Showing Appreciation

Pep Talks & Positivity

As I’m gaining more leadership roles around my school in conjunction with taking leadership classes, it’s probably an understatement to say that leadership has been on my mind. I’ve learned a lot about how to be a good leader from my textbooks as well as the experience I’ve gained in my new roles. 

While there are many important leadership qualities to have, one that I think is so important, especially during this time of the year, is the ability to show appreciation.

Here’s why I believe showing appreciation can be a cornerstone of running a successful team:

1. People thrive on being recognized. Just as positive words and affirmation encourage our students to keep up the behavior we like to see in our classrooms, adults are wired the same way. If you truly like what you see, let that person know. The chance that they continue doing this desired thing is much higher. I encourage you to be specific in your appreciation because general “thank you” blanket statements may not be as effective or genuine. Since it is typically their responsibility, leaders are often prone to look for issues that need solved; to balance this, it is important that leaders are mindful about looking for positive things to praise.

2. Showing thankfulness, followed by a correction, is an easy way to fix a mistake without ruining a positive relationship. Especially whenever you know that someone is doing their best, giving them a correction can sometimes come across as being ungrateful and can therefore hurt feelings or ruin a relationship that took time to build. If you find something that can improve or needs to be fixed, try to also point out that you are thankful, first. Example: “Thank you so much for your hard work on this project you were assigned. I see you turned your part of the project in early, and this timeliness really impresses me. There was one part that I’d like to draw your attention to. (Point it out and explain the problem.) Would you be able to fix this now that I’ve clarified the expectation?”

3. Spreading thankfulness defines the culture of your organization or group. I’ve noticed that negative energy, such as complaining, really dissolves whenever the team members are built up and encouraged. Even the toughest of challenges and circumstances, when met with appreciation, can create an enjoyable environment. Just as smiles are contagious, positive energy is too. If a leader enters the room and people know they will feel encouraged, they are more likely to show kindness and appreciation to each other, too. An appreciation set-up like this is often at the leader’s fingertips to model first; then, others will follow and a positive culture will be created. A positive culture can also result in a more productive and successful environment because your team members will learn to lean on each other to accomplish the tasks.

While saying “thank you” can certainly be enough, leaders are often also short on time, and schedules don’t always line up for these conversations. If you don’t have enough time to meet with each person individually, leaving a message or a little sign of gratitude in their classroom, mailbox, or office can also go a long way. Notes, sweet treats, or gift cards show that you were thoughtful and thankful. 

These “you’re the sweetest” m&m’s will serve as thank you’s for a team of teachers I lead at my school. I’m going to put them in their mailboxes next week.

No matter how you do it, showing that you appreciate someone is an easy, yet effective skill for a leader to possess. How do you show appreciation in your leadership roles?

The Last Month of School

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

So, as we roll into the last month of school, I have been hearing colleagues counting down the days left. Summer is coming! I’d be a fool to say I wasn’t excited for my schedule to calm down for a couple of months; I’m quite busy with graduate school right now, and my involvement in extracurricular activities at my school is at an all-time high for me. I could use a little break, honestly. Fellow teacher, I have a feeling that just like me, you’re also getting tired at this point in the year.

But, I’d like to encourage you to to make sure you’re counting the right thing during this last month. Instead of counting down days until summer, why don’t we count how many kids get inspired by our lessons or how smiles we put on tiny faces?

As you read this, I’d also love for you to be able to check out the materials I talk about in this post by visiting my TPT store here:

The thought that I only had less than a month left with my ducklings this year actually stunned me this past weekend. I legitimately felt overwhelmed and sad. More than anything, I wanted to keep building them up together as a community and continue to help them feel like they can change the world. Truly, they can, and it’s my job to make sure they know it! If I haven’t convinced every kid of that yet, I decided to continue being determined to do just that. 🙂

So, I counted the days and realized I had about 26 left. Being the geek I am, an association flashed into my mind. Ah, 26 = letters of the alphabet.

