High Expectations

Part of our school’s accreditation plan is for our students to achieve high quality work standards. This may seem like a small goal, but our students who are at-risk (which are many of them) really struggle with this. Messy incomplete work may be the cause of chaos at home, unstable family life, abuse, neglect, or learning disabilities. For some students it is an effort just to turn in any work, much less high quality work. But for teachers, well, just completed assignments aren’t enough. Work needs to be thought-out, planned, organized, and delivered in a way that shows pride in one’s accomplishments. For some children this all needs to be taught.

Every time Amy an I have spoken for fellow educators one issue that has always been brought up is how to get students to turn in completed, well done work on time. This translates into “high quality work standards”. Homework has become a challenge in every classroom, not only for at-risk students, but for all students because of busy after school schedules. Many educators on written about the changing philosophies on homework, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about in class projects, research papers, displays, and just daily work assignments. Many students struggle with achieving long term goals and completing assignments to the best of their abilities. With the new year approaching, I thought that this would be a good time to think about how you want to establish and maintain a classroom environment that not only expects consistent high quality work standards, but achieves them.

1. Set your bar high and stay consistent. (This is important in every aspect of teaching, but let’s just stick with quality work standards now.)
2. State your expectations clearly for each assignment and do not waiver once the assignments are turned in. (The second part of this step is crucial. I know sometimes we are so happy just to get work from a student, but if we want high quality work, there can’t be any exceptions. I have attached notes to work and sent them home for parent signatures with an explanation of my expectations and asking the student to redo an assignment.)
3. For longer assignments and projects supply a clear written rubric and go over it orally ahead of time. (Break down these assignments into short term goals. Long term projects are just too overwhelming for many students)
4. Have examples of high quality completed projects for students to look at and to refer to throughout the project.
5. Long term projects should be completed in the classroom. (Research and organizers can be completed at home, but rough drafts and art projects for displays should be completed in-class to chart progress and to ensure completion from the student.)
6. Display all high quality work. (Make this fun and make sure a large variety if not all students have something displayed at one point. I have used a hallway bulletin board that students would scour for their work.)
7. Make assignments important and tell the students why they are important. (Learning standards aren’t good enough for kids. Let them know how and why these assignments are important to them, their learning, and their future.)

Remember that this is a time consuming process. High Quality Work does not happen overnight. You almost have to make this part of your school’s culture so the standards are pretty consistent in every class. It’s hard work, but it works.


Teach well and stay strong.

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My son had a birthday this past week. We did not have a big blowout party with lots of gifts. He chose the food and the cake. It was all about him. One day a year everyone deserves to feel extra special, not like a king, queen, or over-the-top celebrity on the red carpet, but loved and valued knowing that they matter.

When I grew up money was tight, there were 6 of us kids, so our mom made us our favorite dinner and we had cake and ice cream. That was a big deal. No halls were rented with themed decorations with matching character cakes…we just celebrated that we were born and it was a special day to the family.

In school I have noticed all the emptiness in many of my students. It made me think of those feeling of belonging and love that every human being craves. There are many kids and adults walking around with a missing piece, as Shel Silverstein so eloquently wrote about. It is that void that makes people act out, crave attention, get into dysfunctional relationships, and abuse drugs.

People try to fill these gaps with “things” or control them with excessive behaviors, but that emptiness is always there at the end of the day.

During the summer I have been reflecting on the things I have said and the silent signals I have sent to my kids throughout the school year. I hope I only helped them feel special and important. It sure would be a sad way to go through life thinking no one cared you were in it.

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Getting the Itch

August is right around the corner and I have to say that I can’t wait. I’m feeling the itch. Even my girls are starting to get antsy. Melanie will be off to college in two weeks starting a brand new life and Brenna is looking forward to getting back to the grind and having a schedule. I guess binge watching on Netflix does get old after awhile. Now Audrey is a different story. She “hates school”. She wants no part of it. She cannot stand the daily pressure so much that it shuts her down. I don’t think her school is a good match for her. Too much emphasis on testing, too much emphasis on perfection. Sean and I have our eye on a school outside the district for middle school, but we will be taking her away from her friends. It’s a difficult choice since right now she is fighting the decision to leave.

