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What Makes Southdown Elementary a Great School?

Meet the team of teachers and other staff members at Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana. Each teacher has shared an idea -- a fun lesson, a special approach or strategy, or a bit of philosophy -- that helps paint a picture of what makes Southdown such a great place to teach and learn.

Meet the team of teachers, paraprofessionals, and support personnel at Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana!

Principal Betty Peltier and assistant principal Alton Johnson agree that Southdown is an outstanding place to teach and learn. "Our teachers seem bonded by a common love of the students," said Peltier.

"And by a desire to make a difference in their lives," added Johnson.

That passion and dedication is why we are fortunate that the entire team agreed to be guinea pigs for what we hope will become a regular series of Education World articles focused on the terrific things going on in schools around the world.

A few weeks ago, we asked members of the Southdown team to share with us an idea -- a fun lesson, a special approach or strategy, a bit of philosophy -- that might help paint a picture of a school where the entire team works together to develop students who are prepared to face the 21st century. Their ideas, grouped by grade level, appear below. Feel free to read them all -- many ideas will be of interest to teachers across the grades -- or to simply click the grade level you teach below to learn what's going on in those grades at Southdown.

Ideas from Teachers on Southdown's Pre-K and Kindergarten Teams
Ideas from Teachers on Southdown's Grade 1-2 Team
Ideas from Teachers on Southdown's Grade 3-4 Team
Ideas from Teachers on Southdown's Grade 5-6 Team
Ideas from Southdown's Special Education Team
Ideas from Other Members of the Southdown Team

IDEAS FROM TEACHERS ON SOUTHDOWN'S PRE-K AND K TEAM

Special Attention
As a preschool paraprofessional, I am like a mother and a best friend to the students I assist. I listen to their problems and the stories they tell. I read to them and play with them, too. I am there for them if they need a little compassion and attention at various times of the day.
Ann Antoine, early childhood paraprofessional

Southdown Stats

* Southdown is an inner city school in Houma, Louisiana, 55 miles southwest of New Orleans.

* Southdown students represent a diverse population. Seventy-four percent are African-American, 22 percent Caucasian, 3 percent Native American, and 1 percent Hispanic or Asian.

* 97 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

* 24 percent are students with identified disabilities.

* 5 percent of students are classified as homeless.

Living Venn Diagrams
We make "living Venn diagrams." We collect real information about the students, and then use that information to create Venn diagrams. For example, we chart information about girls who wear barrettes in their hair (write their names in circle A), girls with braids in their hair (circle B), and girls with barrettes and braids in their hair (in the area of the diagram where the two circles merge). We chart boys who have shoestrings on their shoes (circle A), boys with Velcro on their shoes (circle B), and boys with both shoestrings and Velcro (in the area where the two circles merge). After we draw the diagrams on the board, students transfer them to paper. Other examples of diagramming topics: Pants with belts, elastic waists, and both; girls with bangs, ponytails, and both; boys with T-shirts, shirts with collars, and both; and storybooks with animals, humans, and both.
Gail Clark, Sydney Domangue, Elaine Jasmin, and Stephanie Guidry, kindergarten teachers

Speaking of PreK
Students in my early childhood special education class come to me with an array of disabilities -- including language, social, self-help, and fine motor delays. I find that those skills are best taught and better understood when my lessons are made purposeful. In order to promote development of those skills, I create situations in which students are forced to speak or use fine motor and other developmental skills to obtain what they want or need. Some examples of situations that will necessitate students to speak might help illustrate what I mean:

  • I take straws off juice boxes, give one cookie (instead of two) for snack, and "forget" a napkin or two so that students must request those things to meet their needs.
  • I put favorite items out of reach, but not out of sight, so students must request them.
  • I ignore students who point to things they would like if they are capable of speaking.
  • I put favorite small toys and manipulatives in plastic zip-lock bags or in containers with lids; many students will ask me to help them open the containers.

