11 Things Happy Teachers DON'T Do

11 things to STOP doing right now to be happier as a teacher. The first one made a huge difference for me!
We all have them. You know what I am talking about. Those habits that hold us back from being the best teacher that we can be. I mean, there is not a single one of us who is perfect, however we do a lot of getting in our own way too. 

Teachers in particular are really bad about not helping ourselves out, so here is a list of 11 things that happy teachers DON'T do. 

Take On Too Many Commitments

I mean seriously. As teachers we are asked to do just about everything. At one point in my career I was tutoring before school three days a week, doing a club one day after school, sponsored student counsel on another afternoon, was on both the technology and writing vertical teams that met after school, tutored outside of school, and all of this on top of teaching. Sound familiar?

I am sure to most it does, because as a group we are suckers and have a hard time saying no. Happy teachers do just that though. I am NOT saying don't get involved, but instead be a little picky about what you do. Only say yes to the commitments that you are truly passionate about. 

Expect Perfection

I know it is tough, but you are not perfect. I am not either. When teaching it is hard to find the "good enough," but that is exactly what is necessary to be happy. Instead of perfection, strive for a goal. 

In general, my goals were about completing all the "need to" tasks each day, and soon I was able to accomplish those and a few "would like to" tasks from time to time. By recognizing that enough is enough you can begin to enjoy your time in the classroom as well as not at school more. 

Stop Growing

I am not talking about your waist line here (although in my case I could be,) but instead growing your mind. One of the best things I ever did was choose to pursue more professional development in cooperative learning. I loved to learn more structures, and I loved sharing them with my students and coworkers too. 

Happy teachers find something that they are passionate about and never stop learning. 

Try To Do It All

I know, I already told you that you might just be miserable if you take on too many tasks, but here I am talking about your to do list specifically. Now this is assuming you have a to do list. You do right? 

When I first started teaching I would absolutely refuse to leave until everything on my daily to do list was done. This is a masterclass is how to burn yourself out in no time flat. Seriously. You need to leave the school building. You need to have a life. Trust me, this is a need. 

What I learned that worked well for me was to create a tiered to do list. The top had items that HAD to be done that day. In the middle were upcoming items and things it would be nice to get done, but not necessary. On the bottom of the list were the items that I would complete on days when I had to stay late for a family night, things went extraordinarily well, or I found a time machine. 

This way I was able to feel success each day, which made me a happy camper. 

Hate On Other Teachers

Just. Don't. Do. It. Teaching is hard enough, why in the world would we want to make it worse for one another? Be an uplifting force on your campus, not the reason that others avoid the teachers' lounge. 

Happy teachers surround themselves with other happy people. Sometimes though, you have to fake it until you make it, and that's okay too. 

Pretend To Have It All Together

Come on now, we aren't perfect. Not everything needs to be "Pinterest Worthy." Honestly I think that Pinterest can be dangerous to our mental health sometimes. We see so many seemingly perfect things, and can't help but feel inadequate. Honestly, nothing about my classroom was Pinterest worthy, but it was real. 

Happy teachers know that you have to be real. When something is fantastic say so, but when you are struggling be honest with yourself and others too. 

Think They Are The Best

Again, teachers need to band together for the betterment of all of us. This can't happen when you are judging others because you think you are better. 

Happy teachers recognize their own strengths as well as the strengths of those around them and celebrate them all! 

Rush Through Tasks

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Let's be honest, when you rush through something it probably isn't your best work. 

11 things to STOP doing right now to be happier as a teacher. The first one made a huge difference for me!This may mean rushing through a math unit because you are behind the scope and sequence, or rushing through writing the schedule on the board. Either way you are doing a disservice to yourself and your students. Now, this doesn't mean take way longer than necessary either. 

Happy teachers are able to distinguish how long a task should take and make it work. They also know when something isn't up to par and are able to fix it. 

Ignore Themselves

You know the adage, you can't take care of others until you take care of yourself. So take the time to cook a good for you dinner with leftovers or work out or read a book. 

Your health is paramount, and you can't be a happy teacher if you aren't happy yourself. 

Be Afraid

Okay, I know a little fear is healthy. What I am talking about here is that happy teachers aren't afraid to stick a toe in the water and try something new. 

That something new might be a new app, a new restaurant, or a new location for a lesson. Happy teachers take a chance and continue to push themselves. 

