Student Engagement vs. Student Compliance – by Cheri

As I walk through my building and the halls of many other schools, I see that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is knowing the difference between student compliance and student engagement.  I find that there is even more confusion once I begin to talk to and ask teachers if they understand the difference…let me elaborate.

As I took over this current school, I found that there were two big areas that needed improvement.  One, students were everywhere…making their own rules…doing their own thing.  The second area I needed to look at was engagement in the instructional activities….were students participating, asking questions, and learning or were they just sitting and getting.  The school was in trouble, so I am sure by now, you can guess the answers to both of these questions.  But do we know the difference between the two, compliance and engagement?

Student compliance looks like this…students seated, quiet, and seeming to not cause trouble in class.  They are not talking, not touching, and not disrupting.  As you walk into a room with compliant children, it would be quiet, everyone following the rules, and the teacher would be teaching.  Yes, this is an important piece.  If students are not listening and following rules, teachers cannot teach.  You can have the best lesson, but if they can’t hear you, how can they learn.  So, please understand, this for me is a first step to having a successful classroom.  But, what about the student who sits in the back, never talks to others, doesn’t contribute to classroom discussion, and doesn’t participate in group activities.  They complete their work, but not necessarily as you would want them to.  They are truly compliant…but are they learning?

That is where I challenge my staff…yes, we need students who can follow rules and expectations.  We want students who can manage their own behaviors with little direction from the teacher.  But…I don’t want or need QUIET classrooms!  These classrooms are not engaging, students are not participating in a way that indicates they understand, and they are definitely not encouraged to be motivated to want to be in class.  I want classrooms where students understand the rules and they do not break them, but are engaged in the learning activities.  They are asking and answering questions.  They are completing group tasks.  They are applying their learning at high levels of thinking.  They are completing projects.  They are moving, talking, and modeling their learning.  Because, if a students is excited about what is happening in the classroom, they are not wanting to leave for behavior problems!

So, how do we get here?  Here are a few ideas I share with my teachers that can help you move from a compliant classroom to an engaging one!

  • Create a classroom environment that is safe for students to participate and make mistakes.  If students feel scared or intimidated to respond or participate, they will never take the chance…and sit in compliance.
  • Ask questions that require students to think and elaborate.  I taught second language learners, so I had to provide sentence stems for them to begin their responses.  Once they learned how to use these, they were on fire!  These are good supports for any struggling student as well.  Encourage them to respond to your questions and praise them when they do!
  • Support student discussions that encourage students to ask questions of you or other students.  And ensure these questions are related to the learning…not questions about what time lunch will be served.  I did a professional development one year where you read and analyze a story, and then you put your students into a literature circle and ask one WHY question about the learning.  After that, only students can respond to each other and you…and you cannot ask any more questions.  It was difficult at first, because as teachers we want control, but once I learned to let go, I saw my students loved these circle discussions and their performance in reading soared!
  • Give students opportunities to collaborate or work in groups.  I always provided each student in the group with a job, so they knew their responsibilities to the group, and the group would run smooth as everyone had their own part.  Group projects are fun and motivational ways to get students engaged with the learning and collaborating with their peers!
  • Give students some choice on what they will learn and how they can demonstrate they learned that content.  One of my teachers uses Genius Hour…she allowed students choice in their research topic and how it would be presented to the group.  EVERY kid participated and LOVED the activity!  This was the most engaging time in the classroom I have seen this year.

These are just a few ways to provide students with activities that will help them engage in the learning and apply what they learned to deeper level activities.  In addition to the above, I have used Robert Marzano’s book, The Highly Engaged Classroom, with all of my teachers and they have found this resource very useful!  I provided a link below!

The more engaged students are in their classroom, the more excited they are about learning and the less likely they are to want to misbehave and be sent out of the room to serve consequences!  Compliant kids will be in your room, following rules, and not causing problems for the teacher, but ENGAGED kids will not only be compliant, but will be excited about spending the day in your class!

