Guest Post: Summer Plans for New Teachers

by Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know

OtisKriegel_FSP AuthorWhen I think back to the summer before my first year of teaching, I remember a lot of things I did—and later wished I hadn’t done. New teachers need as much energy as possible for their first three months in the classroom. I forgot to rest up, and I paid for it. By the end of October I was beat.

Here are a few tips I wish I had gotten as I prepared for my first fall as a teacher.

I don’t mean you should sleep all summer, but take care of yourself. Do things that will revitalize your system, whatever that means for you. I wouldn’t advise spending the summer riding your bike across the country, ending at your classroom with three days to set up. That might be cutting it close. But do plan activities and experiences that will rejuvenate you and give you something fun to share when you arrive at your new workplace. One colleague who loves to cook tries out new recipes over the summer when she has the time and energy. The meals that turn out well she sticks in her freezer to eat during the school year when she’s too tired to cook. Pulling out one of those premade meals always puts a smile on her face. Do things for no one else but you, and you’ll arrive at school feeling excited, energized, and both happy and ready to get to work.

ParkBenchReader by Infrogmation wikimedia commonsRead
Become an expert on books at your students’grade level by reading both classic and contemporary titles while you sit on the beach or picnic in the park. Also, check out some of the titles below and above your grade, because you’ll most likely have some readers who are far ahead or behind. If you do this, you’ll be able to recommend an appropriate book to anyone in your class.

Start a victory log. Write down the positive experiences you’ve had as a student teacher or in other practicums. Include notes about successes you’ve had in other walks of life. Add goals you want to achieve during the school year. When you feel lost in the weeds during the school year, look back on this journal for inspiration. It will help keep you on track and feeling positive in what can be a very challenging year.

There are many more things you could do to prepare for your first year in the classroom, but in this case, less is more. You want to be filled with energy and enthusiasm rather than exhausted from all the work you did over the summer.

Have a great summer, and may it be the first of many!

Teachers: How are you preparing for the school year?

EverythingaNewElemTeacherNeeds2KnowOtis Kriegel is a 12-year veteran elementary school teacher, having taught in dual language (Spanish/English), monolingual, and Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms. He received his M.S.Ed. in bilingual education from the Bank Street College of Education and is adjunct faculty at the Steinhardt School at New York University. Kriegel now lives and works in New York City. An experienced presenter, he has conducted workshops with hundreds of preservice and new teachers and continues to present in universities and teacher education programs. You can contact him through and follow him on Twitter @mynameisotis.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources
The Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf: 100 Must-Reads For Kids 9-14 from NPR Books

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Ed Tech: The Evolving Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 2 of 2. Click here for part 1.

Crystal ball photo by Tttrung, Chmouel GNU free license creative commonsThere is no time machine or magic crystal ball to show us the future, but hundreds of educators, tech developers, and tech trainers are working to make that future happen. An informal survey of tech trainers shows many exciting innovations on the way. One primary thought came through in the trainers’ responses: new tools are coming to make learner-centered education take off.

Learner-based education is not new. It has been an effective teaching strategy for some time, though adapting the classroom and resources to help students take charge of their own learning can be challenging. Changing a school district to competency-based direct assessment has a cost in both dollars and time.

Tech support for highly interactive learning spaces, off-site support for learners, and administrative support for curriculum and assessment has been expanding in the last few years. As iPods and iPads—with their countless apps—swarmed into classrooms, students pushed the apps’ limits and teachers jumped into learning how to best use these tools. Shifting from using apps as occasional support to fully tech-supported curriculum and resources means shifting the use of these and other tech tools.

This shift has begun, and in a few short years it may well revolutionize how students become learners, and how teachers guide and mentor them along the way. Today we see vendors like Google Apps for Education and ED@ developing curriculum software to change how collaboration happens. Along with other developers, they are building new systems to support the learners, educators, and administrators of the future.

