Sunday, January 19, 2014



Here's a quick tool to encourage engagement with more of your students.

The largest obstacle to student engagement is YOU, the teacher, our fearless leader.  Accept the following as givens, in most cases: There will always be those who love to sit in the front row, answer all the questions, and vie to be teacher's pets. There will always be daydreamers and sleepers.  There will always be an athlete, a nerd,  a disrupter, a clown, the in-crowders and the outsiders.

Lots of different personalities, different energies, different developing world views and experiences, different children in similar bodies, every day. This is both the challenge and the terror of teaching middle school.

Wait a minute.

I forgot the even more invisible forces lurking in and out of your classroom.  I forgot to mention the general role a student plays in the social power structure within their grade level population that exists outside your classroom.  Those dynamics can also affect student behavior within your classroom.  Don't be surprised when, even if you've done due-diligence and set a trusting, open tone, a fight breaks out in the back of the room over something that happened during recess.  Hopefully, no one will be hurt seriously and it will result in a teachable moment.  And, if that happens in your classroom, think of it this way: You had told them you were the classroom manager and you were determined to set a tone of trust.  Developmentally, some students don't consider the consequences of their actions.  A fight to them is a physical expression of their anger and frustration with a person and situation.  They feel an injustice or they feel righteous or they feel scared.  But they also knew, deep down somewhere,  that if they got into a fight in your classroom, you would step in to handle it firmly and fairly.  And that's what you'll end up doing.  Unless the other students set the example and break it up themselves.  In either case, this could be a key insight if it should ever happen to you.

Additionally, students bring their own unique family dynamics into class.  What's it like to be an only child?  A child of divorced parents?  A foster child?  How about the middle child of 5?  The only girl or boy?  The one who's always picked on by their bully-sibling?  Throw in some hormones, pimples, puppy love, broken hearts, teen drama, sprinkled with the daily pressures affecting a student's sense of self, and you've got your arms full.  Heck, you've got your truck full.  25-40 of the little darlings seemingly multiplying right before your eyes.  Kaleidoscoping in your class all at one time.

That's exactly why people who want to teach middle school are either certifiably insane, gluttons for punishment and self-immolation, or saints from another planet.

Back to my main point.

That's why setting the tone beginning Day One, right away, is so imperative.  As a matter of fact, this following activity presupposes that you've completed Day One and Day Two activities.  You already know every student's name and you've begun to open up the channels of communication through the Mail Bag activity.  You've established yourself as the center of gravity, the classroom manager, the one who is going to tame the lions and soothe the lambs and champion everyone's learning.

The picture above, a typical classroom in the U.S., is a mosaic of energies.  It's your duty, your responsibility, to create a flexible template for a dynamic classroom.  If you're to maximize learning, it is my strong belief that rigid


The tone you set also takes into consideration a general perception of risk and what that entails for students personally.  Taking a risk involves a certain level of both self-confidence and fear.    Fear of speaking in public, fear of being wrong, fear of not pleasing the teacher, fear of being made fun of, fear of being bullied, fear of being seen as smart, fear of being seen as stupid.

Fears are ameliorated by a sense of trust.  Self-confidence is bolstered by a trusting open environment conducive to risking safely.  A trusting, supportive, advocate for learning (that's you) makes overcoming negative perceptions of risk easier and more likely.  Risk must be framed in the context of Reward.  Risking, in and of itself, must be seen as Rewarding because that's where participating in life and learning takes place.

If we never take a risk, we'll never know what we don't know.  So, we have to allow risk so we come to know what we didn't previously know and we can build on that experience so we can reinforce knowing what we know as well as fight ignorance and misinformation to discover more of what we need to know.



In doing that,  in calling on the first student, the message you send to the rest of the class is, "Don't bother to participate if you're not fast enough to get the answer right away.  You've got to be fast and right in this class."

