Sunday, March 28, 2010


Good order is the foundation of all things. - Edmund Burke, British Philosopher

For me, being organized is not a natural predilection and I have to work at it every day. Countless minutes are wasted as I rummage through a drawer looking for a pair of matching socks, or try to put my hand on an important paper that was carelessly left on a counter. What is my problem? A personality characteristic? Poor parental modeling? Too much on my plate? Pure laziness? Whatever the reason or reasons I am constantly resolving to change my ways and get organized once and for all. It's a little like deciding to go on a diet. The trick is to start and continue or all is for naught.

Most of us can get away with not being organized in our personal life. After all, who knows but me that my hall closet looks like Dagwood Bumstead's. Not so for teachers. To be effective we need to have good classroom management, good information AND good organization.

So, does it not follow that it is incumbent upon us to teach good organization skills to our little charges? I believe it is right up there with reading , writing and arithmetic. I am amused when I think about the insides of students' desks, cubbies and lockers as the school year progresses. You can see immediately who is organized and who isn't. I wonder if a case could be made that academic organization can be increased by cultivating personal organization?

To my way of thinking, teaching organizational skills begins with this concept: A place for everything, everything in its place. It made sense to me when I heard the expression, and it works for me now. It works for children as well. If you do not have proper procedures, routines, and places to put things, and train your students in how to use them, you are doing them a real disservice. In other words, if a teacher has not taught classroom organization and says something like "put away your things and get ready for lunch, recess, library, etc.", papers, pamphlets or folders often get shoved into the desks where they will stay until some kind of mandated desk clearing activity takes place. Many a school event is missed by parents who did not receive an informative flyer about that event because it was buried deep in a desk, or lying on the bottom of a locker along with paper bags containing old mouldy sandwiches.

Here are some things that work.

1. Student mail boxes are placed where the children can access them easily. For me I had accordion type folders velcroed to the fronts or sides of the desks where corrected work and notes home could go. I have also seen some schools where cloth storage "mail boxes" were fitted over the backs of the students' chairs. Since teachers often have to move students in the classroom, the latter seems like the better idea, as the student takes his chair and "mail box" with him wherever he/she goes. Permanent mail boxes located somewhere in the room also work, but take up valuable counter or floor space and cause a lot of confusion at the end of the day when a bunch of kids are trying to empty their boxes at the same time.

2. In-Boxes for returning homework and notes from home should be positioned near the door.

3. There should be boxes for completed student work. I liked this box to be on or near my desk. An additional out-box containing corrected work could also be there for returning later.

4. Seating arrangements are a teacher preference. Some like group settings clustered around the room, while others like all students facing the white board or viewing screen. This arrangement determines how crayons, scissors, glue, pencils, etc. are stored. In the former, there is often a basket with supplies for the "team" in the middle. Many children have pencil boxes located on their desks with all their supplies inside. Sometimes these storage boxes are color coded and used as a tool for moving about; i.e. "Green Box People can line up now.", etc. Students need to be taught how to maintain organization of these supplies. Nothing should be assumed.

5. Routines about pencils, where they are kept, when they are sharpened, what to do if the pencil is missing, etc. might bewilder a non-educator, but teachers know how disuptive pencils can be in the classroom unless routines are taught and enforced.

6. What goes inside the desk is all important when teaching organization. Too many books, binders, folders and loose papers often put students into organization overload. Repeatedly, I have heard kids complain plaintively that their math books or writing folders weren't in their desks, when in fact they were just sandwiched between other materials.

7. This is where having a place for everything comes in handy. Many successful teachers decide that writing, social studies, science and other such folders can be organized in storage boxes somewhere in the room with easy access by teachers' aides or table captains. Gone is a lot of desk clutter, so that only reading books, math books, writing journals and binders are left.

Now I would like to introduce you to my friend, the Desk Detective, a character developed by a special teacher I know. The Desk Detective would visit random nights when the children had gone home and check out the desks. Those with clean and organized desks would find a complimentary note with a smelly sticker or small treat when they returned the next day. Another character, the Locker Looker, would also randomly check lockers for cleanliness and emptiness with a similar note and treat. Since students knew that there could be such a visit it was important to always be on the ready. Occasional reminders by the teacher would keep up the suspense of a surprise visit.

Our role as teachers, then, is to model organization, and teach it along with other academic subjects. In case you are not yet convinced, Paul Hegarty has this to say online about getting organized:

"Why should you get organized? Getting organized gives you the ability to achieve balance in your life. Getting organized allows you to see what you are doing and how much time you spend doing it. Getting organized will help you to relieve stress because you will know where you stand. Getting organized will give you the opportunity to achieve your goals. Getting organized will help you to deal with challenges with ease. We are busy people these days and getting organized can give us more time."

