What Do I Do About Hitting? Tips for Managing Aggressive Student Behavior

By Michelle Simmons

It was the first day of school and the first day of my teaching career as a special educator. I arrived early, anxious, and dressed for success! My classroom was set up just as I had planned in undergraduate behavior-management courses, and I was eager to teach. Unfortunately, my best-laid plans unraveled quickly. A student in my class had severe behavior challenges. Instead of spending the first day of school teaching classroom routines and getting to know students, I spent this precious time responding to hitting, spitting, running, and yelling. By the end of the day, I was wearing someone else’s lunch and had chased a student outside the building twice. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and concerned that my teaching career might be ending as quickly as it had started.

This first-day experience with a student who exhibited severe behavior problems led me to two notable conclusions: 1) I was trading my cute heels for a pair of running shoes, and 2) I needed a practical plan for managing aggressive student behavior.

Obvious and direct links exist between academic achievement and student behavior. One seriously disruptive student can limit the potential for all students in the classroom to learn. The following approach is designed to help you manage severe student behavior —biting, hitting, screaming, kicking, running—so that you can focus your energy on instruction (Sprick, 2006).

Be Proactive

Proactive means teachers focus on preventing an aggressive behavior problem instead of reacting to it.

  • Create a therapeutic environment. Students who exhibit aggressive behavior are more vulnerable and are likely to have specific, individual needs. A classroom that is sensitive to individual needs is clean and provides students with comfortable places to sit, interesting things to look at or do, and opportunities to engage in age-appropriate, functional activities (Alberto & Troutman, 2013).
  • Communicate clear, enforceable expectations.  Students who are aggressive struggle with impulse control. They will often react before thinking through a problem. Determine two or three individualized behavior expectations for the student and give frequent visual cues or reminders of these expectations (Lehto et al., 2003).

Be Positive

Even with positivity, the aggressive student will likely still exhibit aggressive behavior. “Positive” means responding during the aggressive event with support as well as consistency to build a collaborative relationship with the student.

  • Remain objective. Do not take the student’s behavior personally. Remember that the behavior usually has nothing to do with you and is not a conscious attempt to defy or intentionally engage with you in a competition for control.
  • Manage the situation. Stay out of arms/legs reach while actively monitoring the student’s movements. If the student is kicking or throwing objects, keep objects out of the way. If necessary, remove other students from the classroom. Avoid touching the student and only use restraint (physically holding the student in any way) as a last resort. Never use restraint without certified restraint training and the support of a campus team who has also participated in restraint training.

Be Instructional

Instructional means that effective teachers treat misbehavior as an opportunity to learn and teach appropriate behavior. Directly teach expectations at the beginning of the year, throughout the year, prior to the occurrence of aggressive behavior, and afterward as well (Sprick, 2006).

  • Teach the student. Seek ways to teach the student about tantrums and how we all feel when feelings are expressed in an inappropriate way. Equip the student with strategies for self-monitoring. Help them understand warning signs when their own negative feelings arise and teach them what they are supposed to do when these feelings occur (Lehto et al., 2003).
  • Develop a plan. Under the right circumstances, students who exhibit aggressive behavior can learn to find appropriate replacement behaviors that are acceptable for relieving tension. Identify the problem behavior, observe the behavior, determine its function, teach the student a replacement behavior that serves the same function, and create a plan to reinforce the student for choosing an acceptable behavior (Alberto & Troutman, 2013).

All teachers can expect to encounter a student with severe behavior challenges. When you use proactive planning, positive support, and intentional instruction, a situation that you might have considered stressful or even scary can become predictable and easier to manage.

By the end of the school year, the same student who exhibited severe problem behaviors and I had reached a shared instructional relationship in which we both thrived. I was proactive by creating a predictable environment with expectations individualized to the student’s needs. When the student did become aggressive, I had a plan to respond to the behavior that was supportive for the student and safe for everyone in the classroom. And, finally, when the student was comfortable, we spent time engaged in shared learning that equipped us all with appropriate behavior-management strategies. The year concluded with the student’s increased desire to be at school and the beginning of my lifelong professional commitment to serve children with significant behavioral needs.