Jennifer Dugas, non-categorical pre-school teacher

Alphabet BINGO
After I have introduced my pre-kindergarten students to the alphabet using songs and posters, we play alphabet bingo to help boost their letter recognition skills. They enjoy the game as they learn to recognize the letters of the alphabet on sight. After they learn to recognize the letters, I ask them to name a word that begins with the letter that is called.
Avis Henry, pre-kindergarten teacher

Financing a Field Trip
I am a person who loves to travel. I wish I could offer the same opportunities to my students, the majority of whom are from low-income homes. I want to give each of the students whose life I touch some of the same opportunities children who are "better off" might have. Unfortunately, my teacher's salary does not enable me to take students with me on my travels. One of the places I wanted to take my students was on a fieldtrip to the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana. (New Orleans is about 60 miles from Houma, so many of my students have never been there.) Making that trip seemed a financial impossibility, but -- thinking all things are possible -- I had an idea. With my principal's consent, I went into the neighborhood and asked businesses and personal friends to help sponsor "my kids" to travel to this fabulous city. Donations and sponsors came from everywhere!
Trisha C. James, preschool teacher

Motherly Instincts
Being a preschool paraprofessional, I work with a wide range of students. Some of my students are still babies in many ways; they are away from their mothers for the first time. Others are behavior-challenged. I have to assess each of my student's needs and give them the attention they need. That means that I often have to use my motherly instincts. I have to find a way to get the best behavior from each child. To make every child feel special, I might need to comfort one child, encourage a shy child, or ask a child who is disturbing the class to become my helper.
Joanetta T. Parker, pre-school paraprofessional

Literacy Links
Few of my students come from homes where books are readily available. Few of my students see family members reading for pleasure. In an effort to forge "literacy links" between school and home, I provide books for my students and their family members to read at home. The books use rhyme, repetition, and predictable story lines as they cover a variety of language, math, social studies, and science concepts and skills. The readability levels of the books are appropriate for both beginning readers and for family members who might have limited educational backgrounds. I send home with the books activities that are designed to reinforce or expand targeted concepts and skills. The activities provide opportunities for students to apply, in a meaningful way, the skills gained from reading. Participation in this reading program encourages family members to serve as "reading role models" as students develop and strengthen their language, listening, and reading skills.
Deborah Picou, non-categorical pre-school teacher

IDEAS FROM TEACHERS ON SOUTHDOWN'S GRADE 1-2 TEAM

Reciprocated Respect
It's amazing what a compliment or kind gesture can do. Being positive is the thing I do with all my first graders that is the easiest for me and most beneficial for them. It's as simple as it sounds: I make a point of complimenting and praising students who are doing the right thing -- and, since everybody else wants to be praised, they follow the lead of others. Using that positive tone shows respect to the students, and that respect is reciprocated. Because of this, I rarely have to focus on negative behavior. I also like to end every day by giving students a hug before they leave. They look forward to that. It lets my students know I care -- and ends the day on a positive note.
Aimee' Belt, first grade teacher

Counting With Coins
Counting different amounts of coins can be a difficult skill for first graders to master. To make the task easier for my students, I count money with them every day of the school year. I use a see-through calendar pocket chart for my daily calendar activities. Every day, I put one penny in that day's pocket. We add the coins for the days we come to school; that helps students master counting skills as we count to the 100th day of school. During August and September, I add a penny each day. Then, at the end of September, I introduce the concept of a dime. We trade as many pennies as we can for dimes. So, every day in October, the students are counting a combination of pennies and dimes. At the end of October, we trade the pennies added for the month for nickels so, each day during November, students are counting a combination of pennies, dimes, and nickels. When we come back from the Christmas holidays, we trade the pennies, dimes, and nickels for quarters. By the time we get to the money unit in our math curriculum (during January), the students have been exposed to all the coins and have had numerous experiences with counting different combinations of coins.
Monica Breaux, first grade teacher

"Star of the Day" Earns Compliments
I teach first grade and most of my students come to me at the beginning of the year not knowing what a compliment is, much less how to give and receive compliments. Therefore, every morning throughout the school year, I choose one student to be the "Star of the Day." The other students in the class give that particular student a total of five compliments. I write those compliments on a chart and post it all day for the students to see and read. This makes each student feel special, boosts students' self-esteem, and expands their vocabulary. It's also a great way to start the day on a positive note.
Kristy Buquet, first grade teacher

Math Facts Sticker Chart
Many students have trouble remembering basic math facts. Every day, my students do a 1-minute timed math-facts drill. They put a sticker on the chart each time they get 25 correct answers in a minute. After getting three stickers for a math-facts set (for example, the +5 facts), they move on to the next set. Each time they move to a new set, they get a lollipop. The students love to see their sticker charts grow and earn those pops. Many times, I will forget about the drill or run out of time, but my students always remember and remind me. Another bonus: the math facts drill time is another quiet minute in the day.
Robyn Lirette, second grade teacher