I couldn't say it better. So, if we aren't there already, let's get organized now. And equally important, if we are teachers or parents, let's help our children to be organized as well. I can tell you from personal experience that rummaging around in the sock drawer or looking for that missing paper is just too much additional frustration in our full and busy lives!


The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond by Donna Goldberg and Jennifer Zwiebel

Organizing the Unorganized Child by Lynda Altman

Teaching Students Time Management and Organization by Chelsea Robberson

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Great is our admiration of the orator who speaks with fluency and discretion. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

The students filed into the cafeteria/auditorium and took their seats quietly under the watchful eyes of teachers and support staff. There was a sense of excitement in the air as the children watched three well dressed important looking adults enter and take their seats at a table a short distance back from the stage. Mrs. T went on stage, and smiled at the audience as they gave her a round of applause. Using the microphone positioned mid-stage she welcomed the audience and asked for complete silence. The audience complied and the oratorical contest began.

How did it all start? Months before in the classroom teachers began introducing guidelines necessary to having a school wide oratorical contest. Their students’ self esteem grew as they learned how to stand and deliver a poem, fable or their own work. At some point the students chose the category they wanted and began the selection process. Once a decision was made they began practicing in front of their class (see the Public Speaking blog article from March 21). This lead to performing in monthly assemblies, and finally in front of the entire student body at the school-wide contest.

To put such a contest on at your school, the following steps should be taken:

* divide the contest entries into poetry, fables and individual work by grade level

-provide challenging poetry to students for memorization
-introduce fables as a way of telling and dramatizing stories
-encourage all students to write their own essays which they later memorize for presentation.

* put on a pre-contest assembly so everyone will know guidelines and expectations

* have classroom tryouts to ascertain finalists for the contest

* choose and invite three appropriate and interested community members to be judges

* choose non-classroom staff members to be assistants.

* award trophies and ribbons to the winners.

* provide certificates for all participants.

* write thank you letters to judges after the contest.

At Martin Luther King Elementary School in Seattle we had yearly oratorical contests as part of something called P.E.P. (the Proficiency in English Program). Children from kindergarten through fifth grade chose their category and began memorizing and practicing their selections in preparation for the spring contest.

The best fable I ever saw was dramatized by a kindergarten girl. It was called "The Eagle and the Chicken" and required several minutes of memorization. She won a trophy for her effort. The best rendering of a lengthy poem was called "Why Did You Come To School Today?" and it was delivered by one of my first grade students. At other school programs it later became a standard of excellence for young orators in terms of length and difficulty, and often received a standing ovation. Both of these selections are offered in the Book Nook below for your scrutiny.

The students often chose poems or fables over writing and delivering their own essays, probably because young children are still forming their views of the world and don't feel confident about what they have to say. Therefore, anyone brave enough to try would usually end up with a trophy or ribbon for their efforts in that category.

So now, the contest is over, the ribbons and trophies have been awarded, and all who participated have received their certificates of participation. There are some big smiles, and, of course, a few tears, but one has the sense that many are thinking “Next year I’ll be up on that stage holding a trophy.” It’s a process that starts in kindergarten and grows through the years in schools where dedicated teachers take their children on this wonderful oratorical adventure.
No matter what your political beliefs there are few who would dispute the oratorical ability of our president. We have seen him change a political landscape with words well delivered. I can’t know for sure, but perhaps, just perhaps, his phenomenal speaking ability started with an elementary school oratorical contest.

by Julia Ansley

Why did you come to school today? Did you come to learn, or did you come to play? Did you come to smile or to wear a frown? Are you here to build or to tear things down? Will you be a minus or another plus? Are you here to help and work with us? Or do you need a vent for your frustration over all the wrongs in our homes and nation?

Are you here to reach out and unite? Or are you often a person who needs to fight?Are you simply in school because you’re forced to come? Do you know that education helps to make someone educated and verbal, ready for a job so you don’t have to go out to beg or rob?

You come to school to learn things that you really need to know. You must study and learn and your skills will grow.Stop fighting and fussing and join the team that works hard to spread the American dream.

The teachers can’t possibly do it all! You’ve got to have pride, and stand up tall.You’ve got to first want to be someone then to study and learn and get the job done.The way to improve things is to be a star, instead of crying and hating where you are. Instead of hating yourself and those around you, try improving yourself and the things that surround you.

