Master Management Challenge #5: Plan

Today's classroom management tip focuses on what happens before you are in the classroom giving that rock star lesson you have planned. The planning stage is so often overlooked and results in frustration and stress when challenging behaviors occur. However, at this point of the year, you know your students well, and you know what will set them off. By planning you can avoid these antecedents or (if they are unavoidable) have a plan to support and encourage positive behavior when they occur.

Photo Credit: tcsenarak | Dollar Photo Club

  • Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.  Think about the child who has been pushing the limits when you plan assignments and lessons, and determine your end goal as you plan. In other words, what do you really need to know about that student's proficiency? If you are trying to assess computational fluency in 2-digit addition, for example, there is no need to push the kid to complete 20 problems if he is going to begin throwing things and yelling after 10 of them. If your goal is to truly determine what he knows, then plan accordingly. Similarly, if you know a child needs extra support, start by providing it. Don't let him or her reach frustration before you step in. Having a plan in place before the student begins engaging in challenging behavior can make it easier to stay calm in the situation. Of course, you don't use your plan unless the behavior begins just like I don't use my fire extinguisher unless their is a fire...but I still keep it in the house, just in case.    
  • Start right. Plan a few minutes to meet with that one student as he or she begins independent work. Review your expectations one-on-one, answer any questions, and stay with the child while they complete the first one or two. Many times planning this time and working to avoid other interruptions can save a ton of issues later because it ensures the student feels cared for and that they understand the material before they ever begin work. 
  • Have a backup. Knowing the skill you are trying to teach, you can easily have a backup plan in place for the student who refuses to work on a regular basis. You need a grade on something with fact and opinion, but Jane won't do it? Let her pick between the assignment everyone else is doing and another one. As we talked about above, our goal is to know she is competent in the skill. Yes, we want compliance, but we already know that is her area to grow. That being said, be sure to document if you give her a different assignment! Write "alternative assignment" at the top of the page, record it in your grade record, write a note to attach...whatever you do to keep track. This will help you immensely come conferences, report cards, and if a referral comes into play for behavior.

There are today's three tips on planning when you are working on classroom behavior management and supporting children exhibiting challenging behaviors. In this case, the ounce of prevention you are taking by planning will save you a ton of frustration later. Many times we get flustered this year with the impending tests, but by focusing on content and concept mastery, we can help build a child's stamina and cooperation. Together that will breed success.

Why a crockpot is this tired teacher's best friend

Okay, so I am not a food blogger...never have been and NEVER will be. Seriously, I cannot cook to save my life. My cookies come from a does my mac and cheese. Even my "homemade chicken and dumplings soup is from Semi-Homemade with that sweet blond chick who I can never recall her name (Sandra Lee...looked it up). All that being said, today I am going to blow your mind with the best secret for busy teachers trying to balance it all. So the secret is stolen from an old friend, don't judge me!

Image Credit: Kitch Bain | Dollar Photo Club

"I hungry!" are consistently the first two words I hear out of my two-year old after I get into the door of her day care. From that moment, it is a race against the grumpy clock if she doesn't get fed. A snack won't do...the girl needs food. NOW. My husband and I like to joke that she turns into Betty White ala the 2010 Snickers commercial.

(As I am sure you are shocked to know, Snickers in no way endorses this blog...however, I can thank them for a tasty snack while I wrote a few posts.)

I, however, just need a few minutes to regroup from the day. So you can see our problem. That's where my crock pot comes to the rescue. Pop all the ingredients in before we walk out the door to work...walk in and it is ready to go! From there I can dish up a plate for my mini-Betty White and sit down to chat about her day at school while I regroup.

Up to this point the problem has been those recipes that don't need all day...even on low. For example my very favorite, so easy that even this non-cook can't mess it up crockpot recipe is lasagna. However, this recipe only needs 3-4 hours on low. Find me a teacher that can come home at lunch and turn the crockpot on, and I will find you a million dollars from the money tree in my back yard! This meant up until recently, I have been stuck making this on the weekends. No more my friends!! A few weeks back my best friend from high school (who is also in education), put up this picture...