1-2-3 for Smooth Transitions
Getting students to move from one place to another -- for example, to make the transition from learning centers to the reading carpet, to lunch, or to the bus -- often is difficult. To accomplish those transitions smoothly, we follow a simple drill every time students get up from their desks. I simply count to 3. On 1, they stand and push in chairs; on 2, they move to where they need to go; and on 3, they sit. This simple routine makes much less commotion when it's time for all students to move around the classroom. To motivate students to transition even more smoothly, I challenge them to be the group that does the best job of transitioning.
Mindy Matherne, second grade teacher

Math Center of the Day
Each week, my students complete activities at five different math centers:

  • Estimation Station: Students practice estimating the number of items in different containers; the student whose estimate comes closest to the actual number receives a prize.
  • Old School Review: Students practice skills previously taught.
  • Guess What's New: Students use this game or activity to practice the skill taught during the current week.
  • Fact Factory: Students work with various games/activities that reinforce basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts.
  • What's Your Problem?: Students practice word problem solving skills or make up their own math word problems based on the theme of the week.

Finally, I have a teaching table where students can practice present/past skills or work on problem-solving strategies.
Lisa McGuire, second grade teacher

Banana Bucks
I give Banana Bucks as rewards. Banana Bucks look like dollar bills; they are copied on yellow construction paper. Students receive the "bucks" for good things they do throughout the day. I give bucks on the playground, at lunch, in the halls, and in the classroom. At the end of the week, students can use their Banana Bucks to buy things from the classroom store. If they do not have enough bucks to buy something, students can save their bucks for the following week. All members of the second grade team use Banana Bucks as our grade-level reward system; that way, students know any of their teachers can give them a Banana Buck.
Candace Rankin, second grade teacher

Homework Treasure Chest
I have a Homework Treasure Chest prominently displayed in my classroom. Each student who has completed all the homework for that night writes his or her name on a slip of paper. The slips are put in a box. At the end of the day, I choose a student to randomly draw a slip from the box. The child whose name is pulled gets to pick a prize from the Treasure Chest. For prizes, I use crayons, markers, stickers, pencils, free time, or a free snack. This idea works very well and motivates most of my students to complete homework.
Theresa Smith, first grade teacher
Sandra Gray, first grade inclusion teacher

IDEAS FROM TEACHERS ON SOUTHDOWN'S GRADE 3-4 TEAM

Reading "Survivor"
Have you ever watched Survivor? I am an avid fan of the show, and that's where I got the idea for this game: Start by arranging students into four groups, each with the same number of members. Each group decides on a name for their group -- for example, "The Unbeatable," "The Powerful," "The Magnificent," and "The Superior." Begin the game by providing each group with the same reading selection. Give students 15 minutes to read the selection silently. After 15 minutes, roll a die to determine which group will be challenged first. Throw a beach ball to that group. Whoever catches the ball in that group will be challenged to answer a question related to the story they just read. The question asked should involve higher-order thinking skills -- for example, questions about story elements, comparing and contrasting, predicting outcomes, drawing conclusions, making inferences

  • If the first student challenged answers his or her question correctly, he or she stays in the group and chooses the group that will be challenged next by throwing the beach ball to that group.
  • If the first student challenged fails to correctly answer the question, he or she is the first member "voted out."

The game continues until only one member of any group is left. That student is named "Reading Survivor."
Mary Ann Blanchard, third grade reading teacher

Study Guides Raise Scores
The students in my room were not doing well on their social studies tests, so I decided to try an activity I remembered another teacher telling me about -- an activity she uses to help her students bring up their grades: I arrange my students into small groups and provide a study guide for each student in the group. Each student then has a chance to ask the others in the group the study guide questions. The students enjoy doing this because it lets them play the role of teacher. They learn while they are having fun. And test grades improve!
Robin Burnham, third grade teacher

Good Character Choir
As a paraprofessional working with fourth-grade classes, I encourage their creative talents by having a choir perform for school activities. Students are selected for the choir according to their character and behavior. Another purpose of the choir is to instill moral values.
Diana Chapman, fourth grade paraprofessional