Participating becomes a speed sport.  The problem is, of course, minimal engagement ensues and learning opportunities lag and are lost.  A teacher can become a slave to their scope and sequence.  The tempo becomes part of their classroom management style, too. Keep things fast, orderly, rigid and structured. Keep the homework, tests and quizzes coming.  This tempo can be a path of least resistance given the state and school demands for covering content.  When teachers feel overwhelmed by the myriad of responsibilities they have to fulfill in addition to teaching, many teachers comfortably fall into this groove.

Bad messages all around.  A student's superficial understanding of concepts and an engagement disconnect are the usual consequences.


Instead of calling on the first student because, really, we already know you know the answer, tell the class you'll call on someone once you see 10 hands raised.  And then wait.  This automatically exerts gentle pressure to participate.  It may take 20-30 seconds or so.  But they'll do it, trust me, they'll do it.  Deep down, they ALL want to participate, to risk, in a safe environment to do so.  You've created that safety, you're modeling what it is to be an advocate for learning, students are responding to your energy, to your advocacy, and now's the time to reinforce the idea that Learning, just like life, is a Contact Sport.  You've got to make connections, teacher-to-student to learning-process.


While you're waiting for ten hands to be raised, you might have already heard the response heard 'round the world, "Oh, that's EASY!" from one of the more enthusiastic students.  You'll also know them by their "OH-OH-OH!!' sounds, their flailing arms, waving hands, holding their breath until their heads explode, kneeling up high in their desks so you can see them better, just dying for you to call on them.

I know.  Some of you are thinking, "Jeez, just call on the kid so we can get on with this!"

Not so fast.  Patience is a virtue in the classroom.  I want students to appreciate that value as well.  So here's my response to the overenthusiastic response of "Oh, that's SO EASY!!"

Gently, I remind them to remember that "What's easy for some is more challenging for others."


Participation is encouraged over speed in getting the answer correct.  When you first engage students in this activity, they will be surprised when you don't acknowledge the right answer when it's first offered.  They'll think something's wrong or they were wrong or they wonder what the right answer could be.  If they think they've heard the right answer and yet you hold off your acknowledgement, you'll see them lower their hands and you might see a little self doubt or confusion on their faces.  These are all good brain calisthenics.

The twist in engagement is this, because you want to encourage the reward of risk taking not just being the first to answer the question.  So,  instead of simply accepting the first answer, whether it's correct or incorrect, call on all those who have an answer.   Students are expecting you to stop when the right answer is offered.  Only you don't.  That way, you reinforce the value of participation over getting the answer right the fastest.

It might flow like this:

Teacher: "Yes, John, what say you?"
John: "George Washington"
Teacher "Good answer.  Who's got another one?  Yes, Susan."
Susan: John Adams
Teacher "Another good answer.  Anyone else?  Yes, Rachel."
Rachel: "Thomas Jefferson"
Teacher: "Excellent.  Anyone else have an answer?  All right then, raise your hand only once.  How many say it's George Washington?  How about John Adams?  Thomas Jefferson?"
Teacher: "All right.  Who KNOWS the answer, for sure?  Last call.  Jennifer?"
Jennifer: "George Washington."
Teacher: "Excellent.  Everyone got that?  Follow-up Questions?"

When you judge the end of the question/answer engagement has reached its crescendo, ask the class to respond to each of the possible correct answers with a show of hands for the most correct.  Again, engagement and participation is valued and risk is encouraged as a reward unto itself.

With this activity, so easy to modify within the context of your teaching, you've gone from a simple question/answer format, to encouraging risk and reward through wider participation, to reinforcing a trusting environment, to brainstorming and problem-solving, to opining and discussing, to resourcing, and resolution.

Powerfully simple.  Simply powerful.  Use it whenever.  It's a beautiful thing.

