Making the Grade: 8 Tips for Organizing Your Grading

By Andrew Hawk

Making the Grade: 8 Tips for Organizing Your GradingFor a classroom to function properly, the teacher has to have effective systems in place to complete daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks. Long- and short-term lesson planning often get lots of attention. However, the importance of grading should not be understated. Unlike daily instruction, which is usually only observed by students, the scores and comments that go home on projects and assessments may be scrutinized by parents. Also, the data collected on students’ classroom performances is used to make a number of crucial decisions, including the direction of lesson planning, and which students will receive pull-out services or be considered for special education testing. Here are some tips I hope you will find useful in organizing your grading.

Find Your Balance
Most teachers I have worked with assigned a mixture of assignments that were either graded or were only checked for completion. I can still remember a lecture in one of my methods classes in college where the professor told us that we would never have time to grade every classroom assignment. Be that as it may, teachers should have a plan for which activities will be checked for completion and which activities will be graded. What that balance is may be different depending on the subject, grade level, or assignment.

Communicate Grading Procedures to Parents
By sending home a letter explaining your grading procedures at the beginning of the year, you can save yourself from having to address questions from parents later on. Typically, assignments for which the grading is subjective, such as writing prompts or class projects, produce the most conflict with parents. Teachers should be prepared to offer further explanation to parents if and when grades do not meet parents’ expectations.

Do Not Send Home Unmarked Work
Even if you only took a completion grade, put some sort of mark on the paper. Even if the class completed the activity together and you didn’t grade it, put some sort of mark on the paper. Parents often feel that if their student took the time to complete an assignment, the teacher should at least look at it. My advice is to put a check mark on group work and work that is done for a completion grade.

Plan a Specific Time to Do Your Grading
Personally, I do not like to grade student work at home. I find myself distracted by the television, my cell phone, family members, pets, and so on. I grade part of my daily items during my planning period and the rest after school. As with most things, you need to find a time that works for you and stick with it. Making grading a part of your regular routine will help you follow my next tip.

Do Not Let Yourself Fall Behind
This is absolutely pivotal. Never get more than a day or two behind on grading or it becomes very challenging to catch up. I learned this lesson the hard way during my second year of teaching. It was my first year teaching fifth grade, and I was completely overwhelmed. I let myself fall about a week behind on grading, and it took me half a grading period to catch up. Learn from my mistake and stay on top of daily grading.

It’s Okay to Delegate Some Grading
During my senior year of high school, I was a teacher’s assistant for one period a day. The teacher I assisted put me to work in two ways: xeroxing and grading. I did not grade every assignment his students completed, and he never let me grade anything subjective. He gave me items that could be graded with a grading key, such as multiple choice tests. Whether you use a high school helper, college teaching candidate, or paraprofessional, it is fine to delegate your cut-and-dried grading.

Trade and Grade
Having students trade their classroom work and grade it seems to have fallen out of style in some schools. People opposed to this strategy argue against students getting to see their peers’ grades. This is especially true for struggling students. However, I do not think it’s a problem if your administrator is okay with it. It is not too far away from peer editing, which is a popular strategy right now when teaching writing.

Remember Your Grade Book
Time always runs in short supply for teachers. When you are developing your grading system, remember to factor in a time to enter grades into your grade book. I complete my grading and enter the data into the online grade book simultaneously.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

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Classroom Interventions and Modifications for Students with ADHD

By Rhoda Cummings, Ed.D., author of The Survival Guide for Kids with LD

Classroom Interventions and Modifications for Students with ADHDChildren and adolescents with ADHD often present classroom challenges severe enough to interfere with their learning because of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. Students with attention problems may have trouble focusing on important details and ignoring irrelevant distractions, paying attention in class, following instructions, and so on, while students with hyperactivity-impulsivity problems may have difficulties with sitting still, interrupting, restlessness, and so on.

ADHD is more common in boys than in girls, and girls with ADHD are more likely to demonstrate inattention. However, most students with ADHD demonstrate both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity behaviors.

Classroom Interventions for Students with ADHD
Interventions for children and adolescents with ADHD typically include medications and/or behavioral therapy (behavior modification). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends behavioral therapy as the first line of defense for younger children (ages 2–5), and a combination of medications and behavioral therapy for older children and adolescents.

Although medication intervention for ADHD is readily available, behavioral interventions may be less so since they require implementation by a trained professional with expertise in behavior modification techniques. However, research-based classroom interventions have proven effective with students with ADHD and can be implemented by the classroom teacher without much difficulty.

