I Can Do It If I Try!

Positive affirmations are such a great tool for kids and adults alike. I’ve been doing them with my daughter recently. At three years old she commonly found situations where she was stuck and not able to complete what she was hoping to do. Such as climb a ladder or go down a scary slide. 

I taught her to say “I can do it!” in hard situations and it seemed to help give her the confidence, but it also felt like something was missing. The affirmation was there, but the work behind it was absent.

I needed her to learn that yes, she can do it, but she needs to put in the work to get there. So I adapted her affirmation. 

“I can do it if I try.” 

We can get so caught up constantly telling our students, “You can do it! You know you can do it! I know you can do it!” But maybe what we are missing is reminding them of the work they must put into it in order to accomplish the goal. 

“You can do it if you try.” 

“You can do it if you practice.” because not everything comes right away. 

Try it out and tell me if you think it makes a difference. 

What positive affirmations do you practice with your students and children? How have they helped you as well?

Photos by Kayla Wright

Learning Acceptance And Tolerance While Teaching Christmas Traditions

In 4th grade, I had this teacher who was nothing short of magnificent. She would get so excited about everything that just had a way of lighting a fire in everyone to learn. 4th grade, in my opinion, has some of the best curricula as well, state history! Since I grew up in Idaho she taught us all about Lewis and Clark, the pioneers, and the Appaloosa horse, our state horse. 

She also did a read-aloud every day after lunch. We would come in from recess, turn off the lights, and she would read to us as if we were in the story ourselves. I distinctly remember her reading Earthquake Terror and being so terrified myself because I was convinced I was in the water with these two siblings holding onto logs for dear life. Because of her, I will always 

One of my favorite units she taught was about Christmas around the world. It wasn’t required curriculum to teach, especially now with common core state standards, but something she felt was important to include in her teaching each December. Looking back, I am realizing it didn’t just teach us what each country saw Santa Claus as, but also taught us inclusion. Tolerance. Diversity. Loving. Acceptance. And more. 

Here is a great article on a few things I learned about Swiss Christmas.

We spent time researching multiple countries, what they ate around the holidays, traditions they have, and the values they held close. At the end of the unit, we had one big potluck of each type of food that we were even able to try ourselves! Talk about exposure to culture! I also want you to understand that I grew up in the sticks of Idaho. Ucon, Idaho to be exact. In Ucon, there was one elementary school, and then we had to “go into town” to attend Jr. High and high school. It was and still is, a farming community with very little diversity. So my teacher taking the time to teach us culture and give us exposure to something different was huge. 

I’m grateful for a teacher that took the effort to give us these opportunities and teach us beyond the test, especially in the early 2000s when being less aware of others was more common. I am not sure if she is still teaching to this day, but if she is, I cannot imagine the impact she is making on this world, given the impact she had in just my life. 

Feature Friday: Scott Hunsaker

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Dr. Scott Hunsaker. He is a well known college professor at Utah State University teaching pre-service teachers. While teaching at USU he has received multiple awards including  Teacher of the Year, Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year, and the Carol and William Strong Human Service Awards from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. He was also honored by the Utah Association for Gifted Children for his career work in gifted and talented education. Here’s what Dr. Hunsaker has for us today.

What grade/ subjects have you taught and for how long? 

“I taught 6th grade in an elementary school for 8 years. I also taught about 1 year in the lockup unit of a private school for “troubled” boys, and ½ year in a 5/6 combination gifted magnet class. I’ve been at Utah State (25 years), and, before that, University of Georgia (4 years) teaching undergraduate and graduate students in teacher preparation programs and in gifted education.”

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject? 

“Sixth graders are on the cusp between childhood and adolescence. I enjoyed being there to help them through that transition. I also very much enjoyed teaching the social studies content—Western Hemisphere. I enjoy working with undergraduate students because their informed naivete inspires me to remember why I went into teaching so many years ago. Graduate students provide an opportunity for me to challenge and be challenged.”

