Cheer For The Underdog! Two Steps Forward, One Step Back!

We have all had ‘the’ student that every teacher dreads to get, based on their ‘reputation’ or their file from a previous school. These students are the underdogs of the education system.

Most often all they need is someone to believe in them.  It takes time and a great deal of effort but the payoff for the student, the classroom and yourself can be huge.

After a career of 27 years, I can compile a long list of these students with a few who really stand out at the top of the list.

Often these students come to you with layers and layers of hurt, rejection, anger, frustration, and low self esteem.

Trying to peel off these layers to reach into the core of that student can be exhausting.  It takes patience, understanding, compassion and determination.

The biggest key to reaching through these students is letting them know that you believe they are capable.  Capable of: learning, socializing appropriately, and being respectful of others and oneself.

Tell them you will never ask them to do anything you feel they are not capable of.  Your expectations of the student must be realistic and attainable.

The student must now slowly begin to believe this himself with your help.

Meet quietly with the student one on one and ask them if they could change something about their experience in your classroom that would make it a better place for them, what would that be.

This is the starting place.

Take time out each day to talk with this student to see how things are going in the area he has chosen to improve.

Use small moments throughout the day to provide encouragement and feedback. When there is a problem, meet with the student privately to discuss why they feel the problem occurred and try to reset the day.

When you feel the student is ready, discuss another area they feel they would like to see improved.  If the student feels he has not improved, revisit it with him and try to determine why together and discuss some tools which might help him.

These students need to feel valued. When time is set aside just for them, no matter how short the duration is, they will begin to feel valued.

Often the smallest of encounters with a student can make a difference.  They need to feel you are on their team.

Once they begin to feel better about themselves, improved classroom behavior and overall social interaction will gradually begin to happen and more learning will occur.

There will be setbacks but remember; two steps forward, one step back is still progress.


The Quiet Ones

We have all had our share of boisterous students and usually remember the most challenging students.

But, do we remember the quiet ones.

We often have to think hard to recall them.

It is very easy for them to get lost in the hubbub of the classroom and school environment.

There can be many reasons for their silence.

What we need to understand is that shyness is a combination of emotions.

It can stem from fear, tension, apprehension and embarrassment.

These students need a teacher’s help to find their voice in the classroom.

Talking quietly one on one with the student to get to know them better is a great place to start.

It can be amazing what you find out about these quiet ones.

These are some strategies you can use to help these students.

Group Area

These quiet ones tend to sit at the back of the group and usually don’t have a ‘go to’ person to sit beside.

Talk to them privately and ask them to sit closer to the front.

Seating Arrangement

Meet with this student and ask them to name 3 people they think they would like to get to know better and have their desk placed beside.

Discretely make some seating changes to enable this student to sit beside one of their choices.

Partner or Group Work

When you are pairing students up to work together, try to pair them up with someone they have indicated on their list.

When students are asked to select a partner, allow this student to have one of the first picks when selecting their partner.

Goal Setting

Meet with this student to discuss a starting goal for the number of times they raise their hand and speak up in front of the class.

Prepare a simple chart for each day.

They can keep this at their desk and have them check off daily how many times they raised their hand and participated orally in the class.

Ensure the student understands that these are only goals and they can be readjusted if necessary depending on the success of the goal setting.

Point out to the student that their progress may only be seen in very small steps but celebrate any progress which will help them take positive risks and overcome obstacles.

Recess/Break Time

Recess or break time can be a lonely time for these students.

There may also be another student you know who does not have a friend to play with, or socialize with and they could be paired up together.


Meet with the student briefly before a lesson or discussion and give them some time to prepare an answer, opinion or question to contribute during the lesson.

Practice/Role Play

If the student is willing, have the student rehearse with a peer what they would like to say to the class during a lesson.

You can also teach them socialization skills by conducting a lesson in the classroom on how to join a group and how to accept a new member in a group.

Class Climate

You will want to promote inclusion and the acceptance of others in your classroom to create a safe environment for all.

The differences we see in each other should be celebrated and valued.

Shy students will slowly begin to feel they can contribute in their own way without judgement or embarrassment.

Classroom Jobs

Give shy students a job to do in the classroom such as handing out supplies or collecting materials.

A job will help them further develop their social skills through the interaction with their peers and boost their confidence.

Wait Time

Shy students often need a longer wait time for a response when they are called upon to participate orally.

The waiting can seem like an eternity but they most often will respond if given the time to do so.

Final Thoughts

All of the strategies mentioned are ways to help shy students become more confident and social; however, it all depends on the dynamics of your classroom and most importantly, your students.