Additional Resources

Behavior-Specific Praise

Choice Making

High-Probability Requests

Proximity Control

Dr. Simmons is the Lanna Hatton Professor of Learning Disabilities, Director of the Center for Learning Disabilities, and an Assistant Professor of Special Education at West Texas A&M University. Dr. Simmons is actively involved in service to educators, families, and students with learning differences and developmental disabilities statewide, and in the Panhandle area. Dr. Simmons maintains a record of scholarly activity that includes educational assessment, university-based special educator preparation programs, and progress-based classroom management strategies.


Lehto, J. E., Kooistra, L., Juuiarvi, P., & Pulkkinen, L (2003). Dimensions of executive functioning: Evidence from children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21(1), 59–80.

Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2013). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (9th ed.). Pearson.   Sprick, R. S. (2006). Discipline in the secondary classroom (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.  

4 Student Behaviors That Matter

By Jeanne Qvarnstrom

In a positive classroom environment, students will thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. To explore the foundations of such an environment, I surveyed over 100 practicing teachers and gave them a list of both 10 student behaviors that promote a productive learning environment and 10 student behaviors that hinder one (Qvarnstrom, 2018)..

In the survey results, teachers identified the two most important student behaviors to cultivate and the two most significant behaviors that undermine a positive classroom environment. By considering these findings, we can put greater emphasis on creating the positive classroom that  contributes to the foundation for a more democratic society.

Positive Student Behaviors to Cultivate

  1. Teachers who were surveyed rated “responding respectfully to the opinions of others” as most important. In the classroom, mutual respect is the foundation for all interactions. Respectful relationships are essential (Borba, 2018).
  2. Teachers rated “successfully managing conflict” as the second most important behavior. Irvine (2018) recommends that “teachers use discussions of controversial issues to help their students understand various points of view” (p. 105). She concludes that “these skills and predispositions are fundamental for a responsible, thoughtful, and active citizenry” (Irvine, 2018, p. 105).

Negative Student Behaviors to Address

  1. Teachers rated “sarcasm” as the most negative and prevalent behavior they observed in the classrooms. When students practice verbal aggression, it undermines the victim’s self-esteem, sense of well-being, and productivity.
  2. Teachers rated “inability to take personal responsibility” as the second most negative and prevalent behavior. Unless students become aware of their own responsibility for their actions, they will not hold themselves accountable for their actions.

In the survey, I also asked teachers to identify strategies they used to promote the positive behaviors and minimize the negative behaviors. Their answers varied from simulations to role playing to social justice projects to videos and movies. Many of them also identified the value of incorporating literature. In the article “Learning Character From Characters,” Boyles (2018) agrees that books can be a valuable resource for addressing questions about the ways in which we interact with one another in the classroom. Consider the books below to discuss these key behaviors.

Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller
Key Question: How can we show others that we respect and care for them?
Grades: K–3
Behavior: Respect
Some Places More Than Others, by Renée Watson
Key Question: How can family conflicts be resolved?
Grades: 4–6
Behavior: Conflict resolution
The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander
Key Question: How do you take personal responsibility for your life?
Grades: 4–6
Behavior: Personal responsibility

Concluding Thoughts

The classroom environment must provide all students with an equal opportunity for success. Literature opens a lens on positive behaviors that support success.  A class reading of The Undefeated, for example, gives students insights into respect and understanding of how others deal with conflict.  Author Kwame Alexander describes overcoming conflict beautifully: “This is for the undeniable.  The ones who scored with chains on one hand and faith in the other” (Alexander, 2019).

Rich literature in the classroom exposes students to values that promote a positive classroom and ultimately a more democratic society. By attending to these key behaviors, identified by seasoned teachers, students can learn how to live and work productively with one another.

