Teaching beyond the curriculum

If you’re a teacher – you already know that teaching is more than Math, Reading, Writing, Science, and Social Studies. If you’re an elementary teacher – you probably already know that what your students will remember you for, is definitely more than the fact that you taught them to read/count.

I teach in a Title 1 school – our students struggle with more than the curriculum. Yes – I think it is very important that we teach the curriculum and hold our students to high standards to help them succeed in their educational journeys.

However, I also think it is vital that we teach them emotional intelligence, how to be a friend, and resilience/growth mindset/grit.

If you struggle to find the time – or engaging ways to teach these things – I have some resources for you! We used these resources for a summer school program we did that focused on these things. I used 2 of these resources last year with my class and they LOVED them!! I was able to meet and learn from the authors of two of these resources at a conference for teachers of at-risk youth (NAREN = national at risk education network).

Here they are!

Rhythm to Recovery

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This book is amazing for building/developing emotional intelligence and self awareness. It is a program that is used with children/students in Australia. This book includes activities that can be used in a drum circle, using music and movement to help students feel empowered and have fun while developing emotionally. Simon has used this, and similar programs, with a variety of groups.

Many students in Title 1 schools are living with trauma – because of their environments. Our school is working on becoming a trauma-sensitive school. This program is definitely something I am excited to incorporate into my classroom.

Over the summer we used the desks as drums – but I have collected old water drums so that I have a class set of “drums” to use. Our music teacher also worked with students to create their own drums which they took home (they used old coffee tins/cans, cat litter tubs, etc)

Who is it geared towards?

  • Upper elementary grades, middle, and high school

When could you embed/incorporate this?

  • Talk to your music teacher about using this as part of their curriculum
  • Have a drum circle once/twice a week for morning meeting
  • You could run an after school program using this resource
  • If you have a behavior specialist or someone who works with social groups – share the resource with them
  • The activity and discussion doesn’t have to be long – could be done in 10 – 15 mins

Why use these activities?

  • They provide a fun and engaging way to discuss emotions and self-awareness with students
  • Here is an excerpt from the website: “Rhythm2Recovery programs utilize the latest neuroscience on the use of rhythmic exercise as a therapeutic medium for supporting people with emotional disorders. Primal brain structures that regulate the ‘stress response’ can be positively impacted through rhythmic input and assist people gain control over their emotions, reduce anxiety levels and increase well-being.” 

Mindsets in the Classroom

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These books are perfect if you teach growth mindset and/or grit. There are many activities, and resources that help students not only understand what growth mindset is, but why it works. There are hands on activities to help students make sense of some of the more abstract ideas; such as neural connections.

There are also resources for parents and ideas on sharing growth mindset beyond the classroom.

Who is it geared towards?

  • Elementary grades (could be easily adapted for Middle School)

When could you embed/incorporate this?

  • Morning meeting a couple of times a month could be used to introduce concepts, but can be referenced throughout the school day

Why use these activities/this book?

  • Teaching students what growth mindset is great, and teaching them phrases that help them build that mindset is great too – however, this book digs deeper than that.
  • The activities are fun and student friendly
  • The book includes book lists, videos, and games that help develop growth mindset

Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence

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This book is amazing for incorporating fun team building activities that also promote emotional intelligence. Each activity comes with a specific lesson purpose – and discussion questions to help students make the connection between the activity and their lives. It is a little pricey, but there are enough activities to get you through the whole school year.

Scott has some free activities available on his website.



Who is it geared towards

  • All grade levels (most suited to intermediate grades)

When could you embed/incorporate this?

  • The activities range in duration – and can be used during transitions, or morning meeting activities.
  • Students may even be willing to engage in some of the activities during recess
  • These can even be used with staff to build school culture

Why use these activities?

  • They foster an effective learning community
  • If students feel like they are a part of a community – they are more likely to take risks during the school day.
  • Peer support is essential for students to be in the right state for learning to take place.
  • The activities don’t feel like team building games – which some older students (and teachers) may be resistant to


What resources do you use to teach beyond the curriculum?

I’d love to hear from you!

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One Thing You Can Do Today To Instill Independence In Your Students

There is one thing, as a fourth grade teacher, that frustrates me more than most things.

I’m sure I’m not the only one…please tell me I’m not the only one….

I try to be patient… I really do….

The one thing that frustrates me the most is students’ inability to read & then follow directions.