It also starts with you, the teacher, to help these quiet ones find their voices in the classroom.

If you have not done so, please feel free to sign up for email notifications or click the follow button for the weekly posts.  I’d also love to hear from you about the post or strategies you have tried in your classroom.

Happy Teacher…Happy Students; Happy Students…Happy Teacher!

All teachers know that teaching is both a rewarding and challenging career.  Being responsible for the development of growing minds is a huge responsibility.

It’s an all consuming job which requires teachers to be ‘on their game’ every minute of the day. However, when a teacher’s ‘game is off’, for whatever reason, things in the classroom can unravel quickly or gradually depending on the root and severity of the problem.

Teachers need to ensure they are taking care of themselves in every aspect of their lives.  This is a challenge since teachers tend to put themselves at the bottom of their To Do list.  You need to start moving your needs up the priority list. The caring for and nurturing of your physical, psychological, nutritional and professional well being is essential.

Teachers and students alike have a desire to be respected, honoured and valued.  This desire, despite the behaviors and problems witnessed and felt by teachers and students around the world, is a basic human need.  With so many pressures today on the family unit along with the changing faces of the family and society as a whole, teachers need to create a climate within the classroom which embodies mutual respect, honour and value. This, in itself, is a huge challenge.  When teachers slowly begin to prioritize some of their own needs, it becomes possible to begin to meet more of the needs of their students.

Teachers’ roles are changing rapidly and are often moving far beyond the curriculum.  Teachers are experiencing unprecedented pressures today in the classroom from forces not felt before in the near and distant past. This makes it even more imperative that they ensure they are caring for themselves to give them the strength and stamina needed to help their students.

Start meeting more of your own basic needs before trying to create this positive climate within your classroom. Choose one thing each day to help you work towards improving your own well being.  You will then be able to gradually pass this calm and inner peace along to your students and they will subsequently begin to pass it back onto you.  It will, and can be passed back and forth to carry and sustain you both throughout the school year. 

Your own well being is where it all starts!

Happy Teacher…Happy Students;Happy Students…Happy Teacher

Suggested Readings/Activities


Timing and Pace; the Ultimate Challenge

Timing is defined as the choice, judgement, or control of when something should be done.

Pace is defined as the speed at which something happens. 

Timing and pace set the tone of your classroom and they are solely determined by you.  If your timing and pace are not synchronized, you will find the day to day running of your classroom a challenge.

Every new teacher finds timing and pace the ultimate challenge.  Mastering this skill in the classroom is achieved by: getting to know your students, careful planning, having a well flowing schedule, being flexible, taking risks, trial and error, and experience.

Getting to know your students:

I’ve been thinking about a rule of thumb to follow and came up with a simple mathematical solution; multiply your student’s age by 2.  This will be the number of minutes you have to complete your lesson; before you begin to lose the masses.

Once you get to know your students well, and as they mature throughout the year, you may find you can adjust the formula. As you plan your lessons, keep in mind the time restraints you will have as the year progresses.

Careful Planning

Possibly every teacher’s worst nightmare is to under plan.  Under planning leaves voids of time to be filled by what? Therefore, you need to plan carefully.

Over planning is highly recommended because what you don’t get done today, can be done tomorrow.

Always have an activity in your back pocket which can serve as a review or reinforcement of previously taught material for times of under planning.

Being Flexible

The wiki definition of the idiom the best laid plans sums this up well.

A proverbial expression used to signify the futility of making detailed plans when the ability to fully or even partially execute them is uncertain.

Teachers need to develop the ability to be flexible when things aren’t going the way they had planned. There may be a multitude of forces which come into play each day that cannot be planned for or anticipated.

This is when it is critical that you have the ability to be flexible.  If you aren’t flexible with your planning, you may find yourself working against forces you cannot control or stop.

Well Flowing Schedule

The schedule you follow in your own classroom should be a work of art.  When planning out your schedule, you firstly need to consider the needs of your students.  Secondly, consider what subject areas you need to cover and the time allotment needed for each.

Consider the following when planning your daily and weekly schedule:

  • attention span of your students
  • time spent in their seats
  • time spent at group areas
  • length of lessons
  • length of seat work periods
  • natural breaks in the day
  • time spent listening
  • time spent sharing
  • time on hands on activities
  • curriculum content

Your schedule should be balanced and flow naturally so students and yourself are moving easily through the day and week from one activity to another.

Be Willing To Take Risks

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching is trying something new.  It can be like a breath of fresh air for yourself and your students.

