Planning to teach from A to Z

As you plan to create a place of teaching and learning, think through these aspects of your classroom. I've shared some important points of teaching and a tip for each as well as books that I love that help me in each area. Feel free to add your favorite letter in the comments or on your own blog!

Letter A


You are the beginning and ending of your classroom and year. Your attitude. Your attitude is your decision and there's not an app for that. The fact is that only 44% of American teachers are happy in their job. This may be the number one issue we have facing education today. I own my Att-I-tude.

While I have some bones of contention with administrative issues surrounding my job, I have to keep from letting it choke my desire to teach. It is a decision to move on and control what you can control. I must fight to preserve my own attitude. (This relates to one of my favorite poems  Room in My Classroom.)

Tip: I put a saying or focal quote on my monitor so I see it every day all day to help remind me of who I want to be.

Letter B

Back to School

Get every back to school idea you can right now. Pinterest and Share My Lesson (and its sister site TES) are my favorite places to find free ideas.

  • Back to School Ideas – Here are some back to school ideas you can download and use. 
  • Back to school factfileIf you like to ask your students questions when starting school, here is a 4 page “factfile” handout you can use with them. Adapt it as it is a word doc. (For grades 1-4) 
  • Classroom Planning MaterialsMaterials for planning your first day and classroom procedures are available for download as you plan your fist day of school.
  • Examples of Classroom rules on Pinterest

 Tip: On the first day, Ishare my basic 4 rules which are Be Honest, Clean your Desktop, Respect Everyone, and Be Excellent on top of our principal's one rule “Do Right” but then have the students write the guidelines and details for what this means in a Google doc which we tweak and have them print out and take home.

    The letter C

    Cooperative Learning

    I started using wikis and co-created the first Flat Classroom project because I had to use cooperative learning strategies in my classroom. Educate yourself using resources like Jerry Blumengarten's Cooperative Learning Page, Robert Marzano's book Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, Jennifer Robert's Writing Response groups resource or a search on Sharemylesson. (In December if you teach writing, you'll want to check out my book, Collaborative Writing in the Cloud which is also aligned with Common Core Writing standards. Sign up to be notified when it comes out.)

    A tip: I have a set of poker chips in a coffee cup of four different colors and have written letters on one side of the chips and a number for each seat in my room – using these in the mug, I can divide up in a variety of ways including a jigsaw (i.e. Meet with the letter groups to discuss your part of the topic and move to your color group to explain your part to the group.) Otherwise, I have computer numbers and can say “odd do this and even do that” if necessary. (If I have less than my maximum, I can easily see which chips to remove based on the number.)

    Liz sits on the letter D 

    Discipline Plan 

    The book Fred Jones Tools for Teaching helped me with the discipline issues I had early on. The truth is, if I have discipline issues, it is most often because I didn't have the self-discipline to handle issues early, the moment they happen when they were small. Fred Jones' book teaches the importance of “the eyebrow” and “the look.” I rarely have to send students to the office but if I do, it is usually a gross offense requiring a trip (like profanity or dishonesty.)

    Tell students up front the consequences and issues, but keep them simple. Introduce them on the first day clearly but you could add some humor (like showing the “Share it, Maybe” video parody from Cookie Monster.) Some great places to look include:

    Tip:  Proximity is one of the fastest ways to deal with misbehavior. Don't say a word but go near or beside a student misbehaving. If you have to put your hand on their shoulder then do so, but the closer you get, the more likely the perpetrator will realize you've seen his behavior and stop. Be careful about words. The more you use words for discipline the less they work.

      The letter "E" 


      Your classroom walls, door, and organization send a message. What messages do you want to send?
      Again, turn to Pinterest (see Diane Shroer's board or search for “classroom door“) and Tumblr for ideas, but create your own. I was discussing this morning on my Facebook page some ideas I have for this year. Plan your workflow – where will students put their work and how will you return it (both face to face and online.) I went as paperless as possible last year and didn't regret it a bit. Don't forget the outdoors. We have an outdoor garden and classroom and elementary classes each have a bed with a certain type of plant to maintain, weed, and care for throughout the year as well as a compost pile, and fish to feed.

