First blog post

Teacher Talk is brought to you by the Rock Island Education Association. 


What is the Power of “Hi?”  

Mr. Bender, a retired PE teacher from RIHS, used to talk about the Power of “Hi.”  It is simply making eye contact and saying “hi” with a big smile to everyone you meet.  Saying “hi” helps to build rapport and a positive relationship with our students, which is the first step in increasing academic engagement.  

The interesting thing about the Power of “Hi” is that not only does it bring a smile to the faces of others, but it also has a positive impact on you.  

Try it.  Say “Hi” with a big smile to as many people as you can and feel the power.  

For more information see the section about how to greet your students in “The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher” by Harry Wong and Rosemary Wong.



What Do Beginning Teachers Need?

National Board-certified teacher and 2009 North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Cindi Rigsbee surveyed 100 classroom teachers who were in their first three years of teaching.  

Cindi asked, ”What information did you need prior to teaching that you weren’t given?”   

What Cindi discovered is that the new teachers believed that they weren’t prepared to deal with all the paperwork and they weren’t prepared to teach students with special needs.  

There are three things that can be done to help retain new teachers that Cindi calls “Circle the Wagons.”

  1. New Teachers need to reach out to experienced teachers and ask questions.  In addition, new teachers need to seek out the experts that know about working with students with special needs.  
  2. Veteran Teachers can seek out and help to mentor teachers with encouragement, support, and guidance.  
  3. Administrators, who may be the biggest factor in teacher retention according to research, can support teachers by being accessible, sharing strategies, communicating openly, and protecting teachers when there is a disruptive student or an angry parent.  

Students, teachers, and administrators can all be successful on the education wagon train when there is shared leadership and mutual support. 

Source: “What Do Beginning Teachers Really Need?” By Cindi Rigsbee in Education Week: Teacher (June 7, 2016).



“Every name is real.  That’s the nature of names.” Jerry Spinelli

Jon Gundry taught ELL to middle and high school students and believed that to be an effective teacher he needed to be deliberate in properly pronouncing the name of each student in his class.  “As a teacher, I felt that if I didn’t make an effort to pronounce their name correctly, it showed I didn’t care about who they were.”  

Not only can failure to pronounce a student’s name correctly inhibit relationship with a student, it can negatively impact student achievement according to University of California assistant professor of education, Rita Kohli.

Jennifer Gonzalez, educator and author of the blog Cult of Pedagogy says, “effort is the biggest obstacle to learning how to correctly pronounce a person’s name; teachers have to want to do it.” 

Check out the webpage My Name, My Identity for more information, classroom resources, and teacher guides.

Source: “Mispronouncing Students’ Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep?” By Corey Mitchell in Education Week: Teacher (May 10, 2016).



What is a Trauma Sensitive School?

A trauma-sensitive school is one where all students feel safe, welcomed, and supported. The primary educational mission of the school is to address the long term effects of trauma on learning.

What does the research say about the impact of Trauma Sensitive Schools?

Recent studies have shown Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) may impact students’ academic performance, cause inappropriate behaviors in the classroom, and make forming positive relationships difficult. Learning about the impacts of trauma and the stress caused by these experiences allows teachers to better address significant gaps in academic skills and teach appropriate social/emotional coping skills.

What tips do you have for teachers?

To understand a trauma sensitive school, a teacher must explore and understand the dynamics of ACE research and learn how toxic stress affects brain development. Applying this knowledge to instructional practices and classroom management will increase student achievement and support a trauma sensitive environment.

A trauma informed educator would not ask, “What is wrong with this child?” but rather, “What has happened to this child?”

This takes a school wide approach, teamwork, and a shared sense of responsibility for all students.

Where can teachers learn more?

Anne McNelis at Transitions Mental Health Service (309-283-1228)

Paul Tough (2012), How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

TED talk by Nadine Burke Harris, “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime.”

Helping Traumatize Children Learn –

Resilience Trumps ACEs –

ACEs Too High News –

8/26/16 (LK)


Executive Functioning Skills – part 1

Do you have students that struggle with sharing, staying organized, finishing a task, or just sitting for 15 minutes? 

Researchers have identified 8 Executive Functioning Skills that everyone needs for getting organized, staying focused, and controlling impulses.

  • Impulse Control
  • Emotional Control
  • Flexible Thinking
  • Working Memory
  • Self-Monitoring
  • Planning and Priorities
  • Task Initiation
  • Organization  

What have researchers discovered about teachers that help foster Executive Functioning Skills in children?