Yep, that's right! She uses the timer from her Christmas tree lights to start her crockpot at the perfect time so nothing overcooks. She's a total genius, right?! I was so impressed, I had to steal the idea and then ask her if it was okay to share with all of you.

So now that you know the secret (thanks again, Allison!), I am going to share my super easy, not-so-homemade crockpot lasagna recipe that I can FINALLY make on any given Tuesday.


  • 1 package of lasagna noodles
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce (I like Ragu Garden Veggie)
  • 1-2 lb of ground meat (hamburger, turkey, chicken)
  • 1 container of ricotta
  • 1 container of cottage cheese
  • 1 package of shredded cheese (whatever kind you like)


  1. Prepare your ingredients by browning the meat, draining any fat. When you finish, add the jar of sauce to the browned meat. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta and cottage cheese. 
  2. Pour 1/3 of the meat mixture into the bottom of the crock pot, and spread it to cover the bottom. 
  3. Add a layer of uncooked noodles, breaking the noodles to fit the space better. 
  4. Use 1/3 of the cheese mixture, spreading it out across the noodles. Add 1/3 of the shredded cheese on top of this.  You can top with a layer of meat or a layer of noodles, depending on your preference. 
  5. Repeat the layers until you run out of ingredients. Be sure the top layer is meat or cheese NOT noodles. 
  6. Add the remaining shredded cheese on top. Cook on low for 3-4 hours. 

That's it! It is so easy that even this non-cook cannot screw it up too badly. Plus it saves me when I get home with a grumpy girl.

Dear Helicopter Momma {An Open Letter to a Helicopter Parent}

Original image by ptnphotof on Dollar Photo Club
Dear Helicopter Momma....Yes, you over there lurking by my classroom window five minutes after school started,

First off, I want you to know I get it. Since having my children I totally understand the overwhelming, primal urge to keep anything bad from happening to them...ever. I love that you want to protect and take care of your baby. There are so many parents out there who, for whatever reason, are unable to do just that. So I start my letter to you with a kudos because I know your heart is truly in the right place...even if I wish you would let go just a little bit.

Speaking of that baby of yours, she's not so little anymore. I know, I know...she'll always be your baby. Like I said, I get it. However, it is time to let her forge out into this big, bad world a little bit on her own otherwise she may never learn how to manage it. The good news is, I am here to keep that world from getting too big or too bad when she is in my classroom. What I am saying is, it is okay to let her walk to class on her own. Sure, you can drop her off at the front door of the building. (You've only got a few more years before she starts wiping off your kisses and trying to avoid hugging you in front of friends....take advantage while you can!). However, once you get in the door, let her walk up those stairs on her own. I promise I will be there in the classroom waiting for her to arrive. Who knows, she might even make a new friend on the way!

I also want you to stop "helping" him with his homework. No, I don't mean you shouldn't look it over. I also don't mean you can't sit there and watch him do it. However, I hope you know that I wasn't born yesterday. I know your child's handwriting...I also know that he doesn't have any idea how to spell half the words he wrote in his homework....or that today's 14-page paper was 2 paragraphs when he left yesterday after he'd been working on for three weeks. I hate to break it to you but no one is fooled. I get it if you had to help him out and do the writing because it was a late night, and he was orally giving you his answer because he HAD to have a shower after soccer practice...or whatever reason. I get it. Life happens. Just be up front about it, please. There is nothing that will hurt our relationship more than me thinking you are trying to pull one over on me.

This one might be hard, Momma, but it is also time to let him start taking responsibility. From the moment he walks in my classroom door, I am telling him how capable and smart he is. I know you are doing the same thing at home. However, the difference between you and I is that I am also showing him I believe it. I know you are trying to help by bringing his homework up because he forgot it...or dropping off his lunchbox....or emailing to tell me he has the sniffles. However, all he is learning from this is that he doesn't need to be responsible. You'll do it for him....and he knows it!

