Reward Days at Middle School (Updated)

Our middle school has begun holding a Reward Day each trimester.  Students who have no office referrals and Cs or better in all classes are offered an activity.  Everyone else goes to an academic support room.

I wrote an earlier post about this idea, which included an all school assembly.  This year, though, we changed it up a bit.  We’re holding a carnival!  We ordered some cheap prizes from Oriental Trading.  flying discThere’s a mom who makes balloon animals.  We’ll also have karaoke, a dance, a free throw contest, face painting and a cakewalk.  Our counselor is even planning to set up a fortune telling table! crystal ball

We’re setting it all up in the gym/cafeteria section of the building, so students can move freely from place to place.  The nice thing about this activity is that it’s relatively cheap.  Since our district doesn’t have much money, that’s a bonus!


Fun Run/Walk

Every year, our middle school participates in ACES – All Children Exercising Simultaneously.  We take the kids up to the high school track, walk a few laps, then go back to class.

Fuel Up to Play 60This year, thanks to Fuel Up to Play 60, we stepped it up a bit (get it? “Stepped it up?”)  Anyway, we changed it to a 1 mile run/walk through town, finishing with chocolate milk.

The city agreed to close off the streets for us, the police chief agreed to be our starter, and the United Dairy Farmers of Michigan supplied the chocolate milk.  We also had parents stationed at corners to make sure students didn’t head off into the wild.running

Daily announcements about the event got students excited.  A group of students took charge of the event, writing and giving announcements, making posters and setting up the day of the event.

It was so gratifying to see the students independently doing their jobs.  They brought out the chocolate milk, set it up on a table and even brought walkie talkies in case they needed to communicate with each other!

The morning of our event was rainy, prompting several students to ask, worriedly, if we would still hold it.  I was happy to see their relief when I told them the rain would stop in time.  They were really excited to do it!run

Staff members walked and ran along with the students, which also gave the needed support and encouragement for some of them to keep going.

There’s just something about seeing a river of students, headed down the street together that gets the positive feelings going! Teachers also noticed that students were quieter and more focused the rest of the day.  Interesting, huh?

It’s now going to be an annual event for us – fingers crossed for a sunny day next year!

Celebrating With Our Classroom Family

My teammate is going to be a dad soon.  (Technically, he already is, since he has a 10 year old stepson, but he’s about to be the dad of a newborn!)  Since we like to think of our team as a family, the students and I have been planning a surprise party for him.


Each student created a page for a book to give him.  They wrote a piece or two of advice on one side, then drew a picture on the back.  Once they were finished, a student made a cover for the book and I bound it together.  Then, a couple of students wrapped it.



In addition, students created various decorations to be put up the day of the party.  They made paper chains, signs and dangly spirals.

The day of the party, I brought cupcakes, a parent supplied punch and the students put up the decorations.  It was clear they were excited – I started to think they were going to vibrate right out of their chairs as they waited for the time to decorate.


When the time came, the students put up decorations, and surprised their teacher with the party.

Why spend the instructional time to do something like this?  While this isn’t covered in standardized tests, I truly believe this was time well spent.  Creating a team/family atmosphere makes all the difference in our students’ learning.  When students feel connected, they are more likely to be invested in learning.  Some students don’t feel connected to others.  Humans need that connection.  Being part of a team is important to students.  If they don’t feel like part of a team in the classroom, they’ll find a different team to be part of.  This is the reason gangs get started.

By celebrating life events this way, students feel connected, and learn how to be part of a group like this.

Plus, what do you remember from school: that great lesson on drawing conclusions your sixth grade teacher did, or a party you held?