Traveling Teacher
Do you travel a lot? I do. I help students in every subject all day long. When I am in a classroom, I travel from student to student, helping each one individually. That way, other students in the class are not disturbed by my presence. All the students know I travel to help them without embarrassing them. I always keep a smile on my face as I encourage them and teach them. When students are doing group activities and games, I travel from group to group to ensure they learn the skills being taught. It is very rewarding to travel with and help the third grade students.
Miss Katrina T. Moore, third grade Title I paraprofessional

Ticket to Improved Behavior
Improving behavior in our classes always is a challenge. In order to do that, I reward my students' with "tickets." Tickets are awarded for completed homework assignments, returned papers and permission slips, good behavior, helping others, working quietly, getting in line quietly and promptly I place one half of each ticket in a container; students keep the other half. (Each half has on it the identical identifying ticket number.) At special times, I allow students to "barter" with me. They can trade their accumulated tickets for various prizes that I keep in a special area in my classroom. Periodically, I also draw random tickets for special prizes. Using this ticket/reward system motivates many students to improve their behavior; they recognize that having even one ticket gives them a chance to win.
Paula Riche', fourth grade teacher

Computer-Paper Compositions
When my students do written composition, I have them write their rough drafts on green-and-white-striped computer paper. By using the computer paper, I don't have to remind students to skip lines or write on every other line. I simply tell them to write only in the white spaces. That leaves plenty of space for students to edit or make corrections. If I have legal-size computer paper, I have them fold the paper in half so they have two sides to use.
Susan Ruffin, fourth grade teacher

"Herding" Students Into Working Groups
Whenever I want students to form groups, I provide a grouping exercise. One of my favorites is the animal grouping exercise. I cut up paper to make slips, one slip for each student. I divide the slips into four even groups. On one set of slips I write dog. On the other sets I write cat, cow, or frog. I put all the slips in a bag and have each student draw from the bag the name of one of the animals. Then, students softly make the sound of the animal they drew from the bag. (The dogs make a barking sound, the cats meow, the cows moo, the frogs croak/ribbit.) Students listen for others who are making the same sound they are making; as they find others in their group, they join together. When all members of each animal group are together, they are ready to work together on an assigned task.
Bonnie Skidmore, third grade math teacher

Positive-Behavior +
Because my students switch classes, I need some type of reward system that is easy to adjust for each of my classes. Here's what I do: I place a picture of an animal on the corner of each desk and cover the picture with clear tape. When I notice a student doing what he or she is supposed to be doing -- listening or participating or exhibiting any other behavior I want to encourage -- I use a transparency pen to write a plus sign (+) on the appropriate animal on that student's desk. A few minutes before the class period is over, each student adds up his or her plus signs. The student with the most plus signs in each class earns a prize; the prize might be a small toy, candy, or anything else I have available. Before students leave the class, I have them use their fingers to erase their plus signs so the animal pictures are unmarked and ready for the next group of students.
Kristi Tabor, third grade teacher

"Estimation Jug" Rewards Homework Completion
Getting students to return homework is a predicament many teachers encounter, so I reward students each day they bring homework. Students who bring in homework get an opportunity to submit an estimate of the number of objects -- for example, jellybeans or peanuts -- in a clear "estimation jug" set up in my class. At the end of each month, the student whose estimate is closest to the actual number of objects in the jar is rewarded with a prize. Runners-up also are rewarded.
Beryl Thibodeaux, fourth grade teacher

A "Working" Community
In my classroom, I think it's important for students to have a sense of community. I want them to feel as though it is their classroom. One way to help achieve that atmosphere is to allow students to hold special jobs. Some jobs are elected positions, while others are appointed. Among the elected and appointed jobs are secretary, librarian, bathroom monitor, A/C controller, and roll taker. Of course, those jobs need to be modeled and expectations must be understood. One job -- the job of paper-passer -- is rotated each day. The paper-passer hands out anything that needs to be distributed -- for example, journals, handouts, and parent letters. Because I have 25 students in my class, I have cards with the numbers 1 through 25 on them hanging in my classroom; the numbers correspond to each student's individual roster number. If a student's number is posted on the board, it is his or her turn to be paper-passer; he or she automatically knows where to go and what to do. When we reach the number 25, we start over again. I even have a person whose job it is to turn the numbers daily! Each student becomes eager to "get to work" and our classroom runs efficiently.
Peggy Vice, fourth grade teacher