      Tip: For the last several years I've had an iTouch screen that my sister scanned and blew up door-sized. It had icons that I made for all of our major projects like Flat Classroom, Digiteen, and the wikis we use and said “iTouch the future.” Now, I'm thinking of having a #youmatter theme with a mirror and a quote underneath. The point is to think about what you want to stress and encourage – you should have posters and reminders of those things. Inside my room, I'm minimalistic because the students make the motivational posters for the room with their words throughout the year.


       Flatten Your Classroom

      You can no longer have a world class education without connecting to the world. When you flatten your classroom, you connect students with each other, with people of all generations and locations outside of the classroom and with themselves. (See Chapter 3 and 4 of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds for more on the Connection Planning tool to help you visualize this.) Plan rich experiences and get involved in Connected Educator Month in August, the K12 Online Conference and Global Education conference coming up online to get ideas. (Of course reading my book is a great start too.)

      Tip: Connect your classroom at least once a month. While you can use the ideas in my book, try the mystery Skype caller. Skype in a guest and let your students as the guest questions to determine where the guest is located and/or what the guest does. This is a fun way to connect with fascinating people from around the world.



      Set 3 clear, concise goals for this year. Read over them first thing each morning. Keep them close at hand.

      My current draft of my goals for this year:

      1. Integrate passion based 20% time projects (like last year's Freshman project) into every course I teach.
      2.  Update the school website and deploy Powerschool and school marketing/ promotions onto mobile devices.
      3. Position our school to deploy a 1:1 tablet program within the next year including infrastructure, stakeholder support, and school-wide teaching practices.

      Tip: Goals aren't attitudes. They should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound according to the “SMART goals” strategy. I take goals further in that every goal has habits that I do every day. I also recommend Barbara Blackburn and her work on Rigor when you start looking at the goals and objectives of individual courses.



      You are what you do. If you want to achieve something new, change what you do! I now set routines and checklists using my HomeRoutines app on my ipad/ iphone.

      Tip: Oneof the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to make a small checklist of things you need to do at the beginning of your planning period or break that make a big difference. My list: check paper in printers, check ink, 5 minute room clean up, restock paper if necessary, wash boards, put up anything the students didn't put back, check my inbox in the lounge, heat up my lunch, and whisk back to my room. This 10 minute routine makes a HUGE difference and everyone sees it.  Keep your list SHORT, doable, and trackable as you check off that it is done. I do this BEFORE I eat lunch so I don't linger.



      Make sure you integrate your interests and those of your students with everything you do.Angela Maiers has popularized the term passion based learning and has written some books on this including Classroom Habitudes and The Passion-Driven Classroom. Just remember that you can share your interests but you should also be interested in things that interest your own students. Just remember that students are as diverse as all adults. Some adults mistakenly think that sports are relevant to all teenagers, this is NOT the case but neither are movies, music, hobbies, or television shows. But as you integrate a variety of pop culture and hobbies, you're reaching more students as you diversify.

      Tip: I do this with my 20% time project, but with everything I teach, I work to find things interesting to the students. I talk about things that happen to me and also admit when they are teaching me something new. This doesn't mean we “play all day” or goof off – it does mean we have things that are naturally interesting to the students that I customize (as the teacherpreneur that I am) to the interests of students.

      Letter J for Jellybeans


       Some of you are cringing as I say this word. Joy? Really? Are you kidding?

      If Julia Child can find the Joy in Cooking, I can find the joy in teaching and learning! No. I'm not kidding. Maybe that is our problem. With as much time as you spend at work, you should be able to find joy in what you do. But let me tell you a secret. The common denominator of teachers I know from every type of school is that no matter what goes on outside the door, good teachers are able to close that door and create the environment in their own room. Every day at every school there is drama. Face it and learn to shelter your students. If you don't have joy, find it again. Seek it.

      Tip: Get excited yourself. I find Ron Clark's book The End of Molasses Classes a book full of joy, excellence and the nobility of teaching as well as Todd Whitaker's What Great Teachers Do Differently both get me pumped up and ready to go!