Sparkle on, my friends!



Read, Read, Read! – by Cheri

Over the past three years as I have been working with my current campus to improve our instructional practices and move from a struggling school to a successful one, I spend a lot of time in planning sessions to help my teachers learn the ins and outs of planning effective instruction and in classrooms seeing them execute all we have worked on.  I get so excited when I see students engaged in the learning, understanding the concepts, and wanting more!  How could a teacher and/or principal not?!?!  As high stakes testing has become even more powerful in my state and the public’s perception of public education, I do fear that we forget to plan instruction that is best for kids and that excites them to learn, and just focus on assessment result.  More importantly, I fear that we take the FUN out of learning!

As a classroom teacher, I had a lot of training in both reading and math.  Most teachers that teach 3rd grade or beyond like to focus on one subject area, but I preferred to keep my own kids all day and teach them all subjects.  Yes, this was more work, as I had to commit to planning instruction for all areas.  And, for me, my principal allowed me to take on the challenge, as long as students kept improving.  I was excited about this endeavor, however, because it was a way for me to work to integrate reading and a love of literacy into all subject areas!  I am a believer that if you can read and think critically, you can do most other things in life with a little content support…and I was able to prove this time and time again in my classroom.

What I did not share was that I usually taught some of the more challenging students.  My principal assigned many of the behavior concerns to me (definitely NOT during my first year…yes, I do believe I ruined those students!) and I had the ESL/ELL class.  At that time, we did not have enough second language learners at our school so we were not required to have a bilingual program.  These students were assigned to me to learn English, along with all other content standards…without any foundation in their native language.  How did I do it?  I developed in them a LOVE of reading!

I learned to read at a very young age…I was 4 years old and Sesame Street was my teacher.  As I sat in front of the television day after day…because who really attended pre-school back then…I was very motivated to ensure that I knew more than they did on that show…yes, also very competitive, even way back then!  Reading came natural to me, and as I grew up, it became a way for me to gain experiences by reading about everyone else’s adventures in books.  I used to get into my closet as an elementary student, with a flashlight and a good book, and stay in there for hours reading.  When my sister and brother were old enough, I would bring them in along with me and that is when my career as a read aloud teacher began!  What this did for me was teach me how to begin my journey as a reading teacher…we would read the story, I would ask them if they liked it and why, and then we would talk about the book.  Although my brother continued to struggle in school, especially in reading, when my daughter was born, I would catch him doing the same thing with her…when he thought I wasn’t looking!

So, as I became a teacher, I knew that I wanted to instill a love of literature in my students.  I would say things like…boys and girls, when you open this book, I want you to pretend you shrink down to a 2 inch person and jump right into the pages…they thought I was crazy at first, but they soon learned that I meant that thinking like this would give them an opportunity to “experience” the book as a character in the setting of the pages and enhance their understanding.  I would challenge them to answer what if questions about books where they would have to create alternate endings or change the responses of characters.  I would assign them to groups where they would have to work as a team to promote or advertise the book (Reading Rainbow was always a favorite of mine) without giving away the endings.  AND, I always worked to ensure that literature was connected to all other subject areas, whenever possible!  My students left me each year loving reading…and other content as well…and wanting a list of books to read over the summer so they could continue to keep up with all of the GREAT books out there!  Even now, as a principal, I read to students whenever I can.  This year, as my students enter the building in the morning, grab their breakfast, and wait for their teacher to enter the classroom (they wait quietly in their assigned hallways) I pick a grade level and do a read aloud in the morning.  I pick a 5th grade group to read one of my all time favorites to (time permitting, of course), which is From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  It is such an old book with so many references to old items students have no clue about today…but get so motivated that they do online google searches when I leave so they understand what is being read about in the book.