IDEAS FROM TEACHERS ON SOUTHDOWN'S GRADE 5-6 TEAM

Adjective Activity
When we begin studying adjectives, I start with an activity that is a good self-esteem and morale booster. I put each student's name on the top of a sheet of chart paper. Under the child's name, I write one positive adjective that I feel best describes that student. The paper is then passed around to every student in the class. The students must write one positive thing about each of their peers. At the end of the activity, each student in the class has a list full of positive comments. I type a list of positive comments for each student and give it to the student to keep. Those papers remind each student that his or her peers think positive things about them. The activity boosts self-esteem -- and the students learn what adjectives are.
Tory Adkins, fifth grade teacher

Sweet Success
To boost student achievement, I use a system that rewards all A and B students with a "fun" size candy bar -- so they can taste their "sweet success." I collect each candy bar wrapper and students use them to create a pictograph illustrating success stories in the three different classes. The competition to build the tallest pictograph column motivates students in each class to strive for the best test grades.
Rayemona Boyd, sixth grade teacher

Positive "Points
One of the strategies I use in my fifth grade classroom to help ensure positive behavior is a special system we call Points. Points are a wonderful way to hold the whole class accountable for good behavior and positive results. Each class starts the school year with 10 positive points. Each day, they work for points. For example:

  • They earn 3 points if 100 percent of them complete and hand in their homework.
  • They earn 1 point for overall good behavior.
  • They earn 2 points if they receive a compliment from another teacher.
  • They earn 5 points if they receive a compliment from the principal.

The students work as a class to earn at least 100 points by the end of the 9-week term. If they earn 100 points, they can trade their points for a class reward such as a movie, ice cream, popcorn, juice, or pizza. The students must work together to earn the points. They become very competitive with the other classes. They even challenge me by "betting" points they'll receive if they achieve a specific, challenging goal. (If they don't achieve the goal, they lose the points, so it's a pretty safe bet they'll motivate their classmates to earn those points.)
Dene' Cunningham, fifth grade teacher

Multiplying With Mario
My students love the Mario computer games. I take advantage of that. I use the idea of Mario proceeding from level to level in the game as I explain to them the concept of double-digit multiplication. Just as Mario does, students must solve multiplication problems one step at a time. In order to go to the next step in a double-digit multiplication problem, students must complete all the tasks at the previous step. Students get their final "score" by adding up the "levels" they got by multiplying.
Penny St. Pierre, fifth grade teacher

Sentence Puzzles
As a grammar teacher, I find some students have difficulty with sentence construction and punctuation. To help that situation, I have made "Sentence Puzzles" to get the point across. For instance, dependent conjunctions and clauses are very difficult concepts when joined with the independent clause. I take complex sentences and run them off on heavy card stock. Then I cut the sentences apart in such a way that students have to match the dependent clause with the independent clause, choose a dependent conjunction, and add the correct punctuation. After they have figured out the puzzle sentences, they have to write the sentences and then reverse the clauses using the correct punctuation again. The students seem to enjoy figuring out the puzzles and being able to understand the application of the information by trial and error. This activity and others like it are filled with intrinsic simulation.
Cheryl Scogin, sixth grade teacher

Picture This
After much research and experience, I have concluded that students who form a close relationship with their teachers have a greater chance of success. That's why I begin each year by taking each student's picture. I often display their pictures throughout the year along with nice compliments to lift their self-esteem. The students use their pictures as background on classroom computers; I also make screensavers with the pictures. Later in the year, students complete a PowerPoint presentation about themselves. They list their future goals and positive attributes. I am always impressed with the results. The presentations help students learn more about themselves and their classmates, and I learn a great deal about my students. I think it's important to show a personal interest in each student -- to help foster a positive attitude toward school. It isn't always easy, but it is worth the effort. I also used a program, Photojam3, to create a video presentation of the students. This presentation is recorded on CDs and given as a gift around Christmastime. Click here to download PhotoJam3.
Glen Sikes, sixth grade social studies and reading teacher

IDEAS FROM THE SOUTHDOWN SPECIAL EDUCATION TEAM

Excel-lent Graphs
I like to integrate technology into my lessons. It's pretty easy to do when I only have, at most, seven students at a time. When learning about graphs, I give each student a pack of skittles or M&M's. They count the colors (M&M's) or flavors (Skittles) in the bag, and create on regular graph paper a bar graph illustrating how many of each are included. After I check that they have done the paper copy correctly, I have them use Microsoft Excel to recreate the graph. It's actually pretty easy to teach them how to input data in Excel. The fun part is showing them how to change the colors of the bars, the font, the backgrounds, and so on.
Eric Ball, gifted/talented teacher