Teachers are most effective when they “create whole-class routines that help children develop skills such as organization, planning, working memory, and time management.” (Dawson & Guare p. 290).  Teachers can also show kids how to break a task into several steps, set timelines, help children with impulse controls, and assist kids with managing their emotions.

Check out the following resources for more information. 

“Smart But Scattered” (2009), Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.  This book has questionnaires for different age levels to assess the needs of students and practical suggestions to help kids develop their executive functioning.    

Classroom Interventions For Executive Functions –



Executive Functioning Skills – part 2

What are the Steps for creating an Executive Functioning Intervention Plan for a student?

  1. Collect Information from a variety of sources (checklists, observations, work samples).
  2. Review information by connecting specific problem behaviors to the most appropriate executive functioning skill.
  3. Select one executive functioning skill for an intervention plan and identify a specific behavioral goal.  
  4. Design the intervention incorporating one or more of the following elements.
    1. Provide environmental supports to help foster the desired executive skill.
    2. Teach the specific skill directly.
    3. Use incentives to motivate the student.
  5. Evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.  

Remember these principles for helping students develop executive skills.  “The first step is to think about ways to change the environment to adjust to their limitations.”  The second principle involves “changing children’s skills by teaching them – or motivating them – to develop and use their own executive skills to perform tasks and accomplish goals” (Dawson & Guare p. 50).

Speak with your building counselor, social worker, or school psychologist to develop an effective plan.  

The practical guide by Dawson and Guare provides specific teaching routine ideas to promote Executive Skill Development like “Teaching Students How to Pay Attention,” “Studying for Tests,” “Managing Open-Ended Tasks,” “Teaching Students How to Take Notes,” “Learning to Control One’s Temper,” “Learning to Control Impulsive Behavior,” “Learning to Manage Anxiety,” and “Learning to Solve Problems.”


“Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention” (2010), Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.  You can find this book throughout the RIMSD with a stamp on the front inside cover “Property of Rock Island School District 41.”  



Every Student Succeeds Act in a Nutshell

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  The legislation holds promise for the reason that it decentralizes education policy by giving greater control over education policy to states and local school districts.  It should foster greater collaboration within schools around equity and meeting the needs of students.  In addition, the focus of the legislation seeks improvement and not punishment.     

Additional Resources on ESSA:

About ESSA from the NEA

“Six Ways ESSA will Improve Assessments.” by Cindy Long in NEA Today (3/10/16)




Attrition rates in teaching are high.  About 8% of teachers leave the profession every year and in the last five years teacher preparation programs have been down almost 35% (Westervelt, 2016).    

There’s no doubt that teachers face tremendous demands and burnout is something many teachers have experienced.  Jenny Rankin, a former jr. high teacher, has recently published a book titled “First Aid for Teacher Burnout.”  While many books simply try to persuade teachers that they need to “have a better attitude,” Rankin sets out to share advice and tips in a user friendly format.  

The trouble with teaching today, according to Rankin, is that “Teachers have so much thrown at them…they are constantly having to shift directions as new tools and curriculum are adopted, and they are constantly having to learn and implement new approaches to teaching and classroom management…For teaching to be a sustainable profession, each endeavor must be approached with an eye for what is practical and what will be efficiently effective.”         


Rankin, Jenny Grant .  First Aid for Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and 

Success.  Routledge, 2016.  Interview with Jenny Grant Rankin.

Westervelt, Eric. “Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage.” On Iowa Public Radio. September 15, 2016. 



Mindfulness & Teaching

“Teaching is inherently a stressful occupation, and by many accounts, it’s getting more so. Students bring the effects of poverty and trauma into the classroom. Administrators lay on the pressure to meet ever-changing standards. In the last few years, teacher job satisfaction has reportedly plummeted to a 25-year low, and turnover is high — almost 50 percent for new teachers.” (Kamenetz).

The most recent study (2012-13) based on the participation of 224 teachers and over 5000 students at 36 New York City public elementary schools revealed that teachers who participated in the program Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) for Teachers demonstrated greater teacher well-being, improved teacher student relationships, and had greater classroom productivity.  

Here are a few Mindfulness Techniques to try in the Classroom.

  1. Calmer Transitions – Have students (and yourself) take three deep breaths inhaling and exhaling quietly and slowly when it is time for a transition to lunch, PE, or Music.  Listen for the bell and quietly leave the room.  
  2. Take 5 – Have students “quietly take note of five things they can see; then shut their eyes and count five things they can hear; then notice five things they are touching.”
  3. The Peace Corner – “Set up a space in the classroom where children can go to deal with difficult emotions. It might have pillows and be stocked with stuffed animals, calming books or smooth stones. It should be inviting, not feel like a punishment.”


