Tips for Teachers Transitioning to a New Grade Level

By Andrew Hawk

Tips for Teachers Transitioning to a New Grade LevelAs school populations shift and change after each school year, principals must make key decisions on how to arrange their staffs/members into grade levels. In some cases, this will leave teachers shifting grade levels or subjects. During my teaching career, I have witnessed teachers change grades for a variety of reasons, including being “riffed” (reduction in force), wanting to change buildings, and relocating to a new city. In addition, I have witnessed many teachers taking a job in a grade level they did not really want to teach simply to get hired.

Personally, I started out teaching first grade. My principal then asked me to move to fifth grade because he wanted to hire a teacher who was only licensed to teach kindergarten through third grade. A year later, he asked me to move to second grade. And in each of the following two years, my family and I relocated to different cities, leaving me working as a resource room teacher one year and teaching a self-contained room for students on the Autism spectrum the following year. So, in the first five years of my teaching career, I held five different positions. Each time I changed positions, I had to move classrooms. Although this amount of moving around is stressful, I learned a great deal. Here are some tips that I hope will make your transition easier if you find yourself moving grade levels or subjects.

Contact colleagues. Grade-level collaboration is vital to the success of any school. Whenever you are coming into a new job, contact your grade level team members as soon as possible. They can fill you in on things like field trips, special programs, and how they utilize the learning resources available. When I moved from first grade to fifth grade, a team member advised me to familiarize myself with our reading program’s pacing guide. This advice proved vital as the fifth-grade series was laid out completely differently from the first-grade series.

Tips for Teachers Transitioning to a New Grade LevelBonus! Download “Circles of Support,” a free printable worksheet from The Thinking Teacher. Use this form to reflect on the support you have and the support you need to grow professionally.

Familiarize yourself with educational standards. As you most likely know, educational standards are different for each grade level. When I moved from first grade to fifth grade, the change in standards felt drastic. The difference from, say, third grade to fourth grade would be much subtler. Still, I recommend reviewing the standards and making notes about differences.

Review learning resources. It is important to review the educational standards first. Sometimes states change their education standards, and it takes the textbook companies time to catch up. This forces teachers to supplement their learning resources. Check for places you need to supplement and get an idea for how you would like to lay out units.

Retool your classroom library. I am not suggesting you get rid of everything or that you need to run out and buy a ton of books. However, if you make a drastic change in your grade level, similar to when I went from first to fifth, many of the books you have may not be suitable. I recommend boxing them up and storing them. It is okay to start the year with a small classroom library or even no classroom library. Many teachers do this when the transition comes suddenly.

Think about classroom layout. Classroom layout is mostly decided by an instructor’s teaching style. However, I have never seen a kindergarten class that was similar to a third-grade class. An experienced educator can probably make an accurate guess on the grade level of a classroom by looking around the room for a few minutes. Reflect on the needs of your new age group and start forming ideas.

Send out a welcome letter. News travels fast in communities. When a teacher joins a school or switches grades, it gains the interest of stakeholders. Write and distribute a friendly welcome letter to put everyone’s minds at ease. You do not necessarily have to talk about why you moved grade levels. Typing something like, “Due to the lower enrollment in second grade, I am now teaching fourth grade,” can give the impression that you are disgruntled because you were forced into moving grades. Even if this is true, no good can come from advertising it to parents and students. I recommend a short blurb about being excited for a change and a chance to try new things.

Get to know your schedule. Schedules are different in every grade level. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your schedule and how to make the best use of your planning period. If you have some input into your schedule, you can start thinking about the best times for your reading and math lessons.

Plan an icebreaker. Some icebreakers can be used in any grade, while others are better suited to specific age groups. Pick one that is perfect for your new grade level. I have found that giving groups of students a bunch of objects and challenging them to build the tallest tower works well for all age groups, from kindergarteners to adults.

Make lesson plans. This might be a personal preference, but all the times when I had to move grades or subjects, I felt a lot more relaxed after I completed my lesson plans for the first week of school. I have learned to do this while reviewing resources. If your school has a set curriculum map, you will need to review it first. If not, you will want to first lay out a long-term plan for at least the first grading quarter, and then look at the first week.

These tips assume that you are getting advanced notice of moving grade levels. Of course, this is not always the case. If you are put in a situation where you must transition with little or no time to prepare, you will need to rely on your grade-level colleagues. Sometimes people are hesitant to reach out for help for fear of looking unprepared. The needs of your students must come before this notion.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five 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. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

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Posted in Elementary Angle, Teaching Strategies | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Enter to Win the How Rude!® Book, Jar, and Poster Set!

Enter to Win the How Rude!<sup>®</sup> Book, Jar, and Poster Set!This month we’re thrilled to give away the How Rude!® book, jar, and poster set. Humorous and helpful, these versatile tools teach tweens and teens how to use manners to gain respect, feel good about themselves, and enjoy life to the fullest. One lucky reader will win:

To Enter: Leave a comment below with your best tip for teaching marvelous manners.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, July 27, 2018.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around July 30, 2018, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.

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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It’s Contagious! The Power of Positive Peer Pressure

By Stephanie Filio

It’s Contagious! The Power of Positive Peer PressureThis year I said goodbye to a group of students whom I had rolled with for three years. They are moving on to high school, leaving middle school with excited trepidation, basic knowledge about graduation requirements, academic achievements, and smiles that are set to brighten their new schools in September. Ever since they started at my school three years ago, I have told everyone that this group was sent here specifically to make me look good. They are collectively laid-back, fun, and caring kids. We had very few disciplinary stand-outs, and they stood by one another through several individual and collective hurdles.

The most impressive thing to me was the way these students genuinely took care of one another. Their hallway spirit was infectious, with students asking one another if they were okay, telling me when another student needed to visit me, high-fiving each other, and reporting to teachers when peers were going through difficulties. When I needed to know why two friends were arguing, what I could do to help a sad student, or why a student was truant, I often turned to students to help me help their peers. Though sometimes this required a little prodding, this group typically did it on their own and expected the same from one another. I’m serious, people—if I could bottle the spirit of this group of kids, it would be the hottest ticket in education.

While discussing the collective fun and kind disposition of this group with a parent one day, she reported that this trait was due to the Chinese calendar and year in which they were born. School staff wondered if it was a generational thing. I’ve looked at what children’s shows were popular when this group was young. But, alas, they just happen to be great kids, all bundled up into one group. The credit is truly theirs. But over my three years with them, I noticed a few things that encouraged students to take on leadership roles and use positive peer pressure to improve the lives of their peers.

A Spark of Positivity
Let’s get clinical for a second. Positive peer pressure is when students incite positive socially normative reactions in one another and hold one another to certain expectations by communicating the needs of others. Whereas negative peer pressure coerces students into acting a certain way for social standing, positive peer pressure is spread through encouragement, understanding, and observation.

Adolescents are at a developmental age where they observe their peers for social norms, experience a little healthy rebellion to find independence, and seek increased understanding of their growing world. We can help them seek answers, find positive ones, and adopt that positivity as the norm. Lucky for all of us who work in schools, creating this type of atmosphere is fun—and makes coming to work more positive for us too!

As counselors, we have the ability to ensure students are reaching their full positive-connection potential. We are responsible for productive mediations, identifying student difficulties, aligning academics with personal growth, and social-emotional learning. When students experience positive peer pressure, our jobs are made endlessly easier. Students feel safe, they feel noticed, and they feel cared for at school. This means students come to school more, they are more engaged, and they develop more meaningful relationships. When students actually like school because of positive peer interactions, their positive perception lasts far beyond our time with them.

Positive peer pressure should start with a spark of, well, positivity. Positive behavior has to be defined for students so they know what they are shooting for. What do I want for my students? I want them to care for each other, respect the perspectives of others, view the vastness of the world, be open to possibilities, believe in their own worth, enjoy making others feel good, be flexible to life’s surprises, and have fun, even when they are tackling something difficult. I communicate openly with my students, so I know they understand this on some level. However, when we empower students to be leaders, they can then hold one another accountable and these positive behavior goals can be reinforced by their peer group through positive peer pressure.

Activities That Invite Positive Peer Pressure
Because I believe positivity is hugely systemic, I look for ways to have students participate in activities on the individual, classroom, and schoolwide levels. Here are some things we have implemented in my school to increase positive peer pressure:

  • Random Acts of Kindness. Create strips of paper that have random acts of kindness on them (for example, hold the door for someone, tell your favorite teacher what you think of him or her, help someone carry his or her things). As students enter the hallway, pass out the random acts of kindness to students and tell them to complete the acts on their papers at some point during the day and then trade acts with classmates.
  • Schoolwide Kindness Classroom Lessons. Choose a kindness lesson that all grade levels will complete at the same time. For example, we discussed the book The Giving Tree and gave each student a leaf on which they wrote something they appreciated about our school. We then made large grade-level trees to display in the atrium. Discussions took this concept outward, encouraging students to take interest in the things their friends appreciate as well.
  • Perspective Classroom Lessons. Classroom lessons can be geared toward being mindful of the needs of those around us. For one of my favorite lessons, I showed pictures of distorted perspectives (for example, a photo of my children holding up their hands so it looked like they were holding the sun, someone posing so it looked like the tip of a skyscraper was pricking their finger, and so on). I then had students stand in various places around the room and demonstrated the power of perspective by doing silly things like standing across the room and arranging my fingers in a way that made it look (from my perspective) like I was pinching someone’s head. Most of the students, who were placed strategically around the room, could not tell what I was doing—from any position other than my own, I looked like a crazy person. We then had a lengthy conversation about how we might misinterpret others’ motives if we do not try to see things from their perspectives. Students were encouraged to view perspectives other than their own, particularly when their friends came to them for guidance.
  • Schoolwide Video Series for Positivity. I have a weekly video series that teachers play during study time. The videos are geared toward social-emotional concepts and include a discussion about how the topics can affect others as well as a quick activity. Videos should be played to all grade levels, so all students are bringing the same message with them in their lives.
  • Mix-Up Unity Lunches. This past year, we started perhaps my favorite new event to help students mingle with people outside their normal social groups. The first event was such a success that we decided to continue it as a regular tradition next year. We give ten students two invitations. One invitation is for them, and the second is for them to invite someone to lunch with whom they do not usually hang out. The twenty students then meet in a location other than the lunchroom to eat lunch, hang out, and get to know one another. Our administrator, a huge supporter of anything that encourages positive interactions between students, added really cool activities like music for dancing and Ping-Pong tables. We don’t structure the activities, but we try to offer as many group experiences as possible so that everyone can find something to enjoy.

The point of these ideas is to lay a basis of consideration for students as they maneuver their social landscape. I saw these activities draw students closer together, and they became increasingly aware of the ways they affected others. As their expectations of one another mirrored the positivity they learned from the school environment, positive peer pressure began to spread. I will not say that my students were perfect, but I will say that even in their age-appropriate mistakes, their encouragement and support of one another was beyond their years in many ways. If they did something that hurt someone else, many times their classmates called them on it and encouraged them to right their wrongs in due time.

Adult Role Modeling
Regardless of the gifts of kindness your students may already possess, school staff are the first providers of emotional modeling and resources for students. Kids constantly observe their surroundings for clues about what is or is not socially acceptable. The culture demonstrated by school adults will provide a guideline. This is why I am a big fan of the “happy teacher = happy student” theory.

As counselors, we communicate with every staff subgroup in the building, and it’s important that we remain student-focused in all our interactions. In a sense, we want to spread the same message about positive peer pressure to adults as we do to students. When adults model positive peer pressure, it will trickle down to student efforts as well. Here are some things the school counseling team at my school has done to help bolster positive staff outlook and communication:

  • Use community partners to thank teachers for their hard work (donuts, pens or other supplies, drinks, goodies). When students see appreciation around them, they are more likely to show appreciation to their peers. They may even encourage one another to show appreciation to others, creating a ripple effect of encouragement.
  • Harvest good relationships with teachers, allowing for confidential decompressing. This can help teachers better avoid burnout and sends a message of compassion to other staff members and students alike. Students can tell when an adult is happy or unhappy, and they will often reflect this mood. And the happier students are, the more likely they are to have positive exchanges with peers.
  • Encourage self-care. Teachers have an incredible amount of pressure on them, and the more prepared they feel to meet each day, the more likely they are to interact positively with one another and model positive behavior for students.

A Positive Culture Now and in the Future
Whether their positive attitude just happened to come serendipitously or there was something in the water the year they were born, what made my most recent group of kids stand out was that they used their preteen powers for good. That natural instinct to group together, follow the crowd, blend in, and observe others was still there; it was simply focused on positive behaviors instead of negative. With a thoughtful and caring atmosphere for students to model, counselor nudges when needed, and the freedom to explore kindness, good deeds spread like wildfire.

A culture of positive peer pressure allows students to have more fun, experience more rewards, make more friends, and be more present at school. The mark my recent student cohort will leave on me regarding middle schoolers’ social-emotional capacity will benefit my future students for the remainder of my career.

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.

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The Power of Stories in Overcoming Challenges

By Garth Sundem, author of Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Challenges: Overcoming Adversity Around the World

The Power of Stories in Overcoming ChallengesUnless I’m misremembering, I once had a chance to interview famed psychologist Elizabeth Loftus about the formation of false memories. Really, her research is on how our memories of events change after the fact. She described an experiment she’d done in which participants watched the video of a car crash and then estimated how fast the cars were going. But she didn’t just use the word crash to describe how the cars came together. She also used hit, smashed, collided, bumped, and contacted.

These words framed the story of the crash. How bad was the accident? Well, if the story was that the cars smashed into each other, it must have been worse than if they’d bumped each other. And how fast were the cars going? When Loftus said the cars had contacted each other, participants estimated the cars had been going, on average, just over 30 mph; when she said the cars smashed into each other, participants put the speed at over 40 mph.

On the surface, using words to influence memories is a nifty trick. But what Loftus’s work really shows is that the stories we tell ourselves after an experience are as important as the experience itself in how we understand it. For example, the story we tell ourselves about being lost in the woods can transform the experience from an ordeal into an adventure. Was that math test hard, or was it challenging? Did a World Cup soccer team lose because the players weren’t good enough, because they were unlucky, or because the referee was unfair? The event itself is only a starting point. It’s the story we tell ourselves about the event that defines how we understand it and what we take from it.

You’ve heard this before: Stories define our realities. Our stories may even define our identities.

“Identity is a life story,” writes Dan P. McAdams, professor and director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University.

I can see this in action. My son, Leif, is 12, and I can see him trying out different stories as he searches for his identity. For example, he’s a good rock climber, but we live in Boulder, Colorado, amid climbing mutants, and I recently heard him say, “I’m not very strong, but I’m good at figuring out tricky moves.” For better and for worse, this story influences his identity and helps define what he sees as possible. And I hear Leif’s coaches trying to help him change his story from “I’m bad at climbs that require strength,” to “I’m still learning how to be good at climbs that require strength.” The first story defines identity and possibility; the second seeks to change it.

But it is not only our own stories—our interpretations, framing, and evaluation of the things we experience—that shape our identities. Others’ stories also show us what is possible for our own lives. This is one reason (of many) that it can be hard to break cycles of poverty—the life stories surrounding a child influence that child’s expectations and menu of possibilities for his or her own life.

However, if stories of hopelessness and loss shrink kids’ possibilities, then stories of resilience and triumph can help expand them. The fact that Salva Dut led children through the desert to escape the civil war in South Sudan makes it seem more possible for kids to overcome their own challenges. The fact that the “Boys in the Boat” emerged from the Great Depression to win the gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics makes any dream seem possible. And the fact that Jackie Robinson was able to withstand blatant racism to integrate baseball makes it seem possible for kids to persevere in their own lives.

It is not just the stories we tell ourselves, but also the stories we are told—through the examples around us or by culture, media, and more—that shape the possibilities of our identities. Just like adjusting the interpretation of a car crash can change how people remember the event, the right stories can help kids see their lives in new ways.

Author Garth SundemGarth Sundem is a TED-Ed speaker and former contributor to the Science Channel. He blogs at GeekDad and He has been published in Scientific American, Huffington Post Science, Fast Company, Men’s Health, Esquire, The New York Times, Congressional Quarterly, and Publishers Weekly. Garth grew up on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two kids, and a pack of Labradors. He is the author of the books in the Real Kids, Real Stories series and STEAM In a Jar®.

Free Spirit books by Garth Sundem:

Real Kids Real Stories Real ChallengesReal Kids, Real Stories, Real Character

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Perfectionism and Depression in Gifted Kids

By Myles Cooley, Ph.D., author of A Practical Guide to Mental Health & Learning Disorders for Every Educator: How to Recognize, Understand, and Help Challenged (and Challenging) Students Succeed (Revised & Updated Edition)

Perfectionism and Depression in Gifted KidsChildhood depression has multiple causes. Genetics play a large role. Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, poverty, trauma, or family mental illness or substance abuse can create depression. A child’s personality characteristics can also lead to depression. Perfectionism is one of these characteristics.

Some gifted kids may want to be—or think they’re supposed to be—perfect. Why? Because they are expected to live up to very high expectations, which they define as perfection. They think in all-or-nothing terms: “I’m either gifted (perfect) or not smart.” The problem, of course, is that perfection is impossible, and these kids will eventually fall short on some tasks. Because they think this means they’re not smart, they feel bad when it happens. The seeds of depression are planted.

Ironically, the label “gifted” may actually increase the likelihood that a child won’t perform according to expectations, which in turn increases the likelihood of the child feeling bad. A common reason for this is that many gifted kids have a fixed mindset. This is a term coined by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A fixed mindset is a belief that intelligence is limited to what you were born with.

A fixed mindset can cause kids to become discouraged if they encounter difficulty because they think they’ve used up all their ability. They may avoid difficult subjects or tasks for fear they won’t live up to what’s expected of them. It’s safer for these kids to give up than it is to try and not succeed. Remember, they think that if they’re not perfect, they’re not smart.

So what can teachers and parents do to counter perfectionism and decrease the likelihood of depression in gifted (and all) kids?

Perfectionism and Depression in Gifted KidsModel imperfection. Point out when you make a mistake. Minimize its impact. Laugh and joke about it. Discuss how it can be corrected.

Emphasize being “good enough.” When a child expresses frustration or sadness at a lack of perfection, tell her that the result of her efforts was “good enough.” Explain that “good enough” doesn’t mean mediocre or average. It means doing the best you can do and that no one can be perfect.

Address all-or-nothing thinking. Help kids eliminate absolute thinking. Show how people are not either “smart” or “not smart.” Draw a vertical line with numbers from 1 to 100 representing people. Everyone’s abilities fall somewhere on the line, but even person #100 is not perfect and person #1 is still capable of certain things.

Emphasize a growth mindset. Explain that we are not limited by the brain we were born with. With commitment and perseverance, we’re capable of solving problems. We can find new strategies or ask for help from others.

Counter catastrophic thinking. Perfectionists tend to catastrophize. They think that if they’re not perfect, something horrible will happen or they won’t be accepted or loved. Help kids see mistakes and less-than-perfect performances in a realistic light by talking through these issues with them. Here’s an example:

Teacher: You didn’t look happy when I gave your test back.
Student: I only got a 94.
Teacher: And what does that mean?
Student: That’s not a high enough grade.
Teacher: What do you mean?
Student: I should have gotten 100.
Teacher: “Should have”?
Student: Well, I studied really hard and knew all the stuff.
Teacher: I see. Well, I guess there’s no guarantee that we’re going to get a perfect grade, even if we study very hard. Would it make more sense to say, “I wanted to get 100” instead of “I should have gotten 100”?
Student: Probably, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
Teacher: Okay. Let’s look at what the problem is with getting a 94. What will happen?
Student: That won’t increase my grade in the class by as much as a 100 would.
Teacher: And what does that mean?
Student: My class grade may not be as high as I want.
Teacher: And what if your class grade is a bit lower than you want?
Student: I won’t like that.
Teacher: Okay. But will you still get a very good grade?
Student: Probably.
Teacher: So the worst that will happen is that you’ll be a little disappointed. The sky won’t fall, right? You won’t fail the class. You studied hard, which is commendable, and did the best you could. That’s really all we can expect of ourselves.
Student: I guess so.

Have children read a book on perfectionism. What to Do When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism by Thomas Greenspon is an excellent book for kids 9 and older on causes of and remedies for perfectionism.

Myles CooleyMyles L. Cooley, Ph.D., has been practicing psychology for over 30 years. He evaluates and treats children, adolescents, and adults for a variety of problems. Dr. Cooley serves as a consultant to schools and has presented educational programs to educators, mental health professionals, physicians, and parents.


Practical Guide to MHLD for Every EducatorMyles is the author of A Practical Guide to Mental Health & Learning Disorders for Every Educator.


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