Stay Positive: 7 Ways to Cancel the Noise of Negativity

She sounded like a banshee with a stubbed toe. The wail from the cubicle across from mine, as I sat down to try to write this blog post on a layover in Minneapolis, is worse than any caterwauling I’ve ever heard before. I can’t tell if she’s speaking in tongues or lost hers. Right now is not a time for the battery in my noise cancelling headphones to go out but it did! Eeech!

Noise cancelling (1)

I am usually pretty good at NOT staring or glaring. But several times, the shrieks alternated with the off key something and the guttural noises caused me to jump in my seat and look at her.

And then it hit me… there are times we need noise cancelling headphones at school. We shouldn’t wear them literally all the time, I think. But, there are things we can do to silence the noise when it threatens our ability to bring our best to our students.

There are those who whine, complain, and bellyache so badly that you can’t get your work done. In fact, I started really writing this blog post AFTER she left. Even my Focus@will app couldn’t quite drown out the noise like she was killing cats! (Although I admit, I do NOT know what that sounds like.)

But you know what — I find that the more I hear complaints and “woe is me” kinda stuff – it almost does kill this cat — the Cool Cat Teacher, that is. When I don’t post on my blog for a while: either I’m on a family vacation or… you guessed it… I’m fighting a battle with my attitude. The worst wars with my own attitude are usually started by friendly fire. But there is no such thing. Bad attitudes spread like a virus. Schools need people who can cancel out the noise.

There are two or three places I know I can go to have a down day. There are certain people that if I let them corner me in the hall, I will take a tumble. There are those who just cannot find solutions, only a multitude of problems.

So, here are seven ways to cancel the noise of negativity:

  1. You can change the subject. Kindly try to redirect the subject to something you know the other person likes.
  2. You can be upfront about your new hope. You can be direct, “____, I’m working very hard on having an excellent attitude but if we talk about this right now, it is going to be hard to do that. If it is OK with you, could we change the subject so I can stay positive?”
  3. You can schedule a meeting with those who can do something about it. Sometimes a real issue needs to be handled. Crucial Conversations is a dynamite book that can help you learn how to have productive conversations about hard topics. You can tell the truth AND preserve your relationships with people if you know how because there are people who do it every day. I’m committed to being a leader at my school. I have to be able to be part of crucial conversations. I am committed to being someone that others can speak to and feel safe. I admit that I’ve failed miserably in the past. Admitting failure is the first step on a journey of self-improvement.
    Another option with this one is to help the person do something about it. If it is in your power, give them a job to do that will have a measurable result. This technique is often one that will either quiet the complainer or help you make progress.
  4. Listen. There are people who are rarely negative and need a listen. We all fall and struggle. Sometimes we need someone to listen without trying to give answers. And then, after you listen, try to forget and move on unless you need to do.
  5. You can walk away. Yes, you can. You do have lots of work to do, so you can say what that is and move on.
  6. You can avoid the “hot spots”. I can tell when people are congregating and belly aching. When I see it happen as I’m walking in the teacher’s lounge, I keep walking out the door and just take a quick walk to the other building and back.
  7. You must reprogram yourself. As a Christian, we call it “renewing our mind.” Read success stories about people who overcame problems. Write a joy journal. Move ahead and decide to have an excellent attitude.

Sometimes we all need noise cancelling headphones. Sometimes they are physical headphones but it is usually our ability to hit problems head on with solutions and the avoiding of those who have decided to have a stinky attitude that helps the most.

I’ll never forget that noise coming from the cubicle next to me in Minnesota. I think I’ll replay it in my mind every time I hear unconstructive complaining — they are both just as annoying.

Question: Think of those people or places where negativity clouds the space like fog on a warm spring day. What can you do to cancel out the noise? Make a commitment to yourself to take action this week.

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5 Tips to Triumph over Test Prep

This post written by Angela Watson

Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers

Maintaining balance is impossible without a clearly defined vision for why you teach. No matter how others may choose to evaluate your work, you can’t define your own success as a teacher according to whether students pass a standardized test. That’s a recipe for frustration and burnout.

Inset Box under Featured Image

This month on the Global Search for Education by Cathy Rubin, we are reflecting on How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom. I asked an amazing teacher, Angela Watson, to share her wisdom. Her show, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers, is my must-listen to podcast every Monday morning. She is a helpful part of my PLN and I hope you’ll add her to yours as well.

Manage Your Mindset

Instead, go into the classroom each day with a single-minded focus on making a difference for kids or igniting a passion for your subject matter. Having this kind of clear vision for teaching will permeate everything you do in the classroom. It will bring a deeper sense of purpose to otherwise disheartening test prep activities. It will help you maintain your (bigger, healthier) perspective even if everyone around you is anxious about test scores.