      The Letter "K" 


      A kind teacher isn't a wimp, a pushover or a laissez-faire loser. A kind teacher pays attention to students and is sensitive to the unique needs of that student, looking for a chance to be kind or helpful when it wasn't even asked for. A school with kindness is a school where people care. People find their favorite soda appear on their desk with a note, or someone takes their spot at gate duty because something has arisen in their personal life. Kindness is cheap but the lack of kindness is costly to the attitude of everyone.

      Tip: You can read 10 inexpensive ways to be kind but I loved the idea I saw at my church's Vacation Bible School this year and am dying to try this with a class. It was called “Special Ops.” Children are told that they are invisible as long as they wear their sunglasses and are quiet and don't make a sound. They have signs that say things like “You are loved” and “You are special” as well as candy bars and other goodies. The adults are in on it so when we see them coming, we pretend like the candy bars and signs appear. Sometimes the kids sneak in and give a hug. The point is that it is a very quiet way to encourage and spread sunshine and the kids LOVE it. Think of every way you can to be kind and make it a habit.

      Letter L Elle El 

       Layout of the classroom 

      The best way to prevent technology misbehavior is to make sure you can see every screen from your desk. Small things like the location of the printer and in and out boxes will save you time. I make a list of my biggest traffic/ workflow problems and my husband and I sit down and figure out what needs to change. For example, I figured out that people were cutting behind my desk to get to the printer and the constant fact that people were running into me as I sat at my desk was becoming a big irritant. We moved a side desk and turned my configuration into an “L” so people had to go around the front and moved the printer closer to the door and my problem went away.

      Tip: I always visit the teachers of a new class that I've never taught before to find out who should never sit together. This one thing (separating those who aren't a great influence on each other) is easy to handle even without a seating chart. I just direct those students gently to different parts of the room (I'll tell them if I have to.)

      The Letter "M"


      “Memory, all alone in the moonlight.” Memories give meaning to life. I always keep messages from my children, photographs with notes from them, and journals about their life. These things give meaning. As we discuss in Chapter 9  of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, helping students leave a legacy is a lasting part of teaching. Teachers who help children find their own legacy become legends we talk about. I think every annual should have a DVD sleeve in the front full of electronic memories from the year for students to look back upon later.

      Tip: My students have a drive on the server. When they leave, I encourage students to take a copy of their files with them or to upload everything into their personal dropbox so they can access the files later.



      One day when we're retired and we look back on these days we'll be able to reminisce

      “Yes, they cut everything –preplanning, my pay, my professional development…but I loved those kids so much I went in and preplanned anyway – I still gave it my all — I still went online and read like crazy to learn.
      Those days were tough but IN the midst of it all I was a teacher and knew that the future was IN my hands. It wasn't the kids fault that these adults had screwed up the budget and spent their future for our past.
      So, I gave something that was more valuable than money — my heart, my time, my life.”

      Your reward will be far greater than those teachers who let bitterness and resentment devour the best years of their lives. In the great Depression, people got up and WORKED. They got busy. We're facing a great depression, not necessarily of money, but of attitude. We HAVE to change but how we feel about change is vital. Keep the faith my friends — never let anyone steal your nobility – it is NOT for sale. IT cannot be taken — no one can give it away but YOU.

      The person who can make it through this time will truly be the heroes of our generation. May it be that we are found to be the greatest generation of teachers – a generation that could not be discouraged by dumb decisions, foolish spending, and paralyzing pride. We can be a generation of humble, noble servant leaders but we're not going to be that by slacking off or whining.

      Green O





      Oh my goodness! Oh, wow! Oh boy! These are the O's that should be in your classroom.

      TIP: When the Oh's happen, share them with parents, share them with others, invite in administrators to see, or just celebrate.Get excited too!



      Celebrations around the world are a great excuse to do something special and help students become globally competent. Make parents aware that you're studying about the cultures on those days but not necessarily “commemorating” those celebrations so that when some celebrations for different cultures are part of your lessons, you don't get pushback.

      Tip: Global celebrations and holiday lesson plans are one of my top uses of Share my lesson and TES resource calendars. More than just celebrations, find ways to make things fun. I've seen golden toilet seats given as awards for having a clean bathroom and chicken chucking contests (rubber chickens) entered by kids who kept their lunchroom area clean that week. (They throw the chicken and the prize goes to the child who chucks the chicken the greatest distance.)