I decided to create a warm-up that used a different letter for the alphabet, starting with A, for each day for the rest of the year.

Here’s what I wanted my warm-up to help me accomplish in the last month of school:

  1. I wanted it to be positive part of class each day. It needed to let me continue having good life-talks with my kids, have them form a strong classroom community, and allow them to feel encouraged.
  2. I wanted it to be a way for my students to understand that when they entered the room they were still expected to come in and get right to work on something. This has always been my expectation, and it continues to be my expectation now, too, even though the school year is coming to a close. I believe it sets the groundwork for hard-working expectations during the rest of class, too.
  3. I wanted to give them a chance to creatively write about their opinion; so often, they are required to provide evidence to prove a point about literature. This is absolutely an important skill, but for once, I just wanted them to tell me what was on their heart.
  4. I wanted it to encourage reflection at the end of the school year. Towards the end of the alphabet especially, I added more reflection on our class and their progress in middle school. Part of truly experiencing something (especially the learning process) requires reflection, which also lends itself to active goal-setting and more future success!

I’d love for you to be able to continue investing in your students through the end of the year too–check out my ABC warm-up on my TPT store by clicking here:

Regardless of how many days you have left at school, or how you choose to handle this important time in your very own classroom, I hope that you continue investing your time into counting was truly counts…not just days until it’s over. 🙂

My Little Orange Flag

Middle School Classroom, Pep Talks & Positivity

I walked into my classroom the other day and discovered that my room was being used during the off-periods as an extended testing room for the state tests. I had some work to get done, so I warmed up my food for lunch and continued working.

When I came back, I looked around at the handful of students, using my room to get extra time to finish their test.

That’s when I heard it. The little sniffles.

I looked up, following the sound, and realized that it was one of my kiddos, still testing into the afternoon. He was making up a test from the day before, and he was, unfortunately, crying.

It pained me to see him frustrated. It’s in those standardized-test-moments that you wish you could reach out and just lend a hand. Of course, you can’t. My mind ran through ways to help him without violating any official rules. How could I make him stop crying?!

And then it hit me.

I pulled out a sharp #2 pencil and a little orange sticky note. With a marker, I quickly wrote the following:

“You rock, bud! I’m so proud of you!” and I taped it on the pencil like a little orange flag.

I stood up, went over to his desk, and laid down the extra pencil. Smiling, I walked away.

A short moment later, his sniffling ceased, and all I could hear were the sounds of his pencil tip, now scribing quickly, across his page.

It made me realize that sometimes, a little sticky note and a few words of encouragement can go a long way. Don’t forget this with your students, dear friend. The smile that you give them, the compliment you throw their way, and the few words of acknowledgement you offer can make the biggest difference to them and in their success.

Grading Conferences

Language Arts Resources, Middle School Classroom

Ah, the sweet smell of spring, the sound of birds chirping, and the taste of state testing right around the corner. This year, I spent my week before state tests in a sort of unconventional way: conferencing with students.

Many educators can become stressed during this time, and in my opinion, all that does is stress out the kids. This can’t help them do better on the test. My one-on-one conferences were a breath of fresh air! It worked out perfectly for my class because they had just finished writing an essay on a short story, and then they moved on to another essay comparing two poems. While students worked independently at their desks on those, I conferenced at my front table with them one-by-one.

