – but do it with sad eyes.

Perhaps during the summer you will feel elated that your new year has yet to start. That there’s still time to take another trip to the beach. Then you hear your neighbors talk about who their child has this upcoming year and they share their displeasure.

Ready To Change Your Major? Ready To Throw In the Teaching Towel?

So why do it?

At this point, if you’re still reading this, why in God’s name would you even consider teaching?

Simply, there is no more noble profession than teaching.

We teach every child.

Whether they come to us from homes where they’re well taken care of or come from homes where they’re an after thought, they arrive to us each morning.

They come to us hungry and well fed, happy and sad, well loved and mistreated.

They arrive full of hope and tired before they ever sit down. They sit down excited about a favorite subject and never having found joy in anything that has to do with school. They want to tell stories and not ever utter a word. They begin the year at the start line and they begin well behind because of challenges they’ve had their entire life. They want to impress you and they could care less.

We teach every one of them.

They are the little people entrusted to us and regardless of how they arrive, you are their teacher.

You will always, from here on out, be their teacher.

You will be on their class picture hidden deep in a pile in their attic, and found when they move from one home to another. You will be in their thoughts when their own children are in the grade you’re now teaching.

You have the opportunity to change lives at an age in which your students will look back and include you as the reason they are who they are. That’s pretty amazing.

It’s an opportunity few others have.

And that’s why you should join the ranks of teaching.

I hope you’ll join us.

Do you have some realities I failed to share? Please share in the comment section so that those new to teaching might know the challenges you faced and they in turn can be convinced to become a teacher. Thank you.

Teacher Desk Essentials


Now that teachers are back at it, here’s the very important, very necessary list of items every teacher needs, no – can’t live without, in their desk.

This is the one place you can call your own, your own little personal space. They have their desk and you’ve probably decorated your walls for them. This desk is yours – a container for memories and pick-me-ups.

Students may try to gain access, do not let them look. No getting something out of it for you. Don’t let them take a peek. Having a few surprises at hand might end up changing their day from mediocre to awe inspiring.

So with what to fill that old, splitting, pealing, well worn desk?

Here are eleven I consider to be must-haves.

1. Breath Mints. Mints because while many of us enjoy our morning coffee, our students do not appreciate the coffee breath that comes with it. Even worse might be that amazing hoagie you had for lunch filled with garlic and onion goodness that’s left your breath, well, a little ripe. If you care about helping them one-on-one, then you’re going to have to care enough to try to be a bit minty.

2. Chocolate / Candy / Guilty Tasty Pleasure. You deserve it! Next time you’re at the grocery store go on down the candy aisle and stash a bag of chocolate in your cart. Maybe two in fact. Then take that bag and stuff it far up in your desk drawer. Just when you’ve forgotten it’s there and you had a less than stellar day, go ahead and have a bite (or two).

Also, if you’re a friendly soul, and you should be, offer some chocolatey goodness to a colleague when they’re having a tough day. Perhaps they will offer some yummies when your time comes.

3. Spare Set of Shoes. Your feet are going to hurt. Maybe they already hurt. Mine do. Go out and buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing that speak to you. Go ahead, permission granted. Then place them at the bottom of your desk to replace the ones that perfectly matched your outfit, however cause pain to shoot up your legs if you get up from your chair for more than a minute and a half. Remember, you so deserve those pair of shoes.

4. EZ Grader. I know that having an app to accomplish this task might be more impressive, however there’s nothing wrong with having this trusty tool at the ready. I think I have three at this point. Used to quickly determine grades by sliding to the correct number of problems, this handy little product is a must have and needs to be close at hand. Your students might also swoon at its ability to accurately report their grade and it doesn’t even require batteries.

5. Change for the Vending Machine. It’s the afternoon and there are days in which a little sugar rush is in order. Similar to the chocolate fix, this is an additional pick-me-up needed on occasion. Carefully decide however if combining a snack with the chocolate isn’t overkill, or just go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

Collect enough change and perhaps you can even convince your front office staff to order you some Chinese on a Friday as a super treat – please then go and remember #1.

6. Deodorant. You rushed out of the house this morning worrying about your family, your dog’s panicked look saying please let me out before you go required a bit more time in the backyard, and you then went back to the house for your lunch that you forgot. What you didn’t do is lather yourself with a swipe or two of deodorant. Similar to the breath mints, this one can’t be ignored or forgotten, so it’s better to have some backup just in case. Doesn’t take up much space, just try not to apply while standing in the front of the room.

