The Power of Small Praise

Teachers love to praise students. Praise can go a long way.  However, teachers often make the mistake of praising in a grandiose manner which often draws unwanted attention on a student.  If a teacher has a solid classroom management plan, praise can be done in a very powerful, yet subtle manner.

Praising a student for good behavior with the intent of hoping other students follow suite is not an effective strategy.  It fosters resentment among students and can often make the recipient of the praise uncomfortable and ultimately backfire.

Using more subtle forms of praise are far more effective.  Eye contact with a smile or nod, a quiet word spoken to a student, a simple gesture or a special note written just for that student are far more powerful.  They are meant only for that one student and the student knows this and feels it to his core. This is motivating.  This can soften even the most difficult students to reach.

These are the small, memorable moments between a teacher and student that help sustain teachers through some of the darkest hours of their career.

Imagine this, sitting at your desk while students enter in the morning and make eye contact with students who are following your established routine and give them a genuine smile and a nod of your head.  You will begin to see the power of this gesture as more and more students witness this simple gesture and begin to get on board with the routine.  In a short period of time, you will have everyone settled and working without having to say a word.

Learning how to control the masses using subtle cues meant for individual students is the next step for teachers who have a working classroom management system.  However, without a plan, the subtle cues will have little effect.

You need a firm classroom management plan which is fair and consistent.  If you don’t have one, stop everything and start over in your classroom as if it’s the first day of school. Students will need to feel your resolve in your intent to implement a new classroom management system.  Remember, you are in charge.  You set the tone.  Once you have your new or improved classroom management system in place, then you can begin to use and feel the power of subtle cues to praise.

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Feeling Overwhelmed?

Teachers on a daily basis are bombarded with a constant flow of ‘things’ they feel should be doing in the classroom through workshops, professional readings, staff meetings, administration, and fellow teachers.

When they learn or hear about a new theory, strategy, or concept they are not using or teaching in ‘their’ classroom, a panic alarm goes off inside.  This alarm goes off inside all teachers, new and experienced.

Why is this?

This happens because teachers want to provide their students with the best education they can while they have them in their classrooms.  They want to become the best they can be.

Teachers are always second guessing themselves, doubting their skills and gradually begin to feel incompetent.

With unprecedented student performance pressures being put on teachers today, it is no wonder they begin to doubt themselves.

This is wrong!  Something is very, very wrong when even the most talented and experienced teachers begin to question their teaching skills.

This is why it’s imperative that teachers today start to filter through all the noise around them, and sort through it to determine what is most important to themselves and the betterment of their students.

Silent that ‘panic alarm’ inside your brain and stay true to yourself.

Professional growth takes time.

When you feel compelled to implement too many of the ‘things’ out there, chaos will slowly begin to reign in your classroom.

You will find your patience begin to slip. Your classroom management strategies will begin to fail and you will observe more behavior problems.  You will begin to feel more and more less confident in yourself and your students will sense this.

These are the alarm signals that you should be listening to, not all the other ‘noise’ around you.

Child experts all agree that children thrive in routine.  When that routine is disturbed for prolonged periods, children will have more difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions.

If you want to make changes to your program, or add something new, do it slowly and thoroughly.  Be sure to include the teaching of a new routine if that is part of the change. I have a post on How to teach a new routine.

Questions to ask yourself before you should implement something new in your classroom are:

  • Is it really worth your time and effort to implement?
  • Will your students benefit academically?
  • Does it help implement the curriculum?
  • Is it an important aspect of the curriculum?
  • Does it fit with your teaching style and philosophies?

Stay strong and stay the course!

American poet, essayist and lecturer, 1803-1882ralph-waldo-emerson-quotes-about-not-giving-up-staying-strong

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Breathe New Life into your Classroom

After the much anticipated holiday break, everyone returns to their classrooms, teachers and students alike feeling renewed.

This is a great time to start fresh.  Over the holidays, take some time out to think about things you’d like to add, change, fix, or improve in your classroom.

Some things you might want to consider are;

  • new improved seating plan

Think about ‘hot spots’. Are there students sitting within close proximity to each other who really need to have some distance? Are there students who need a ‘friend’ to sit beside?

Consider the flow of traffic in your room. Is there a better way to configure the desks to improve traffic flow?

  • tweak your daily schedule

Consider if there is not enough movement between subjects to allow students to blow off some steam naturally.  Think about changing up the amount of time in their seats, lesson time, activity time etc. to create a more natural flow throughout the day that works best to keep the harmony in the classroom.

