Starting the School Year with Kindness

Starting the School Year with Kindness

Starting the School Year With Kindness

Tips and Strategies for Starting the School Year with Kindness at Home and School

What we need now, more than ever is kindness.   We must treat each other with kindness, compassion and empathy.  We say it, we know it, but often what we forget is that kindness must be taught, it must be practiced.  Telling others to be kind is a great reminder, but as mothers and as teachers, we must teach our children how to be kind, foster and encourage the skill  By starting the school year with kindness we can embed it into our lives and the lives of our children.

Routines of Kindness


Kindness starts at home, our actions are reflected to the world.  The way we treat each other at home is how our children will treat everyone they come in contact with.  If we want a kinder world, a world that treats everyone with kindness and respect, we must teach this to our children.  A way to do this is to create routines for your home that actively teach kindness.  There are many ways to do this:

  • A phrase that you greet one another with
  • A phrase that you end every phone call with
  • A prayer that included kindness before meals
  • Give a daily compliment to every family member
  • When a family member is talking, listen and make eye contact
  • Always remember manners
  • Family Kindness Tracker (Free Family Kindness Tracker download)

As teachers, we are role models for our students.  It is unfair to expect them to do anything without actively teaching it, this includes kindness.  We may not be able to change what we have to do in the classroom, but we do have the power to change how we do it.  If we teach with kindness in our hearts and establish routines of kindness, we create a safe and caring environment for our students.

  • Greet students at the door individually
  • Start class with a phrase of kindness
  • Have a personal interact with every student every day
  • Smile
  • Make eye contact with your students, ask them to do so in return
  • Always start a constructive conversation with a compliment

Kind Act of the Week


As a family, decide upon an act of kindness that you will complete each week.  This can be completed as a family or each family member can decide on their own.  Actively taking time out of your week to do something kind directed at someone reminds us how important it is work on making the world a better place.  Possible kind acts to complete each week are:

  • Volunteering at a soup kitchen, shelter, rescue agency
  • Pack up and donate unused toys and/or clothing
  • Visit or call an older/lonely family member or friend
  • Complete another family member’s daily/weekly responsibility (cook dinner, take out garbage)
  • Take the unexpected opportunity to help another person (carry someone’s groceries to the car, help the person who broke down in front of your house

As a class community explain that part of being a member of your class comes with the expectation that everyone will do their best to complete a kind act a week.  Every act of kindness will be posted, anonymously, on a post it and placed on a bulletin board in the classroom.  Kind acts will be shared, but not for individual recognition, but to acknowledge all the good being done.  Ways for students to complete an act of kindness at school:

  • Helping someone carry their books
  • Picking up something someone dropped
  • Giving someone a pen or pencil when they need it
  • Listen to a friend who is having a hard day
  • Give a compliment and expect nothing in return
  • Play, share or talk to another student that appears to not have anyone else

Kindness Project


As a family, decide upon a long-term project to involve your family in that will help to make this world a better place.  This does not have to be the biggest project in the world.  Often times, we take on too much and never finish it.  Start small, a project is anything you need to do more than once to complete.  Once you and your family get the hang of it, add more time and depth to your projects.  Here are some ideas to get your family started:

  • Train for and complete a fun run for a cause
  • Participate in any type of a-thon (dance-a-thon, read-a-thon) for a non-profit organization
  • Help raise money for an organization
  • Become a volunteer at a nursing home
  • Grow something at a community garden
  • Become a board member for a volunteer organization
  • Foster a rescue animal

A class kindness project is a great way to bring a class together and have them work on something with real world applications.  As a group, the class can decide on a project, work together on it and see how their work has helped to make the world a better place.  Spending time, returning to a project and seeing your work make difference is lesson that will stay with our students forever.  Some possible ideas to get your students thinking are:

  • Identifying a local issue and make steps to improve it
  • Design and paint a school mural
  • Create a school club dedicated to kindness
  • Write a group children’s book about kindness
  • Identify a local non-profit organization and create a relationship with them

Ground Rules


Everyone gets frustrated, everyone gets angry, but by setting home ground rules before these things happen is a way to keep kindness always present at home.  Some kindness home ground rules are:

  • No name calling
  • Listen first and respond
  • Make eye contact when talking
  • Stop and try to think about how the other person feels
  • Acknowledge other people’s feelings

Every class needs ground rules.  These rules depend on a teacher’s style, but if we make sure our rules are rooted in kindness, we can create a place where everyone feels respected and cared for.  Some possible rules are:

  • Make eye contact with others when talking
  • Listen and let others finish talking, try not to interrupt
  • Respond to what other say, rather than just saying what we want
  • Include new people in our groups, don’t let anyone feel left out
  • Be open to new ideas, new experiences and new people