A Handshake Set the Tone
As we all know, there is no one answer, no specific strategy, and no tried-and-true technique that works for all students. It is clear that understanding the unique characteristics of our students and applying a wide variety of strategies provides the best opportunity to facilitate student success in the classroom. As an educator, I know one thing: Attitude is everything. Any technique I can use to identify or boost a student's attitude is one worth using. That is why, every day, as a student enters my classroom, I meet and greet him or her at the door with a handshake -- two pumps! I smile, make eye contact, and use body language to say, "Welcome, come in" to my students as they enter our bright and positive learning environment. The handshake provides touch, and teaches good personal skills. That technique also helps me identify any problems or issues a student might have before he or she enters the classroom. It is a great way to start the day on a positive note.
Angela Bishop, fourth and fifth grade resource teacher

Home Away From Home
It is very important to me to let the children I work with feel as if they are at a home away from home. I take the same approach with my students as I take with my own children. I love them all the time; I praise and discipline them with kindness. Hopefully, they will learn that others love and care for them when they are at their best and when they stumble.
Linda Bull, paraprofessional

Wodney Wat
At the beginning of every school year, I read to my students the book Hooway for Wodney Wat. This is a story about Rodney the Rat, who has trouble saying words with the /r/ sound in them. Rodney gets teased all the time, but in the end, he is the hero. Rodney's story helps the children realize that they are not the only ones with speech problems. The fact that Rodney becomes a hero makes them feel more confident.
Yvette Carroll, speech therapist

Sponges Soak Up Noise
All teachers have experienced students who bang their pencils on their desks, sometimes intentionally, but usually not. This is my solution. Since we all know it's the noise -- not the movement -- that drives us crazy, I give a sponge to students who must tap. The sponge eliminates noise and still allows students to relieve excess energy.
Tora Danos, special education inclusion teacher

Show Them You Care
Being a fifth and sixth grade special education inclusion teacher can sometimes be a real challenge. Building trust and respect with the students can be difficult. Many have little or no self-esteem. On a daily basis, I try to give each student a compliment. It could be anything from a statement about how good their hair looks to how good their behavior is in class. I find it very rewarding to see a child "light up" from a simple compliment. When there is extra time, I like to find out more about each child. Even fifth and sixth grade students love to know that you are interested in them. At the end of September, for example, I went to a football game to watch several students from our school play. When some of the children recognized me sitting in the stands (freezing, I might add), their facial expressions were worth more than a million bucks. That day, my students' team won 18-0. I had taken only one hour out of my Saturday, but showing the students I cared helped build trust and respect.
Jolaine Himel, fifth and sixth grade inclusion teacher

Who Is Really the Teacher?
For many years, I have had the opportunity to work with special-needs children. I believe it is a very basic philosophy that enables me to be successful with these children: Each day, I ask myself the question Who is really the teacher? You see, each day my students uplift my spirits and teach me how to be a better person. Each day, they teach me that to be effective, I must be willing to see past any labels, exceptionalities, or mental or physical challenges they might have. Each day, they teach me that to gain their respect, I must be flexible, put their needs first, and give them 110 percent of who I am. I believe that what has made me a good teacher is that I have been humble enough to allow some of the greatest teachers -- my students -- to teach me about how important life is, in spite of the circumstances, situations, and problems they face.
Tiffany Lagarde, special education teacher

Speech Speak
At the beginning of each speech therapy session, we allow the children to share something "fun" they have experienced since we last met. Each child has a turn to share, if he or she chooses. That affords the children the opportunity to use their communication skills and provides an opportunity for us to monitor areas of progress or deficit. It builds students' self-confidence and skills. They can comfortably speak in a group and feel good that others are listening to them.
Judy Maclean and Marsha Adragna, speech therapists

Lips and Hips
In our Non Categorical Pre-School class, we use the phrase "Lips and Hips." Lips -- one finger over the mouth -- means no talking. Hips -- one hand on hip -- means no touching. We use this phrase when students are in line going to breakfast, lunch, enrichment, or any other activity. I feel this helps with behavior problems, and the students are learning to respect the rights of their fellow classmates.
Ethel Norman, paraprofessional