Get Stuck In A Rut

This one directly relates to the previous, don't be afraid to try something new, but even more specific. I know so many teachers that have taught the same thing, in the same way, year after year and they are miserable. Not all of them, but most of them. 

Happy teachers try new ways of teaching their standards. When you have a lesson that rocks, there is no reason to mess with that. When you have a lesson that bombed, you definitely need to work on that. I would also encourage you to think about the lessons that landed, but weren't memorable too. My goal is to always have more and more lessons that rock each year. 

Happy teachers are always striving for better. Better for their students and better for themselves. With this comes risk taking, and they don't always pay off, but when they do, it is pure gold. 

So get out there! Be brave! Be happy! 

What to do When Your Class is Driving You Crazy

Have you had enough of your class? Try these tips for bringing normalcy back to your classroom to enjoy your students again! The 3rd one is my favorite!
It happens. There are days or even weeks when your class will drive you absolutely nuts. Sometimes it feels as though you will never make it out the other side again, but I am here to tell you that you can, and you will!

So, when you are being driven a little batty, here are some helpful reminders for regaining your sanity while keeping your students' engagement high.

Keep Your Expectations High

I know you have high expectations for your class. I know that you explicitly taught them the first few weeks of school. I know that your students know them, but they also may need a reminder that you know that they know them. Still with me?

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean often, students know the expectations but will push them just a little bit further each time until you are no longer anywhere near the expectation. I am absolutely guilty of allowing this to happen. The most important element of this is recognizing that it is happening and taking the time to reassert your expectations. Most of the time students respond almost immediately which can be a serious sanity saver! 

Think Through Your Challenges

There are very few classroom challenges that occur that we don't see coming. Does it happen? Yes. Does it happen often? Not so much. 

If you take a moment to think through what your specific challenges are, then you can pre-plan what your reaction will be. I am a big fan of having multiple action plans in my back pocket so that I am prepared for a situation. 

For example: 
One year I had one student that it did not matter where they were they were talking. In fact they didn't even need someone to talk to, because they were fine talking to themselves. 

I sat down and thought through the situation and came up with a multi-step action plan, because this was about to throw me off my rocker. 

My plan was to first use proximity. Next I would provide a whole class with a verbal reminder. If it kept up I would place a hand on the shoulder of the student as a nonverbal reminder. After that I had a prewritten sticky note asking the student to save their conversation for later. 

Luckily in this case I only got through the third step, but I understand that there are situations that you get through the whole alphabet of steps before making any progress. 


This one can be the absolute hardest. Sometimes when I am worn down and not at my best it is easier to just let the little things slip through, but this is how it gets worse. 

Instead, try your best to be consistent. Don't allow your students that extra inch, because it will become a mile which will make a minor annoyance a major battle later. There are no two ways about this. 

As human beings we crave consistency, and so do our students, even when we don't think we do. You and your class will both be thankful for the consistency, even if it isn't in the moment. 

Pick Your Battles

Have you had enough of your class? Try these tips for bringing normalcy back to your classroom to enjoy your students again! The 3rd one is my favorite!I know, I know, I just said to practice consistency and now I am telling you to pick your battles. This may sound as though I am being inconsistent now, but I promise you that both can be done together. 

This is going to look different in each classroom, with each class, and with each teacher, because you essentially have to decide what isn't going to bother you and what will. 

For example:
I have absolutely no problem with students chatting while working, so long as they are working. My neighbor teacher required an absolutely silent classroom while working, because the buzz of chatting drove her up the wall. However she did not mind if her classroom was a bit cluttered, dare I say messy, while I could. not. stand. it. 

We were both consistent in enforcing our expectations. 
My room had a low buzz of chatter during work, but was clean and organized. 
Her room was silent, and at times a bit cluttered. 

Both of our rooms worked well and our students were engaged in their learning. We picked our battles of what we could live with, and our rooms functioned flawlessly. 

Wrapping Up

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to get started and restore a bit of peace back into your classroom life. 

Keeping Students From the Boredom Monster

Are you losing your students to the boredom monster? Try these actionable tips to win them back!
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase I will receive a small commission, but you will not be charged any extra. 

In the nonstop world that is today we are competing for our students' attention more than ever. It is no secret that students are used to constant stimulation from television, video games, and the world around them. How are we to compete with this?

The truth is we can't. What we can do though is to create an engaging environment that is different from the other environments our students see daily. In this post I will describe six ways that you can achieve this. I promise that once you start, it will become a fun challenge to see how you can engage your students with each and every lesson.