Learn to read, write and spell. Learn to add and subtract. Learn to work a computer and you’ll improve, that’s a fact. Follow rules, do your work, cooperate and obey these three things guarantee that you’ll have a nice day!

It shouldn’t matter if others disrupt class and act like fools. It’s the followers and “wannabes” who cause problems in our schools. No matter what you do in class, no matter what you say.The most important question to ask yourself is, “Why did I come to school today?”

For a great selection of fables go to:

...And to think a kindergarten student memorized the fable below and made it her own with a great dramatic flair!


A fable is told about an eagle who thought he was a chicken. When the eagle was very small, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eagle, brought him to the farm, and raised him in a chicken coop among his many chickens. The eagle grew up doing what chickens do, living like a chicken, and believing he was a chicken.

A naturalist came to the chicken farm to see if what he had heard about an eagle acting like a chicken was really true. He knew that an eagle is king of the sky. He was surprised to see the eagle strutting around the chicken coop, pecking at the ground, and acting very much like a chicken. The farmer explained to the naturalist that this bird was no longer an eagle. He was now a chicken because he had been trained to be a chicken and he believed that he was a chicken.

The naturalist knew there was more to this great bird than his actions showed as he "pretended" to be a chicken. He was born an eagle and had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that. The man lifted the eagle onto the fence surrounding the chicken coop and said, "Eagle, thou art an eagle. Stretch forth thy wings and fly." The eagle moved slightly, only to look at the man; then he glanced down at his home among the chickens in the chicken coop where he was comfortable. He jumped off the fence and continued doing what chickens do. The farmer was satisfied. "I told you it was a chicken," he said.

The naturalist returned the next day and tried again to convince the farmer and the eagle that the eagle was born for something greater. He took the eagle to the top of the farmhouse and spoke to him: "Eagle, thou art an eagle. Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly." The large bird looked at the man, then again down into the chicken coop. He jumped from the man's arm onto the roof of the farmhouse.

Knowing what eagles are really about, the naturalist asked the farmer to let him try one more time. He would return the next day and prove that this bird was an eagle. The farmer, convinced otherwise, said, "It is a chicken."

The naturalist returned the next morning to the chicken farm and took the eagle and the farmer some distance away to the foot of a high mountain. They could not see the farm nor the chicken coop from this new setting. The man held the eagle on his arm and pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning above. He spoke: "Eagle, thou art an eagle! Thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth thy wings and fly." This time the eagle stared skyward into the bright sun, straightened his large body, and stretched his massive wings. His wings moved, slowly at first, then surely and powerfully. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Extemporaneous speaking should be practiced and cultivated. It is the lawyer’s avenue to the public. by Abraham Lincoln

Last week Kacey, my 9 year old granddaughter, and I went on a Build-A-Bear adventure in a nearby mall. Kacey, a stuffed animal aficionado, spent a long time choosing her latest acquisition – a colorful plush bear with a peace motif. Once the bear was chosen, stuffed, and fluffed, an equally colorful outfit was selected. Next came the name choosing and generation of a birth certificate. Eventually a very happy little girl exited the store with “Peace Lover” clutched in her arms. I asked her if she planned to take it to school for “Show and Tell”, and she looked at me sadly. “We don’t do ‘Show and Tell’ after second grade in my school,” she said, as if there was some kind of rite of passage that didn’t allow for classroom sharing after the age of eight.

I was sad too. Teachers are missing a prime opportunity to teach the very important life skill of public speaking in a way that children can relate to and understand. The fear that most adults have about speaking in groups is usually absent with kids when they are sharing something special to them. For many it grows exponentially the older they get to the point of paralysis for some. I have seen the most effective classroom teachers overcome with shyness when having to present something in front of their peers.

It is no secret that children love to mimic big people and do what big people do. Public speaking is no different. It is a skill that can easily be taught with just a few small steps, beginning even in kindergarten. Add a karaoke machine with a microphone, and the pot is irresistibly sweetened.

In all of my classrooms from kindergarten through third grade “Show and Tell” was renamed Public Speaking, and the kids were thrilled. By the end of the year any of my students could grab a microphone, stand up in front of the whole school and put on an emcee hat or deliver a poem without an outward qualm.

In order to make sure that every child is forced to learn this invaluable life skill, I set up a public speaking schedule, where all kids had their own sharing day. The schedule was sent home and parents understood that their children could bring sharing items on that day only. They could either share items or experiences, but they HAD to share something.

