Clean, Comfy, and Qualified: How (and Why) to Assemble a Teaching “Uniform”

By Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)

Clean, Comfy, and Qualified: How (and Why) to Assemble a Teaching “Uniform”Not sure what to wear to work? Think back to one or two of your own teachers who looked like they raided a sale rack, mixing and matching anything that seemed to fit—or didn’t. That doesn’t need to be you. Teachers don’t really have an “outfit,” but there are a few reasons to consider what you wear before you step into your classroom.

Do I have a “teaching outfit”? Yup. Sure do. I have a few. I keep a few sets of pants, shirts, socks, undershirts, a sweater or two, and shoes (yep, that’s right, shoes!) for use in the classroom only. These are clothes I like. They are not from a free box, and they do not include that collared shirt with only a few buttons. They aren’t clothes I would wear on a date, but I feel good in them, and they represent me professionally.

It’s my uniform. I put it on to teach. The classroom is my stage to inspire, captivate, and empower the audience: my students. So getting into that role makes sense. And a uniform of sorts can help. A chef puts on an apron, firefighters and police officers put on their uniforms, and superheroes duck into phone booths and come out in their uniforms, ready to save the world. Putting on a uniform gets you prepared for the day and for the job. I go to school, change when I get there, and change my clothes again when I leave. And I bring them home every Friday (or every other) to wash them and then back the following Monday.

But why?

Things can get mighty dirty in the classroom.
I don’t want to wear my favorite pair of jeans to work when I know I might be on the floor reading with a first grader, or a seventh grader might bump into me while looking the other way, spilling his lunch all over my clothes. No chance. If that happens, I have extra clothes at work I can change into during the workday and my out-of-school clothes to return to when it’s time to go. No stress, and no teaching all day with a swath of ketchup all over a crisp white shirt or stuck to the bottom of my shoes.

It pays to be comfortable. It pays to feel good.
The classroom is your home away from home and should be a place where you want to be. The same goes for what you wear at work. You need to feel good in what you have on. Yes, the classroom is not the fashion runway, and teachers are regularly teased for not being “fashion forward.” Put that aside and consider what clothes you feel good in. You need to feel confident when you’re teaching. You’re a role model. You’re onstage. You’re standing in front of a group of 30, or possibly 250, different kids. If you’re feeling schlumpy, you’re going to act that way too! And who wants a schlump as a teacher? Nobody.

Teachers are on their feet all day long.
If you aren’t moving around on your feet for most of the day, then you are not actively engaged with your students! Get a pair of shoes that are supportive and professional and feel good. I wear sneakers. Since I only wear them in the classroom, they last almost the entire year. I also have an older pair that I leave at school if I am teaching something that might get messy, such as art or a field trip to a park. Imagine leaving work and your nice new flats are covered in mud or paint? Makes for a fun story. Once.

You are what you wear to school.
Lastly, I am sensitive to what I promote via what I wear. I refrain from any political statements or religious paraphernalia. Why? Every little comment you make or item you wear has an impact. I have been open about marching for teachers’ rights, gun control, protecting the environment, and other political issues that affect schools and that I can explain to my students. Discussions are one thing. But wearing a statement without a conversation is propaganda. I don’t think that is fair when teaching.

So stop wearing that old sweater with holes in it. Get something you like, something that can take the wear and tear, and leave it at work. Make sure you feel good in it. Change into that uniform at school, and when the bell rings (or after you’ve done your prep for the next day), take off that “teacher outfit” and enjoy your evening.

Author Otis KriegelOtis Kriegel is a 15-year veteran teacher, having taught in dual language (Spanish/English), monolingual, and integrated co-teaching (ICT) classrooms. He received his M.S.Ed. in bilingual education from the Bank Street College of Education and has taught at the Steinhardt School at New York University. Otis has also been a guest lecturer at the Bank Street College of Education, City College of New York, and Touro College. He created the workshop, “How to Survive Your First Years Teaching & Have a Life,” which was the impetus for his book. An experienced presenter, Otis has conducted this workshop with hundreds of preservice and new teachers and continues to present in universities and teacher education programs. Otis now resides with his family in Berlin, Germany, where he teaches at an American international school.

Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to KnowOtis is the author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)

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)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Freebies! Our Gifts to You

’Tis the season for free resources from Free Spirit! In addition to all the valuable content you’ll find in our blog, we have a number of freebies at In the spirit of giving, we want to point you to a few of our free favorite classroom posters, reproducible forms for use with students, webinars, and PLC/Book Study Guides.

Classroom Posters

Find Yourself in Good BookEncourage young readers with this cozy classroom poster. Click here to download and print.

MannersEncourage respectful behavior in students with six tips for marvelous manners. Click here to download and print.

From the Pages of Free Spirit Books

Your BEST Communication Skills“Your BEST Communication Skills” from Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students. Use this handout to help students learn the four essential components of effective communication.

10 Important Study Habits 2“10 Important Study Habits” from Self-Regulation in the Classroom. Use this handout to help all your students find both academic and life success.


