The seven (foot) steps to a smoother school year

When a new school year approaches, I often drift back to work a little early.  You probably do too.

You may already be checking your mailbox, arranging your desks, and reconnecting with other staff members.  You might be shopping for supplies, browsing through catalogs, or gathering ideas on social media.  Perhaps you are spending some time at your desk mentally taking in a few of the many layers of classroom life.

While classroom dynamics require teachers to focus on multiple layers simultaneously, this unique time of year offers a rare luxury to teachers: the opportunity to focus on only one or two of those layers at a time. 

This makes me wonder which of these statements about returning to school during summer vacation may be most true for you.  Please feel free to respond below.  I’d love to hear your comments.

  1. I enjoy the relaxed time to work.
  2. I need the time to mentally prepare.
  3. I rest easier knowing that I’ll have so much work already finished when it’s time to return.

Preparing your classroom environment for the new school year is very important – and you are probably very good at it.  Experience tells me that if I could step into your classroom there is a very good chance that I would quickly discover several clever, unexpected ideas that I could quickly transfer to my own practice.  They would make my life easier. 

As you develop those ideas, remember that you are also surrounded by other classrooms that are filling up with ideas that could make your life easier.  The seed of a very helpful idea or strategy may be waiting on the wall next door, on the shelf of a classroom down the hall, or on the desk of the teacher across the hall.  It may be the very idea that you will soon wish you had discovered a long time ago.

The ideas are waiting for you.

Yet, during this time of the year, we often walk right by those classrooms and never see those ideas.

So, I have a challenge for you. 

As you are walking through your school, I challenge you to stop and take 7 steps into another classroom.  Those 7 steps can lead you into an environment ripe with ideas at the very time you are able to think about them.  Those 7 steps can lead you into a conversation with the teacher who has the experience to guide you into implementing those ideas successfully.  Of course, the best part may be that those 7 steps will also give you an opportunity to share about, and reflect on, some of your own strategies.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to walk right by those classrooms without realizing the potential that is just inside each door. 

So I challenge you to take those 7 steps.  Take a moment and step into a classroom that you don’t normally visit.

You can say, “I just read a blog post about gathering ideas from other classrooms.  It said I should step another classroom and simply ask, ‘What are you working on?’” 

The timing might just be perfect.  After all, the teacher in that classroom is probably focusing on the same layer of teaching as you: preparing the classroom to run as smoothly as possible.

A teacher talks about life in the classroom

Genia Connell, a top Scholastic blogger, teaches third grade in Michigan's Troy School District. On Wednesday, August 20, Connell will address new and aspiring teachers at Scholastic's New York City headquarters. Her topic: "Classroom Management and Organization Made Easy."

We recently asked Connell about the insights she has gained after 25 years in the classroom:

Q. What is your #1 tip for new teachers?

A. Reach out to other teachers for advice when you need help and even when you think you don't. Few new teachers realize the demands of the job until they're in it, and building a strong support system in your building will help you get through those inevitable rough patches.

Q. If you had to do it over again, would you become a teacher? 

A. I love my job more now than I did when I started 25 years ago, and I still get ridiculously excited when the first back-to-school sales start in July. So I guess I'd have to say I would definitely do it all over again.

Q. What is the one thing you'd like to tell people who have never taught before? 

A. Teaching can be the most rewarding and frustrating experience, all at the same time. If you are not a teacher, volunteer in a local school to help the children in your community and to see all the good things that are happening in schools today.

Q. Do you think education is moving in the right direction?

A. I can't give you a definitive answer on this one. I'm actually happy with the new Common Core Standards we've been using to guide our teaching, but I still think work needs to be done on how best to assess students. I want each and every one of my students to succeed and thrive academically and socially, but not necessarily in an environment where the standardized test is king.

Learn more about Teacher Week @Scholastic and our "New to Teaching" day.

Relentlessly pursuing universal preschool

Last week, Scholastic and Los Angeles Universal Preschool hosted the first-ever Preschool Nation Summit from the Scholastic Auditorium in New York City. Preschool Nation seeks to develop a nation that creates and sustains a legacy of excellent early education for all children. From the opening speakers to the engaging panels, the critical importance of preschool was buzzing from the 200+ policy makers, educators, philanthropists, and early education-supporters in attendance.

To kick off the event, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, (the first NYC Mayor to serve while having his own children in the public school system), who's currently implementing his "Pre-K for All" program, suggested education is like building a house: "If you want to build a strong house, you've got to build a strong foundation first." In addition, Mayor de Blasio said, “Change happens only when you venture out a big idea and then relentlessly pursue it."

Following opening remarks, the afternoon’s three panels included leaders of various nonprofit and advocacy groups, as well as local, state, and national education leaders, including Carmen Fariña, (Chancellor, New York City Department of Education); Suzanne Immerman (Senior Advisor to Secretary Duncan/Director of Strategic Partnerships); and Patti Miller (Director, Too Small To Fail). Scholastic's own Margery Mayer moderated the second panel, which focused on the alliances that will be needed in order to advance the national early education movement.

Watch Preschool Nation in its entirety, here:

"If someone is telling you not to read something, run out and read it!"

Monday, August 18, marked the start of Teacher Week @ Scholastic. This year's speakers included Dr. Timothy Rasinski, who discussed "The Essentials of Developing Reading Fluency," and writing expert Dr. Ruth Culham, whose presentation was entitled: "The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing." You can see the full schedule here.

On Thursday, August 21, Michael W. Smith, co-author of Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them, talked about "The Power of Reading for Pleasure."