Classroom Interventions for Students with Inattention Problems
Classroom interventions for students with ADHD whose primary difficulties stem from inattention should focus on strategies that minimize visual and auditory distractions and enhance organizational skills and attention to detail. Distractions can be reduced and attentive listening encouraged by seating the student near the front of the classroom and away from windows and hallway doors. This way, the student’s focus will be on the teacher rather than on the movements and interactions of other students or on visual and auditory distractions outside the classroom.

To help the inattentive student follow through with instructions and ensure completion of class and homework assignments, it’s a good idea to provide written copies of instructions and homework assignments in addition to writing them on the board. Careless mistakes and organizational problems can be improved by assigning the student with ADHD a classmate volunteer to be a mentor or buddy who can point out careless mistakes and check classwork for completion before it is turned in. When provided with the opportunity, most students are more than willing to help classmates who are having trouble. Also, pairing the student with ADHD with a peer buddy provides opportunities for positive social interaction.

Another way to help students with ADHD stay organized is to color-code classroom materials. For example, textbooks, folders, and notebooks can be color-coded according to subject: yellow for math, red for reading, green for science, and so on. Then, it’s easy for the student to pull out all red materials for the reading period or all green materials for the science lesson. This approach is especially helpful for middle school and high school students who store their classroom materials in a locker and must rush between classes to change them out.

Classroom Interventions for Students with Hyperactivity-Impulsivity
Hyperactive-impulsive students can be a challenge in the classroom because their behaviors are often disruptive to other students as well as the teacher. These students may have difficulty sitting still, may fidget or tap their pencils on their desks, or may get out of their seats and move around at inappropriate times. One way to handle these behaviors, depending on the teacher’s personality and level of tolerance, is to seat the student in the back of the room next to the wall and an understanding classmate. Tell the student that he or she can get out of the desk, stand up, and perhaps turn around a time or two, but only after sitting still has become so difficult that it interferes with his or her focus and concentration. Make it clear that the student can get out of the desk only if it can be accomplished quietly and without disturbing other students.

Another way to help the student with ADHD is to use a behavior modification technique in which the student learns how to pay attention to and modify hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. This technique is more appropriate for older students and adolescents and involves several steps:

  1. Sit down with the student and discuss specific behaviors that are inappropriate and disruptive in the classroom. The student may be as knowledgeable as anyone else about these behaviors and able to accurately describe them. If necessary, the teacher may provide additional examples.
  2. Together, the student and teacher decide on a time frame for evaluating behavior changes and a reward system for the reduction of disruptive behaviors. For example, if at the end of two weeks two out of four behaviors have improved, there will be one kind of reward; if all four behaviors have improved, there will be a more substantial reward.
  3. Once the teacher and the student agree on the disruptive behaviors (it’s best to start with only four or five), the teacher can organize them in a chart that depicts each behavior and the number of times it occurs during class.
  4. Each day, the student keeps track of the behaviors.
  5. At the end of the week, the student totals up the number of behaviors. The goal is to reduce the daily number of disruptive behaviors so that the weekly total decreases.
  6. At the end of two weeks, the teacher and student meet to see if there has been a reduction in some or all of the behaviors.
  7. Once all four or five behaviors are consistently improved, the teacher and student meet again to discuss other behaviors that need improvement.

Although this approach requires time on the part of the teacher, it can be more effective than other types of behavior modification because it makes the student responsible for identifying and tracking disruptive behaviors. The goal is to make the student aware of her or his disruptive behaviors, note the behaviors’ occurrence, and gradually internalize the ability to control the behaviors.

A modification of this approach can be used with younger children. The teacher points out the behaviors and makes the chart. When the child engages in the behavior, the teacher comes by and puts down a mark. At the end of the week, the teacher shows the child the number of marks and provides a reward if the number has gone down from the previous week. This approach can also be used by parents to help the child with ADHD monitor and improve her or his inappropriate and disruptive behaviors at home.

The behaviors of students with ADHD can be particularly challenging to teachers and disruptive to other students. In most cases, however, the students with ADHD are as unhappy about their behaviors as their teachers and peers are. Classroom modifications and interventions are sometimes time consuming, but if they result in enhanced learning and improved self-esteem, the time spent is well worth it.

Rhoda CummingsRhoda Cummings, Ed.D., is professor emeritus in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has over thirty years’ experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students about students with learning disabilities. The author of numerous articles and books for parents and young people, Rhoda is also the mother of a grown son with LD. She lives and writes on the Oregon coast.


