Tips for New Teachers!

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 10.05.20 PM

When I read the article “New Teacher Tips” (click on the link to read it), I was brought back in time to quite a few years ago. Being a new teacher was exciting, anxiety-producing, and fulfilling. I still get butterflies in my stomach on the first day of each new school year. Otis Kriegel presents ten tips for brand new teachers. Number 10 is especially valuable: Collect many mentors! The advice of my mentors will always stick with me. I can hear their voices in the following advice:

* You can do anything for a year! (SO TRUE!)

* Some lessons just don’t work. Try something different tomorrow, don’t get discouraged.

* You may not like a kid, but you still need to love him.

* Once a child is in your class, he/she will be your kid for the rest of his/her life.

* Don’t go to the teacher’s lounge–the negative talk will bring you down.

Here is my advice: ALWAYS greet your students at your door as often as you can. It makes a difference.

What is your best advice for new teachers? 

Public Boarding Schools as an Intervention for Students Living in Poverty?

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 9.51.31 AM


Click on the link above to read an article about how poverty affects a child’s probability of becoming a drop-out.

“That’s why an idea out of Jefferson County, Ky., to make public boarding schools, seems interesting. The county is studying a plan to create two schools, one for each sex, that would pool together at-risk children with academic promise. That plan is still in the earliest stages, but if realized, it could remove a lot of the barriers described in the Attendance Works policy briefing. The cost—currently estimated to add at least $12,000 per student—makes a scaling-up seem difficult, but it would provide a good starting point for similar ventures if successful. It might not be Hogwarts, but it can be a home.”

What do you think about Jefferson County’s idea to create public boarding schools? 

Sometimes I Am the Most Hated Person at School

graduateI admit it. Sometimes I am the most hated person at school… but let me explain. I am the attendance dean at an alternative high school and middle school. Most students who come to us do so because they are behind on credits due to failed courses. They may also have issues such as drugs, alcohol, emotional disorders, violent behavior, teen pregnancy, and excessive absences. My job is to keep these students in school. That means I am fighting an uphill battle with students who already don’t want to be at school. Attendance is one of the biggest factors that impacts student achievement, and I do not take my job lightly.

This past year I implemented strategies to help improve attendance at our school:

  1.  I attend every new student orientation and meet with the students and parents. During this orientation I explain the attendance expectations, consequences for lack of attendance, and stress the importance of us acting like a team.
  2.  Students are placed on attendance contracts. If they break their contract, they must face the consequences. There is no one-size-fits-all, the interventions must be customized for each student.
  3. If a parent does not call the absence in by mid-day, I call the parent. I always explain that it’s not to harass the parent, but instead to find out if the student is okay. If a student is truant, I want the parent to know as early as possible.
  4. I meet with parents and students regularly. Both students and parents have my direct phone number. This is especially important for non-English speaking parents. These parents do not typically feel comfortable calling the attendance line because they feel self-conscious. If they call me, they know I will make it an easy experience by using our language line. They know that I will call back and meet with a moment’s notice.
  5. I follow-through. If I say I am going to do something, I do.
  6. I travel to all classrooms with my PowerPoint about attendance policies. I answer questions and I explain the expectations. If a student doesn’t understand the rule, how can they follow it?
  7.  I communicate with all staff. One student may  sleep in because he just doesn’t want to come. Another might have been up until 5 AM working and then overslept because he’s exhausted from working 30 hours a week and going to school. Each student has a different story.
  8. Students who have perfect attendance for one week, receive an award. Their photos hang on the wall next to my office. Their names are announced every Monday.
  9. If a student needs to talk, I just let them. It’s okay if a meeting that should only take one minute ends up being a 45-minute conversation. These students have a lot to say.
  10.  I know EVERY student’s name. I say “hello” and “good morning” every day to each student I see. I think EVERY teacher, EVERY staff member should  greet EVERY student they see. When students feel they are loved, cared about, and missed, they are more likely to want to come back.

I consider it a personal victory when I see changes. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a team. We celebrate progress with high-fives and squeals. Our truancy has decreased. Instead of students thinking they are going to be late to school, so why bother going at all? – We have students who now think, “I’m going to be late to school but I gotta’ hurry up!” Parents call and check that their child is at school. Staff members ask questions about why students are absent and how they can help the students.

Is every student in school everyday? Nope, but we celebrate the small victories.

The other day I asked a student how he was doing. “Truthfully,” he said, “I wasn’t going to come to school today. But then I realized if I didn’t show up you’d call so I figured I might as well just come.” I said that it made me happy he came and it was okay if he hated me for making him come to school. “That’s okay,” he said, “I know you’re just trying to get me here so I can finish and get my diploma.”