10 Things I Love About Teaching

Having spent more of my lifetime teaching than not (yes, I’m THAT old!), I was thinking recently about why I love my job.  Here’s what I came up with:

10 – I am constantly inspired to keep learning. Because I have taught new grade levels, content, subjects and curriculum over the years, I have to keep learning.  As I received my new assignments over the years, it usually meant spending the summer getting up to speed on whatever I would be teaching in the fall.  Talk about keeping my brain nimble – I have taught (in no particular order): 6th, 7th and 8th grades, drama, social studies, language arts, science, math, reading, book clubs, gifted and talented, reading interventions, tech ed and journalism.  Each time my grade level or subject changed, I was challenged to gain new knowledge.

back to school

9 – I’m never bored.  I find middle school students endlessly entertaining.  I never know what my students will come up with next.  Sometimes, my kids ask a question that I never saw coming and I don’t have a good answer for it.  Or, their answer to a question is correct, but totally not what I expected.  Add in the crazy things they share with me in the hall before class and I find plenty of amusement throughout my day.

Ever gotten one of these?

Ever gotten one of these?

8 – If I need fashion advice, I have lots of fashionistas at the ready.  I can always count on them to let me know if what I’m wearing is good or bad.  Some children tell me outright, some tell me with nothing more than a look.  While I might think my shirt is all that, my students will quickly disabuse me of that notion.  On the other hand, it’s gratifying when a stylish young teenager compliments me on my style choices.  Since they’re able to spend so much more time studying the fashion magazines, if I pass muster with them, I must be doing okay.  (Or not – keeping in mind the glittery, sequined, neon choices they sometimes make!)

7 – Discounts!  Okay, so the discounts are usually on items I can’t afford, anyway, but it’s nice to know corporations value what I do.  We’ll just leave it at that.

6 – Answer keys.  One of the best things about being a teacher is being able to check your answer in the back of the book.  This allows me to look smarter than I am.  (No, I’m not above using that technique to convince my students that I’m smart!)  While I am okay with my students being smarter than I am (and they often are!) it’s nice to have the answers to the questions before I ask them.

5 – Being a teacher gives me something to think about on long runs.  Those times when I’m out on the road, all alone with my thoughts, it’s nice to have something to think about.  As I run along, I can ponder how to better teach a lesson, how to structure an upcoming unit, or how to reach a difficult student.  I’m never at a lack for thought-provoking material.  This comes in handy when I’m training for a half marathon!


4 – Taking a break.  While I love my job, there is something to be said for the feeling I get when it’s spring break, summer vacation or Christmas break.  Having time in front of me to sleep in, catch up on schoolwork or prepare for future classes is a welcome break from routine.  Most of the time, I’m good about following routines, but I’m just right-brained enough to enjoy a break from those very routines.

3 – Other teachers.  I love collaborating with other teachers.  It’s gratifying to meet with other teachers and solve problems.  I find we’re always better as a group than alone.  Working together, we become better teachers (and we’re lots of fun!)  Middle School teachers are awesome – we can get incredibly silly together.

2 – The Teacher’s Lounge.  I know – lots of schools have teacher’s lounges that include negative conversations and depressing talk.  However, at my school, it’s the total opposite.  The laughter rings out from our lunch times daily.  The teachers I eat lunch with are hilarious and we leave lunch time energized and ready to take on the afternoon with renewed vigor.  My classroom is across the hall from the lounge and I can state, unequivocally, every lunch hour is like that.  Hanging out with other teachers in my building is a genuine perk of being a teacher.

1 – Making a Difference.  No list of what I love about teaching would be complete without this statement.  I make a difference.  As students move on to other grades and other buildings, some will write me a note, or tell me in person.  Sometimes, it’s not until years later.  I’ve had students who came back to observe me as part of their teacher training tell me I’m the reason they wanted to become a teacher.  This is the most important reason I’m a teacher.  I can change lives.


I love my job.

Inspired by Ellen and Fuel Up to Play 60

The Fuel Up to Play 60 program and Ellen have come together to inspire me to have a dance party with my students.

First, a little background: Ellen starts each afternoon’s show with a dance with the audience.  Nothing special, just moving to the beat with the audience.  It raises the energy for everyone and puts them in a happy mood.

Fuel Up to Play 60 is a program for schools designed to help students eat more healthy foods and move more.  The 60 refers to 60 minutes of activity a day.  This year, the program has been focused on dancing and school breakfast.

It occurs to me that my students could really use an energetic beginning to class.  Particularly the morning group.  It takes them a while to wake up and start participating.  The first half hour or so of class is always slow going.  I’ve tried brain breaks, but that doesn’t always do the trick.

Starting Monday, I’m going to pick a song and we’ll have a few minutes to dance at the beginning of the hour.  I figure I’ll do it like Ellen does and get the blood pumping, then stop and go on with class.

Possible songs: Happy by Pherell Williams, Best Day of My Life by American Authors, I Gotta Feelin’ by Black Eyed Peas, Good Time by Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen.  I’m sure the kids will suggest some, too, as we go along.

best day of my life Good Time I Gotta Feelin Pharrell_Williams_-_HappyHave you done any dance parties with your students?  Would you consider revving them up at the beginning of the hour, or do you spend your time calming them down?  

Motivating My Students to Achieve

Spartan PrideAs a proud Spartan fan, I watched the football team closely all season.  The team did everything right:  they all stuck together, through good times and bad, they worked hard, they celebrated the wins and learned from the losses and ended the year on a high note.

This has inspired me to use their example with my students.  It took me quite a while to figure out how to do that.  It finally clicked for me last week:

First, our school holds a Reward Day each trimester.  Students who have no office referrals or D’s or E’s on their report card enjoy a fun activity or field trip.  The others go to an academic support room which is designed to help them (hopefully) avoid this in the future.  So, our “Rose Bowl” will be having the entire team (59 students) eligible for Reward Day in March.  That will take quite a bit of effort on their (and our) parts.  Last trimester, we had 11 students who were not eligible.

Each week, the Spartans focused on their football game that Saturday.  Our “football game” will be our Catchup and Pickles.  Each Friday afternoon, students who have missing work “catch up” on the work, while students who have all of their week’s work turned in “pick” an activity.  If 75% of our team is a “Pickle”, we will consider our team to have won that week.

The Spartans are well known for dancing in the locker room after a win.  The team chose a song that they felt embodied their celebration.  We’ll be taking nominations for celebratory songs next week and we’ll choose our song on Friday.  When we “win”, we’ll celebrate by dancing.

It also occurred to me that the Spartan defense has a special saying, “the No Fly Zone”.  We will have a “No Fail Zone” in our rooms.  🙂

Finally, to help our students, we will be creating special teams.  We have two interns who, along with the two of us (the homeroom teachers) will divide the team into four smaller teams.  Each of these special teams will choose a name and the adult will help that team pull together and succeed.

I’m super excited to set all of this in motion.  When we explained it to the students Friday afternoon, they were also very excited, so I’m hopeful that this will really take off.

As we go along, I’ll try to update and let everyone know how it’s working.

What do you do to motivate your students?  Do you think this will work?

Student Planned Assembly

Fuel Up to Play 60Our school is part of the Fuel Up to Play 60 program (if you haven’t checked it out, you should – here’s the link: ).  As a kickoff to the new year’s activities, we held an assembly Friday afternoon.

Last spring, our school was selected to send a group of students and staff to Ford Field to learn about healthy eating and active living.  The students were thrilled to be part of this day.

As part of the trip to Ford Field, we needed to hold a kick off event.  Our students decided to have an assembly and show the student body some of the drills they learned.  The group of six students met several times to discuss how they wanted the assembly to proceed.

They finally settled on:

Fuel Up to Play 60 Pep Assembly

Students run in from both sides and toss squeezable stress cows into the bleachers

Fall Sports Introductions:

  • 7th grade volleyball
  • 8th grade volleyball
  • Cross country
  • 7th grade football
  • 8th grade football

Fuel Up to Play 60 Speech:

  • Reason we went to Ford Field
  • Who we met
  • What Fuel Up to Play 60 is
  • Pledge banner information


  • Running –16 students (4 per grade)
  • Passing –8 students (2 per grade)
  • Tackling –8 students (2 per grade)


  • Footballs 1 to student body, 1 to FUTP60 students
  • Backpack
  • t-shirts

As they began the assembly, I was so proud of all of them.  They worked as a team out there and helped each other.  It can be terrifying to speak in front of your peers, but they handled it like pros, even when the microphone quit working at one point.

This group will be planning other activities for the school as we continue through the year and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with!