Taking yourself ‘out of your comfort zone’ can be be risky but also very rewarding when you feel and see the new growth in your teaching practice.  This risk taking will help you fine tune the timing and pace you establish in your classroom.

Trial and Error

Trial and error requires confidence and trust in yourself as an educator, colleague and role model. Consulting with others who have ‘stepped out of the box’ can help with the planning of new adventures in the classroom or bring new perspectives into your classroom to try.

Have faith in yourself and keep trying to fine tune your practice until you have your classroom running in a manner which works best for your students and yourself.


Experience speaks volumes but does not always have to be measured in years.  It can be measured in short snippets of time. The key to experience is learning, growing, and reflecting on what you have done and taking this forward with you into the future.

Final Thoughts

Placing yourself in front of a classroom of students day after day is a leap of faith in one’s ability to educate.  Have faith in yourself and your students; to enable you both to create a smoothrunnin’ classroom together.

The Troubleshooting Mechanic

Every teacher needs to think of their classroom as a well oiled machine that must run efficiently and tirelessly for an entire school year.  Your machine will likely hit a few bumps along the way, sputter, stall and need to go back to the shop for maintenance.

Your job as the driver of the classroom, is to constantly maintain your machine and troubleshoot any problems along the way.  You cannot ignore any warning signs of trouble.  You need to address them and determine a way to fix the problem.

Teachers are the ultimate mechanic and the best of the best, are the ones who have the greatest maintenance track record.

If you find yourself day after day dealing with the same issues, with the same students, then you need to figure out a way to fix it. You need to troubleshoot until you find a way to fix the problem.  It may take a while, but the pay off is huge if it is fixed.


  • pencil sharpener constantly being used

SOLUTION Collect all miscellaneous used pencils from students, with students keeping one at their desk. Place a bag over the sharpener with a closed sign and have the box of the used pencils sharpened and ready to go. When students need a sharp pencil, they can place their dull, broken pencils in the To Be Sharpened box and take a sharp pencil. Wipe off the pencils at the end of the day with a disinfecting wipe and sharpen them ready to go for the next day. Reopen the sharpener when it is an appropriate time.

  • taking too long in washroom

SOLUTION: Use an egg timer to time those who spend too long in the washroom.  Set the timer for an appropriate amount of time and if student has not returned, have another student or adult go check on the student.

  • very frequent washroom users

SOLUTION: Create a boys and girls class list on a grid with last names removed (for student confidentiality) and have multiple copies of a girls list and boys list put on two separate mini clip boards. When a student is leaving to use the washroom, have them put a check mark in a free box beside their name and when they return, put a line through the check mark.  You will quickly see a pattern of washroom use and who is using it excessively.

  • students interrupting small group instruction for washroom break

SOLUTION: Have students approach you quietly to make eye contact with you and have them use the universal sign language symbol for washroom. 

  • student speaking out of turn

SOLUTION:  Provide the student with 3 tokens for the day.  Every time the student speaks out of turn, take a token.  Once all three are gone, the student will be removed from the group to another spot in the classroom, and no longer be able to participate in the lesson.  When a new lesson begins, provide him with 2 tokens using the same process and then 1 token.  Very soon this student will have more success regulating his speaking out.  

  • student who accomplishes very little

SOLUTION: When the student is given work to complete, record the time on his sheet and check in periodically with him to see how much he has accomplished.  Record the time beside what he has completed.  It will soon become evident how much or how little he is accomplishing in a work period.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the many little problems highlighted that occur regularly in any classroom. When these problems are met with viable solutions, a smoother running classroom will result.  Time spent to find solutions to daily classroom problems, is time well spent in long run for everyone.

Who’s in Charge?

Every seasoned teacher knows one of the key elements of running a classroom successfully and surviving the year, is firmly establishing that ‘you are in charge’. If students do not know this, deeply believe this and respect this, a teacher will be trying to navigate a sinking ship.

There always will be those students who have learned by this point in their lives; that adults in positions of authority are in charge.  However, as time goes on and and the family unit and society as a whole continue to change, there seems to be more and more students who really do not have a concept of this.

It is critical that any teacher of any age group firmly establish that they are in charge.  If this is not established, a teacher will find classroom control and management a challenge.

Some key ways to do this are as follows:

Still Talking!
1. Do not speak over students who are still talking. If you have asked the class to stop and listen, be forefront in the classroom and wait, looking at those who are still talking, without saying a word.

Do not begin until you have their attention. Use your body language to help you.  You may need to move closer to the students, change the expression on your face, and use body language cues.

