Feature Friday: Mary Kate Morley

Today’s Feature Friday is spotlighting a past colleague and great friend of mine. Mary Kate Morley was a 5th-grade teacher in Utah for three years before she became a stay-at-home mom. She and I both attended school at Utah State University in Logan, Utah where she received her degree in Elementary Education. One of her favorite parts of teaching 5th grade is the American History curriculum. She said, “I love seeing the students catch the patriotic spirit as they learn the history of their country.”

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“I wanted to work in an area where I could make the highest impact in the world.  My teachers have always been big game changers in my life. Children are with their teachers for such a large portion of each day making teachers huge influencers. I love education and schools. I love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Walking in schools just makes me happy…what could make more sense than to work in one!” 

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

“Research for informational writing. I was always surprised at the excitement my students felt in researching topics that they got to choose (with a little guidance). Some of my student’s efforts really peaked during projects like this. Other than this, the obvious answer is KAHOOT to review!!” 

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

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. I love to use this book on the first day of school to teach that “people aren’t weird, people are different, and different is good.”  The artwork is great and this fun story teaches a great lesson!” 

What is a big challenge you face often in teaching, and how do you overcome it? 

“Handling difficult student behavior is probably the greatest challenge of teaching. It can feel like one misbehaved and disrespectful student can ruin your perfectly planned lesson for you and all the other students! My experience with misbehaved students like these is that if you are truly and honestly ON THEIR TEAM they will be good for you. It sounds simple but it will work. Be their friend. Care about them. Teach them how large of an influence they have on other students. Go to their sporting or music events. Praise them for every good thing they do. Call their parents to praise them.  If they are acting out instead of getting mad pull them aside and ask if anything is wrong because they aren’t acting like their normal selves. You want your tough students on your side. Never let it become you vs. them. That is a lose-lose situation.”

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

“You don’t have to do it all! You don’t have to grade every paper. Just enjoy the kids and do your best. There is a lot of “fake it till you make it” that happens. The students won’t remember a perfect bulletin board you spend so much time making. They will remember your relationship and how you made them feel.” 

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

“My fifth-grade teacher was a rock star. She made me feel like I could do anything. I knew we had a real relationship and that she cared about me. She let us battle out the revolutionary war battle with paper balls. She made me want to be a teacher, and that fact that I ended up getting to teach the very grade she did is a bonus.” 

My Favorite Positive Reinforcement Strategies In The Classroom

You can read countless research studies on a positive environment and how using these positive reinforcement strategies can help you see better behavior in kids, spouses, pets, co-workers and more. When it comes down to it, those who are properly praised for a task will statistically try harder and do better the next time it is expected of them. 

Creating a positive classroom culture starts with a simple positive comment toward your students. Here are a few of my favorite positive reinforcement ideas I came up with while teaching. 

A cheerio or other cereal placed on the desks of students who are following directions. 

Tally points on the board for groups that were working together or following directions, that ended up amounting to no reward other than “winning” against other groups. 

Little stickers for students showing correct behaviors. 

High-fives to those following directions. Oprah style worked best for us- “Johnny gets a high-five, Amelia gets a high-five, Andrew gets a high-five! Awesome job on following directions!” It’s amazing what kids will do for a simple high-five and a little public praise. 

Simple and subtle compliments to students working hard. 

We put a money economy system in place with coins. It’s fun to see the hard work first graders will put into cleaning up the floor at the end of the day when a plastic nickel is on the line. 

My favorite way by far was telling the class every single day what an amazing group of students they are. They become what you tell them they are- So tell them they are great and eventually they are going to believe you. I have more thoughts on this later, stayed tuned for another blog post regarding this. 

Praising positive behaviors yields productive results. It has been researched, it’s science. And on top of that, I’ve witnessed first-hand how well it works, not only with my students, but my children, and even, MY DOG. 

How have you made your classroom a positive place? 

The Worst Phone Call I’ve Made to a Parent

My hands were shaking as I picked up the phone. I was about to make a phone call to a parent of one of my best first-grade students, a call that I never thought I would have to make during my time teaching, especially during my very first teaching experience.

“Hi, Mrs. Johnson, it’s Mrs. Ross, your daughter’s teacher right now while her regular teacher is on maternity leave. I’m calling about your daughter, we had an incident today that I need to let you know about. While we were doing an activity with scissors, a boy in the class took a pair to your daughter’s braid and cut off the end of it. It was about an inch of hair and she is devastated. Do you mind talking to her for a little bit?” 