It’s not the challenge of actually reading/comprehending the directions… although I do know that sometimes that’s what the issue is… as well as language barriers…. but in general… when the directions are right there…. and they still ask those silly questions….  you know the ones…

Anyway… reading deficiencies and language barriers aside, here is something I implement in my classroom to help instill and reinforce both students’ direction reading and independence.

My Morning Routine:

  • Before students arrive I put on music, turn on the SMARTboard, open up my morning SMARTboard, and turn my lamps on…
  • Students walk in and I greet them (I greet every single student – sometimes I take grading with me to the door, but for the first few months I am always standing at the door ready to greet each student)
  • They unpack & check the SMARTboard (you could use an easel/whiteboard)
    • On the SMARTboard I put a welcome message, directions for everything they need to do during breakfast, and any important announcements for the day
    • I use student friendly vocabulary, for primary grades or ELL students, you could include pictures
    • I try not to include too many steps – to ensure the type is large enough for students to see & read
  • They follow the directions until announcements begin
  • I reinforce the behavior with class dojo points
  • If students ask me what to do – I refer them to the board… if a student is not following the directions, I remind them to check the board

I have an expectation that this routine is done in silence… of course I allow quiet greetings, but overall – students know that they are to come in calmly and get ready for the day. I’ve found that if I allow talking, it very quickly gets out of control and that calm environment is lost.

As I mentioned in my dismissal routine post, many of my students live in chaotic situations, neighborhoods, or homes – I want them to know that our classroom is a calm and orderly place where they know what to expect (most of the time…).

After the first couple of months, it is like a well oiled machine. I leave the SMARTboard for substitutes to use too and have received comments about how smoothly the morning routine has gone, because the students know exactly what to do. I’ve also noticed that students who struggle with focusing and organization, and anxious students really benefit and appreciate the list.

Here is an example of what I might have posted on my SMARTboard:

Morning routine learning wholeheartedly

If you teach primary grades, you could use pictures, just be sure to explicitly teach what each picture represents and what students should do when they see that picture.

It would be pretty easy to print off your morning list for students who would benefit from a physical check list on their desks too.

We are a Title I school – so we have breakfast available to all students in the classroom… so we have 20 minutes. If you get your day started as soon as all students are seated… you could still use something similar if you have seat work waiting for them, a warm up, or even if students come in and sit to get ready for a morning meeting. I’m sure most of us have at least 5 – 10 minutes where we are waiting for all our students to arrive and be ready to begin the day.

Bonus: Sometimes I sneak in something completely random, to see which students are actually reading every single step. Those students receive some sort of reward.

What do you do to ensure the morning starts off calmly? 

Have you noticed that your students also struggle with following written (or verbal) directions? How do you strengthen this skill throughout the day?

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Avoiding the chaos of dismissal time

The bell rings for dismissal.

It becomes a free for all – students rushing to pack up – the teacher yelling last minute reminders, trying to get a handle on the chaos – the first bus is called – Carlos runs out without his permission slip…

Finally the room is silent and void of students. As the teacher catches her breath amidst the war zone (well, it might as well be). The next ten minutes are spent stacking forgotten chairs, throwing away questionable tissues, and wrangling AWOL pencils.

What if I told you that this is not the only way. There is another way, and it’s pretty simple to implement. It simply requires consistency and clear expectations.

After my first year teaching, I was FED UP with dismissal and ending my day frazzled and relieved to have my students gone. That’s not the teacher I wanted to be, and it’s not the type of environment I wanted for my students. Also, our students often live in chaotic homes – I wanted dismissal to be one last moment of calm for them, before they had to go home.

dismissal routine learning wholeheartedly.jpg



My students last year could not handle going to the carpet… here is my variation on the above mentioned routine… it may also be a better option for you?

dismissal routine2 learning wholeheartedly.jpg

3 Essential Things to Remember

  • This process takes some time at first – so make sure to begin dismissal early for the first few weeks
  • Be consistent – make sure students understand your expectations – if a student talks – send them back…
  • They should become more efficient every day — you could start timing them and see if they can beat their “best time”
  • The reason why dismissal is so crazy is because we feel like we have a time limit and if the students don’t leave as they’re called…off with her headThat being said – DO NOT PANIC!! Send students back to their seats if they talk… what’s the worst thing that can happen? You have to call to have a bus held for a student? Do it! Students will know if you feel powerless during dismissal and they’ll take advantage of it. Just remember to leave enough time for this process as students are learning who is boss…I mean, as they are learning the new routine. But in all seriousness, dismissal habits can be difficult to break, but it’s possible and oh so worth it! 
  • If the process is going a little slow… you can always have 2 students packing up at a time… maybe a boy and a girl.
  • The last step should be a goodbye ritual between you and your students – I always offer my students a handshake, high five, or hug… this year I may throw in a fun “secret” handshake! The students know that they cannot walk out my door until they say goodbye to me. 