So anyway, all these thoughts and so many more have begun to race through my head. I’m ready for a schedule, although I’ll miss the pool. I’m ready for the students, they headaches, and even the grading. I’m ready for the meetings, the planning, the laughing, and the frustration. I’m ready for the hugs, the friendships, the sweating (my school doesn’t have air conditioning), the worrying, and the running around. I’m ready for the brainstorming, the schedule conflicts, the collaborating, and the rushing home to cook. I’m ready for it all. A teacher’s New Years Eve is almost here.

IMG_0037I have the itch.

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The new school year is coming, I can feel it. Team meetings for my school have started. We’ve had some staff changes so our principal is anxious for everyone to meet. I went to lunch with some teachers from grades 2-5. This was my first get-together as an administrator. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous assuming my new role because I am in the same building. Sometimes it’s hard transitioning. Well….so far so good.

I’m really looking forward to the beginning of this new stage in my career. I’m anxious to see how the year goes. I’m not known for my patience – ask my husband and Amy, so it’s no surprise that I am ready to go!

Amy and I are still writing our little hearts out. We just completed our thirteenth book in our series and are well into our fourteenth. This is another new stage in my career, but I am so blessed to have Amy along for the ride.

I started to write a blog about the importance of having a confidant, or someone you can truly share your days with when you are in education. All jobs are stressful, but as you know, I feel education is a beast of its own. There are so many variables in your day that can disrupt your calmness. Plans aren’t EVER kept. No day is ever the same.

Unlike other professions teachers and administrators work with children of all ages, temperaments, and from every social strata. A child in and of herself is the largest variable in an educator’s day because no one can predict a child’s mood on. This affects everything! So….if you are an educator, you need to have someone trustworthy who you can talk to and (now here’s the kick) who will not judge you, your staff, or your students. An educator needs to be able to spout and release. Good educators will shake off even the most horrific day and start the next day brand new. We will forgive other educators because we know what they’re going through, we will forgive our children because we adore them and really what else can we do, and we will forgive ourselves because after all, we are doing the best we can. We need someone who thinks like us because we don’t want the listener to judge. We don’t even necessarily want their opinion, we just want a body who hears our words.

Before you start this year find that someone. Your best bet is another person in the teaching profession. And if you can find someone working in your own building who loves the children as much as you, who is as dedicated to the craft of teaching as much as you, and who is dedicated to the hardest job on this earth like you, then grab them, carpool with them, or lock yourself away with them for at least 30 minutes after school each day. Talk….Listen….Laugh….Cry….And become reignited.

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Something Different

Amy and I have been writing and editing our books nonstop this summer. We are rhyming constantly. One day, she and I were talking about our kids at school and how their bad decisions at school are often spurred by events going on at home. So I wrote this little story (in rhyme) to illustrate how important it is for teachers to read their students needs and listen to their worries BEFORE they make a terrible mistake. And….there’s always tomorrow.

Mrs. Garcia was tired after a long day.

She walked into the teacher’s lounge, but didn’t know what to say.

Her friend was there and that was good.

They could always talk while they ate their food.

“Oh my gosh, it was a crazy day.

I tried to get through science, but there was just no way.

Stephan was off his rocker and I had no clue,

How to get him to do what he was supposed to do.

Right from the start I could tell he was off.

He had a look in his eye and a funny cough.”


Stephan was having a bad day and he was a bit grumpy.

He didn’t feel so good and his stomach was jumpy.


 “This is a day I’m not gonna like

I’d rather be outside riding my bike.

I like the cars that are going by outside.

I wish I was in one getting a ride.

Ms. Garcia says she likes me, but sometimes I can’t tell.

She gets angry when I’m bad and at times will even yell.


I really have to go the bathroom, I have to pee.

Maybe I’ll go in the closet, nobody will see.

Sam was mean to me yesterday he really made me mad.

Maybe I’ll pee on his stuff. That will make him sad.

My group won’t miss me. They ignore what I say.

I’ll just sneak to the coat room, I know the best way.”


Mrs. Garcia tried to round the class up to start their task.

They would love the lesson if she could only just ask.

“Okay everybody, let’s begin the experiment.

Make sure you’re careful and postpone the merriment.