Over the years, I see that when we begin to worry too much about test scores, compliance issues, or what ever other political influence in out there…we forget about bringing good literature into our classrooms.  Even when Kimber took over her kindergarten classroom this last December and we found a box of Math literature books that related to all skills she is required to teach students this year (and she is using them…and kids are LOVING them!), she wasn’t quite sure about how to incorporate the books into her lessons that her team provided for her, but once she did, she learned how important literature can be to children as a bridge between all content areas.

Teachers…my advice to you is to READ to your students!  Read every day!  Read in reading class…read in math class….read in science and social studies class!  And read real books!  Online is fine, but there is nothing better than books that you can hold and maneuver!  Books that kids can pick up when you are finished and read them again and again!  Books that introduce topics to students in all content areas…hooking them into the rest of your lesson!

Below is a list of online resources for you to find GREAT litature for your students!  Sparkle on, my friends!

Choices – by Cheri

Growing up, I witnessed all of my family “react” to circumstances in life.  I cannot remember a time when one of them were able to make a choice on their own.  Maybe this was their “choice”, but sometimes things happen to people that force choices…and I knew at a very young age I would never allow my circumstances to determine my choices in life.

We all make choices in life.  I have recently been thinking about this in the passing of Barbara Bush.  What a remarkable woman who worked to ensure that everyone felt valued and children grew up valuing education.  My friend posted one of her famous quotes on facebook this week in remembrance of her…”At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal.  You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent” (Barbara Bush)  This made me think about choices I have made in my life…why I made them…and how this may impact the teaching world for current and future educators.

  • I chose to go to college and study education.  I could have studied just about anything, as I am a pretty bright individual.  I chose teaching.  I wanted to have an impact on learning for kids, wanted to be able to help that one student who didn’t have anyone in their corner, and to change the view of education.  I will never regret this choice.
  • I chose to get married at a very young age.  I married my high school boyfriend when I was 20 years old.  We had a child a year prior and I chose to build a family for her.  This brought about many other choices…including staying in my home town to attend college and not participating in the typical college experience, becoming a responsible adult at a young age who had to pay bills, make dinner, run a family, and care for two others, and it included sacrificing the “party scene” and finding myself as a single person before beginning a family.  This choice I will not regret (most days).
  • I chose to have only one child.  Some say it is selfish, but I say it was responsible.  I wanted to work and never imagined being a stay at home mom (not that this is wrong, but it is not for me).  I knew that if I had more than one child, the amount of time I could give to my career would be more limited…or the amount of time given to my family would be more limited…so I made that choice.  I will never regret this choice.
  • I chose to move away from all of my family (expect, of course, my then husband and daughter) to begin my teaching career.  1000 miles away as a matter of fact.  This was difficult.  I missed being around familiar people and places.  I missed having support for things that you really don’t think about until that support is not there.  I missed many birthday and holiday celebrations.  I missed funerals and births of children of family and friends.  But it is the choice I made.  I will never regret it.
  • I chose to teach in a low-income, highly diverse area of an urban setting…actually the fourth largest city in the United States.  I LOVED teaching at the school I was at.  I developed networks with other educators that have helped me advance in my career.  I met some of my closest friends (my new family).  I learned so much about teaching children with diverse needs.  I will never regret it.
  • I chose to leave the classroom and pursue leadership positions.  Learning how much impact I had on a classroom of students each year, motivated me to want to have an even bigger impact…and soon discovered I wanted to be a campus principal.  It was hard work going back to school and working.  It meant sacrificing time with family and friends.  But it also meant that an average of 600 students each year of the last 12 years have been changed by work that I have done!  I will never regret it.
  • I chose to change my whole life when I got divorced.  Although I did not choose my divorce directly….it had such an impact on me.  It needed to happen and so I guess God found a way for it to happen.  When it did, however, I was able to design the life I wanted to lead.  It was messy and it was tough for a while, but it was the choice I had to make.  I will never regret it.
  • I chose to sell my home, leave my “new” family and my familiar surroundings, and move back 1000 miles to my home state to lead a school where my whole education started.  Everything changed with this choice.  I went from a home owner to a renter again.  I went from being one of the most veteran educators in a district to a brand new district.  I went from one state where I knew curriculum standards and expectations, to another state where I had to learn every thing new.  I went from 100 degree summers to below zero winters.  It was messy and it was tough, but it was a choice I made.  I will never regret it.
  • I chose to leave my home state once again, and move back to Houston, to lead a failing school with the expectation that it needed to improve in one year.  What a challenge that was, but seeing the students and teachers grow was amazing.  Seeing the community build back into a community was unbelievable!  And knowing that after three years at this campus, teachers know how to teach, students know how to learn, and parents understand the importance of education…I will never regret it.