Friday, January 17, 2014


The new Common Core Standards, national standards of public instruction being adopted by many states in the U.S., place a greater emphasis on project-based learning.  This is in recognition that students collectively learn and express themselves in a number of ways, that there are a number of intelligences, not just those that contribute to IQ.  The more ways you can challenge and elicit that potential, that multi-faceted expression in your students, the deeper and more accurate will be your assessments of student achievement.

As a consequence of adopting Common Core Standards, individualized and differentiated learning should be more easily implemented.  Incorporating a student-directed aspect of the learning process will guarantee that aspects of classroom learning most certainly can be individualized.  A goal would be to be able to individualize all learning while at the same time holding all students responsible for reaching for the standards of excellence in their work and expression of knowledge and deep understanding of the subject.  The teacher, ideally, is a prompt and guide who understands the benefits of the Socratic Method, of answering questions in such a way as to lead students to the next answer on their own.  Student learning empowerment is the name of the game.

Again, we already know how smart you are.  You wouldn't be a teacher if you didn't know your stuff.

But teaching is so much more than content.  Putting the human relations element front and center, a teacher understands the human connective element is where the power of everything lies.  Classroom management is easier, motivation is stronger, anticipation of discovery higher, focus is sharper, achievement is greater, engagement is broader, and the collective psychological needs of the classroom are being met

Teaching students to be their own, self-directed learners is only part of the holy grail for educators and learners.  Modeling human-centered, life-long learning skills as well as empathy and open communication in the classroom, will help deliver more motivated students and reinforce the humanity behind the best education.

Better ingredients, better pizza.

The Human Relations and Emotional Brain Building I'm suggesting works to strengthen the new emphasis seen in the Common Core Standards.  Building a strong foundation, it sets the stage for project- and group-based creativity and problem-solving as well as encouraging self-motivation, self-direction and an autodidact drive.  The message is to develop a love of learning and create the foundation for life-long adventures in discovery while adhering to the highest standards of intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical pursuit.

By emphasizing open communication and relationship building, and by creating and reinforcing the trusting environment necessary for public risk-taking in knowledge acquisition, understanding and expression, a teacher puts their class on intellectual and emotional steroids.  Other teachers will wonder why certain shared students are doing better in your class than theirs.

They always conclude, by the way, that you must be an easy teacher and that's why students 'like' you. You're just an easier grader.  You may find yourself on the defensive even when all you've done is succeed in connecting and bringing out the best in this challenging student.  Sometimes you just have to do a lot of smiling and nodding with those unaccustomed or closed to the framework and power inherent in a human relations approach.

 This is where the motivation for greatness resides. This is where teachers seeking to bring out the best in all their students find the doors, the windows, the chutes and ladders and buttons, that make up the mosaic of motivation within each individual student.  These connections are the deeper ones that most always lead to greater student motivation, focus, problem-solving, and achievement in your class.

It all comes down to validating the student as a valued human being in your class.  Simple Human Relations exercises, sampled and repeated throughout the year, lead to a Human Relations based classroom.  Inherent in this approach is the validation of each individual student.  That each one is greater than the grades they earn in your class is an important message that resonates within each student.  Too many times, teachers without achieving the deeper connections of human relations, leave the impression that they judge their students on one criteria: How well they did in their class.

It's a shallow, superficial message that always leaves a bad taste.

Making the deeper human relations connections with your students allows you to challenge them even more simply because they know you're not judging them solely on how they do in your class.  Your class is just a small part of their lives and it is your goal to, among other things, understand the whole child and attempt to bring out the best in that child.

That message, that you'll challenge each student on their terms, on where they are, is a powerfully connective message. You may not believe this, but there are parents who are uncomfortable with affection and have a hard time expressing it at home. Other parents can't tell their children enough how much they love them and the 'I love you's' flow freely.

Point being, there are invalidating forces outside your classroom that you have no control over and may never even know about.  That's why it's important to understand: simple human validation, especially teacher to student, is essential for a young person's strengthening identity development and a healthy sense of self.

