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Teaching and Learning Summer 2016

Looking at whether classroom management advice really works, teacher-to-teacher ideas for the new school year, and author Jeff Kinney reflects on ‘How i was that wimpy kid!.'
Published: 07/16/2016

Off to a Good Start

Does Classroom management advice really work?

By Hilary Richardson - Member Contributor

“Don’t smile until Christmas.” “Never ignore rule breakers.” We’ve all heard the stereotypical classroom management advice. But what really works? 

Every teacher must first find their “teacher personality”—that is, who you are in the classroom. From there, you can determine the routines and rules that will work best for you and your students. Never embrace a rule that doesn’t allow you to adapt. 

Think about the teachers who most influenced you and you’ll realize each had something unique about them. Maybe they were huge sports fans. Whatever it was, it made it easier for students to connect with them. Do this for your students. If you like Star Wars, play it up with room décor and clothing. Use Darth Vader as the enforcer. Make the students Jedi. If you want orderly rows, use Storm Trooper formations. The students will love it!

Once you have your teacher personality, use it to organize your room. Over the years I have found that pairs of desks work best for me. It’s easy for students to work together, but also easy for me to separate them or create groups of four to suit the lesson. Play with configurations to find the setup that works for you. 

Don’t stop at desks. I have a space near my door where students turn in work on their way in or out. Unsigned papers get a different space, where students can check for missing assignments they are sure they completed. In a third space, students can pick up absent work. 

Routines help students get on task. Again, these will vary based on your personality, but I like to start with a “bell ringer” that students tackle when they enter the room. This focuses them while I take care of attendance. Another teacher I know greets his students with “Good morning, class.” They respond in rote, and the class begins. Cheesy maybe, but it works for him. 

Finally, don’t start with 30 rules. Pick three must-haves and stick to them. Easier for you, easier for students, and it will work. 

Hilary Richardson is a Jefferson County Education Association member who began teaching in 2000. For the past 12 years, she has enjoyed teaching government, U.S. history, and more in Colorado. 

Teacher-to-Teacher Ideas for the New School Year

Tech Tools to Engage Students

Barbara Ransom, middle school math and AVID teacher, santa monica, california

Padlet ( You can make a pin board, or a Twitter-like feed, that is useful for homework or formative assessments. Use in place of posters or wipe boards. To see what you can do, view one of mine:, or see my padlet on how to create a padlet at 

Kahoot ( A fun way to give a formative assessment, pre-assessment, or survey. It’s multiple choice and rewards speed.

Go Noodle ( A place for movement and brain breaks (energize or calm your students, engage their dendrites). It’s geared towards elementary school, but I know my eighth graders will love these.


Two Fast, Fun Ways to Learn Names

Pam Belcher, O’Donnell Middle School, Houston, Texas

I start off with my name and how I’m taking the class on a trip to Aruba. “Ms. Belcher is taking a bag of books.” The first student introduces him/herself, chooses an item to take that begins with the initial of his/her first name, and then reintroduces me. This continues until the last student has repeated all names and travel items. Works every year.

Debra Zanders (from online discussion) 

To help students learn each other’s names, I play a version of hide and seek. One student hides out of sight in the room and the others must guess who is missing. Students learn each other’s names very quickly.


Student-Led Classroom Design

Tricia Roach, edCommunities facilitator, Flagstaff, arizona

I used multiple classroom configurations throughout the school year. In the beginning, I arranged desks to allow for cooperative teamwork and watched how students interact. It told me a lot about how students process and learn information.

As the year progressed, I would have students design the room. They used visual software (on an iPad or computer) to illustrate their design, and provide academic reasons for their choices. Students voted on the arrangement (with the teacher being the ultimate decider). Of course I chose who sat near whom, but I always allowed for students to demonstrate they could be successful even when sitting near their best friend.




Works4Me Tips Archive—Search through thousands of tips from teachers like you or share your own ideas for success:

NEA edCommunities Professional Learning Community—NEA’s online, collaborative space where educators exchange ideas and resources. Sign up for free and join groups in your interest areas, including Classroom Management and Works4Me. 