I am a lover of routine. I thrive on it, and our students do too. I am most definitely NOT telling you to throw routine out the window and start from scratch. What I would suggest is to mix it up a little inside of your routine. 

This might look like changing out your stations with math challenges for a day, trying a new cooperative learning structure form the ones that you rely on, or completing your independent reading outside on a beautiful day. 

The goal here is to keep the learning environment steady while enriching the experience to make it memorable in our students' eyes. 

Playing to Students' Interest

Another winning idea for holding our students' attention is to play to their interests. 

Have you noticed that your students are really into Pokemon Go? Turn it into a lesson on measurement!

Find a lizard that loses its tail when you try to get it back outside? Sounds like a great anticipatory set for learning about adaptations!

The goad here is to find out what your students are passionate about and bring it into their world. A couple of years back Minecraft was on the mind of every one of my students, and it offers a world of options in the classroom. Embrace it instead of fighting it! 

Have your students do the hard work for you on this one too. If they are interested in the topic, have them do the research and brainstorm ways that they can use it in the real world. When it is their idea they are that much more invested in it, which is exactly what we are looking for! 

Engaging Topics

You are probably thinking this is exactly what you just said, but this one has a slightly different goal. Where playing to their interests uses topics they are already interested/obsessed with, the idea of engaging topics is bringing in new information or ideas that they know little to nothing about, but will capture their imaginations. 

The easiest way I have found to do this is to basically rewind ten years. Think about what our students then were obsessed with and build from there. Your students now are likely to be just as fascinated. 

Another way of going about this is to use topics that are of interest to you. When your students see that you are passionate about a topic, they will be too. I use auto racing as a topic for just about every subject. It is a great "built in" topic for me to hook my students. 

There are a few topics that capture students no  matter what year. You probably already know them. My list would include dinosaurs, sharks, and cartoons, but there are many more! 

Are you losing your students to the boredom monster? Try these actionable tips to win them back!
Be Personal

So you are already using engaging topics, mixing it up within your routine, and choosing topics of interest to your students, so what is the next step? I would say to make learning more personal to your students. 

It is standard for us to think about how we use the knowledge we gain in school in the real world, but how often do we share this with our students. By allowing students to see exactly how what they are learning will benefit them in the future they are instantly more engaged. 

No one wants to think that they are being forced to do something that will have no benefits for them in life. Our students, no matter the age, understand this, and want the rationale behind the learning. Why don't we give it to them?

This is a GREAT reason for including project based learning or culminating projects that allow students to take ownership of their learning.  

Use Humor

Humor is a great way of bridging a gap with disengaged students. I warn you though, don't EVER use humor, especially sarcasm, with the student as the target. That is a slippery slope, and you are almost sure to lose not only that student, but others as well. 

Instead, break out your best dad jokes, knock knock pleasers, and academic related sillies to have your students rolling on the floor, or at least rolling their eyes in unison. You know, you wouldn't want to deprive them of a shared experience. 

I wrote a post all about using humor to build the classroom community over on Classroom Tested Resources that includes how to use humor and where to find jokes. Check it out! 


Sitting at a desk all day is tough for adults, and impossible for our students. Education has made vast improvements to our students' environments with the addition of flexible seating, which I applaud, but there is always room to grow. 

Some great items to provide students with movement while working include wobble chairs, standing desks, foot pedals, and yoga balls

In my opinion, in addition, to giving our students options to move while working we need to be providing structured opportunities for our students to get up and move through brain breaks, silly games, and learning activities. 

One way for students to move through a shared experience is through these Science Dice Simulations that allow students to move around the room while reinforcing a science concept, then cap it off with a narrative writing project that is sure to knock your socks off! 

If you are not already using GoNoodle then I would definitely check it out for brain breaks. Another source of endless fun and movement is this book, Silly Sports and Goofy Games, that can be easily integrated into content for an extra umph! 

Integrating Writing Into Content

Are you looking for easy peasy ways to get your students writing in content areas? This blog post details seven ways to get them writing. The last one is my favorite!
We have been hearing it for years. Writing must be integrated into our content areas in order for our students to be successful. I was told this all the way through teacher college and into my career, but what I was missing was how. No one ever stopped to show me how to integrate writing, so that's what I would like to do here. Without further adieu, seven strategies for integrating writing into your content areas.