Monday, January 13, 2014


MAIL BAG is a very important tool in your Emotional Brain Builder toolbox.  Students love the activity and eventually beg for it.  It's a great focus motivator as well because you'll promise to read them at the end of class IF we get our work done and clean up.

Materials: Teacher - A Paper or Canvas Bag with handles.  Make it look special with the words MAIL BAG prominently featured.

Materials: Student provided scratch paper/half-sheet notebook paper.

Building Emotional Brain Bridges with your students, emphasizing trust, safety and openness to ideas.
Opening up avenues for free speech and self-expression.
Establishing the safety of openly sharing ideas in the classroom.
Seeking support from teacher and peers
Gain insight into the collective Emotional Brains of the classroom


Students, now is the time for the activity called Mail Bag.  Take out a writing implement along with a blank sheet, scratch sheet of notebook paper.

NAMES ARE OPTIONAL because this activity is one that endorses the power of open communication and orderly free speech.  It's important that you write something, not so much that I know your name.  Also, to preserve the integrity of the activity and your privacy should you choose to exercise it, you also have the option of writing the words PLEASE DO NOT READ ALOUD.  If you would like a personal response from me, include your name and the words PLEASE RESPOND.   

Now is the opportunity you've been waiting for.  Now is the time you can write down something, anything about anything in the world.  It can be about school but it doesn't have to be.  It might be something you've been wanting to say for quite a while but haven't had the opportunity. Now is your opportunity to say that which you've been wanting to say.

Once you have written something down, fold your paper, raise your hand and I'll have them collected by (choose a student to collect for you.)

Upon collecting the Mail Bag offerings, shake up the bag to mix them up, and take out the first note. Remind students that once they are in your hands, you as the teacher have the power to read or not read particular notes.  You're not going to read aloud insults, put downs, profanity, or fake notes pretending to be someone else's thoughts.  You're the final arbiter of appropriate language and judging what gets read and what doesn't get read.  Again, it's important that students be encouraged to write something and that you, the teacher, read it, not ignore it. As the teacher, though, you don't have to read anything aloud you don't want to.

Again, it's important for students to have a free speech outlet for what's going on in their Emotional Brains.  And it gives you as the teacher insight into what's going on in your classroom and in your students' lives.


Saturday, January 11, 2014



This activity is designed for Day Two.  This quickly answers the question, "When will my teacher know my name?"

Students get it.  They HAVE to go to school.  And once they enter middle school, they experience many different teachers.  After elementary school, where students had one or maybe two teachers,  middle school presents a mosaic of teachers.  Students take some getting used to having different teachers for different classes.  In classes of 25-40, it gets challenging to stand out in the crowd, let alone get acknowledged in classes that size.

Many teachers are so anxious to get into the content of their studies, they often forget how important knowing and remembering their students names is.  This activity achieves the following objectives.

Acquiring more social information about the dynamics in your classroom.

Identifying the leaders, followers, 'in crowd', outsiders, in your class.

Validate the person and the name given to us by our parents as the first sounds of our identity.

A safe public speaking environment is reinforced.

The skills of 'active listening' and 'short-term recall' is modeled and practiced.

The Name Game quickly builds emotional-brain bridges in the teacher-student and student-student dynamic.

On a more deeply felt level of identity validation, everyone now knows and has said the name of every other student in class.

The teacher, as leader, models and guides appropriate classroom interaction.

The teacher will have verbalized and made eye contact in learning every student's name and what they like.

Here's how the Name Game works.

Approximate time depends on size of class, 20-25 minutes is an average.

Seating Arrangement: Chairs/desks are arranged in a big circle.  Set up the seating arrangement on Day Two before the students come to class.  Instruct them to sit where they would like, no pre-assigned seats.

Make a mental note of how students gather, what the groupings appear to be, who's in, who's out, and hypothesizing about the barriers to a healthy class that need to be addressed.