“Emotional Intelligence in ELA and Social Studies: Integrating Social-Emotional Learning into the Curriculum in Ways that Satisfy State Standards”

J Erwin EdWeb webinar graphipresented by Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A., author of The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room.

In this edWebinar, Jonathan Erwin, M.A., provides a research-based rationale for teaching SEL, shares lessons that teach specific SEL skills, and shows how you can use SEL content to satisfy state standards. Leverage Erwin’s 30-plus years in education to learn how SEL can be an excellent vehicle for satisfying the requirements of your state’s ELA standards in addition to improving students’ attitudes and behaviors. This webinar will benefit ELA and social studies teachers for grades 3 to 12, counselors, social workers, and youth empowerment leaders.

Watch the webinar recording.

PLC/Book Study Guides

PLC Differentiation for Gifted LearnersPLC/Book Study Guide for Differentiation for Gifted Learners by Diane Heacox, Ed.D., and Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Download now.

PLC Book Study Guide Teaching Kids w LDPLC/Book Study Guide for Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in Today’s Classroom by Susan Winebrenner, M.S., with Lisa M. Kiss, M.Ed. Download now.

To make sure you don’t miss more freebies from Free Spirit, be sure to sign up to receive our monthly Upbeat News e-newsletter and weekly emails.

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)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Free Spirit News | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What Are Students Really Learning from Suspension?

By Stephanie Filio

What Are Students Really Learning from Suspension?I work in a school that has a little over 1,500 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. With so many youngsters in one building, there are bound to be some poor choices and mistakes made as these students grow. After all, one of the hallmarks of this age group is an impulse toward rebellion that is actually quite healthy! Adolescent rebellion is fueled by a need to secure an independent identity on the way to adulthood. One purpose of middle school is to provide protective bumpers for students as they make their way from the elementary school environment to the rigors of high school . . . and bump they do!

But how do adults respond to adolescent hiccups in a way that ensures a solid learning moment for the student? Often, students are starving for structure and clear expectations from the authorities with whom they share their world. This structure helps adolescents feel anchored and safe as they meander in and out of social acceptance and self-regard. While discipline, including suspension, does have some value in achieving this, it must be used intentionally and purposefully to be effective. Discipline is a way to help students sense their boundaries and know when to take a step back and think about their actions. Discipline should not cause shame. When used as a corrective measure instead, discipline can creatively offer opportunities to motivate students toward good.

Redefining Suspension as a Disciplinary Action
Is suspension helpful in correcting behavior? It depends on how crafty you can get with your definition of “suspension”! The word itself indicates a withholding of something or a reaction to a violation or rule. As with anything else, you can alter the connotation of the word from negative to positive by reframing it in terms that fit the culture of your school.

Here is one direction a suspension could go.

James begins loudly making fun of other students in class each time they answer a question aloud. The teacher uses the classroom phone to call James’s mom about the disruptive behavior while the class watches. The student begins walking around the room, so the teacher tells him he will be receiving an after-school detention instead of going to basketball practice. James finally sits angrily, doodling on the desk while mumbling audibly. The teacher says she “has had enough” and sends him to the grade-level administrator for in-school suspension (ISS) for the remainder of the bell.

Can you see how James’s reaction intensifies with each teacher action? The cause and reaction begin to grow unclear as the student acts in response to the teacher and the teacher attempts to do the same. What if it went more like this?

James begins loudly making fun of other students in class each time they answer a question aloud. The teacher excitedly says, “James! You scored super high on the warm-up activity about this, what do you think the answer is?” James answers, and the teacher tells him she knew he would do great, going on to say she can’t wait to tell his mom how well he is tackling this unit. James then gets up and starts walking around the classroom. His teacher says a brain break would be great and asks James to return to his seat so that the whole class can take a stretch at their desks. James stretches with the class and sits down, and then begins doodling on the desk. The teacher walks by him as she paces the class while she reads aloud, and she taps James on the shoulder and points to the page they are on. James diverts his attention to the reading material.

See how James’s teacher is moving right alongside him while he has a bit of a squirrelly day? She brings him into the environment more instead of pushing him out. Was he disciplined? Sure, considering there was an unwanted behavior that was corrected. Was he suspended? Absolutely, if you consider that the unwanted behavior was “suspended” and then seized for redirection toward a positive experience.

When making disciplinary decisions, educators can consider a few things to ensure that their tactics are more likely to have a positive change on student behavior.

  • Punishment vs. discipline. There is a difference between discipline and punishment. A “punishment” is a negative consequence that is a result of an unwanted behavior. An effective disciplinary action, however, doesn’t just take away the unwanted behavior; it replaces it with a desirable behavior that will be mutually beneficial for the student and the educator. For example, prohibiting bathroom breaks for a wandering student is a punishment. Minimizing breaks to during only the last ten minutes of class while giving the student a classroom job to encourage engagement is corrective discipline.
  • No shame game. Corrective behavior isn’t about pushing students to behave a certain way by making them feel terrible about their decisions. We all make mistakes, and we all get caught up in moments of emotion. We want students to feel good about their decisions and grow from slipups. Instead of calling out students in front of peers, give students privacy by having a one-on-one discussion with them.
  • Use chemical reaction! Rewards are incredibly powerful tools rooted in chemicals and biological receptors. While suspensions and other punishments suppress constructive emotions (such as happiness and inspiration), positive reinforcements cause a dopamine surge. Higher dopamine levels help you feel good about yourself and the world around you, and us lucky humans can get addicted to that! Good calls home, verbal praise, and high fives for positive behaviors will go a long way with a developing brain that is learning how to process its environment.
  • Believe to achieve. Self-efficacy is the cornerstone of motivation. When we believe in ourselves, we can actually imagine living successfully. This is high self-efficacy, motivating us to keep going (otherwise we might find it difficult to see the point in persevering). Many disciplinary tactics alone, such as suspension, can reduce this self- efficacy by isolating students and making them feel bad about themselves. Instead of giving students an in-school suspension, try having them work on a self-assessment, where they can visualize what they do well and what they need to work on. Helping students track progress will give them small successes along the way so that their self-efficacy can grow.

Reframing the System
By reframing traditional words that we use in discipline, we recognize that it is necessary for teachers to correct difficult student behavior. However, we also respect students’ developmental levels and seek to find solutions that have a long-term positive influence on students’ behavior. Teachers with a toolbox of positive corrective instruments can better discipline students in a way that will offer comprehensive peace in the classroom as well as longer-term lessons for the students. With increased self-efficacy, students are more likely to self-regulate and have elevated feelings of motivation and perseverance.

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Invite Guests—Not Germs—to Your Home During the Holidays

By Elizabeth Verdick, author of Germs Are Not for Sharing

Invite Guests—Not Germs—to Your Home During the HolidaysHurray, it’s the holiday season!

Uh-oh, it’s also cold and flu season.

Parties, travel, and gatherings are all part of holiday fun, but time spent with others during cold and flu season means that you and your children are more likely to get sick. What are you supposed to do—hide out and avoid the crowds? Impossible. There are ways to reduce the risk of getting viruses, though. It all starts with the hands.

Your hands are busy all day long, and they touch so many different surfaces: railings, countertops, handles, money, credit cards, computer keyboards, the steering wheel, the remote control. Did you know that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for up to 24 hours? As a parent, you probably spend part of your day changing diapers, helping your child in the bathroom, wiping noses, or cleaning up spills and messy faces too. In other words, your hands are in constant contact with a variety of germs through touch. If you then put a finger in your mouth, nose, or eye, you’ve introduced germs into an environment where they take hold and spread.

To reduce your exposure to viruses and bacteria, wash your hands often—the right way. A recent study by the US Department of Agriculture determined that people fail to correctly wash their hands 97 percent of the time. The most common mistake? Not washing hands long enough to kill germs. Looks like many adults need a review on handwashing so we can help our kids do it right! The following CDC guidelines for handwashing can help.

Invite Guests—Not Germs—to Your Home During the HolidaysFollow these five steps every time:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
    (From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Practice these handwashing techniques with your children as early as the toddler years. You may want to teach the phrase “Germs are not for sharing” as a reminder. As your children get older, check in to make sure they’ve remembered to follow the handwashing steps, especially before and after eating; after using the bathroom; after sneezing, coughing, or blowing their nose; and after touching a phone, computer, or tablet.

Despite all your preventive measures and good intentions, your child still may get sick with a cold or the flu. If possible, keep a child who is ill confined to a specific area of your home to avoid spreading the illness to others. Show children how to sneeze and cough into a tissue or their sleeve (not on each other or you). Keep surfaces clean by frequently wiping them down with cleansers or bleach.

Sick time isn’t any fun, but you can help your child pass the hours by doing quiet holiday-related activities—reading winter-themed stories, making cards for loved ones, wrapping presents, and watching holiday movies. And don’t forget: If you’re the one who’s sick, stay home. You may have many tasks and people to take care of during the season, but you need time for yourself too.

Here’s to staying healthy and enjoying the holidays with loved ones . . . cheers!

For More Information
US Department of Agriculture: “Study Shows Most People Are Spreading Dangerous Bacteria Around the Kitchen and Don’t Even Realize It”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “When & How to Wash Your Hands”

Author Elizabeth VerdickElizabeth Verdick has written children’s books for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. She has worked on many titles in the Laugh & Learn® series. Elizabeth loves helping kids through her work as a writer and an editor. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and their two (nearly grown) children, and she plays traffic cop for their many furry, four-footed friends.

Free Spirit books by Elizabeth Verdick:

Germs Are Not For SharingClean UpTimeNoses Are Not for Picking


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)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Early Childhood, Parenting | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Enter to Win a $200 Free Spirit Gift Certificate!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Lorie! Thank you for another wonderful year! For our final giveaway of 2018, one lucky reader will win a $200 gift certificate to use at

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us what makes you a free spirit.

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

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, December 21, 2018.

The winner will be contacted via email after January 1, 2019, and will need to respond within one week 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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Free Spirit News | Tagged | 155 Comments