January 22, 2017

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom through Teambuilding

I've been a fan of cooperative learning since I first stepped into a classroom, and I'm convinced that teaching kids how to work with others is one of the best gifts we can give them. Research consistently shows that in order to be successful in any career, we have to know how to get along with others and to work together as a part of a team.

These social skills are important in everyday life, too. People who embrace diversity and who treat others with kindness are far more likely to be happy than those who are rude and who have no tolerance for different perspectives.

Now more than ever, we need to take a stand against bullying and intolerance. We must proactively teach kids how to treat each other with kindness and respect. But we need to do more than teach kids to tolerate diversity, we should teach our students to appreciate each other's differences and celebrate their uniqueness!

I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy to foster these character traits in the classroom. Cooperative learning provides a framework for promoting kindness, but teaching kids how to get along with others requires more than just seating them together in teams and telling them to work together. We need to teach specific social skills and do everything in our power to foster a caring classroom community, right from the first day of school. I believe in this point so strongly that I've created a whole page on Teaching Resources called How to Create a Caring Classroom. Visit that page to check out the freebies and other resources there which include a free replay of my webinar, How to Launch a Super School Year. I also created an entire page on my site with strategies for teaching social skills in the classroom.

The best place to start promoting kindness is within cooperative learning teams. When students take part in teambuilding activities, they develop stronger bonds with their teammates. As they work with different teams throughout the year, they will eventually connect with all of their classmates and will learn to appreciate everyone's unique qualities.

Teaching Students How to Give Genuine Compliments
One powerful strategy for fostering appreciation for others is to teach students how to give and receive genuine compliments. Some children might not have any experience at all with praising and complimenting others, so begin the lesson by having your class brainstorm a list of positive statements and words of appreciation.

Remind your students that no one wants to hear empty praise because we know when others are not being sincere. Sometimes it takes a little work to find meaningful ways to praise and compliment each other, but it's worth the effort. If you've introduced growth mindset to your students, remind them that praising someone for being persistent or open to new ideas is more meaningful than telling someone that they are smart or pretty. Here are some sentence starters you might want to introduce:
  • I like the way you.... 
  • I appreciate it when you.... 
  • Thanks for... 
  • I enjoy working with you because...
  • I admire the way you... 
  • What's special about you is...
  • I'm glad you're on my team because... 
Teambuilding to Promote Classroom Kindness   
After you discuss what it means to give a genuine compliment, you'll need to provide opportunities for your students to practice this skill. Cooperative learning teams are the perfect place for students to test out these strategies in a safe environment. Furthermore, the process of actively looking for positive traits and complimenting others is a powerful teambuilding tool.

One way to do this this is to assign a team task that's somewhat challenging, such as a STEM activity, and ask your students to practice complimenting each other as they work together. After you introduce the activity, remind your students to look for opportunities to give specific and genuine compliments. Walk around the room as they work, and point out any nice compliments that you hear. For example, stop next to a team and say something like, "I just heard a really nice compliment in this team. Sally complimented Linda for coming up with a creative way to holding the straws together on their puff mobile."



Team Compliment Cards
Another effective strategy is creating Team Compliment Cards. In this activity, students show appreciation for their teammates by writing compliments on homemade cards. Each person writes his or her name on one card, and all cards are passed around the team. As the cards are passed from student to student, they write compliments about the person who is the “star” of each card. Finally, the cards are returned to their creators, and everyone can read the compliments their teammates have written about them.

To find the full directions, download the Team Compliments Cards Freebie from my TpT store. Several templates are included, or you can have students create their own cards from blank paper. This activity works really well after students have been working with the same team for several weeks, and it's a great closure activity to do right before you move students to new teams. In fact, this activity is so powerful that after students read their compliment cards, it's not unusual for some of them to beg me to keep their team together for a few more weeks!

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom
I hope these teambuilding strategies will make it a little easier for you to promote kindness in your classroom. To find additional resources, search TpT using the hashtag #kindnessnation to discover dozens of freebies from TpT sellers who believe that promoting kindness and acceptance of others should be a priority in every classroom. To make this task a little easier, we've joined together to provide teachers with ready-to-use resources for fostering a caring classroom community. Enjoy!


December 28, 2016

Join the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook Group

Have you heard the buzz lately about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club? It's an amazing course that Angela Watson of the Cornerstone for Teachers blog developed to help teachers learn how to trim hours off their work weeks and achieve work/life balance.