Name Game Directions

From their seat, each student is going to introduce themselves and tell the class one thing they like to do in their free time or share the name of a hobby.

Before they introduce themselves, however, they must recall all the names and likes of the students who have already introduced themselves.  It gets progressively more challenging.

That's why the teacher, yes that's you, goes first AND LAST.

The teacher models the sentence each student is requested to say:

"Hi, I'm Mr. Becker and I like to play guitar."

Start with yourself and then proceed clockwise, starting with the student to your left.

The student will model the following sentence for the others:

"You are Mr. Becker and you like to play guitar.  I'm Janey Rogers and I like to dance."

The next student says, "You're Mr. Becker and you like to play guitar.  You are Janey Rogers and you like to dance.  I'm Scott Smith and I like basketball."

Continue until the end, where it's now the teacher's turn to recall the name and likes of every student.

Finally, invite any one else who would like to try to test their memory and recall everyone's name and likes.

Now, return the desks and chairs to their pre-Name Game positions.

Friday, January 10, 2014


Rules for Discussion should be included in your distributed Classroom Guidelines as well as posted in your classroom for easy reference.  Use a nice size poster board so the rules are visible from a distance.  Have students volunteer to read the rules aloud just before you conduct a classroom discussion

"Classroom Rules for Discussion"

1. Everyone has the right to speak and to be listened to politely.

2. Raise your hand and wait patiently.  Take notes.

3. Listen while others speak. Take notes.

4. When sharing an opinion, use phrases such as "I feel..." or  "In my opinion..." or  "It seems to me..."

5. All opinions are to be respected.  Any opinion can be respectfully challenged...

6. Express yourself using a civil tone of voice.  Please, no shouting, spitting, or pulling hair.



Philosophy and Work-arounds

Here's what I do.  I don't give extra credit opportunities and I let them know up front, on Day One.

My rationale is this: I want students to feel supported by me and their parents in their journey towards self-starting and self-motivation.  I don't want them to stumble and then ask if there's any extra credit they can do. On Day One, the answer is 'no.'  This rule also reinforces the serious nature of our learning together, that everything counts, and you're not going to get your grade through my charity but through your own focus and  hard work.  See my Workaround #1 : Extra Credit.  I'm not totally heartless.

I also don't give A+ grades.  An 'A' is the highest grade you can get in my class.  You throw an 'A+' in the mix and already the message is that an 'A' isn't good enough.  Bad message, in my opinion.  Especially because there is no A+ grade in the real world.  Students can be harder on themselves than even their parents or teachers.  So, in my class, an 'A' IS, and has to be,  good enough.  I don't want my students stressed about fighting over a point to get an A+.  I'd rather they focused their energies on social injustice or some bigger picture

"Pop" Quizzes, too.  I think "Pop" Quizzes, you know, the ones that are a surprise to students and 'Popped' on them without prior warning, are more about the teacher than they are about the students, and are often given after a teacher feels exasperated with a class.  The good students most always do well.  And often, it's the disruptive ones that are the brightest.  A "Pop" Quiz that counts ends up punishing the ones who need the most support in learning the material, some of whom are quietly concentrating and really trying to do their best for you.  Plus, if a teacher gives a "Pop" Quiz and then doesn't count it, it perturbs the brighter students and the students who try hard but still struggle won't take you seriously next time.

I Never Drop the Lowest Grade.
Sure, everyone has a bad day, I get it.  But I'll be damned if I let my students think that what I'm teaching can be minimized, eliminated, ignored, or even skipped over.  Everything is important, every test, every quiz,  every class activity, every project.  So, I'm not dropping any grades, even the lowest.

Here is my work-around on each of these issues.


Nerfoop Review

As I've said, I don't give nor do I believe in Extra Credit.  However, here's a little workaround for that idea.  I tell all my students that the review is very important and their answers count for points that they collect during the semester.  When their final grade is computed, these points are added to their semester total (I always use a points-based system) and often there are enough points to get them to the next grade, for example, a C+ could become a B-, a B+ an A-.