Staying focused on your vision will also help you keep your enthusiasm, which makes learning more enjoyable for kids. If you’re stressed out from focusing too much on high stakes assessment, students will sense that, and it creates anxiety in them, too.

Motivate Students in Positive Ways

One of the best things you can do for students is to stop reminding them about the importance of standardized tests. I used to get very stressed out because I felt like I cared more about my kids’ scores than most of them did, so I would constantly remind them, “You need to know this–the test is in 2 months! If you don’t pass this test, you’re going to be in third grade again next year!”

I cringe when I think back on how much I pressured my students. Kids need to know the importance of the test, but more importantly, they need to know the importance of learning and hard work. Stay focused on getting them motivated and helping them take ownership of their learning.

Practice Tested Skills in a Non-Test Prep Format

Students do need to know test-taking strategies and be familiar with the format of the standardized tests they’ll be taking, but most kids don’t need daily (or even weekly) exposure to the format. Look for creative ways to help kids practice tested skills in authentic, meaningful contexts.

Experiment with alternative strategies for implementing the test prep activities and worksheets you’re mandated to give. Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Problem solve collaboratively. Instead of passing out a review worksheet each day as a warm up, occasionally project the page for your class to see, and have them work with a partner to solve problems collaboratively and talk about their strategies.
  2. Make it a game. Try reviewing the answers together in a fun game format. Have kids award themselves a point for each answer they get right, and challenge themselves to reach a set number of points by the end of the month.
  3. Get kids moving. Set up test prep questions in a “scoot” format so students can stand up and move in between answering questions.
  4. Use individual dry erase boards. As you display each problem for the class to solve, have kids write on their boards and hold them up for you to give immediate verbal feedback.
  5. Screencast. If you have iPads in your classroom, students can use a free app like Show Me to explain their thinking and record their work.

Simple strategies like these keep you and your students from feeling overburdened with worksheets, and help integrate test prep seamlessly into the more meaningful activities you do in class.

Ultimately, we teach students, not standards. You are more than a test score, and so are your students. Don’t wait for someone in your district or state to reiterate that: make it true in your daily practice!

Maintaining balance is impossible without a clearly defined vision for why you teach.

Angela Watson is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience. In 2009, she turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she’s created 4 books, 2 webinars, a blog, podcast, curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world.

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Productivity: How the Mud Puddle Principle Can Shape Your Habits


I love this blog post from Principal Ben Gilpin. He describes what happened when he threw a baseball mitt and glove in his car before leaving town on a family trip.

Ben says

“We were preparing to embark on our road trip, I was packing different odds and ends for the car ride.  Just before it was time to go I decided to throw in a baseball and mitt. My two boys at the time had zero interest in baseball and truth be told, couldn’t name one major league player.

Troy (9 years old at the time), noticed the baseball and glove.  We stopped a couple times on the way and each time he wanted to play catch.”

Source: The Colorful Principal: Visible Growth

So, the Mud Puddle Principle is one of my personal principles of habit forming. Imagine a 10-year-old boy standing beside a mud puddle. Now, fast forward 10 seconds and imagine what he’ll be doing then. Oh yeah, he’s going in!

A mud puddle is pretty much irresistible to most kids! Just being near it makes it happen. So, when you hope your students or kids will try something new, put it nearby. Nothing else, just nearby.

You can also apply this with your own habits. For example, I’ve read that making something just 6 seconds more accessible makes it more likely. So, I put a glass beside my bathroom sink. Every time I stand there to brush my teeth, I drink a whole glass of water. I place books that I want to read beside my two favorite chairs. When I need to write thank you notes, I put them there as well.

Right now, I’m researching for my third book. I like to use index cards (like John Maxwell does). So, I have index cards beside every place I sit in the house, in a prominent place on my desk and in my pocketbook. I have also put them beside my bed and beside my bathroom sink. Now, any time I have a thought or remember a story I want to tell, I grab a card and write it down. I fall in the mud puddle of research so easily now!

The Mud Puddle Principle works with data too! My husband, Kip, is an engineer. He says that the first step in changing a statistic is to track and post it publicly. Everyone starts obsessing over that stat because it is IN THEIR FACE every day. They teach them this in engineering courses.

As an interesting caveat, this principle also works in the opposite direction. If you want to resist – make it harder to reach, harder to find, or put it out of sight. Hide the cookies. Bring out the exerbike! 😉

Ben Gilpin writes an excellent blog, you’ll want to check it out. And, oh, by the way — how did the story end?

Fast forward 9+ months.  Troy is now 10 years old and this is his first year playing baseball on a team.  I have a chance to watch him and help him almost every day and what I saw as a very raw 9 year old is now a quickly improving 10 year old.  Just last night his coach put him on the mound to be the first pitcher. He and I had worked on a few things and I knew he could do it, but I was still pretty proud to see how far he has come.

