Even on your worst days

You may have noticed this post on Facebook Page recently. (If not, feel free to like our page. We would love for you to join us!)

One of the comments really made me think.

"This is supposed to be encouraging...but I feel that it’s most truly an indictment on our society!" - Dan

I hear what this reader is saying and yet I respectfully disagree.


So I'd like to start with the fact that I don't often mention the politics on my blog or my Facebook page not because I want to ignore them or pretend like they're not there, but because I want this to be a place of encouragement and I know that you already know all of these things.

I want my blog and my Facebook page and my Twitter feed to all inspire and give you lesson plans, and teaching strategies that will help encourage you in your classroom and this quote is there for the same reason. I know that when I personally and feeling a little beat up by the media or the administrator or whatever obstacle is in my way, focusing on others that need me and that I can lift up often will bring me out of that feeling of being in the dumps.

So in sharing this, I'm not trying to make you feel hopeless on the state of homes or parenting, but help you shift your focus to those kids that need you. Because in the end, that's why we all got into this profession. If I asked a hundred teachers why they started this journey, 99 would say to affect or to change a child's life. And that's why I love working with teachers.

A Little About My Story

A little about my story. My story growing up is wonderful. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by state land and kids to play with and a lot of capture the flag. My parents love me very much, and I was never in need of a relative. But in school, we moved from one district to another, and they were not lined up. In math I did okay, but in reading and spelling, I was far behind and always felt I would never catch up.

I was always in the lowest reading group. It does not matter how they name them you always know when you're in the lowest reading group, and my confidence wavered.

While my parents encouraged me a lot, it wasn't until I met Ms. McConnell in 11th grade that my view of myself changed. In pre-college composition, she taught me that I could write. She taught me that I could spell. She showed me that I had a lot to say. And so yes, even on her worst day she was my hope, and I know that because of her I had the confidence to start this blog years ago.


And in my senior math class with Mr. Allen, I learned that he pushed us so hard because he believed in us. During the last semester at my high school, Mr. Allen always pulled us aside one by one to talk about our futures. He asked us about the college we would attend. (As an Ohio State graduate, he did not approve of my decision to go to Michigan State.)

And he asked why we were going to school. As the first person in my family to go to college, I was nervous and so scared. I told him I wanted to be a math teacher and I remember my innocent voice asking him if he thought I had what it would take.

His answer, “Jeanette, you have what it takes to be anything you want to be.” As he looked me in the eyes, I knew he believed it.

And so yes, even if his world was falling apart, he was my hope.

Best Hope

So my words to you… Sometimes the best hope is a call to Child Protective Services, or an apple because they didn’t get breakfast. But other times the best hope is a belief in their potential or a kind (or stern) word of encouragement.

Whatever your students need today, go after it. This is why we started this crazy teaching journey. Isn’t it?

If you would like more encouragement for your daily teaching, please sign up now to our email newsletter. We have some great things happening in October and we would love to share them with you.

The fastest path to teaching math vocabulary [angle definitions lesson plan]

The Fastest Path to Teaching Math Vocabulary

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Do your students often forget the definitions that they need to understand to be successful in geometry? If so, this blog post is for you. We will use angle definitions specifically to address this topic.

We will talk about ways to help your students remember the essential definitions that come up in Geometry. By using some simple strategies that utilize precisely how the brain works we can get this done quickly.

Assessing angle definitions prerequisites using familiar items

The first thing that we want to do is evaluate student understanding of the definitions. This informal assessment should be done early in the year when they come into our classrooms. 

This Geometry lesson plan is often done the first week in my class. It gives me a full understanding of where my students are when they come in so that I can help them in the best way possible.

One of the strategies that I love utilizing is connecting items that are common for the students to see on a daily basis outside of my classroom. 

In the connecting activity for angle definitions that I'm showing here, we have simple questions that ask them to understand the analog clock. Depending on your school and the clocks they use, they may even need to draw out the clock themselves. And while time telling is often learned in second grade, with modern technology many of our students have forgotten some of these basic concepts.

Using something like a clock to help our students understand angles will give us a trigger memory to help students recall this information in moments of forgetfulness. Now when they forget, we can ask them to remember the clock activity to bring the memory forward.

I also like to have my students engaged in the material in more than one way. And so for my kinetic learners, using a protractor or other tools of measurement is very helpful to cement the learning into their memories. 

So in this lesson, we use protractors to measure the angles and make relationships and connections that will help our students remember the information.

Why Repetition Matters

Repetition is a great way to build fluency and confidence with your students. 

During this practice page on angle definitions, I utilize this strategy right at the beginning of the year to help my students feel successful. Therefore I can build on success later in the unit.

The repetition in the practice page builds on itself and allows students to try new ways of solving similar problems. The brain is now making connections and solving problems. 

Even if they didn't feel like they remembered anything from middle school when students started this lesson today, they now have built confidence and use the vocabulary in their geometry work.

Incorporating student ownership of the angle definitions

By allowing time for students to make connections between their world and the content that we are trying to teach them, they gain more ownership of the material. 

This new information is no longer the material the teacher wants them to learn, but now is material that they own within their context.

This shift in ownership is the big payoff of making connections, and this is how we can help our students to retain more of the information each day.

If you want your students to learn and retain the geometry definitions above about angle definitions, then the fastest and easiest way to do that is by making connections. 

Use these strategies to help them with the prerequisites, give them repetition to build confidence, and allow them time to own the material themselves.

If you would like the complete lesson plan in this blog post, fill in your name and email below, and we will send it to you right away.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSG.CO.A.1 Know precise definitions of angle, circle, perpendicular line, parallel line, and line segment, based on the undefined notions of point, line, distance along a line, and distance around a circular arc.


3 Reasons You Need Emergency Lesson Plans [FREE DOWNLOAD]

Emergency lesson plans are a great way to be sure that if you need to be out of your classroom, your students will continue to learn and grow even when you are not there or there are other situations.

There are three different times that I use emergency lesson plans for my Algebra and Geometry classes.

The first, and most obvious, is when I am sick or my children are sick. There is nothing worse than waking up to a sick kiddo in the middle of the night. They need you. And the last thing you want to be worrying about is work.Funny Get Well Ecard: Teaching - The only profession where you have to do more work to call in sick than if you just suffered through it.

The second reason I always have emergency lesson plans is that technology can and does fail at times. I once worked at a school where every time it rained really hard (in Michigan this is quite often in the spring) the internet would fail... hmmm.... We also had the copier that inspired every Facebook Meme.

And the third reason I had emergency lesson plans was for schedule interruptions. This was a great way to keep my classes together when one class period might be shorter or missed altogether.

It's now time to make a plan

Step 1: Download the lessons.

You can get great, ready to use lessons here. We have selected one lesson from 10 different units in Algebra 1 and Geometry for your use.  So whether you would like a review day from unit 1 or a more specific lesson from a unit you are working on, everything is ready from the links below.

You can get all the lessons here:

Step 2: Get a teacher buddy.

There is nothing better than a teacher that has your back. For so long, no matter how sick I was, I showed up to the school to set up my class for my substitute. Once I had kids I realized that would not always be possible.

The teacher next to me also had children and we had the same problem. So we set up a shared folder in Google Drive with our emergency lessons. When one of us needed to be out, we agreed to help each other out and pull out the folder for the substitute and make sure everything was ready. What an amazing peace of mind to know that we had each other's back.

Step 3: Finalize your system.

None of us like to be out of our classroom, but when you do need to be out, we don't need the stress of getting everything together for a substitute. What does your substitute need to run your classroom? Brainstorm and then put everything into a folder. Some ideas include seating charts, bathroom pass instructions, and emergency procedures. Create this once and put it in a paper file in your designated place.

There is no reason to be stressed out when you or a loved one is sick. Get a folder out today and fill it with what you need. Print copies and have them in there too if that works for you or put them into Google Classroom or Edmodo. Enjoy the moment of knowing you have an emergency plan.

