Easy Tuna Casserole

3 cups cooked macaroni

1 (6 ounce) can tuna, drained

1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 ½ cups French fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a 9×13-inch baking dish, combine the macaroni, tuna, and soup. Mix well, and then top with cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes, or until bubbly.

Sprinkle with fried onions, and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.


Creamy Italian Chicken Crescent Bake


½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

2 cans (8 oz each) Pillsbury™ refrigerated crescent dough sheet

8 chicken tenderloins (about 3/4 lb)

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained

½ teaspoon salt


Heat oven to 375°F. Lightly spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) baking dish with cooking spray. In small bowl, mix Parmesan cheese and basil until well blended. Set aside. Unroll 1 dough sheet; cut into 4 rectangles. Place 1 chicken tenderloin on one long side of each dough rectangle; roll up. Pinch edges and ends to seal. Place seam-side-down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining dough sheet and chicken tenderloins. Sprinkle with Parmesan mixture. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and thermometer inserted in center of chicken reads 165°F.chicken

Meanwhile, in 10-inch skillet, cook whipping cream, tomatoes, salt and pepper flakes over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes or until slightly thickened. Cover to keep warm. Spoon warm sauce over crescent-wrapped chicken. Serve immediately.

I Am Not Your Friend

In our current culture, we see many parents who try to be their child’s pal, buddy, or friend.  The result is often a blurring of roles, and a child whose behavior leaves a lot to be desired.  An interesting article by Debbie Pincus on the Empowering Parents website makes a good case for how parents can solidify their role as parent first (and friend second.)  

Similarly, teachers need boundaries that emphasize their role as the head of the classroom.  Students need to see you as teacher first (and friend second.) Friends-tv-show-1-

With thanks to Ms. Pincus, I’d like to adapt some of the symptoms she identifies and apply them to the teacher-student relationship.

You may be a “friend” first, if you find yourself…

  • Doing for your student what he can (or should) do for himself.
  • Constantly asking questions; interrogating the child over everything.
  • Over-sharing with your students about your personal life; treating them as a sounding board for your complaints or frustrations.
  • Giving up your authority and allowing the child to take control of the room.
  • Living through your students vicariously; feeling as if their achievements or failures are yours.
  • Your students are upset, and you fall apart.

To be clear, it’s great to care about your students and be interested in their lives (see this blog post) but only after you’ve set clear expectations that you’re the leader, and held them accountable to the #1 priority: learning.

Kids in the Hall

Kids in the hall:  (Ideally, you want to talk about this the first few days of school, but it’s never too late to begin.)  Start a discussion with your kids about the importance of staying quiet and orderly in the hallway. Describe to them the procedures and your expectations.

Prior to the first day, talk to your administrator and ask if you can put markers (signs) along the hallway at certain stopping points. These can be small construction paper cutouts; hold up examples to show your class. Use a school map to show students what path you’ll take to get to certain areas of the school. 9489805-large

Discuss personal space and what their hands, eyes and bodies should be doing while in line. Ask them what they think they would do in certain situations (e.g. another teacher stops you to talk, an announcement comes over the intercom, the principal walks by and speaks to the group, or you need to step away from the line into another room, etc.) Brainstorm the list with the children, but you should define the context for proper behaviors.

When you think they’re ready, line your students up inside the room. Make sure they are in line and orderly before you step outside the door. Remind them that once they cross the doorway they’ve entered a quiet zone. Put a strip of tape across the threshold of the door as a reminder.  Stand at the door while they exit, and remind the leader to stop at the first marker and wait. Give verbal praise and correction if needed.

Don’t be afraid to have them go back and repeat, if it isn’t done correctly. Yes, it may seem like a waste of time, but I guarantee it’s worth it.  If you practice until it’s an easy habit, you won’t have to spend time later in the year dealing with poor behavior or chaos in the hallway.

Once they’re off and moving, you should walk behind your class.  I can’t stress this enough!  If you’ve given them directions for how far to go and where to stop, you can walk behind and have a clear view of everything they’re doing.  Make notes on a clipboard (both positive and negative) to identify patterns of behavior.  These notes can be useful for conferencing with students or parents, or for adjusting the positions of students in line.  For those who are misbehaving, you can bring them to the end of the line to walk with you; alternatively, you can move up to walk beside a student and they will quickly fall in line.

