5 Qualities That Make GREAT Teachers

Not everyone is an educator, but everyone is a teacher.

What makes a great teacher?

Fill in the blank. Great teachers __________________________? Think about it for a moment.

I’m sure some of you might have said planning… planning is important, but it doesn’t make you a great teacher. Here is what I think makes a great teacher.

1. Celebrate Mistakes

We call these “teachable moments.” Usually, a teachable moment is not planned, but you can plan them and they are just as powerful. I had a co-teacher when teaching kindergarten.  We decided to do a lesson outside about butterflies.  I planned the story I would read to the students. The students were all seated nicely and 100% engaged in listening to my amazing butterfly story. I even had a butterfly ring on to act out the parts of the story.

All of the sudden, a real butterfly appeared about 20 feet away from where we were reading.  My co-worker, Nancy yelled, “LOOK, a real butterfly!” Well, you can imagine what happened next.  The kids all fluttered to the real butterfly while I was left holding my book wondering how Nancy could have just ruined my lesson.  Nancy told the students all about the butterfly parts, life span, and coloring.  Finally, I got them to come back and let me finish my ruined story.  (Well, at least that’s how I felt.)

The TRUTH

The truth is Nancy taking time to make that unexpected butterfly part of our lesson left a lasting impression on that class. The students talked about that moment all year! They didn’t remember my perfectly planned book or butterfly ring. Students experienced an exciting moment together while learning. That excitement builds bonds and locks in knowledge. Nancy not only taught the students about butterflies, but she taught me the value of teachable moments.  Being upset about an interruption during lessons was now a thing in the past.

Even if I forgot the attendance, I would make that mistake a teachable moment about how I could remember tomorrow with a sticky note. Eventually, it was a student’s job to remind me. They were called the Absent Keeper.  The Absent Keeper reminded me to take attendance and wrote a short note to the missing students about how much we missed them at school.

That lesson lead me to discover how to create teachable moments that look like accidents, but were really planned in order to create that same excitement with other lessons.  I would invite guest speakers and say, “Look who I ran into outside…”  Guessing Grab Bags were used for students to explore. Some of these bags moved, made noises, or smelled to peak student’s interest.

 

2. Find Commonalities

Find moments that all students can relate to with each other. Every child is scared on the first day of school or has a fear of public speaking. Discuss them as a class and provide them with opportunities to work together as a class to overcome the fear.

This also allows you to appreciate the differences in each other. Finding commonalities between students is a great way to show how we are similar to others who we might think are different due to looks, culture, or language.  Provide experiences to learn about others who are different, but lead them to see how we are all human.

3. Memorable Moment Keepsakes

Capture memorable moments and activate that moment in future lessons to make connections. It creates a bond with your students. For example, one time the first week of school, we made GAK. If you are not familiar, it’s a rubbery substance made when you mix liquids together. Students add glitter or food coloring to the mixture and love to play with the slimy substance if it’s done correctly.

During the first week of school early in my career, I decided to do a GAK science lesson about 40 minutes before the day was over.  At the time this seemed great because I knew the students would be excited and go home to tell parents all about their fun science lesson.

It did NOT go as planned.  The mixture wasn’t correct and students ended up with a sticky blue mess that stained their new clothes and half the class had it stuck in their hair when they left school.  Parents were not happy. Students were not happy. I sat in a dark room and cried about my failed lesson while typing an apology letter to families.

Capture It

The lesson failed.  I took pictures during the lesson. That lesson was used to activate prior knowledge in all our future science experiments. The best part was I wasn’t activating the prior knowledge.  The students would refer to the mess and remind each other to make sure we followed the instructions so we wouldn’t have “another crazy science day like when GAK was on the attack.” 🙂

GAKI made photo albums for every class I ever taught as a keepsake.  Some of my students who are out of college now shared their photo albums with me and they LOVED seeing the failed GAK experiment even though they are adults now. Memories matter!

Other memorable moments can include theme days, escape rooms, lessons with movement, secret handshakes, holiday celebrations, clever farewells, and field trips! Students respond to lessons from your excitement.  You have the power to empower them with the tools and the emotion behind the tools that make the connection last a long time.

4. Feedback

Great teachers relay feedback quickly. Whether it’s verbal, a sticker on a paper, a stamp, or a note home, your feedback sticks with them. There was a boy in my kindergarten class who hated writing.  He did a great job writing one day, so I held his paper up to the class and made a big deal about the neatness of his handwriting.  I never thought much about it after that day, but he did.  Years later he told me that moment was the moment he knew he wanted to write more. He went from being intimidated by writing to wanting to grow because of that one moment.