Wait a minute, stop what you’re doing.

Has anyone seen Stephan, and Tammy, what are you chewing?”


Tammy always liked to tell what was going on.

She did so now while stifling a yawn.

“I saw Stephan going into the coat room.

He seemed pretty sad, like he was facing his doom.

He’s always sad and a little down.

I’m tired of always looking at him frown.

What I am chewing is nothing for your concern.

It’s just candy, and can’t we just start to learn?”


Mrs. Garcia didn’t like the tone in Tammy’s voice.

She felt Tammy should have made a better choice.

“Tammy, be careful with what you say.

Every one of you has had a tough day.

Let’s remember we’re a family and we all care.

Now focus on your work and nobody stare.”


Mrs. Garcia chose to let the candy go.

She had more important things to know.

“Stephan, are you in there, what did you need?

You better hurry up! We’re about to plant seeds!”


Stephan was sitting on the closet floor.

Thinking his plan over once more.


Nobody likes me, I just don’t fit in.

They just don’t get how hard my day has been.

My mom woke me up super early today.

She had to get to work and had nothing to say.

I didn’t sleep very well, cause my parents were fighting.

I never like it when they argue, it’s frightening.

I wish my mom would talk and tell me what’s going on.

Instead of being mean and sulky, totally withdrawn.

It hurts my feelings when she doesn’t give me a hug.

I’m her kid for goodness sake, not just some yucky bug.

Oh well, whatever, it doesn’t really matter.

I’m stuck here listening to all the happy chatter.

I wish I thought school was fun and I had friends.

The way it is now, I just can’t wait till it ends.


When I’m done, They’ll never guess.

I’ll pull one over on them, I’ll never confess.

They will be so angry so utterly mad.

I’m be glad I did it, I not the least bit sad.


Mrs. Garcia became worried and walked towards the closet.

She liked Stephan and didn’t want to hear gossip.

“Come on, Stephan, concentrate and get back to class.

Get your things together and don’t give me sass.

It’s time to pay attention and stay on task.

Your group needs your help, so do as I ask.”


When she saw Stephan she was surprised.

There were tears on his cheeks and running out of his eyes.


“Wait a minute! Oh Stephan what did you do?

What’s going on? Is something bothering you?

I know you’re sad and I didn’t have time.

To talk to you about it, the fault is all mine.”


“Okay Stephan, talk to me.

What’s going on, what do you need?”


“Ms. Garcia I’m mad and really upset.

I can’t talk about it so give it a rest.”


Mrs. Garcia said, “I’m afraid, Stephan that it’s not up to you.

You make bad choices when you let your problems stew.”


“Well, Ms. Garcia, you see it’s like this.

I’m not happy at home and I know I’m not missed.

What does it matter if you are all angry at me?

I don’t think anybody likes me, so I thought I’d just pee”


“Now listen, Stephan, we don’t talk like that.

You’re a very nice boy, not a horrible brat.

If you want to make friends this isn’t the way.

Just use your words wisely for what you need to say.

Remember we’re here for you since you’re in our class.

We want you to succeed and I want you to pass.

They like you just fine no matter what you think.

They’ll treat you kindly in just a quick blink.”


Mrs. Garcia gave Stephan a five minute break and went back to class before anyone else made a mistake.


After the talk I felt a little bit better.

Ms. Garcia made me laugh and write an apology letter.

I cleaned up my mess, what a dumb thing to do.

If I’m angry I should have just thought it through.

I don’t like cleaning pee, it’s pretty gross.

But I have to say, that was quite close.

Sam was mad, but he took it quite well,

When I said I was sorry and cleaned up the smell.

I gave him my ice cream and a piece of candy.

He forgave me and said that I was just dandy.

I just have to remember to watch what I do.

If I’m mad from home I can’t be mean here too.


Back in the lounge Mrs. Garcia felt rested.

She felt better even though she was tested.


“You know Stephan’s a great kid and really smart.

There are days he pulls his weight and does his part.

I enjoy him in class and love his smile.

He’ll be better tomorrow by a long mile.

I’ll give him a hug when he walks through the door.

Let him know I forgive him and he’s good once more.

Every day is a fresh start and I’m happy to say.

That tomorrow is going to be a much better day.”

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