Here’s why I liked it:

1. It made me step away from my class and just let my students write. All too often, I see my students thinking about a question and immediately raising their hand to ask me. I told them openly last week that they needed to dig deep in their noggins for the answer because at this point, they know what they’re doing! We’ve been doing this all year. Don’t worry, though, I still offered some support. I set up my deli counter (hehe) by cutting out numbers and placing them into a bowl. As I was working independently to grade a student’s essay during our conference, other students could politely take a number from my deli if they truly felt that they couldn’t continue writing without my assistance. This kept the questions to a minimum but still allowed me to help those who were really struggling. Plus, the class loved me saying “Number 2 to the deli” in a silly voice with my hand making a microphone. Too fun. You can purchase my deli number “kit” on my TPT here:

2. I was able to give in-person feedback to students during our conference. Especially at the middle school level, kids look at their grade, say “okay!” and then recycle the paper on the way out the door, without seeing why they got the grade they got (let alone the hours of writing comments all along the margins of their papers.) This forced every single student that I teach to sit down with me and process through why they wrote what they did. Then, they were able to go back to their seats and make sure to perfect elements they were missing or continue doing the great things they were already doing in their next essays.

3. It saved me a lot of grading time. Sure, it took me 4 days in class to meet with each student individually, but I wasn’t dozing off at 9:30 at night, trying to multitask by listening to The Voice in the other room. I also didn’t have to write out many comments because the kids were hearing them right from my mouth! I really liked this aspect a lot. It felt like time put to good use.

4. It instilled confidence in my students before the big state test. While I did give honest feedback, I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of my students earned an A on their essay. It felt good for me to assess where they were again, and I know it felt so good for my students when I told them, “If you do this next week, you’re going to get a great score on the test.” In fact, for a handful of my students, I couldn’t even find anything for them to improve upon, as they had followed all that we learned this year to a T. Their face lit up when I told them that I thought this was the best potential work they could hand in and I had no corrections for them. (I was sensing a lot of them going home and telling their families that news, as I’m far from an easy grader!!) And, while I gave constructive feedback where I could, I think every student left my table thinking that they had improved a lot this year and that I was proud of them. My hope is that they remember that when they go to write on the state test, with confidence in their hearts 🙂

I loved grading conferences, and I’d love to hear how they go in your classroom if you try them out! Here’s the link again to my deli numbers if you think they would be useful in your classroom, whether you could use them when you try out conferencing or if you use them when working with small groups, etc. It’s a great way to teach students to be polite when you are working with other students and gives them a way to signal they need help without interrupting!

Embrace the Weird

Middle School Classroom

It’s sometimes hard to not equate teachers with that Charlie Brown monotone one. You know who I mean! The one who, at least from Charlie’s point of view, definitely didn’t seem to enjoy her job very much.

A goal of mine in blogging is to help teachers enjoy their careers. Catering to middle school teachers in this goal makes it quite easy because teaching middle school can be described best by using one word: weird. Who doesn’t enjoy a little weird?!

If you teach middle school, I know that I’m not telling you anything new about the endearing quirk that comes with the territory. And, you know what I’ve found helps middle school teachers thrive most in their careers? They embrace the weird and they have fun with it!

I love my job because I have fun with my kids!

Many teachers think that whenever they allow their students to “have fun” by getting up and moving, creating loose-expectationed projects (yes, that’s a thing!), and even throwing parties during class, that their head will explode from the kids being so wild and so SUPER weird.

Don’t be afraid of it. I’ve found the complete opposite happens. I’ve found that the more fun activities I plan for my kids, the most fun I have in the classroom, and thus, the most I enjoy my job. And, it’s really a big circle of awesomeness because when I’m enjoying my job and my students look forward to coming to my class, they learn a lot more from me in turn. I’d hope (crossing my fingers!) that none of my students equate me with Charlie Brown’s teacher!

I love to embrace the weird in my classroom. This morning was certainly no exception. Whenever my chain competition ended (you should check out the blog for my chain competition at this link: my 1st period won by 2 points! Usually I guide my students in letting them pick their own reward. I find that whenever you let the students choose, the reward ends up being way more fun and it builds up your class culture so much instead of the teacher planning it.