Don't believe me? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he throws you under the bus when you don't pick up the pieces. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard, "Mrs. D I thought I had my homework, but my mom forgot to put it in my backpack." or "My mom was in a hurry this morning and she forgot to put my lunch in the car." Yep, it is true...your sweet baby throws you under the bus, but don't worry. I remind him that it is HIS lunch and HIS homework, and YOU have so many other things to do that he can start to take care of his own homework/lunch/shoes/etc. All I ask is that you join me in supporting him in taking on that responsibility...if for no other reason than to him to stop tattling on you!

I know that is a hard pill to swallow, so I want to make you a few promises. Hopefully it will ease your mind a little. I promise I will never let your baby starve. Sure, she might not have those Double Stuff Oreos you always pack her, and her sandwich might not have the crust cut off...but she will survive. I will send her through the lunch line and for less than $3 she will have food in her tummy...even if the money has to come from my own pocket. I will not let your baby starve. Before you start telling me about the evils of school lunch. Yes, I have seen school lunches, and sometimes they truly are not pretty. I get that you don't want her eating that stuff on a daily basis. However, SHE is probably feeling the same way, and tomorrow (when you give her the responsibility for her own lunch) she won't forget again!

Image from Kenzie Kate
I also promise that when he forgets his homework I don't send him to the dungeon...or the office...or the pits of hell. I swear I don't. Do we have a little chat about responsibility? Sure! Is there a consequence? Sometimes. But isn't that the way life works? Yes, I may take five minutes off his recess. He will survive. And while I am at it, let me let you in on a little secret. The more honest he is about his forgotten homework and the more personal responsibility he takes for the situation, the less likely I am to give that consequence. The best part is that when you let him take responsibility, next time he will double check his backpack before you leave.

Finally, I promise not to let her fall flat on her face. Failure is an important part of life...but sometimes failure shows a lack of effort. While your child may occasionally come home with a grade you consider failing (or even a grade I consider a failing), I promise that if I am worried about her academic progress I will be on the phone, sending emails, and you won't be able to get rid of me. Sometimes I give students enough reminders to show their work...or take their time...or write neatly  I finally decide to give it the grade it earned rather than hand it back again. This means the grade might not be that A you are used to seeing and expecting. Take the time to look it over and instead of emailing me immediately about how I need to change it, ask your child what SHE is going to do to fix the problem...or even what the problem is. I promise she knows. I've spoken to her about it...maybe more than once, and she is hoping you'll call ME instead of calling her on it.

Remember when you used to do all that cool stuff? You had hobbies, interests, and things you did besides being mom. You were a pretty amazing lady, and it is time to go rediscover that while your child gets the chance to grow and learn. I want to work with you. I want us to be a team, and most of all I want your child to learn and grow this year. However, in order for those things to happen, I need you to step away from my classroom door so I can start our day.

Master Management Challenge #4: Motivate

Motivation is such a key component of classroom management. Of course there are those that argue internal motivation to learn should be enough. However, the reality is that that is just not how the world we teach in works.

There are some kids who NEED the outside motivation. I think intrinsic motivation is truly a developed skill. While some kids come to your class having already built that, others have not. It is your job to find a system that will help them develop it, but you also have to start the process from where they are. (Just because multiplication of two-digit numbers is in your standards doesn't mean you start there if a kid can't add, right?)