Baby steps. It’s okay if they hate me, just as long as they walk across the stage and get that diploma.

What strategies do you use to help students with attendance problems?

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-

What’s Life Like for an At-Risk Youth?

asleep at desk

-Tracy DeTomasi

I remember being 15 and in high school. I grew up in a small, rural, White Christian town in the Midwest.  My parents had been married for almost 30 years by the time I graduated high school… as had most of my friends’ parents.  My dad made sure I valued education because he dropped out when he was 15 and never finished.  My mom never went to college and wanted to be certain that I received the grades to go to any university I wanted.  I thought the hardest thing in my life during high school was the fact that my farmer parents raised me to be a tomboy so I wasn’t the girly girl who boys wanted to date.

I ended up becoming a social worker. I’ve worked with at-risk youth in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Seattle, and Chicago–mainly in residential settings where I became a pseudo parent and educator. I have been inspired by the stories they have told me about their educational experiences. I believe the most important stories to understand are those that many minimally privileged people don’t typically think of.

This is what they taught me… imagine going to school when you haven’t eaten in 3 days and the last meal you had was pulled from the garbage. Your mother and her current boyfriend have been on a weeklong bender and hit you when you came home so you chose that it’s safer to be on the streets than at home. You aren’t sure where you are going to stay each night or if it will be safe once you find a place. You worry about getting shot in a drive-by or getting jumped by gang members to and from school because that has happened to at least 10 of your closest friends.  Now, imagine having that experience and actually making it to school. Imagine having other kids bully you because you smell since you haven’t had a shower or a place to wash your clothes.  Imagine the teachers yelling at you because you fell asleep in class again, although it’s the first time you’ve felt safe enough to close your eyes. Imagine getting in trouble when you yell at someone although you mainly just snapped because you are hungry and tired and mad at your mom. Imagine not being able to put words to what you have experienced or being too scared that if you tell, you will get hit harder, might get shot, or might not have a couch to sleep on.

This is a common experience for an at-risk youth. While I grew up in a family privileged enough that I thought school was a need, working with at-risk youth made me quickly realize that education is a privilege, not a basic need. A basic need is housing, food, safety, and love.  Understand that most youths that experience situations like these don’t have the words to speak about them or understand that this is an experience they do not deserve.

–Tracy DeTomasi is a social worker with more than 10 years of experience. She is passionate about helping at-risk youths and provides a unique perspective about how to help these youths flourish. We hope to see more of her insight in our blogs (hint, hint).  

Is Your School an Effective School?

Man and Child Having fun in the park.

The basic belief of the Effective Schools Movement is that all students can learn, regardless of socioeconomic status or race. Schools are in control of enough variables to increase and sustain student achievement (Lezotte, 1991). The all students can learn movement depends on seven different correlates working interdependently to improve student achievement, including:

  • frequent and continuous monitoring of data
  • strong instructional leadership
  • a culture of high expectations
  • a safe and orderly environment
  • a clear and focused mission
  • opportunity to learn and time on task
  • positive home-school relationships

In my own school, the mission is very closely aligned with the Correlates of Effective Schools: All students can learn. All means all! In my current position as the attendance dean at an alternative middle and high school, I place heavy importance on creating positive home-school relationships. It always seems as though teachers are hesitant to contact parents. It can be especially intimidating when it’s necessary to use language line to help translate for non-English speaking parents. Parents are our greatest allies! They want to work as a team to get their child the best education possible. Through this blog I will often explore strategies for developing positive  home-school relationships. I hope you will contribute ideas that you have found to be successful.

Is your school doing everything it can to ensure that these correlates are met? Which correlate do you find is especially difficult for schools to improve upon? 

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-


Lezotte, L. (1991). Revolutionary and evolutionary: The effective schools movement. Okemos, MI: Effective Schools, Ltd. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/edutopia.org-closing-achievement-gap-lezotte-article.pdf

Happy Belated Birthday, Roald Dahl!


The article link  below highlights 11 incredible lessons Roald Dahl taught us through his characters and their actions. I couldn’t agree more! But, I would like to add one more lesson: Mr. Dahl taught me that it was okay to read books that are ridiculously silly and full of characters that are nonsensical, cuckoo, ludicrous, and unforgettable. Here’s what else I learned:

  • I yearn to try lickable wallpaper
  • flying across the atlantic ocean in a peach is a superior form of transportation
  • parents need to be taught a lesson
  • witches have no toes
  • if I can’t travel in a peach, a glass elevator will be just as fun
  • even bone-crunching giants can be friendly

What’s your favorite Roald Dahl book? Who’s your favorite character? 




