Having trouble motivating your students? Get to know them!

When I think about teachers who truly influenced me, they all had one thing in common: they knew me. They understood my strengths, weaknesses, sense of humor, encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, and took interest in my life outside of school. They cheered from the stands at my championship soccer game, held high expectations for me academically, and would never hold back from calling me out when I was slacking off.

Of course I also had many teachers who weren’t as influential – they didn’t know me. I remember sitting in their classes, staring at the clock waiting for the bell to ring so I could run off to my next class where I would get a friendly ‘Hello’, was asked how my SAT prep was going, and received a well thought-out lesson that was both engaging and challenging. I had an immense amount of respect for these teachers. They clearly worked hard to master their content, develop creative and effective lessons, and went above and beyond to form real connections with us. That is the type of teacher I want to be.

Knowing your students doesn’t mean you have to be the basketball coach or start a robotics club (although that would be fantastic). Knowing your students means understanding students’ strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what engages them most. Knowing how to push them to be the best they can be. Providing opportunities for students to think outside of the box and show their creative side. Challenging them. Treating them with respect. And of course giving the occasional high-five 🙂 You get the idea.

Remember, school isn’t everyone’s ‘thing’. Some teachers forget that the reason we are here isn’t just to teach students about DNA or the quadratic formula. Although academics might be the reason our profession exists, we must remember that we are also teaching students how to be be hard working, persistent, self-motivated, and respectful individuals – which in turn will lead students to success in life, whatever that might look like.

Motivation + monitoring + movement = Management miracle!

Isn’t it funny how some days you feel like your students are perfect angels and then all of the sudden everything seems to fall apart? A million factors contribute to the classroom atmosphere — from a full moon to spring break starting the following day. It is one of the most important elements of a successful learning environment.

I have found that combining motivation, constant monitoring, and time for movement breaks can result in a managed classroom that can stand up to pretty much anything… even the last week of school! ClassDojo has been my motivational and monitoring savior for the past several years. Several elements of ClassDojo worked wonders to motivate and monitor my students:

1. Motivation: Motivating students can be frustrating, but somehow ClassDojo found the perfect way to instantly encourage students with both impactful feedback and points. Engaging students with ClassDojo was largely due to these factors:

  • SOUND EFFECTS: My students squeal with excitement every time they hear the delightful “ding”, resulting when someone receives a positive behavior point. I love that something so simple has such an effect on my students.
  • AVATARS: Could the ClassDojo monsters get any cuter? Students love choosing their avatars. You can also create your own for a customized effect. My colleague sets point goals for her students (10, 20, 50, etc) and when they reach their goal they get to change their avatars. You should see the excitement over such a simple reward.
  • CLASSROOM ECONOMY: In our class, we use ClassDojo as a component of our larger classroom economy system. Students earn (or lose) Dojo points, which are equivalent to “dollars”. They receive paychecks for total points/dollars monthly or bimonthly. Students can cash them in and use them to purchase items at our classroom store.  

2. Manage and monitor: When I began teaching, tracking and communicating student behavior was laborious, time consuming, and often far from accurate. Then came ClassDojo! ClassDojo has such an amazing, built-in data management and monitoring system. In my opinion, this is perhaps the best aspect of ClassDojo.

  • PARENT PORTAL: With easy parent sign-up, ClassDojo becomes an automatic and effortless parent portal into student behavior within the classroom. Parents can see in real-time how their students are doing, so that nothing is a surprise at parent-teacher night! Also, teachers can instantly message them exciting moments from school or to just clarify a Dojo point that was given.
  • TEACHER TRACKING: Best of all, I have instant and accurate access to student behavior data for any period of time I wish to choose. Thanks to ClassDojo this extremely important portion of our job is made so simple!
  • STUDENT SUCCESS: It is quite powerful to see students check their points and view their reports. The ownership they feel over monitoring their own personal progress and achieving personal behavior goals is empowering, impressive, and effective.

3. Make Time for Movement: No matter how great your classroom management system is, students need time to give their brains a break and get in some movement. Try some yoga or dance moves in your classroom!

I hope these tips come in handy for you this school year!

Every second counts!

How time flies! It is the first day of school, and then before you can turn around the end of the school year is approaching. Time in the classroom is a precious commodity. Every second counts! So what are some strategies we can use to improve our time management and increase productivity for both our students and ourselves?

Take a lesson from the Boy Scouts: be prepared. Get to school early and get materials and equipment ready for the day. This way you can “hit the ground running” when your students come in, and no instructional time is lost while you are getting ready.

Encourage a climate of urgency. Have the attitude that every second is precious. Every second wasted is a second that students are not learning, and that is not ok! After all, learning is the most important aspect of what goes on in the classroom!

Have a free choice board available for early finishers. Those who complete tasks early need to be productively engaged. If they are not peer tutoring or helping another group complete a task, they should be actively working toward finishing one of the items listed on the free choice board. This could include studying domain specific vocabulary words, writing in a journal, reading a book, or whatever you deem valuable and appropriate.

Use a timer and/or music for faster, smoother transitions. Give students a time limit. It could be 30 seconds to a minute, depending on what needs to be accomplished. Reward the first group of students that has completed all of your requests. Playing a short clip of music from a computer, CD, or mobile device is also effective and fun for the students. Vary the music to fit the mood and tone of your classroom, your students, and yourself. Challenge your students to accomplish the transition before the music stops. Consider even using this short transitional clip of music as a lead-in to your content lesson. You will be amazed how much time you save!

Time students when they are solving problems or discussing lesson content with partners or groups. This keeps the pace of the lesson moving, and students aren’t as likely to get stuck or distracted. After the time limit has expired, share and discuss the completed mini-task with the class, and move on to the next part of the lesson. This method is effective because it gives students a chance to process and share the content of the lesson verbally with a group or partner in short snippets. This breaks the lesson up, and as a result, keeps students more engaged.

Utilize signals for activity changes. Students love variety, so collect some noisemakers (or even sound files on your mobile device) to use as a signal when you want the attention of the entire group. This is a time-saving, immediate way to focus the group when needed.

Remember that children thrive on routine, so stay on schedule! Even if you don’t get to the end of your lesson, find a “Plan B” stopping point, and move on to the next scheduled part of your day. You can always come back to it later if there is time. If not, at least you are getting everything in that you originally scheduled. Will you feel sometimes like you never finish anything? Yes! However, staying on schedule helps you keep a healthy pace, and exposes students to the maximum amount of content you had planned.

Being an effective time manager in the classroom is one of the characteristics of a highly effective teacher. Remember to keep that sense of urgency about time and learning alive in your classroom!


A little note goes a long way

A positive environment in the classroom leads to endless results in all other areas. Positivity sets a tone of caring, good character, and mutual respect in the classroom. Here is one way that I strive to keep the positive meter overflowing in my classroom:

Secret messages

Students love to feel important. With thirty-four students in my classroom, it is often hard to compliment or say something kind to every student every day. To ensure all students are getting a little something every now and then, I write post-it notes to my students. I try to find a thematic pack (apples for beginning of the year, hearts in February, etc.) and then make sure to address students by their name of choice (some of my kids like to use nicknames in the classroom, which makes the note even more meaningful). On the post-it I try to write something nice about them. It could be about something I noticed from the day before, “I love how hard you tried on that math problem yesterday. Keep up the excellent work!”, or it could be just a kind word, “Your smile brightens up my day. Thank you for sharing it with us today!” What I love most is seeing the expression on their face when they read it. Students feel so special. I’ve even had kids tape their notes to the inside of their binders. It’s a sweet, quick, and easy way to let your students know that they matter.

Keeping track

How do I keep track of who has received a post-it note and who hasn’t? In the past, I have used a class list and would give a student a check once they received a post-it. Now I keep track by using ClassDojo. I have a custom behavior that I click every time I give a student a post-it note, giving me immediate information on who still needs a note!

Invitation to students

Another addition I added over the years was the idea that students could write kind notes to each other. This was even more meaningful because students took the lead in empowering each other. How awesome to come into a classroom where kids were complimenting their peers, in writing! It was such an inspiring and heartfelt moment as a teacher.

The power of kindness conquers all in the classroom. Children learn from each other and care greatly about recognition. If you’re thinking of incorporating some new ideas into your classroom next year, consider this to be one of them!



Engage students with ClassDojo: thoughts from an administrator

One of the easiest ways to gauge a teacher’s effectiveness is by watching their students’ behavior. What tips and tricks do they use to keep students in line and attentive throughout the day? ClassDojo is a free online tool that allows teachers to organize classes and keep track of positive and negative behaviors of students. There is also an app available that allows teachers to follow behaviors throughout the day, regardless of where they are.

As an administrator I have seen ClassDojo used in a variety of ways. Rather than focus on the typical use as a behavioral management tool, I particularly enjoy classrooms that take ClassDojo to the next level. There are a variety of ways that ClassDojo can be used to help teachers manage their classrooms that doesn’t involve separating the “good” students from the “bad”.

One creative way to use ClassDojo is to edit the award titles to reflect concepts and skills taught in that particular classroom. This draws attention to different student learning objectives. “I mastered fractions” means more to a student than a teacher checking off a homework packet once a week. Obviously it would be time consuming to differentiate awards based on assignment, but concepts would be easy. Providing students with a visual where they can track their progress increases students’ awareness in a transparent way.

As a fourth grade teacher I would create a checklist for every assignment or project. Students would highlight or check off their name when they completed their work. ClassDojo can be thought of as an engaging, high tech version of the checklist. Teachers can create award titles through ClassDojo that teach students responsibility such as, “name on paper,” “correct heading,” “double checked work,” etc.

Lower grade teachers who have students rotate through stations could change their award titles to reflect each area and keep track of who has completed what. High school teachers could use ClassDojo to track novels, reports, or genius-hour projects.

Another amazing feature of ClassDojo is that parents can create accounts, giving them the ability to see how their student is doing in real time. In the world of IEPs and behavioral plans this is an easy way to keep parents involved with what is going on in the classroom. Parents will appreciate the ease of staying in the loop through reports as well as ClassDojo Messaging! The simplicity of this tool is a win-win!

Regardless of how you choose to use ClassDojo, get creative and make it work for your students!