How This Might Change the Classroom

Valles Caldera NM photo by Thomas Shahan upload by Jacobo Werther Creative Commons

Valles Caldera, NM

It’s 2024, and you are with your students on a field trip through the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the high desert of New Mexico. You are using GPS-guided technology to view highlights of the area. Hiking though the forest and meadow in this ancient volcanic crater, you experience the varied wildlife and study how plants have evolved to use available water in each season. A bird runs across the path, and you notice on your monitor that several of the students are accessing bird identification data, while others are commenting to each other about how fast that bird ran. One student has sent a question to the park naturalist.

The field trip described above is actually a classroom experience, using several technologies available now or under development. Students in the class are watching on a giant monitor, increasing the detail and reality of the “field trip.” In this setting from 2024, you are able to access not only your own district’s cloud servers for resources and curriculum, but other sites as well. Using today’s new clip-on cameras, the National Park Service and many groups are starting to record trail hikes and field experiences. Bringing these to classrooms will likely be done using their own cloud servers.

Google_Glass_with_frame Along with several fellow learners off-site, your students are also using smartphones, tablets, wrist devices, or perhaps a variation on the recently marketed Google Glasses to share questions. You are monitoring your groups’ use of their personal devices—seeing them raise questions and start discussions in real time. After the experience, some students may decide to look at the history of this old volcano, others to look for more on birds. Your off-site students are just as involved in the discussion as the ones sharing the room with you. While not quite a true virtual hiking trip, it offers an experience well beyond the capabilities of a tablet alone. You can revisit it and find new focus areas for future learning experiences.

Presently, in a School Improvement Network demonstration of teaching two-digit subtraction to second-graders using a learner-centered approach, the teacher has the students develop sample equations and define the evidence that shows mastery of the problem. This small group working together in a classroom is engaged in the task and has a great discussion of ways to improve their subtraction skills. But they are using the same technology that their grandparents used—writing it out.

sonystrapsonwristNow imagine teaching this lesson in a learner-centered environment of the future. The math learning station has gone virtual. Students may well be spread out across a classroom or off-site. Using the same personal devices as in the New Mexico class experience, as well as their district’s cloud service, the teacher can help them explore the same math lesson and find ways to practice and improve their math skills. They can repeat the lesson or move on to the next, at home as well as in the classroom. A monitoring service allows teachers to review all students’ work and contributions to the group discussion, then direct them for future lessons. New data packets will continually assess each student’s progress and record it for administrative use.

How Technology Can Make This Happen
At first glance you might be saying, “But all that technology is already here!” Much of it is, but the software—and the cloud-based computing and storage required—need continued refinement. Hardware advances will bring even more changes, and breakthroughs in interactive software are happening regularly. Today’s designers and developers are partnering with educators to envision an expanded integration of technology with learning. In most cases, districts will probably find it cost effective to purchase customizable cloud resources from vendors, both for class and administrative uses.

Interactive computer tableAs anyone born before 1990 knows, the advent of personal computing and its increasing portability has changed the way students want to get information, how they communicate, and sometimes even how they learn. Today’s students have always had personal computing in their lives, and they expect connectivity. How we bring learning experiences to them will change, and helping to manage the change is an important role for educators and tech developers working together. Check the Suggested Resources below for more details on learner-centered classrooms, the technology to support it, and access to professional development resources for educators and administrators.

Then imagine the children of 2050, raised by the students who are barely entering schools today. Their expectations, and the amazing technology the generations in between will bring forth, may seem astounding. As Arthur C. Clarke first wrote in 1962, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The real magic comes in helping students grow and get excited about learning.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

Suggested Resources
The Apsen Institute’s Task Force on Learning and the Internet’s 2014 findings: Learner at the Center of a Networked World full report or selected highlights
Integrating Technology with Student Centered Learning from Nellie Mae Foundation (2011)
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
CoSN Leading Education Innovation

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Guest Post: Summer Drift

By Beth Baker and Char Ryan, authors of The PBIS Team Handbook

Like most educators, we always enjoy our summer breaks—doing a little traveling and a lot of reading, taking some time to reflect on the past year, and preparing for the new year. It’s our time to rejuvenate.