In order to help your middle school students plan their own reward party, first help them compile a list of themes. Themes are key for ultimate weird-good-ness for a middle school class party. In my 1st period, we came up with a bunch of ideas, and the following ideas were our top three voted for:

  • Sloth party, where we would walk and talk really s—l—o—w
  • Beach themed party where we would all dress up like we were spending the day at the beach
  • Breakfast buffet where we would bring in breakfast goodies to eat
Yes, this is a sloth print out taped on my shirt. Yes, that is a beach towel around my neck. And yes, I did actually wear this during class. The whole class, actually. 🙂

Instead of voting for the best idea, we decided to combine them. Again, I let my students decide, and I would highly suggest you do the same! Talk about ultimate weirdness–in the best way possible!

For the party, my students and I brought in juice, donuts, cookies, muffins, scones, poptarts, strawberries, nutella, waffles, a toaster, and syrup! We wore beach themed clothes, we listened to steel drums and Hawaiian music, and we walked and talked slow, like a sloth. Kids brought in beach towels to lay on, and another student printed out a bunch of sloth faces that we pinned to our outfits. Some students even danced to the beach-themed music!

You know the best part? The kids also worked on finishing their essays while we “partied!” That’s great multitasking! If you check out that Chain Competition blog I linked above, you’ll see a little explanation as to why I wasn’t worried about losing some class time with this class, anyway.

So, next time you’re looking for a fun way to bond with your students or reward them, try to embrace the weird and plan a themed party. Comment below if you have ways that you embrace the weird and have fun with your students in your very own middle school classroom. I’d love to hear them!

How Mini-Lessons Changed my Classroom

Language Arts Resources, Middle School Classroom

During much of my career so far, I’ve fit into the traditional teacher model, where the span of my unit usually fits in some way into the following setup: I deliver content up front through an example, I complete a model with my class, I let my students pair up and work on it with someone else, and then I have them try it themselves. During this last step, hopefully I can assess their learning.

The last days of this model are dreaded to me, as either one of two extremes happens: I either am bored out of my mind, begging students to ask me for help, or I am swamped with questions because my students realize at that point that they don’t quite get it yet. In this latter case, usually the questions are the same over and over again. Perhaps you’re in the same boat.

To change this, I’ve started offering Mini-Lessons in my classroom. These lessons are always review topics on something we are either practicing now or something that we’ve been building on this year that some students might still not have down yet.

You can download a copy of my mini lesson request forms at the following link on my TPT store for just $1!

As an example, my students are currently writing an essay using evidence from the text. Because many of the students are working at different spots and different paces, today I offered these two mini lessons (shown above) so that they could receive help from me in a small group. We learned the graphic organizer yesterday, and we’ve been building on that thesis statement all year. It’s interesting to see that not many needed help on the more recent thing we’ve learned–the graphic oraganizer–but more needed help on the bigger monster, AKA their thesis.

I have students sign up for the mini-lessons on my whiteboard so I can gain an understanding of what topics are needed. If one fills up the entire way, I will usually deliver more whole-class instruction on it before holding the mini-lesson. (I can guess that it might then be a fault of my own that so many students still need help.) I also always tell my students that if they didn’t originally sign up, but then decide they could use the help, they are always welcome to just join us without officially writing their name. While I deliver the mini-lesson content to the students who sign up, the rest of the class is working at their own pace, quietly.

During the mini lesson session, I usually break out small white boards that I can show the group of students examples on. The mini lessons are totally unscripted; I don’t prepare worksheets or extra work for the kids. I simply talk with them and do an informal review presentation to them, specific to their concerns.

For the lessons, we usually just sit on the floor in a circle together. I sit, too, and I like that this shows I’m down on their level and approachable. For some classes, of course, I’m not able to do this as I need to keep a better watch on some of the kids for behavior reasons. You’ll know when it’s a good idea and when it’s not. Sitting at another table so you are more elevated can eliminate any of these concerns.

So, why do I think this mini-lesson system has changed my classroom?