Dedicate Time for Sharing


When school starts it is so easy to get caught up in the hectic routine that is created, that we forget to talk to one another.  Taking time out of the day or week to share what we done and how we feel is necessary.  By sharing we can empathize with one another, an important skill to practice and we will also have our own feelings and our family members’ feelings validated.  Ways to share are:

  • Sharing during dinner
  • A Caring about Sharing jar – Write a note about something you want share, drop it in the jar and once a week share all the notes in the jar.  (Free Caring about Sharing jar labels download)
  • Have a weekly family meeting
  • Have a family signal for when someone needs a person to stop and listen to how they feel

When deadline approach and assignments need to be finished, one of the first things that teachers do is begin to move a little faster, cut out unnecessary things.  But remember, listening to students, letting their voices be heard, discussing how they feel and what kind things they have done is important.  Here are some ways to build in sharing time in your class.

  • Schedule time weekly for open sharing about kindness
  • Spend time talking and sharing during passing or transition times
  • Create a weekly warm-up activity that includes sharing thoughts of kindness
  • Meet with groups of students and share about your life, listen to stories about theirs
  • Ask students questions and honestly listen to their responses
  • Share details about yourself and allow questions


We must teach kindness and empathy at home and school if we expect our children to act through kindness and empathize with others.  If you want the world to be a better place, you must actively try to make it better, just talking about it doesn’t change it, you must do something.  We have all heard the phrase from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  If you wish to see a kinder world, be kind and teach kindness.  By starting the school year with kindness at home and school, you will embed it not only your life, but in your children as well.

Don’t forget to download your freebies!!  They are a great way to help with starting the school year with kindness.

Family Kindness Tracker

To use the Family Kindness Tracker, hang in a very visible place in the house.  Write every family members name down  on the top of the tracker.  Every family member gets a check for every day of the week that they are kind, have good manners and follow directions.  Checks can also be earned by completing random acts of kindness, showing kindness to your family or any other way the family decides.  Check are added up at the end of the week.  The higher the family total the more kindness the family has shown.  Use it to challenge your family and yourself.

Caring about Sharing jar labels

Attach Caring about Sharing labels to a mason jar.  Every time anyone has something that they would like to share, but no one is around or everyone is busy, write a note and drop it in the jar.  Schedule a time once a week to read and talk about every note.

We all need more kindness in our lives.  If you have any other ideas we can add to the list of Starting the School Year with Kindness, please share your ideas in the comments below.


If you like Starting the School Year with Kindness, consider reading, A Dream of Kindness.

Starting the School Year with Kindness


Back to School Anxiety

Reduce Back to School Anxiety

Reduce Back to School Anxiety

7 Ways to Beat the Butterflies


As the end of summer approaches, every teacher begins to feel those butterflies in their belly.  Whether it is your first year or your thirty-first year, back to school anxiety is real and it can affect any teacher.  There so many reasons for back to school anxiety: new students, new colleagues, maybe new administration, almost always there is a new curriculum or new standards.  And while our reasons for feeling anxious may not go away, there are some ways to reduce the stress.  Here are 7 ways to reduce back to school anxiety.

7 Ways to Beat the Butterflies


1.  Go For a Walk

Going for a walk is truly the greatest stress reliever.  Changing your location can easily change your mood.  We all know the countless benefits of walking, but when the pace of our walking matches the flurry of butterflies in our stomachs, it begins to be easier to forget they are there.

2.  Brainstorm with a colleague

Spending time with a colleague is a great way to beat the nerves of the new school year.  Discuss strategies, share struggles or plan events.  Go out, get a cup of coffee and chat.  Often just acknowledging the anxiety is enough to make it go away.  

3.  Learn a new tech strategy

Teaching with technology is an ever-changing world.  Taking a few hours to immerse yourself in a new teaching tool will completely get your mind off what is making you nervous.  Not only will you feel better, you will learn something that will help your students.

4. Go teacher store shopping

This of course can be dangerous, because what teacher hasn’t spent WAY TOO much money in the teacher store.  However, going in, checking out all of the things that are available, realizing that you have created things on your own that they are selling, is a great way to remind yourself that you know what you are doing.  

5.  Go Set up your room

This option is always a little bittersweet.  Once you go in and set up, you are acknowledging that summer, is in fact, over.  But does that have to be a bad thing, one of the great parts of teaching is the new beginning.  Go in, get started, maybe this year you can be the Pinterest perfect classroom.  Once things start getting into place the nerves will calm.

6.  Lesson Plan

Once the school year starts, the paperwork starts.  Beginning of the year forms.  Beginning of the year assemblies.  New regulations, required trainings.  Most of our stress comes from knowing that we just don’t have enough time to do all we have to do.  Of course you will make modifications once the year begins, it is such a relief to know your plans are ready to go.