  • Do it with Class- Set up a class-wide system. In my room, the students can earn extra MadLib minutes when they've earned 100 compliments. After observing some colleagues using this strategy, I got myself a jumbo sized hundreds chart and started marking off boxes one at a time whenever the kids did something great. You can set up the "how" of the compliment system based on what you want, but the basic premise was a compliment from an outside source (anyone but me) was worth way more than a compliment I give. Therefore, behavior in the halls or when guests came was always in check. 
  • One-Size Does NOT Fit All- One of the biggest mistake new teachers make is thinking that equal is fair. Yes, 85% (or more) of the kids will have wonderful behavior with just the normal discussion and review of your expectations and classroom rules. Another chunk will have a little trouble but will keep it together because you've set up a good system to reward positive choices (like the one I described above). Then there are a few kids who just need their own thing. These are the kids that your other systems just won't work for. I bet you can already think of the kid in your class who matches that description, right? The one-size system isn't working for him (or her)! Take some time to think about what would work. Does the child need more movement? Maybe a new space...or opportunity to switch locations to work? Try to set up an individualized system that will fit that child's needs. For those kids who are really struggling, you might even need to set up a reward system. 
  • Make it Good!- There are some times you just have to transition to extrinsic motivation. I know, I know...I said it. When those kids do come around (and I believe they will, even if they don't end up in your classroom this year or the next), you need to gather some data before you start rewarding them. What do I mean? Brainstorm a list with the student about things they would find rewarding by focusing on things they would like the opportunity to EARN for their choices. When they've come up with about five things, have them rank the things. Place the highest value on the thing they most want, and work your way down. In other words, don't give away the milk for free! There is no reason to buy in to the benefits of making good choices if I can manipulate the situation to do the right thing for two minutes and still get what I want. (And yes, once a student buys in, I do believe you can transition toward more intrinsic motivators.) 

Using Pictures to Save Your Struggling Readers

You have the perfect mini-lesson planned. You've picked a great text, and you are totally going to rock this lesson. However, as soon as the students go to practice, you are stuck juggling 20 different readers all at different stages. In fact, some of your students may never even get to practicing the skill you just taught so well because reading difficulties get in their way. What's a teacher to do?

Image Credit: Death to Stock Photo

Here are a few reasons using pictures is the perfect way to teach reading skills.

  • It takes reading level out of the equation.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had an issue where my low readers aren't able to truly do the skill we are working on with a text that is level appropriate. However, when I transition to pictures as part of my reading lesson, the students can focus on developing the actual skill. Instead of being lost in the vocabulary or their accuracy preventing them from understanding how to craft a main idea, they can focus on just crafting a main idea. This prevents them from falling even further behind. 
  • It encourages participation. We've all had those struggling readers who try to hide out in the corner during reading and avoid eye contact. No matter how much we scaffold or praise, they avoid participating in reading because they don't feel confident. Using pictures lets these students build their confidence because they don't have to actually read to be participating in building their reading skills. 
  • It helps break down language barriers. Pictures are often one of the key focus areas for ESL instruction. This just takes it to another level. When kids are see an image instead of getting lost in the phonics and other basic reading skills, they can build their vocabulary while building reading skills. 
  • It's fun! So many low readers have lost their interest in reading. They know it is hard, and they don't want to do it. In fact, some of them have even perfected the art of reading avoidance. This, unfortunately, spirals because (as we all know) students who read become better readers and those who don't...well, they don't. Using pictures makes the process of learning those important comprehension skills fun. Kids forget (or don't realize...I'll take either one!) that they are working on reading when they using photos. 

In my room, I've used pictures as both a daily warm-up activity and as centers. I would pick a photo of the week and would use it to practice a ton of critical skills in reading. I started off easy on Mondays, where students only had to observe the photo and document what they noticed. From there they transitioned into thinking beyond the image- inferring, developing questions, and creating a 10 word main idea sentence. Since I did assessment and catch up on Fridays, the students would get a writing prompt that related to the image, allowing students to quick write independently while I pulled students.

After a few weeks, I discovered that even my lower readers were better able to apply these skills to text. They weren't trying to learn to read and learn the comprehension skill at the same time. They'd built their comprehension toolbox in advance. Want to see more? Click here to get a week to test out in your classroom or click the image below to get a pack of 20 ready-to-use picture prompts.

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