  1. It helps my students with their retaining skill. Middle school students in general have a short attention span, but we also need to consider our students with specific educational needs regarding attention. When you think about all of the instruction that they receive throughout the day, it’s clear that they learn A LOT and expecting all students to just pick up from where they left off the day before (AKA maybe 9 classes prior) is unrealistic and almost unfair. Some students are able to jump right in, but for some, having 5-10 minutes to review with the teacher can help them drastically.
  2. No matter how friendly or approachable you think you are, some students are still afraid to ask you questions. I’ve circulated the room over and over again and somehow missed (once for 2 days!) that one of my quieter students was stuck on something and was afraid to ask me for help or accept my help when I asked if she needed any. Because she was stuck, she was unable to complete the assignment on time. Whenever you offer specific sessions, it allows kids to just sit and process the information again. This requires very little bravery!
  3. They create “positive peer pressure” where students are able to see that they’re not the only ones who need help. There’s something cool in middle school about joining in with the group, and I love to see the “cool” thing being getting extra help from the teacher! Using the sign up’s or seeing the circle of students form makes other students want to join in. I love this!
  4. It challenges my class to think more critically. For those days or periods that I was swarmed with questions, many of my answers ended up being either questions in return (trying to get them to figure it out on their own) or helping to point them to resources that I’ve given them that could assist them in figuring it out. Whenever I’m not circulating, and instead am giving mini lessons to small groups, it seems that many of my students back at their desks rely more on themselves to solve their problems by quietly asking a neighbor or checking their binder resources instead of always defaulting to me.
  5. I feel rejuvenated enough to make dinner, hang out with my husband, and play with my dog! On a serious note, I used to come home drained from answering 500 questions in one day (many of which were the same question over and over), so much so that when my husband would ask me what was for dinner, he would either receive a frowny face or a “is there a place you can find this information?” Not cool of me. Now that I can answer questions once with a small group of students all hearing the answer, I feel like I have the energy to still be a human. And that’s honestly important.

To help enhance your mini lesson system, I also provide my students half sheets in order to let them request what they want to learn during these mini sessions. Again, this helps my quieter students have a way to get the help that they need, and it helps me assess where my classes are at. You can pick up a digital download of this on my TPT for $1 by clicking this link!

Mini lessons have changed the way independent work is completed in my classroom. I hope they help your classroom too! ❤ Mrs. Middle School

Movement in the Classroom

Language Arts Resources, Middle School Classroom

How do I get my students up and moving during instruction? How do I ensure that all of my students are engaged and learning? How do I make learning more fun?

Yesterday, I was the sub for gym class during one class period, and it opened me up to a whole new world! We played hockey, and while I’m still not completely sure that I understood the rules, I had a whistle, so I had a load of fun!

Because the kids were running, moving, talking, racing, and competing, they were so engaged in this hockey game. It blew my mind! They were all working so hard, yet having so much fun. What better way to learn! I truly believe that middle school students need to move in order to best learn. While sitting at a desk period after period can make your students easily become bored and lose focus, movement enhances their learning experience so much and makes what they are learning memorable.

While many days there might be more information that I need to get across in my classroom as compared to a gym class, my ultimate goal is to have my classroom be a space like what I saw in the gymnasium: we might get a little loud, but we laugh, we have fun, we compete, we move, and we are so engaged. I want these elements so that my students can be learning to their best potential, and I’m guessing that you do too!

There are several activities I do in my classroom to get my kids up and moving. Here are my top three favorites:

Station Rotation– Whenever I see a worksheet coming, I instead create questions on separate pages to post around my room. Because I have my students practice skills at stations so often, I have numbers posted on my walls around my classroom. This makes it easy to manage because my kids know exactly where to go when I declare that it is station time. My kids lovingly refer to this activity as “the whirlpool game” because whenever I want them to switch stations, I yell “whirlpool!” Who doesn’t love a swimming reference?! See this freebie on my TPT store, where you can download my pre-made station numbers:

Punctuation Pilates– Okay, so I know that this one is ELA-specific, but it could totally be modified for any multiple choice activity in your classroom, regardless of the subject area. In my Language Arts classroom, I wanted a fun game to get my students up and moving while practicing punctuation skills. I taught my students some “Pilates” poses that represented different punctuation marks that would be missing in the sentence. In the game, when I post a sentence on the board that is missing a punctuation mark, my students show me what mark should be inserted in the sentence by representing the mark with the pilates pose. My students were stretching, dancing, laughing, and most importantly learning! Plus, it was an easy way for me to quickly assess my students’ grammar progress and understanding without having a pile of papers to grade! I’d love for you to check out this activity on my TPT store here:

4 Corners– This fun activity is great for any subject. Many times, I allow my students to work on an assignment in their table groups. But, because I think it’s important for them to talk with other members of the classroom and get up to move, I simply count them off by 4 and then instruct them to go to the four different corners to talk with different classmates about their answers. While they might only be up and moving for a couple of minutes, those minutes are truly important and beneficial to my antsy middle school students. Whenever it’s time to bring them back together, they are always ready to re-focus since they got a break from their desk!

Movement in the classroom is so crucial to student learning. What other ways do you get your students up and moving? Share below!

How to Handle Late Work

Middle School Classroom

I open my mailbox, and out falls my electric bill onto my porch. As I pick it up, it makes me think–my students should really learn to “pay their bills” on time in my classroom. After all, I think all teachers are in education for more than just the subject that they teach. I imagine, if you’re anything like me, you’d much rather have your students remember that they’re important, that respect is of utmost value, that learning is lifelong, and that kindness and hard work can get you really far in life.

So, whenever my students used to ask me to turn in assignments late, I would usually take them, followed by saying “…but, just so you know, you’ve already lost quite a few points on this because it was due last week.”

When I would conference with parents, they’d ask how their students were doing, and I had to break it to them that their last essay score was a low C, not because they didn’t understand the concept, but because they turned it in 9 days late.

I felt proud of myself. I was teaching them responsibility, after all.

But, I was neglecting one of the most important parts of my job: encouraging students to learn (and yes, especially those students who may not have a great support system at home to check their assignments and work on homework with them, as it was mostly these students who wouldn’t do their work on time)

Plus, was it even fair that some students were nearly failing because they turned assignments in late? Aren’t grades about learning? That’s just how it always was when I was in school…

I was stuck. I wanted them to love learning and of course I wanted them to complete assignments. I didn’t get any joy out of taking letter grades off of their work for it being late, but I also pictured many hard working students up (as I would have when I was a kid) until 9:00 working on that essay after baseball practice to get work done. It just wasn’t fair. I didn’t feel like students who didn’t do their work should just get a free pass. Plus, I do believe there’s some “cost” to “not paying your bills on time.”

But, what if I let the electric bill blow away, and so I didn’t pay it… then whenever I tried to call them to pay over the phone past due, they told me that I had two options: to either not receive electricity anymore, or pay the late fee of an extreme $400.

I’d be devastated. After all, we all make mistakes, right?

As I’ve been working on the craft of teaching, I’ve found a solution to my dilemma (and maybe your’s too): a Responsibility Grade.

A responsibility grade is its own column in my grade book.

Here are the rules for my Responsibility Points:

  • Because I expect my students to be responsible, I give each student 10 points at the beginning of the marking period.
  • Students can lose points, but cannot gain them back once they are lost.
  • To keep all of their points, they must submit everything on time, have their book everyday, and complete their warm up at the beginning of class. (You, of course, could have your own rules. Regardless, I make mine about effort and the responsibility surrounding that.)
  • If a student makes a mistake once (or rarely), I usually overlook it. I try to give my students the respect I would expect.
  • If they are a repeat offender, they begin to lose points. For example, if they turn their essay in a day or two late, they would lose a responsibility point. If they forgot their book for the second day in a row, they would lose a responsibility point. I continue to take points off until the issue is resolved.
  • I don’t really “advertise” this, but, for example, if they are ten days late on handing in a project, I don’t take all of their 10 points away. Again, I try to give them the respect I’d wish for.
  • Their responsibility points go back to 10 at the beginning of the next marking period.