It matters for you to let students know how you feel. If you don’t like student behavior or work, it’s important for you to verbalize it. Do it in a way that inspires them to improve. Quietly pull a student aside when it’s low-quality work and say something like, “Jimmy, I’ve seen your work in the past and I was so impressed that I sent a note home to your parents.  I would love to do that again, but this paper only has one sentence.  The lesson asked for a paragraph. Do you think you can do better?” Doing this quietly allows the student to self-reflect without the worry of embarrassment from peers.

These situations empower students to change, builds lasting bonds with classmates, and inspire them to improve.

5. Self Reflections

Evaluate your lessons regularly. Reflect on what went right, wrong, and how to improve the quality of your teaching. I do this out loud for students to hear, so they know I make mistakes and turn them into memorable moments. For example, the GAK attack only happened one time. I reflected, made changes to the lesson for the next science experiment, and used it as a teachable moment.

People forget lectures and lessons, but not feelings.  You have the power as a teacher to change how people feel and grow. Create an unforgettable positive feeling to make an impact in their future.

Read about why Escape Rooms Are Great for Elementary HERE

Beginner Sight Words | DRESS or T-Shirt Idea

Wearable Sight Words? Why not! Sight word and shape templates can easily be used to create your own sight word dress or t-shirt. Buy a white dress or t-shirt.  I found mine at Amazon. Use the templates to plan how you want your dress to look. Place the templates under the dress or shirt to trace the words and/or shapes.

sight Word Dress

sight word dress 5

Some ideas for students:

  • Let them pick a sight word to color.
  • Give verbal directions to students color the word to improve listening skills.
  • Play the Go Fish game to build a sight word. That word is theirs to color on the dress.
  • Design their own dress.
  • Design their own t-shirt.
  • Get a fly swatter. Place the words on the floor. Call out a word and have students swat the word.
  • Use the Sight Word Journals to write about the daily or weekly sight words.

Sight Word Journal

Last, wear the dress or shirt to school on a special day.  See if students remember which words they colored. You will impress the principal as well as remind students of valuable sight words.

sight word dress idea

I decided not to place any words on the back or top so I could call out a sight word or shape and have students try to find it without touching inappropriate places.

Sight Word Dress

You can add just 5 words a week and make it a reward to color a sight word, then wear it on a special day.

-OR-

Make the whole dress and have a volunteer work with one student at a time to color their sight word.

sight word dress

Students LOVE seeing their teacher all dressed up in something they helped create! It makes learning new concepts a breeze!

sight word dress idea

HAVE FUN! Grab the templates HERE.

 

Blurt Beans: Classroom Management Strategies

Is your class super talkative this year? Do your amazing lessons get interrupted repeatedly? Are you looking for strategies and interventions to get student’s attention and prevent them from blurting out?

You are in the right place and NOT ALONE. Student interruptions are normal.  The good news is there are strategies you can use to prevent the behavior.

I have several ways to help students learn expectations, but the Blurt Bean system is one of my favorite tools. There are several ways you can use a Blurt Bean Jar. If you are interested in a low interruption lesson, I will explain my two ways of using beans for behavior.

Stop the Blurting Out

Blurt bean jars are amazing for helping students who are blurting out.  Sometimes they don’t even know they are blurting out.  It is important that students understand why it’s a problem and learn some strategies of how they can help the class. Beans are cheap and less likely to be eaten.

Blurt Beans

Types of Beans

You can use coffee beans, dried pinto beans, black beans, northern white beans, virtual beans, or even jelly beans.  I’m not a fan of jelly beans just because they tend to eat them and bugs, but maybe you will have better luck.  You will be surprised how protective students are of their little beans.

You will need two clear jars.  I prefer plastic to avoid them breaking, but it’s important for kids to see the beans filling up in the jars. One jar is to hold the beans. Label the jar Blurt Beans or something else catchy. The other jar needs to have two to four lines with labels of prizes the class can earn for filling up the jar. Let students help you decide on the prizes to get them to “buy-in” to the new system.

You can write on the jar, add labels to the jar, write on tape, and put the tape on the jar. The higher the lines, the better the prizes. Students take ownership when they pick their own prizes.

Two Behavior Management Options

There are two options. The first option is to put 5 blurt beans on each student’s desk. If they have a name tag, I tell them to keep them on their name tag or in the pencil groove. In addition, they are responsible for their beans. Beans found on the floor get added to the Blurt Bean Jar. When students blurt out you, another student or the student must put a bean back in the Blurt Bean Jar.