Works4Me E-Newsletter—Sign up to receive tips, lesson ideas, and more with our bimonthly email. Go to

Wimpy Kid Heads Back to School

Jeff Kinney reflects on ‘How i was that wimpy kid!’

Greg Heffley is the “antihero” of the popular series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, created by cartoonist Jeff Kinney. If you haven’t read the series and haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, Greg is described as “trollish, lazy, arrogant, greedy, impudent, egotistical, mischievous, and sometimes even cruel and dishonest.” In other words, a typical middle school student trying to figure it all out. As we head back to school, NEA Today caught up with Kinney to ask him about Greg, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and new-school-year jitters.

How much of you is reflected in Greg? 

Greg is meant to be an exaggerated form of myself as a middle school kid. Generally speaking, 

I wasn’t as flawed as Greg, but sometimes I was probably worse.

What do kids like most about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series? 

Kids like the humor. They read the books to laugh, not necessarily for a good story. I prioritize humor above narrative in my books.

Have you heard about creative ways educators use your books in their classrooms? 

Yes, using my books as a tool to encourage journal keeping is a great way to get kids writing.

What impact do you hope the series will have on readers? 

I hope my books will turn kids into lifelong readers. I don’t expect kids to stay with my books past the age of 13 or so. After that, hopefully, the seed has been planted.

What universal experiences or struggles did you have in school that kids still have today? 

I think childhood is a universal condition, and most things I experienced as a kid are being experienced by mine today. Friendships, bullying, crazy family, love interests…it’s all part of being a young human being.

How would Greg advise students who are starting the school year in a new school or new class? 

Greg might say the best plan is to find a friend who can share in all your ups and downs.

As an advocate for fellow students, what would he say to teachers starting the new year? 

Greg might say, “Go easy on us.” I’d say, you’re entrusted with these kids’ education for a year…it’s a privilege, so make an impact if you can!

Can you give us any hints on what we can expect with your new book coming out in November? 

I’m still writing it now, but I know a musical instrument will be involved!

Getting to Know You…

It’s a new school year and you have a classroom full of new faces, new names, and new personalities. How will you get to know them? By getting a jump on it before the year begins, advises Sharon Davison, a kindergarten teacher at Allen Brook School in Williston, Vt. 

Davison begins by mailing handwritten postcards to each student welcoming them to kindergarten. 

“I have the privilege of knowing who my students are at the end of June, so this is a nice way to say hello,” she says.

She also sets up an email distribution list and kicks it off with a welcome email to parents, including a guide outlining the wikis, blogs, and other digital tools she uses for her class. 

To encourage face-to-face meetings before school, she lets families know about several days when she’ll be in the classroom setting up. “I invite parents and their children to stop by and help out,” she says. “This is a great way for parents to meet me and other families, and it’s also a chance for the children to meet others who will be in their class.”

Davison says getting to know your students in the beginning of the year builds the foundation for solid relationships going forward.

“I want my students and their families to feel a part of kindergarten life,” she says. “It is, after all, a magical place to be.”

The magic of high school depends on who you ask, but getting to know your students there is equally important, says Joseph Keays, Agoura High School math teacher in Thousand Oaks, Calif. 

He recommends getting a class roster before school begins to learn names, but the minute the bell rings and new students begin walking into your classroom, he suggests educators find ways to put students at ease and allow them to be themselves.

“Getting students to be themselves is the fastest way to get to know them,” he says. “Try to make a class of 40 students feel like a class of four.” 

One of the best ways to get kids to be themselves is to tap into their creativity. 

Keays asks his students to create three-dimensional name placards during their first class. The design challenge: Make something that reflects who you are.

As they’re working, he walks around and talks to them about their project, asking them questions and learning more about their work styles.

“Take this time to get to know something about them,” Keays says. “This is where the magic happens—by building connections. Making connections is probably the most important thing to accomplish in the first weeks of school.”  

Five Super-Geeky Tech Tips for the New School Year

Get cloudy, get social…get ready!