Research done by Smith and his co-author, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, led to a simple conclusion: Parents and teachers should be mindful of the power that pleasure reading holds for young people and be more conscious of trying to cultivate it. As Stephen King said to Wilhelm—and to anyone who would listen: "If someone is telling you not to read something, run out and read it!"

To learn more about Reading Unbound, check out this frizzle post by Jessica Warren and this Q&A in Education Week Teacher.

Learning about creating on-demand PD

As education evolves at arguably one of the fastest paces we’ve seen, professional development needs to keep up to best prepare teachers so they in turn prepare our students. With the new school year upon us, what’s the best way to accomplish this? In my time with teachers, administrators and leading experts, I’ve seen a growing trend in PD – or in many cases now called professional learning – to incorporate some of the learning strategies known to work well with students.

Teachers, like students, are more engaged when they have an active role in their learning. Empowering them to choose not only what they learn, but also when they learn it, can enhance PD. One way to enable that is to embrace the opportunities presented by technology. With smartphones and tablets much more prevalent, offering content formatted for these tools can be the difference between a video watched and one that is only bookmarked.

For more tips on how to create on-demand professional development, tune into Thursday’s (August 14) virtual event at 2 pm EDT. Scholastic Administr@tor is hosting a panel of experts: Ann Cunningham-Morris of ASCD, Duncan Young of Scholastic Achievement Partners, and Jason Flom, director of the Cornerstone Learning Community school in Tallahassee, Florida. As moderator, I’ll be taking questions and together, we’ll show you strategies to personalize your professional development for each staff member. 

To register, visit this link:

Reporting Live and relaying current events to kids

Every year, tens of thousands of kids leave their homes in Central America, hoping to find their parents in the United States. They make their way north, dodging drug gangs, thieves, and corrupt police. Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Enrique’s Journey: The story of a boy’s dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother, risked her life to tell their story. To continue sharing the stories of others and provide resources to discuss current events with youth around the country, Sonia has been profiled in Reporting Live; Train of Death as part Scholastic’s middle school reading and writing program called On the Record. The On the Record program aims to support teachers in encouraging students to shape their own quests for meaningful lives and to achieve their academic and life goals. Reporting Live brings Sonia's and Enrique's stories and perspectives to students as they consider their own worlds.

Enrique’s Journey is a powerful story and one that is too often repeated today. Can you imagine leaving everything you know—your language, your culture, your friends and family—to strike out somewhere new? When you see that up close, see what these people are willing to sacrifice to obtain the freedom and opportunity we take for granted every day, well, that’s an incredible level of hopefulness,” Sonia writes in Reporting Live; Train of Death. ”

To read Reporting Live in its entirety (for free!) click here

Just last week, Sonia appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss her book and the ongoing Immigration crisis affecting thousands of children from Central America. Check out Sonia’s interview on The Daily Show:

The Daily Show
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Remembering the importance of language clarity in the classroom

We all know the saying about what happens when you assume, right? It’s ubiquitous because it can be so, so true. The challenge is, when you’re going a mile a minute and have so much to do, it can be easy to assume that you’re speaking the same language as the person or persons you’re speaking to. I am not ashamed to admit my guilt there but I’m proud of the ability to step back and realize no two perspectives are identical. In the case of teachers, the same goes for students and background knowledge. I was reminded of that when I attended the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy last week – an event I highly recommend looking into for next year ( This weeklong PD immersion has educators from Math Solutions and the National Science Teachers Association diving deep into lessons with math and science teachers from around the country.  Of the many aha moments experienced, I found beauty in the simplicity of this one reminder: have clarity in language. Students (and adults) can easily get tripped up when using science and math terms as they are gaining understandings of concepts. Further, sometimes terms are used commonly outside the classroom in ways that make them more confusing in the classroom. Here is one quick example:

Acceleration is the rate at which the velocity of an object changes over time. As was raised in the Academy, when learning this term and concept, it is important to know acceleration can be velocity increasing or decreasing. The decreasing part could be hard to grasp because of outside “language forces”. For instance, deceleration is a word. The use of this word isn’t wrong in the English language but when teaching math and science, there isn’t a new formula to learn for deceleration. Meaning if a student is figuring out a car’s rate of slowing down or speeding up, either way he or she is determining its acceleration. And speaking of cars, only adding to the possible confusion is that the pedal with the power to move the car forward and faster is the accelerator while its counterpart to slow down has a completely unrelated name - the brake!      

With all of that said future scientists, mathematicians, engineers and other professionals that need to understand concepts such as acceleration will need to build clarity about their career’s language over the more common social language. A great reminder of just how much needs to go into lesson planning and that it is all in the details. Also, it is something to remember in general for all of us when chit chatting with people outside of our fields of expertise.

Building a preschool nation together

Scholastic and Los Angeles Universal Preschool (a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide access to quality early childhood education programs for children in Los Angeles County) are proud to present the country’s first Preschool Nation Summit. The summit will highlight the importance of all children receiving a quality education and our commitment to supporting universal Pre-K.

The Preschool Nation Summit, held in NYC on August 5, 2014 at Scholastic Headquarters, will unite leaders and stakeholders both inside and outside the field of early education, highlight major successes of investments in early education, and reinforce the sustained need for expanding quality early learning to uplift children, families and communities throughout our nation.

Los Angeles Universal Preschool and Scholastic encourage the community to join the conversation using #PreschoolNation and tune in at 1pm EST to watch a live stream of the summit here.


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