Restoring the Reputation of Vocabulary Instruction


-Karen Feils

The topic of vocabulary, particularly in the 7-12 grade levels, brings more groans than cheers every year.  Some students may tend to view it as a mundane task with minimal relevancy.  Some teachers may view it as a necessity, but some may not even be sure how to make it relevant for the student.  It’s the way they were taught, so they proceed with the practice to check it off the lengthy list of must-haves.

I am here to offer anecdotal solutions, which could boost the collective vocabulary reputation for all involved!
Random Reoccurrence
In my classroom experiences, I have had significant success when vocabulary isn’t relegated to the great trash can in their brains the minute the quiz is turned in.  After week 1 of any vocabulary program, I add a section on my quizzes, and a section in their practice for randomly reoccurring vocabulary words.  This way, the students know that the vocabulary words aren’t going to just “go away” and they are encouraged to retain them.  As the year progresses, the bank of possible vocabulary words up for random reoccurrence grows.
Discovery and Definition
Another classroom practice is the discovery and definition method!  In this method, students earn “points” when they discover and define past vocabulary words in current work.  They can redeem points in any way you see fit, but some common ways are to apply them to future quizzes, or to redeem them for privileges.
We would love to allow this to be a forum for your ideas too!  Share away and let’s build a community of educators who want to restore the reputation of vocabulary!!!
—-Karen Feils  http://effectivek12schools.com—-

What Traits Does an Effective Leader Need?

Apple on DeskA leader who challenges the status quo must seek innovative ideas for improving the school and take risks despite the threat of failure (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). Challenging the status quo is necessary for positive change (Marzano, 2006). Humility and learning from one’s mistakes are essential characteristics of an effective principal. These traits are especially important when a responsible risk fails. A strong principal positively impacts all aspects of the school.

There are other characteristics that may help the principal be an effective leader:

  • being flexible
  • thinking on one’s feet
  • listening genuinely to others ideas and feelings
  • inspiring others to join the mission
  • exhibiting trustworthiness

What other characteristics do you think are necessary for an effective principal? 

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-


Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Available from http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Challenge-Extraordinary-Things-Organizations/dp/0470651725/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345057723&sr=1-2&keywords=the+leadership+challenge

Marzano, R. (2006, April). What Works in Schools. Speech presented at School Improvement Conference Michigan Department of Education, Lansing, MI. Retrieved from http://michigan.gov/documents/What_Works_in_Schools_Marzano_cover__handouts_157021_7.pdf

When Was the Last Time You Invited Parents to School?

parents kissing cheek

Student achievement is higher when families are involved in their child’s education, yet a lack of parental involvement is often cited as a reason for student failure (Dray & Wisneski, 2011). This often stems from the interpretation of parental involvement between schools and families (Ivey, 2011). Furthermore, a disconnect exists between the team approach of American schools in which parents work with the teachers versus cultures that hold educators in high esteem and then allow the teacher to take the lead in learning experiences. 

This disconnect is especially significant at the secondary levels. The transition from middle to high school is critical because of the decreased level of support offered by teachers, the difference in attendance and graduation requirements, and the addition of new rules (Lys, 2009). Additionally, the high school culture is not always explained to parents in  multiple languages, resulting in decreased parental involvement, increased failure, and higher dropout rates. When families are not aware of the change in expectations, high schools can seem like an intimidating place.

Ivey (2011) advises schools to implement the following strategies to increase parental involvement: (a) outreach through telephone calls and home visits; (b) invitations to volunteer with clear explanations about the benefits and expectations of that role; (c) representation of various cultures in the curriculum and classroom; (d) opportunities for parents to help their child and connect with the curriculum at literacy and math events or other informational nights; (e) the offering of adult ESL classes. At the secondary level, schools should implement effective middle to high school transition programs such as summer activities, tours, and teacher articulation (Lys, 2009). Most importantly, reaching out to families to strengthen these relationships starts with the simple action of inviting families to participate (Ivey, 2011).

What strategies does your school use to communicate to families the desire to work together as a team to ensure the success of all children?

—-Stephanie Scott  http://effectivek12schools.com—-


Dray, B. & Wisneski, D. (2011). Mindful reflection as a process for developing culturally responsive practices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(1), 28-36. Retrieved from http://sehd.ucdenver.edu/update/files/2011/09/Dray-Article-2011.pdf

Ivey, P. (2011). Overcoming language and cultural barriers in school: Hispanic students acquire success in elementary schools. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Dominican University of California, California. Retrieved from: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED519664.pdf

Lys, D. (2009). Supporting high school graduation aspirations among Latino middle school students. Research in Middle Level Education, 33(3), 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.amle.org/Publications/RMLEOnline/Articles/Vol33No3/tabid/2095/Default.aspx