Dr. Qvarnstrom is an Associate  Professor of Education at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. Her research and teaching focus on new teacher training and positive classroom and campus environments.


Alexander, K. (2019). The Undefeated. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Boyles, N. (2018). Learning character from characters. Educational Leadership, 76(2), 70–74.

Borba, M. (2018). Nine competencies for teaching empathy. Educational Leadership, 76(2), 22–28.

Irvine Jordan, J. (2018). Teaching in an increasingly polarized society. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54(3), 103–105. Qvarnstrom, J. (2018). Civility survey. Sul Ross State University.

Wiggle While You Work: Brain Breaks to Increase Productivity

By Rebecca Reppen and Natalie Andzik

Off-task behaviors among students with and without disabilities negatively affect their productivity and learning, disrupt the flow of the classroom, and adversely impact other students. Those behaviors can be minimized, however, by introducing “brain breaks,” a proven strategy can maximize instructional time.

Brain breaks can increase on-task behavior for allstudents, especially those who have trouble focusing for extended periods of time. The purpose is for students to take a mental break from the content knowledge they’ve been focusing on and give their brains time to process information before they move on to the next task.

You can easily implement 10–15-minute brain breaks for the whole class, a small group, or even an individual student throughout the day, every day. This helps students “reset” their brains before they start a new task.

Recess and passing periods alone do not increase on-task behavior, but shorter and more frequent recesses can have a positive impact on students’ engagement during instruction time (Mahar, 2011). One option would be to implement recess for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes after lunch, and again for 10 minutes approximately 1 hour before the school day ends. Brain breaks that integrate physical movement, such as a quick dance party or yoga session, will allow students to increase focus and retain academic information (Popeska et al., 2018). No space for physical movement? Use interactive technology such as Kahoot! or pop up a music video for a sing-along. Students who engage in technology-based brain breaks reported feeling they learned better and could pay attention and focus more (Popeska et al., 2018).

Ms. Melina decided to use brain breaks with one of her students, George, who was rarely on-task during instruction. First, she asked him what he liked to do, so his breaks would be related to his interests (walking outside and playing basketball). After the timer rang at 10 minutes, he re-entered the classroom quietly, without disturbing his classmates, and began his work. His on-task behavior in the classroom increased from an average of 20% of the time to an average of 85%, and he no longer interrupted other students with his off-task behavior.

Some suggested brain-break options include allowing students to draw, tell jokes, lay on the floor, or complete a puzzle. Researchers have used this intervention with a variety of students, ages, and settings, and results always show an improvement in on-task behavior equating to an overall positive impact on the academic success of all students in the classroom (Gaastra et al., 2016).

Ms. Reppen graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2020. She is currently a 5th grade teacher at Harrison Community Learning Center in Peoria Illinois. 

Dr. Andzik is an Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. As a former special education teacher, she enjoys working closely with preservice teachers to prepare them to work with kids with disabilities.


Gaastra, G. F., Groen, Y., Tucha, L., & Tucha, O. (2016). The effects of classroom interventions on off-task and disruptive classroom behavior in children with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A meta-analytic review. PLoS ONE, 11(2), e0148841. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148841

Mahar, M. T. (2011). Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children. Preventive Medicine, 52, 60–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.026

Popeska, B., Jovanova-Mitkovska, S., Chin, M. K., Edginton, C., Mo Ching Mok, M., & Gontarev, S. (2018). Implementation of Brain Breaks® in the classroom and effects on attitudes toward physical activity in a Macedonian school setting. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15, 1127–1145. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061127

Playing Games: A Lost Art in School

By Sarah Guthery and Amy Corp

The focus on students’ emotional well-being in schools is greater now more than ever. As teachers, we can help facilitate that by fostering community and team building—but how? Research has shown that playing games cultivates such a sense of community (Chlup & Collins, 2010).