By Gwyneth Jones, a.k.a. The Daring Librarian

One of the things I love most about being an educator is that every year is a do-over! Whatever you planned but didn’t do last year, you can try this year. This article will provide some easy tips for upping your ed tech game and getting ready for a super new school year. Don’t feel pressure to do all six—just pick one! If that works out, try another and go from there. 

Get Cloudy 

Goodbye flash drives and external drives! The future of data storage and hosting is in the cloud. At first, I was skeptical of the cloud but five years later, after using it every day, I’m convinced. Most school systems have some version of Google Apps for Education available for teachers, I recommend using Google Docs to upload and convert your important documents, presentations, and spreadsheets for easy editing, sharing, and storage in the cloud. Another great resource is Dropbox. A trusted ed tech leader once told me “because of Dropbox I don’t care if my laptop crashes.” That was a cartoon-eyes-bugging-out moment in my tech life. No fear of crashing? Ever? WOW! 

Resources: Search for my “Dropbox Like It’s Hot” blog post, “Dropbox for Teachers” by Bill Selak, “The Best Online Cloud Storage Solutions for your iPad & iPhone” by Steve Lai, and “Dropbox In The Classroom: 4 Great Uses” from InformationWeek.

Get Linked

Now, more than ever, educators must be visible and transparent in what they do for their students, school, and community. Today, that’s easier than ever! Start with a free educator Wikispaces page. Click edit, type, and save. Done

Why LinkedIn when you’re not looking for a new job? Because our parents and community are there and it shows we’re professionals, too! I’m on LinkedIn but I don’t do much there—it’s just another way for the world to find me and my main Web sites. It’s like a cactus plant because it grows but you don’t have to “water” it very often. A professional profile takes about 30 minutes to create. Just add a photo, your education and work history, awards and qualifications, and call it a day. If you want to go deeper with LinkedIn discussions and groups, and build a personal learning network that connects with other educators, you can! But it’s not a must. 

Resources: Search for my blog post, “Transparency is the Daring New Black,” and “3 Reasons Why Teachers Should Use LinkedIn” from the Teachers’ Lounge.

Get Polished

Your social network profile is your best and most read professional bio on the web—so keep it polished, up-to-date, and consistent across all of your accounts. In a professional profile, I recommend including your school, location, subject area, teaching level, and an award or certification. Consider adding a quirky hobby or interesting fact. Most Web sites don’t provide a lot of room to list everything in your profile description—so keep it short. Also, on the topic of profile pics or avatars, for six years I used a favorite avatar but I’ve lately had a change of heart. I realized people didn’t recognize me for me! So now I use my best recent selfie, jazzed up a bit with PicMonkey, and voila! The real me. 

Resources: Search my blog for “6 Tips to a Super Twitter Profile” and also Courtney Leiter’s “How to Write a Professional Social Media Bio.”

Get your hands on the Makerspace movement that is sweeping the globe. Makerspace combines STEM, or as I prefer STEAM (adding art), with a constructivist and constructionist self-directed approach to education. The idea is to allow kids to get their hands involved, DIY-style, in project-based learning. Whether you spend $300 or $3,000, you can add a Makerspace component, cart, or corner to any classroom or school library. Start small by creating a rolling Makerspace cart. Include bins of Legos, a batch of coloring books and colored pencils, paper for origami, and a couple of Makey Makey kits. 

Resources: Search for my post “Makerspace Starter Kit,” check out the Makerspace For Education Web site, and the amazing librarian Diana Rendina’s blog Renovated Learning

I use social media only in a professional sense— to share the cool things going on every day in my school and library, to celebrate my amazing students, and to connect with my parents, and our local and global community. Twitter and Scoopit are my preferred tools and I recently added Instagram— because that’s where my kiddos are! When sharing on social media, remember to be passionate, positive, and always professional. Never vent about administrators or students via social media! Don’t tweet yourself out of a job. On social media you can push the positive and change the world, grow professionally by leaps and bounds…or you could get in really big trouble. Share thoughtfully, wisely, and well. 

Resources: Search for my post, “The Daring Social Media Mind Shift” and “BFTP: Top 10 Social Media Competencies for Teachers” by Doug Johnson. 

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