When the phone was handed back to me a few minutes later, I apologized over and over to her. I couldn’t believe that something like that happened in my classroom. All of the reminders of procedures and the rules we had in place for using scissors, it all went out the door the second the little boy put the scissors up to her hair. I felt like a failure as a teacher. 

Her mom came to pick her up from school early, she was too upset to make it through the school day. Proper action was taken on the situation with both students, and at the end of the day when all of them filed out of my classroom, I finally let my emotions show. I sat with other teachers in the copy room while we prepped for the next day and I told them how awful I felt about the situation. All of them helped me feel better by swapping their own stories of situations they have been in with students throughout their years of teaching, it helped me realize I wasn’t alone, others had been in this boat before too. 

What really helped most was my conversation with this little girl’s mom the next day. She dropped her off at school in the morning with a fresh new haircut and I continued to apologize to each of them again. Her mom responded by letting me know that she wasn’t upset in the slightest, either at me or the other student. These kids are seven years old, they are unpredictable and emotional human beings and it would be impossible for me to keep my eyes on each of them at all times, it wasn’t my fault. She even ended the conversation by asking if she could volunteer for anything, even if it was just cutting up things for me (since we had a new classroom rule of NO SCISSORS ALLOWED until I could get over what had happened). 

I expected her to be more upset with me, blaming everything on me, so to have her be understanding and in my corner was refreshing and uplifting. It really made me realize how much we as teachers need parents. They can be your advocate in bad situations. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dealt with my fair share of difficult parents too, but that doesn’t mean they are all that way. Even though I was only in a long-term substitute teaching job, I wish I could have gone back and utilized parents more from the beginning. They really can be your best tool, if you let them in. 

I truly am curious, what is one of your worst teaching memories that you can hopefully look back on and laugh now? 

Using The Montessori Method In Everyday Life

The Montessori method is a common practice in schools today, mainly the places that focus on early childhood education. There are also entire schools based around this method Maria Montessori created in 1897. Maria has revolutionized the way we foster learning in children with her research and educational practices. 

The basic idea of the Montessori method is children take charge of their learning. The adult provides the material, the child makes the decision on where and when to spend their time. Everything is eye level with the child, making it easy access. Wood is the preferred material for toys, not plastic, being aesthetically pleasing, as well as durable and practical. It’s a method that can be adopted in homes, daycares, preschools, elementary schools, even up to high schools. 

“Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.”

Montessori Northwest

I had the intention to use the Montessori method in our home when my daughter was born, putting toys on a shelf at her eye level and practicing other Montessori ways. However, soon I began to feel inadequate about my implementing based on research I was doing and others I was comparing to, especially with my limited funds. Here’s how I brought the Montessori ways into my house without breaking the bank. 

We found a kid-sized card table we bought second hand. 
Toys were organized on a cube shelf, all at my daughter’s level. 
I was more mindful of the toys we bought for her, trying to stick with materials that promote imaginative play and learning, not limited, one-time-use toys.
We incorporated more play into our day. 
I let her prepare and be more involved in her meals. 
She took the reigns on her own learning, I stopped pushing her to learn letters and numbers and instead accepted that she would pick it up by herself eventually. She did. 

The Montessori method doesn’t have to be complicated or perfect. Certain aspects did not fit into our daily lives, but others worked great. Placing her dishes at her level to claim responsibility worked wonders, but setting up a functioning child-sized kitchen set for dishwashing and food prep wasn’t practical for us. I stopped comparing my small acts to those who had more resources. My main takeaway, in the end, was that just because I couldn’t orchestrate a perfect Montessori household for my two-year-old doesn’t mean that my efforts went to waste. This can be the case in any classroom. 

Move art supplies to kid-level. 

Give students access to imaginative play materials. 

Allow younger kids to use messy things such as markers and paints. They won’t understand the responsibility of playing with messy items until you give them the opportunity to. 

Place learning and classroom functions in the hands of the students. 

Be an advocate for responsible, independent kids, who will turn into responsible, independent adults. 

How do you implement Montessori ways into your classroom? How can this elicit deeper learning in other areas?    


 

Do You Have An ENTJ Student? Here Are A Few Tips

This is part of a series of using Myers Briggs personality types in the classroom. For more information, click here. For information on how to figure out your student’s MBTI type, click here. 

E- extroverted
N- I(n)tuition 
T- Thinking 
J- Judgement

Do you have a student who is driven to lead and succeed? One that may come off as overbearing to peers, or can easily push others too far in projects? This student may be an ENTJ personality type. 