People make choices every day.  Some choose one path, while others choose another.  Never would I say one is better than the next, but I do say this…make a choice.  Do what makes you happy!  Be in control of your life.  And when you make that choice, be all in.  100%, whatever it takes!  Life is too short for regret!

Sparkle on, my friends!

First Grade is on FIRE! – by Cheri

Each year, my PE teacher (was with me at my previous school as well) helps me promote a love of physical fitness within our students.  He and I have designed different running programs for our students so that they can understand that staying healthy and fit doesn’t require a gym membership or a lot of money.  We teach them the fundamentals of running…how to breathe, how to pace themselves, and how to enjoy the actual act of running.  This year, he is having our students “race” across America!  He puts up a map of the United States with the mileage to get across posted.  Each week, students run while in their health and PE classes.  He measures their miles and records who wins every week.  This year, we have a deal…the grade level who works hardest and shows the best behavior and sportsmanship will get to add my weekly mileage and Oakley’s (the brown dog) weekly mileage.  Students ask me every day…how many miles did Oakley go?  How many miles did you go?  Did we win?  They are pretty excited!

As I was walking down the hall the other day, I noticed that my art teacher has a bulletin board outside of his room with a saying…We are all Picassos, we just have to remember to be one.  I think about this as I think about our students and their mileage each week.  The art teacher has been working this year to instill a love of art in our students…so that they are not afraid that they can’t draw or paint, but that they try and all works are masterpieces.  I saw a prime example of this during the grade levels’ PE time each week…our fifth graders have the lowest mileage of everyone in the building!  Our first graders have the most!

I thought about this more a minute…the fifth graders are bigger and stronger…and understand what it means to pace yourself to do your best.  But, they also know that when you run in Houston, you sweat…and then you smell.  You may not look cool…and is it “cool” to actually exercise as a fifth grader?  Those first graders DO NOT CARE!  They run!  And they run!  I actually watched them yesterday out running and…they run!  It is an amazing thing!  They “think” they are runners…they still believe they are Picasso’s!

So how do we keep this belief in students between the ages of 6 and 10?  How do we get all kids to believe they can still learn and grow and not be afraid to “sweat”?

  • Students need to learn the concept of a growth mindset.  We have embraced this in some of our grade levels this year and it has made a big difference in student attitudes toward learning.  4th grade is a prime example…they know they may not know everything YET, but with work and perseverance, they will eventually get it!  Once students understand this, they can do anything!
  • Students need to know it is ok to take a chance.  Many children, as they age, become more conscious of who is watching them and their opinion of what they do.  We need to talk to our students about this on a daily basis.  We can teach them to take chances in their lives when it comes to something they want to learn or try.
  • Students need to know it is ok to make a mistake.  Everyone makes mistakes and we need to view our mistakes not as setbacks, but as opportunities to grow and not give up.  How many times have we all as teachers made mistakes (me…just about every day)?  We need to model that when we make mistakes we learn from them and move on.
  • Students need to know it is ok to do their thing.  I was working with a group of 5th graders one day on understanding underlying messages of poetry.  I used the Robert Frost poem, A Road Less Traveled.  As we read and discussed the poem, they understood that his message was that his life was how it was because he took the road less traveled.  If they love an activity that not everyone else loves or thinks is important, we need to encourage them to try it out anyway!

