Moving Staff Meetings


School is starting!  For some, this is the time they have been waiting for.  For others, what they have been dreading has finally become a reality.

August is prime time for teachers to get their classrooms ready and start to attend district required professional development trainings and staff meetings. These trainings and meetings contain valuable information and necessities to start the school year and keep progressing throughout the year as a staff, a content specialist, grade level expert, and so on.

While teachers may be generally excited to start a new year, the set-up of staff meeting can be dreadful. Long periods of sitting and watching slide after slide of a monotone lecture is an ironic set-up to how the school year should start in classrooms at every level. If students and teachers are to be energized, then they need to be given a chance to feel energized, or they need the opportunity to have their energy fed.

It is easy to spoon feed information via lecture.  It is also relatively risk-free as a presenter.  Most people are able to stand and read or speak.  It can take little effort, but the rewards are limited.  By investing in a few brain breaks, or movement activities involving collegial interactions, staff meetings and trainings can be viewed as more valuable. Plus the information shared has a higher chance of being retained and embraced.

As administrative teams, and teacher leaders, prepare for the back-to-school meetings, I challenge them to thinking of ways to add movement. Below are some simple ways to add a movement or more to a meeting.

  • Instead of sitting and discussing, have teacher find a colleague to share comments with via a standing discussion.
  • Break teachers up into groups in different areas of the room to have them move to a new location for a discussion. This discussion can be a standing or sitting discussion.
  • Rather than showing data via a power point, post the data around the room and have teachers analyze it, or react to it, via a gallery walk.
  • When reviewing information, or formulating an opinion base, teachers can participate in a stand-sit response.  All teachers stand.  As teachers share, they sit (see earlier posts to modify the student version).
  • To break up discussion groups, teacher can participate in a rotating conversation gathering multiple perspectives. See the video on the Teaching Channel (
  • Take the discussion outside.  In many parts of the country, the weather is gorgeous during the summer months.  Teachers can walk and talk while being outdoors.

The options can be endless, and the rewards can be limitless. Plus, modeling ways to get teachers moving can provide teachers with the inspiration to add more movement to their classrooms.





Flying With Questions

paper-airplanes_shutterstock_43792207-800x460I was talking to a colleague recently, and she passed this idea on to me.  She observed a classroom where one of the teachers developed a movement activity corresponding with a set of questions and paper airplanes.

Each student was given a math worksheet with four problems.  I generalizing, so some of the details may a be a bit hazy, but, overall, the activity is easily modified.  Students were divided in half so that each side of the classroom had roughly the same number of students.  Teachers could also divide students into groups of four and have students all around the room. Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner.  After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper

Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner.  After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper airplane. On the count of three, or when the chime sounded, students threw the airplanes into the middle of the classroom. At the teacher’s signal, students went to the middle and grabbed an airplane.  Students unfolded the airplane, made corrections (if needed) to the first problem and then worked on the second problem.  This process continued until each problem was answered.

This activity could have easily been completed with students sitting in pairs or groups for four working on each problem and checking for correct answers.  Modifying the assignment in this way did not require a lot of planning.  The only planning different from seated group work involved making sure students knew how to make a paper airplane.  Throughout the activity, students were engaged and motivated to complete the work.  Plus, they were activating key areas of the brain academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.


PD: The Movement Gallery


As I mentioned in a previous post, last week I had the opportunity of co-leading multiple PD sessions. One of our goals was to get the attendees up and moving during the presentation. We wanted to engage them in multiple ways in order to model the different ways to engage the various students in our classrooms. One of the activities we organized is one that can be easily be modified for adults and students in multiple settings. I like to call the activity the gallery discussion.

We hung ten quotes/images around the room. These posters all referenced a specific topic: having a growth mindset. We asked the attendees to silently walk around the space and look at each poster. After a few minutes, we asked them to stand by the poster that resonated with them the most as to how they felt about having a growth mindset. They then discussed with other people who picked the same poster. After a few minutes, we asked them to find a poster that they thought represented how their students viewed having a growth mindset. They had a different conversation with their new groups.

This activity worked as a lead-in to more in-depth material focusing on what it means to have a growth mindset in the classroom. It can easily be adapted to other PD sessions, meetings, and lessons in the classroom. The gallery discussion allowed attendees to move around, engage their minds, talk with colleagues, and prepare mentally for longer period of time.


Summer: A Great Time to Move Toward Deep Reflection


I love the summer…. I’m sure many people do.  A perfect day for me would be to go for a run and then relax with a book at a specialty coffee shop. Of course, when you throw kids into the picture, it alters a bit, but as long as I can spend part of the day exercising and another part of the day reading, I feel like I am fulfilling a physical and mental need.