This has worked wonders for my classroom for several reasons.

First, it encourages my students to continue handing in late work (and thus LEARNING) because they know they can still earn 100% on whatever they are handing in. They are okay with losing some responsibility points in the separate grade column and understand the fairness of the consequence. Plus, losing a couple responsibility points doesn’t tank their grades, and keeping all 10 points for my hard workers is an extra little boost for them.

Also, whenever I am giving feedback at meetings or with parent conferences, I can now speak confidently in their actual progress and knowledge on the topics I taught them. On a similar note, if their overall grade is lower than expected because of their responsibility points, this can also be a talking point about transitioning in middle school, etc.

Lastly, whenever I include elements such as bringing their book to class or completing their warm up, it makes my students more accountable during class, too, not just outside of class. I use a LOT of positive reinforcement with my students during class, but some kids just need a little harsh reality sometimes that if they aren’t going to complete their work, they won’t be getting the credit for responsibility points today. This usually helps me with my classroom management in more extreme situations.

If you try this grading system in your classroom, comment to let me know how it goes! How else do you handle late work in your classroom?

Teachers Are Superheroes

Pep Talks & Positivity

Sometimes, there’s this hustle and bustle going on in our lives that force us to go through the motions, almost blindly.

We snooze our alarms, we let the dog out, we put the coffee on. Some days, our outfit doesn’t match. Other days, we spill our coffee on our outfit. We get stuck in traffic on our way to work, and when we arrive, we remember we don’t have copies of what we wanted for first period. We end up covering a class during our plan period, and we work with kids during our lunch. We check in with students who haven’t turned in work because we want them to succeed, we write nurse passes, and we teach our lessons over and over, perfecting them as we go. When we get a free second during study hall, we grade three and a half quizzes, and we smile because that’s three and a half less than we will have to take home over the weekend. At the end of the day, we read the eighteen emails we received throughout the day, and we respond as we can.

We love it. Truly. Teachers love to be busy, and that’s why after we respond to emails, we help lead an after-school club every Tuesday. And when we pack up our bag to go home, we turn off the lights everyday, and everyday we close the door. And then tomorrow, we do the same thing.

Again, we love it.

Some days, though, we forget that we are superheroes. Sometimes it takes a moment to catch our breaths or a moment where we’re so filled with joy that we stop to cry and realize it.

My “superhero” canvas from one sweet student!

The other day, a student made me this canvas, with my initial in the middle. And, she told me that she created it this way because it looked like a superhero.

I didn’t ask her what she meant by that, but I can tell you that I couldn’t name one of the marvel or avengers superheros; it’s not one of my hobbies by any means. Regardless of what she meant by it, it encouraged this little teacher’s heart to the point that my eyes welled up with tears.

And I stopped, and I remembered.

Because beyond the muddy dog paws on my kitchen floor, and the pile of essays I need to grade, and the long drive home I have ahead of me, and the meal I need to cook tonight, and the dishes that need done, and my clothes that need folded, and my emails that need sent…. beyond that, I made a difference.

It’s hard whenever we just go through the motions because we don’t remember that we have the opportunity to touch hundreds of little hearts everyday. In fact, we probably did just that!

Dear teacher, what you do matters. You matter. And although your day might have been hectic in every way you could define it, you made a difference in a child’s life today. You’re truly a superhero. Thanks for all that you do.

My Very Best Whole-Class Behavior Management Strategy

Middle School Classroom

There are times throughout the year when it seems like your classes just aren’t going right. You are working hard on your lessons, thinking of engaging applications, and even trying to add choice into assessments… but somehow it seems you can’t go a few minutes without your classes interrupting, being distracting, or neglecting their work. I’m guessing if you’re here, behavior in your classroom is hindering your ability to get what you need to complete.