Photo Quick Writes

Are you looking for easy peasy ways to get your students writing in content areas? This blog post details seven ways to get them writing. The last one is my favorite!
Quick writes are a great way to get students using academic vocabulary. I have a quick write set up that has worked really well for me, especially in science, but can be used for any content area. I display the photo along with a word bank of vocabulary words that students can use to write everything they know about a topic. 

This can be done with any photo, but for a no-prep option check out these resources

"Silent" Conversations

Silent conversations are a great way to get students communicating with one another about a topic while holding them accountable for staying on task. 

Each student gets a piece of paper and a partner. Once your class is given the topic they each write down a question, thought, fact, or wondering about the topic. After a preset amount of time has expired partners trade papers to read and respond. 

This process repeats itself a few times, and then the teacher collects all the papers. I usually end by having students share something insightful that their partner wrote to them or a question that they have. 

Dice Simulations

Dice simulations are a great way to get students up and moving around the room in order to have a shared experience before starting to write about their topic. 

Are you looking for easy peasy ways to get your students writing in content areas? This blog post details seven ways to get them writing. The last one is my favorite! Each simulation is a set of posters that you hang around the room and place a die by. Students are assigned a poster to start with and begin by rolling the die there. According to the number they roll they follow the directions on the poster, record their result, and travel to the next poster. This is done for as long as the teacher would like, or until students complete their recording sheet. Afterwards students write a narrative piece about their journey. 

I have completed dice simulations ready to go for you to integrate into your history and science curriculums as well as some that are just for fun! 

I Wonder Statements

I wonder statements are a great way to get students thinking about a topic before you learn about it in class as an anticipatory set. They are also wonderfully simple to use. You simply instruct students to write down their wonderings about a topic. 

I often have students record their wondering statements on sticky notes that we place on chart paper and then revisit at the end of the unit to see if we can answer all of our wonderings. 


Topic: rocks

I wonder why rocks have different colors in them. 
I wonder why some rocks crumble and others are hard. 
I wonder why you find rocks in some places and not in others. 
I wonder how rocks form. 
I wonder why some rocks seem to have lines in them. 

3 Minute Non-Stop Writes

I love to treat 3 minutes non-stop writes like a game in the classroom. I get my class all pumped up by challenging them to write for the entire time until the timer buzzes. I may or may not incentivize the whole class participating for the whole 3 minutes, especially at the beginning of the year. 

Are you looking for easy peasy ways to get your students writing in content areas? This blog post details seven ways to get them writing. The last one is my favorite! For a successful 3 minute non-stop write I begin by giving the class the topic and thirty seconds of think time when no one is allowed to write. Then it is time to start. I very dramatically set the timer for three minutes and announce, "Ladies and gentlemen, start your pencils!!!" 

They get so into it! The only thing they have to do is write on topic for 3 minutes. It can be facts, questions, wonderings, connections. Really anything at all. I usually model this by also writing the entire 3 minutes. 

At the end we take a few minutes to share out what we have written. 


The power of a good old writing prompt should never be forgotten and used often. I love to find prompts for historical topics that really put my students in the shoes of a person of that time, especially if we have just read a piece of literature about it. 

Turn a Multiple Choice Question Into a Prompt

This is an especially powerful tool when preparing for a standardized test. When I am looking at released tests I will keep my eye out for a particularly challenging question. Then I simply cut it out, leave off the answer choices and present it to students as a journal prompt. This allows students to use their own academic vocabulary to explain themselves. 

I love to use this strategy in math especially, because it causes students to think more about the process, not just the end product. 

Helping a Student Deal with Anger

Do you have students that let anger get in their way? Try one (or more) of these no prep tips to keep them on target and conquer the anger instead of letting it control them! The last one was a real game changer in my classroom!

Anger is one of those monster emotions that can sneak up on us from no where. It happens to adults, kids, and everyone inbetween, and sometimes it isn't easy to pinpoint exactly what makes us angry. 

Anger can play a big part in our classrooms if we let it, but we can also learn to corral the emotion and support our students so that it doesn't play such a large role in their lives. In order to do this we much teach our students that while it is okay to be angry about something, it is NOT alright for it to ruin our day or even life. This post includes seven ideas for taming anger and helping students to work through it!

Watch for Cues

I know that sometimes our students can be complete mysteries to us, but this just means that we get to play a game of clue. Watch your student closely and see what really makes them tick. What makes them smile? What makes them frustrated? What really gets their blood boiling?

You can use all of these cues to your advantage when working with this student. If you find something that truly brings them joy, then jot that down because you can use that! If you find something that really pushes their buttons then you better remember that too so that you can be prepared for any time you know it is going to come up. The thing is, some things that push our students' buttons are easily avoidable, and should be. Other things are necessary as part of classroom culture and routine, but we can find a way to make it work for all our students. 

For example, I had a student my very first year that absolutely hated the cooperative learning structure Quiz Quiz Trade. I mean he would throw desks on the ground, toss around supplies, lock himself in the bathroom to kick and scream. I mean, he was REALLY set off by this structure. Now, this structure is also one of my favorites, and something we used almost every day, so there had to be a compromise. I spoke with this student and he said that he really hated being put on the spot and feeling dumb when he didn't know the answer. Our solution was that he would get to practice with the cards by himself before we completed them as a class. This was really a win-win, because he got extra practice with the concepts, and he didn't disrupt our class when it was time to complete the structure.

Be Firm, But Fair with all Students

Do you have students that let anger get in their way? Try one (or more) of these no prep tips to keep them on target and conquer the anger instead of letting it control them! The last one was a real game changer in my classroom!No one likes when things don't seem fair. Even as an adult I hate it and it can really get me worked up. The trick is showing your students what fair is, and that is that everyone gets what they need, not what they want. 

Throughout the day in the classroom, but especially when it comes to discipine, it is imperative to be firm, but fair with all students. Keep your expectations high for your class, and enforce them equally. This will take care of a lot of frustration.

Teach That It's Alright to Disagree

As mush as it would be wonderful if life was always sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns that's just not the way that it works. Being a kid and coming to terms with this is hard. Being an adult and coming to terms with this is hard. It's just hard. 

Model for your students that it is okay to disagree. It is going to happen. It is NOT okay to have a fit over someone not sharing your opinions. Show your students what it means to respectfully disagree and find a compromise. This is a life long skill that will benefit them.

Discuss Anger and What Causes It

Talk about it. Seriously. We have so many things that have to get done each day that sometimes we get wrapped up in the academics and we forget that we are entrusted with the small humans that are growing and learning how to be citizens of the world in front of our very eyes. 

Take the time to talk about emotions, not just anger, but all of them and what causes them. Talk about what brings your students joy and make that a larger part of the classroom. Talk about what makes students frustrated or angry and how you can work through it together. Really, just talk about it.

Be Active-Release Endorphins

I don't mean to bust out any early 2000s trivia or anything, but it is one of my favorite movie lines ever. Ever. 
Do you have students that let anger get in their way? Try one (or more) of these no prep tips to keep them on target and conquer the anger instead of letting it control them! The last one was a real game changer in my classroom!
Okay, so this is only vaguely related to what we are talking about here, but could I really miss out on including that little gem? I think not. 

Really though, movement gets more oxygen to the brain, releases endorphins, and improves our moods. It is hard to be angry when you are laughing at how silly you look doing the chicken dance, or even how silly your teacher looks doing the chicken dance. 

Movement is vital for our students and should not be ignored or just used as a reward. It needs to be used consistently throughout the day. If you are worried that you are missing out on academic time, then make it part of the routine. When I was in a primary classroom with spelling words we would body spell (reach up for letters above the midline, touch our waist for letters on the midline, and touch our toes for letters that formed below) or punch consanants and kick vowels each day.

Along these lines: 
Recess is vital. Please don't take it away. I know that sometimes it feels like the only power we have over students, but don't. I have struggled with this myself, but they really need it socially, emotionally, and physically.


Role play is a great way for students to see possible endings to the same situation. I almost always chose to play the part of "angry person" myself, because I didn't want my students to be stigmatized. 

Play the scenario out a couple of ways, but always be sure to include the best case scenario of how things work out. We all need a little more hope in our lives that things will turn out great!


I am way late to the meditation game. I now people that have been using it for years with great success. I always thought that my brain was too easily distracted for mindful meditation to be effective, but that it is exactly the opposite. When I commit to those few minutes a day, it helps me to stay focused all day long. 

There a lot of really great YouTube videos out there along with meditation and relaxation activities on GoNoodle which my students really got into. 

Still not sold on meditation? I am telling you I had a tough time coming around to it, but it really helped my class. We spent 5 minutes every day right after recess centering and calming ourselves and it was as close to a miracle as I have ever seen. 

I will leave you with the video that finally got me to try it, because I mean, if it works in high school why not fourth grade?

Helping Students Cope With Loss

Steps to take to support your students when they are coping with loss.
Loss is hard at any point in life, but when a child experiences a loss of someone close to them it can be all the more confusing. Many times the adults in a student's life are doing the best they can to cope with the loss themselves and don't know how to help their child cope, or may even be unable to.

Loss can come in many forms. It may be the loss of a family member, pet, friend, or even divorce. All of these forms of loss weigh heavily on the heart and should be treated with respect.

Kids often have a lot of questions when it comes to loss, and these questions can be very difficult to answer when you are in the middle of the loss yourself. As teachers, we can support our students and their families during this difficult time by being a listening ear and support system.

Keep in mind that grieving is not a one size fits all kind of process, so be patient, and stay open minded.

Talk to the Family

Before you speak to the student about their loss, make sure to talk to their family. Every family has a different way of grieving, and we don't want to interfere with their personal process. By writing a note of support home or making a friendly phone call you can express your sympathies and ask the family if there is anything you can do to support them. While speaking with the family I always mention ways that I would like to support the student in the classroom to make sure that the family is okay or has any other ideas, because the last thing I want to do during this difficult time is step on anyone's toes. Communication is key! 

In the past I have offered to help families by keeping their students after school for a little while so that they are able to make difficult arrangements. If the student has siblings I am more than happy to keep them as well, in fact I prefer to have more than just one student there. This has by far been the most appreciated and accepted offer that I have made. This works two-fold. Families are able to get an extra few hours to take care of their needs, and the students are able to get some individualized attention outside of academic time. If I have the blessing of their family I also take this time to talk to the student about what they are feeling. 

Get Your School Counselor Involved

School counselors are amazing people, and they have the best tools for helping to support students that are going through difficult times including coping with loss. As a teacher, make sure that your counselor is aware of your student's loss and is in communication with their family. 

Many times the school counselor will also come talk to your class about what has happened and how we can all work together to support them. 

Don't Press

Everyone grieves at a different rate. Do not press your students to talk about their loss is they are not ready. In fact, many students appreciate being left alone during this time. Walking this fine line can be tricky, but giving students space while still checking in with them can be the best approach. Students will talk about it when they are ready. 

If a student seems to be overwhelmed, providing them with a space where they can be by themselves can be helpful. I had one student who just wanted to be by himself for the first couple of days back at school, so instead of working at his table group he worked over at the teacher desk. After a few days, when he was ready, he moved himself back over to his group. 

A good rule of thumb is to listen more than you talk. 

Incorporate Literature

Steps to take to support your students when they are coping with loss. There are some awesome children's books out there that help to support students that are coping with loss. Some books that I have used are: (affiliate links)

Another way of incorporating literature is to make sure that books your choose to use in class as read alouds or for book clubs represent loss within a family. These stories can help students to realize that there are others out there that have experienced loss as well. Before using each book I would encourage you to read it yourself to be prepared for the storyline as well as ensure it is appropriate for your class. 

Provide Extra Help in the Classroom

When grieving, a student's mind can be all over the place and make it difficult for them to focus on academic tasks. It is okay to let them lose focus for small periods of time, but important to maintain the structure of the classroom. A lot of times the classroom is a sanctuary away from the sadness that a student is experiencing, and it is important for us to maintain our daily schedules. 

During this time, check in with the student a little more than you normally would. Provide them with extra positive reinforcements to keep them going, and encourage them to ask for help with they need it. 

More Information

Want to know what the experts are saying about helping students cope with loss?
Check out these resources:

Making Students Feel Successful

Eleven ways to ensure that your students feel successful in the classroom.
As people, humans really, we all feel the need to succeed at whatever it is we are doing. As teachers, I think we identify with this trait especially well, because I have never met a teacher that didn't want to be the best that they could be as well as encourage the students around them to do the same.

With the addition of teaching about growth mindset in so many of our classrooms, it is important for us to remember that while our students are working towards big things, it is vital that we celebrate the little accomplishments too. Basically, we all need to experience at least tiny bits of success along the way to keep us going.

In order to make this happen, especially when the going gets tough, here are eleven ways to help students find the success that they crave.

Peer Support

I have always preferred to group my students so that they have built in support in their table groups. This means that I seat a high student next to a medium low student and across from a medium high student who is seated next to a low student. Got that? What ranks a student is pretty arbitrary, especially since what makes a student high in one content area may be their downfall in another. 

Once students are grouped they are able to provide support to one another. This support might look like buddy work, team work, or even just being able to ask one another a question while working independently.

Another GREAT way to incorporate peer support into your classroom is through the Jigsaw Method. This activity allows students to have the support of their peers, all while becoming the expert in their content area. Talk about a confidence booster!

Don't Put Students on the Spot

No one likes to be put on the spot, and when a student is already struggling it can be a real double whammy. Instead, let a student know before hand that you expect them to have a response to at least one question during the class discussion. If a student needs a little extra support, you can even let them know ahead of time the type of questions you will be asking. 

This allows the student the time to get their thoughts together, and provides a moment for the student to shine in front of their peers.

Private Feedback

Another thing no one likes is to be corrected in front of their peers, especially when they are already feeling down on themselves. By taking the time to provide private feedback the student will really feel that you are on their team, and you can work together to form a plan of action. Of course a discussion is a great way to provide private feedback, but you might also consider hand signals or notes.

Create an Environment Where Risks are Celebrated

This one is tough, but oh so worth it! Make your classroom into a place where students are able to take risks and not worry about humiliation or being corrected harshly. In order to become problem solvers, our students need to make mistakes and learn from them in order to improve. 

I have found that the best place to start this kind of practice is in small groups. I will use phrases such as: "I see where you were going there, and I hadn't thought of doing it that way." or "I like your way of thinking about this problem." Then gently guide students through any misconceptions. 

The BEST is when you hear students start to speak to one another this same way!

Compliment Effort, Not Results

I know there is a lot of research out there for both sides of this argument, and I am firmly in the "Not everyone wins," camp, but I don't think there is anything wrong with complimenting effort. After all, some of our greatest inventions have been born out of complete failures. 

I love to share the story of how Post-It Notes were born out of a failed glue experiment. This usually really hits home with my students seeing how we used sticky notes for everything, all the time.

Highlight Strengths

Eleven ways to ensure that your students feel successful in the classroom. Every student has strengths, we just have to be willing to look for them. Some students' strengths may be purely academic, others have amazing social awareness. Highlight these strengths by using them as peer models for your other students. 

This concept is a win-win for the whole class. Your model gets confidence boost, and the rest of the class has someone to go to for help that isn't the teacher.

Nonverbal Signals to Check for Understanding

When a student is really struggling it can be hard for them to ask for help, yet that is the very thing they need most. When I see this is happening repeatedly with a student I find a private time to talk to them. Usually what I find is that they are not comfortable asking for help in front of their peers, even in a small group. We work together to make a plan to help them ask questions, and that plan always includes nonverbal signals to check for understanding.

I usually have the students come up with their own signals, but often we wind up with the same style that includes a thumbs up, thumbs down, and an open hand for maybe. Every once in a while a student will come up with a really unique one which is always fun.

High Expectations

Create high expectations for your students from the very first day of school, and be really verbal about. Also be very forthright in letting them know that you know they can do it too. I always liked to give a little speech to my students about how I had hand picked them out of the entire grade level because I knew that they were just right for our classroom. 

By letting my expectations be known from the very beginning and never lowering them, but also providing clear encouragement my students always rose to the occassion.

Celebrate Small Victories

School is tough. It is tough on us and tough on our students, so celebrate the little things in life. The class made it through lunch with a good report? 30 second dance party! Everyone turned in their homework? Shoes off for the day! A student who has been really struggling with a concept had something click? Compliment circle time! 

There are really no victories too small to celebrate, so take a moment and do just that. You won't refret it!

Break Up a Task

Sometimes what we have to do can just be overwhelming, so help a student to break it down a bit. This might mean folding the paper so that only certain items are showing, using a highlighter to select particular items, or only giving partial directions until each step is complete. For more ideas, check out this post I wrote on 8 Ways to Differentiate a Worksheet over on Classroom Tested Resources.

Teach Positive Self Talk

Positive self talk is something that I still struggle with being an adult. It is easy to get down on ourselves and let the negative feelings take over, but it is very counter productive too! Instead model what positive self talk and the power of the word "yet" look like for your students. 

At first, I admit that I can feel silly trying to pump myself up, but I relate it to how athletes psych themselves up before a big game or match and that always gets my students pumped about it too. Plus, it gives me a chance to show them this oh so adorable video! 

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