7. Happy File. When students draw you a picture, when their parents have taken the time to send in a card of thanks, when your principal has written you an inspiring note recognizing your hard work, when good things come your way… put them into your Happy Feel Good File. Then also remember to take out a few examples to recall the impact you’ve made on students that have long since left your room and continued on to the next grade or even out of school.

8. Clown nose, Lone Ranger mask, magic kit. Use one of these (or all three) sparingly and whenever you pull open that squeaky drawer, heads will pop up. Eyes will widen wondering what your next move might be. Convince them that you’re someone else, combine it with an accent, and you’re certain to have them reminiscing at lunch about your crazy antics.

9. Stress Ball. For obvious reasons it’s a better idea to squeeze the ball than to unleash your frustration. Even better is to loan this to your students who have a bit of frustration pent up inside. Have more than two and one can be used for the all important toe crushing you can do under your desk as you appear calm from the waist up.

10. Music Option. When you need it a little quieter, try classical. When you need to inspire, try some jazz. When you need to develop camaraderie, go ahead and have a sing-a-long. Music can play a great role in your classroom and students won’t soon forget that Indonesian music you played that they had never heard anything that even come close to it. When they tell you they know if all, break out some big band and see how long they complain – they’ll come around, it just might take a few weeks.

11. Family Pictures. When you’re wondering why you’re still at it and how God could have possibly given you the patience you have found deep within yourself, take a look at the family that loves you and knows you are doing great work.

 I’m curious what you have in that desk of yours that others might find to be essential worthy. Please leave your comment. I look forward to adding yours to my list – I still have some room.

First Day of School: Four Reassuring Facts for Parents

Bus Stop Sign

Can you hear the squealing of bus brakes?

Do you remember that sound? Can you ever unhear that sound?

Has your neighborhood endured school buses stopping at the corner, children racing to opening doors, and kindergarten moms screaming good luck? Maybe you also noticed some parents’  tears as you looked out from behind your living room blinds.

Maybe those tears were your own.

Yes, it’s true. The first day of school is upon us.

In fact if you’re in my district or one close by in the Richmond, Virginia area, you too will begin your year on the day after Labor Day. In my county alone, 59,000 students will arrive at their school for the first day – that’s a lot of energy, anxiety and excitement.

Others in private school have already started their first day and I expect have probably nailed down procedures and begun earnest teaching.

For me, I’m still wondering where the summer went. Maybe that’s the same for you and your child.

The first day of students arriving to the sound of the school bell seems to sneak up on us every year. Perhaps because teachers are lulled, much like our students, into thinking that summer is endless. I know when I was younger, I felt that way too. Frankly, I still think that way.

I clearly remember the last school day this past June and how there was cheering while the buses left the building. There was singing, there was crying and there was joy – for students too.

Summer began that day. Vacations to places far away would be taken. Tans were achieved.  We were able to spend some time with our own children. Doctor visits were scheduled. Errands were run on weekday mornings. We even marveled at how “the other half” go to lunch on weekdays, seem to enjoy their meal, and return back to their office – quite amazing to see.

Today, this first day of school, students (and yes, teachers too) are woken up at an early hour. An hour that seems inhumane to most. There’s complaining about it being too early from many while there are others that throw back the sheets in celebration.

New outfits have been laid out next to the bed. Or old outfits are pulled off the hangers and thrown on. Hair is carefully combed with just the right amount of product while others might just forego any sort of hair prep. I myself am sporting a beard longer than ever that takes way too much primping for someone my age.

Day One. A hundred and seventy, or so, to go until Summer vacation arrives yet again.

Each year I hear colleagues complaining about returning to their jobs after being off for a couple of months. I hear the same from my own children. Part of me thinks “get over it, you’ve had lots of free time”. Part of me understands completely.

We like our freedom. Freedom to schedule our days to include what we want to do. Isn’t that what we all really want?

Of course for some of you at home, freedom is returned when those children get on the buses. Your quiet time has been returned to you and for that I say – you’re welcome.

So whether you are seeing your first or last child off to school, whether this is the year your child enters high school or whether you dropped off your child at the bus stop.

Here are four teacher facts on the first day of school that I hope you’ll remember and be reassuring as you watch your child leaves for school.

1) We strive to be ready for your child’s arrival.  Your teachers have been preparing their classrooms  for over a week. Some even came to work well before their teacher work week began. It’s not that they were excited about working in the un-airconditioned rooms, it’s more about taking the time to get it right. Some even went to their classroom this past weekend to be sure all was in order – I did that.