The Survival Guide for Kids with LDRhoda Cummings is the author of The Survival Guide for Kids with LD.

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
American Academy of Pediatrics: “ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents.” Full report by the AAP about treatment interventions for children with ADHD.

U.S Department of Education: “Teaching Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices.” Classroom interventions for students with ADHD.

N. Mather and Sam Goldstein, LD Online: “Behavior Modification in the Classroom.” Classroom interventions for students with ADHD.

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Win/Win: 10 Mediation Steps for Resolving Conflicts in the Classroom

By Naomi Drew, M.A., coauthor of  Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School. This post was originally published March 4, 2013.

Win/Win: 10 Mediation Steps for Resolving Conflicts in the Classroom“Hey, get out of my way!”
“No, you get out of MY way.”
“I was here first!”
“No you weren’t. I was!”
“You’re always cutting in line!”
“Hey, who do you think you’re talking to?”
“YOU, that’s who!”

And so on . . .

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you’re in the lucky minority. Teachers all over have been expressing frustration about the amount of conflict their kids are having. As one teacher said to me recently: “My kids are always at each others’ throats. I wish I could make them stop.”

The irony here is that kids are just as unhappy about conflict as teachers are. In a national survey of more than 2,100 students that I conducted with Free Spirit Publishing, a whopping 80 percent said they wanted to learn more about how to get along better with their peers, work out conflicts, and avoid fights.

So what can we do? Actually, lots. When schools and teachers take an active role in teaching kids how to handle conflict, and when effective structures are put in place, incidences of fights, disagreements, and bickering drop dramatically. Mean words that spark conflict often decrease and learning improves because kids learn better in an atmosphere of trust and safety.

Here are some things you can do right now to reduce and resolve conflicts in your school and classroom.

Make the following rule and stick to it unconditionally: No mean words of any kind no matter what. Teach it, model it, reinforce it, expect it, and say something immediately when someone breaks the rule. Never look the other way. Kids tend to value what their teachers value. Show that you value kindness over cruelty.

Have a designated place in your room where kids can work out conflicts. A “Peace Table” or “Work-It-Out Spot” where kids can talk things over gives the message that working out conflicts is valued and expected. Having a place away from the din allows kids a modicum of privacy without the eyes and ears of the class upon them.

Teach the steps to resolving conflict. The following Win/Win Guidelines help move kids from conflict to compromise. Show them how to use each step, then make sure to rehearse and role-play them before actual conflicts happen. Hang the guidelines near your work-it-out spot and put them on laminated business-size cards your kids can carry in their pockets. Before long, using these guidelines will become second nature. I’ve seen students as young as kindergarten using a modified version. And guess what? It worked.

The Win/Win Guidelines for Working Out Conflicts

  1. Cool off.
  2. Talk it over starting from “I,” not “you.”
  3. Listen and say back what you heard.
  4. Take responsibility for your role in the conflict.
  5. Come up with a solution that’s fair to each of you.
  6. Affirm, forgive, thank, or apologize.

Teach the following rules when you introduce the guidelines and don’t forget to do plenty of role play so your kids get comfortable:

Rules for Using Win/Win

  1. Treat each other with respect; no blaming or put-downs.
  2. Attack the problem, not the person.
  3. No interrupting, negative faces, or body language.
  4. Be willing to compromise.
  5. Tell the truth.

Here are steps you can use when you introduce the Win/Win Guidelines or mediate a conflict for your kids if they can’t do it alone.

Mediation Steps for Teachers

  1. Make sure disputants cool off first. Don’t ever skip this step. Kids can’t work out conflicts when they’re hot under the collar.
  2. Let them know each person will have equal time to speak and it doesn’t matter who goes first.
  3. Ask one child to say what’s on his mind starting with “I.” The other child’s job is to simply listen for now, knowing she will have a turn to speak next.
  4. Ask the child who was listening to “say back” what she heard. Stress that “saying back” doesn’t mean she agrees with the other person. It simply shows respect and opens the door for the other person to listen back.
  5. Now have the second child say what’s on her mind starting with “I” while the other person listens and paraphrases what was said.
  6. Give them some time to talk over the problem, cautioning them not to blame or name-call.
  7. Ask both kids to think of a way they might have been “even a little bit responsible” for the conflict. Ask them to share what it was.
  8. Ask, “What can you do to solve this problem?” Have them come up with a fair solution together.
  9. Once a solution is reached, compliment them and ask them to acknowledge each other. They can affirm, forgive, thank, apologize, or simply shake hands.
  10. Stay as neutral as you can throughout the process. Let the kids own it. Your job is to be an impartial guide who supports them in coming up with their own solution.

NOTE: If disputants argue, blame, or show disrespect, stop the process and have them cool off some more. Consider having them continue the following day if necessary.

One last thing: Try using these steps in your own life. It’ll not only make your teaching of conflict resolution easier, it’ll also help you handle whatever conflicts arise outside of school. And who among us doesn’t need a little help with that once in a while?

Good luck and peace to all of you!

Author Naomi DrewNaomi Drew, M.A., is an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking. Her work has been instrumental in introducing the skills of peacemaking to public education and has been recognized by educational leaders throughout the United States and Canada. Naomi is also a dynamic and inspiring speaker. She serves as a consultant to school districts, parent groups, and civic organizations and is a registered provider with the New Jersey State Department of Education Character Education Network. She lives in New Jersey.

Free Spirit books by Naomi Drew:

Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle SchoolNo Kidding About BullyingThe Kids' Guide to Working Out ConflictsA Leader’s Guide to The Kids’ Guide to Working Out Conflicts

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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10 Ways Teachers Can Create a Positive Learning Environment

By Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A., author of The School Climate Solution

There is a direct relationship between the kind of learning environment teachers create in their classrooms and student achievement. Here are 10 specific strategies for developing the optimal classroom climate and culture.

1. Address Student Needs
Remember that students, like adults, have not only physical needs but also important psychological needs for security and order, love and belonging, personal power and competence, freedom and novelty, and fun. Students are driven to meet all of these needs all the time, not just two or three of them. When teachers intentionally address these needs in the classroom, students are happier to be there, behavior incidents occur far less frequently, and student engagement and learning increases.

2. Create a Sense of Order
All students need structure and want to know that their teacher not only knows his content area, but also knows how to manage his classroom. It is the teacher’s responsibility to provide clear behavioral and academic expectations right from the beginning—students should know what is expected of them all the time. Another important way to create a sense of order is by teaching students effective procedures for the many practical tasks that are performed in the classroom. For example, teach students how to:

  • Enter the classroom and become immediately engaged in a learning activity
  • Distribute and collect materials
  • Find out about missed assignments due to absence and how to make them up
  • Get the teacher’s attention without disrupting the class
  • Arrange their desks quickly and quietly for various purposes: in rows facing the front for direct instruction, in pairs for collaborative learning, in groups of four for cooperative learning, and in a large circle for class discussions

3. Greet Students at the Door Every Day
As students enter your classroom, greet each one at the door. Explain that you want students to make eye contact with you, give you a verbal greeting, and—depending on the age of the students—a high five, fist bump, or handshake. This way, every student has had positive human contact at least once that day. It also shows students that you care about them as individuals. If a student was disruptive or uncooperative the day before, it gives you an opportunity to check in, explain your “every day is a clean slate” philosophy, and express optimism for that class (“Let’s have a great day today”).

4. Let Students Get to Know You
Students come in to the classroom with preconceived perceptions of teachers. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it can be an obstacle. I wanted my students to perceive me as a trustworthy, three-dimensional human being rather than as the two-dimensional perception of an “English teacher” that they may already have. Since the only way to impact people’s perceptions is to provide them with new information or new experiences, I would give students a quiz about me during the first week of school. (Of course, it didn’t count.) I’d have them take out a piece of paper, number it from 1 to 10, and answer questions about me. Things like: Do I have children of my own? Where did I grow up? What is something I value? What is something I do for fun? What other jobs have I had besides teaching?

After the quiz, we would go over the answers as a class while I shared a slideshow of pictures of my children, my hometown, and representations of things that are important to me, like family, education, a strong work ethic, fairness, and so on. (I would even get a laugh out of some of their answers.) Students enjoy learning about their teachers, and the quiz gave me an opportunity to share who I am, what I value, and what experiences I bring to teaching.

If the “first week quiz” isn’t something you’re comfortable with, think of other ways you can share with your students:

  • Who you are
  • What you stand for
  • What you will do for students and what you won’t do for them
  • What you will ask of your students and what you won’t ask of them

5. Get to Know Your Students
The more you know about your students’ cultures, interests, extracurricular activities, personalities, learning styles, goals, and mindsets, the better you can reach them and teach them. Some ways of getting to know your students:

  • Educate yourself about their cultures
  • Talk to them
  • Assign journal prompts and read and respond to them
  • Attend extracurricular events
  • Have students complete interest inventories or surveys
  • Have students complete learning style and personality assessments
  • Hold regular class meetings
  • Play team-building games with students

6. Avoid Rewarding to Control
Over 50 years of research has shown that incentives, gold stars, stickers, monetary rewards, A’s, and other bribes only serve to undermine students’ intrinsic motivation, create relationship problems, and lead to students doing nothing without a promised reward. The human brain has its own rewards system. When students succeed at a challenging task, whether it’s academic (a class presentation) or behavioral (getting through a class without blurting out), their brains get a shot of endorphins. Instead of devaluing their successes with stickers or tokens, talk to students about how it feels to achieve proficiency and praise the effort, strategies, and processes that led them to those successes. Then talk about what they learned this time that will help them achieve their next successes.

7. Avoid Judging
When students feel like they are being judged, pigeonholed, and/or labeled, they distrust the person judging them. It’s hard not to judge a student who just sits there doing no schoolwork after you’ve done everything you can to motivate her. It’s easy to see how we might call such students lazy. And it’s easy to label the student who is constantly provoking and threatening peers as a bully. But judging and labeling students is not only a way of shirking our responsibility to teach them (“There’s nothing I can do with Jonny. He’s simply incorrigible.”), but it also completely avoids the underlying problem. Instead of judging students, be curious. Ask why. (Where is this fear or hostility coming from?) Once you uncover the underlying reason for the behavior, that issue can be dealt with directly, avoiding all the time and energy it takes to cajole, coerce, and give consequences to students.

8. Employ Class-Building Games and Activities
It’s important to develop positive relationships with your students; it’s equally important to develop positive relationships among them. One of the best ways to break down the cliques within a classroom and help shy or new students feel a sense of belonging is to engage students in noncompetitive games and cooperative learning structures. There are hundreds of resources online and in books that provide thousands of appropriate choices for your grade level. Another benefit of bringing play into the classroom is that it gives your students a very powerful reason to come to your class—it’s fun.

9. Be Vulnerable
Being vulnerable develops trust faster than any other approach. Admitting your mistakes shows that you are human and makes you more approachable. It also sends the message that it’s okay to make mistakes in this classroom. That’s how we learn. Vulnerability and public self-evaluation also help develop a growth mindset culture: We embrace mistakes rather than try to avoid them at all costs. We learn from those mistakes and grow. Make a simple mistake, like spilling a glass of water or misspelling a word on the board, and instead of making excuses, talk about how you’re glad you made that mistake, because it taught you something.

10. Celebrate Success
At first this may seem to contradict strategy six about avoiding rewards. It doesn’t. A celebration is a spontaneous event meant to recognize an achievement. It is not hinted at or promised ahead of time like an “if-you-do-this-then-you-get-that” reward. Instead, you might set a class goal, such as the whole class achieving 80 percent or higher on an assessment. Chart students’ progress on a wall chart (percentages, not individual names). After each assessment, discuss the strategies, processes, or study habits that students used to be successful and what they learned and might do to improve on the next assessment.

Once the class has achieved the goal, hold a celebration. It doesn’t need to be a three-ring circus. Showing some funny or interesting (appropriate) online videos, bringing in cupcakes, or playing some noncompetitive games would suffice. The next time you set a class goal and students ask if you’re going to celebrate again, tell them not necessarily. It really isn’t about the cupcakes, it’s about the effort and learning.

Author Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A.Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A., has been a secondary English teacher, a professional development specialist, a college professor, and the director of training and curriculum for a federally funded character education program. His previous books include The Classroom of Choice (ASCD, 2004) and Inspiring the Best in Students (ASCD, 2010). Jon is currently an independent educational consultant, a senior faculty member at the William Glasser Institute, and a trained HealthRhythms facilitator. Jon’s work focuses on providing research-based approaches to teaching, managing, counseling, and training that appeal to people’s intrinsic motivations and help children, adolescents, and adults develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. A musician and martial arts enthusiast, Jon has earned a second degree black belt in karate and a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He lives in western New York.

The School Climate SolutionJonathan Erwin is the author of The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room.

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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Teaching Kids the Importance of Citizenship

By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

Teaching Kids the Importance of CitizenshipWhat a month November has been, but it’s the perfect time to take an in-depth look at the final core value in our series on the importance of building character: citizenship. Good citizens make wherever they go better. They abide by the laws and obey the rules. They conserve precious resources and protect the environment. They are loyal to their country, stay informed on issues, and vote in elections. They cooperate, serve with a smile, and are good neighbors.

So how do we teach all of that? First and foremost, citizenship has to be modeled. Our young citizens watch us in every interaction and they take our lead. Do we obey the speed limits when we’re behind the wheel, even when we’re in a hurry? Do we recycle those items that can be recycled, reused, and repurposed? Do we ever find ourselves in an express line at the grocery store with more items than are allowed? Showing citizenship is not an easy task, but our future depends on it.

Here are some ideas for helping nurture that virtue in our youngest citizens.

Give Students a Voice
Ask students to consider what could be better in their lives and how they might influence that change. Let them research current issues in their home, school, and community. Encourage students to host a betterment campaign and to write and deliver speeches to share their arguments for what causes need their assistance and support. Would they rather collect can openers for the homeless or books for children who are hospitalized? Would they like to start a Kindness Cards Club or make get well cards for local pharmacies? Would they like to host a water walk to earn money for digging wells in Africa, or would they like to participate in Jump Rope for the Heart to help combat heart disease? Host a mock election and put their ideas to a vote to give all of your citizens a voice. Encourage students to dream big, but remind them that it’s okay to start small.

Support Those Who Serve
A wonderful way to give citizenship wings is by supporting our military personnel. Our school family annually sends care packages and thank-you notes to active duty service men and women who are away from home on deployment. While we have traditionally sent these around Thanksgiving, this past year we decided to send handcrafted valentines and home-baked cookies and bars. Each year we solicit names and APO/FPO addresses from our community so that we can support friends and family members of our stakeholders. These hometown heroes fondly refer to the goodies we send as “hugs from home,” and they tell us time and time again that the cards and letters they receive from school-age children are the gifts they treasure the most while they’re serving.

For an added bonus, arrange a video chat with one of the recipients of your care packages. Click here to see the excitement that special visit generates for your young citizens.

Start a Green Team
Good citizens do their best to conserve resources. Find out from your future leaders what they suggest we do to reduce our carbon footprints. Last year, one of our fifth-grade girls suggested that we ask parents to turn off their cars while they wait in the car-rider line. Another young lady started a plastic bag collection so that she could knit them into a plarn (plastic yarn) sleeping mat for the homeless. A third suggestion was simply turning off the water while we’re brushing our teeth and/or soaping up our hands.

Does your school have a Green Team? Members of our team collect the paper recycling from the blue bins in classrooms each Friday and take it outside to our community recycling bin. Money raised from recycling can be used to plant a tree or some flowering plants for a butterfly garden.

Join a Group
Cooperation is a huge part of the citizenship ideal. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Texas State Marching Band Contest at the Alamodome in San Antonio, where the top 39 bands in the state vied for the championship. I couldn’t help but marvel at the clockwork of the parts that made up the whole, how individuals showing up, giving their best efforts, and marching in their spots with several hundred others cooperating, following suit, and doing their parts can unite to make magic of epic proportions. In marching band, it all starts with one person and an idea, a note on a page, and a dot on the field, and it becomes an eight-minute explosion of sight and sound that, done right, will take your breath away.

But it doesn’t have to be grand to be great. Encourage your students to become a part of an organization so that they can experience this kind of unifying teamwork and cooperation.

Take the Citizenship Challenge
Talk with your learners about what a good citizen is and does. Ask them how they make their class better. How do they make their family better? How do they make their sports team or Scout troop better? How do they make their school, their community, their country, and their world better?

Sometimes, just making a promise out loud can be the push-into-action that we need. Try this easy five-finger promise with someone you trust and see what a difference a few small gestures can make. Stand facing that someone. Put your right hand in the air as if making a pledge, and have them put up their left hand so your fingers and thumb mirror one another and are touching. You must each think of five easy things, one for each finger and one for the thumb, that you can do in the upcoming weeks to put citizenship into action and take turns promising them aloud. For example: I will recycle all of my plastic and paper; I will pick up any litter that I see; I will vote; I will donate some food to a pantry; I will obey the speed limits—small steps in the right direction that add up to big things for our world. Once you’ve promised, all that’s left is to do it. Try it with two or three friends and see what happens. Have your students try it with their classmates or with their siblings. Imagine the world-changing potential if everyone made a five-finger citizenship promise this month.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 33rd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

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