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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Ways to Work Smarter as a Teacher

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Have you heard Lou Holtz? He was a football coach, most notably at Notre Dame, and now is an analyst for college football on ESPN. But his most important role is as a motivational speaker. Actually, I would say he's more of an accomplishment speaker.

Lou Holtz knows how to help people accomplish important things. His message is simple: Work hard, set goals, and decide on the most important things you must get done today and do them. This is emotionally intelligent advice and a great way to help you have a productive school year.

I'd like to amplify Lou Holtz's message a bit more:

Working hard also means working smart. Empower your students and colleagues to work with you and join in common tasks. Collaboration is actually the key to getting more done. Setting goals, for any educator, must include the social-emotional and character development of students. Your students' SECD is the key to accomplishing almost any other goals you might set.

And among those handful of things you must do in a given day, I hope that one of them -- every day -- is to greet your students, and to also extend a warm, helping hand to your colleagues and to parents. If you do this daily, your other tasks for the day will seem lighter and more manageable.

Through sincere greetings and taking a helpful stance toward others, it's much more likely you will get your other important tasks accomplished.

Don't take my word for it; watch and listen to Lou for yourself.

Please share your strategies for getting this school year off to a productive start so far.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Amber Buchanan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I show my students respect and support. I try to establish a relationship early with my students, where they know that they can trust me. I am always willing to talk about personal issues that could be affecting them. If a problem is reported to me, I also try to fix it as soon as possible. I had a student this year say to me, "Mrs. Buchanan I think of you as a friend not a teacher." I said is that a good thing or a bad thing. He said, "It is a good thing because I do not like teachers and I do not listen to them." This boy has had behavorial problems in the past, but I knew this was going to be a good year for him.

Amber Buchanan
Sixth Grade
Walden University

Amy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Respect is the basis for all of life, especially when in the classroom. I have tried so hard over the years to model mistakes, remain calm when accidents happen and give each child the time they deserve, just to chat. If I show interest in their families and interests, then they will know how much I care about them, as a whole person. I will try this year to reach out to the families I don't see regularly at pick-up/drop-off, to give them the same respect and time I give others. I teach in a special education classroom in northern NJ and hope I can garner the respect not only from my families, but from my students as well.

Mackenzie Henson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Like Lou Holtz, I think it is very important to remind students to be confident. I remind them of all the accomplishments they made last year to get to this point. I remind students that they are prepared to be a seventh grader and that I have confidence in their ability to be successfully organized, prepared and make academic achievements. I also have high expectations for my students, challenging them to go beyond what they have done in the past. Seventh grade is a time of new beginnings. My students are experiencing the most independence they have had yet in school, so the first weeks I work to teach them how to handle that freedom and still be successful.

Rick Orr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello my name is Rick and I am a graduate student at Walden university. This is my first post on a blog. I know I try and greet as many students and colleauges as I can in the mornings. My classroom is always open early in the rooming and students know they are always welcome. When I first started teaching, the students were more shocked than anything that I would be in my classroom that early in the morning. They would give me wierd looks and not respond at all when I would say hello. I continued doing it everyday and now the elementary students and middle school know my name and are not afraid to say anything to me. Its always nice to start the day with a smile from the students. Also Lou Holtz is an incredible motivator.

Rick Orr

Christina Grubb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Setting goals and having high expectations for yourself as a teacher and for your students is crucial. I have each of my students set personal and classroom goals. When we have classroom discussions, I stress to them the importance of not "settling" for just being average. I teach them that the more that you expect from yourself the more you will achieve. "Never settle" is what I try to get them to remember. When they start to make achievements they will then gain confidence not only academically, but emotionally as well. I agree that the teacher plays a huge part in this character development. Making each student feel valued and appreciated everyday is the key. It is so hard in our hectic teaching world to remember what is really important, and that is how the kids feel about themselves. Giving a hand shake, or high five is just a little thing that makes a big difference. I am a huge Notre Dame fan and have heard many motivational speeches given by Lou Holtz at luncheons and other events in the past. I know that he never settled for just average with his team and players.

