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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What Makes a Great Teacher?

After teaching for 27 years, I’ve been reflecting on what the qualities of a great teacher are.

The things that came to mind have nothing to do with curriculum delivery, local testing results or teacher performance reviews.

Becoming a great teacher is something that can grow over the years through experience and pedagogy but there are other qualities which are unmeasurable.

They have to do with the kind of person a teacher is.

Students are the ones who can feel these qualities every day in the classroom.  Hours and hours of planning and marking cannot compensate for these qualities.




  • treating someone in a way that is right or reasonable


  • of a good nature or disposition


  •  able to remain calm and not become annoyed when dealing with problems or difficult people


  • genuine, sincere, honorable, respectable


  • acting or done in the same way over time, especially so as to be fair or accurate


  • all aspects of organization effects the whole instead of just parts


When you stop and think about this list, teachers need to display these qualities throughout every day of their teaching lives.

This is a challenge for anyone.

It isn’t always easy to ‘take the high road’.  Teachers are constantly inundated with multitudes of split second decisions they must make every day to create the best learning environment for their students to excel in.

All you can do is strive to do your best every day and remember you are human, and only one person, and “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”


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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.







Two Key Survival Tips for a New School Placement!

One of the first lessons a teacher at a new school needs to learn is how to get along with everyone in the school. Two easy ways to do this; thoroughly understand your place in the pecking order of the school, and embrace mutual respect.

Understanding your actual ‘pecking order’ in the school with your administration and fellow colleagues is critical. Firstly, you are not paid enough to make decisions in the school as a teacher and should not attempt to question decisions or make decisions unless you are asked to do so by your administration. Be sure you know, and respect ‘who the boss is’.

Secondly, if you are the ‘new kid on the block’, bide your time and feel things out with your fellow colleagues before trying to ‘rock the boat’ too much.  Unfortunately, there will always be experienced teachers who don’t want to hear what you have to offer. Thankfully though, there are those who will see you as a breath of fresh air and welcome your input.

Treat everyone within the school environment with the same degree of respect you would want: principal, custodian, support person, secretary, new and experienced colleagues, parent, student, early childhood educator, lunch supervisor, crossing guard, substitute teacher, librarian, technology specialist, bus driver, school nurse, psychologist, social worker etc.

These are all people whose services, help or favors you may need one day for whatever reason.  You’d be amazed the number of times I had to jump on a school bus at the end of the day looking for a student who had left something behind or asked someone to watch my class while I made an emergency washroom visit.

You want to be sure you have looked after your relationship with these various people.  A pleasant smile or greeting at the start or the end of the day or week as you pass each other in the hallway can go a long ways when you need it.

You cannot survive in a school working in isolation.  The successful running of a school along with your classroom requires a team effort; and you need all the team players you can get on your team.

Image result for do unto othersThe old saying ‘Do onto others as you would have them do unto you’ is a great mantra to follow.  If your treat people well, in all likelihood, they will treat you well back.  It sounds so simple but its amazing how it can work for you.

Did you know that; “10% of conflicts are due to difference in opinion. 90% are due to wrong tone of voice.” Unknown

How many times are conversations, looks, comments, texts, emails etc. misconstrued by yourself until you question the intended meaning. Choose your words carefully and be aware of your body language!

“There are some people who always seem angry and continuously look for conflict. Walk away from these people. The battle they’re are fighting isn’t with you, it’s with themselves.” Rashida Rowe

“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” Ronald Reagan

There will always be those within a school who have a natural tendency towards conflict and negativity. Avoid these people when possible and when it is unavoidable, use every resource you can muster up within yourself to resolve the issue with limited collateral damage.

The following quotes will hopefully give you some ‘food for thought’ for the next time you find yourself in conflict with a fellow staff member.


Image result for pick and choose your battles quotes