2) We’re more than interested in your child being successful, we want them to leave at the end of the day wanting more. This past week class rolls were given and staff meetings introduced the year’s focus. In our district we ventured out into other schools to mingle with colleagues and learn new approaches that would better connect with students (my take away was the excellent teacher resources at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Bulletin boards were created and posters hung. We participated in teacher learning sessions and set up our gradebooks. Lesson plans have been made and get-to-know-you worksheets are already sitting on desks. Teachers have worried about being ready and shared that they wished that they had more time.

3) We want your child to feel welcome. On Tuesday morning, we will stand by our doors and welcome this year’s group to their seats and warmly introduce ourselves as their teacher. We have thought about the importance of students feeling safe and how we will encourage them to ask questions and take risks. The first day is planned – in fact every minute of the day has been thought out. We will be writing down bus numbers and re-checking those lists as they board those buses for home.

So as the sound of the bus becomes faint as it leaves your neighborhood, please know what we teachers await your students arrival. Then the school bell will undoubtedly ring and class doors will close officially beginning what we hope will be a memorable first day.

So whether elementary, middle or high school… 4) On this first day of school I want you to know that we care about your child.

Here’s to a great year for you and your child.

Have a great story to share? I would love to hear your thoughts on the first day of school. Please take a moment to share your comment.

Encourage Your Students To Pause And Look Within


Rush, rush, rush.

Did you do what you needed to do and did you do it yesterday? Today’s too late, yesterday was perfect. In fact you really should have foreseen the issue and by the time it was needed, the need should have never occurred because you resolved it.


Doesn’t that almost sound normal today? Have you heard something similar?

We live in a world in which access to all information is instantaneous. Ask any question, heck, ponder any question and within seconds you’ll have the chance to begin looking through a few million possible answers.

My friends and I were reflecting on years past when one left work on Friday and didn’t need to connect back until Monday morning. Say that out loud now and it sounds like you’re itchin’ to get fired. You must not be interested in keeping that job. So check you email now and respond, yet again, to whatever has just chimed requiring your attention.


What we’re not doing is taking some time to think about what’s passed us and what’s ahead. Why did we react a certain way? What worked? What didn’t?

Neither do our students.

They like us, live in a reactive world. Everything around us wants a decision quicker and more definitive than the last time. The bosses boss wanted that answered yesterday. Did their boss want it yesterday too? It’s a cyclical conundrum.

As teachers we are conditioned to deliver instruction our students should be able to internalize within moments. Our day is planned for us, as is our curriculum. Of course when students require to hear it and experience the learning a few times more, we quickly feel as if we’re behind.

In fact now that my SOLs have passed, I find myself at a bit of a loss as to what I should teach these last remaining weeks of school – I started with cursive by the way. I figured they ought to know how to sign their name.

Time has slowed down a bit in my classroom.

Of course about 160 days of instruction has passed since my students arrived on the first day of school.

I’m tired, they’re tired, we’re tired together. Time however is short and we only have so many days left with them in our classroom. A very short time to now lead them to do something that few of us ever do.

Perhaps now it a good time to reflect.

I admit to you that I need to do a better job of building in reflecting time throughout the year, not just at the end. I think I’ll start adding this into my lesson plans now, before the zaniness of next year even begins to overwhelm me.

Until then, here are some activities I’ve had my students do in years past.

  • Write a letter to next year’s class telling them the truth about you as a teacher. I introduce the activity with the promise that no letter shall find itself in the trashcan. All I ask is for honesty.
  • Fold a blank piece of paper into four equal parts. Label each with: what I thought this year would be like, what it really was like, my favorite part of the year, and what I think next year will be like.
  • Write a letter to a favorite teacher they had in the past. Explain what that teacher did to make them a favorite of your student. I then deliver it into that teacher’s mailbox – this always seems to make a teacher’s day.
  • Have your student get in front of the classroom and act out your mannerisms. This is always a lot of fun to see. This one is obviously a reflection activity for the teacher and generates all sorts of stories.
  • Have your students reflect on this past year and what you did as a teacher that was good, negative, and what they would change about the classroom if they could.
  • Similar to the past one, have your students reflect on their own year. What did they like about themselves, what did they do that was something they would rather forget, what did they learn about themselves this year, and what would they like to work on as they enter the next academic year.

So here’s my challenge to you.

When was the last time you took some time to think back on the last few weeks, months, or the year?

Ask yourself. What went well? What didn’t go well?

Now what will you do differently to continue to build on your success?

When you’ve honestly taken some time to think, include your family in the conversation and ask them the same question.

Perhaps this conversation will lead to the exact place you wish you were, before all this reflecting started.

Perhaps the same is true for your students when you ask them to do the same.