Halfway There! It’s a Great Time to Reset Your Classroom Environment

Congratulations! You made it to the halfway point of the school year!

Mr. Myers from Howe School of Excellence greets a student before class starts. It's a small routines like this that contribute to a caring and productive classroom environment.

Mr. Myers from Howe School of Excellence greets a student before class starts. It’s a small routines like this that contribute to a caring and productive classroom environment.

Athletic coaches will often use this halftime opportunity to look back at the first half and give advice for how to improve coming out of the locker room. As a teacher going back into the classroom for a new semester, there are so many aspects where I could coach someone who is looking to flip a bad first half. 

How do you get the most out of this new semester? I have found that focusing on building a better classroom environment is the one area which enjoys the most benefit from the least amount of effort.

It’s so important to build positive trusting relationships with your students, and it’s even a component in the Chicago Framework for Teaching. Domain 2a is specifically about creating an environment of respect and rapport in the classroom.

So how does a new teacher go about building these positive, trusting relationships?   Read more

Planning engageNY Math: Tips to Remix, Part 2

In case you missed it, you can read the first half of this blog here

Now that we have an understanding of the standard by doing the math and identifying the standard (see Part I), we are ready to move onto the remaining steps in the lesson planning process:



media-blogtwo2Step 3: Review the End Goal

Before customizing the lesson, I want to calibrate the level of rigor I am seeing on a variety of A.APR.1 assessment items. There are no questions on the Mid or End of Module Assessment directly related to this lesson, so we will look at the Exit Ticket, an item from the Regents Exam, and a non-calculator and calculator item from the Fall 2017 PSAT.

  • Exit Ticket:


In the exit ticket, students are asked if the sum of three polynomials will produce a polynomial. In the Teacher’s Lesson, the answer to this question is “yes”, but does this really demonstrate understanding? Read more

Planning engageNY Math: Tips to Remix, Part 1

The EngageNY Lessons for Mathematics grades 6-11 are an excellent interpretation of the Common Core State Standards and the Standards for Mathematical Practice. But often the lessons are dense, progress in complexity too quickly, or assume [a lot!] of prior knowledge.

So how do you customize the lesson to make it accessible for students without compromising the rigor?

In this two-part blog, I will share a lesson planning process that has helped me to remix lessons to make them a hit for teachers and students alike.

Below is an overview of the process. Part 1 will cover the first two steps, and Part 2 will cover the remaining three steps.

media-20180104 Read more

Introduction the Next Generation Science Standards: 4 Things to Know

Happy 2015! It’s that time again–time to make your New Year’s resolutions. If you are a K-12 teacher and have not yet familiarized yourself with the new science standards then this blog’s for you! To help you get acquainted with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), here are 4 things to know…

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Join the Theme Team: Making DBQ Work in Middle School

lucassmithFor me, DBQ has been the best way for me to blend my reading and writing instruction.  In the past, I was never really very good with my writing instruction, but after learning and using DBQ I felt like the students began writing about what they read in a very natural way.  It made the “instruction” part of the lessons very easy and seamless and my students didn’t even realize they were in “writing class.”  In fact, having a separate reading/writing class disappeared all together and it became a fully integrated “Literacy” class.

I appreciate the structure of DBQ: short texts that speak to a larger essential question which are followed by comprehension questions that connect the texts to that essential question. When I couple this structure with Think-Write-Pair-Share, the writing component felt so organic for them and their ability to express their “academic thoughts” became simple.

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Classroom D.I.Y. #6: The Winner of Best Way to Beat the Winter Classroom Slump is…Joy Factor!!!

Or as John Travolta would say, “Jadele Fazeem.”


Jerry Taft says more snow is on its way but who cares, right!  Spending what feels like three fourths of the year in one, very cold, very long season isn’t all that draining on one’s physical and mental health, right!  Right?!?

Well, maybe not for people who have the right “gear” to weather it!

This installment of the DIY blog will give you tips and strategies to employ Joy Factor in your classroom tomorrow to get things moving and feeling like Spring has sprung.

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Classroom D.I.Y. #5: The 4 R’s for a Successful Re-Entry from Winter Break

welcomebackWinter break is over.

For most of you, because you got some time to unplug, relax and enjoy yourself, you are feeling something called rejuvenation.  It might seem a little foreign but trust me, it’s real – take advantage of it! This is always a good resource as you return to one of the hardest professional gigs out there.

Chances are you are also feeling something we coaches call “the pit.”  The pit is that mishmash of emotions that sits in a ball at the bottom of your stomach and makes you feel excited and a little queasy at the same time.

In order to help you regulate the pit and capitalize on your rejuvenation, here is some well-tested and highly effective advice from Shondele Gillens, one of our senior coaches: Read more

School Suspensions: Supporting Students During a Challenging Time

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou


In a 2013 study, the Civil Rights Project estimated that more than two million students were suspended during the 2009-2010 academic year.

This means that if you are reading this blog, one of your students probably has been or will be suspended from school.  Whether the suspension relates to your classroom or an issue beyond it, you’ll have to decide how to relate to the student involved.

How will the student be welcomed back into your class? How will your relationship with that student move forward in a productive, positive way?  Read more

Classroom DIY #2: Motivating Your Students: Incentive Systems You Can Start Tomorrow


You have successfully navigated your way through the first two weeks of school!  You are probably steadily progressing toward the solid establishment of your routines and procedures while simultaneously carving out more and more time for robust instruction.

As you prepare to keep your momentum going in that direction, this month’s DIY Blog has a few ideas for incentive systems that can help motivate students to actively contribute to the cultivation of a strong learning environment.

Incentive systems complement your hierarchy system.  They are meant to recognize and reinforce students for positively participating in your class yet also allow students who are, shall we say, over-participating in the hierarchy system, to re-engage and participate in your classroom in a productive way.  Your incentive system is also a concrete way to motivate and normalize the positive behavior in your classroom.

Here are three field-tested incentive systems with some details to help you decide which is ideal for your classroom.

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Classroom DIY #1: Upping your Classroom “Warm & Welcome” Factor

This is the first post in a series called “Classroom DIY”. Tune in monthly for more like this!

So, you’re looking at the AUSL Classroom Environment Checklist thinking, “What?! Window dressings, lamps, plants, and additional decorative items that provide a warm and welcoming classroom feel? What does that mean?”

Absolutely! What does it mean? You are not the first to ask that question.  We often hear this as we are helping excited, yet overwhelmed teachers prepare their classrooms for the first day. They get to this component of the checklist and freeze up.

We are going to help you avoid the freeze-up by tackling this mysterious part of the checklist head on.  The following will unlock the secrets and provide you with cost-effective, relatively easy ideas that scream, “I know how to make this space welcoming!”

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