Here's the magic.  It's called Nerfoop Review and this is how it works.

Remember, my objective is to impress upon my students that 'everything counts' and 'everything in the unit could be on the test.'  If a student asks, 'Is this going to count?'  or 'Is this going to be covered on the test?', the answer is always 'yes, expect it.'

Consistent with this concept, I have a review session before every major 100-point exam.  The review counts for bonus points.  I tell them the more orderly they are, the more questions I can ask and the more points you might get.  During the review, each student is called upon individually and, from their seat, I ask them a relevant review question.   All students are encouraged to take notes and motivated by my assertion that many of these questions WILL appear on the test.  Seems unbelievable, perhaps, but, that's right, everyone participates in the review and most everyone participates in voluntarily taking notes.  I'm encouraging willful participation in their own learning by making note-taking voluntary and suggesting they work on the skill of notetaking because they're going to be using it more and more in their studies as they progress through the grades and onto educational pursuits after high school.

Here's how Nerfoop Review works in my classroom: I have an open-note, open-book, open-mind review before each major 100 point test.  Students are encouraged to take notes during the review because, I tell them, there may be some questions I'm asking that will appear on the test, either as part of a multiple choice question and answer or as part of a short answer/essay question.

The review is structured so student participation is automatic.  That's right.  I'm going to call on every child individually to answer a question related to the unit material we just finished covering.  They are taking notes because some of the questions, I tell them, are going to be on the exam tomorrow.  Take good notes today, study some more tonight, and you should do well.  Put in more time and you'll probably do even better, I tell them.

I start by going around the room, one student at a time.  Because these are potential test questions, almost everyone is taking notes on everyone's questions and answers.  When a student is called upon and gets the answer correct, they get one point.  At the same time, they get to shoot for another point.  That's right.  I've got my little nerf ball and my little hoop with the hoop attached to the top of a bulletin board.  I place a line of masking tape about 6-7 feet away from the hoop.  I take a practice shot and make it of course to show it's possible.  A student gets the opportunity to shoot for the extra point (making it two possible points per student per question) ONLY after they answer the review question correctly.  Given the size of your class and the nature of the exam, make sure you have enough questions for each student to have a unique one.  Record the points in your roll book under the heading Review Points.  I tell students that the points are recorded and then used at the end of the semester to help them solidify their grade.

What about the students who don't answer their question correctly?  Well, because it's open note and open book review, if there's time after the first go around, I'll ask those who didn't get their first question correct another question.  That way, students don't feel that all is lost after the first go around because they didn't get any points.  Explaining this approach, the other students recognize a teacher's effort to be inclusive and modeling patience with their peers.  What I tell them all is this:  What's Easy for Some is More Challenging for Others.  If you're consistent with this mantra, they'll understand.  Your students are smart.

At the end of the first round of questions, I determine who hasn't answered a question correctly and go back to those students.  They're often the ones who need the extra points anyway. Ask them another question, maybe even a question that's been asked already.  Either way, you're encouraging risk-taking: speaking in public, answering the question right or wrong, being viewed unfavorably by peers).  As the teacher, you're encouraging risk-taking by creating the safe environment to do so and then giving students the opportunity to take that risk.


I know.  I show no mercy.  No, I'm not dropping your lowest grade.  I understand.  Everybody has a bad day.  I'm sorry you had a bad day.  Here's what we're going to do.

And this is my classroom policy on a student's 'bad day' grade.

You can retake the test.  That's correct.  With one caveat: I'll average the two test scores together but you can only raise your score to a 72/100.  So, if you received a 62/100 on take number one and you received a 92/A- on your retake, the highest average  there would be 73/C.  Why?  I'm glad you asked.

Because giving a higher score would penalize those who tried hard the first time.  I want to encourage hard work the first time and being responsible to yourself the second time.