Many of us are already using review games, or quiz games as part of instruction; however, games also can foster a sense of community and improve class morale. Teaching games to students requires an initial investment of time, but once they know the rules, you can use them anytime with no preparation or materials required. We commonly use games for younger students on rainy days, when lessons run short, or while waiting for the bus, but they serve a purpose for older students, too. I once heard a high school teacher say they call roll because that might be the only time all day that student hears their name at school. Playing games with students sets aside intentional time to connect as a class and build openness and trust (Boatman, 1991).

Teacher and school children playing card game in classroom. Taken on Toronto’lypse 2012. Playing cards are Property relased by http://www.istockphoto.com/diane555.

Ice Breakers and Team Building

As adults, we recognize the importance of community building, and an entire industry has sprung up around corporate team-building. However, we have yet to apply that same fervor to our classrooms and our students. Icebreakers are a great way to start introducing games into your classroom. An icebreaker is a game in which the main objective is to get to know others better. As you and your students feel more confident with one another and playing games, team-building exercises are fun ways to learn about classmates and build connections.

How to Select a Game

  • Start small: Choose icebreakers to ensure students know one another’s names and build from there.
  • Start safe: Consider the amount of personal risk-taking involved; students are unlikely to potentially embarrass themselves in front of classmates.
  • Start secure: To keep the game experience positive, choose games that don’t require physical contact or oversharing of personal information.

Games for K–4

Elementary students enjoy short, active games with lots of opportunity for engagement. The classics like 7-Up and Simon Says are always popular, but you can add new games, too, like Secret Circle. Students stand in a circle facing out with one student, blindfolded, in the middle. The student in the middle tries to listen for a noisy object being passed around, like a bag of bells, and point to where they think they hear the noise before time runs out.

Games for 5–8

Middle school and high school students love games, too, and since they are older can enjoy games with more complex rules. One of my favorite games with this age is Giants, Dwarves, and Elves. This game is a mashup of Red Rover and Rock, Paper, Scissors; the game (and many others) is explained in detail at the link.

Games for 9–12

Even though their days of playing tag are probably over, high school students still need community and trust-building activities. Playing games targeted at adults can meet this need and prepare them for working in teams in the real world. One fun game is concentric circles that rotate so everyone has a partner to talk to, and after 30 seconds the inner circle turns one place to the right, giving everyone a new partner. They introduce themselves and share one interest or hobby. By the end of the activity, every student has engaged with half the class in short conversations.

How and When to Start

If you have never played games with your classes before, starting midyear is the perfect time to introduce new life and community into your classroom. You can use the trust you have already built with students to introduce new ways to end the day. Rather than always ending on an exit ticket, packing up, or with reminders about homework, leaving just 3–5 minutes at the end of a class for a short game can transform your room into a community over time. Playing games to build community also ends the day on a positive note. Often a simple game can end the day in laughter and send everyone home happy and with a sense of belonging. Perhaps for some students, that sense of belonging may be the most important few minutes of the day.

Suggested Resources

How to Games for K–12

Low Risk Icebreaker Games

Fun Games for Older Students

Dr. Guthery is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas A&M University Commerce. Her research and teaching focus on the preparation and retention of new teachers in the classroom.

Dr. Corp is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M Commerce, where she teaches education courses and supervises student teachers. Previously, she taught for 13 years in public schools in four states.


Chlup, D. T., & Collins, T. E. (2010). Breaking the ice: Using ice-breakers and re-energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning21(3–4), 34–39. Boatman, S. A. (1991, April 11–14). Icebreakers and group builders for the classroom [Paper presentation]. Annual Meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Chicago, IL, United States.

Creating a Cache Stash: Going Beyond “the List” to Meet the Needs of Every Student

By Natalie Young

Meeting the needs of every student does not end at ensuring every student is provided with your classroom’s school supply list. Students need much more than just materials and supplies. As an elementary classroom teacher working in a high-poverty school district serving mostly minority students, I created an essential stash of goods for my students each year. This “cache stash” went beyond providing typical school supply needs—it provided students with peace of mind. 