Beth Baker and Char Ryan

Beth Baker and Char Ryan

But what does summer break mean for PBIS? Some educators think that after a year or two of implementing PBIS, the hard work is done and they can forget about what it takes to sustain PBIS in their buildings. A lack of attention (or intention) causes a drift in all of the hard work invested in planning and implementing PBIS. In our book The PBIS Team Handbook, chapter 8 is devoted to sustaining and continuously improving PBIS in your school. To avoid drifting over the summer, here are some big ideas to keep your PBIS framework uppermost in mind so that you’ll be ready for fall:

First, select a few key summer assignments for the PBIS leadership team. An important one is updating the matrix, making changes based on your experience and data from the past year. Prepare to unroll it in the fall.

Welcome  PBIS team membersSecond, create a PBIS orientation and training for new staff and students. Consider having a PBIS leadership team meeting via Skype or GoToMeeting. Meet with student leaders to get their ideas for introducing your school’s routines to new students.

Third, focus on activities that promote continued staff and student buy-in, which can wax and wane yet is critical to maintaining ongoing implementation. Several factors contribute to buy-in, including frequent clear communication.

For example, send out a summer e-newsletter to all staff:

  • Include positive thoughts for the day and showcase photos from your school’s celebrations.
  • Have staff send in photos of themselves on summer vacation and use the photos for a slideshow at the beginning of the year. It’s a great way to introduce new students to staff.
  • Share articles related to PBIS and social/emotional learning—for ideas, check out,, or
  • Dig through your school’s data and identify specific areas of progress over the year. Acknowledge staff for their accomplishments.

Fourth, build community support: Visit with community members and discuss how they can support your school. Some examples:

  • Ask shops near your school to display your school expectations. Reinforce students for following the expectations outside of the school, too.
  • Train area police officers, park and rec employees, and library staff in PBIS. Together you can create learning matrices for these community areas that relate to your school-wide expectations.

Fifth, be sure to invest in yourself. If music feeds your soul, while cruising on a road trip keep your ears peeled for a song that could be next year’s school theme. Some suggestions:

  • “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
  • “Firework” by Katy Perry
  • “Hall of Fame” by The Script, featuring (look for the edited version)
  • “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera
  • “I Got This” by Jennifer Hudson

So enjoy your summer break and relax a bit. But be intentional about your break. Accomplish what you can, doing what is meaningful for your school. You’ll start two steps ahead of where you left off in the spring, ready to dive in and set the summer drift back on track.

How do you sustain the momentum of PBIS year to year?

Beth Baker, M.S.Ed, is an independent behavioral consultant and an intervention specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools, where she works to create positive behavioral environments for elementary students. PBIS Team Handbook from Free Spirit PublishingShe was formerly the lead PBIS coach for a school district in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, as well as a special educator for many years, working with students who have emotional behavioral disability (EBD) needs. Beth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Char Ryan, Ph.D., is a PBIS coach, evaluation specialist, and Minnesota State SWIS (Schoolwide Information Systems) trainer. She is also a licensed psychologist and consultant with the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health. Formerly, Char was an assistant professor at Saint Cloud State University and state PBIS coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning. She is a frequent conference presenter and has been published in numerous journals, including Psychology in the Schools. Char lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Free Spirit Author Spotlight: Jill Starishevsky

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

Starishevsky_Jill_RGBJill Starishevsky has been an assistant district attorney in New York City since 1997, where she has prosecuted thousands of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me, which was released in May from Free Spirit Publishing. After originally self-publishing, Starishevsky decided to sell the book to Free Spirit to give it a larger reach. The second edition has brand new artwork and suggestions for parents and caregivers on discussing body safety with young children.

Q: Can you share a bit about your life’s work and how you wound up in your profession? 

Jill: For the past 17 years, I have prosecuted child abuse and sex crimes in New York City. As the middle child and the only girl in my family, I was often mediating disputes between my brothers. The skills I acquired led me to become an attorney. Upon graduating law school, I knew I wanted to do something that would help people and I could think of no better way to help than to fight for justice for the victims of violent crime.

Q: What prompted you to write My Body Belongs to Me?

Jill: As a prosecutor, I have often encountered children who were sexually abused for lengthy periods of time and suffered in silence. One case in particular had a profound impact on me and compelled me to write this book.