  • clean slate for your behavior challenges

Take some time at the start of the new year to talk individually with your behavior students and work out a plan with them to help them manage some of their disruptive behaviors. Check out my October post Cheer for the Underdog! for behavior management strategies.

  • new classroom management system

If you find yourself dealing with the same problems over and over, try to find a solution.  There are a lot of great resources out there for classroom management ideas.  Take a bit of time and research some. My post in September deals with this issue The Trouble Shooting Mechanic!

  • do some cleaning and tidying

On the first day back, have yourself and students do some much needed cleaning and organizing in the classroom.  An organized classroom and desk area is conducive to a smooth running classroom for yourself and your students. Get rid of the clutter! Clutter is stress inducing.  An earlier post in September Keep it Simple! talks about aiming for less is more!

  • classroom expectations

Set some new ground rules that you wish you had implemented earlier on in the school year.  This is your opportunity to use ‘hindsight is 20/20’ to your advantage.  Use what you already know about a group of students, to improve their overall experience in your classroom.

  • personal goal setting

Take time out for yourself each day to look after some aspect of your physical, emotional and nutritional well being.  See my post in October Happy Teacher…Happy Students! for more tips on improving your overall well being and how it can impact the classroom.

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Dealing with Parents

Dealing with parents is a skill in itself which teachers must master. Parents can become friend or foe depending on how you handle them.  Here are some key tips teachers can consider when trying to keep the peace with parents of students in their room.

  • keep parents informed about curriculum and activities

Send home a monthly newsletter highlighting curriculum and special classroom activities to keep parents well informed of goings on in your classroom. Taking the guess work out of what you are doing in the classroom will make for happier parents.


  • Keep parents informed about incidents or concerns at school

Parents do not like surprises about their children.  Inform parents quickly and professionally about any concerns at school.


  • Create a welcoming environment for parents

A pleasant smile, hand shake and introduction, or brief discussion at your door to set up a time for a longer discussion will help parents feel welcome.


  • Keep administration informed about any parent concerns that have been voiced to you

If you see a potential for a problem with a parent or an actual concern, let your superior know as soon as possible. Administrators are able to ‘calm’ and ‘reassure’ parents about an issue when they have all the needed information beforehand.


  • let parents have their say

Parents advocate passionately for their children and often all they need is to be heard.


  • keep your students happy in your classroom because happy students create happy parents

Students returning home at the end of the day with an unhappy experience in or outside of your classroom creates unhappy parents. Creating a climate of warmth, kindness and mutual respect for all within your classroom is a first step to ensuring students return home happy at the end of the day.  Instill in your students that you are their ‘go to’ person at school if there is a problem in or outside of the classroom.  You can often solve the problem at school before it goes home when you are informed.


  • a positive reputation in a school will carry you far with parents

Parents talk among themselves and you have no control over this.  You want a positive reputation so do your best to win parents over.


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Students with Mental Illness

In my career of 27 years there were only two students whom I would say were unreachable due to mental illness.  One was diagnosed, and the other was not.

Those were tough years.

I’ve also had my share of challenging students.  We’ve all had them.

They are the ones who come to school with tons of baggage due to circumstances beyond their control. They can make teaching a classroom of students a living nightmare.

These students can however be salvaged while they are in your classroom. They will take up a lot of your mental energy, time, patience and every ounce of stamina you have, but you can make some headway with these students.

The ones with mental illness are a different story.  No amount of behavior interventions can make long term differences with these students.

Each day becomes survival mode for yourself and the rest of the students in the classroom.  I know this sounds negative but it’s a reality.

One of the most unnerving behaviors both these students presented was the way they tracked me around the room with their eyes.  Their eye contact was a direct challenge. It was mentally exhausting trying to ignore the eye tracking and avoiding making eye contact.

The eye tracking started to permeate my whole being and I kept waiting for ‘it’ to happen.  The ‘it’ could be a violent or explosive event which circumvented myself and my students being evacuated from the classroom. This was the safety plan.

After one of the evacuations, it took 15 adults 30 minutes to put my classroom back into some sort of order at the end of the day.  He was 7 years old.

No one can understand the power this eye tracking has on you until you have experienced it. You try to explain it to colleagues, family, friends but you end up stopping because you can’t explain it.  You begin to question your own mental health.

A teacher can ‘figure out’ most students after a certain amount of time, but students with mental illness cannot be ‘figured out’. You will be asked what their triggers are and you’ll shrug your shoulders. You will be asked what you can do to de-escalate the situation and you’ll shrug again.