The other day I took my kids to the park.  I was researching for a presentation I’m involved with in August, and I wanted them to be able to exercise outside while I was immersed into reading a book about differentiation.  I couldn’t help but listen in on a conversation two adults were having near me.  While I hate to admit it, I do enjoy eavesdropping from time to time.  The two adult were talking about the education system in America and were less than optimistic.  One had been a teacher and the other wanted to be a teacher.  Since I’m in the education system, and I was reading a book about differentiation, I couldn’t help but listen in.  Needless to say, it was a discouraging conversation.  The pair was lamenting about the standards at each grade level, testing, and the crux of having to teach without any sense of creativity.  This is often an argument in education.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand this argument, but I know it is possible, in many classrooms and subject areas, to move beyond a scripted language.  The conversation the pair was having boiled down to their main point of, “Why do we even need teachers?  Why not just put a robot in the front of the room?”  My heart was aching.  I wasn’t bold enough to engage in their conversation, but I wanted to let them know that even if teachers feel restricted at times, there are still moments during our class periods, days, weeks, months, grading periods and so on to be creative.  We can differentiate with standards and we can add movement to our lessons no matter how mundane we think the content might be.  In fact, I would argue, we need to if we are going to help students be successful by teaching up to meet not only their needs, but demands that educators face.

Even though I felt a little discouraged by the conversation I was listening in on, I also felt, and continue to feel, motivated to help foster a teaching passion for the teachers I will be coming in contact in August and throughout the year.  I love teaching, and even if politics can sometimes dampen the spirits of education, I find it empowering to counter this belief and trudge forward through the pessimism to inspire optimism.  The youth of today I valuable, just like they were yesterday, and just like they will be in the future.  I will not give up on them, and I will not let negativity get in the way of the job that I find to be worthy and fulfilling.


Walking to the Tune of Vocabulary


Vocabulary instruction is a rewarding and difficult task for teachers at all levels. There are several ways to teach vocabulary. Since students all learn at different rate and levels, multiple strategies are needed to appeal to students. It is important not to rule out strategies because what works for an ELL student may be beneficial for an honors student. The words both sets of students are studying may be different, but the mental process may be very similar.

I often have students make mind-body connections while studying vocabulary. I even encourage students to do the same outside of school when they encounter words they don’t know. As we are in the final preparations for our state testing cycle, we are reinforcing academic vocabulary with our students and having them form body pictures with the word in mind. The idea is that the pose they create will help them remember the word when they encounter it in the future in a text or on the test.

Another strategy I love to use during the warmer seasons is the vocabulary walk. I’m sure I have blogged about this in the past, but it is a fun strategy that helps to break the doldrums of the classroom setting. Recently, I practiced this strategy in my classroom. I had students split into groups of three. Each group was given an envelope. The envelope contained several words, some vocabulary and some adjectives and verbs. As a class, we exited the building and headed outdoors. Each group spread out and one person was selected to take a single word out of the envelope. Each member of the group had 30 seconds to come up with a sentence for the word as the entire group walked together. I gave a signal (this could be a whistle) for groups to stop and a different person in the group was charged with pulling out another word from the envelope. Each member in the group had about 30 seconds to come up with a sentence using both words. This activity continued until all words were used. As more words were pulled from the envelope more time was needed to construct the sentences.

Once we headed back into the classroom, each group was given the chance to share what it thought was the group’s best sentence. This activity uses repetition and movement as a way to reinforce vocabulary concepts.


Moving to Write


I focus several of my activities on what to do in any classroom.  When I specify topics more clearly, I often focus on how to get students moving why they are reading a text or discussing a text.  It is equally important to get students up and moving why they are writing.  There are several reasons for this.  One reason is that movement helps students get through writer’s block.  There have been multiple times when students have been unable to brainstorm topics, start an essay, or finish a piece of writing because they have entered the doom and gloom of writer’s block.  Movement isn’t the end all of writer’s block, but it can help many students get over the hump and continue through the writing process.

One of the activities that I like to do is similar to the vocabulary tableau I mentioned in an earlier post.  I have students image the flow of their essays.  I have them consider the important points they might want to make in the introduction paragraph, each body paragraph, and the concluding paragraph.  This can occur at any time during the writing process.  For students who don’t exactly know how they will organize their ideas, I just have them focus on the topic.  I then have them stand at their desks.  I tell them to think about their introduction paragraph.  I then give them think time, also know as visualization time.  I count down from 5 and tell them to freeze into a picture that represents their introduction paragraph.  I may have a couple of student explain their poses, or I may go directly into having them freeze for their first body paragraph.  This continues until I have covered each paragraph in the essay.  For those who don’t know the flow of their essay exactly. I have them choose different poses for their specific topics.

This activity can also break up the monotony of a long period of seated writing.  For students who do not experience writer’s block, this activity can stimulate their creative outlets allowing them to write with better flow, diction, and analysis.