      QR codes

      Quick response codes are barcodes that let handheld devices like smartphones and iphones go to websites without having to type in addresses. They are very useful and can help you grade faster and do some incredible scavenger hunts.

      Tip: Be sure to check out my QR Code Classroom Implementation Guide and don't be confused.
      how R you?


      Everyone clamors for results. Now is not the time to be quiet about your students. Give them opportunities to show off their learning. The reasons many parents put so much weight on test scores is that it is one of the only things they see that their children do that is significant besides those monstrous projects that you ask them to do at home that most of them do for their children. Plan ahead to show off projects done at by school by your children. Create an online repository of what they are doing and include links in emails to parents.

      Tip: I've found that “push” tools like emails and text messages are more proactive and better with parents. I work hard to email every 10 days to parents about what I'm doing with students, upcoming projects, and links to what the students have done online. Give things for parents to brag about. Let them attend online presentations (my students like to present for online conferences like the Global Education Conference.) Parents lean on test scores because we've given no other quantifiable results from the other work we're doing. Of course, you must also produce results in the form of test scores but remember that you have to look at the overall health of your classroom ecosystem as you strive for this. Those who pursue test scores at the expense of everything else could be like the morbidly obese that turns anorexic in order to lose weight. Many would applause the results but the poor health will harm the person in the end. We need healthy classrooms that encourage learning and retain students while fostering a love of the technology and engineering that are demanded in today's world.



      A combination of electronic and physical calendars will make your school year flow. When you're in the busy-ness and crazy-ness of school you'll be lucky to remember what you're eating for dinner tonight much less when you need to be done with a unit and start another. Have a master calendar for classes on paper near your desk and a weekly paper calendar to note lesson plans and activities.

      Tip: I use Google calendar that syncs with school and my phone. I have a calendar for each course and put lesson plans and links on the calendar and my students add it to their iGoogle page (sadly iGoogle is being phased out so we'll transition to NetVibes.) Additionally, I have each school sport and activity on a Google Calendar and help the students subscribe to the calendars as school begins. (See Kicking off the School Year) Calendars must be linked with their cell phones and mine or they are useless.



      Teaching is something you do not a job title. We have teachers who aren't teaching. We also have some with bad judgement and others are in such confused, micromanaged, systemically broken systems that they are fighting to have the time to teach. Plato taught because he showed up every day to do it. You are what you do every day. While you can use videos to teach if you only show videos, you're not teaching, you're babysitting. While you can use just about anything to teach, your job is to be the teacherpreneur who combines all of the apps, videos, activities, projects, and needs into a classroom where people learn including you). I am teaching every day. Are you?

      Tip: Build a PLN on Twitter, Pinterest and use your RSS reader. I take 15 minutes, three times per week to learn and schedule this on my calendar during my break. Selecting your “circle of the wise” is vital to your professional development. Good teachers are also learners. If you won't learn, you shouldn't teach because you're a hypocrite: you're asking students to do what you won't do yourself.

      u striped


      There are two important kinds of understanding in the classroom. The kind of understanding that comes from truly comprehending the subject matter. There's also the kind of understand that comes from truly comprehending another person's intent, life, and circumstances. A good classroom needs both.

      Tip: Look every student in the eye as they enter your classroom every day. The eyes speak volumes about a person: what kind of night he had, the emotions she's feeling, his mood, etc. This valuable piece of information sets the context for what I'm going to be able to do. My goal is to stand at my door, look every student in the eye and call every student by name as he or she enters. This also tells the students I'm paying attention and notice. 

      O P U V Letter Puzzle Library Macros April 02, 20112


       One who is versatile is “Able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.” You must be flexible and adaptable. You now have a plan, a discipline structure, and so many things in place. Unfortunately, you will often deal with people who are totally clueless about the work you have to accomplish in the classroom and who disrespect your time. As a teacher, I plan, prepare, and prepare but when things go haywire at the last minute, I've learned to adapt and save myself a heart attack.

