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 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

Math Center Ideas For Kindergarten That Are Actually Fun

Most teachers are familiar with using math centers in the classroom. Centers provide a great way to practice skills while encouraging group interaction. They also allow students to work with concepts while teachers employ direct instruction with an individual student or small group of students. Centers can provide the perfect opportunity for students to use manipulatives for practice. 

Math instruction, especially for younger students, is often most effective with manipulatives. Children learn math concepts more easily when they are able to touch, move, and see them in action. They can explore challenging concepts with manipulatives, and increase their confidence before moving on to algorithms or memorization. 

Ready to use centers and manipulatives in the classroom, but not sure where to start? Here is an easy way to get started with math centers.

First, choose an area that will store your math centers where students can access them. You may use a particular bookcase, or even a rolling cart that can be moved as needed. Next, choose containers for your manipulatives. Fabric bins with a clear window for labels are a great choice, as you can put one of the manipulatives in the window to identify what belongs in that bin. Even the youngest students can then clean up easily.

 You will also need containers for your task cards (or “recipes”), and a container for the worksheets needed. Worksheets can be placed in clear pockets and students can use dry erase markers if you like the idea of using less paper. Be sure students know where to turn in assignments if you would like to check them. 

Now that you have your “Math Cafe” ready, you can add the assignments to match your needs! Each recipe card should list the manipulatives needed, how many students should be in the group, and worksheets needed. It should also include picture cues for younger students. Students can then choose a recipe card and complete the tasks independently. 

math centers

The tasks do not need to be super involved- just simple, fun, and engaging. Need some help finding the right tasks for kindergarten? Check out my Kindergarten Math Centers Yearlong Bundle. This bundle includes enough math salad bar or math cafe task cards for 14 math units.

math centers

You’ll also get posters, assessments, photos, material lists, crafts, and more!

Here’s a video tutorial on how to set it up in your classroom


Your students will love visiting the Math Cafe and practicing their skills!

For more kindergarten tips, check out my post on homework ideas for kindergarten students.

math centers


Using Games In The Classroom

Games are an important part of childhood. From sports to board games, children all over the world play together to learn social skills and have fun. However, games haven’t always been a welcome strategy in the classroom. In the schools of the not-so-distant past, they were something kids were to do on the playground or at home- but not in their classrooms. Fortunately, thoughts have changed. We now know that games can teach important skills while students have fun! 

If you’re ready to get your students more excited about learning, pull out some classroom games. Students will be more motivated to pay attention to the subject matter, and will be more engaged. They will positively associate learning the subject matter with having fun. This will increase their success with the material, and make your job a little easier!

Your kids will also develop stronger critical thinking skills while playing games. Depending on the object of the game, they might have to try new strategies, think ahead, or switch plans. In addition to content mastery, students learn social skills while playing classroom games. They experience winning and losing, taking turns, and co-operating. These skills are necessary for working with other people even in adulthood. 

One of my favorite classroom game sets is Kindergarten Math Games. It is designed for pre-k and kindergarten classrooms to make practicing important math skills more fun (check out my Kindergarten Math Salad Bar here)! It includes several options for single players to complete on their own as well as games for two players to take turns. Students will learn to count and recognize numbers 1-6 while playing the games. You can simply print the game boards out, give students a 6-sided die, and let the fun begin! 


Another resource available for FREE right now is the 10 More Or Less Game. It is ideal for students in grades K-2. This activity helps students understand the number concepts of 10 more and 10 less. It can be played as a whole group so you can help students understand how it works. Then students can play with small groups or partners. Your kids will love learning math skills while having fun with their peers!


What games do you like to play in the classroom? Let me know in the comments!


Election and Voting Activities for Kids

Teaching students about the importance of voting in a democracy is very important.  Now more than ever kids are curious about politics. So, how can you teach students without getting too political? If you teach about elections and the voting process instead of using real political candidates, young students will still develop an understanding of how elections work, the responsibility of voting and how their feelings tie into the process. Election and voting activities for kids can be simple.

Here are some things your can do to teach about voting:

  • Share books like Grace for President by Kelly Dipucchio or  Vote for ME! by Ben Clanton.
  • Talk about commercials, signs or local leader positions.
  • Write opinion papers about voting or elections.
  • Discuss how feelings help make decisions.
  • Hold a class pet election.
  • Students can take polls about favorite snacks or sports.
  • Make a voting booth or box. Have ballots for students to pick their end of the day activity.
  • Create a class campaign for a class mascot with posters, stickers and commercials.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY, lead by example. Let them see your “I VOTED” sticker or tell them how you take time out of your day to vote.

Ideas for PARENTS to do with children to help them learn about voting:

  • Take your child to vote and discuss why you are voting for a particular candidate.
  • Write a letter to an elected official as a family.
  • Talk about how peaceful protesting is patriotic. Loving a country means speaking up when we disagree with actions.
  • Share your beliefs with your child.
  • Discuss how people all have different ideas and how to respect each other.
  • Read a book about voting, democracy or citizenship.
  • Point out signs about elections and discuss how they help us learn about candidates.
  • Let the family vote about what is for dinner.
  • Vote on a family vacation.
  • Use math to explain how we count results.

Virtual Teaching about Voting

Google Slides and Forms make it easy for students to learn about the voting process. You can create a poll using Google Forms to send to your students virtually. Share the results with the class over a live virtual meeting.

Election and Voting Activities for Kids

Check out the K-3 Google Slides for teaching kids about the voting process.

If you are needing some tips for teaching while social distancing, check out my post here!