Ms. Young, my grandma tried to do my hair, and now it look a hot mess.

Ms. Young, I ain’t get to eat no breakfast today.

Ms. Young, I forgot my gloves at home.

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve had many conversations that began like that. I just recently discovered that some preservice and new teachers are unaware that every teacher needs a cache stash. Research has shown a correlation between poverty and school achievement.  Low-socioeconomic kids often earn lower scores in core subjects like reading, writing, and math (Jensen, 2010). Creating a stash for your students is simple and you can easily remembered it by using this simple acronym: STASH.

S—Snacks: You should consider snacks one of the most important items in your stash. When children are hungry, it’s difficult for them to focus and pay attention in class. Try to provide a variety of options, but also include go-to snacks like cheese crackers, popcorn, and pretzels. Be aware of any allergies students may have and keep only peanut-free items in your stash.

TTalking: Students talk all day long, so having fresh breath is important. We ask students to share and collaborate multiple times throughout the day. However, a turn-’n-talk isn’t always the best strategy if a student has bad breath. Making sure to have mouthwash and mints in your stash can help students avoid being on the receiving end of ridicule from other students.

AApparel: Being a teacher in the Midwest, I am deeply aware that our winters are long and fierce. Extra gloves, scarfs, hats, and earmuffs are an essential part of fighting our cold, windy weather. Supplying your students with essential clothing items throughout the year can make a big difference.

SSkincare: Adding items like lip balm, lotion, and sunscreen helps soothe and protect students’ skin. When adding skincare items, be sure to include fragrance-free items to avoid issues for students with sensitive skin.

HHair: Hair is very important in African American culture. As a Black woman, I grew up understanding the importance of Black hair, and I possess a vast quantity of Black hair knowledge. If you don’t have a full appreciation and thorough understanding of the uniqueness of Black hair, I strongly advise against any attempts to adjust African American hairstyles. Regardless, your stash should always include essential items like combs, brushes, hair ties, and common hair products used by students in your school’s community.

Be sure to ask close friends and family for donations to your cache stash. Give them a list of essentials you need at your next family gathering or text them your list. Most people are aware of the monetary struggles teachers face and are happy to donate items. As a new teacher, creating your own cache stash will help you meet the needs of every child, including the unexpected needs.

Dr. Young is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Northern Illinois University. She enjoys preparing future teachers to be successful in today’s diverse classrooms. She has been active in KDP since 2016 and is a faculty co-counselor for the Delta Epsilon Chapter.


Jensen, E. (2010). Teaching with poverty in mind: What being poor does to kids’ brains and what schools can do about it. ASCD.

Environment As the Third Teacher


Dear Dr. P.,

I am excited about my new classroom, but I’m feeling completely overwhelmed looking at the bare walls and thinking about how I’m going to make the classroom come to life and be organized for the students. Any suggestions?

Thank you, Classroom Setup Crunch

Dear Crunch,

Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia preschools, would be enthusiastic about your question. He believed that environment is such an important part of making learning meaningful that he coined the term “environment as the third teacher” (Gandini, 2011).

The Reggio Emilia approach provokes educators to think differently about the aesthetics of a classroom. Instead of purchased “decorations,” students are the creators of the aesthetic through learning. For example, instead of buying an alphabet chart to put at the front of the room, young learners can create one themselves out of sticks found on the playground or materials recycled from another unit. The students not only use the finished chart, but they also engage in an in-depth way by constructing it to make meaning for themselves. Older students can use similar techniques to create a periodic table or an anchor chart.

Student-made alphabet chart adorns the hallway at the IPS/Butler Lab School.

Consider what supplies you can keep out on a regular basis instead of just pulling them out for a short time. You’ll notice this inspires a creative work process. Imagine if you encourage students to use the set of magnifying glasses at recess and beyond! In Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, you’ll often see glass jars or recycled storage containers (like baskets) filled with materials for learners’ easy access.