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“I’ve really enjoyed, recently, using an AI-enhanced group discussion format that has markedly improved student responses to weekly readings and students’ responses to one another.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“I’m still very partial to Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It is written in a unique format that is becoming more popular of late—free verse poetry. It provides a subtle critique of “state tests” and how we ought to be responding to those. It gets back at that theme of the transition between childhood and adolescence and even into adulthood that I’ve already mentioned makes teaching 6th graders so engaging for me. The use of figurative language is superb. Finally, I love stories that explore parent-child relationships, but especially father-child relationships. Another author who does much the same through his use of free verse poetry, but usually focusing on sports stories, is Kwame Alexander.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching? 

“How do you really teach a math lesson.This was not presented well in my teacher preparation program. The math methods course seemed to be more a math “arts and crafts” class. Here at USU, the math methods courses do not make this mistake.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught? 

“There have been many important changes in teaching since I began. Two changes, I’m not particularly glad to see—the emphasis on high-stakes testing for accountability and the deprofessionalization of teaching. Both are associated with the politicization of teaching and schools. I’m glad to see, however, a move toward standards-based grading, when it is implemented correctly, since this is a better indicator, in my opinion, of what a student is actually learning, as opposed to the more typical points systems leading to letter grades. I also believe that the internet gives teachers and students access to many wonderful resources that were previously unavailable.”

What has been one of your favorite teaching moments so far? 

“Oh so many to choose from. I’d have to say, though, that I thoroughly loved what occurred when I was doing a demonstration teaching with a 6th-grade magnet gifted classroom. Our text was Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett. By the students’ choice, we were discussing ideas related to the word “tyranny” that appeared in the text. The discussion ranged from discussing examples of “tyranny” in the story, but also in the students’ experience—including the “tyranny” they experienced on the playground.” The discussion lasted well over the 30-minutes I’d been given, and the teacher later told me she couldn’t get the students to end the discussion even after I left.”

What tips do you have for pre-service teachers? 

“Remember that you’re a novice. You don’t have to be perfect on your first attempts. You’ve got time and space to grow.”

What is a brief overview of standards-based grading? 

“I gave a brief overview above, but the keys are as follows: Define intended outcomes or standards clearly. Establish the evidence that you will accept that demonstrates that a student has met the standard. Provide students opportunities to practice the knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to those outcomes without consequence for those practice efforts. Provide regular and specific feedback. Especially for students who’ve not yet met the standard, use practice efforts to refocus instruction on intended outcomes (i.e., standards). Provide students who’ve met the standard opportunities to go beyond the intended outcome through extensions. Do not cloud the assessment of standards achievement (and, therefore, academic grades) with extraneous information such as attendance, punctuality (e.g., being late for class or being late with assignments), averaging in practice, number of attempts, etc. Provide multiple pathways and opportunities to demonstrate achievement of the standard.”

How and why is this more effective than traditional grading? 

“Because the focus is on what students are actually learning, not how or when they learn, the grade given is more likely to be a grade that reflects actual learning rather than exogenous variables.”

Why is it important to have a specified college course for pre-service teachers regarding assessment? 

“Assessment is all about gathering information to make instructional decisions. We should be gathering this information before beginning instruction about a set of standards, while giving that instruction, and after having given instruction. This helps the teacher know how to modify the planned instruction to meet the specific needs of groups of learners or individual learners, what adjustments to make along the way, and whether the instruction has been successful or not. The knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to use assessment in this way—not merely as a way for the student to earn points to receive a grade—is essential to the success of prospective teachers in schools today, as assessment, either through a shift to standards-based grading or high-stakes testing, is emphasized so much more than when I was in the public school classroom.”


Thank you Scott for your thoughts! It’s very clear Dr. Hunsaker is very intelligent in his field of study and has a lot of great information he can share with the education world. I am humbled he took time to be interviewed for the blog. 

Head back to our Feature Friday next week to see what interview we have in store for you! 