Overcoming the Butterfly Method

I recently shared an article on the expiration dates on certain strategies or concepts used in the classroom, and so many of you had such great comments on that article that I wanted to discuss it a bit further.

The strategy that brought the most feedback was on the Butterfly Method. While this method is very effective in raising standardized test scores, it does nothing to help the students when they move on. Today, I want to give you three tips on how to deal with it.

Tip #1 - Don’t criticize the teachers who used it.

If your students’ previous teacher used this method, don’t criticize them for what they did in their classroom. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • It undermines the students’ confidence in their teachers overall. You know that you have your students’ best interests at heart and you should also assume that about their previous teachers. They wanted their students to achieve their best, and they were trying to help them do that.
  • It undermines the student’s confidence in themselves. If you tell them that they are doing something the wrong way, they are going to be insecure and wonder what else they do that isn’t right. You don’t want your students to be nervous and insecure because then they aren’t as willing to try new things.

Tip #2 - Compliment them on what they remember.

As I have said many times, always take the time to build your students up with what they already know before trying to teach them something new.

Use what they learned in the past to connect it to the new concept. For example, if you are comparing fractions, they likely learned to use the Butterfly method to find common denominators. How can you use that to move on to more complicated ways of doing the problems?

I like to use sticks of gum. I break them up into halves and thirds and divide them among the students with a few students getting whole sticks. They then have to combine their pieces with students who have the same size as theirs to get a whole.

Show them how this is the same as the butterfly method they learned previously but can be used with much more complicated problems. You aren’t asking them to forget what they learned, but rather you are teaching them how to build on it.

Tip #3 - Drive the Vocabulary

If you just listen to your students, most of the time they will use the exact vocabulary that their previous teachers used in teaching them these methods. Once you know the vocabulary they used, you can build on it and teach them the correct mathematical terms for what they are doing.

Again, don’t undermine the teachers. I like to tell my students that the teachers used those words because the students were little, but now that they are high-schoolers or middle-schoolers, it’s time to use the bigger, more technical, terms.

You can also show them why the Butterfly method no longer works by giving them examples of negatives. Ask them where the negative goes on the butterfly. Then let them try it with three fractions and see what happens. They quickly see that it doesn’t work for the higher-level problems.

As always, I encourage you to talk to your students and help them to see how many things they’ve learned and how capable they are of learning newer, higher-level things. As you build them up, they will almost always give their best effort.

Please comment below and let me know if you struggle with this in your classroom and how you’ve overcome it.


Classroom Management vs. Leadership

If you’ve been teaching for any amount of time, you have likely encountered those students who tend to shut down. There are many reasons why a student will have difficulties, and it is important to understand how to create the best environment possible for them.

Too often, we see what we do in the classroom as management. What if we changed our strategy from management to leadership? How would that affect what happens in our classroom?

The Attitude of Leadership

What do you think of when you think of the word management? What pictures pop into your head?

For me, I see a factory worker and the boss watching that person, making sure that they get everything was done that needs to be done. The employee may not enjoy the work, but there is a paycheck waiting at the end, so they continue.

For our students, they may not understand or enjoy their classes, but there is a report card waiting for them at the end of the term, and good grades on that report card mean they won’t be punished for not completing their work.

Contrast this picture with one of a sports team or club. When I played sports, my coach certainly told me what to do, but I am the one who chose to be there. And to get better, I knew I needed to listen to my coach and follow his advice. His job was to make me a better runner, and if that were also my goal, I would follow his lead and know I would make progress toward that goal.

*Strategy tip - you have to make personal connections with your students to understand their goals and their unique situations. One way to do that is to stand at the classroom door before class begins and greet each student with a question unrelated to math. Some examples might be, “What are you good at?” “What are your plans for the weekend?”

Engagement and Accountability

The factory worker who hates his job may decide it’s not worth it. If he fails to do his job, he can be fired. With our students, we don’t have that option, so we need to find ways to engage our students and provide them with accountability.

When I share with my students' things that I’m working on, or if I ask them to give me a moment to think of a better explanation for something they don’t understand, I am building a bridge to them instead of making them feel alienated.