You’re not alone. I think I can speak for middle school teachers (and all teachers) everywhere and say that we’ve been there, too.

I find that most times of the year go smoothly and that there is a pattern when these behaviors surface. Perhaps it is a lingering break (winter break, spring break, or summer) that has them all jittery. Maybe it is a busy time of the year due to field trips or fun school events. Or, if you’re me, spring fever has hit, and the kids seem to come out of their very own hibernation, hungry for a chance to push the class limits.

Instead of fighting these “seasons” we go through in our classrooms, I try to embrace it and use it to my advantage. My thought is if we can learn to transfer all of that potential negative energy into something more productive, it could go from a near-dreaded time of year to our favorite time of year.

My Solution: The Chain Competition

If you’ve been following me for some time, you’ve probably heard me mention this before. In my classroom, the chain competition is pure MAGIC.

The chain competition improves behavior and class culture by allowing students to be responsible for their own environment and encourage each other.

Rules of the Chain Competition:

  1. If the class does well that day and requires little to no correction from the teacher, they earn a chain. This even applies to individual re-direction of students.
  2. Each class can only earn one chain link a day.
  3. Chains can not be taken away for misbehavior. Once they earn it, they’ve earned it.
  4. The longest chain by (you set the date, 3-4 weeks from now) gets a prize.
  5. The prize at the end is usually some sort of fun free time for that class, such as bringing in books, games, and snacks for half of the class period.

Steps to Implement the Competition:

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  1. Post an announcement or project the announcement on the board to signal to the students that the time has arrived!
  2. Ask the students: “What are we doing well in the classroom that we should continue doing OR what do we need to improve in our classroom in order to ensure that we earn the chain?” I ALWAYS have the students reiterate the rules THEMSELVES because this is where the magic happens; when the classroom management is taken from the teacher correcting behavior to the students correcting behavior, the classroom becomes amazing. The magic happens when you allow the students to be the spokesperson for a specific quality of a happy classroom. I personally allow my students to write up on the board what they want to see happen. Then, I leave these comments up on the board as reminders to them throughout the first week or two.
  3. Add a chain when the class goes well; I tell my classes that if I can continue teaching or helping groups or working one-on-one with students and spend much less time correcting behavior or giving reminders, they win. If I have to remind them, they won’t get a chain. I tell them that reminding each other is the key.
  4. Watch the magic happen!

The above pictures are comments that my students wrote on the board this year when prompted, “What should we continue doing well OR what should we improve to make our classroom better and earn a chain everyday?”

The magic comes whenever the students can be responsible for their own behavior. I’ve seen this all-class behavior management program work really well for students who tend to behave poorly because they don’t want to be the reason the whole class misses the chain. On the other hand, many students take on leadership roles during this time because they remind students around them to get out their materials, complete their homework, stay on task, etc. It’s amazing seeing them work together as a team to build this up!

Another one of my favorite aspects of the chain competition is that if they didn’t earn a chain, I ask them what they need to improve for the next day. This part is great because I can stop lecturing them, and the kids can hear from their peers what aspects of the class want to improve.

By the end of the competition, my classes’ behavior has improved dramatically, we’ve gotten much more time to be productive, and the classroom culture has become a place where students are taking ownership for their own environment. I also don’t have a problem losing a class period (or a half of a class) as a reward for the winning class because they would have worked so much harder and saved so many minutes during the weeks of the competition that we actually have the time to do this!

You might think that your kids want to act up or want to avoid their work, but I’d argue that they actually much prefer a classroom where everyone is respectful of each other, trying their hardest, and having a positive attitude. Whenever you give them this opportunity, most of the kids truly run with it in the best way possible.

What behavior management has worked well in your classroom? I’d love if you would comment below!

While you could of course implement this chain competition yourself, I figured I’d save you some time by offering all the materials you would need on my TPT store. Check it out at this link: