Making Time for Social & Emotional Learning and The Common Core


Many teachers feel that the standards and the tests associated with them are taking so much time that there is no time for social and emotional learning. This is upsetting, especially given the fact that numerous studies have identified social skills among the most important factors in a child’s academic success. Only with a safe and trusting environment can a child do his or her best learning. If we know this to be true, then where are the social and emotional skills listed in the common core state standards? Are these fundamental skills really missing from the standards?

The fact is, that although they may not be explicitly named, these skills are in fact very present in the standards. If you look closely at the standards you will find that many of the social and emotional skills such as possessing perseverance, optimism and being able to cooperate are imbedded in both math and language arts standards. Being simply imbedded and not explicitly taught however, has me concerned. It leads me to wonder whether or not the creators of the common core made some assumptions about what kids understand and what they are capable of in regards to social skills.

Teaching kids explicitly how to persevere, possess a positive growth mindset, focus attention, regulate emotions and more are all essential in today’s classroom, now more than ever. It is important not to assume that students will acquire these skills by merely mentioning them and it is not enough to simply model and define these skills. Kids need to practice these skills on a regular basis. Without dedicating time and effort in helping to instill these skills, we are setting kinds up for failure especially when we are asking them to perform at such high levels and with such rigorous standards. Social and emotional skills are fundamental in helping kids achieve success.

The standards alone will not facilitate the growth we need in education. No regulated accountability such as CCSS can take the place of a teacher’s passion and enthusiasm for what they are teaching. Passion, attitude and enthusiasm is what separates the good teachers from the great teachers and it’s these great teachers who think beyond the standards. They don’t want their students to simply be able to pass the test, they want their students to love learning, be confident and reach their highest potential in the classroom and beyond. The way I see it, the only way to make this happen is to support and encourage kids to develop their skills socially and emotionally as well as academically.

*For mini lessons on how to teach social and emotional skills quickly and efficiently see my Classroom Conversations resource on Teachers Pay Teachers.


Five Habits I Believe Define Effective Teaching


Five Habits That I Believe Define Effective Teaching

I consider teaching a passion and truly feel that if you do something you love, it will never feel like work. I remember when I first started teaching, ten years ago, I would accumulate countless teaching concepts from books and professional development courses. I was enthusiastic, motivated to learn and eager to try out new ideas. I am still like this today. However, instead of simply following the latest trend or trying a new teaching strategy simply for the sake of “trying something new.” I base my instructional decisions on two key elements. First, I ask myself what do I know to be true from experience? Second, I consider research based evidence on how students learn best? Answering these two questions has helped me to compose five habits I believe define effective teaching. These habits are:

Encourage and Inspire

As Socrates said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” I believe that this is true even today, thousands of years later. Instead of standing in front of a class and preaching information, effective teachers know when to step off the podium. Being skilled at facilitating student interactions and providing time for metacognition is critical to preparing students to meet the highly cognitive demands of the twenty-first-century.

Provide Clarity

When teaching anything, whether it is a new unit of study or a new procedure it is important to be clear with what is expected. Students need to know exactly what the criteria is for achieving success. Providing a purpose, models, examples and a clear definition of the desired end result characterizes a well prepared lesson. My Manageable Modeling Lesson is a great example of providing clear examples for students.

Provide Feedback

Feedback is what keeps students steadily moving forward with their learning. How will students know if they are making progress if teachers do not provide feedback? Along with whole class feedback, teachers need to find ways to confer individually with students. This can be challenging especially with a class of twenty plus students demanding teacher attention. It is possible, however, with strategies such as Praise, Polish & Press.

Give Regular Formative Assessments

One of the only ways to know for sure if students are ready to advance is to collect accurate and effective formative assessments. Formulating assessments that are directly linked to lesson goals should be frequent and utilized as a tool for guiding instruction. Without a clear understanding of what students know, how can teachers plan what to teach?

Collaborate With Colleagues

Sharing tricks and tips with colleagues is one thing, however the best way to improve student achievement in a school is to foster a culture of sharing and collaboration among teachers. For the past five years I have had the privilege of working at a school where the entire staff was immersed in the same ambitious professional development. I have witnessed first had the positive effects on student achievement when teachers come together with a unified vision and collaborate as a team.

Effective teachers exhibit all five of these behaviors. They manage their classroom by utilizing what they know from experience and combine that with compelling research. There is, however, one more factor. No habit or approach can take the place of a teacher’s passion for what they are teaching. It is passion and enthusiasm that separates the good teachers from the great teachers. Great teachers want their students not only to be able to pass the test, they want their students to love learning, be confident and reach their highest potential in the classroom and beyond.




5 Tips for Success in Math


Today’s math students are expected to not just solve problems but to explain themselves, the meaning of a problem and the steps they took to come up with solutions. Students are asked to make conjectures, spot relationships and patterns they see between problems and much more. Gone are the days of rote memorization of math facts. In today’s classrooms you will find students decomposing numbers, engaging in mathematical discourse and looking at different entry points to find solutions to problems. While for many of us this “new” math feels foreign, it is important to remember that educators today are learning more and more about how students learn mathematics. The instructional actions that teachers are taking in today’s classrooms are directly aligned with the research-based elements of effective classrooms and how students learn mathematics. Here are some easy steps you can take today to help you child be successful in math.

1. Think Before You Solve

Before jumping in to solve a problem take a few minutes to think and talk about what you know about the problem. Here is a Think Before Solving lesson plan template that explains how I do this in the classroom.

2. Ask Questions

The kinds of questions we ask matter. Teachers and parents can use questioning to assess understanding, intervene when focusing is needed or press for deeper understanding. Here is a Questioning Quick Reverence  sheet with examples of the different kinds of questions to ask when helping students solve math problems.

3. Make Use of  Math Properties

The properties of mathematics are the rules of math. They can help students to give good reasons for arguing for or against a solution. Here is a PowerPoint defining the properties of mathematics that elementary students will use in solving problems.

4. Learn to Think Like a Mathematician

Mathematical understanding will improve if we foster students’ habitual use of these mathematical thinking routines. We call them Habits-of-Mind. I teach students that these are the habits that mathematicians use every time they do math. .

5. Learn to Act Like a Mathematician

Mathematical understanding will improve in a class where inquiry, wrong answers, perseverance and collaborating with others provides opportunities for all students to learn. This is the reason that positive student-to-student interactions are encouraged and students practice how to work together on solving problems. In our classroom they are called the Habits-of-Interaction.