The Mud Puddle Principle can change your life by transforming your habits. So be intentional about what you put beside your favorite chair, beside your bathroom sink, or in your purse or briefcase. While Ben reflects on visible growth (you really should read the whole post), I see mudpuddles.

Question: What are you putting nearby? What things do you get into that you need to put further away.

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4 Ways to Backup Your Files and Stop Playing Russian Roulette With Your Data

Some of you are living on the edge of financial ruin. Not because you’re not a good money manager – you are. Not because you’re bad with people – you’re good with them too.

BAck up Your files stop playing russian roulette with your data

No, some of you are living on the edge of financial ruin because you are not backing up your computer. Only 7% of people back up their data daily and 23% back up at least once a month. While you can recover most hard drives with a Ben Franklin and a good tech support person, you’ll be out and down for some time waiting for that to happen. I’m going to share several ways you can back up your files and how I do it.

Most of you insure your home and personal property but choose to play Russian roulette with your dissertations, financial records, and personal photographs.

1 – Purchase An Online Backup Service: Carbonite

Carbonite ( is an online backup service. If you have high speed Internet and want it to just run in the background, this is a good service to use. I used it for a year, but did notice it slowed me down slightly when it was running, particularly after I took a lot of photos off of my iphone or other activity that triggered the backup to start running.

2 – Use An External Hard Drive And Crash Plan

Many of you in the country without high speed Internet will want this option. Purchase an external hard drive (the biggest you can find 500GB – 1TB) and then set up Crash Plan ( While Crash Plan can back up online, it will also handle your offline backup to your external hard drive or another computer. This program makes backup easy.

3 – For The Privacy Sensitive: Spider Oak

If you like option 2 but really want a super-private service, Spider Oak ( has high reviews in this area. While I haven’t personally used this one, it comes highly recommended. It looks to be a tad harder to set up than Crash Plan, if you’re super concerned about your data being private, it is a great option.

4 – Use Dropbox Instead of My Documents

Dropbox ( is not an “official” backup service, I installed it and use it instead of My Documents So, for me, once I had my Documents synced, I didn’t need anything else. Last summer as I was finishing the final draft of Reinventing Writing, my desktop computer died and I kept working on my laptop as it went in the shop. No downtime. The advantage of this method is that your files follow you everywhere. I use Dropbox daily.

Don’t live on the edge of financial ruin. If you depend on your computer (like many of us) take steps to back up your computer and rest easy at night.

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10 Ways to Stay Motivated at School

I’ll admit something, I dread April and May. With every fiber of my being. Can I admit this to you? Will you judge me?

You can stay motivated at school.

Why can’t we all just skip the last two months of the year? It is easy to see why so many people jump at the chance to leave the classroom when they can. It is sooooooo hard to stay here. It isn’t your students that drive you to despair; it is the other stuff – or “schtuff” as my husband calls it. Printing the certificates and updating the databases and doing everything else.

So, here I am the last day of Spring Break writing this as we’re driving home in the rain, and I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I want to see my students – yes. I do; I want to share stories, and I even want to teach them the things that I’ve planned. I’m looking forward to that. I just can’t fathom how I’ll do it all plus cook dinner at night and keep the clothes washed, etc. etc. etc. (I can hear Yul Brenner saying that in the “King and I” — it is the “etcetera etcetera etcetera” that kills most teachers.)

So, I’m whining now. I think I’ll probably delete at least half of what I wrote in these previous sentences (I did) except that I want you other teachers to know where I am. I know this — YOU’RE RIGHT HERE WITH ME. You know the stress of the last few months. You feel it. Your teeth are clenched and many of you are wondering how you’re going to survive. So, here we go, I’m going to share with you what gets me through this time. Unclench your teeth, relax and let’s do it! (Now that I’ve gotten over my desire to quit.) Are you ready?

You can stay motivated at school by moving forward each day.

You can stay motivated at school by moving forward each day. Many struggles and tasks we have at school are only solved by moving forward and doing our best as time passes. You can do this.

1- Solve By Moving Forward

Solvitur ambulando” – is Latin. It means “it is solved by walking” The problem of April and May is not solved by sitting and stressing about it. It is solved by walking. One foot in front of the other. One task in front of the other. I will solve this by walking ahead.

Each day, I’ll make a list for the next and make appointments to do major tasks and put them on my calendar. I will solve this problem by walking. Can you?

2 – Listen To Awesome Music

Music is a natural mood booster. Keep some headphones in your room. As for me, when I have time without students, I tune out the ambient noise and enter my own “Cone of Silence.” I have a playlist called “Hope” that I play on the hard days.

3 – Be Strategic About Mornings

How do you start the day with the most peace and purpose? For me, I pray and read my Bible no matter what. Not because this makes me a good person, it makes me a purposeful person. One day I realized that the very best days of my life started this way, and then I asked myself why I wouldn’t want to have the “Best Day” every day. After my morning wake up routine, I grab a cappuccino and start writing. Writing gives me joy. What morning routine helps you live your Best Days ever? Do it, especially during April/ May/ June.