I prosecuted the case of a 9-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather since she was 6. She told no one. One day, the girl saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show about children who were physically abused. The episode, “Tortured Children,” empowered the girl with this simple message: If you are being abused, tell your parents. If you can’t tell your parents, go to school and tell your teacher. The girl got the message and the very next day went to school and told her teacher. I prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s office. The defendant was convicted and served a lengthy prison sentence.

I have thought often of that very sweet, very brave 9-year-old girl. It occurred to me that after three painful years, all it took to begin the end of her nightmare was a TV program encouraging her to “tell a teacher.”

MyBodyBelongstoMeI wrote My Body Belongs to Me to continue that message. It endeavors to teach children that they don’t have to endure abuse in silence. It wasn’t until I had children of my own and wanted to talk to them about this important subject that I realized there was nothing out there to guide parents in having this discussion. It is my hope that by educating girls and boys about this taboo subject, My Body Belongs to Me will prevent them from becoming victims in the first place.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of writing this book?

Jill: Without a doubt, the most rewarding part of writing My Body Belongs to Me has been the feedback and praise I have received from readers. From survivors of child sexual abuse to new parents who are grateful for the resource, I have been overwhelmed by the book’s impact. I wrote the book to address a subject many publishers were unwilling to take head-on. I had not considered the level of appreciation my work would receive from those who had waited for such a book for far too long. It is truly humbling.

Q: What advice do you have for parents who are leery about talking about body boundaries with their children or who think that they don’t need to? 

Jill: I think it is incredibly important for parents to talk to their children about this subject. Many parents avoid the discussion because they fear it is uncomfortable or think this won’t happen to their child. But the statistics tell a very different and sad truth. In the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused by the time they are 18. This conversation is not something that is intuitive to a child. If they do not learn from their parents, oftentimes the only person the child learns from is the perpetrator.

Furthermore, many children do not immediately tell someone if they are being abused. Unlike a child falling down on the playground, abused children are less likely to run and tell a parent what has happened to them due to fear, shame, embarrassment, not understanding that the behavior was wrong, being told no one will believe them, or believing it was their fault or that they have to keep it a secret. If parents talk to their children about being touched, the likelihood is greater that children will disclose abuse.

Q: How often do you recommend talking about body safety with young children? 

Jill: It depends on the child. Parents should address the topic periodically as the child grows, and reinforce the message when it feels right, e.g., before sleepovers or the start of a new sports program. Parents can also take the opportunity to seize on “teachable moments.” If the topic is in the news, revisit what your children understand about body safety.

Q: Do you have any advice specific for educators about discussing body safety with young children? 

Jill: Children can sense fear. Educators should embrace this subject and teach it fearlessly. Teach children the correct terms for their private parts so as to enable prompt disclosures. Make certain you understand what your responsibilities are as a mandated reporter and that you know how to effectuate a report.

Q: Finally, we always like to ask authors: What makes you a “Free Spirit”? 

Jill: I am a Free Spirit in that I have an alter ego. The Poem Lady is my alter ego. The work I do as a prosecutor is so heavy and sad that I found I needed some sort of release. Ever since I was little, I had a talent for writing poems that rhyme. People would often ask me to write a poem for someone’s birthday or going-away party and I would do so happily. A few years ago, I created a website called The Poem Lady where I write customized poems for bar/bat mitzvah candle lighting ceremonies and baby and bridal showers. People send their information to me and I turn it into a cute rhyme. Being able to share in the joyous events of total strangers somehow balances out some of the sadness I deal with in my regular job. The best part is that people love the poems. I enjoy being able to help people express themselves when they are unable to find the right words.

Q: Are there any more books or projects in the future?

Jill: The next book I will be working on is a children’s book on Internet safety. Both parents and children are unaware of the dangers that lurk on the Internet, and I hope to provide a simple tool that can help keep children safe in cyberspace.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Why Manners Matter

A podcast from Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Fourth in a monthly series of podcasts from Free Spirit Publishing.

podcast start arrow notation

Podcast transcription:
HowRudeSome days you leave your house and it seems like you’ve stepped into Hunger Games. With daggers of discourtesy and arrows of annoyance coming from every direction, these weapons of mass disruption can sap your confidence and spoil your day. Is there anything you can do? Etiquette expert Alex Packer takes a look at why manners matter and how you can keep the barbarians at the gate.