Despite its title, the course isn't really about reducing your work week to just 40 hours, although some members do just that. It's about learning to use your time more productively so that you can get more done in less time, thereby reducing your work load and the number of hours you spend working.

How much would it be worth to you if you could trim 10 or more hours from your work week? 

Saving that much time might seem like an impossible goal, but surveys of 40 HTW Club members have shown that it's more than possible - its the norm!

In fact, club members trim an average of 11 hours from their work weeks!

Surveys show that teachers who enroll in the course reduce their work weeks from an average of 62 hours to 51 hours by the time they graduate from it! That's more than 500 hours a year!

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club isn't free, of course, but the resources you'll receive will far outweigh the cost of enrollment. It almost sounds too good to be true, so I wouldn't blame you if you were a bit skeptical.

Join the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook Group
That's why I created a private Facebook group called Teachers Working Smarter. I wanted a place where teachers who are already in the 40 HTW Club could connect with those who are thinking of joining. Angela isn't a part of the group because I want members to be able to ask anything they want about the club. Whether you're a current club member or you're interested in learning more, I invite you to join!

To sign up for the Teachers Working Smarter Group, please take BOTH steps below:
  1. Fill out this Google Doc form with your contact information. 
  2. Click over to the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook group and then click the Join button to request membership. 

Note: Your membership status will appear as pending until I approve it, which I will do if you've filled out the Google Doc form in step 1. However, I only approve memberships a few times a day, so please be patient!

Remember how I asked what it would be worth if you could trim 10 or more hours from your workweek? Many would say that saving that much time would be PRICELESS!

You could use that time to start taking better care of yourself, as I wrote in New Year's Resolutions to Keep the Joy in Teaching.

You could also use those extra hours to spend more time with your family. Within a week of joining, one club member wrote that she was thrilled to finally able to eat dinner with her family instead of staying late at work every day. Another shared that she had not been able to attend her daughter's dance recitals until after enrolling in the course and learning how to use her time more productively!

How will YOU use the extra time you carve out for yourself? I look forward to reading YOUR success story in the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook Group!




Full disclosure: The links shared in this post are affiliate links, but I can assure you that I would never recommend anything to you that I didn't believe in 100%. I'm a member of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and it's absolutely amazing... and life-changing!

December 25, 2016

New Year's Resolutions That Will Keep the Joy in Teaching

Are you making any New Year's Resolutions? If you're like most people, you've identified at least a few goals to accomplish this year, and I'm guessing that improving your physical fitness and health is one of them.

But achieving that goal is going to take more than determination. It will take TIME, and that's something most teachers don't have! 

That's why I'm excited to share about an amazing program called the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club! Angela Watson developed this course to help teachers achieve work/life balance, which will free up TIME to achieve ALL of the important goals in your life!

I'll tell you more about the program later in this post, but first I want you to understand why it's so important to learn strategies that will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend working.

Let's get back to that goal of improving your physical fitness and health. When it comes right down to it, taking better care of yourself means taking time to do the things that will improve your overall health such as:
  • exercising every day 
  • shopping for and preparing healthy foods
  • getting more sleep
  • relaxing and doing something for ourselves each day 
However, most teachers are up at the crack of dawn and they're in their classrooms before most people roll out of bed! And a teacher's day doesn't end at 3 pm when the kids leave because there are meetings to attend, lessons to write, papers to grade, materials to prepare for the next day... need I say more? Then it's off to run errands, cook (or buy) dinner for the family, help their own children with homework, grade more papers, plan more lessons... only to fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day! Even weekends don't necessarily mean time off, because teachers often spend time on Saturday and/or Sunday planning lessons, grading papers, and reading professional books.

No wonder teachers find it almost impossible to take of themselves! They spend 95% of their day taking care of everyone else! When you add up the hours teachers spend at school or on schoolwork, the time can easily add up to 60, 70, or 80 hours a WEEK!


Remember that New Year's Resolution to get physically fit and healthy?

It's not gonna happen unless you deal with the REAL problem which is that your life is completely out of balance! You're spending too much time on schoolwork and not enough time on YOU!

Face it. There's no way you're going to find time to take care of yourself until you get a handle on your workload and learn to achieve work/balance.  

But wait... is that even possible? I didn't use to think so. I was convinced that I had to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get the job done, and I couldn't see any other option without sacrificing the quality of my work or shortchanging my students.

But I was wrong. It IS possible for teachers to achieve work/life balance!

December 8, 2016

Winter Holiday Learning Fun!

Seasonal activities are perfect for the weeks leading up to the winter holidays. Those days can be kinda crazy, but kids are more likely to stay on task when they are engaged in activities that are fun yet don't skimp on academic content. Here are a few of my favorite activities for this time of year. I hope they add a little fun to your December lesson plans!

Sugar Cone Christmas Trees 
One of my favorite holiday activities was to have my students follow a recipe to make Sugar Cone Christmas Trees. Reading and following a recipe might seem like an activity that's only appropriate for younger children, and it's not normally something you'd find in the 5th grade curriculum.

So, I decided to kick it up a notch by creating a set of comprehension questions to go with the recipe. I formatted the questions to make them similar to the ones on state tests, so the activity serves as a test prep lesson as well. After my students created their sugar cone Christmas Trees, I allowed them to eat their treats while answering the questions. Of course, many students did not want to eat their creations right away so I always provided gallon zip top bags for them to take home their treats.

You can find the Sugar Cone Christmas Tree recipe and comprehension questions in my December Activities Mini Pack along with a materials-request letter to send home to parents.

December Activity Mini Pack
This Sugar Cone Christmas Tree activity is just one of the many activities in my December Activities pack for upper elementary students. It's available from from my TpT store, and as always, you can preview the entire packet online to see if it meets your needs. You'll find loads of activities to use this month along with directions and answer keys. Here's a complete list:
  • Holiday Mug Exchange Directions
  • Holidays Around the World Research Project
  • Christmas Daily Math Puzzlers
  • Dreidel Game Rules and Pattern
  • Dreidel Math Explorations
  • Christmas Word Challenge
  • Silly Winter Stories Cooperative Learning Activity and Writing Prompts
  • Sugar Cone Christmas Tree Recipe and Reading Comprehension Questions
  • Happy Holidays Homework Pass
  • Happy Holidays Book Coupon

Holiday-themed Freebies
I love to share freebies with my followers, so this blog post would not be complete without me sharing a holiday freebie or two. The Christmas Math Puzzler pages shown here are samples from my December Activities Mini Pack that you can download for free from the Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during December. These are two pages of math word problems on different levels, and they can be used for cooperative learning activities or independent assignments.

Also on the Seasonal page, you can  find several other freebies for December, including my Christmas Paper Chain Connections literacy activity, holiday gratitude cards, and more!

I hope these activities will help you enjoy those hectic days before your winter break. Happy holidays to you!





November 8, 2016

Math Mindsets Matter: How Can Teachers Foster a Growth Mindset in Math?

Oh no! I've tumbled down into the rabbit hole of growth mindset research, never to be seen again! All kidding aside, the more I learn about growth mindset, the more fascinated I am with this topic, and the more I realize I have yet to learn.

But as fascinated as I am with growth mindset, I'm even more intrigued by the challenge of putting these research findings into practice. In other words...

How can we use the most current brain research to foster a growth mindset in our students... and in ourselves?

Mathematics is arguably the subject where mindset matters the most, especially when you consider how many adults have experienced math anxiety in the past. Take me, for instance. I always excelled in math, but I'll never forget the horrible experience I had with college calculus. I'll save that story for another time, but let me just say that it totally shredded my confidence about my ability to learn math!

Despite that experience (or maybe because of it), when I started teaching, I discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching math. I love breaking down complex math skills to make them easier for kids to understand, and I love using creative teaching methods to help all students succeed in math. Now that I'm no longer in the classroom, I enjoy presenting webinars where I can share these strategies with other educators.

Mind-blowing Brain Research About Mistakes and Mindsets 
During one of my recent math webinars, a teacher suggested that I read Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. I had already been planning to develop a webinar about how to foster a growth mindset in math, so I ordered a copy right away. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to read it when it arrived so the book ended up buried on my desk until I noticed it yesterday.

Oh my goodness! Have you ever read a professional development book that was so compelling you wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen? That's how I felt when I started reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. I was hooked from the first page!

All I can say is the book is definitely living up to the premise of that very long title. I thought I had a good grasp on growth mindset research, but after reading just a few pages, I realized that I've barely scratched the surface of this topic.

For example, I knew that mistakes should be considered to be a sign of learning rather than as a sign of failure.

But I didn't know that when we make a mistake, our brain responds physically with increased electrical activity and actually grows a synapse! Neuroscientists discovered this by measuring this electrical brain activity in test subjects they observed while working. This brain response happens even when the person making the mistake doesn't consciously realize a mistake was made!