Ms. Marielle Keller’s kindergarten classroom at the IPS/Butler Lab School.

Think about how students move around your class to collaborate. Where are they able to work in small groups? What is the easiest access to supplies without disrupting classmates? At the beginning of the year, have students role-play the appropriate and inappropriate ways to move about the room. This “interactive modeling” also can help you assess what does and does not work. After you’ve built a strong class community, why not give students a chance to redesign the room and think about the ways the classroom can morph and change to support their growing needs?

Lastly, calming spots, relaxation stations, and “amygdala reset areas” are important for students who might need a break for behavior or academic reasons. These areas are usually a soft space away from the busyness of the classroom. They don’t have to be large, just safe spots for kids to take a break in a proactive way.

Lastly, and I know this goes against the grain, but I highly encourage you to not feel pressure to spend money on your classroom environment (although we’ve all done it). From an administrative and community perspective, it gives a false sense of budget needs. Many new teachers have had tremendous success with Donorschoose.org for supplies like pillows and lamps for calming spots. Businesses also have allotted money for school donations and, in many cases, all you must do is fill out a simple form. PTAs and parent groups are also eager to support environment when possible.

Enjoy establishing your new community and your new environment!

Dr. P.

Image result for catherine hagerman panganDr. Pangan, a former elementary teacher and current Professor at Butler University (Indianapolis), loves to help build and support strong, healthy schools. Please send your question for Dr. P. to cpangan@butler.edu.


Gandini, L. (2011). Play and the hundred languages of children: An interview with Lella Gandini. American Journal of Play, 4(1), 1–18.

4 Steps To Engage Students In The Close Reading Process


You know that close reading is important and necessary due to Common Core mandates, but do you feel uncomfortable when it is time to teach close reading and implement close reading strategies with your students?

Does your current mode of instruction leave your students disengaged and uninterested in reading?

What can you do to change the current atmosphere in your classroom regarding close reading and close reading strategies?

With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, teachers were pushed to incorporate close reading into their curriculum (Dollins, 2016). It sent teachers into a frenzy to find ways of promoting close reading within their classrooms. Close reading is defined as uncovering layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension of complex text (Boyles, 2014). But how does one effectively do this? One way is by using close reading strategies—concepts that help students actively think about close reading in a formulaic manner.

Figuring out which strategies are the most effective in engaging students while allowing them to deeply comprehend the selected course reading is a daunting task for a newer teacher. However, you can do four things to ensure that your students get the most out of the close reading process.

1. Choose interesting and culturally relevant text.

Choose text and passages that are interesting to your students. When students find no interest or relevance in the text, they will be disengaged and uninterested. Choose texts that are age appropriate, intellectually stimulating, and culturally relevant. When books contain characters or situations that are representative of students, children are more likely to remain engaged and show curiosity (May, Bingham, & Pendergast, 2014).

2. Use graphic organizers.

Graphic organizers encourage your students to engage with complex text by organizing key ideas from the reading (Flynt & Cooter, 2005; Singleton & Filce, 2015). Foldable graphic organizers are interactive and will keep kinesthetic learners engaged as they fill in important information from the text.

3. Read the text in different methods.

Students should not sit and read independently as the only form of reading. Chunk the text into smaller, shorter passages, depending on the length of the text. Then, allow students to read with a partner, read with a whole group, read independently, or listen to audiobooks. You can even read aloud to your students. Use all methods in a balanced manner, being sure that students do not become fatigued from reading and shut down.

4. Discuss.

What’s the point in reading literature if there’s no discussion? Give students the opportunity to share their learning, discuss opinions, make predictions, and share alternate endings for the text. After engaging in the close reading of a text, the best way to encourage engagement and interest is to allow students to share their ideas about a text.