7.  Make copies

Why not?  There are copies that have to be made.  Beat the lines, the heat, the inevitable breakdowns and go into school for a few hours a week or two early and get it done.  You will be able to check one more thing off your list and have one less thing to worry about.

Everyone feels something about the ‘going back to school’ season.  Whether it is tremendous joy (you know those parents that cannot wait for school to start) or nervousness of a second year teacher (who is hoping this year is easier than last year).  Now will any of these things make the night before school jitters go away?  Probably not!  I still, after seventeen years, cannot get to sleep the night before the first day of school.  But it is because we care so deeply about what we do.  


How do you beat back to school anxiety?

If you have any other strategies, please leave them in the comments.  Sharing is caring and we are all in this together.

Back to School Anxiety

How to respond to the statement, it must be nice to have summers off.

It Must be Nice to Have Summers Off

It Must be Nice to Have Summers Off

How to respond to the statement, it must be nice to have summers off.

It Must be Nice to Have Summers Off. 6 Fun and feisty ways to respond/

There are many things that you learn your first few years of teaching.  You learn how to write lesson plans, how to talk to parents and how to keep 30 children on task.   But one of the things that you won’t learn that first year and possibly for many years is how to respond to that statement, “It must be nice to have summers off.”   


During the school year,  most people appreciate teachers.   You hear comments like, “Wow,  you teach middle school.   I could never do that” or “Teachers don’t get the respect they deserve.”  But the minute summer vacation begins all of the appreciation is thrown out the window and all a teacher hears is,  “It must be nice to have summers off.”


The phrase, ‘It must be nice to have summer off’ isn’t necessarily a bad phrase.  But after you have heard it ten times and always with the condescending tone, which is attempting to imply you teach for summers off, your head comes very close to exploding.


Next time you come close to completely losing it, consider using one of these fun and feisty ways to respond to that statement.

Respond to Summers Off

It Must be Nice to Have Summers Off. 6 Ways to Respond.


  1. Yes it is.  

It is the last thing that they will expect to hear.  They are saying it to put you on the spot, so throw it back.  They want you to defend yourself.  Don’t buy in.  Simply state, “Yes it is”.  Then stare at them until they think of something else to say.

  1. I work the same hours.

Review with them the hours a teacher works.  We work 7.5 hours a day at school and provide extra help / run clubs or coach for an additional 1.5 hours a day.  We go home and grade and plan for another 2 hours.  Then we usually must dedicate an entire Saturday, usually about 10 hours a month to grading and data input.  That puts a teacher at 2300 hours of work in 10 months.  A person who works 40 hours a week and gets a 2 week vacation works 2000 hours a year.  So we have worked longer in 10 months than they do in 12 months.  So, summer break is just giving them a chance to catch up.

  1. This isn’t a classroom.

This is just a fun way to make a silly statement just go away.  Start looking around wildly saying, “Wait, what? This isn’t a classroom.  I’m not teaching right now.”  Eventually they will go away.

  1.  Even when I’m off I’m still learning.

You could take the high road and remind them that teachers use this time to grow professionally.  We read, we learn, we plan and we reflect.  We  use this time to do our best to become the best teachers we can be.

  1. Huh?

This is a strategy that I have learned from my two year old daughter.  Whenever I say something she doesn’t really like, such as, “Stop jumping on the couch,” or “Don’t try to feed the dog crayons”, she looks at me with big, startled eyes and simply says, “Huh?”  What a great way to respond to things you don’t what to respond to. Continue reading

Classroom changes

5 Changes to Make in your Classroom

5 changes to make in your Classroom

Every profession makes technological advances.  Every patient expects their doctor to know the latest and most cutting edge techniques.  When asking a contractor to create a custom kitchen, you expect to have top model appliances.  Yet, in the classroom, there are subjects covered and lessons taught just as they were fifty years ago.  How can we expect to prepare students for the an unknown future, when we teach lessons from the past.  As teachers, we must realize that changes must be made.  Here are 5 changes to  make in your classroom, that can add a whole new dimension to your teaching.

Although changes can feel terribly hard to make, they are necessary.  Often we can begin to feel comfortable in our own routine.  When we reflect upon our practice, it is easy to say that the students are passing the necessary exams, so I must be doing the job that I need to do.  But is it really true?  Is our job to have students pass a test or is it to be prepared for life?   The following list gives ideas for 5 changes to make in your classroom that won’t be too painful and will have a big impact on students.

Changing Teaching

Group Work

  1. Group Work

The structure of the workplace has evolved a great deal.  People spend less time in cubicles and more time collaborating.  This type of shared work is not easy or comfortable for many people.  Practice is needed to learn how to set common goals, work around schedules and to truly share the workload.  By provided students with the opportunity to work in groups, they will have the opportunity to hone the skills needed for the workplace.