I think this holds students accountable for everything and encourages taking responsibility.  You don't get a doctor's note excusing you from the pursuit of knowledge and you don't want the good students bragging that they don't have to take the final exam.  For me, case closed.


In my classroom, there is no such thing as an A+.  An A grade is the highest I'll give because the '+' sign doesn't add any value to a grade that is already the highest you can receive.  Yes, that goes for that nonsense quest to have a 4.225 grade point average.  Call me old fashioned.  An A is the highest grade I ever gave.

The 'Why?' is this.  Students, teachers, and parents are crazy enough.  You start giving A+ grades and all of a sudden, an A isn't enough.  You've got to get an A+!  Going over grades when you review a test, they will fight tooth and nail for that extra point, a 96 to a 97 for example.  It's psychologically cruel and unnecessary. In the real world, there are no A+ grades so why create an illusion of greater entitlement in the classroom?  A score of 93 is an A; a score of 100 is an A.

And, of course there's a B+ and a C+ and a D+...those are fine grades... but THERE IS NO F+ !

As a matter of fact, since you're using a points scale for grading anyway, don't even put a letter grade on a test that scores in the F range.  Ask them if they'd like to schedule a retake (see my policy on Dropping the Lowest Grade).  Encourage them to try again.  Same with all C- or below grades.  Anyone receiving a C- or below can schedule a retake.  The retake opportunity encourages my principle of encouraging the love of learning and at the same time encouraging responsibility for their achievements.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014



It's been easy for teachers  to dismiss the importance of emotional intelligence because their idea of it makes them uncomfortable, or it's been misunderstood or misrepresented.  Neuroscience is leading the way in helping us understand the scope of the importance of the emotional brain and its connection the the thinking brain.

As teachers, we have a relationship with every one of our students. How teachers and their students define this relationship is vital to understanding the psychological environment within each class.  We as teachers tend to teach to our strengths, which is usually around the subject we're teaching, how we're teaching the subject,  plus our management style.  What we lack sometimes is the willingness to teach to our weaknesses as well.

What I mean is,  let's face it, most of our relationships are superficial ones.  Superficial relationships actually make the rest of the world work more efficiently. Because we're engaging that way everyday, we're actually comfortable living like that.  As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to keep the ever-widening circle of superficial relationships growing.  How many 'Likes' do you have?  You get my point.  And we don't have to wonder why this is, we just accept it and leave analyzing it to the sociologists.  It's living in a modern industrialized, internet connected world.  We're all 'Friends' aren't we?.

This conditioning, this socialized conditioning and normalization of superficial relationships, sometimes leaves us ill-equipped to develop deeper relationships.  However, I have good news.  Even though we generally bring to the table only what we're given in terms of our own emotional development and intelligence, even if we're not good with relationships in general, we can still be good with them in the classroom.  And sometimes better.

Because in the classroom, it's different.  You're with the same faces for 40 weeks, 170 + days out of the year.  And you 've made the commitment to teach.  You already know teaching is a relationship business. Now comes the degree to which you are willing and able to engage in meaningful and academic relationships with your students.

Many teachers are going to dismiss what I'm asking you to consider.  And, it's true, as veteran's, we've been in the trenches for so long, we've developed some thick skin and thin patience.  We sink into a funk instead of rise with the groove.  And that general malaise is well-worn and uninspired, more cynical and narrow, closing, closing, closed..  The fire's going out.

But I'm not talking to that person.  I'm talking to you.

The balance comes when we embrace the importance of an individual and collective emotional intelligence as an energy force within the classroom.  Some teachers find it easier to just deal with the consequences of disruptive behavior and bored, daydreaming students.

By acknowledging the power of a developing emotional intelligence within each student, and therefore within the classroom at large, teachers are at an advantage in making more meaningful and more powerful relationships.  Relationships that not only channel disruptive behavior into more focused and positive efforts, but also relationships that reinforce the importance of what you're doing together.  Yes, that's a fact.