I am anxious to see who wins our Run Across America contest this year!  I am rooting for all groups, but hoping we can work as a team on my campus as well, to motivate and support our 5th graders to believe it’s ok to “sweat”!

A few resources from Amazon to help you with running activities for young runners and motivating students are below.

Sparkle on, my friends!



Upcoming Changes to Facebook!

Teachers That Sparkle are excited to share upcoming changes to their Facebook postings!  Beginning Monday, April 16, the following posting schedule will be used!  Be sure to take a minute to change it out!

Motivation Monday – Motivation for teachers!

Teachable Moment Tuesday – Tips for teachers!

Wow Wednesday – Stories of success from the field!

Thrive Thursday – Tips for taking care of you, the teacher!

Fri-Yay! – Well…who doesn’t need a little extra Friday motivation!


Check out Teachers That Sparkle on Facebook at!

Sparkle on, my friends!

What is Your Why? – by Cheri

Are thinking of becoming a teacher or campus administrator…if you are, then I ask you to think about this one question…Why?

I work with many different types of new teachers (college educated in education and alternative certified) and that is the one thing I like to find out as I interview anyone new joining my team.  I tell my leadership team all the time…we can teach people to teach, but we cannot teach them to care.

What is my why?  It is simple…I have a calling to change the world.  I often think about the story of the elderly man walking along the beach who sees several dying starfish lying on the beach.  He stops and begins picking them up, one by one, and throws them back into the ocean.  Someone walks up to him, laughing, and asks him, “Why are you bothering with this old man?  You cannot possibly think that you can save everyone of those starfish.”  The elderly man looks up and responds, “I may not be able to save them all, but I just saved that one.”  That is me…I know I cannot save everyone, but if I can make a difference for one person every day, then I have done what I believe I was put on this earth to do.

So…why teaching?  I had a teacher in the 8th grade who believed that I was not a loser.  I knew that I had something in me to go to college (which was not necessarily a tradition in my family) and I knew I was bright enough to handle any academic task, I also knew that my self-esteem was not the best and at that time, not sure I was lucky enough to be something in this world.  But, she saw something different.  She was my writing teacher and thought that I had a talent in writing.  Her telling me that changed my whole view of myself…maybe I was someone who could fulfill my dreams.  My whole world changed.  And, at that moment, I realized that I wanted to be someone who could tell a student something positive about themselves that they may not realize, and it could change their whole world.

So, I ask…why do you want to teach or lead a school?  You may not have an answer like mine, but I hope it is one that you can stand behind on your hardest day.  If you think you want to teach because it works with your own children’s schedules, I must be honest…it doesn’t.  If your why is because you get summers off…you don’t.  And, if it is because you have a degree in something else, but could not secure that dream job…I hope you think again.  Not to be ugly, but teaching needs to be a calling.  You will work hard.  You will doubt every decision you make some days.  You will cry.  You will have sore feet.  It is not glamorous.  But what it is…the MOST rewarding career you will ever have.  The moment a student understands something that they have struggled with because you found that right way to teach it…priceless.  The moment your most challenged new teacher says, “I get it now” and they really do…you will not stop smiling!  The moment that one parent who you believe is out to ruin your career says, “Thank you”…nothing will compare.  These are the reasons to teach!  I hope you read this and can say to yourself…yes, that is why I want to do this.

Remember, anyone can teach you how to write a lesson plan.  Anyone can help you develop a school wide management plan.  Anyone can share their routines and procedures…but they cannot teach you to care.  That is on you!  Good luck and make the most of your journey!

Team Work Makes the Dream Work! – by Cheri

Wow!  That is how I will be starting this week’s weekly newsletter to my staff!  I was lucky enough to spend time with some amazing educators this week…my teachers met with me to enjoy sweet treats and discuss celebrations and progress during this challenging school year (yes, our district was devastated by Hurricane Harvey)!  And, I have to say…they are simply AMAZING!

This did not happen by accident and it did not happen over night!  Just like most other schools across America, each year I have to make tough staffing decisions, hire new teachers, and ensure that those who need extra support get what they need.  This takes time and energy…and sometimes some trial and error!  So, as a new teacher, or someone who wants to improve their craft, here are my suggestions for you to ensure you can make the same progress that my teachers have made this year!

  1. The first day on campus in August is one of the MOST important days of the year!  I believe in first impressions and this is your chance to make it or break it!  It will be scary…whether you are new to teaching, new to the campus, or you have any kind of history at that school.  Walk in with a smile!  Although you can no longer hang in your shorts and flip-flops, you should be excited to come back and start the new year!  Walk in with confidence!  No matter what your experience level, you are on the campus for a reason…prove to your leader they did not make a mistake by having you on the team!
  2. Build your network!  I will be honest…I was a very shy, young, new teacher and I had to find a network that worked for me.  Growing up, I would not say I was a “popular” kid, so I felt that this was my chance to re-invent myself.  I did accomplish that, but I had a time when I felt my network should be the popular teachers (who may not have always been the most positive group of teachers)…again, trial and error!  Find a group that will be a good support system for you.  You will NEED these people throughout the year to hear you cry, listen to your concerns, ask questions, and share your joys!  Choose wisely!
  3. Remember, school begins day 1!  I ask my teachers to spend most of the first week of school building relationships and ensuring students understand expectations and procedures.  This is the first, and possibly the most important part, of learning for the year!  Once this is accomplished, teaching and learning can flourish!  I am very passionate about teaching and learning…and as a classroom teacher, I knew I could not waste even one minute of time.  My day was planned for success and for learning.  EVERYTHING we did was tied to learning…even recess!  Time moves fast and you want to ensure your students make the most progress possible!
  4. Your team needs to become your new group of best friends!  I use a few cheesy lines with my staff each year, but one I think about here is…you don’t have to like everyone who works here, but you are a team and you need to ensure you are working together.  I share “team” responsibilities with teams at the beginning of the year…two that stand out are: the team is responsible for the team and the team is only as strong as its weakest link.  Once each team understands the responsibilities, they develop two team goals that they commit to working on together to accomplish each year.  My staff has done such a great job with this task this year!  I am so proud of them!  They have learned the true meaning of working as a team AND supporting each other for the greater good of the team, even if everyone isn’t friends outside of school!
  5. Find ways to have fun!  This is hard work…and if you only view the world of teaching and learning as hard work…it will always be hard work!  Make learning activities fun!  Find ways to build relationships with your colleagues so you enjoy spending your time with them!  I was lucky as a classroom teacher in Houston, TX…most of us were transplants for other states so those I worked with became my family!  We grew together, our own children grew together, and we are still together socially although we all have taken on different leadership roles!  They are priceless to me and I know they are a big reason why I have been able to continue this work for such a long time!
  6. Finish strong!  What makes me smile each year is to see how much progress students and staff (especially new staff) make by the last months of the year.  Something I am working hard with my staff right now is to ensure that we do not let up or give up, and finish the year strong!  The end of the year brings many challenges like increased student discipline infractions and a lot of paperwork to wrap up the year.  This can be overwhelming!  The weather begins to warm up (well, in Houston it does…sorry to my friends in the north!), and students AND staff want to be outside.  And, everyone is tired!  But, don’t give up!  I always remind staff…you have worked too hard all year to not finish strong!

Teaching is challenging!  Even after 22 years, I am TIRED on Friday evening!  And as we all are seeing right now, we are never compensated for the work we do!  But, the work we do is some of the most important work there is…and as you have heard me say, we do this because it is a calling!  Finding ways to use your team and making the work more enjoyable has been one of the keys to my success!  I don’t have all of the answers, but these tips above have helped me over the years!

Sparkle on, my friends!