Christina Grubb
Woodalnd Elementary
Fifth Grade Teacher

Melinda Optie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, my name is Melinda, and I am a graduated student with Walden University. I have never posted on a blog before, so this will be a learning experience for me. One thing that I make a point to do from day one of the school year is to stand by the classroom door and greet each student by name as the enter the room. As time goes on, sometimes the kids begin to greet me first. I also think that my Kindergarten students look forward to that greeting each morning. You can sense a lot about how each child's day might be based on your initial greeting with them.

Not only do I greet my students every morning, but I try to greet any staff members that I may come in contact with each day. I think that reaching how to others with a hello can show a lot about a person. This also is a sign of respect. If your students see you being respectful, they in turn, will learn this positive behavior as well.

A greeting can go a thousand miles with your students and develops a close community feeling in your classroom.

Melinda Optie

Samara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The most important thing that I can say is that you have to start your school year out right or you will lose your kids and your school year will be miserable. From day one, meet your students at their buses or at your doorway. For me it's easy to meet my kids with special needs at their buses because I take them in for breakfast. You have to set your rules and consequences from day one. Set your expectations for all your students. You can not let them walk all over you from day one because you will have a hard time getting them back where you want them. This is my second year as a teacher and with my new principal she is very strict with rules and procedures. This is the only thing she wanted to see in our lesson plans for the first week or two. Model, practice, and review all rules, procedures, and consquences. As a teacher you have to be proactive, treat all kids equally, and create a safe environment for them. Also, it's very important to keep in contact with parents, whether it's email, a note home, newsletter, or phone call keep the parents informed and involved.

Kathleen Cagle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When Lou Holtz is in the subject line, there's no way I can pass this up, I must comment. Lou Holtz is definitely one of the top coaches in his era. Indeed what made him so successful is his ability to motivate his players. Not only did he motivate his players, he had nothing but high expectations of his players -both on and off the field. This definitely carries over into our classrooms. I firmly believe that students step up to the expectations you set in the classroom. If you have high expectations, they will undoubtedly rise to the expectation. If you set low or even have no expectations for your students, then they have no reason to go above and beyond. Sadly, I have worked with a teacher that didn't think our type of students (low income, special education, English language learners etc) could learn as much as the other schools so he wouldn't expect anything out of them...and that is exactly what they gave him....along with a lot of classroom discipline issues. Students, although they won't always admit it, want to be challenged, it is our job to provide rigor in the classroom. Just like Lou, it was not enough to have a difficult schedule (Michigan, Michigan ST, Purdue, USC etc.), there success would have been non-existent had he not been such an incredible motivator. Likewise, it is not enough to provide the rigor, we have to motivate the students as well. This is where the scaffolding, the encouragement and the relevance of our lessons comes in.
Kathleen Cagle
Walden University Graduate Students

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At the beginning of the year, I talk with my students about the importance of trying your best and what that actually means. We go through examples and scenerios where they decipher if the student is trying his best. Everyday, when they come into the resource room, I remind them to try their best. As long as they are trying their best (even on the most challenging of tasks), they know they are meeting my expectations and succeeding. I pull my students for thirty minutes once or twice a day. At the end of the session, each student fills out a paper that has four questions - Did I ... listen? follow directions? use kind words (with myself and others)? and try my best? This self-checklist is to make them responsible and aware of their actions. They sign their name and date it. I truly believe that this simple quote motivates my students daily.

Alexis Corrigan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've enjoyed reading about how everyone starts their day. What lucky students! I think it is important to greet your students each morning as well. I am a kindergarten teacher, and we spend a lot of time building our community in our classroom. We have a morning meeting each day where we get to share news, go over our schedule for the day, discuss any problems that may arise, and just simply enjoy one another's' company. We sit in a circle so we can see all of the faces in the class and practice making eye contact when talking and listening. These are important life skills. I find that investing this time in building a community positively impacts the academic learning in our classroom. It creates a safe environment where students feel safe to take risks and try new things. We have also started an Afternoon Meeting where we tell one another goodbye and we each share something new that we learned that day, even me (the teacher)! It sends the message that you're never too old to learn something new! Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful thoughts!

Alexis Corrigan
Kindergarten Teacher
Walden University Student

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