How do you handle dismissal in your classroom? I’m always looking for new ideas and as we all know, what may have worked this year, with this group of students, may not work with my next group of students! PLEASE share your ideas/procedure in the comments below!  


If you try one of these procedures, please let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear feedback! 🙂 

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How to Keep Your Custodians Happy

I don’t know about your custodians, but we have the best custodians around. We are in a 60 year old building (give or take a couple years)…so needless to say, there are many challenges that our custodians have to tackle on a daily basis.

Considering that the custodians have to sweep and clean every classroom floor – the least we can do is make sure that the floor is picked up (that is the strangest American saying in my opinion) and chairs are stacked – so that sweeping is as simple as sweeping should be.

That being said…

Teachers have SO much on their plates too – the least important of which is picking up the floor (I really can’t get the image of someone literally trying to pick up a floor out of my head).

Enter….. Mystery Trash.

Mystery Trash game

Sometimes I have to play a second round, because the mystery item is not cleaned up and time ran out. Sometimes we keep going until the room is spotless. There are no steadfast rules – I’ve known teachers who don’t even pick a piece of trash until the room is almost clean… I can’t live on the edge like that. Although, sometimes I miss my item being cleaned up and my students get an opportunity to demonstrate trustworthiness.

I generally play this game during dismissal, but you could do a 20 second round of Mystery Trash as a transition between lessons, before lunch, or after a particularly messy activity. The possibilities are endless.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing students put ANYTHING and EVERYTHING away…they straighten… they tidy…. it’s AAHHHMAAAZING!!

Have you ever played Mystery Trash or a version of it? 

If so, does it work for you? If not, do you have a different way to get students to help clean up?

Disclaimer: I’d love to say that we don’t have to play this game… that my students take such pride and ownership in our classroom that the extrinsic reward is never necessary… but let’s be real…. that’s still a work in progress, and if I ever get that buy in to the same degree as “Mystery Trash” … I’ll be sure to share how I did it. If you’ve done it…please feel free to share!!! 

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How to Change Your Students’ Lives

Isn’t this the big questions all teachers want to know? I know this is why I got into the profession – because we have such an amazing opportunity to shape the future leaders of our world. To help mould young children to become happy, kind, educated, passionate, and driven adults who can make a difference.

As a teacher, I know the feeling of despair when you have one or two (or five, or six) students in your class that you just can’t seem to reach. They’re the ones that keep you up at night, or have you in tears at the end of the day. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we can at least make a difference in the lives of 85% or 90% of the students in our class that year.

But, what if I told you that the GREAT teachers make a difference in 100% of the students lives in their class. I’m not talking about the standard “difference” teachers make by simply doing their jobs – I’m talking about substantial, life changing difference. What they do is not rocket science, and it’s not a secret…

Kim Bearden is one of those GREAT teachers.

If you don’t know who Kim is, I’ll give you a very brief overview – she is the cofounder of, and an ELA teacher at, the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is also one of the most self-reflective, self-aware, passionate, whole-hearted people that you will ever get to know. 

You can get to know Kim through periscope (or watch her past broadcasts on katch.me) and through her book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

Kim bearden 0

It is through this book that I have found the “recipe” for changing students’ lives. I think we can mostly agree (I wish I could say all, but I know that there are some nay-sayers) that the Ron Clark Academy is making a difference, and there are many many teachers who dream of recreating that magic in their classrooms and schools around the world. Well, in Crash Course, Kim gives us a very intimate glimpse into what the Ron Clark Academy is all about, and how any teacher willing to put in the work, can recreate that magic.

I’m going to start by giving you a brief review of the book itself, then I’ll share some of the key takeaways that I had while reading. Last, I’ll outline the things that I’m going to do differently to help bring some RCA magic into my classroom and school.