Student Led Learning

2. Student Led Learning

Relinquishing control in the classroom is terribly difficult for a teacher.  We often believe that without our direct instruction, the classroom could simply not go on.  But the truth is, students are often much more demanding teachers than teachers are.  Children are inquisitive and creative, when given the opportunity to stretch, they will.  Begin by giving the class a topic and allow them to come up with the assignment or project.  When students are empowered in the classroom, their passion and productivity increase.


3. Technology

The world has changed and the biggest change is the technology we use.  We went from microfilm to saying “Ok Google” to our phones.  The children we teach will have as many, if not more changes in their lives.  It is our job not only to teach them how to adapt, but to model it as well.  Of course a student can “learn the content the old way”, but then all we are teaching is content.  If we take the time to learn a new program, access a new webpage or embed a new technology, we then teach not only our content, but that new technology as well.  Two birds, one stone.  More about teaching and technology here.

Timed Work

4. Timed Work

Although this may seem like a high stress, traditional and dated activity.  It actually provides many different opportunities for student learning and simulates a real life situation that creates motivation for students.  Timed work can come in the form of writing, reading or completing an activity.  After the time period is completed, both teachers and students can evaluate of effective the work was in the given time.


5. Research

Creating opportunities for students to complete authentic research allows them to put all we teach into practice.  As teachers, our end goals is to support children and allow them to learn how to teach themselves.  Our end goal for student learning should not be to have students memorize facts, but to learn how to learn.   Research provides the avenue to work on all of the skills needed to become lifelong learners.  Research can come in a variety of forms, however, it is up to us to select the research strategy best suited for our work.

By using these 5 changes to make in your classroom, we can far better prepare our students for a life of learning.  Of course it is easy to continue to do the same thing, especially if we see students passing tests and hitting benchmarks.  But as educators, we must push ourselves and model how to be the best we can be.  When students see us evolving, changing and growing, it will inspire them to do the same.




There is no solution in education.  I am fully aware of that, with millions of students with millions of backgrounds how could anyone actually believe that they have the answer to education.  If you honestly think you have figured it all out, it is probably time to retire.  That being said, this is just a strategy, a strategy to help students become invested in their own education, lives and future.  


For many children, the idea of having dreams is considered unrealistic.  Children, especially children from disadvantaged homes, believe that they have very little control over what will happen to them or how their lives will turn out.  These children often believe,  the phrase ‘what will be will be’; they see very little connection between their actions and the impact it makes on their own future.   


 It is an unfortunate reality that many students will move through the education system and on to life just taking what they are given, without any real understanding that they are in control of their own lives and can create their own future.  When prompted, my students are more likely to believe the phrase, “If it was meant to be, it will be” than “I can make my dreams come true”.  It is heartbreaking when you think about it, these children believe that fate has more control over their lives than they do.  Which was a major factor in the development of the following strategy.


The strategy is called DARING Moments, the idea being that Dreams Are Real and I Need Goals to achieve them.  If we can help our students understand that their dreams truly are achievable, we can help them make steps toward becoming the person they want to be.  When children recognize that to have any success in life, steps must be followed, goals must be set and work has to be done, they can start making the decisions necessary to create change in their own lives.


The first DARING Moment will take more time and planning than the rest, but it will set the stage for what will come. During this first meeting, you inspire your students to realize that they are in control of their own lives and they have the ability to change the future ahead of them.  This is how it began in my room:


    Hey guys, I want to start something new.  I want us all to take a moment to think about our dreams, our goals and our futures.  I was watching a show on ESPN and they were interviewing Shaquille O’Neal.  He was explaining that he has been making and achieving goals since he was six years old.  He actually said that he had an alphabet of goals; meaning that for every letter of the alphabet, he had a goal that he had set for himself.  

    You know, when you think about it, the only way that a person can ever achieve their dreams is to set goals,  then actually take steps to achieve those goals.  Today, I want us to stop and think about our dreams and begin setting goals to achieve those dreams.   

From this point on, we will stop at the beginning of every month and have a DARING moment.  DARING means, “Dreams Are Real, I Need Goals”.  We will spend time acknowledging our dreams, setting goals, analyzing our goals and the steps we are taking to achieve them.  


    After the introduction of the DARING Moment, the students and I analyzed a dream that I have.  We walked through the goals I will need to achieve to reach my dream and they brainstormed the next steps I need to take.  I promised my students that on the first day of the next month, we would revisit my dreams, goals and next steps and analyze if I have made any progress.  


I then asked my students to complete a Google form identifying their dreams, the goals they need to set and the steps they will take to achieve their dreams and goals.  I reviewed the students’ information and was delighted, heartbroken and filled with a stronger desire to continue with this strategy.  The first day of every month we pause and have a DARING Moment.  We think deeply about our dreams and goals.  I truly believe that by bringing focus, energy and life to my students dreams, they will achieve them.  


*I plan to continue to update this strategy with materials and supplemental information.