As a teacher, as the adult, you set the example in your class. Students are eager for a safe classroom environment that is conducive to learning, a teacher who sets strong boundaries, controls the class, and yet who is also sensitive to the individual human condition.

Always keep in mind, you're teaching human beings first.  And, you're on the same team.  This is not you versus them.  This is you AND them.  As the adult in the room, you've got to check your ego at the door.  Otherwise, you're going to get your ego bruised.

This is not all about you thinking 'see how smart a teacher I am?' (that you know your subject is a given) this is 'let's see how we can be the best learners we can be.'    The goal is not to flunk children, the goal is to connect, guide and inspire.  Teachers are actually doing this every day.  And in a variety of ways.

Why not you?

The overall goal is for teachers to play a small part in their students journeys to becoming life-long learners. Teaching them HOW to learn is more valuable than teaching them WHAT to learn.

A first week objective is to begin to establish an emotionally-connected academic classroom foundation. Keep in mind, you're teaching human beings first, with your subject matter simply a part of the vehicle you're dedicated to drive toward excellence.

A teacher's mindset is crucial to understanding that this foundation-building is not a one-off.   It's not simply something you do the first week and forget about it the rest of the school year.  Just like you and your students should take little brain breaks,  foundation-building must be reinforced throughout the semester with academically rich activities that are supported by and enhanced by the positive emotional climate. Along with a fine-tuned teacher-learner dialogue, framing and fulfilling objectives,  utilizing prompts and eliciting responses,  as well as supporting an atmosphere of open communication and active listening, will guarantee a more involved and dynamic classroom.

That's right.  Guaranteed.  I did it.  You can, too.  Especially if what you're doing now ISN'T working as well as you'd like or even if you think you're failing.  Pick yourself up because I'm going to show you a way through.  Be open and pay attention.

After all, most teachers would love an alert, engaged and appropriately participatory classroom.   Establishing a sense of safety, of trust, of connection, will enhance a teacher's sense of enthusiasm for their students as well as the subject being taught and learned.

How does a teacher establish, reinforce and maintain this emotionally connected academically charged foundation?

That's the million dollar question I'm going to try to answer for you.  It's exactly what I did for all those years. And because I approached teaching middle school by addressing a student's emotional brain, their thinking brains did better on all levels.  They were more deeply connected to me and our mission together and they WANTED to please me and do well.  They took greater pride in their work and more consistently met deadlines.  Bear in mind, we're ALL works in progress if you're living life with purpose and growth.  Being patient and sensitive to the human condition in your classroom is a big plus.  Maybe you don't want to make that commitment, but for those who do, the rewards are many.  As I've said, I love teaching and I loved all my classes.  Humans aren't perfect, we make mistakes.  If we err on the side of loving what we do and loving who we do it for, we can soften the hard edges of imperfection and embrace the human condition in all its colors and expressions.  I want that for you because I want you to know how amazing you can be and what an amazing classroom experience you can share with your students.

Learning is a journey you and your students take together.  Knowing your subject is simply the ticket to the train. Knowing your students will take the train where it needs to go.  I want you to always keep in mind, the importance and power of the emotional brain as a direct link to the thinking brain. Accessing that power will enhance your teaching experience and your students' learning experience.  This perspective has the power of a locomotive and knowing your students will take the train where it needs to go.

Again, because we're all human beings on this third rock from the sun, for some, it may just be the next stop; for others, your classroom could be that transformative experience elevating the spirit and reinforcing the value and importance of life-long learning.

Your classroom should be set up to help reinforce the idea that for both teacher and student, this is going to be a transformative experience.  And that's what I want to help you do: become a positive, transformative force for learning.  To become unforgettable means to plant seeds of love.  And if you love learning, love teaching, and love people, then the seeds will be spilling out of your pockets into the fertile soil of imagination, wonder, and achievement.

IF you're open to it.  So, BE open to it.