The principal players were the emcee, the audience monitor, and, of course, the audience. Each had their role, and each step was modeled by me and selected students. The first step was to explain that the emcee was like a program director or person in charge. The word is short for mistress of ceremonies (a girl) or master of ceremonies (a boy). The audience monitor’s job was to watch the audience to make sure his/her classmates were paying attention to the speaker. The audience’s job was to watch for the following and be prepared to ask questions or make comments:

1. Eye contact
2. Voice Projection
3. Posture
4. Content.

The session went something like this. A podium (simply a tall stool to set things on) was at the front of the room with two chairs for the emcee and audience monitor to the side. The emcee turned on the mike and announced it was time for public speaking. The following is the sequence of events:

1. Good afternoon. It’s time for public speaking. (Students put away their things and fold their hands prepared to listen.

2. Our first speaker is Annie. Give her a (round of applause, or big hand, or warm welcome.)

3. The speaker comes to the podium, either prepared to share an experience or an item which has been stored in a public speaking box. He/She then introduces his/herself. Note: Speakers are coached to give good content. In other words, they can’t simply say. “Hello, my name is Annie and this is my new doll. Are there any questions.” They need to give some information like where they got it, how long they had it, and something special about it.

5. When finished, the speaker asks “Are there any questions?”

6. The audience gets to ask two thoughtful questions. This is an invaluable skill in itself as many younger children in the audience want to use the time to tell about their own similar item which is not a question. They must use the speaker’s name, i.e., "Annie, how long have you had that doll?"

7. The speaker answers, and the student asking the question responds with a “thank you.”

8. The speaker then asks if there are any comments. A student is chosen from among the raised hands. That student will then mention something they observed. “I liked your voice projection, I liked your eye contact, I liked how tall you stood, I liked your doll and what you said.” The speaker says “Thank you.”

9, The emcee returns to the podium and thanks Annie for her contribution, then introduces the next speakers until all have spoken. Usually this amounts to four or five students a day.

10. When finished the emcee turns to the audience monitor and asks for a report. This is always a positive report. The audience monitor cites several students who are doing a good job of paying attention.

11. The emcee thanks the audience monitor and announces that “This concludes our public speaking for today.” He/She is given a round of applause.

The public speaking lesson takes about twenty minutes and is best held right after lunch or at the end of the day.

A teacher knows a lesson is successful if there is evidence of transfer to other settings. It was exciting to see that happen when I took my students to a salmon release field trip at the University of Washington. A gentleman stepped to the microphone and introduced the mayor. One of my students pointed with excitement, and whispered “Look, Mrs. Lind-Sherman, that’s just like our public speaking.”

As the year progresses public speaking can be used for teaching impromptu speaking, where students draw a subject out of a box, face away from the audience to collect their thoughts, then turn back and give impromptu remarks on the topic they randomly selected. Students can also use this time to share poems and prepare for events like Oratorical Contests.

I have proof positive that that this technique works because on one occasion a group of my students were invited to give a sample of our classroom public speaking at an evening school board meeting. They received a standing ovation! When children are taught to become effective speakers they become confident and unafraid. What a great way of meeting communication standards!

One internet site discussing how to prepare children for public performance said this: “Not allowing people to scare and intimidate you is truly the number one rule; not only in public speaking, but even more so in life.” I think President Obama, a role model for his intellect and eloquence, proves the point. I also think he would believe that becoming an effective public speaker would be a great next step on any child’s educational path. As far as Kacey is concerned, she may not get “show and tell” from now on, but she is lucky to have a dad who teaches communication at a nearby community college. He will certainly be passing on important tips to her and her older sister, Lily, as they hone their public speaking skills.



Say it! With Confidence by Sofia Matloga, is a public speaking book for kids. It covers, among other things, managing shyness, fear of risk, dos and don’ts, handling questions like a pro, impromptu speeches and more.

Additionally, when you google public speaking for kids, you will find many web sites that give other tips for becoming a good speaker. In the meantime, my simple recipe as suggested above, will get you started and may be all you need. If you go to my personal website, you will see a page about public speaking. Feel free to write to me at if you need help or have other questions.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I love what I do. I take great pride in what I do. And I can't do something halfway, three-quarters, nine-tenths. If I'm going to do something, I go all the way. - Tom Cruise

Custodian (noun) as defined in Webster's Dictionary
1. a person who has custody; keeper; guardian.
2. a person entrusted with guarding or maintaining a property; janitor.

After twenty five years of teaching, mostly in elementary schools, I retired to write and substitute teach. The latter I do because I keep trying to make a difference with kids. It also allows me to see their current thinking, as well as the latest teaching ideas.