Practice several times during the day for the first two weeks of school (or until you feel the procedures are second nature for every student.)  Not only does it let them practice your expectations, but it gets them up and moving, and helps them segue from summer to school year.  It’s hard for most students to go from an active summer where they can walk around at will to sitting in a desk for extended periods of time.

Another benefit of practicing is that when there are fire drills or you need to evacuate the building, your kids will do so in an orderly fashion, and you can better ensure their safety. Eventually, once your students have memorized the stopping points, you can take down the hall markers. 

Who Cares?

There is an old saying among teachers: students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It is imperative to care about your students and show it. You can’t pay lip service and pretend, they’ll see right through it.  (If you’re that good of an actor, why aren’t you in Hollywood?)

The way you treat individual students is the way their classmates will treat them. If you as the teacher treat them with respect and genuine concern so will the rest of the class. If you get frustrated easily and feel contempt for a student, the class is likely to pick up on those traits. You are the leader and they’ll follow.charlie-and-snoopy-hifive

Most students will be satisfied with a basic approach — they’ll volunteer information about their lives and connect with you during class time.  They’re eager to please and want to have a rapport with the teacher.  

Other students might require a different approach to get them engaged. For introverted kids, students with special needs, or those with a difficult home situation,  you’ll need different tools in your toolbelt.  One useful technique is the 2X10 rule: spend two minutes everyday for 10 consecutive days talking with the student about non-school things.  You can ask about their interests, favorite TV shows or video games, after-school activities, family, hopes or dreams. I can guarantee this will turn things around with that student. If students know that you care about them as a person, they are more likely to do things to please you and engage fully in the classroom.

Take Care of Yourself

At our core, teachers are caring professionals who dream of making a difference in the lives of students. We take on the challenge of shaping the future, lighting the spark of curiosity and preparing students for productive lives. The world often sees us in a different light:  teachers are those who can’t do anything else, or teach so they can have a long summer break.

The fact is that most teachers are committed, sacrificial, and hard-working professionals, who defy that stereotype routinely.  Some of us defy the stereotype to our own detriment, running ourselves into the ground while working unpaid overtime on lesson plans and grading papers, taking graduate school courses, serving on committees, volunteering for social causes, coaching teams, or sponsoring extracurricular clubs. Help_Help_small (This doesn’t even factor in family commitments.)  The mental and physical health of most educators is often at risk, and the normal stresses of the job are compounded by the scrutiny of parents, administrators, state & federal mandates.

In his article from Education WeekChristopher Doyle spotlights the decline of teacher health and well-being.  He proposes a shift away from the excellence “rat race” that emphasizes perfection and increasing demands. He espouses that real change will only come from the top down.  Sadly, changes like these may not come in our lifetime.

In the meantime, we as teachers have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves from mental burnout and physical erosion.  Creating a balanced, healthy and restful lifestyle not only helps us, but it sets a great example for our students.

I know that you’re seeing that stack of papers or the unwritten lessons and thinking, no way.  My challenge to you would be to adopt a few personal practices that can bring refreshment and add margin.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Put it on the calendar.  Whether it’s a workout, a fun activity, a day trip, or even a nap, the best way to prioritize it is to put it in writing — when it’s on the calendar and the time is allocated, it’s harder to dismiss it.
  • Get quiet.  I’ve recently begun a daily meditation practice using a smartphone app called Headspace that makes it easy to begin a mindfulness habit. For me, the ten minutes it takes can be hard to carve out, but the benefits are worthwhile.  This simple practice really enhances my ability to focus and relaxes my mind for the tasks ahead.  If you aren’t ready for meditation, spend three or four minutes listening to your favorite song, and give your mind a short escape from the burdens of work.
  • Take a break.  Partner with another teacher and swap responsibilities to create space for a date night or personal break.  (If you have your own young children, offer to babysit for them in exchange for some time off when you need it.)
  • Exercise.  The billionaire industrialist Richard Branson gives credit to fitness as the source of his boundless energy and enviable string of accomplishments.  Working out on a regular basis can pay huge dividends in terms of energy, mental focus, and overall health.  Some experts suggest that the time you spend working out can be subtracted from the amount of time you need to sleep, due to the benefits of a healthy heart rate.
  • Pursue other activities.  If your focus is devoted strictly to school and teaching, your perspectives can narrow.  A well-rounded life that includes other interests and hobbies brings unique perspectives to your lesson plans and presentations.