      Tip: Take time every month (I do this at least 5 days before month end) to review the calendar where I've plotted out the learning objectives for each week and month and adapt to what actually happened. It is vital to adjust and adapt the original plan or you'll find yourself frustrated and upset. Also, I plan to finish everything by the last week in April because I know that unexpected assemblies, etc. will interrupt and then, I have the freedom to push things back or add cool new projects. This is hard to do but if you don't plan ahead for flexibility, you'll crack under the pressure.



      Betty Shiver, my curriculum director, says that teaching is one of the professions where you can start over every year. It is a gift to start over, but if you're not willing to make a fresh start, you've got old baggage weighing you down.Be willing to let people change and improve. Be willing to start over. Be willing to try something new. Be willing to put exercise into your routine!
      One of the obstacles that has IT directors and administrators most upset is that some teachers are unwilling to try new things or discuss new ideas. We must be willing to move forward because epaper, apps, cloud resources, and collaboration are vital to having a school that is relevant into the future. If your school becomes ineffective you're out of a job. See: The start of a new year

      Tip: To keep from getting in a rut, I work hard to try new things. This summer I rode a Segway, went ziplining, and rafted down a new river. Although this isn't for everyone, sometimes even going to a new restaurant or visiting a new place is enough to trigger the endorphins in your brain that will boost your mood and help your attitude. Your students are faced with new things on a daily basis. By pushing yourself to try something new, you can identify with them more and enjoy your life!



      Pardon the reach, but right now we all need to give “Xtra.” This is an exceptional time and it is going to require exceptional effort. Heroes don't lift light burdens. Epic stories happen amidst problems of epic proportions. You can't be epic and heroic with nothing to overcome. Give extra in ways that make you more productive, effective and be that hero your school needs right now. 

      Tip: My learning lab director, Mrs. Grace Adkins, has taken home three folders of students every weekend to ponder and pray over. Every Monday she'll make phone calls to the parents about their child with ideas to help the child. I want to be like her. As the recipient of such a phone call, it makes me  know that she cares. I work hard to call parents when they need it, especially if a child has done something great when that child is having a hard time in another area. If I know that a child is doing a great job for me, but I overhear a problem somewhere else, I'll often call the parent just to say “Hey, your child is doing this well.” Compliments must be genuine but it is my goal to find something that every student does well in my class. It must be true. A lying compliment is flattery and fake and undermines your authority. Most people can tell a lie and these parents live with the child, they'll know it.
       Red Silk Alphabet Y


      Take time for yourself. Look at your goals and put habits into your life to help you reach your goals. Take care of your health. Mrs. Adkins, mentioned in the letter “X”, is over 80 and mentioned this book that has impacted her called Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond. She now rides 120 miles on her stationary bike a week (1 hour a day watching the news.) She has deaged years and gets around better than most 50 year olds.

      Tip: I spend a lot of time doing for others but 5 am to 7 am each morning is mine. I have my quiet time, pray, read my Bible, do situps and pushups, and write on this blog. I've let early morning meetings encroach on this time, but I'm going to work to limit those this year. Schedule yourself on your own calendar. You're worth it and you live your own life. It is YOURS. There's an older book that has helped me called 8 Minutes in the Morning with great quick workouts in the back. I also make my bed every morning after I found out about the statistics that it builds self control and helps attain goals as discussed in the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

      You matter. You are important. You're unique and here for a purpose. Find it. Do it.

      zooming z-sf3 


      All that is left is to zip it up and go on, but I think of school a lot like the ziplining I love to do during vacation. If you know what you're doing, have good guides, and good equipment you can have the experience of a lifetime. All that is left to say is “Yahoo.” The school year zips by so fast and you'll find yourself with another year under your belt. Plan well and equip yourself during the short pauses you have (like now) – it can make a big difference on the kind of zip you'll have.

      So, I'll end this post that is now the post that has taken the single longest amount of time of any post in the history of this blog with a little celebration of my own. This is me and my family after finishing our last zipline a few weeks a go.

      I want you to feel like this at the end of your school year!

      Oh yeah! Zip it! Rock it! You can do it! Teach well, my friends! ROCK THE CLASSROOM!

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      Vicki Davis

      Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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      Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere