Collaboration, Planning Instruction, Student Teaching

Plymouth State University Collaboration, Part Two: Creating Effective Lessons

Looking to hire a new early childhood educator?  Look no further than the student teachers that will be graduating in 2017 from Plymouth State University’s Early Childhood Studies department!


I recently had the privilege of teaching these impressive students for a second time this semester.  Our focus was investigating how to create and plan an effective instructional unit.  We also delved into difficult questions like “Why focus on engaging your students when planning?” and “What is the biggest challenge to engaging students?”


Well, why focus on engaging your students when planning?  Looking at definitions for the word engage you will find phrases similar to “get and keep someone’s attention” or “to hold the attention of” and “induce to participate.”  Are we as educators looking to get and keep out students’ attention?  Do we desire to hold our students’ attention and induce them to participate?  Absolutely!  Why?  Engaged students are invested learners.

Here is an analogy I presented to PSU’s students about the importance of focusing on engaging your students when planning:


Olive Garden wants to create a new entrée.  They get their top chefs and administrators together to discuss various aspects of the entrée.  They consider very carefully the ingredients, the complementary appetizers and sides, the compatible beverages, the perfectly-sized portions, and also the appearance of the entrée.  But they forget one thing – how the entrée will taste! 

Creating a lesson without focusing on how to engage our students is like making an entrée without considering how it will taste to the customers.  Yeah, it’s that important!


And what is the BIGGEST challenge to engaging students?  Is it making the subject matter appealing?  Is it exhibiting an attractive teaching style?  Is it planning instruction that produces quality lessons?  Is it classroom management that creates an effective learning atmosphere?


When considering this question, Dr. Elisabeth Johnston’s students wisely came to the conclusion that the answer to this question is most likely dependent on the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses.  They also pointed out that it is important for teachers to be aware of their own weaknesses so that they could work hard on improving in these areas.  I was in total agreement with their insight, and impressed with their self-awareness in such an early stage of their educational career.

When all is said and done, I did advise PSU’s Early Childhood student teachers that I believe that creating effective teaching experiences can boil down to the following:

  1. Instructional planning that focuses on engaging students by preparing, reflecting and refining our lessons
  2. Classroom management that is constructed with a foundation of trust between teacher and students

Okay, so I didn’t get to my second point (epic fail on the instructional planning of my own lesson) but I intend to!  I am excited and thankful to be preparing, reflecting and refining my future lessons for PSU and other colleges/universities around New Hampshire.

Click HERE for the instructional planning method I have created to support both new and seasoned educators

Click HERE for the classroom management fundamentals I have created to support both new and seasoned educators


Dear Teacher (on the first day of school)

School starts today for students in the Kearsarge Regional School District in New Hampshire.  For many around the country school has either begun or will begin soon.  The following is a letter that could have been written by millions across the country to their educators:

Dear Teacher,

My feelings are all mixed up inside.
I’m somewhat excited yet want to hide
From what might happen at school today –
How can you scare my fears away?

The clothes I paid for this summer are good
And the backpack I purchased does what it should.
I bought extra supplies if there is a need –
Hopefully these will help to succeed.

Friendships are forming and they may last.
Last year’s bumps are a thing of the past.
But can you assure me you will do your best
To turn mistakes into success?

When small or big triumphs come into view
Will you celebrate what I needed you to?
When struggles or victories come about
Will you withhold it from me or share it out?

So much is in the news these days –
Bullying, shootings, testing for grades…
I need you to keep the school safe from harm
And know what to do if there is alarm.

School used to be listening, sitting, and such
And memorization (but not speaking so much).
Discovery, creations, and sharing worldviews –
Can you make this a part of learning, too?

Dear teacher…my son starts school today.
I need you to treat him in a special way
Because he’s the world – everything to me –
And you are responsible for him, you see.

You are his mentor and he is my heart.
Your job is to help him understand he is smart.
Please help him to know how to grow and grow others –
We can help him the most if we help one another.

Elementary Science

My Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical Project: Advocating for Improved Elementary Science Education


There are Band-Aid wrappers EVERYWHERE.  Why?  I have seven children, and most obtain minor scrapes on a regular basis and do not have the patience to wait for their parents to assist their needs.  So when a scraped knee or rug-burned elbow occurs most of my children get their own adhesive bandages, but unfortunately leave those pairs of silky white wrappers behind.  So what’s the problem besides a little mess?  Being independent and resolving problems on your own is a good thing, right?

The reason I applied for the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical is because I am concerned that as educators trying to improve science instruction, we are leaving behind Band-Aid wrappers all over the place.  You see, a Band-Aid alone does not heal a wound – or solve a problem.  If my wife and I want to ensure that our child’s boo-boo is completely taken care of, the cut needs to be washed, treated with antibacterial ointment, and then covered with a bandage.


Do not get me wrong – public education in New Hampshire is often rated as one of the top ten in our country.  Still, when looking closely at our New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) data, our students’ performance in fourth, eighth and eleventh grade in the last eight years has been stagnant.  And if you look even closer, the area of science our students are performing the lowest in is inquiry.  So, in a profession that uses data to make the appropriate adjustments to ensure academic success, we must act on these frozen stats, particularly at the elementary level.

Just as there are three steps I need to take to help my children’s cuts heal, I believe there are also three crucial steps that need to occur for New Hampshire’s stagnant science performance to be remedied:

  • Increased science training at the collegiate level
  • Increased professional development opportunities for current teachers
  • Increased science curriculum made available to teachers

More training at the collegiate level is needed so our student teachers are better prepared to teach science when they begin their career.  Educators and school administrators need to find more ways to weave science into their professional development opportunities for the sake of improving science instruction for their students.  Educators and administrators need to be creative in finding quality yet affordable curriculum for their classrooms, or diligent and productive in creating their own.


My goal with this incredible opportunity of receiving the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical is to help colleges and public schools focus even more on the connection they have with each other in providing quality science education to New Hampshire students.  By providing seminars and mentoring for college students, various collaborative opportunities for elementary schools, and creating a free, quality ecosystem curriculum, my hope is that this project will be a small yet effective step toward increasing our elementary students’ experiences and successes with science.