These students are big advocates for well-executed plans and thrive in structure. If you ever notice that they are having a hard time focusing or learning, look around at their environment. Do they need more structure? Do they have a plan? Is future thinking in their minds? 

Group work is where they shine, especially with their extroverted tendencies. However, it is important to note that they will not thrive unless they take the lead. These students do not lead quietly, taking charge and managing people is their strong suit. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that their future careers usually end up in higher management, top executives, and CEOs. 

ENTJ students need a driving force in their learning. They need to know how and why this will benefit their future, and the more it logically makes sense, the more likely they are to dive deep into the subject. When they ask the common question, “When am I ever going to use this in my life?” if you can give them a solid, realistic answer, there is a good chance they will accept it and move forward with more appreciation for the topic. 

I personally interviewed a few ENFJ students to ask how best they learn and what they wish their teachers knew. A common answer among all of them was that any information given too fast or brushed over cannot and will not be learned. They need time to process information and many different ways to take it in, such as hearing it, reading it, then writing it.  

If you know of an ENTJ student who is struggling with understanding a concept on a deeper level, a great solution for them could be to make a focus group to discuss it further amongst peers. This can give them multiple perspectives to ponder and bring their comprehension to a greater level. 

Do you teach an ENTJ student? What personality traits do you see in them? How does knowing their personality type help you in your teaching? 

Featured Photo: https://www.mbtionline.com/

Be Firm and Be a Friend: How to Handle Those Difficult Students

I have stepped into many different classrooms with countless students over the years. Each room of kids seems to follow a similar pattern. The students that just want to help, they do everything they can to be the favorite. Then there are the students who sit in the back, keep to themselves, and try not to draw any extra attention. The ones listening intently to every word, but maybe not saying much. There’s always the students lost in their own thoughts of Minecraft or Fortnite, and the students fidgeting with things in their desks. There are so many different kinds of students you will run into in any given classroom, but there is always one student you will find no matter what. The kid that pushes your buttons and limits as far as he or she possibly can. 

I still remember the first encounter I had with one of these students, it was only a few years into my undergrad. I was in front of a fourth-grade class teaching a writing lesson, one of the very first full lessons I had ever taught. I was nervous as I stood in front of them, then took all of my excitement in me to exclaim, “Today we are going to do some fun writing!” 

A few students tuned me out, I knew it. Others paid a little more attention. One student, sitting on the front row smack in the middle as if he was purposely placed there to torment me yelled out, “WRITING SUCKS!” and had the whole class laughing within seconds. 

My little, tender, pre-teacher heart could not handle this. I choked back tears as I continued on with the lesson, ignoring his comment like I had been taught in my classroom management courses. “Class, who can tell me how many sentences make up a paragraph?”

“NONE BECAUSE WE DON’T WRITE ANYTHING FOR ANYONE.” 

His words crushed my soul. I made it through the lesson without crying, but their teacher could tell I was struggling because she pulled me aside at recess and asked if I was okay. I told her I struggled with this particular student and his comments. She sat me down and explained how he was testing my limits, what he was allowed to get away with around me. She told me the most important thing was that I needed to be firm, but also, be a friend. 

I took her advice and applied it the very next day. During the second part of my writing lesson, he thought it would be fun to hop onto his chair and dance for the class. I had to stand my ground and tell him that behavior was not appropriate in my classroom and that he would need to sit down. 

He didn’t listen right away, it took days and days of me repeating my expectations, removing him from the classroom, and calling on other teachers to assist. But slowly, we made improvements, he saw where I stood and started respecting that. Once we had somewhat mutual respect for each other, the friendship started. 

“Hey, Mrs. Ross, do you like football?” 

I can still remember him asking me that question in the hallway after school one day because it was the first interaction we had that wasn’t a power struggle between us. 

We proceeded to have a full discussion about football and he told me about his favorite college football team, BYU, and his favorite player, Taysom Hill. I asked questions and learned more about his passion for watching this game that I had never quite understood myself. 

He and I would chat often about recent games or the latest news with the team and even broaden our conversations beyond football at times. He would ask me about the latest news with my dog we were trying to convince our landlord to let us keep. At home, I would ask my husband the latest news on BYU and brush up on the current events with Taysom. Once we started building a friendship, the respect towards each other grew even further. 

This particular little boy was known throughout the school to be a tough student. Teachers in the hallways would try to reprimand him for bullying, running, and yelling to distract ongoing lessons, with no success. Eventually, I could give him one look, and he would know his behavior was not acceptable. Teachers throughout the school would ask me often what my secret was, how was I bribing him to behave? 