All you can do is try to smile, maintain your composure and attempt to keep everyone safe through it all. To help yourself and your students get through the year, gather as many allies on your side as you can; support personnel, parents, administrators, colleagues.

Parents of the other children in your classroom need to know the situation at school.  A parent can be a great advocate for you to help have this student removed from your classroom or placed on a shortened school day.

Support staff and colleagues need to understand that they are on call for any kind of SOS from yourself and your students.

Administration needs to know the severity of the problem.  They need to understand that it just isn’t a matter of you not being able to ‘handle’ or ‘manage’ the student. They need to be one board with the severity of the the situation with this student.

Lastly, look after your own mental health, get plenty of rest, eat well and exercise.

You’ll need it.




The Incredibly Needy Ones

Every teacher at some point has a student who is incredibly needy for every aspect of his school day. These needy students expect help from the moment they wake up each morning at home until their last wakeful moment of their day.

The difficult part of meeting the needs of a needy student is they are one of many who deserve and require your help and attention.  These students rob you of precious time and energy needed for the other students in your classroom.  Your job is then to wean that student of their dependence on others to make it through the day.

Here is the start of a list of the many needs one of these students may have at the beginning of the day:

  • hanging up their belongings once at school
  • putting on their shoes
  • unpacking home and school communication folder
  • following morning entry routine
  • locating personal supplies-pencil, eraser
  • etc……

The unfortunate thing about this is that it is only 10 minutes into the school day.

Stop!  A change needs to be made.

Tomorrow, upon entry at beginning of the day, circulate to praise students who are hanging up their belongings without making eye contact with your particularly needy student.

Talk about the morning routines that are established as you continue to circulate as students get themselves organized for the day.

This is the start of instilling independence in these needy students.  Once they have done one small thing independently, praise with enthusiasm.  Its all about breaking the cycle of dependency.

Throughout the day when they begin their daily rituals of demanding, interrupting, pouting  or crying, make eye contact with them but do not say anything.  Ignore the behavior for as long as you possibly can to give them the chance to correct themselves.

If they don’t stop, quickly remind them of the classroom behavior expectation they are not following and carry on with what you were doing.

While doing this be aware of your body language.  Do not approach the student, or bend down to their level.  This will only validate the behavior for the student in their own mind.

These students recognize that their behaviors are different from their peers. You must give them the tools and the belief in themselves that they can become more independent.

Once they begin to gain confidence in themselves, they will become more independent and will strive for more independence.

Feel free to make comments or ask questions about the post.







Take the Stress out of Holidays in the Classroom

Special holidays throughout the school year often wreck havoc on the regular routines already firmly established in a classroom. Both students and teachers are often experiencing additional stress created by holiday preparations at school and at home.

This can be compounded by the excitement of the anticipation of the holidays themselves.  Stress levels are high, tensions are high, nerves are on edge and adults and children’s ability to regulate their emotions are often compromised. This is setting up for the perfect storm in the classroom.

Usually the two to three days prior to the holiday break are the most challenging. Often there are special events going on in the school and community which can make it a difficult to maintain control and uphold a sense of calm in the classroom and at home.

During times like this, teachers (and parents) will want to plan calming activities in between special events. You will want to maintain some of the regular routines but some will need to go.

Depending on the holiday, simple holiday themed crafts, along with paper and pencil activities that are easy and quick to set up and implement are life savers.  The activities you have planned need to be prepared ahead of time, stored away until they are needed, and should be able to be put out and put away easily and quickly.

The children should have a folder or storage container that can kept at their desks for completed and not completed activities. Children should be given the choice of which activity they want to do.

Try to have a wide variety of activities which will please all.  Some children love colouring, others love crafts, while others like reading, drawing, building and writing etc.

These activities will take some time to put together, but the pay off you will get to help keep yourself and your students less stressed and busily happy will make it all worthwhile.  Word searches, crossword puzzles, fun writing activities, holiday card making, holiday and seasonal themed crafts and book tubs all help to keep students busy and productive.

When the students are busy doing things they enjoy, everyone gets a chance to regroup and regain their inner composure. You will actually see and feel the stress and energy levels drop once children are quietly engaged in their chosen holiday themed activities.

These activities can done throughout the days leading up to the holiday whenever some down time is needed or becomes available. Provide each student with a personal tracking sheet listing the different activities that are available to them. Children love to have ownership over their learning and the choices they have and the tracking sheet provides this for them.

Now, sit back and enjoy the peace and harmony you have in your classroom while chaos abounds everywhere else!

Feel free to make comments!