About Crash Course:

The book is organized into 17 short chapters. With topics ranging from creativity and improvisation to faith and generosity. Each of these chapters includes vulnerable stories from Kim’s life. She is very transparent and honest in her writing, and never claims to have all the answers. These stories help the reader not only connect with Kim and her students, they are the backbone of the book – the life lessons her students taught her. They also helped me as a teacher, formulate a more detailed dream for my students. Every chapter ends with a bullet list of the chapter’s important points and homework. The homework lists 2-4 steps you can take to help with that area of your life and work as an educator. They are practical ways for you to reflect on the chapter’s lessons and synthesize what you learned and how you can apply it.

My Biggest Takeaways:

  • The recipe for recreating the magic at RCA: passion, creativity, rigor, and the importance of giving back to the community
  • The teachers at RCA are human… they’ve all been exactly where we are, they’ve made mistakes, they’ve struggled, and they still do
  • The students at RCA are just like my students and your students – Kim shares how new teachers at RCA always seem surprised to learn that the students’ transformation into what we all think of as “Ron Clark Academy students” begins with the teachers
  • The teachers have very very high expectations for their students (and themselves)- and accept nothing but their best efforts. They are also willing to do anything and everything it takes to make sure that every student reaches those expectations. The chapter on expectations was my favorite, and you can hear Kim talk about it here.
  • The school also fosters a culture of creativity, magic, play, and family. Kim writes about how schools today often destroy students’ sense of wonder… isn’t that heartbreaking?
  • We need to teach students in a way that prepares them for the world – they need to learn how to communicate not only their academic understandings, but their insights, their feelings, and their beliefs as people. They also need to learn how to handle the challenges that the real world will bring them – we need to teach students about race and culture and how it “will affect their reality”.
  • To reach all students, we need to take the time to get to know each and every single student. We need to find their gifts, nurture their creativity, and identify their fears. We need to ask them what they love, and then design lessons around those things. We need to sit at their desks and see life from their perspective. We need to start fresh every day – do whatever it takes to get every student excited about learning.
  • The smallest gestures can become the tiny seeds that will one day grow into amazing trees. What you say to students (through words or body language) matters. Taking time to get to know students and their families matters. Taking time to create special moments and memories with (and for) students matters.

Each and every one of these points (and many many more) are elaborated on in the book – with stories to help you understand how important they are and how they can change students’ lives. These points don’t even begin to do the book justice – if any of them resonate with you… do yourself (and your students/teachers) a favor and read the book.

My Personal Action Plan:

  • Develop deeper more meaningful relationships with my students by
    • taking the time to think about how each of them feels in my classroom, at school, at home
    • taking the time to ask them what they love
    • making it clear that I believe in them by holding them to high expectations
    • making each and every one of them feel like they are my favorite student
    • finding their unique gifts and talents
    • being intentional with my comments and compliments
    • finding out what their fears are, and helping them overcome those fears
    • letting students know that every day is a clean slate – when I “fuss” at them, once it’s done, it’s done
  • Create more magic in my classroom by
    • brainstorming ways to make lessons more magical (think classroom transformations, even on a smaller scale – simulations)
    • playing more
  • Teach my students how to support one another by
    • modeling how to encourage others
    • teaching them about other cultures
    • helping them help the community
  • Seek out relationships with people who fill my soul by
    • evaluating current relationships
    • spend more time with people who inspire me
  • Be more grateful by
    • keeping a gratitude journal & writing in it daily
    • letting others know I’m grateful for them
    • praying more


Now for some real talk…

I know that this is going to take a great deal of time and effort. Time out of my personal life… time that I will not be paid for. The effort required will be tough to give, because the results are going to take time. I know that if I dedicate myself to this – there will be times that I will want to give up.

I also know that there will be more tears, and many many sleepless nights. Because let’s face it, when you open your heart and make the effort to develop these deep and meaningful relationships with students – you are opening up yourself to hurt and failure. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Some of our students face very difficult lives, and I know that I will learn things that will break my heart, some of them will treat me badly. Also, I’m not always going to be enough. What I can do in my classroom (and out of it) will not always be enough.

But… this is why I became a teacher. I didn’t become a teacher to help students pass a test. I didn’t become a teacher to have fun with students from 8 – 3pm. I became a teacher to change lives – it’s my passion, it’s my calling, and I believe the difficult times and the failures I’m bound to experience are worth it. Because at least I can say I truly tried, I gave it my all.

If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes, what’s the point?