Today’s classroom teachers don’t have the luxury of simply assigning text and allowing students to self-monitor for comprehension.

When expecting students to closely read a text, teachers must be hands-on throughout the close reading process, especially to ensure engagement with, foster interest in, and allow students to derive meaning from the text. There’s no need for the frenzy of trying to figure out how to promote close reading in the classroom. Implement these simple close reading strategies for stress-free, engaged, and interesting close reading throughout your class.

Image result for sharonica nelson university of alabama birmingham Dr. Nelson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English/ Language Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research interests include urban education, writing instruction, and close reading.


Boyles, N. (2014). Close reading without tears. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 32–37.

Dollins, C. A. (2016). Crafting creative nonfiction: From close reading to close writing. The Reading Teacher, 70(1), 49–58. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1465

Flynt, E. S., & Cooter Jr., R. B. (2005). Improving middle-grades reading in urban schools: The Memphis Comprehension Framework. Reading Teacher, 58(8), 774–780.

May, L. A., Bingham, G. E., & Pendergast, M. L. (2014). Culturally and linguistically relevant readalouds. Multicultural Perspectives, 16(4), 210–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/15210960.2014.952299

Singleton, S. M., & Filce, H. G. (2015). Graphic organizers for secondary students with learning disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48(2), 110–117. https://doi.org/10.1177/0040059915605799

New Teachers, Don’t Accept the Default: Suggestions to Ensure Success in Your First Year

araoz-lee2Our blog today comes to you from Lee Araoz, who maintains “The Golden Age of Education: Highly Effective Tools and Strategies”, who recently posted this blog. (He’s approved us to share it with you!) It was originally shared as part of a speech he gave for the KDP Initiation Ceremony at Molloy College on March 14, 2016. Enjoy!

I’ve compiled a list of statements offering new teachers advice as they enter their first year of teaching. It is my intention that these suggestions will dispel many of the myths preservice teachers encounter as they complete their training programs.


Don’t accept the DEFAULT. Seek out an option that will be BETTER for students:

  • Make it your mission to fight the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking.
  • Be a disruptor and shake things up. Create an epic classroom!
  • Start slowly with little tweaks like replacing rows of desks with clusters of four in all classrooms—especially those in middle school and high school.
  • Create the change you wish to see in your school.


Be so GOOD they can’t ignore you:

  • Do MORE than the default — arrive early and stay late.
  • Work during your lunch hour — hold review sessions, play RISK with students, treat them to lunch occasionally and allow them to work on projects.
  • Volunteer for everything — start a drama club, be a student government advisor, go to PTA meetings, and/or join the site-based management team.
  • Read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, for more inspiration.










Establish a strong PERSONAL CONNECTION with your students:

  • Share family stories with your class — include your spouse, your children, and your pets. Describe how things were in school when you were a kid.
  • Share your writing folder — read stories you wrote when you were their age. Show them your horrible handwriting.
  • Get to know your students — provide ample opportunities for them to share verbally and in writing. Start a class blog. Go to your students’ soccer games, dance recitals, and drama shows. They will never forget this!



  • Establish clear and simple standards of behavior and stick to them. Students need to feel loved, and they all want limits (although they may not realize it).
  • Flexibility is a key factor to success in your first year. Every student is not at the same instructional level and has different social and emotional needs. For example, I had a student in my first class who was a genius. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge, but his desk was a mess inside and out. Rather than scold him repeatedly about his disorganization, I allowed him to “take over” the empty desk next to him so that he would have more room to put his things.
  • I’ll never forget the FUN I had in 5th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Weiner, made each learning task a joyful experience. We played game shows like Password to review material, created our own videos and filmstrips (cutting-edge technology in the 1970s), wrote extensively and read voraciously. We participated in a Gong Show talent contest, dressed up as our favorite book character and played kickball in her class. Content was being created on a daily basis and it made for an unforgettable experience. I credit Mrs. Weiner as a primary influence on my desire to become a teacher. And, I’ve made sure to incorporate fun activities like these into my lessons every year regardless of grade level. My students come back to tell me how they will always remember the Ancient History News programs they created and filmed live in front of the class.


