5 Ways School Administrators Can Support Cluster Grouping

By Dina Brulles, Ph.D., coauthor of The Cluster Grouping Handbook: A Schoolwide Model: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All (Revised and Updated Edition)

The second in a four-part series on successful cluster grouping. Click here for part 1.

5 Ways School Administrators Can Support Cluster GroupingA vast majority of our schools now use cluster grouping as their primary method for serving gifted students. Inarguably, grouping gifted students together for instructional purposes benefits these students. In this blog series, I describe four main components critical for success in a cluster grouping model: implementing, supporting, teaching, and evaluating progress. The practical tips provided throughout this series will help teachers, coordinators, and principals plan efficiently and effectively in a gifted cluster grouping model. Today’s post focuses on how administrators can support cluster grouping.

Principals who are implementing or supporting cluster grouping often begin with trepidation stemming from unknown expectations from both teachers and parents. Preparing in advance for parents’ and teachers’ questions allows for a smoother transition into cluster grouping. Principals may have questions such as:

  • What does effective staff development for a gifted cluster grouping model look like? Who provides it?
  • Will this professional learning benefit all teachers and all students, including those working below proficiency levels?
  • What professional learning opportunities are essential for teachers in this model?
  • As a principal, how do I best support my gifted-cluster teachers?
  • What methods of parent communication work best?

Identifying high-ability and high-potential students in all populations is a priority in the cluster grouping model. To build a sustainable model, it is critical that we determine learning needs based on students’ potential. This helps ensure you are making good placement decisions, including for gifted-identified students who are not achieving highly or others with dual exceptionalities. Enfranchising students of high ability who may have been excluded from other gifted programs helps make the model acceptable to teachers who do not have the cluster class.

Ideally, you have a designated “go-to” person for gifted services at your school. This person could be a lead gifted-cluster teacher, a gifted specialist, or a gifted coordinator. This gifted lead teacher (to use a generic name) could be instrumental in coordinating support for your cluster teachers and in acting as a liaison with the district-level administrator who oversees gifted services.

Suggested support can include arranging for gifted-cluster teacher meetings, guided lesson-planning time, a shared resource bank, access to accelerated curricula, and information sharing with staff and parents.

5 Ways School Administrators Can Support Cluster Grouping1. Hold Gifted-Cluster Teacher Meetings

Holding monthly gifted-cluster teacher meetings helps build cluster teacher support. At these meetings, cluster teachers discuss differentiated instructional strategies; methods for providing rigor, depth, and complexity to lessons; ways to troubleshoot difficult situations; and parent communication. They also include debriefing on chapters from their book studies.

Suggested meeting agenda for gifted-cluster teachers include:

  • Discussion of specific strategies from a book study
  • Review of strategies previously discussed and applied
  • Introduction of new compacting and differentiation strategies
  • Sharing of resources: lessons, materials, websites, learning contracts, extension menus, and so on
  • Discussion of issues regarding nomination and testing of new students for gifted clusters
  • Problem-solving regarding specific students, classroom issues, or site concerns
  • Parent communication tips
  • Input on the makeup of new gifted-cluster classes for the following school year

2. Provide Guided Lesson-Planning Time

Gifted students learn differently. High-ability students need challenge that extends beyond the grade-level curriculum. Identifying ways to enhance and extend the curriculum to ignite gifted students’ learning potential is an ongoing process. Gifted-cluster teachers appreciate and benefit from time to plan extension lessons together, share lesson ideas, and learn from one another.

3. Build a Shared Resource Bank

Guided lesson-planning time provides the opportunity for the cluster teachers to build a shared resource bank at the school level. Differentiated lessons can be saved in a shared online space, such as Google Classroom, where cluster teachers can access and then modify others’ lessons. This greatly assists in lesson planning and allows teachers to view others’ distinctive approaches to differentiated instruction for gifted learners.

4. Have Access to Accelerated Curriculum in Core Content

This can be extremely helpful for when students demonstrate mastery through pretesting activities. Gifted students learn more quickly than others, have ability to retain information easily, and are typically eager to learn new content. These learning attributes may require out-of-level content at times.

5. Share Information Widely

Some teachers or parents at your school may wonder why you need to cluster group gifted students. They may question whether this is “fair” to all students. Share information about the learning needs of gifted students and how the model is designed to carefully balance classrooms.

With staff, emphasize that the school will examine grade-level achievement data—not teacher-by-teacher data—to help build a team approach. (You’ll read more about this in the fourth post in this series.)

Next in the series, we will describe methods, strategies, and techniques for effective teaching in the cluster grouping model.

Dina BrullesDina Brulles, Ph.D., is a school administrator and the gifted-education director for Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District. Recognized for her expertise in creating and supervising schoolwide cluster grouping, she also assists districts throughout the United States in developing gifted-education programs, including those districts serving culturally and linguistically diverse gifted students. She holds a Ph.D. in gifted education and an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and serves on the faculty of the Graduate College of Education at Arizona State University. Prior to becoming an administrator, Dina was an elementary classroom teacher, a bilingual teacher, an ESL teacher, and a gifted-cluster teacher. She lives in Peoria, Arizona.

Cluster Grouping HandbookDina is coauthor The Cluster Grouping Handbook: A Schoolwide Model: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All Revised and Updated.


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Guided Group Discussion to Help Gifted Teens Develop Healthy Relationships

By Jean Sunde Peterson, Ph.D., author of Get Gifted Students Talking: 76 Ready-to-Use Group Discussions About Identity, Stress, Relationships, and More (Grades 6–12)

Guided Group Discussion to Help Gifted Teens Develop Healthy Relationships“Being known” offered protection for many participants in a national study of bullying of and by gifted kids. Not being known meant vulnerability. When new to their school, some gifted kids were targeted. When they excelled in competitive classrooms, some were vulnerable. The highest prevalence of bullying was associated with the transition to middle school.

All those vulnerable times involve social changes. Jockeying for social position is not uncommon, even when entering kindergarten, and the same phenomenon happens when kids come to middle school from various elementary schools. During this transition, kids may not know or be known by most peers, and in middle school they no longer have one main teacher to relate to and feel supported by. Self-worth, self-confidence, and sense of safety can feel precarious.

In the study, not being known was a theme when bullied students talked about experiences during their first eight years of school. These statements were typical:

  • “That was before kids knew me.”
  • “In speeded classes, we weren’t in contact with kids in other classes.”
  • “When [the student who bullied] got to know me, we became friends.”

Developing relationships is a complex developmental task. It isn’t just shy kids, kids with negative attention-getting behavior, or kids new to school who can benefit from assistance with relationships. Even high-achieving, highly talented kids can struggle socially.

But gifted kids’ social stress might not be obvious to parents, peers, and teachers. As a researcher and counselor of gifted kids, I’ve learned that gifted kids may be excellent at hiding social and emotional concerns. I’ve concluded that they need and deserve attention to peer relationships, including with their bright peers.

Proactive Connection

Small-group discussion about growing up can help gifted kids normalize social and other struggles—proactively, before problems occur or before small problems become huge. Such discussions can be a social and emotional curriculum in themselves, be part of a special program, or be a short-term or longer-term series of meetings. Counselors can include discussion groups as an efficient and effective strategy for addressing social-skills deficits, behavioral problems, and emotional concerns.

But anyone can conduct these discussions as well, either when co-facilitating groups with a school counselor to learn “group skills” and listening skills or after studying how-to information in a small-group resource book. Group size, length of meetings, recruitment strategies, logistical challenges, ethical guidelines related to privacy, and what to do when are usually clarified in such material.

Bright kids may not have opportunities otherwise to discuss “growing up.” Being able to connect with others like themselves, in the presence of a nonjudgmental adult, about struggles related to development may help them avoid serious mental health concerns. They can discuss figuring out who they are, where they are going, how to manage complicated relationships, and how to cope with stress.

They are likely to find common ground quickly—and may find mind-mates, especially when bright kids are grouped together. They’re usually surprised that they and others have similar concerns. They’re “normal,” not “crazy,” as some kids with heightened sensitivity and intensity fear. They develop emotional vocabulary—a new language for some. Comfortable, trusting relationships built through small-group discussion may be crucial to well-being.

Guided Discussion

In contrast to content-oriented classroom discussion, information in these small-group discussions comes from the kids. An adult is a facilitator of discussion, not a “leader” or “teacher” in the usual sense.

Social problems are best resolved socially, and small-group discussion is meaningfully social. The nonjudgmental facilitator asks open-ended questions, avoids giving advice, and monitors behavior in the interest of psychological safety.

When group members realize they can “be real,” trust develops as they interact respectfully. They learn to withhold judgment and to appreciate others’ perspectives. They recognize nuanced differences between pride and arrogance. They gain skills in listening and responding, and they develop expressive language.

Ideally, they begin to use these skills when interacting with peers and adults outside of the group—and at home.

Bright kids across achievement levels, cultural backgrounds, and social and economic strata can find common ground when discussing social and emotional development. Therefore, group meetings are purposeful, not just “hanging out,” an aspect that helps justify using school space for meetings. The groups are semi-structured but flexible. There is a focus for each meeting, but the general topic is broad, open to new strands that emerge.

According to what I learned from several years of listening to up to 100 gifted kids a week in small groups, even best friends may not talk about developmental challenges. Tense shoulders quickly relax when teens dive into topics like stress, intensity, perfection, competition, social image, change and loss, encouragers and discouragers, loneliness, disappointment, anger, and mood swings.

They learn that “feeling stuck” is common among both high achievers and gifted underachievers. They learn that listening can feel like “hard work,” but they also gain psychoeducational information about giftedness, relationships, and themselves as they practice new skills.

Applying Small-Group Learning to Relationships

Social learning that occurs during proactive, focused-but-flexible, development-focused discussions potentially contributes to healthy relationships currently and in the future. Basic elements are these:

  • Recognizing the importance of listening
  • Recognizing the importance of both verbal and nonverbal skills in conversation
  • Having “facilitative language” available for engaging others
  • Recognizing when “biting one’s tongue” is wise
  • Being able to “grab the moment” to compliment someone
  • Being able to express compassion and appreciation
  • Recognizing when it is wise to ask for help
  • Avoiding assumptions about the thoughts and emotions of peers, teachers, coaches, administrators, and family members
  • Recognizing that everyone is constantly developing—and probably struggling with something
  • Understanding that teens who seem confident may not feel self-assured
  • Recognizing that everyone feels stressed, angry, worried, sad, and socially inept at times
  • Recognizing that bright kids are sensitive to tensions at home and at school
  • Recognizing that all teens are concerned about social image—at least to some extent
  • Understanding that struggle helps build resilience and wisdom

Small-group discussion is ideal for bringing gifted underachievers and high achievers together. Both deserve, and can benefit from, a noncompetitive opportunity to focus on nonacademic life. Gifted underachievers need contact with academic achievers because the former will not always be as they are during adolescence. Predicting the future is difficult. Developmental tasks will be accomplished, with tempo varying, and circumstances will likely change.

Underachievers need opportunities that remind them that they have capabilities and worth, regardless of whether they can perform academically during adolescence; achievers can benefit from attention to more than just their high performance. Small-group discussions can also improve relationships among cultures, socioeconomic levels, rival gangs, and school social groups—and contribute to a safer and more harmonious school climate.

Programs for gifted kids should be multifaceted, with options that appeal to students with wide-ranging achievement levels. If advanced classes are not available because of limited staffing, if they are severely limited, or if only one program component is possible, I recommend small-group discussion about growing up—for addressing important needs of all bright students efficiently and effectively.

Skills and awareness gained through “social practice” can help gifted kids experience healthy relationships at school, at work, at play, and eventually in marriage/partnership and parenting. Feeling “known,” and that they matter, can also help them survive adolescence.

Jean PetersonJean Sunde Peterson, Ph.D., is professor emerita and former director of school counselor preparation at Purdue University. A licensed mental health counselor with considerable clinical experience with children and families, she conducts workshops on academic underachievement, high-ability students’ social and emotional development, prevention- and development-oriented group work with children and adolescents, bullying, listening skills for teachers and parents, and more. Dr. Peterson has authored more than 130 books, journal articles, and invited chapters, and her articles have appeared in journals such as Journal of Counseling & Development, Gifted Child Quarterly, Professional School Counseling, and International Journal of Educational Reform. She has received 10 national awards for scholarship, as well as numerous awards at Purdue for teaching, research, or service, and was a state teacher of the year in her first career as a classroom teacher. She lives in Indiana.

how and why to get students talkingGet Gifted Students TalkingJean is the author of How (and Why) to Get Students Talking and Get Gifted Students Talking.


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Lessons and Observations from My First Month as School Principal

By Andrew Hawk

Lessons and Observations from My First Month as School PrincipalI have told many people (and I wrote in a previous blog post) that the first year of teaching is the best and worst year of a teacher’s life. Now that I am several weeks into my first year as a principal, I am thankful that I have that experience from which to draw strength.

When I compare the two, I would say without a doubt that transitioning from college to teaching is far more challenging than transitioning from teaching to being a principal. Here are a few things I have learned so far.

Multitasking Is on a Whole New Level

Working as a classroom teacher and special education teacher, I thought I had learned to multitask. Working as a principal takes things to a whole new level. This is because the entities that want your attention more than double in number.

Teachers usually are juggling working with students, colleagues, and parents. As a principal, you still have contact with all these people, but now you have to add your secretaries, people from the central office, food service staff, janitorial staff, and vendors. Things will feel very calm and then get very busy in a short period of time. When faced with many tasks to do at one time, you must be able to prioritize immediately.

Things Move Quickly

One day I was called to a classroom to assist with a discipline issue. When I returned to my desk, I found a blank sticky note by my phone. Uh-oh! I had been in the middle of writing myself a note and now I had no idea what the note should have been about. Since this incident, I have not remembered what the note should have said. But now, I make sure to move more quickly when I am writing lists and notes.

Schools Have Challenges Other Than Academics

Having worked in food service during college, I had a general idea about that area of a school. However, the maintenance and operation of a large building takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work that really only maintenance staff and administrators know about.

I am lucky to have an experienced staff to help guide me through a lot of the challenges that have popped up. For example, right before school started, our air conditioner stopped working. Our director of grounds was able to have this fixed for the cheapest amount possible.

Teachers Are Not the Only Leaders

Before becoming a principal, when I thought of leaders at a school, I would picture the administrators and the experienced teachers. However, when you view the entire school as an organization, not just the academic side, you can see that there are lots of leaders outside the classrooms. I know that I have come to depend heavily on my head custodian.

People React to Your Position

One of the first things I noticed as a new principal is that when I introduce myself on a phone call, people react differently. What the difference is depends on the situation. Parents are more guarded than they were when I called as a teacher. Business representatives are much friendlier. Phone calls aside, if students think they are in trouble, they are usually frightened when I talk to them. In the beginning, I still felt like a teacher, so these new reactions took me by surprise.

Measuring Your Personal Success Is Hard

When I was a teacher, I always knew how to measure my success. This is a lot trickier as a principal. If the staff is happy, does that mean I am doing a good job? This will not always work as a measuring stick because sometimes I will have to ask staff to do things they do not want to do.

In these cases, am I doing a good job if I get everyone to do the undesired task? What about the academic success of the school? Should I look at mastery of skills or growth toward mastery? Measuring the success of an administrator is much more complex than I realized.

In the end, I think overall success depends on whether a principal is helping the people in the building reach their full potential as students and as educators.

You Get Used to Public Speaking

I have always felt pretty neutral about public speaking. I would not say it bothers me, but I would not say I enjoy it either. The principal does some regular public speaking at school board meetings, staff meetings, and convocations. The next speaking engagement is always right around the corner. I’ve gotten used to it pretty quickly.

You Will Know Some Difficult Things

One of the hardest things about being a teacher, in my opinion, is living with the personal details you learn about students and their family lives. You find out terrible things that have happened to your students, and you have to put your reactions to these things aside so that they do not get in the way of your teaching.

When you are a principal, you are now exposed to these things for an entire student body, not just one classroom. Now every Department of Child Services report comes through your office. Every custody dispute is brought to your attention. You are often notified if a family member passes away. I am sure everyone handles this a little differently. It is one of the hardest parts of being a principal.

You Will Hurt People’s Feelings

Telling people that they did something wrong is just part of being a supervisor at any level. Even if you are considerate of a person’s feelings, some people react strongly to constructive criticism. It is best to just speak honestly. Too much sugarcoating will dilute your message, while speaking too strongly is unnecessary in almost all cases.

Most Parents Only Want to Be Heard

Parents call about big things and little things. Sometimes they want to talk for a minute, and sometimes they want to talk for an hour. The thing that I have learned is that almost all of them just want to be heard. They are not even going to necessarily ask you to do anything. I say hear them out, be honest and transparent, and make time to have these conversations.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for eighteen years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.


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Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness in Middle School

By Stephanie Filio

Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness in Middle SchoolAs educators, we believe that the educational environment should be inclusive and welcoming to all students. We can celebrate vibrant cultures, recognize boundless gender roles, and identify shifting home lives. But the more we evolve, the more we see that there are also hidden characteristics and more discrete inclusions to consider.

Students affected by mental illness are a much larger population than most people are aware of, and they are in dire need of inclusivity and security against stigma in order to feel safe and able to learn.

Students struggling with mental illness are not the only young people who might feel isolated in a stigmatized environment. Many students leave school to go home to caretakers or family members in psychological and behavioral crisis.

When We Know

We can help students affected by mental illness when we know about their struggles—when we know that the young man laughing with his friends also goes home and counts his mom’s meds to make sure she is staying healthy, that the girl giving her teacher a play-by-play from her game the day before lost her father to suicide two years ago, or that the student unloading his backpack to hand in his homework has guardians who ensure he sees his counselor three times a week.

But what happens when we don’t know? Students with mental illness in their lives are wrestling with inner conflicts while also trying to navigate a world that feels slightly less made for them. Because our society has had a slowly evolving relationship with mental illness, many students struggle privately.

By raising our students to purge age-old stigmas, we not only help them grow interpersonally, but also allow them the freedom to shed shame and embrace comfort.

Speaking About the Unspoken

Because they don’t want to make students feel singled out, many educators might shy away from addressing mental illness. It is a sensitive subject, and many people feel embarrassed by the disorders they experience in their lives or at home. Though the goal is to ease this embarrassment, privacy absolutely should be respected. We don’t want to glorify or minimize mental illness in any way.

So, where is the line?

Teaching students that mental illness is only a small part of mental health not only reduces the stigma, it also makes it more approachable to teach. And we all should be interested in mental health!

Mental well-being isn’t about suppressing emotions but about learning to identify our feelings and thoughts so that we can begin to understand them and ultimately feel in charge of them. The social and emotional curriculum that school counselors teach helps destigmatize mental health by offering education on how to find our own individual definitions of emotional well-being. Here are some tips for teaching about mental health:

  • Discuss the brain and all the wonderful ways that it works as a system in response to stimuli through basic neurology lessons.
  • Talk about feelings, ensuring that students know that it is okay to feel all emotions.
  • Teach students how to avoid triggers that might breed isolation through journaling and discussing sequential events in a factual way without judgment.
  • Ensure that warning signs are spoken about openly and that they are tended to quickly and attentively.

Changes You Can Make Within Your School

For truly comprehensive results, the whole school must be involved in efforts to reduce stigma regarding mental health. Though school counselors are the heart of social and emotional learning at a school, many supporting roles within schools can promote mental well-being.

  • Integrate mental wellness into your physical wellness curriculum in health and physical education classes. As you present information to students, emphasize that mental health is no different from physical health. The brain is a body part after all!
  • Make informational materials readily available for students to use at their discretion. Cards with statistically common mental illness manifestations during adolescence and young adulthood could be made and displayed in a quiet area of the main office or other social areas.
  • Offer professional development for school staff. Teachers serve students all day and see them in many different contexts, from critical thinking to socializing. Ensuring that teachers have the tools to spot concerning behaviors helps them know what to bring to a counselor’s attention.
  • Create mini-lessons for club advisors and coaches to implement. Students who participate in activities develop special relationships with student activities advisors. Arm these educators with small goals they can meet with their participants.

A Last Note

In the last two editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, around 200 new disorders have been added. This increases the likelihood that a student will be diagnosed with a mental disorder. It also shows that we are a diverse populace. We all have our own battles to face at one point or another—whether or not they are related to mental illness.

Normalizing discussions of mental health and destigmatizing mental and behavioral illness is in no way intended to downplay the importance of therapy and seeking professional help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that 20 percent of kids ages 13 to 18 have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Of those diagnosed students, 37 percent drop out of school. Ninety percent of youth who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. And 70 percent of the juvenile detention population has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Educators should all be diligent in our assessment of the behaviors we see in young people. Assisting students in crisis comes before anything else, even when it means letting leadership know that you are not able to complete other tasks in that moment. Constant communication and rapport-building with students’ families is one of the best ways to both assist students and create an environment of support and altruism for all.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.


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 Resource
A Practical Guide to Mental Health & Learning Disorders for Every Educator by Myles Cooley, Ph.D.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Positive Connections to Engage Students in Learning

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Positive Connections to Engage Students in LearningWhen I was in the classroom, I loved getting to know my students as people. In fact, to this day I am still in contact with many of my former students, thanks to social media. I prided myself in getting to know each of my students as a unique individual. Engaging your students interpersonally can have a profound effect on learning.

Our brains are wired to make connections with others. Making connections ensures the longevity of the species. It is important to make emotional connections with your students every day if you want them to focus their attention on learning.

The brain naturally “downshifts” when entering a new setting (like the classroom). Unconsciously, our brain is surveying the environment for what might be a potential threat, sending us into “fight-or-flight” mode. In some cases, the threat may be math—since math has been a threat since the child was in kindergarten.

To help our students “upshift” their brains, we need to positively engage them emotionally—eliminating the fears.

Meet them at the door.

Greeting each student at the door and saying something positive is a powerful way to help their brains upshift. Some teachers use the “Three Hs” (handshake, high five, or hug). Students get to choose which H they want as a greeting and which one makes them the most comfortable.

Make it personal.

Each day, we need to connect with our students on a personal level. Knowing something about students’ personal lives, such as what they like to do outside of school, a special talent they have, or a sporting activity they are involved in, tells students you care about them outside the classroom. It also lets them know that they are important in their own way.

Build a strong classroom community.

Everyone wants to feel like they fit in. A strong classroom community is devoid of cliques, bullying, or other isolating behaviors. Classroom communities should nurture respect for individuality. Have students select a “study buddy,” someone who can be supportive during the learning process. Also, ensure that each student is clear about the classroom expectations/norms and knows how to treat others with respect.

Get them interested.

One of the most profound learning tools is interest. By either connecting content to students’ interests or getting students interested in what they are about to learn, we can make learning stick. Our brain pays attention to information that is interesting. Being interested is both a cognitive and an emotional state. It is being intellectually stimulated as well as having a feeling of excitement.

Build responsibility and ownership.

When students have ownership in a space, they feel more connected to their surroundings. Provide students with a space in the room they can call their own. It can be a cubby, a file folder, or a desk. Allowing them to decorate the space or to add their own touches to it will help them feel connected.

Giving students classroom responsibilities is also important. Responsibilities can be routine jobs in the classroom, such as taking attendance, keeping spaces clear and organized, or cleaning off the whiteboard. Having a role in the classroom also helps build a strong classroom community.

Have fun.

Most important in engaging students in learning is to have fun! Get students to laugh each and every day. Whether you post a daily joke or pun, share a daily cartoon, or do something else, laughing together will bring a sense of joy to the classroom. Learning does not have to be tedious—laughter and enjoyment can help kids overcome stress and anxiety. Laughing is also important to our overall mental and physical health.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners


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)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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