You Can’t Count The Apples In A Seed

Hi! Just me again, saying one thing and doing another. I wrote about my blog schedule just last week and was ready to get right to work on it! But on Monday, I strayed right away from the schedule and wrote about schools opening in the Fall because it felt so relevant and something teachers needed to be reading right now. 

I had every intention to dedicate today to introducing Enneagram types and why it can be important in education, but again, another topic came up that I truly felt compelled to write about. I appreciate that I am not getting any hate emails because I’m not following the set schedule I just gave myself. Thanks for letting my intuition take the lead for now. 

Setting up fun, educational activities for my daughter has been a side job and hobby of mine for about two years now. She’s well trained in sensory bins and being responsible with paint, play dough, scissors, and more. I have also been well trained in when and where activities take place. When I’m making dinner it’s a perfect time for unsupervised activities she knows well and can do independently. When her little brother is napping it’s a great time to pull out something new when I can sit with her and walk her through, and help where needed. 

Usually, I am great at seeing the cues of when she needs something besides TV or her regular toys to entertain her. She gets a certain kind of antsy when I am busy and her brain just needs to think and create. But the other day I was so hyper-focused on what I was doing, I didn’t take the time to give her what she needed. She ended up finding some playdough in her bin of activities I keep organized and brought it to the kitchen table asking if she could play with it. She’s an extremely responsible three-year-old, I know! Within minutes she was bored and asking for something new, while I continued to work and ignore her needs. 

My husband was cleaning the kitchen and watching the interactions unfold, seeing both of our needs. I needed to work and my daughter needed an enriching, fun activity, not just play dough. He walked over with a container full of food picks, food stamps, measuring spoons, and my rolling pin and showed my daughter how to roll the playdough, then stamp the shapes or make the food picks stand up, They scooped the dough with the measuring spoons and packed them in tight to make 3D shapes. Less than 5 minutes of instruction and she was on her way to independent play. 

It made me realize that the activities I’ve set up around my house are maybe teaching more than just my daughter. My husband has seen enough of these setups to know what she needed to succeed, and I’m sure my son is picking up on the rules I’ve set by watching his older sister carry out her painting and sensory bins. I also thought about this quote I’ve seen often as a teacher. 

One seed that we plant as teachers will have lasting effects for generations and generations to come. A positive influence on one child can have lasting impressions on everyone they come in contact with, you never know what great work you are doing. 

This apple quote printable was made for me by Kelsie Housley. If you would like to download the PDF to print and hang in your classroom, the link is below. Do me a favor and leave her a comment of thanks if you downloaded it! I would love to show her our appreciation!

Back To School Fall 2020

I know I just wrote about my blog schedule and that Monday’s are dedicated to past teachers and the influence they had on me/ still have on me. However, I felt like this subject was important to write about and it has been on my mind for weeks and weeks. 

Schools going back in the fall. There are so many politics behind this that I will not get involved in, but I still have been thinking about so many other situations. 

I worry about teachers who are putting their health at risk by going back. 

I worry about teachers who financially rely on this income to support their families and do not have the flexibility to find a new job, especially in this economy. 

I worry about retired teachers and those who have chosen not to go back next year that feel guilty for not being on the front lines as a teacher, but shouldn’t feel this way. 

I worry about the students’ health. 

I worry about COVID outbreaks in schools. 

I worry about the parents’ mental health either with sending kids back to school and the stress that comes with that, or keeping them home and again, the stress that comes with that. 

I worry about the students that utilized school as their refuge from undesirable home life and will not have that in their life. 

There are worries left and right about going back to school, keeping kids home, and all of the inconsistency this Fall brings for us. 

But we do have one certainty we always know to be true- The teachers will show up. They will adapt to online learning, socially distant classrooms, and more. There may be anxiety and stress behind it, but they will show up. It has proven true time and time again, and with my own teacher friends I’ve followed on social media. Most of them have expressed their frustrations and concerns, but at the same time, I see them wearing masks and making their classrooms socially distant. They worry about their students too and how much they will miss if they are learning from home without the proper support. 

How is your school going back in the Fall? What are you worried about and what can you look forward to? 