The second way is a more sanitary option.  You control the beans. Provide a small cup or container to hold 5 beans for each student and you or one student who will be the Bean Monitor will remove beans when a student blurts out.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day (no matter which way you do it), you will let the kids pour their beans into the 2nd jar to see if the beans hit the line for them to earn anything.  This is important because it’s fun for them to add their own beans and it gives them ownership. Once beans are earned, YOU CAN NOT take them out. They have earned them and need to know you won’t remove earned beans. If the whole class does a great job of being quiet and not blurting out, you can add extra “COOL BEANS” to the jar. Absolutely, make sure you announce it to the class when you do it.

When kids blurt out and get a bean removed, I don’t make a huge deal out of it to avoid embarrassment, but I do make a big deal at the end of the day when students fill up the jar. Clearly make sure to follow through on any promised rewards. Certificates are provided for home reinforcement.

blurt bean jar

When the jar fills up yell, “Cool Beans!” Then, reward them. Kids love it!

Virtual Beans

I know a lot of you are teaching online this year.  The good news is Google Slides makes it simple to have virtual beans that you add to a virtual jar. You can control them and still have the students learn about interruptions, expectations and plan their online prizes.

What Else Can I Do

Next, it’s important to teach students some strategies. Especially, for repeat offenders. Here are a few.

  • Use a journal to write your thoughts before you BLURT.
  • Raise your hand.
  • Stop and Think before you speak
  • Be an Active Listener (eye contact, lean forwards, quiet hands)
  • Hold your voice until times you can talk (lunch, centers, recess or free time)
  • Use a Focus Squishy

Blurt Beans Journal

Blurt Beans allow me to easily tie in writing with different prompts.  Students love to write their opinion about the new behavior management system. I give them a persuasive prompt to convenience the teacher of an amazing prize. Students can practice explaining how to fill up the blurt jar to get their prizes. They love the prompts.  I tell them they can rub or shake the beans for inspiration.

Blurt Beans

Read Stories About Blurting

There is a story provided in the Blurt Bean download called Billy the Blurter.  I have students put their thumbs up if they hear someone blurting out during the story. Also, I read books like My Mouth is a Volcano or It’s Hard to Be a Verb. Students are able to make text-to-self connections easily.

RULES & Posters

Students will buy-in to the system if you let them write their own rules, teach them how to regulate their voices, and model behavior.  Place posters around the most visible area to remind students of expectations. I like to have my own beans on my desk and tell them my principal gave them to me for not blurting out at the last staff meeting.  They will see that self-control is a life skill.

voice regulator

Also – don’t forget to follow Teacher’s Brain on TpT, so you never miss out on fun ideas and exclusive free stuff!

Another GREAT classroom management tool is Desk Pets. Read all about them and grab a freebie HERE.

The Importance of Alphabet Practice in Preschool

Preschool teaches so many foundational skills for young students that they will go on to use every day. Shapes, colors, and numbers are skills that must be learned before students can start learning the basics covered in later grades. 

One of the most important concepts to learn, however, is the alphabet. It’s true that they will cover this in kindergarten as well, but preschool is a great time to get them familiar with the concept so they start elementary school with the skills they need to succeed in reading and writing.

The alphabet can be tricky for students at first. 

Not only are there 26 letters to memorize, but you also have to learn the uppercase and lowercase versions of it! The shapes of letters don’t necessarily come naturally to young learners. If not practiced frequently, they could struggle with letter identification through kindergarten or even first grade.  

Along with letter identification, it is also important to teach them what sounds each letter makes.

Ensuring that they know the sounds of each letter is an important precursor to learning to read. Students will begin working with sight words in kindergarten so making sure they have a basic understanding of letter identification and sounds will give them a headstart. 

Alphabet tracing worksheets are a great way to practice with this age group. This can scaffold students’ writing skills and help with letter recognition and formation. Crafts are also a great way to do this because writing, tracing, coloring, cutting, and gluing help with their fine motor skills.

alphabet

This Alphabet Practice A-Z Bundle is all you need to help your preschool students perfect these skills. 

This alphabet packet includes crafts, worksheets, and activities for each letter of the alphabet. You can use these printables and crafts in centers, whole group, small group, or for homework.

These provide hands-on options as well as worksheets to help with busy mornings. Students will learn how to work independently after the first couple of letter sets are used because every unit follows the same pattern. You will get so much to choose from each week. 

alphabet

These activities will have your students confidently identifying and writing their letters as well as recognizing their sounds. They will be proud of the cool crafts they create for each letter and want to share them with others. It’s the perfect way to get them engaged! 

For more creative ways to practice the alphabet, check out my post here.

What are your favorite ways to work on the alphabet with preschool students? 

alphabet