Sticker Shock
I give each of my students an animal-face paper plate (which can be purchased at local grocery stores). Small stickers of any kind are given out during the day for completing class work, bringing in homework, returning signed test folders, and other positive behaviors. The stickers then are placed on the paper plates. At the end of the week, we count the number of stickers students have, exchange them for play coins, and use them to discuss money and do a variety of counting activities (for example, reinforcing the concepts of tens and ones or odd and even). Students then use their coins to buy things from a special "treasure chest."
Christine Pellegrin, special education teacher

Earning Respect
I assist with students in kindergarten to second grade. My approach to reaching those students is to establish a respectful relationship with them. I initially speak to them, ask them their names, and inquire about things they like to do -- for example, toys they like to play with and TV shows they like to watch. I bring in flashcards or books that have on them the characters they like; that helps students feel comfortable asking me for help. If a kindergarten student wants to sit on the floor to do an assignment, I join him on the floor; that shows the student that I am focusing on him or her and it helps that student complete the work without hesitation. Students also like it when I call them Mr. or Miss. They seem to welcome that sign of respect, respect that is reciprocated throughout the years.
Angela Lyons, special education paraprofessional

Review With a Twist
I use different strategies when students are preparing for and taking tests. In one of those strategies, I provide a study guide with highlighted answers. Students use the study guides to study and then I throw in a twist. To review, I let students ask me questions. They enjoy the role reversal and they are getting the review they need.
Julie Porche, special education inclusion paraprofessional

IDEAS FROM OTHER MEMBERS OF THE SOUTHDOWN TEAM

Our Art Gallery
As an art enrichment teacher, I get to see every child in the school -- from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. I see each class once a week for 45 minutes. Many of the children who enter my classroom have low self-esteem, learning difficulties, and/or problems behaving appropriately in a school setting. Amazingly, most of those students excel in art. So, in an attempt to "accentuate the positive" in all students, especially struggling students, I have a bulletin board in the art room titled "Our Art Gallery." Every week, I post a variety of student artwork from each grade level on the board. When a child -- especially children whose positive accomplishments are rarely recognized -- sees his or her artwork displayed on the board, it gives that child some positive attention. It also helps the child's peers recognize some very positive qualities about the student. This is a very simple but effective way to focus attention on positive qualities in students.
Kathy Abboud, art teacher

Hunt for the Humor
As a Title I teacher, I see all the students from pre-kindergarten through 6th grade. Students come to me who don't know their names, can't spell their names, or don't want to tell me their names. Some students aren't sure who their homeroom teacher is. Some are just plain uncooperative and want to disrupt other students. In all those cases, I have found that humor goes a long way to help me deal with their problems and help them. Humor can relieve classroom stress and engage students. It even can defuse grouchy colleagues. Teachers take home a lot more stress than people realize, and humor can help relieve that stress. I try to see the humorous side of every situation. I try to include my students and colleagues, because each and every one of us can use a good laugh.
David Adams, computer lab teacher

Sticky Reward
I reward students with stickers when they are performing or return something on time. I try to positively reward them for appropriate actions.
Elizabeth Anderton, paraprofessional

Homework-opoly
As an incentive for students to complete homework, we play Homework-opoly. Each student who completes all the week's homework gets to play. The game board is posted on a bulletin board. To play the game, each child gets a turn to move his or her game piece by rolling the die and moving that number of spaces. There are spaces on the game board for "prizes" like free homework passes or treasure box treats.
Miranda Babin, Project Read multisensory teacher

Whale Done
When I was in the hospital for the second time, I read the book Whale Done [Whale Done!: The Power of Positive Relationships, by Kenneth Blanchard]. I didn't realize how much I needed to read that book! Among the biggest problems I have is that I worry too much; as a band teacher, I worry that everybody is on task and that everybody is getting their parts right. Those anxieties could have triggered my hospital stay, so I knew I needed to change. I needed to be positive for my health first, then for my students. Whale Done has helped me focus on the notes and sounds that my students have improved on during each class [rather than on perfection or imperfection]. I continue to push them to get more notes correct each day. I reward the section of the band that has improved the most. Those rewards have helped motivate students who are not "getting it" to ask questions and to keep trying. In my sixth-grade band class, I use the same reward technique, but the students focus on entire sections of songs instead of on notes and sounds. The changes inspired by Whale Done have made me feel a lot better and helped me be a better teacher.
Carl Billiot, band director