New Blog Schedule: A Peek Into What I Will Be Writing About

I’m coming up on one year of writing for this blog, I cannot believe it has been that long! I’ve loved the experience it has given me, the research opportunities, and the new relationships I’ve been able to make. When I began writing, I created a blog schedule. My original blog schedule ended up changing and adapting over time and eventually became non-existent. I was writing what was relevant and important to me at the time, and it truly worked so well! I loved the adaptability of it. 

However, I’m ready to get back into a blogging schedule. I like the consistency and dependability of a blog schedule and it’s what I need in my life right now. Here is what I have settled on. 

Monday: Past Teachers Still Teaching Me Today

I’ve written about past teachers and professors on my blog before and came to realize that they are continuing to teach me as I take these lessons from them and apply them to my education world today. I want to write out each of these stories and gather them together as one big resource. You can read the ones I’ve already written in these links. 

Mrs. Scoresby 

Mr. Meyer

Max Longhurst

Wednesday: How Each Enneagram Type Learns

I wrote about each Myers-Briggs personality type and how to adapt your teaching to each type. For the next ten or so weeks I’ll be breaking down the nine Enneagram types and diving into more depth on what Enneagram is and how to understand it. 

Friday: Feature Friday 

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know Feature Friday has been a consistent Friday post since April! Originally I planned to do this for 2-3 months, but it has been such a hit and so fun to do, I decided to continue. If you are an educator in any shape or form, please reach out to me to be featured. 

What posts are you most excited to see? 

Feature Friday: Jake Downs

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Jake Downs. Jake teaches 4th grade in a rural community in Cache Valley, Utah. He also runs a podcast regarding teaching called The Teaching Literacy Podcast. He gives us great insight on the podcast and how it has helped his teaching below. 

What is the Teaching Literacy Podcast and why did you start it?

“The Teaching Literacy Podcast grew out of my experience in my Ph.D. program at Utah State University.  I found there was so much compelling research out there that could really benefit teachers, but it can often be like finding a needle in a haystack.  I also had a few classes where we discussed that there’s not really great channels to allow teachers access to high-quality literacy research.  That really bothered me- there’s this wealth of knowledge out there that could help improve instruction, but it remains largely aloof from teachers.  The current model really follows a trickle-down diffusion approach, which takes time and loses certain nuances.”

“I started the podcast to help address that.  I take quality research, interview the researcher, and talk about their findings and how it would apply to classroom management.  I’ve seen enthusiastic responses from researchers and educators alike. The researchers I’ve talked with are not the stereotypical ivory tower professors, nearly all of them are former teachers who care greatly about supporting our nation’s teachers and readers. Teachers have appreciated listening to research straight from the researcher’s mouth, with ideas of how it could help their instruction.  It’s been a great experience so far, and one I look forward to continuing.”

What is your favorite thing about teaching this age/subject?

“4th grade is a perfect age!  Old enough to be more independent and capable of impressive critical thought, but they still have the magic of childhood that seems to evaporate soon after.  This age group has great content to teach in reading and math as well.” 

“Reading-wise, the third and fourth grades pivot away from a steady diet of phonics and fluency practice, and towards more of a comprehension focus.  Fluency is still an important aspect of my instruction, but I’ve found great satisfaction in teaching reading comprehension, and supporting students to develop proficiency in silent reading efficiency.”

“Math for fourth graders slides toward complexity and abstraction.  For example, in third grade, it’s fairly easy to draw three groups of 6 to model 3×6.  In fourth grade, however, modeling 36×22 becomes more abstract.  We still do it, but we begin to use area models rather than direct representations.  That’s just one example, but I feel that something shifts between third and fourth grades with how the math is approached.”

How have you integrated the arts into your core curriculum?