Anya Kamenetz, “When Teachers Take a Breath, Students can Bloom” on NPR, August 19, 2016. 

Research on Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE) through Penn State University with a Grant from the US Dept of Ed.  

Garrison Institute CARE for Teachers



Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

What are ACEs?

ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences.  They are potentially traumatic events that can have negative and lasting effects on an individual’s health and well-being. Examples include, but are not limited to, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, parental divorce, or the incarceration of a parent or guardian.

Other examples are: living with a parent or guardian who died or got divorced or separated, parent who served time in jail or prison, parent who is an addict or alcoholic, witnesses of violence or abuse, lived in poverty very often with no food or housing.

How can understanding the ACE research inform teacher instruction?

Research has shown that people learn best when there are no fears of insecurity. Trauma informed teachers can obtain the best performance outcomes from students with ACEs by providing a trauma informed class environment.

What tips can teachers use in their classrooms to create a Trauma Informed classroom?

Create a PLC to learn more about Trauma Informed education.

Build relationships with your students.

Include Multiple Intelligence Lessons.

Have students write and share stories about life.

Have your students keep a daily reflection journal and have them share it with you.

Create an atmosphere of trust in your classroom.

Greet each student each day with a smile, “Good morning,” and “How are you?” Respect cultural differences and similarities.

Get to know your students with respect. Do not be the friend. They do not need

friends. The students need guidance and direction to overcome their ACEs.

Where can teachers learn more?

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Take the ACE Quiz – What is your ACE Score?


11/4/16 (BJ)


Recommended Reading on Cultural Competency

Courageous Conversations About Race (2005) by Glenn E. Singleton & Curtis W. Linton.  “Singleton and Linton challenge educators to move beyond recognizing the existence of a racial achievement gap and to develop strategies to eliminate it.” (Curriculum Connections, Fall 2006)

The Silenced (2007) by James DeVita.  This is a dystopian novel that causes the reader to question identity.

Teaching for Joy and Justice (2009) by Linda Christensen.  

This book “gives teachers the inspiration and ‘how to’ nitty-gritty we crave. We find names of texts that compel, high school student writing that calls out to teenage reality, techniques for teaching how to write poems, narratives, essays. And everything presented sits resolutely under the social justice umbrella: issues of race, class, language, gender – oh yes, they do matter.”  (Faye Peitzman, Director, UCLA Writing Project)



Teaching Boys

The research on Boys and Education delves into the conflicting personality styles of boys and the academic environment of schools.  Furthermore, the research reveals that there is a cultural masculinity code – “fear of being labeled a sissy or seen as feminine in any way, fear of powerlessness, and fear of having their sexuality questioned” (37) – that interferes with boys being successful.  Sadly, this is not just an American phenomena.  Evidence is emerging that the US, England, and Australia all have stagnant levels of achievement across all demographic groups of male students (57).  

Kathleen Cleveland has researched this topic and believes that while “educators might be as much a part of the problem… we are the bearers of its solution.”  Here are few general strategies educators can employ to Re-Engage students in a learning environment that they can achieve.

  1. Support – Build trusting relationships in a nonthreatening learning environment.
  2. Guide – Provide clear expectations with positive reinforcement.  
  3. Reinforce – Boys need interaction with their peers but because of the masculinity code, they often struggle with knowing how to express themselves.  Boys need “explicit instruction along with practice sessions embedded within everyday academic learning activities” (140).  
  4. Adjust – Reconfigure the classroom as an active place, in which the learning environment can be the “solution for and prevention of behaviors that interrupt the learning process” (162).  What might this look like?  Allow student a space where they can stand in the room, have study buddy time at different locations in the room, create a testing circle with desks facing outwards to reduce distractions, or provide “fidget grabbers” like small beanbags, a stress ball, textured cloth, or silly putty.
  5. Ignite – This is simply active learning through participation, compelling situations, direct experience, an enjoyable setting, meaningful feedback, informal learning, patterns/connections, and reflection (176).  
  6. Empower – The goal is to re-engage struggling learners by finding something the student is interested in and creating an environment for quick success on a measurable goal.  In addition, provide choice and control at the student’s pace.


“Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Strategies that Turn Underachievers into Successful Learners” by Kathleen Palmer Cleveland (2011), ASCD.



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