The truth was, no bribery was needed. This little boy needed one thing. Friendship. His teacher was in tune with him and knew which is why she advised me to do two things. Be firm, and be his friend. 

As I continued through my teaching career, I quickly found out that he wasn’t the only student like this that I would encounter.  I met many other students who attempted to push my limits and nearly bring me to tears, but at the end of my time with them, they always ended up being one of my favorite students because I spent extra time building a relationship with them. 

So next time you’re frustrated by that one student that always has a mean comment, or thinks it’s okay for her to crack inappropriate jokes during lessons, remember that it could be their cry for attention and love. 

Find out what they are interested in and truly care about it too. Ask them questions about the games they play and the friends they have. I’ve learned about college football, famous YouTube stars, Fortnite, JoJo Siwa, and more. They are all topics that have never been on my radar and most likely would not have if I hadn’t talked with them for a minute. Dude Perfect turned out to be more interesting than I ever would have expected!

At first, they’ll push you away and resist any relationship, it’s their defense mechanism because deep down they know they cannot continue to be the class clown if they start respecting you. But keep trying, be persistent, and just truly care about them and each of your students. 

I look back and think about these students often. I wonder how they are doing in school and genuinely hope that they have been passed along to other teachers that care about them as much as I do. I hope that they have someone to talk about BYU football and famous YouTube stars, because I know that’s the conversations they need to be having in order to learn about Shakespear and y=mx+b. I truly hope they are successful and that my short encounters with them made the smallest difference in their lives. In the end, that is the reason we are all teachers, right? 

I Am Not a Crafty Teacher and I Accept That

During my long term substitute teaching job, the first-grade team I was working with had started Fun Fridays. This is becoming a more and more common practice in schools, where the students who are caught up on work can participate in fun activities on Fridays, while other students take that time to work on assignments they may be missing. 

The four classes were intertwined and mixed into four different groups from all of first grade, allowing everyone to be with friends and peers from other classes. The doors to our rooms were opened up, and every Friday, chaos ensued. However, no matter how chaotic it seemed, it truly was a fun Friday to switch everything up just a bit and have a change of schedule. 

Each teacher had a responsibility to come up with a game or activity for the students in their classrooms for that week. We would repeat this every week with a different group until we made our way through the four groups, then move on to the next activity of teacher choice. 

On my first Friday I took over the class, the teacher had left me with the moving fish craft she had done the last two weeks prior, leaving me with two more groups to finish it with. 

Moving Fish


They are cute crafts and fun for kids to make! However, from a teacher’s standpoint, it’s actually a nightmare to conduct this craft with 30 first-graders, each needing individual help with 80% of the steps. Maybe I’m just not a crafty enough person, but this was not working out for me. I needed a change. I tried the fish craft for one week before I gave up and switched to a new craft for the last week of the month. This is what I chose: 

Origami Flowers


Why did I think for one second that I could pull off an origami craft with 30 students when I couldn’t pull off the moving fish craft, to begin with? That’s a very good question, because needless to say, I failed yet again. 

There are probably countless teachers that exist in schools all over the world that are great at crafting and teaching students cute origami and paper making crafts. I am not one of those teachers. I tried to be, I gave it my best effort, and I even felt obligated to because teachers are supposed to be crafty, aren’t they? I felt like they were known for that, and I was failing if I wasn’t crafty as well. However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t me. 

The biggest takeaway from my long term sub job was that being genuine as a teacher is the key to success. I had to fully accept that I was not a teacher that provided fun paper folding activities but instead prompted creativity in other ways. 

I found success in my Fun Friday activity the day I handed out a two-foot piece of yarn to every student and left a bowl of fruit loops on each table. I left no instructions beyond that, turned on classical music, and watched the magic happen. 

Many students walked away with fruit loop necklaces. Others with multiple bracelets because they cut the string into smaller pieces. I saw different weaves with the string and cereal pieces from kids, as well as some who simply just played with the string in their fingers and munched on dry cereal while they talked with friends. No one did it the right way, no one did it the wrong way, they simply just did it their way. 

This is the teacher that I am, and as soon as I learned and embraced it, it made the rest of my teaching experiences much smoother for myself and the students. All it took was a little life lesson from a simple cereal and string activity. 

How did you find yourself as a teacher? What helped you to create the culture in your classroom that flows and works for you and your students? 

Featured Image: pexels.com