Once they have complied, soften your expression and your body language and begin your lesson or instructions.

The Arguers and the Defiant

2. If a student attempts to challenge your authority by non compliance, arguing etc., ask them who is in charge and wait for their answer.  When they have established that you are in charge, then ask them again to comply.

If they refuse to comply, ask them if you need to let your authority figure know that they do not want to comply. Again, wait for their decision.  If they still will not comply, contact your superior.

Stop everything until this is finished!  It may take a while, but the next time it happens, your wait time will be less.

No Idea!

3. There also may be students who, for no fault of their own, have not learned their teacher is in charge and they need to do what they are asked while at school.

Taking a student like this aside, and explaining to them how this concept works and how they need to follow this concept while at school is a starting point.  They will probably require prompts from yourself along the way to help them learn this.

They may also need to understand that there may be consequences for them when they do not do what they are asked. These children will most likely slowly begin to change their ways when they realize there are consequences they don’t particularly like which prevent them from having fun, unlike their peers who are having fun.

The Fence Sitters

4. In every classroom, there will be those who ‘sit on the fence’.  They can go either way with compliance depending on who their friends are.

These students need to be quickly and surely readjusted in a firm, but gentle way. Using consequences for these students is usually a quick remedy.

You can these use body language and eye contact as prompts for these students and they will usually quickly comply.

You may need to determine if a standing position during a discussion is more appropriate as this is a more authoritative stance.

The Sweet Ones

5. There are then those poor soles who are forced to wait, and wait and wait for their fellow classmates to comply to enable the teacher to continue on with the day. These students need to be recognized for their good citizenship and respect for others.

Final Thoughts

If a teacher clearly and surely establishes that they are in charge, good classroom management will follow with firmly established routines and expectations.

The Joys of Creating Independence

The sooner you instill independence in your students, the sooner you will be able to teach and the more teaching time you will have!

Morning Routine

Your morning routine should be firmly established from the first steps your students take into the school each morning.

This independence will give you the freedom to do what you need to do each day upon entry: greeting students, attendance, assisting students who need help etc.

The routine you establish is comforting to students because they know what to expect each morning upon entry and children thrive on routine and structure.  This is not to say that some days, things may change.  But as the saying goes;change is good but it is not always easy.


Transitions in the classroom from one activity to another should be done quickly and smoothly to create a calmness even during organized chaos. The only way to achieve this is through routine.

A few examples of transition times which can be taught are: moving from seats to group area, putting away materials, lining up to leave the classroom, walking down the hall as a class.  My previous post highlights how to teach a new routine.

These routines should be taught throughout the year and reviewed periodically or when deemed necessary.

Classroom Supplies

Where supplies are kept, how they are handled, cared for and returned is a routine which will help the day move efficiently along with little direction from the teacher.

Careful planning and consideration of supply area locations and their organization, will allow for a easy flow of the distribution and return of supplies.

Classroom Books

Most classrooms will hopefully have a good supply of books for independent reading.  Students need to be taught how the books are organized (genre, fiction and non-fiction, levels etc.); how to handle them; how to correctly return a book.

You will want to keep your book collection organized and your students can do this for you by implementing a routine.

Classroom Expectations

Every classroom requires a simple set of expectations which can be generated by the teacher and students. These expectations should be reviewed regularly and reinforced naturally throughout the year to help keep everyone on track.

Keep it simple and when a rule is broken, the student can be gently or firmly redirected using the classroom expectations as a starting point.

An example would be: respect the learning of others.  If a student is getting a group of students off task, remind him that he is not respecting the learning of others.

Children need and want clearly defined boundaries and will usually respond positively when they realize they have crossed a line of acceptable behavior. Clearly defined expectations will help children take more responsibility for their actions and ultimately help guide them more independently through the day.

School/Home Communication Folder

Teaching children to be responsible for this folder is key to ensuring seamless communication between school and home occurs.

Students should be taught to unpack these folders each morning at school, repack at the end of the day and unpack at home and repack for school.

This routine, which involves home, can be communicated to parents/guardians in a variety of ways depending on the teacher preference.

End of Day

How the day ends, can be almost as important as how the day starts. You want happy children heading home to share their day with their families.

Have students organized well before the dismissal bell to ensure a stress free end of the day for the students and yourself. Establish a routine to ensure students have everything they need to bring home.

Final Thoughts

Taking the time to establish these routines in your classroom will have a huge payoff for you and your students.  It will take time, patience, reinforcement and dedication but the end result of creating this independence for your students will be joyous for all!