I know it’s difficult, and I’ll admit I’m no master in this area.  Take a baby step toward treating yourself a little better.  You’ve earned it.  You’re a teacher.

(For more ideas on this topic, see this article Greater Good.)


Benefits of Student Engagement

When you think of student engagement you think about students being drawn into their learning. To know if your class is engaged we must first define engagement.  Phil Schlecty “Increasing Student Engagement.” Missouri Leadership Academy; (Jan. 1994) says students who are engaged exhibit three characteristics:

  • they are attracted to their work,eager-student
  • they persist in their work despite challenges and obstacles, and
  • they take visible delight in accomplishing their work.

Some lessons will hit all three targets, but there are objectives that aren’t that exciting but still need to be taught.  Things like long division, editing/revisions, fractions (need I say more?) may present a challenge for engagement.

Think about activities that you are excited to engage in:

  • What motivates you to participate in those activities?
  • What skills do you draw upon to engage in the activity?
  • What are your expectations for the outcome of the activity?

As adults we can choose we have options.  We can choose the activities and learning that we’ll spend time to pursue. Our strengths and interests guide us and push us towards engagement. When we succeed we can then transfer those skills to other possibly less desirable activities.

For students who don’t have the same freedom, it is the teacher’s job to create lessons that motivate students to fully engage in the learning process. Students must be engaged in all of ‘school’ — in its global form —  academics, interpersonal, extracurricular, social and relational.

Check back in for posts about academic and social engagement.

The Most Important Times of the Day

With all the pressures of teaching, every minute is precious. But there are two times of the day when you can purposefully set the tone for learning: the first 10 minutes — un-wrap — and the last 10 minutes — wrap-up.

In the first 10 minutes, students need to know that you’re glad they are at school and happy to see them. Stand at the door 10-minute-clock-300x300and welcome them to class; make small talk with them; ask about the previous afternoon — inquire about a game they played in or what they did. Have an activity on the board or on their desks for them to plunge into; you need to create a sense of purpose to begin the day.  This could be an academic activity that encourages them to interact. Whether you do this or not, students will find ways to talk and socialize.  If you give them constructive opportunities to do so during un-wrap, it’s easier to engage them academically when necessary.  (Note:  I wouldn’t do this the first week of school. The first week or two should be completely orchestrated by you.) The morning arrival time needs to be structured, and it’s best to have a writing/drawing prompt or interest survey waiting for them.

We all like to prepare for the day ahead, and students are no different. Giving your students an agenda during un-wrap can help prevent the nagging questions they’re prone to raise throughout the day.  (What special do we have today; what’s for lunch; what are we doing in math?)

The last 10 minutes of the day are equally important.  Begin the wrap-up by recapping the day:  highlight what happened and emphasize key accomplishments. You should model this recap for them early in the year, but eventually turn it over to them. Give them an opportunity to identify what was fun or what they learned.  Encourage them to verbalize something that was difficult.

Other topics for wrap-up include a preview of tomorrow’s activities, which gives them something to anticipate. (Keep it positive.)  Provide a topic or question they can ask at home to keep parents involved.

You should not only talk about the academic side of things but social topics too. Students are very aware of what goes on in the class socially, e.g. who’s friends with whom, who got in trouble, who was mean to them, etc.  By talking about these things before students leave, you can put it in context, and prevent a simmering pot from turning into an explosion at home.  Often a child will suppress their feelings about a conflict or incident at school until a parent or sibling prompts them at home.  The sudden attention can result in an emotional (and often inaccurate) memory of events from the day.  Using wrap-up time to diffuse these emotions can head off angry phone calls from parents.

This reflection time is an important skill for students to learn so they can evaluate their day on their own and learn analytical and self-assessment methods.  It also provides insight to you about the efficacy of your  lessons; something you thought went well may not have had the same impact on students. Early in the year, wrap-up time can give you a chance to remind students of any materials they’ll need for homework or tomorrow’s assignments.  As time goes by, they will be doing this themselves; it will become a habit. They’ll learn to check everything before they leave and you won’t get the email or phone call saying Suzy left her book at school and couldn’t do her homework.