TnT 74 Conquering classroom management right from the start

Having a solid classroom management plan is ESSENTIAL for a successful year. No amount of curriculum planning will be effective if you have multiple students disrupting the learning. So now that you have a plan, how do you implement it? What are the possible things that could go wrong, and why do they happen? In Part 2 of this 2-part series, I dive into how to train your students to follow your plan, as well as how to deal with parents when their student misbehaves.

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Why is classroom management such a big deal? Have you ever seen a classroom where everyone sits silently and obediently? Have you seen a classroom where students are busy and actively learning? Have you seen one where students are screaming, running around, and the teacher can’t get them to settle down?

All of those are examples of good and bad classroom management. In our minds, we would love it if our students would just listen to us and do what we ask, but we also know that that’s a dream.

Or is it? Can we really expect that from students?

If you have the right classroom management plan and you implement it properly, then yes, you really can have it. You’ve obviously seen it in action, so it MUST be possible, right? But as a new teacher, it seems to be more difficult because classroom management is just ONE component that we have to think about while teaching. You’ve also got standards, checking for understanding, student engagement, assessments….you know what I mean.

Here’s the thing: if you get your classroom management plan down pat from the beginning, you actually spend LESS time worrying about it later on. Seriously, it just happens naturally. So here’s how to implement your plan correctly from the start.

Starting off the year right

The key to having a relatively smooth year in terms of classroom management is to set the right tone. You want a tone is warm, safe, and business-like. Students WANT to like their teachers, and part of liking you and feeling safe is knowing where the boundaries are. This is CRUCIAL because if your tone is off, you’ll have battles all year long. You can diminish the number of troublemakers by simply connecting with them the right way.

So right off the bat, students will be noticing different things: your appearance, body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Being business-like but friendly will put them at ease but also communicate that education happens here. Even if you have younger students that need more hand-holding, they need to understand that you’re not their parent and you won’t let them get away with everything.

There’s a balancing act that has to happen here – you can’t be too nice or too strict. Too nice, and your students will automatically think you’re a pushover. Sure, they’ll like you instantly. In fact, they’ll like you so much that they’ll show every facet of their personality without any regard to others. And when you try to discipline them, they won’t take you seriously or wonder why you’re being a jerk.

If you’re too STRICT, then students will fear you – but only for so long. For the students that tend to have behavior problems in the classroom, you’ve just presented a delicious challenge. They’ll dig in, and no amount of consequences will get them in line. Their parents may have already given up on them and are used to receiving messages and requests for conferences. And these students will behave just long enough to NOT be held in from recess or lunch, and will then proceed to be bonkers in your class.

One way to set a more positive tone is to NOT over the rules on the first day. While younger grades need to be explicitly taught the basics like how to line up, how to ask to go to the bathroom, how to raise their hand, where to hang their backpack, etc., you don’t need to go over a million rules the first day you meet them.

And especially for secondary, don’t start with rules. They JUST met you. Can you imagine going on a first date with someone and listing off a bunch of do’s and don’ts about yourself? The same goes for your students. These students have learned some basic behavior rules from elementary school, so assume they’ll automatically implement those. 

On the first day, take the time to let them get to know you, learn about the fun things you’ll be doing this year, and perhaps where everything is in your classroom. Then teach them policies and procedures throughout that first week, and allow them to practice and demonstrate it.

I’ve heard of teachers spending an hour on the first day discussing classroom rules and grading policies. Seriously? You’ve just COMPLETELY turned off your students. You are now like every other teacher that talks at them, and you’ll have to work harder to build relationships with them. If you’re in secondary, all of your students’ teachers are going to be suuuper boring that first week, so you should stand out by embedding the boring stuff around activities that are more engaging.

For me, in order to set the right tone, I plan engaging activities right off the bat that encourage students to work together. I love to do the activity Slip or Trip where students have to decide what happened to a man who is laying at the bottom of a staircase. This gets students excited, and so they naturally engage with each other. It also sets the tone that your classroom is going to be fun and exciting, and I can sneak in what they should do when they want to volunteer an answer. 

Teaching all of this

When you get your group of new students each year, you’re going to find a mishmash of different types of behaviors. Some teachers will be stricter than you and have lots of rules, while others are pretty relaxed and just go with the flow. You’ll hear, “But last year Mrs. So-and-so let us talk while we work” or “We just use a little hand signal for the bathroom and then we just go.” This is why it’s important to really teach your rules and consequences. 

As I mentioned before, it’s better to spread out your rules and expectations over the first week. Students can only remember so much in the beginning, especially if they’re in secondary since they have multiple sets of rules from multiple teachers!

Students will quickly learn your expectations and will be more than happy to meet those if they have a good relationship with you. When someone breaks a rule in the beginning, implement the first consequence without humiliating them. You could just pause and give them the teacher look. Later,  you can privately ask them if they knew why you had to stop and look at them. 

When you DO go over your rules and expectations, take the time to demonstrate and model what they should and shouldn’t do. Then have THEM model what they should do. Then have a student act out what they shouldn’t do, and have students explain what they did wrong. Finally, have students explain the consequences for those behaviors.

When it comes time to enforce it, don’t get emotional. You need to be very matter-of-fact. You don’t want the student to believe in any way that you don’t like them. Once they feel that the relationship is damaged, they’ll stop trying to please you or want to listen to you.

So if you have to relocate them, just calmly say, “I need you to go sit over there for now, ok? Just for today. Thanks.” If they ask why or stall, just say, “We’ll talk about it in a minute, but for now, I need you to sit there. If they STILL won’t do it, then you give them a choice. “You have two choices, you can move over there for today and we’ll have a brief conversation about it, or you can stay here and I can ask the assistant principal to take you while I call home” or something like that. You can add, “one of these choices involves just talking it out with me while the other involves more consequences. It’s your choice.”

Here’s the thing: you HAVE to follow through. Don’t be scared or flake out because you don’t want to call home or you don’t want to bother your assistant principal. That student needs to know that you mean business or they’ll NEVER, EVER follow your directions and will know that you make empty threats.

Where parents fit in

If you have a frequent flyer who can’t seem to follow the rules, chances are that their parent has been made aware of it in the past. Some parents will deal with the child after being contacted, while others will defend the child and insist that you got it wrong.

Whenever you want to contact a parent about a behavior issue, you have to stay fairly emotionless about it and just state the facts. It’s so easy to come off as not liking their kid, so you have to be careful how you explain the behaviors and what you did to try to fix the problem. 

Don’t come in with swords blazing and put the parent on the defense. In that situation, there’s no way you can win. They may even go straight to your administrator and complain about how you handled the situation. Even if they know it, nobody likes to hear that their child is a monster. So don’t communicate that you feel that way.

Whenever I have to email or call a parent about a behavior, I first explain what happened in class. I follow up with why their child is great and then explain that the student needs reinforcement from both school and at home so that they can be successful in class. Then I ask if they could help me out by talking to their student about what happened and how they can prevent it from happening in the future.

Here’s an example: “Today I had to ask Johnny to sit down five times. He was walking around, talking to people on his way to the trash can, and was, in general, a disruption and nuisance in class.” OR you could write, “Today Johnny had difficulty staying in his seat. While I realize that he needed to throw something away as well as get a tissue, he was talking to other students along the way, which made it very difficult for me to teach my lesson and for other students to focus. I’m hoping we can work together and talk to him about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior so that he can continue to be successful in my class.”

Also, you need to document every phone call and email exchange. This way if a parent says that you never told them about their child’s behavior, you have proof. And when you send that student to the counselor or administrator, you can show them what you’ve done to try to remedy the problem.

In teacher preparation programs, a lot of time is spent on rules, tokens, and consequences. These mainly work in the earlier grades, but in middle school, they develop apathy towards them or they eventually learn that they don’t need to comply unless you reward them. You end up teaching them to expect some sort of token in exchange for doing what they should be doing anyway.

Also, yelling is not discipline. Yelling is an attempt to instill fear in order to control a class. After a while, the students consider your yelling voice as your regular voice, so there’s not much left to do when you’re really serious. Also, humiliating or punishing students will backfire. It will be harder to repair that relationship later and they’ll stop trusting you. It may seem easier at first to punish a student for misbehaving, but when the threat and fear of punishment disappears, what’s left? Being proactive and patiently teaching a student how to behave will go much further and leave you with less stress. 

Finally, if a student is a repeat offender on a daily basis, you should wipe the slate clean each day. Give them a new opportunity to right the wrong and demonstrate that they’ve learned how they should behave. This can be really, really difficult, especially if they get on your nerves. Chances are that student already knows that you’re annoyed with them and they feel like they can’t win your trust again. So they just continue to act up and you end up having a miserable year.

If you take a listen to episode 62, I discuss how to repair the relationship with a student that chronically misbehaves. This would be worth listening to, especially when you have that one student that just doesn’t seem to get it!

TnT 73 How to craft an effective classroom management plan

Classroom management is BY FAR every new teacher’s biggest struggle. They may have had success when they were borrowing someone else’s class during student teaching, but when faced with their own, it can be daunting. Despite the tips and tricks taught in pre-service preparation programs, most new teachers still feel woefully unprepared for dealing with student behaviors. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, I discuss how to get in the right mindset for classroom management, as well as how to craft a solid classroom management plan.

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Today on episode 73, its part 1 of a 2-part series on classroom management. This is by far all new teachers’ biggest struggle, so I’m going to break it down for you into manageable parts.

With the school year right around the corner (or maybe for some of you, it’s already started), you really need to have your classroom management solid. This is a topic that many new teachers struggle with, and since it’s a complex topic, I felt that it should be split into two episodes.

Classroom management isn’t so much about discipline, rules, and consequences as much as it is about preventing negative behaviors from arising in the first place. If you think about it, it’s like our health. It’s easier and cheaper to prevent illness rather than treating it. So if you set the right learning environment and have positive relationships with ALL students, students are less likely to misbehave or try to push those boundaries.

For some of our toughest students, they struggle to read, write, and do math or just hate it altogether. They channel this frustration and shame into negative behaviors as a coping mechanism. They’ll also stonewall or refuse to work because they don’t want other students to know that they’re not capable. In their mind, you can’t criticize their work nor will they come off as stupid if they haven’t given you anything to criticize.

Once they fall behind, it obviously gets tougher for them, so they start really making them part of their coping mechanism of the mindset. Reading and writing have most likely been boring for a lot of your students. Math won’t make sense at all. 

On the flip side, they could also be completely bored out of their minds and act up to entertain themselves. Both situations suck for you as the teacher.

Unless the right conditions are set, these factors will lead to more students misbehaving or checking out in your class. In this two-part series, I’m going to dive into both mindset and practical aspects of classroom management. As you’re listening, I want you to think about your own interactions with students, the policies that have been passed down from others that you’ve tried out, and how to create a system that works with your own personality and teaching style.

Let’s start with mindset.

Child development

In order to figure out what kind of classroom management plan you want, you have to first learn everything you can about child development for the students you teach and use it to frame how you handle your classroom. Your expectations have to be in line with what can be expected of them. This means that you’ll have to work with younger kids on impulse control and with older students on being responsible.

There are a lot of articles, blog posts, podcasts, and books about kids at that age. Research and take notes on key points that could affect how they behave in class. Don’t skimp on this part, especially if you’re new to teaching a certain grade because it’s key to your classroom management plan.

So once you have a working knowledge of what your students are going through at that age, you’ll know what behaviors to expect. What, then, does your ideal classroom look like? If you expect a group of 35 middle school students to sit quietly and be completely engaged in your lesson for 60 minutes, you’ll be disappointed on a daily basis. If students tapping, squirming while sitting on the ground, and random outbursts annoy you, then you need to find a way to get past that if you teach elementary. You have to take what is normal for their age, combine it with what students need to learn and determine how you’ll communicate your expectations to them.

For example, a lot of 7th graders hate drawing attention to themselves. That’s why so many of them don’t want to raise their hand to volunteer in class. So with that in mind, I have policies that allow them to be more subtle when they need something. If they need to go to the bathroom, they just cross their fingers and hold it up and patiently wait for me to make eye contact and nod at them. No discussion is needed, no interruption of the lesson and they’re eternally grateful that they didn’t have to raise their hand. If they need a tissue to blow their nose, they don’t need to ask. It doesn’t bother me if they get up because the rest of us are so engaged in the lesson. Plus, if they ask to get a tissue, then people’s attention is on that student walking to the tissue box and listening to them blow their nose.

Younger students enjoy and are receptive to call and response. Something like “clap once if you hear me, clap twice if you hear me,” or putting the peace sign in the air, maybe saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m waiting for quiet,” those work really well with younger students. Older students find it cheesy and are less likely to respond without a good dose of sarcasm and eye-rolling.

When it comes to transitions between activities, what can you reasonably expect? If you did direct instruction for 30 minutes, your students will most likely talk during a transition. It’s okay – let them empty the cup a bit. With elementary students, you’ll probably have to show them specific routines in terms of how to take out certain supplies, where to put them on their desk, etc. With secondary students, they need less hand-holding and will actually be annoyed if they feel like you’re nagging them.

Engagement and classroom management go hand-in-hand

In episode 70, I discuss the importance of being an engaging teacher. This is important because when you’re engaging, and students are engaged, you’ll have far fewer problems. So if you want more information on how to not only make your lessons engaging but also deliver them in an engaging way, check out episode70. 

One of the many reasons why students misbehave is boredom. They already know what you’re teaching or are so confused and don’t want to ask. But if your student engaging is high, they won’t have as many opportunities to be disruptive.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be bouncing off the walls and hyper to entertain students. We’re not here to keep them entertained, and not everything has to be fun. But your delivery and content should be engaging enough that they want to pay attention and work with their group. If you’re quiet, meek, and monotone, then even the best student will space out and stop listening. So making the material rigorous and relevant to students is key.

Coming up with a plan

Now that you know what to expect from your students at this age, you need to decide your classroom management plan. This includes your rules and consequences.

When we think of rules, we can’t help but think of the things students SHOULDN’T be doing. I mean, in our minds we can picture all of the behaviors that we DON’T want to see, right?

But you want your rules to be about the things that they SHOULD do so that learning can happen in a safe and caring (and dare I say FUN) environment. You want a rule to be phrased in such a way that it’s obvious that by not following it we can’t get on with the fun stuff and learning.

You’ve probably already heard this, but you also want to make your rules apply to multiple situations in that you want the rules to blanket a lot of different behaviors. And you have to think about your own teaching philosophy and craft rules around that.

For example, something as simple as respect yourself, others, and learning encompasses so many possible scenarios. If a student answers out loud without raising their hand, they’re not respecting others and learning. Same goes if they’re talking to a student across the room. Or if a student is eating or chewing gum in class, they’re not respecting others or learning.

Come prepared to learn is another simple rule that can apply to multiple situations such as bringing your materials, staying awake in class, doing your homework on time, studying for tests, etc. 

You can also make a specific rule such as only water is allowed to be consumed. I do this one because I don’t want any food or colored drinks in my class. We have an ant problem in our school, and even one crumb will bring on a hundred ants!

So now you have your rules. What will happen when one of these rules is broken?


You want to really think about this because whatever you choose, you MUST enforce it, even if it’s broken RIGHT AFTER you explain the rule.

If you’ve ever seen a consequence in action that made you cringe, don’t use it. If you felt sorry for a student after a consequence, don’t use it. If you felt like it was fair and effective, then use it.

Most teachers start out with a verbal warning or giving the “teacher look.” You want to explain to students that this is their ONLY time to fix the problem before you start implementing consequences.

Why only one warning? Well, how many times do you want to stop instruction for this student? If they see that they get multiple warnings, they’ll keep acting up until they’ve used those all up. So you have to be clear about this, and more importantly – STICK TO IT.

What happens the second time? That’s up to you. For younger students, a timeout situation tends to work as long as it’s not too lengthy. If you give a student a timeout, it helps to follow up with a discussion in that timeout, otherwise, a timeout inadvertently is a reward.

For secondary, I’ve found that relocating them helps. You might want to consider having an empty seat near the back where they can go and not try to be the center of attention. This also allows you to have a private conversation with them once you get the class working.

Whenever I have to relocate a student, I keep track of it. If I’m having to do this several times a week, I make sure to inform the parent. You don’t want to give them detention or send them to the office without any warning – that’s a sure way to ruin any chance of working with them or having them cooperate!

Some teachers assign daily points for behavior and deduct those for each infraction. Others have students write a reflection sheet. Some have students stay in during recess or lunch. Whatever you choose, be consistent and fair. If you know that a certain consequence makes you uncomfortable or you come up with reasons why THIS instance doesn’t count, then it’s not a good consequence.

You want to make sure that you’re aware of any school policies when it comes to discipline. You want to follow all of the protocols before a student is ever sent to an administrator. This usually means dealing with it in-house and talking to the parent. You don’t want to send a student to your administrator without having contacted the parent first – otherwise, the parent will be angry that you never told them, and your administrator will resent you for putting them on the spot like that. It ends up being doubly bad.

When thinking of possible consequences, make sure they have equal weight as the infraction. For example, if a student talks out of turn twice, that’s probably not grounds for lunch detention. However, if a student hits another student (even in a joking way) or throws something across the room, a verbal warning may not be enough.

If you’re at a loss in terms of what your classroom management plan should be, ask other teachers on your team or that teach your grade. Go on social media and ask your tribe. Be aware that some of their policies can be on the extreme of lenient or draconian, but it’ll give you an idea of what others are using successfully.

Also, if you observe a teacher that has amazing classroom management in the same style as yours, pick their brains, even if they teach another grade or subject! Find out what they’re doing, how they teach students their policies, what has and hasn’t worked…all of it!

When you’re starting out as a teacher, you’re going to try a lot of different systems until you either fine-tune it or find the right one. Be willing to take risks and see what works for you. You’ll also find that both your teaching philosophy and delivery will change over time, so be reflective throughout the process so that you can find something that fits.

TnT 70 Actionable strategies for becoming a more engaging teacher

Every teacher understands the need for students to be engaged, but what if they constantly find themselves staring back at blank stares? How can a teacher deliver a lesson so that their students aren’t falling asleep or spacing out? In addition to proper planning, lesson delivery is key to getting kids motivated to learn and do the hard work to improve. Here are actionable strategies that teachers can use today to keep their students excited throughout the class period.

How to be an engaging teacher

  • Have a developmentally appropriate teacher presence
  • The teacher does less talking and the students do more
  • Develop strong relationships with your students
  • Learn how to respond to them without shutting them down
  • Read the room

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In the last episode, I discussed 5 ways to make your lessons more engaging. This is really important because even the most entertaining teachers will struggle to make a boring lesson interesting. Being proactive is really key here.

In this episode, I’m going to go through ways that YOU can be engaging when teaching. Now this doesn’t mean jumping around, gesticulating wildly, using props and doorbells. That may work at the elementary level, but once you get into secondary, they find it cringey. They may at and with you, but if you’re putting on a show for the sake of it, it can get old.

Why do we need to be engaging when we’re teaching? You’ve probably observed this, either from observations or from your own experience, but when students are TRULY engaged, they don’t really interrupt the lesson and become a classroom management problem, they do the work without too much prompting, they feel more confident to take risks and try something difficult, and they hold on to that information a lot longer.

Don’t we all want that? Isn’t that kind of the point of all of this?

But many of us struggle with this, and we can’t really figure out why. We have the BEST lessons planned, but they keep falling flat because the kids zone out and aren’t interested.

Or worse, they’re talking over us and not listening. Or they’re falling asleep.

So before I dive into the five ways you can be engaging, I want to discuss your teacher presence. And I don’t mean presents as in your birthday, but your presence in the room.

It’s really important to learn a lot about the age group that you’re teaching. I don’t just mean what they should be capable of doing in your class, but what to expect from them developmentally.

The reason this is important is you have to adjust your teaching style to your audience the same way you have to adjust your writing based on the audience. Elementary students need more encouragement, it’s good if you talk in a sing-song way, the students more willing to do call and response, and they’re more outwardly expressive of their feelings.

Once you start hitting the middle-school age, you have to cut the sing-songy voice, but you still want to be positive and upbeat. Students are more guarded and self-conscious, so they hide their feelings more. Humor really helps loosen this up at this age because they’re still immature, but they still want to assert their independence.

High schoolers want to be treated like they’re on your level. This doesn’t mean that they should be your friend, but they are questioning everything, so they can be a little more open to reason. They’re starting to really form their identity and opinions and are more willing to challenge you. They’re still silly and want to have fun, but they also get down to business and are more serious.

So why am I explaining the obvious to you? Because you have to think about the age group in front of you and adjust accordingly. You have to be developmentally appropriate if you want to get an optimal response from them.

So this means that you can’t be serious and stern with second-graders, nor can you have a really hyped up way of speaking paired with call and response in high school.

Also, your presence and personality have to fill the room. Notice I didn’t say your voice. You can still be a little more on the quieter side, but you’ll need to work harder to fill the room. This means you have to really circulate around the room, make eye contact with every student, stand up straight, and be more assertive. Since your voice isn’t reaching that corner of the room, you have to move to where you need your voice to be.

When you’re more on the meek and softer side, you have to work harder to engage students. They can listen for a little bit, but it doesn’t take long for your soothing voice to either lull them into daydreams or cause them to get restless.

So now that I’ve gone through your teacher presence, let’s talk about some strategies you can employ to make your delivery more engaging.

1) In a truly engaging environment, the teacher does less talking, and students do MORE talking. 

    1. This means that you should let your students work collaboratively – with think pair share, group roles, reciprocal teaching. 
    2. This is important because students’ attention spans are short (and let’s be honest, adults are pretty similar!). Imagine a graph, where the horizontal axis is how long you’re talking, and the vertical axis is how long they’re paying attention. As you talk longer, you move to the right of the graph. When you start talking, you have maximum attention from the students, but once you get to the 10-minute mark or longer, it precipitously drops.
    3. When YOU talk, students are just absorbing information, but they’re not synthesizing, analyzing, or applying it. You HAVE to give them a chance to talk it out in their own words and make meaning of the concept. This is why they can’t just read information from a textbook and remember it – they have to DO something with that information in order to truly retain it.

2) From Day 1, develop a good relationship with students.  

  1. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. It’s widely known that when students have a good rapport and connection with their teachers, they’re more likely to not only be engaged, but they actually want to learn. They also want to please their teacher and seek approval, so getting them from the start is KEY.
  2. A lot of us usually do some sort of survey of students’ interests, but you need to go beyond that. Don’t just ask questions about THEM, but share and let them ask you. Regularly share little bits about your life, whether it’s about your pet, a show you’re watching, or what you did last weekend. You don’t have to get SUPER personal and tell them that you have high blood pressure or that your mother-in-law is annoying.

3) Learn how to answer without shutting them down and making them feel stupid. 

  1. This took me a couple of years to figure out, and I know that I learned this from someone. But the way in which you respond to a student’s answer or question will have a huge impact on how engaged they are in your class.
  2. So you want to master saying that they’re incorrect without making them feel stupid. Once you make them feel this way and embarrass them in front of the class, they’ll shut down. They won’t care about you or your lesson, and they’ll be distracted the rest of the period by the shame they feel.
  3. Some teachers don’t even realize that their TONE is belittling to students! Even if a student is being silly with their answer or they ask you a question that you JUST went over, you need to cut that sarcasm out of your voice. Now TRUST ME when I say that this is difficult. I have to force myself in that moment to level my voice and answer calmly. Even if another student says, “Dude, she JUST said that,” I tell them that it’s okay because I won’t accept students treating each other in that manner.
  4. When you’re circulating around the room and looking at their work, try telling them what they’re doing right and don’t always follow it up with constructive criticism. Yes, you may see something that they can fix, but let them bask in the glow of doing something right. Then make another round, point to where they made the mistake, and just simply say, “You might want to rethink that.” This lets them know that something is wrong but it doesn’t shut them down.

4) Read the room

  1. I like to think of myself as a fairly engaging teacher, but sometimes the material just isn’t reaching the kids. It could be because they hadn’t had a transition in a while, and somehow I’ve been talking too long. Maybe what I thought would be fun but my students just aren’t in the mood.
  2. When this happens, you have to pivot on the spot. You have to be ready to take that lesson to the next level. I usually stop where I’m at and have them do a think/pair/share or summarize in groups what I just discussed. I make sure that every person says it even if another person already answered.
  3. For my first classes of the day, the kids are DEAD. I can’t really blame them because we start at 7:30 in the morning, but we have a lot of material to cover! So if they’re dying and falling asleep, I make them get up and stretch, high five their neighbor, skip count backward by threes, or sometimes we walk a lap around our building. Some of you may think that it’s wasting valuable instructional time, but if they’re falling asleep, you’re just wasting your breath anyway since you’ll have to repeat the material.
  4. Finally, be sensitive to introverts because they participate in different ways. Just because they don’t raise their hand that doesn’t mean they’re not engaged. Be mindful of those students and look at the work they produce as evidence of their learning. Sometimes they’re paired with more assertive students and they don’t want to interject with their answers. Don’t penalize them for that since you can’t change their personalities.
    1. I’ve actually grouped these types of students together and told them that while they didn’t need to be discussing the entire time, I want them to give each other their answers as they go along. If there’s a disagreement on an answer, they need to discuss it. This really honors their personality and is SUCH a relief to them.
    2. At first, it was uncomfortable for me because nobody in that group was talking. It seemed like they were missing out on all of the fun that the other groups were having. When I asked them how they felt about it, they actually loved being grouped that way because they didn’t have to listen to somebody talking loudly in that group, and they had more mental space to think.

So these are ways that you can deliver more engaging lessons. When you pair it with planning engaging lessons, you won’t only find your students more engaged, but you’ll enjoy teaching more.

TnT 69 5 strategies for creating an engaging lesson

All teachers know that student engagement is essential for successfully teaching a lesson. Why? Because students don’t necessarily want to learn and participate in school, and as a result, miss out on mastering important skills. When students are engaged, they switch on their natural curiosity and are self-motivated to learn, explore, and solve problems. But it’s up to teachers to create optimal learning experiences to foster this passion for learning, which can at times be difficult to do. Here are five tried-and-true ways to create lessons that keep students engaged and hooked from the start to finish.

5 ways to create an engaging lesson or unit

  • Give them an essential question/challenge
  • Give student choice
  • Connect the work to student interests
  • Give them real-world scenarios – Make them demonstrate their learning rather than just completing a worksheet
  • Showcase student work

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I want to work with you guys on creating engaging lessons. I get a lot of questions about student engagement, especially with first-year teachers, because they’re still trying to figure out how to plan how to deliver the lessons, even though you did it in student teaching, it doesn’t necessarily mean that once you’ve got your own classroom, that things are going smoothly. 


And so I have five ways to create an engaging lesson. And some of these, you know, you may have heard of before, but I wanted to give you my own personal spin on them so that you can see how I’m using them in my classroom. 


Students engagement is really important to us. When a student is engaged, it means that they are not only paying attention, but they are actually into the lesson for lack of better words, they’re interested in it, they’re maybe even passionate about it, and they’re giving you 100% of their attention. 


And we all want that. We all want to think that these lessons that we’re creating are engaging and that the students will be interested in them. But a lot of times our lessons fall flat, and they fall flat based on two things: the planning and the delivery. And so this is going to be a two-part series. 


In this first part, I’m going to talk to you about the planning part. Because this can set you up for great success in terms of engagement, or can also set you up for failure. And you know what I mean, when your lesson is failing, the students just look at you, or they’re slumping in their seat, you see them physically nodding off, or they’re, you know, zoning out they’re doodling. And so we don’t want that because the information that the students need to learn, it’s important to our content area. And so it’s really important that for us that we do the proper planning so that we can create engaging lessons. 


So the first strategy for creating an engaging lesson is to start with an essential question or maybe a challenge. So students want to see the point of the lesson and why they need to learn this. Knowing where they’re heading really helps to frame that. 


A great way to do this is with your opening activities. So you know, you can make these seemingly unrelated to the task at hand, I think that’s really important to kind of lead into it with something that doesn’t seem like learning. For example, if students are going to learn how to find the area of an irregular shape, you could talk about a situation when you had to do that. 


So you can start with a story, and then ask them to think about a time when they had a similar situation. So if I was going to teach how to find the area of an irregular shape, and I’ve used this example before, I might talk about how much sod I had to buy for my lawn, and my lawn is kinda shaped like a peanut. So I had to figure out how much to buy for that. 


So real-life situations like that, but you’re basically giving like a story, and students love stories, and they also love to hear about you. I don’t know if you’ve realized that, but they love to know about our personal lives. So if you give them an example, then that will get the students hooked early on. 


So you need to think of an analogy to represent the skill or theme of your lesson. So for example, if you’re teaching a lesson on human sacrifices in the Mayan culture, you could bring up a situation where people thought it was worth it to sacrifice a few, for the good of the whole. You could have them write about it, and then they could share that with their neighbors or groups. Then maybe you could even take volunteers to share out. 


Then you bring up the essential question, which takes the skill and puts it into a universally applicable question. So you could say, for math, you know, how could How is math connected to real-world applications? So if I was doing that, you know, finding the area of my lawn that could be an essential question. Maybe an elementary essential question could be, what are the differences between storybooks and informational books? Maybe in science, you could ask why our cause and effect important in life? And you know what that question applies to other subjects as well. And for history, you could ask how was power gained, used, and justified? That’s a big one. That could also apply to stories in English. 


Now, the key here is to frame learning the skill in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s just pointless drill and kill – students hate that! Can you blame them? And you know, if you’re having difficulty coming up with essential questions, and you just need to Google essential questions for and then put down your subject area, and there are a lot out there for you. So that’s strategy number one. 


The second one that you’ve probably heard a lot about his student choice. Now, this is something that I’ve had to consciously make myself do. I’m used to just creating assignments and all the parameters that go with it because I like to control everything. And so last year, I decided to test out student choice and see how it went. So I did create some parameters, but I still gave them choice. 


My biggest fear was that it would be a pain in the butt to grade assignments that were literally all over the place. I honestly don’t like to create too much work for myself since I already have so much to do as a teacher. And let’s be honest, grading the same assignment from everyone is much more straightforward and streamlined and faster. But I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it out a couple of times to see how things would shake out. 


Well, I gotta tell you guys, it was a hit. I had students reading a short story per week that I assigned to them. And then from those short stories that they read in a particular month – let’s say that they read four short stories in October – they had to pick one mini-project associated with that story. So every story had its own different mini-project. 


For example, the project for the story that we read, “Lamb to the slaughter,” the mini-project option was to create a podcast episode. So in this assignment, they had to interview someone, which meant that there needed to be a host and a guest. And there was an assignment sheet that I gave them that they had to complete for the planning process. And then I showed them how to record the podcast on their iPad using Garage Band. 


Now, the project for the short story, “The lottery,” that involved making a newsletter featuring the town’s annual tradition of holding the lottery. They could make a physical newsletter, or maybe use an app like Canva or Notability on their iPad. And again, I gave them the assignment sheet with the requirements for that particular mini-project. 


Now, they found it exhausting to do one mini-project per month, but they loved having the choice. Most of them actually put in a lot of effort into their project because it allowed them to work based on their personal strengths and interests. And some of the projects were also writing a little report about the author. And then another project that month would be writing a poem. For me, I’m not very good at writing poetry and writing out a report or some kind of mini-informational essay, I could just get that out in about an hour or two at the most depending how detailed I want it to be. 


And so for each student, it just it was based on their interests and what they had time to do. I had students who were interested the art option because they wanted to draw, but I had the highest rate of assignment completion with these mini-projects because of the fact that it gave them choice. 


Now, obviously, this won’t work for every assignment. But you should do more of this if you can because you’ll get more buy-in from your students. 


Strategy number three is probably one of the most important ones, and that is to connect the work to student interests. I’ve talked about this before, and I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this step. If you want your students to truly be engaged and pay attention, you have to connect it to something that matters to them. 


Why should a student care about compound interest? Who cares about matter and energy? Why do they need to conjugate verbs? What’s the point of reading about that Little Women? And in some of their minds, they’re thinking, Isn’t that discriminating against little people? And you know what? These are valid questions. 


Think about it. Have you ever sat in a class in college or even in a staff meeting and wondered, what was the point of learning this, and on top of that, you were bored out of your mind? So guess what you did at that moment? You spaced out, you went on your phone, or if you’re in college, maybe you went on your laptop and started messaging people, or maybe you were shopping on Amazon, or you’re on social media. And then we get mad at students when they want to go on their phones, or doodle on a piece of paper or do something on their iPad, even though they’re bored out of their minds. 


So we have to understand that it’s not going to matter to them if it doesn’t relate to them in some way. Of course, they’re going to get bored. Just because you’re the teacher at the front of the room, that doesn’t mean that they’re definitely going to pay attention, let alone work for you. 


But when you make the subject connect to something as simple as a TV episode, or something everyone is talking about in the news, suddenly, they’re all captivated. So someone on YouTube, they created this fabulous video that I use to teach figurative language. It has bits and pieces of music videos that contain figurative language. And then it pauses long enough for students to identify what was used. It’s just these little short video snippets. And even my most sullen students, they totally got into this lesson. And they almost always remember these types of figure of language, when we have to analyze it later on in poetry based on that one assignment. 


And when I’m teaching theme, you know, I’m going to use movie and TV show examples. You could also make connections to movies, and history, or even better how a movie portrayed and maybe even botched up history. I know that I personally enjoy Neil Degrasse Tyson because he’s known for debunking the accuracy of science in movies. And that just makes learning science even more fun for me. 


So if you can connect it to something that they already know, or care about, or paying attention to, then you can create a more engaging lesson. Now, a little caveat here, because it doesn’t mean that if I have an assignment where they create an Instagram profile for a character, that that’s necessarily going to be engaging. So give them some parameters, try to find out some Instagram trends, so that it’s something that they can connect even more. Just because it’s using Instagram, that doesn’t make it automatically engaging. I hope that makes sense. 


So for example, if you’re like, Okay, create something for an Instagram story for a character in Little Women, what would they be posting about in chapter 15 of the book? Use different stickers and animations that you would on a normal Instagram story, and here are some free apps that you can use to do that. So you want to make it as relatable as possible. 


Alright, so the fourth strategy, which is similar to the third one is to give them real-world scenarios. Make them demonstrate their learning, rather than just completing a worksheet. I think the most boring thing that we can do as teachers is to just have students complete worksheets as evidence of mastery. I mean, think about it – mastery truly happens when they can apply this learning outside of your classroom, or in situations that are different from how they learned it. 


So for example, when I teach argumentative writing, I have students to product or restaurant reviews. So we first start out by looking online at reviews of different electronics and shoes and restaurants. Basically, whatever interests them, but I give them some suggestions in the beginning, then I make sure that they find another website with an opposing view so that they can compare and contrast. 


We work on how to write a good argument and counter-argument, using ethos, pathos, logos to emotionally appeal to the reader, all the things that I would normally do to teach argumentative writing, and then we put it together so that they can write their own review. 


The fun part about this is that my students have to do a review, where they test out actual products of their choice, or they review maybe like a restaurant, they don’t have to necessarily purchase anything, but they have to test the product out. So if they want to compare soccer cleats, they have to go to a sporting goods store and try them on. If they want to review first-person shooter games, they have to actually play them. I had a student who reviewed different gel pens, and so she went to an art store. And you know, she brought like a little pad and paper and she was testing out the gel pens there. I’ve had students review different boba shops around our city, and somebody even reviewed different box macaroni and cheese, then I had them post the reviews on our class blogs so that everyone could see it. 


And I wanted them to experience what it would be like to write a review that’s being read online by the public, and I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. So that’s a real-world situation. My students, they love this activity so much. Even though posting a blog post on Edublogs, there’s a lot of steps involved, they didn’t care, they just wanted to make it really good. And they wanted it to be high quality because it’s going to be public. 


And for those who didn’t want to spend money, they got really creative, and they used a few things around the house, or they borrowed something from a friend or a neighbor so they could review, different brands of the same product. A few students asked if they could compare athletes, but I told them then that they had to get technical and compare at least two players based on their statistics. And nobody took me up on this. But I can see that as a nice tie-in with math. 


So the point is if you give them a scenario that we would do in the real world. I guess you could say as adults later on as possible career things, they watch YouTube, and they see people reviewing stuff all the time. So this is something that is meaningful, and fun for them. And they totally are engaged the entire time.


The last strategy is to showcase student work. So as I just mentioned, you know, I had students posting their product reviews online and most of them were really careful about the images they chose, their formatting, the spelling all of that because they knew it was going to be public. 


Now you don’t have to post your students’ work on the web for the whole world to see. But posting it on walls gives them a sense of pride and ownership. And it also raises the stakes for a lot of them because it’s visible. However,  there’s always going to be students that really don’t care about the quality even if it’s on display. But don’t let those few ruin it for everyone else. And you won’t be able to post everything. Obviously, you don’t want to post every quick-write, especially if it’s personal. 


But if you create a real-world assignment that connects to student interests, then you definitely want to showcase that and invite other teachers and administrators to check it out. I did that with our class blog, I sent the link out to the staff at my school, and I asked them to leave comments on some of these blog posts and they loved getting those comments from their teachers. At first, they were mortified, like, Oh my goodness, my teachers going to read this or see this. But then when they did get the comments, they were really, really excited about it. So posting student work, definitely something that you want to think about. 


So these are just five strategies to create engaging lessons. I personally use all of them. And some of them are a little more involved in terms of planning, like making it more real-world or connecting it to student interests. But I have to tell you that the effort that you put into it is well worth the time. We can’t just teach with drill and kill, here’s the worksheet. Yes, we can give direct instruction, and have them follow along where we model and then we work together as a group. 


But if you can make your examples realistic, if you can make your example something that they can relate to, they’re less likely to look away and space out there more likely to stay involved because they’re going to crack up. Even putting something like Sponge Bob and Squidword in your examples, they think that’s really funny. And all of a sudden, they just want to answer number nine because it had Sponge Bob and Squidword. I kid you not. 


So I hope that you can employ at least one of these strategies in your lesson planning. And then on the next episode next week, I’m going to be talking about the delivery side the class time side of engagement. Because like I said in the beginning, it’s two parts. It’s lesson planning and delivery. 


So I hope that you got a lot of value from this particular episode. If you do like the podcast and you’re new, please look at your phone or whatever you’re listening on right now and hit subscribe so that you can get these episodes sent to you every single week. Thank you so much for hanging out with me today. I hope you have a fabulous week.

TnT 68 Insider tips on how to get your DonorsChoose.org project funded

If you scroll through social media, you’ll see a lot of teachers posting the amazing things they’re doing in their classrooms. This includes lessons, bulletin boards, materials, organization…if a teacher does, you’ll see it there! But what if you have bigger dreams for your classroom, but neither you nor your school has the money? Do you just give up on it or use your small paycheck to fund it? Luckily, there are SO MANY people out there who want to help teachers out so that they can provide the best for students. Alex Fagundez from DonorsChoose.org and I discuss how teachers can get this funding so that cost doesn’t have to hold teachers back from dreaming big.

Get started with DonorsChoose.org

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I have someone from donorschoose.org, and we’re going to dive really deep in how to properly write a proposal so that you can get what you need to create not only the classroom of your dreams but to also help you grow professionally. 


Something that’s coming up is Angela Watson’s 40-hour teacher workweek. Now if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you might remember that she was on episode 36, about how we need to stop doing so much and take back our time. Now I was also on Angela’s podcast, she has the Truth for Teachers podcast, and I was on episode 166, where I discussed how I joined her 40-hour teacher workweek and how I saved so much time. 


And I can’t really emphasize enough how amazing it was for me to go through this. And I had been working at least 60 hours a week. And I actually trimmed off 15 hours a week. And I rarely take any work home. And they really owe it to this 40-hour teacher work week club. And Angela only holds it twice a year. So you can either sign up in December, or you can sign up now. 


And I went through the club for the entire year. And while I didn’t do everything in the club, the first year, I kept adding more of the techniques and strategies my second year after doing the club. So it’s really been impactful in my teaching. And I highly recommend that you consider joining the club. 


And joining it as a new teacher is actually a really excellent time because it’ll help you establish your classroom routines and policies and procedures before you’ve kind of like tried them out and made mistakes, this is going to set you on the right path. 


I can personally tell you that this club was extremely impactful. And that it’s it really changed the way that I think about teaching, it’s changed the way that I actually teach. And I couldn’t recommend it more. 


So if you head over to 40-hour teacher workweek, it’s actually four zero, h t w.com k four, zero H t w.com. You can get more information there. And also what’s awesome is that she has a payment plan. So if you go there and you’re like I can’t afford this right now, she splits it up into payments for you. And that really eases the financial burden of the club. 


And honestly, it was definitely well worth the investment. I’ve paid for professional development that was two or three times the cost of this, and I didn’t actually implement any of it. But pretty much almost everything from the 40-hour teacher work week club I implemented so I highly recommend it that you head on over there and sign up today. 


As teachers, we have a lot of hopes and dreams going into teaching. So we might envision having these really beautiful classrooms, we might envision these really hands-on lessons and projects that we want to do with our kids. Flexible seating, field trips, shelves and shelves of books, maybe even class sets, or smaller sets for Literature circles, different types of technology for running a STEM program. If you have some kind of physical education program, maybe you want to get some types of weights and bands and just different things to engage students. 


The problem here is always Money, money, money, money. Schools just don’t have enough money. And when they do, they might not be able to spend it on you and your dreams. So how do we fund these dreams so that we can be the creative and inspired teachers that we were meant to be? 


Luckily, there is a foundation called donorschoose.org. And they are helping teachers fund and realize their dreams. So, unfortunately, I didn’t tap into this enough because I just felt like I wouldn’t get funded. I know that sounds weird. I felt like whatever project or dream that I had, it wouldn’t happen, and so why even bother taking the time to do it. But I spoke to a representative from donorschoose.org, her name is Alex Fagundez, and we had an awesome conversation today about how my misconceptions were actually pretty common. 


 But it is surprisingly easy to get funded on donorschoose.org and even things that I didn’t know that could be funded, can become a reality. So today’s a really important conversation because not only do I benefit from it because I have some projects and dreams that I would like to kind of realize and make happen. But I know that as new teachers, you’re coming in with barely any money. I mean, let’s be honest, you just got done spending all this money to get your credential. And you might walk into a school that doesn’t even have basic things like pencils and paper. So going through donorschoose.org can really, really help you as a new teacher just get over that initial hump so that you can just get your classroom going, you can get things started the way that you want to so that you have one less thing to worry about. 


So sit down, take some notes. And here’s my conversation with Alex. 


Well, thank you, Alex, for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time. Could you please tell us about your educational background and how you came to work with donorschoose.org?



Totally, I am a former second and third-grade teacher I taught in Newark, New Jersey, to some of the most incredible genius kids in the entire world. I specialized in literacy. And I also taught science and some STEM classes. And while I was in the classroom, I use donors choose.org to get the materials I needed for my students. So we got Legos for our classroom, we started a school garden, we got math manipulatives, the biggest win for my students were some really high interest but right at their ability books, so things like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Baby Mouse, Big Nate. All books like that were things that some of my struggling readers into where they needed to be and had really big outcomes for my students. 


So when I say started to look past the classroom and look for new opportunities, donorschoose.org was just the natural next step for me. And I’m lucky enough now to work on the teacher success team, where I get to work on the back end of donorschoose.org, but also work with some of our incredible teachers every day. So excited to be chatting with you and just to kind of connect with some of your teachers.



And we have such a great opportunity here to talk to someone who’s both a teacher and involved with the organization. So that’s amazing. Because, you know, a lot of times with these types of organizations, it’s just people who work in finance, or they work in marketing. They don’t necessarily have the in the classroom experience. So that’s awesome.



Definitely. And also, we were founded by a middle school history teacher, our founder, Charles Best was actually photocopying copies of the book, Little House on the Prairie. And as he was doing the teacher thing, where like the copier’s jamming, he’s getting frustrated, just thought to himself, if people knew that teachers were doing this stuff, they would want to help. And that was the catalyst for how donorschoose.org started. And he started the site literally from his classroom, he had his students helping out, and he was knocking the classroom doors next to him. And 19 years later, we’re at a point where we’ve helped bring millions of dollars worth of funding to classrooms and all because a teacher decided to take a risk and ask for what they needed.



Right. That’s a that’s an amazing story. And it’s helping so many teachers, obviously. So I was just curious, what are some of the most common types of projects that are funded?



Yeah, so teachers are always asking for the basic things like pencils, paper, printers, like hands-on materials they need for their students’ math manipulative. We always see teachers asking for books, and we know that something that’s expanding in classrooms, things like technology, so Autobots, Chromebooks, iPads, projectors, things that are bringing students into the 21st-century learning standards. And then also, we’ve seen a wave of flexible seating projects. So as teachers are exploring how to make their classroom even more welcoming, and more flexible for their students, they found that a lot of DonorsChoose projects are wobble tears and beanbag chairs. And so that’s been a fun trend on our site too.



And then just out of curiosity, what are some of the unusual projects that you’ve seen, funded?



Definitely have seen some out of the box things from science teachers, we’ve seen owl pellets to be dissected, we’ve seen a lot of live insects going to classrooms, but the practice that inspired me the most, they’re kind of unusual, are when teachers are thinking really outside of the box for what their students need. So what they’re seeing is a typical teacher in Connecticut, that realized that some students weren’t getting to school on time, were coming it all on rainy days. And she realized that they didn’t have the raincoats or umbrella they needed to get to school. And so they just wouldn’t come. And so to address that problem, she actually asked for raincoats and umbrellas. And she even ended up requesting bus tickets for her students to make sure that they got to school. So unusual in that some of those things like I can’t believe we’re shipping, shipping this to a classroom. But then you also hear the ways that teachers are thinking about the challenges their students are facing, and that’s also incredible, but also unusual.



Wow, that is really outside the box, I wouldn’t even think about going to your organization for something like that. Now, are there some requests that cannot be funded?



Yep. So teachers have, you know, we basically say teachers are the experts here at donorschoose.org. So if you have a big idea, our customer support team is always willing to lend a hand. Traditional teachers will choose from our vendor directory, people like Amazon, Lakeshore, backed by school specialty, will get most of your classroom needs. But if you ever have some that are outside of the box, our team can usually work with you. 


The one thing that we aren’t able to do as a rule is capital improvement projects. So if you want to do construction or something like that, but we’ve seen teachers work around that in really cool ways where they found different materials that could contribute to a project that needs the same goals. But generally, our customer support team is really happy to hear your idea and lend a hand, and you can always contact them at donorschoose.org/contact.



Okay, so then that means then, if I want to go to like a teaching conference or something, have those been funded frequently?



Totally. So you can actually request professional development in terms of traveling to the PD, getting your lodgings at the PD paid for, your conference registrations. So that’s just and then books and things you need to support your learning. We also do class trips and visitors. And so if there’s like an author, you want to come into your classroom, you can help to get that funded. Yeah, pretty much the sky is the limit. We know that teachers have these big ideas, and we want to make it happen.



That is amazing. I had no idea because right now, my district is in a little bit of financial turmoil, and they stopped in terms of providing money for PD. And so I thought, well, I can’t afford to go to this conference or that conference. So I had no idea that it, we could ask for what we need. And I love that the teachers are being respected in terms of, you know, they are the professionals and know what’s going to help them grow as teachers and help their students grow.



Totally. And one of the coolest things about that is we often work with corporations and philanthropists to partner in helping teachers meet their fundraising goals. So that can be in the form of a match offer or a promo code, which I think we’ll hit later. But we actually had the Gates Foundation matching donations to professional development projects, because they felt that that was a way that teachers could meet their goals, and students can hit their learning outcomes. That was a little bit earlier this year. But it is something that we’ve invested in so much, because teachers are asking for it, and we want to help them get there. So always be on the lookout for match opportunities, and funding on our site is a good best practice.



So I guess it’s a good idea to subscribe then to the newsletter.



Totally. And if you subscribe to that newsletter, you’ll get to hear from me every month. 



There are a lot of teachers that still haven’t even attempted to write a project. And what are some of the objections that you’ve heard about in terms of writing a proposal?



Yeah, the number one is just time. Teachers are already maxed out in terms of what they’re, what’s being asked of them. Teachers are often writing projects during their prep sessions, or after school, just a time commitment is a big piece. 


And I’ve also heard, they are unsure of where the funding is going to be coming from or if it’s going to happen, that’s another worry that teachers often have. And then another most common as teachers sometimes feel uncomfortable asking for help. We are usually the drivers for everything in our classroom, and it can feel really weird to say, I have this big dream, will you help me. 


And so those are the top three that we hear from teachers that there are lots of ways around it, and you just gotta just got to push through, and I have some tips that I can share kind of later on, there’s definitely some get around them.



Oh, good. And has now things have changed since I started or even looked at the site before has donorschoose.org change the process to make it easier and quicker for teachers?



Totally. So if you’re registering for a donorschoose.org account, our team’s goal is to make that happen in five minutes or less. We know that you’re at a premium for time, the project creation process hasn’t changed a ton because that’s the place where you’re putting the most time in, you’re selecting what items do you want for your classroom, you’re writing your project essay, but there’s a lot of prompts the way that will help you tailor your essay to really catch the eye of a donor. 


And then on the delivery end, once your project’s materials are funded, that delivery window has shortened a ton. So some materials are getting to classrooms within two or three days of being funded. It’s pretty cool to see those materials come in right away and being able to open those boxes with your students. It’s like an incredible opportunity!



So I went through the process before. And I’m trying to go through the process again now. So I mean, this is interviews a little bit self-serving you guys. So I’m just wondering what is the number one mistake that teachers make that maybe prevents their projects from being funded?



Totally. So it’s super, super simple. Projects that are under are that are requesting under $600 in materials are the most likely to get funded. I personally tell my teacher friends, keep it below $400. It’s so easy when you’re looking through the vendor directory, and you see what’s new at Lakeshore and what cool new books are coming out to keep adding things and get really ambitious. 


But projects that are lower costs are more or less likely to be funded. So when you’re creating your project, keeping it under $600 is the best practice. And what you can do is if you have a big idea, and you say you know what, I want new seat jacks for the entire class, but they’re pricey, what you can do is break that into two smaller projects and that in itself, yep, that increases your chances of funding. So that’s like the number one thing that we see. And we want to tell teachers to keep it below $600.



That’s a good idea because I may be as a donor, and it seems like oh, it’s too much my little, you know, donation of $100 isn’t gonna go very far. But if it’s only $300, I feel like I’m really making a dent. So it’s probably a little bit psychological there.



Totally, there’s definitely a donor aspect to it. And then also, so just using match offers and funding opportunities. If you ever want to know like what types of companies are sending things on donors choose.org right now, you can go to donorschoose.org/matchoffers. And there’s always a list of corporate and philanthropic partners that are looking to help support classrooms, and they often will choose something like, okay, we want to support stem teachers or literacy projects, or teachers that are requesting these specific items. But there’s always a list, and they’re always coming out throughout the year from September all the way to the next September. And if you keep updated on that page, you’ll see the opportunities that are there. And that makes it really easy. If your overall project cost is $400, you have a map of your project; it makes it that much easier. So I would say those two things together are like a really, really good indicator of success.



Right? Oh, that’s awesome. That’s so awesome that we can kind of cherry pick certain organizations that are looking for, like our subject area. So I like that. So I’m sure there are people who are just wanting to fund books. And that’s where I would be in that in that camp. So yeah, I love that. So now, what are your top five tips for writing a proposal that gets funded quickly?



Totally. So the first I already mentioned, keep it under $600 or even less. The second is to use funding opportunities as they come up on our site. Stay clicked in. You want to always be checking which funding opportunities are coming up. 


So third thing I always think about is like think like a donor. So what you’re doing in your project essay is you’re trying to get donors to understand what your dream is and why it’s so important. I think as teachers, we fall into this trap of, okay, flexible seating is going to help my students with this standard. And we get really jargony. Donors might not connect with what you want them to see what your dream is be really aspirational. So always thinking like a donor as you’re writing that project essay. 


And then another thing, once that project is posted live, instead of asking your family and your friends and your network for donations, we find that the most powerful thing you can do is ask them to share your projects within their networks, the more eyes that your project has on it, the higher chance it has a funding. And so in addition to doing the like, Hey, I’m looking for donations for my project, please support me. Also that quick ask of like Hey, would you mind sharing this with your Saturday morning running group or the group of moms that you get donuts with on Sundays, it’s always good to ask for more shares and to get it out there. Yeah, so those are the top tips. And I think product cost is probably the biggest indicator.



Okay. And then now you had mentioned having our friends share, and I like that better because I feel weird asking my friends to fund things in my classroom. But I feel okay about saying, Hey, can you just share this on your social network? So, aside from that web of people, what are some other best practices for getting the word out about the project?



Yeah, I think just being active on social a lot of teachers that are using donorschoose.org are sharing their projects in their social networks on Facebook and Instagram. And another great group is to take to Twitter, participate in some education, chats, live tweet situations, connect with people who might be interested in your project. 


I know a teacher who was looking to find a trumpet for her music classroom. And so she joined a bunch of groups of people that are passionate about trumpets. And she started connecting and sharing her project. And she figured out, gotten to the mind of a donor. Until creating those opportunities, it’s really good. 


And in addition to the fundraising work that you’re doing, as a teacher, the donorschoose.org team is also doing some fundraising work on your project too. We try to send projects to donors on a monthly basis. And so your project could get sent out to a bunch of different donors. And donors can also filter our site by zip code. And so someone in your area is interested in supporting classroom at your school, it’s super easy for them to do it. And so you and donorschoose.org are kind of in a partnership in bringing your project to life.



I had no idea about that. So you’re really you’re like advertising on our behalf? Almost.



Yeah, definitely. And if a donor is given to your project, or funded a project at one school, if another teacher at that school posts a project, we’d like to just make sure that they know that just so that they’re spreading the word. And we’re doing the same where we’re asking donors to even once you donate, tell the people in your network, you did it, like, let’s make this happen. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes; we want to make sure that teachers are funded. 



Now, if, if I wanted to kind of use other successful projects, as an example, to craft my own, do you have any off the top of your head that you would recommend so that, you know, it’s just nice to see what a completed successful project looks like? If that makes sense?



Yeah, this is something that I did a ton as a teacher because they oftentimes hard to like speak to why I needed the resources, especially things like Legos or games for indoor recess. So if you go on our site, it’s actually super searchable. So on the left-hand side of the screen, you can filter by funded projects only. And so that’ll bring you a list of all the projects that have been funded, then you can narrow it down even further by subject area, by project type. And by grade level. So even if you don’t have a project idea, it’s a great place to go to start thinking about what you need or by searching by what type of projects you want, and seeing how other teachers have worded it that was something that I found extremely helpful as a first started writing project.



Okay, yeah, that’s a good idea. Because, you know, I was thinking about getting a teacher cart because I’m going to be a traveling teacher. And in my mind, I’m thinking, is anybody else even asking for that?


So that would be good for me to search that then because I don’t even know how to ask for it. I feel like you said, I feel weird asking for it. Because, yeah, I don’t know. It’s like, Can you guys buy me a teacher cart?


I feel like it has to directly benefit the students. And I feel selfish asking for something for myself. But from what you’re saying, if it’s helping us, then it’s helping the students.



Totally. And I think that project essay that you write, a lot of teachers get really hung up on how they’re saying what they need, and like the actual words they’re using, but in reality, it’s just important that you can make it clear to donors exactly how that’s going to help the students at your school and the ones that you’re going to be teaching. 


Another thing to think about is donorschoose.org is essentially a platform that connects teachers with big ideas and ambitious goals with donors that already excited to support public education. So chances are if you put a project out there, and you’re doing a ton of sharing, and you’re getting it out there, there’s going to be a donor out there that wants to hear and wants to help. That’s our entire goal is to connect teachers and get those projects funded. And so as long as you can explain why you have this big idea and how it’s going to help, I think that that puts you in a really great place.



Okay. And then I was going through the process again recently. And there’s that section about the school and the demographics and the students, how detailed should I be?



Yeah, this is a pretty common question. And some people kind of fall into this pitfall. On your donorschoose.org profile, it’s going to show what school you teach at, how many of your students get free and reduced-price lunch. So your need level is already listed there. 


A lot of teachers spends most of their projects essay kind of explaining what socio-economic status her students come from, but that information is already on profile. I would instead spend that time really like making sure that your asset framing, like who are your students, what are their dreams? What are they working on making it super aspirational, because these donors might have never come into your classroom before but like make them feel that love and that joy that you bring to teaching, one of the best things you can do rather than spending your time making sure that they understand there’s a need, yeah, you are posting a project, there is a need your students and what you’re working on in school.



And I think that we probably do that. Not knowing number one, that it’s already there, because you’re right when I have to find my school on that list, and then it automatically populates. But also, I think, especially if someone teaches in the more affluent community, they might feel like, oh, should I really be asking when everyone around me has all this money, and so they might again, feel awkward. So I like how you’re saying it’s not about how much money the parents make, or how much money is in the community. It’s, what are you? How are you helping your students reach their dreams and their goals?



Totally. And I think, for teachers on our side, they’re asking for the basics. They’re asking for pencils and paper and books. And they’re just trying to get the basics. But for other teachers, their schools are supplying those basics and donorschoose.org allows them to take that step above and beyond, maybe you have a big idea that your admin is like, we don’t have the budget this year that’s where donorschoose.org steps in to say like, nope, we’re going to help you, let’s make this happen. 


And so I think teachers use our site for a lot of different reasons. But at the end of the day, it’s for the benefit of students. And so I think teachers naturally are such giving empathetic people that it can be easy to say, Oh, do I need it. But if it’s going to help your student outcomes, and it’s going to make learning happen and bring it, you know, make it really exciting and bring it to life and you should ask for it.



Now, I know that we can put images on there. What kind of images do you suggest that we put?



Yeah, so in that same thinking of pretending you’re a donor, I like to think of super colorful things that really depict what your classrooms about, I’ve seen teachers take pictures of student work, potentially pictures of your students in action, not necessarily with their faces. But you know, reaching for a book or cheering or on the playground or whatever really expresses the vibe in your classroom. And what’s exciting to you, just as creative as you can be, and I think to keep it colorful and keep an eye-catching. 



And then once my project is funded, what happens next?



Yep, so what happens is, you get an email from us, and you confirm that you still need those materials. Once you confirm that our team actually purchases those materials, send them straight to your school. 


One of the best things about donorschoose.org it’s not a fundraiser, where you’re collecting money out of your folders or worried about where that money goes, we ship those materials straight to you, they arrive at your school. And once they do, we asked the teacher just write the little impact letter basically letting donors know how grateful they are and that the materials got there. 


And then within about three months, we ask that teachers and students work together to create a little student thank you package for their donors. And so those are often construction paper, glue, lots of funny little misspellings, you ship those back to our office, and we send those to your donors. 


And what that does is it creates the circle of gratitude, it makes it more likely for that donor to come back and support your classroom again, and I’m not sure about you, but for my students, it was a great moment to kind of stop and say like, Hey, there are people out there that are not my teacher or my family that care about me. Being able to feel that and say thank you is super, super powerful. I remember the look. We got Magic Tree House shark, nonfiction books, and a student in my class that just like, Whoa, like Ms. Fagundez, there’s someone out there who just wants me to learn like they don’t even know me, and they just want me to succeed. And what a powerful and inspiring thing for your students to grapple with. 



And then now I was thinking, also, what if I asked for something like professional development? What kind of thank you package would you recommend?



Yeah, teachers sometimes get stumped on this. But it’s actually way more simple than you think. Oftentimes, I would tell my students like, Hey, remember that thing that we did when we learned about multiplication? That was something that Ms. Fagundez learned at her training, let’s write a letter saying, Thank you for helping Ms. Fagundez grow her brain. 


Or I loved learning about coding, like, thank you so much for helping us learn about coding. I had 3rd graders, so you’re going to hear me do this. But thanks for letting my teacher grow her brain was like the biggest thing I did, especially in elementary school, but just keeping it simple. You know, donors just want to hear that it was impactful and that it happened. It’s a way that we keep our teachers and our site and our donors all in this transparency loop. They just want to know that it happened. 



Now, I was thinking because you had mentioned how it’s going to be delivered to my school. Now, what happens if, later on in the year I switch to another school – do the items that I purchased belong to me or my school?



Yeah, so donorschoose.org is purchasing those materials for your school. So in our materials ownership policy, it says that those materials belong to the classroom and the school that they were funded in. With that in mind, if you are switching schools, the person who has the ultimate say is going to be your school leader or your admin. And so if you ever moved, and you had something that you were like, you know, what, I really want to bring these level stools with me, Well, you’d have to do is check in with that administrator. The reason why we do that is because there are tax implications if we’re sending materials directly to an individual.



And then just a school have to fill out any kind of tax forms because something was donated?



Nope, if we handle all of that, we want to make it as easy as possible.



Now, let’s say it’s been a couple of months, and my project still isn’t funded. What should I do now?



Totally. So the average project on our site is funded within 23 days. So let’s hope you don’t get there. But if you ever do because it happens, I think that changing up your approach is always the best way to do it. The fundraising trick, because we like to create these experiments, where we see how much money comes in through Twitter for teachers how much comes in through Facebook, and then email. 


Every time we run that study, the most fundraising money comes in for teachers via email. So if you haven’t already sent an email to your network, I would definitely do that asking them to either support the project or share the project. So that’s like the number one thing I would do. 


I would also change your ask up, if you’re saying like, hey, support my students, let’s do this, maybe then switching it to Hey, will you share my project, as I mentioned before, that can be a great way to kind of change your tune, change your ask. The other thing you can think about is maybe you wrote a project, you got super, super excited about your materials, and you ended up with a $1200 project. 


If you’re struggling to get it funded, one thing you could do is take that project down, split it into two lower costs, and then repost it. That’s kind of a mistake that folks make a lot. But our expert teacher fundraisers will always say like, Hey, have you considered breaking up your project. So that’s kind of a more extreme one. If you’re like, you know what, this is not happening. For me, going a little lower cost is good. 


Another thing that a few teachers haven’t thought of, but I’ve heard from some of our top fundraisers is engaging your community. So thinking about small businesses and community who might be interested in. I know, my local pizza place, when I asked them gave a little bit towards my project. Oftentimes, your local organizations like the Kiwanis Club or things like that are typically a place where teachers don’t think to ask and could be a good place to start. If they’re excited about your community, chances are, they’re going to want to invest.



I never even thought about that. I guess you just imagine it’s all online. You know, it’s just like these anonymous, faceless donors that are funding our projects but reach out to the community especially, I can imagine if you live in a small community with one school, and everyone wants to help that school succeed.



Totally. I’ve also seen this is the one teacher who really went above and beyond she told her students, she created her project with her students, they were super bought in, they were super excited. And her students were helping her fundraise. They’re like mom, dad share my project, let’s do this. And she said it the project got funded at the end of the school year, they were allowed to pied her in the face. And the project got funded. And she sent us a video of her getting pied in the face. So any fundraising trick, you would use your typical fundraiser, you could do a bake sale, and put all the money towards the project, you can really think outside of the box. But there are some really cool ways to get your community involved.



Now have teachers use it for like field trips or class parties?



Totally. Yeah. So we’ve seen quite a few field trips. And what happens then is, it’s a special type of project. And you tell us where you want to go, how many students you’re going to have, and then once you fund it actually work with you to book the trip? I don’t know about you. I was a field trip planner. And so the idea is someone else booking the buses and making it happen. It’s kind of a dream. But our team, our team loves to do it. And so yeah, if you come on the site, and you have a big idea, definitely a good way. And some teachers will say can we do a grade-wide field trip, what I would do is break it up, you know, fund it for each class individually have a different teacher take it on. It’s definitely a good way to go.



I was about to actually ask that. Like, what if we want everyone in our grade to go? Now, you had mentioned earlier matching opportunities and promo codes? Could you dive into that a little bit?



Yeah, this is one of my favorite parts of the site, because I think it’s so exciting that teachers can get donations from corporate philanthropists and organizations. Essentially, donorschoose.org. part of our work is to partner with organizations that are excited to support teachers. And that could mean that that organization matches donations to your project with a match offer. It could be an organization that supports a promo code, which just like online retailers going to mass donations when donors enter it. And those are things that they can double your donations, we’ve seen five x’s, we’ve even seen 10 x’s. So imagine like your $5 is turning into $50. Like it’s crazy. 


And so you can find out about all of those funding opportunities at donorschoose.org/matchoffers. And to give you a sense of what types of organizations we’ve worked with in the past, we have a current opportunity with google.org. It’s called our I See Me initiative. And it’s the way we found, and teachers have said that it’s really impactful when students see themselves in their teachers and their educators. 


And so the project for this is a little bit of a mouthful of projects or materials that help students see themselves in their curriculum and in their learning are being matched right now from google.org. So that’s just one of the many funding opportunities happening right now. But we’ve worked with Google, we’ve worked with the Gates Foundation, Chevron, Verizon, at&t, Craig Newmark and the Born This Way Foundation is just a few of our partners that come in every single year.



Now, how does that work? Exactly? So let’s say you have a project for $200. How does that match work?



Yeah, so what happens is, before you post that project, you’re looking at match offers, and you say, Okay, these are the criteria that the Gates Foundation is supporting. You look at those criteria, and then you build the projects around that. And when your project was live, you’ll see a match on your project. 


And so at the bar at the top that says I have a $200 project actually goes down to $100. So those donations are matched. And that’s really exciting because it gives you as a teacher fundraiser, an even bigger boost, which is really exciting. And you can find all we have a huge array of these with tons of details and qualifications at donorschoose.org/matchoffers. 


One of the things that I get the most excited about because I work with a lot of our newer teachers is for the first week of a teacher’s first project. We have a special matching code called Lift Off, that actually doubles donations up to $50. For the whole first week. And that’s the way that we welcome new teachers to our site in that code is called liftoff. You’ll get an email about it when you post your first project. But for that first week, just welcoming you and your donors to our community, you’ll see donations matched.



And so that’s also the incentive to get people in right away. If you know that we’re going to be getting that amount of money on top of it.



Yeah, so the most crucial part or the most crucial timeline of a project is in that first two weeks. That’s when you’re going to see the most movement, and that’s kind of a really powerful time for a teacher to fundraise. And for a first-time teacher within that first week seen those donations double is really exciting. 



So then, okay. I’m thinking, let’s say that I found a match offer for $100. And my project is $100. Do I still need to raise $100? So do I just get that offer?



So if your product is $100, and you have a match offer? Then you only have one raise the $50. So every time a donor puts the dollar on your project, it’ll turn into two.



Okay, so I still have to fundraise, but they’re going to give me up to 100. If that was the match offers like, okay, we have 100, then I have to just match half of that.



Yeah, and a lot of our members actually don’t even have a cap, like we’ll match up to $100. Most of them are just until funds run out. And we’re working with incredibly generous funders. So that doesn’t happen too often. But these funding opportunities do move quickly. So that’s another plug to in those first two weeks of the project, especially if you have a match to fund an extra email post on social. It’s like a big opportunity. 


We also have, in addition into funding opportunities on donorschoose.org/matchoffers, we also sometimes do campaigns, with people like the Gates Foundation, where every project on the site has a match for one or two days only. We sometimes do that during back to school, we’ve done it a special campaign for books projects because we know they’re super important to teachers. And those things you’ll find out if you subscribe to our teacher newsletter. I always throw an update in and a little heads up for our teachers, you can be prepared, but those types of days on our site, we’re seeing tons of new donors coming.



I’ve also seen or read about, like some celebrity will come and just fund everybodys or something like that.



Totally it’s called a flash funding. And yes, sometimes that will happen. Last year, in 2018, we worked with Ripple, which is a cryptocurrency company. And they came to us and said, We want to do something big for teachers. And so for one day on me down the site, and we fully funded every single project. It was about $37 million in resources that went to teachers all in one shot. 


Now that’s basically a once in a lifetime thing and could be hugely generous gifts. But they’re all there are people out there that want to help and to take advantage of those opportunities, you just have to have a project. You have to be in it to win it. 


So when I was a teacher, I always had you know, even if it’s as little as $200 have a project up, have your next big idea building. I also, because projects can sometimes take quite a while to get funded, always thinking about what your next project is going to be. So I, for example, taught the Titanic in December every year with my third graders. So come August come September, I was thinking about. Okay, what do I need to bring this lesson to life? So as you’re doing your lesson planning and your content setting, thinking about like, what can I do to bring this to life for my students and then finding those resources through our vendors.



That’s a great idea. Right? And, for me, I just think of it just like a one-off, because again, I don’t want to keep asking for money. But it sounds like they can just really help you build all of your dreams. And if you have things that are ongoing in your classroom, you know, like you said, some days someone might just fund it and you just never know. I was just gonna say you just really never know. And it doesn’t hurt to ask.



Definitely. And we know as teachers, there are just things that are going to run out in your classroom. Like I don’t know about you, but Expo markers just didn’t last. They would last a month at the most. And if my students were touching them, like Game Over. Things like extra markers, pencils, hand sanitizer, I think my kids basically ate it. Like I don’t know where it went.  Tissue, paper towels, Lysol wipes, things like that. We have teachers that come back every single year and just do like a yearly delivery. And that’s something that we commit to. So basically anything that would make your classroom better, like we want to help.



Well, thank you so much, Alex, for giving us all this amazing information. I’m excited now to finish my project. I started it as I want to wait until she tells me how to make this better. And I am really excited about those match offers. So I’m definitely going to be looking at those. Now, if people have questions along the way, is there a place where they can get ahold of you or your team?



Yes, so my team is at donorschoose.org/contact. And that is a team of friendly faces that are trained to help teachers, and they are really excited to make things happen for you. So if you reach out, again, that’s donorschoose.org/contacts. If you’re a teacher who’s looking to start your first project, you are going to go to donorschoose.org/teachers. And you’re going to start the process from there. And I’m really, really excited to see some new teachers and some fresh faces. And Kim, I can’t wait to see your project.



It’s simple. But now that you’re telling me that, you know, the sky’s the limit, I’m going to there’s like professional opportunity or professional development opportunities that I want. So now I’m going to start dreaming really big. So thank you for that.



What’s your first project going to be?



A teacher cart and I felt kind of silly. But I gave up my classroom to a new teacher because she was traveling. And I switched, and I’m going to be traveling next year. So I needed a good teacher cart. So that’s the first one. And then there are some conferences that I want to attend. So I’m going to get on it.



That’s so exciting. I traveled on a cart for one day a week in my third year of teaching. And I actually found it to be really fun. I taught science to all the third-grade classrooms on our grade level once a day. And I found it to be really fun. So good luck.



Thank you. And what was that website again, for its donorschoose.org/teachers to get started? Well, thank you so much, Alex, for being on here. And I know that everyone’s gonna get a lot of value out of this. Thank you.



Yes. And all the teachers out there, the donorschoose.org team is cheering you on, and we can’t wait to see your project.



Thanks. So that was awesome, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you guys. But I got a lot out of that. And I am ready and excited to just get going on this. So here are my key takeaways. 


First of all, something that surprised me was that you should keep your project under $600, maybe even under $400. Because it’s easier to get funded, if it’s a small amount, as opposed to having something that’s $1000 or $2,000. So I didn’t even think about that. So, you know, if you’re looking for like a set of iPads or keyboards, then group them up into smaller projects that can get funded along the way. So that was awesome. 


Another one because I have some hang-ups on asking people for money is to not ask your friends and family and colleagues for money, but to have them share your project. I think that’s awesome. Because if I send it out to 10 people, and they sent out 10 people, then obviously it’s going to, you know, connect with a lot more and it’s going to be more likely to be funded. 


I was also really excited about how they have the matching opportunities where, you know, I raise $1, and somebody else raises $1. And I can get to my goal even faster. That made me really excited because I used to think that having a project in terms of being funded was just. It was just too difficult to do. But from talking to Alex, now I know it’s definitely doable. A lot of teachers are doing this and having their projects funded every day. So why am I missing out on this? Why are you missing out on this? 


So we need to get some projects, you know, written out and get this going right away. Summer is a great time because you have all the time in the world to dream it up. And to do some online shopping and find what you need for your classroom, for professional development, whatever it is that you need as a teacher. 


So I really hope that you got a lot of value out of today’s episode. I know that I’m excited about this. And also don’t forget about Angela Watson’s 40-hour teacher workweek, I’m going to put the link to that in the show notes you want to get in so you can get the early bird bonuses. And thank you so much for coming here every single week. I really, really appreciate it. You guys have no idea how meaningful it is to get your emails, get reviews on Apple podcasts and just hear that the words that I’m putting out every single week. They’re helping you out, and that really drives me to keep on going even during my summer. So have a great week, and I’ll talk to you guys next week.