“One way I’ve integrated art on and off throughout the years is through using ‘One-Pagers’ to integrate reading.  They’re pretty popular right now, just Google the term if you’re unfamiliar, but the gist of it is fusing an artistic representation of a scene from a specific text with summaries and/or direct quotes from the text. One thing good readers do is sift and separate important information from trivial details.  When done right, One-Pagers allow this to be practiced in the classroom in a way that students generally find very engaging.”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“Every year I read ‘City of Ember’ to my students.  It’s a great book about two kids in a dying city that get caught up in an adventure much bigger than themselves- or the city itself.  There are lots of twists and turns, with a jaw-dropping ending.  It’s always a highlight of my year and provides lots of great little teaching moments about comprehension throughout.  A careful reading will show that the ending was there all around, just the bread crumbs were so subtle that it really takes careful reading to put it all together.”

What are your best tips for avoiding burnout? 

“I’ve experienced burnout as an educator, something I think everyone who teaches young minds experiences at one time or another.  There’s a lot of ebb and flow to teaching, but burnout should be avoided at all costs.  It’s like your teeth, if you’re brushing and flossing then getting a cavity filled will be few and far between.  Even if you go to the dentist right when the tooth starts hurting, getting the cavity filled won’t be too bad.  However, if you neglect brushing and flossing, neglect going to the dentist when the tooth starts hurting then pain, infection, and the inevitable root canal is headed your way.”

Something in our culture has made us almost fanatically preventative with our oral health, yet tending to our mental health is much more reactive.  Find what ‘brushing and flossing’ means for you, and do it as much as you need to avoid burnout root canals.  For me, it’s reading good books, thinking deep thoughts, feeling in the driver’s seat with how my classroom is running.  When those things aren’t happening, burnout can creep in for me.  

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching?  

“There was this perception among my peers in my teaching program that much of what we were learning was relatively useless because things would be different ‘in a real classroom.’  I feel that perception is unfortunate and even dangerous.  True, there is some degree of disconnect between the teaching program and actual classrooms.  But isn’t that true of nearly all non-apprenticeship programs?  Do CPA’s complain about the disconnect between business college and real-life accounting?  What about nurses?” 

“Using a metaphor of learning to fly might be a more productive view towards teacher preparation. Teacher preparation programs are like learning how to fly in a wind tunnel or a flight simulator, assuming many variables to focus on the principles of learning.  The goal isn’t to take a Cessna to the next state over, the goal is to learn the principles of lift, drag, and aero dynamism.  Learning those principles, and the tradeoffs between them are critical to being a successful pilot once you climb into the cockpit.  Yes, piloting an actual plane will have its own learning curve, but the knowledge gained from that crucial pre-flight training will make the difference between a pilot on ‘auto-pilot’ and one who truly understands flying.”

“Good teacher ed programs provide invaluable assistance in ‘flight simulators,’ which means they are not invaluable.  As a first-year teacher, don’t readily discard everything you learned in your prep program.  Find ways to bridge what you’ve learned into your everyday experience.”

How has running your podcast helped you in your teaching?

“Teaching fourth grade, working towards a Ph.D. in literacy, and starting a literacy podcast has been a very fortunate experience.  It’s given me a bit of a ‘workshop’ where what I read and learn from interviews I can tinker within my classroom, and then what I learn from that tinkering informs what I look into next.  It’s certainly been a unique experience- one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

If you could give teachers one piece of advice about teaching literacy, what would it be?

“Learn the pedagogy and research of literacy.  Teaching Literacy Podcast is one way I’m trying to make that research more readily digestible for educators, but there are many out there.  Once I really started to learn the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ of fluency and reading comprehension my instruction shifted dramatically.  Rather than relying on the curriculum to do the teaching, my curriculum became a tool to leverage my thinking.  I think many of the reading curricula out there are well done and do the things they do for a reason, but they are not a replacement for teacher pedagogical knowledge.  Teachers teach, that’s the bottom line, so learning how reading works will greatly improve any teacher’s instruction.”


Thank you Jake for sharing your insight with us! If you are interested in listening to the Teaching Literacy podcast, you can find it on Apple, Google, or Stitcher. The majority of podcast apps have it available. You can also listen at Teachingliteracypodcast.com.