An excellent book, The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM), is the best one I’ve seen about focusing your mornings on success. I follow the SAVERS principal but call it PAVERS (Prayer, Affirmations, Vision, Exercise, Reading, Scribing). I substitute prayer for silence, but we each have our own method.

4 – Top Off Your Tanks.

This is vitally important. Have you ever noticed that if you keep waiting to fill up your car with gas, you end up driving around town on empty. It causes even more stress and you don’t know if you’re going to make it. Something small just became very very big. During April/ May, I take steps to top off my tanks.

Every chance I think about it and I need gas in the car, I top it off. (Usually every Saturday morning.) But this also applies to everything else in my life. If I’m feeling really tired, I top off my sleep tanks and guilt-free go to bed early. If I sense that I’m getting anxious or upset, I immediately take steps to deal with the issue, if I can, or to journal it. Top off Your Tanks –whichever kind runs empty.

5 – Keep a Joy Journal.

If you write five things a day in a journal – that is all it takes to be happier than if you’d won the lottery. (See 9 Fine Reasons to Keep a Journal.) Not kidding. It is crazy, but true. These months when I know I’m going to be calling 9 – waa – waa much more than I should (calling the waaaaaambulance is never any fun) — I have to keep my joy front and center.

6 – Let the Rough End Drag

Granny Martin always said “sometimes you gotta let the rough end drag.” In these last few weeks of school, my husband makes me promise not to feel guilty about dinner, etc. I have to put my perfectionist tendencies to the side and stop expecting myself to cook huge meals each night and be OK with a sandwich. It is OK.

7 – Forgive and Move On

This is the biggest. You have to realize and understand that EVERYONE I mean EVERYONE is in the same boat with you. If you sink their boat, you sink yours too. You’ve got to row together. Hurting people, hurt people. Fighting in a row boat is always a dumb move.

8 – Work Towards Your Task.

There’s a Chinese Saying “Man who waits for roast duck to fly in mouth will wait long time.” You’ve got work to do then DO IT. Idle chatter is a procrastination technique (as my pastor has so aptly said). I’ve found that my attitude tends to go in the opposite direction of how much I talk. (For you non-math folks — the less I talk and more I do, the better I feel — the more I talk and less I do, the worse I feel.)

Less Talk, Better Attitude

9 – Enjoy the Moments

This May is also important because my daughter and son will come home from college for a bit before school is out. If I can’t enjoy the moments with her and let my stress ruin it, then I’ll miss out on so much. We’ll find small things to celebrate and find little ways to celebrate them. A good smelling candle, a cup of coffee together after school, an unexpected trip to the mall — I can’t let the tasks keep me from the most important thing of all — being a human BEING and not just a HUMAN DOING.

10 – End well

I’ve written often about ending well and finishing the race. I teach until the last day (see Finding Your Beautiful Moment the Last Week of School). There are hundreds of eyes watching you. Sure, there are some teachers who will check out early. They’ll watch videos the last few days, but these kids have videos they can watch all summer. They won’t have you. Teach until the last bell rings. Hold focus groups with your students to get feedback and to improve yourself over the summer. Plan memorable moments full of meaning to help them remember what they’ve done. Be epic.

These are the best of times and the worst of times. There will be laughter and you’ll likely be up at least a few times crying into your pillow at 2 am. This is my 13th year of this and it is this way every year. But every year while I dread it more, I get better at handling it.

Solvitur ambulando. We can do this

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20 Top Pinterest Tips [Link]

Link Post 20 Top Pinterest Tips
Vicki Davis on Edutopia
February 23, 2015

Are you Pinteresting? Well, lots of educators are. The PEW Research Center has found that 28 percent of online users are using Pinterest(compared to only 23 percent using Twitter). Women dominate Pinterest with 42 percent of women online using the site. With over 80 percent of teachers being women (PDF, 1.5MB), it makes sense that teachers are all over Pinterest sharing ideas for lesson plans, centers, and resources.

Pinterest is different from other sites. When you pin something, people will be looking at and repinning it years later. Pinterest may be the secret powerhouse of educational sharing. Here are 20 power tips that you can use in many areas of schools and your classroom.

Tip 1: Follow Boards or People

Pinterest has a useful feature that lets you just follow just one board. Here’s an example. If I look at super-teacher Laura Candler’s Pinterest, I can click at the top right and follow everything she pins, or I can click “Follow” under her boards that interest me the most. So a math teacher…

Continue reading the rest of this article on Edutopia.

Pinterest has so many uses for educators. After reading the post I wrote for Edutopia, which is comprehensive, you may also want to check out Simple Pinterest for Beginners and 346 Uses of Pinterest in Education.

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