Today I find myself reflecting on custodians and their importance in the life of the school. Having had my own classroom in three different Seattle grade schools, I had a chance to work with and observe day, night and substitute custodians in all of those schools. Also, having substituted in over fifty other schools, I now have an even clearer picture of the men and women who provide the overall "first impression" for students, teachers, and the general public. That first impression often determines if parents want their children in a particular school setting. What a difference if the hallway floors are mopped, the walls unmarked, the windows clean, and the bathrooms well equipped and smelling fresh!

I know that budgeting determines how much custodial service classrooms and the school at large gets, and union guidelines play a role. Usually common areas are kept up dailly. Kindergarten classrooms often get daily sweeping or vacuuming, while rooms for older kids only get that service a couple of times a week. However, I also know that teachers must make it easier for custodians to do their work. Chairs should be put up, crayons, papers and bulky items need to be off the floor. I have actually heard kids say, "That's the janitor's job" when asked to clean up. That is a thoughtless statement which needs to be corrected by the teacher.

The most amazing custodian I ever had the pleasure of working with was from Mexico. I'll call him Ricardo. If he were to read this article he would recognize himself. He had a strong work ethic and took great pride in doing his job well. He did not saunter along or spend time leaning on a broom, but went almost at a run from one task to another. My windows were washed more than once after years of neglect. Hallways were mopped nightly and the place, old as it was, literally sparkled. Every teacher request was taken care of as quickly as possible. I never failed to be impressed by his ability, his pride in his work, and his spirit of helpfulness to all. Sadly, I think he is in the minority.

I have observed other janitors doing minimal work which often results in a dingy, dusty school environment. This, in turn, has a negative effect on all who work and visit in the building. If only they could see how important their place is on the educational team. Of course building leadership needs to set the tone and expectation for mutual caring and respect for the school and each other, so perhaps that is where it starts in healthy schools.

There are, of course, many remarkable custodians who are hardworking, dedicated, and appreciated. One such man is Darell Valentine from Harding Elementary School in El Cerrito, California. If asked who is the most popular adult at this school the answer is "Mr. V." He has been the custodian for many years, but does much more. Barbara McIntyre, a teacher there, calls him their hero, and the heart and soul of the school. One sixth grade student says that Mr. V knows every kid by name and wants all of them to feel special. In an on-line article about this amazing man he is quoted as saying "Life is beautiful. It's what you make of it...." He obviously works hard, takes pride in his work, and brings joy to those around him.

On the other end of the spectrum is a comment made on The Classroom Chatter Forum about best school custodian moments. "I took a job as a substitute custodian at an elementary school for the public school district. They assigned me to 40,000 square feet with 24 classrooms, the gym, cafeteria, kitchen, eight bathrooms, offices and teachers' lounge. The carpet is 47 years old and stained with vomit and urine. The first two weeks I vacuumed bugs up from behind every door and bookshelf. The fly infestation in the cafeteria is due to filthy garbage cans and food particles in every corner and under every appliance. This week I had a notice on my board that human feces was wiped onto the stall in the boys' restroom by the gym, posted by the head custodian at 8:00 a.m. I come to work at 1:00 p.m. . . . I went to the head of the maintenance department at the school district and he said it is not in the budget to clean these schools right. They pay me minimum wage with no benefits and this guy gets a $20,000 bonus at the end of the year. Just a thought: What about the children?"

This leads me to wonder why some people in this field see their jobs as important and valuable, while others watch the clock and wait for quitting time or pawn their work off on others. If you are a principal, please, please let the staff know how important each and every one is to a smooth-running and happy learning environment. I would like to say to all of you working to keep our schools welcoming and clean, please know how important and valuable your work is and give it your best effort. If you can occasionally take a kid under your wing who would benefit by shadowing you or reading to you, even better. You have custody of your building and determine the first impression of anyone who walks in the door. We salute you and the vital work you do!

BOOK NOOK - Joke Week

As a new school principal, Mr. Mitchell was checking over his school on the first day. Passing the stockroom, he was startled to see the door wide open and teachers bustling in and out, carrying off books and supplies in preparation for the arrival of students the next day. The school where he had been a Principal the previous year had used a check-out system only slightly less elaborate than that at Fort Knox. Cautiously, he asked the school's long time Custodian, "Do you think it's wise to keep the stock room unlocked and to let the teachers take things without requisitions?" The Custodian looked at him gravely... "We trust them with the children, don't we?"

From the internet, according to a news report, a certain private school in Washington recently was faced with a unique problem. A number of 12 year old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom.
That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the custodian would remove them and the next day the girls would put them back. Finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the custodian. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the custodian to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then there have been no lip prints on the mirror. There are teachers, and then there are educators.