Secretarial Support
Usually students come to the office when they are not having a good day. When they show up at my door, I try to encourage the students to think about the choices they've made. I try to help them understand that they have a chance to change their attitudes. I usually try to hug them and tell them that the only reason they were sent to the office was because their teachers really do care about them and want them to make the right choices.
Laura Bonvillian, secretary

Cut-Up Stories
Our Reading Recovery students are encouraged to do homework each night. Besides reading a book or two, each child has to glue cut-up sentences into a booklet. Each booklet contains ten nights of cut-up stories. When a child has completed one booklet, he or she is entitled to a freebie from the toy box. Then students are given another booklet. Some skills that are covered with the cut-up stories are blends, digraphs, endings, syllables, vowel teams, long and short vowels, punctuation marks, and phrasing.
Rose Danos, Celestine Thomas, and Monique Rozands, Reading Recovery teachers

A Record of Accomplishment
I use reflection logs with the students I tutor. My students record what they have learned, what they are having trouble with, and when they will use those skills again. As the year goes on, I let students' parents see what their children have written. That helps the parent and child see what has been accomplished and what trouble areas might need additional attention at home or in school.
Deanna Domangue, paraprofessional

Partnering With Parents
Parental involvement always is an issue. Research supports that when parents are actively involved in their child's education, there is an increase in academic achievement. We've been trying for some time now to get our students' parents involved. Some attempts have been very successful. Our teachers welcome our parents; they work hard to help them feel needed. This year, we looked for and identified parents we felt had potential to form a nucleus for getting more parents involved. Those parents have been faithful in developing a newsletter, getting community support, and volunteering when needed. We meet every two weeks to discuss upcoming events, ways we can help students achieve, and plans of action for helping our school be successful. We've opened our hearts to our parents and given them a voice. For those reasons and others, our parents are on the ball!
Ivy D. Garner, critical thinking/physical education teacher

Meet the Parents
In an effort to establish a good relationship with students, I make a special effort to meet the parents of the students I serve. I do that in the summer or at the very beginning of the school year. Why? No matter what behavior problems students have had in the past, I expect the "new year" to be better than previous years. Because our community is very small, on any given day, I might see one of my students while I'm out shopping at Wal-Mart or doing other errands. When I recognize them, I greet the student and the parents. (If it happens that I have not yet met the parents, I ask the student to introduce me to them.) Immediately, I tell the parent at least one good characteristic about their child. No matter what the disposition of the parent, that positive comment makes them interested in knowing something more about their child's progress. Try it, it really works!
Yolonda S. Honore', behavioralist

Give Them a "Toot"
I believe in instilling pride in every child. It does not matter whether that child is black, white, or purple. I believe that each child should have a strong sense of self-worth. That's why I treat every child as a very special individual. Each time I greet a child, I refer to him or her as my "toot." (That is a special pet name of mine.) All the children respond as if I had made that name up especially for them. Children are a special gift to us from God, so let us treasure our special little gifts.
Mrs. Ora LaGarde, custodian

Boosting Self-Esteem
As a school counselor, one of my jobs is to build students' self-esteem by helping them identify their accomplishments. One of the exercises I do with students begins by asking them to list:

  • things you've done for your parents;
  • things you've done for a friend;
  • something you've tried/worked hard to achieve; and
  • something you've shared with others.

Then, I ask them What does the word "pride" mean to you? We discuss their definitions of pride, and then I explain that "pride" refers to the good feelings we get about things we have done or qualities we possess. Feeling proud helps us feel good about ourselves. To get them to think more about the things they are proud of, I share something about myself that makes me proud. Then I ask them to write or draw something they have done that makes them proud. I ask each student to fill in the blanks in the sentence I am proud that I _____ because _____. We share those accomplishments. Then, to close, I make the point that everyone has something that results in self-pride. Sometimes, we feel as though we shouldn't talk about those things because people might think we are bragging; but there is a real difference between bragging and recognizing and being proud of your own accomplishments. I close the exercise with another question: What did you learn about yourself from this exercise?
Elaine Smith, school counselor

Read-Aloud Time
When a class enters the library, the first thing on the agenda is to have the students (younger students) listen to a story or (older students) a chapter or two from a book. Doing that reinforces many skills. I do try to instill a joy for reading by making the stories and my reading as enjoyable as possible.
Karen Terrebonne, librarian

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