When your students see you trying to find better ways of teaching and looking for ways to help them, most students will want to reciprocate by giving you the attention you need. It also encourages them to try harder to learn the concepts and not to give up.

Giving Back

Teachers can take a real beating in this world sometimes. We can feel unappreciated and misunderstood by the media, by our administrators, and by the parents of our students.

It is important for us to find other ways of contributing to the world besides teaching. When you look for the special thing that you feel called to do, don’t always look at the biggest needs. We know that each of our students needs good food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but sometimes we need to consider the smaller pieces of life.

As you choose a place to serve, consider your gifts and what you feel passionate about. As teachers, we can affect our students in many ways, to reach out to them and let them know that we care. Building relationships with your students can give you a huge sense of gratitude, knowing that you are making a real difference in their lives.

I understand how frustrating it can be to try to do all the things that are required of us as teachers. The standards are ever changing; there are tests to prepare for and challenges to meet. But I would encourage you to take a minute and ask that student who you think may be struggling what you can do to help them.

Leadership brings with it personal rewards, as well as rewards for those you lead. You deserve those wonderful feelings associated with leading a group of people/students to meet their goals.

I hope this has been helpful today. Please comment below and let me know how you balance management and leadership in your classroom.


3 Ways to Ease Back Into School After a Long Break

As a full-time teacher, I know how difficult it can be to make the shift between break and going back to school, especially after a long winter break.

I get it. When I was single and teaching, I can well remember not wanting to leave “jammies on the couch” mode to switch back to “getting up and out the door” mode. Even now, as a mom of six kids, it is hard for me to leave the time we‘ve been enjoying at home together to go back to school.

Let's make that transition easier! These three approaches will help you and your students get back into the day-to-day school routine.

1. Welcome Your Students Back to Class

As much as I love my time at home and with my family, there are also -- at least for me -- students that I miss. Every teacher has that student that you make a special connection with or that’s just a really enjoyable person to have in class. Our students miss us, too! That is why I like to start our first day back by telling them that I missed them over the break.

Allow your students to participate as well:

  • What happened? Allow them to share something good that happened to them over break.
  • Inappropriate behavior? It isn't uncommon for kids to struggle with behavior following a long break. I try to combat that by giving them a blank piece of paper as our bell-ringer. Instead of a math problem, however, I ask them to write something they will remember about that specific break.
  • Greet each student at the door with a simple question or special greeting. Remind each student that they are special and worth your time!

Also keep in mind that breaks from school aren’t an amazing, family-filled, warm-and-cozy time for all students. Breaks can be tough for some kids. We need to be sensitive to that and be ready to reach out and try to create touch points with them.

2. Be the Teacher You Want to Be

We’ve all seen the memes showing a teacher who is so tired at the day’s end that she is face down on the stairs. I can laugh at those because I have definitely experienced my fair share of “teacher-tired” days.

But that’s not how I want to be known. I don’t want to be seen as dreading my job, I enjoy teaching! I want to be thought of as kind, disciplined, thorough, and caring.

I challenge you to come up with the three (3) words that describe you as a teacher.

  • Think through the lens of your students - if they had to describe you as a teacher, what do you hope they would say?
  • What connects you with your students?
  • What would parents say about you as a teacher?

Once you have come up with your words, choose one and take it with you as you start the first day back. Write it on a sticky note and put it where you will see it. Then commit to being that person on your first day back and beyond.

3. Connect with Your Students

Remember that not every student will have experienced kindness or patience over the break, so knowing their teacher will be kind to them can make such a difference in their life. Everyone feels a little out of sorts on the first few days back after a long break. You can be the one to make your students feel more comfortable and get back into the swing of things more quickly and with less stress.

I like to have an easier lesson on that first day so that each student feels successful and built up as we begin again. I try to be as positive as possible as we work through the day’s work.

I know that it may feel repetitive to go over things you have covered already, but if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in using a student’s past success to help them move forward. This is the perfect time to do just that.

I want to see you get off to a great start as you get back to a new year with your students, so I hope these tips will help you as you head back.