When I asked teens, “What’s the rudest thing anyone’s ever done to you?” here are some of the things they said:

Someone . . .

lifted me up by my underwear
spread rumors about me
slammed my arm in my locker
pretended to be my friend
said I was fat
called me a name


Are people really ruder today than ever before? 75% of adults I surveyed think so. While that’s bad news for society, it’s great news for you. Why? Because if you have good manners, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Good manners are attractive. They impress people and put them at ease. And people who are impressed and relaxed are more likely to respect you and agree to your requests. Good manners also make you feel good, since you’ll know you are doing your part to make the world a better place. And best of all, good manners don’t cost a thing. You can have the very best for free.

Doing the right thing. Getting ahead. Getting what you need. Here are the Top Five ways being polite paid off for teens:

  • NewJob_Got a job.
  • Got something I wanted from my parents.
  • Got compliments and respect.
  • Got in good with somebody I liked.
  • Got help from teachers.

Learning good manners helps you deal with all sorts of situations from the trivial to the life-changing, from how to tell a friend he has a booger in his nose, to how to impress an admissions officer or ace a job interview. You’ll know just what to say when a friend asks you if she’s ugly, or goes out with your ex, or tells you he’s gay.

“But what if someone’s rude to you, is it okay to be rude back?”

Not according to the teens I surveyed. They say . . .

If you respond to rudeness with more rudeness . . .
you may offend someone who had no intention of being rude
you may end up in trouble yourself
you add to the general level of rudeness in the world

But when you use good manners to respond to rudeness . . .
you stand the best chance of stopping the behavior
you maintain your own dignity
you set an example that may change the behavior of others

There are two good ways to respond politely to rudeness.

The first is to ignore it. You could yell and stomp your feet. But this is how fights or road rage start. So sometimes it’s wisest and safest to just let it go.

The second way to respond to rudeness is to act as if the Rude One didn’t intend to cause offense. This works because “accusing” puts people on the defensive. Giving them the “benefit-of-the-doubt” provides a face-saving way out. Suppose someone cuts into the line you’ve been waiting in for over an hour. If you say: “No cuts. End of the line, buttface!” he may get in YOUR face. But if you say, “Excuse me, it’s a little confusing, but the line actually begins back there,” he’s more likely to slink away since giving him the benefit of the doubt lets him leave without being humiliated.

Another way to respond politely to rudeness is to ask the Rude One to do you a favor rather than to stop being a jerk. Let’s say you’re at the movies and some bozo is blabbing away. If you say, “Shut up! If you want to talk, go outside!” he may ask YOU to step outside. However, if you say, “Excuse me, it’s hard for me to hear in movie theaters. Would you mind not talking?” Bozo is more likely to quiet down since he can see it as doing a favor rather than giving in.

Now that you know how important good manners are, which manners would parents most like their children to practice?

1. Saying “Please,” “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and “Excuse me.”
2. Writing thank-you notes.
3. Looking people in the eye.
4. Cleaning up after yourself.
handshake5. Not interrupting.
6. Using good table manners.
7. Giving people a firm handshake.
8. Having compassion.
9. Not saying hurtful things.
10. Responding when spoken to.
11. Using electronic devices in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Any questions?

“Do you have to extend your pinkie when drinking from a teacup?”
This practice is no longer necessary. But under NO circumstances should you extend your middle finger!

“Why are manners so important? Isn’t it what’s inside a person that counts?”
Certainly, but nobody’s going to stick around long enough to know the “real you” if being in your presence grosses them out.

Until next time, this is Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Wise Highs from Free Spirit PublishingAlex J. Packer received his Ph.D. in educational and developmental psychology from Boston College and his master’s degree in education from Harvard. He has been headmaster of an alternative school for 11- to 15-year-olds and director of education at the Capital Children’s Museum. He is president emeritus of FCD Educational Services, a Boston-based provider of drug education and substance abuse prevention services to schools worldwide. He is also the author of an e-book for teens Wise Highs: How to Thrill, Chill, and Get Away From It All Without Alcohol or Drugs

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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