Make a daily effort to be a “GUIDE ON THE SIDE” rather than a “Sage on the Stage”:

  • Move from a teacher-centered to a LEARNER-DRIVEN classroom.
  • Plan group work activities into ever lesson — play Breakout EDU!
  • Allow students to explore and innovate — do passion-based Genius Hour projects.
  • Incorporate student choice into learning labs — think-tac-toe.



  • Assess prior knowledge as soon as the lesson begins with Socrative, Nearpod, Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, or plain old pencil and paper.
  • Then, group students accordingly for that lesson (Flexible Skills Grouping).
  • Offer multiple project options for students to create evidence of learning. Be sure to include choices that reflect various learning styles. Refrain from assigning “cookie-cutter” projects where every student creates the same exact thing.


Get students MOVING in the classroom:

  • Take your class on “learning walks” inside AND outside the school building.
  • Switch up the seats and your classroom configuration often.
  • Use GoNoodle, a fun, interactive way to get kids moving.
  • Don’t spend more than 30 minutes at a time engaging in seat work.


Don’t overwhelm students with too much homework:

  • Homework takes the joy out of learning for many kids.
  • “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students,” shares Harris Cooper of Duke University.
  • Family across America battle over homework nightly. Parents nag, cajole, and often end up doing assignments for their children.


Establish a POSITIVE and PROFESSIONAL digital presence for yourself and your class:

  • Understand that your digital tattoo is permanent and you have total control over the content you put out there. So keep it positive!
  • Provide multiple pathways for students and parents to remotely access learning materials outside the classroom.
  • Model and demonstrate that “Learning Doesn’t Stop at 3 O’Clock”.


Don’t try to keep up with EVERYTHING in education technology:

  • You can’t; nobody can.
  • Curate your resources for quick and easy access using tools like: Padlet, Pearltrees, Pinterest, Smore, or Symbaloo.
  • Ask your students what’s new in technology and social media.
  • Test-drive a new tech tool this year.


Foster a GROWTH MINDSET in your students:

  • blog-image14

    For example: Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, and Michael Jordan all overcame many obstacles before becoming famous.

    Teach students that failure is an important part of learning.

  • Promote the power of positive self-talk. Change your words; change your mindset.
  • Give examples of famous people who failed multiple times before achieving success.



Don’t EVER stop learning:

  • Embark on self-directed, passion-based professional development.
  • Curate and share content with colleagues.
  • Listen to podcasts, view webinars, and READ whatever you can get your hands on.
  • Become an expert in your field at your own blistering speed. “The standard pace is for chumps.” – Kimo Williams


GET connected:


SHARE your work:

  • Brag about your lessons, your students, and your school on social media.
  • Use apps like Remind to send home positive messages and pictures of students in action.
  • Create a class blog, a digital newsletter, or a YouTube channel to spread the word.
  • Don’t hold back because you worry that it’s not good enough or original enough. “To be original, you don’t have to be FIRST, you just have to be DIFFERENT and BETTER,” – Adam Grant.
  • As a teacher in the new millennium, you are your own personal brand. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to promote yourself.
  • Read Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work, for more inspiration.


  • Keep a teaching journal and/or blog about your successes and failures in the classroom.
  • Take pictures, make “best of” slideshows, and share your work!
  • Keep a digital portfolio of your work.
  • Continually update your résumé.

I’d like to emphasize that teaching is a difficult job, but it is the MOST REWARDING profession there is. I had a friend who owned his own business and he asked, “Isn’t it boring teaching the same grade/subject each and every year?” and my immediate response was, “No, it NEVER gets boring because each year, you are challenged with a new and vastly different group of students.”

EMBRACE CHANGE and you will rarely be disappointed!