Wednesday, July 11, 2018

How one large public high school is supporting students with mental health issues

Public Education is an awesome, difficult, inspiring, challenging, and rewarding concept and opportunity. When we agree that all means ALL, we commit to educate and grow every student that walks through our door. During my 24 years in education, the needs of students have become greater and more diverse, and schools are seeking ways to meet the most vulnerable students to the highest achieving students. 

Today, up to 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder in a given year. When untreated, symptoms can show up in school - disruptive behavior, chronic absence, low achievement, and dropping out of school. Sometimes, the mental health issues can cause a student feel so anxious that they refuse to attend. 

With limited budgets and lack of awareness, knowledge, and training, schools are missing out on an opportunity to change students’ lives for the better. I would like to share how we assist our most vulnerable students at Hoover High School in our “school within a school” program called New Beginnings.

The New Beginnings program is for students who deal with social, emotional, and or mental issues that prevent them from being successful in a public high school. Until last year, it had been “housed” at a separate building in our district where it, along with our punitive alternative school (which met in a different part of the building), had its own principal, teachers, and counseling staff. Last year, the building was sold and the New Beginnings program was moved to be housed in each of the two high schools to serve the students in their home schools. 

The first year it was moved to our school, it was considered a failure. I want to share the pitfalls of the program so that if you implement something similar, you will know where we stumbled and can avoid the potholes. 

We designated a classroom for the New Beginnings program where students would remain from first through fifth periods. Teachers from different content areas would rotate to the classroom to work with students on an online curriculum. (The period that they rotated into the New Beginnings classroom became one of their five teaching periods for the day.) Our school social worker as well as grade-level counselors would check in on the students occasionally, but with roughly 700 students in our large public high school, we can’t say that the students in the New Beginnings program got the attention they needed from our staff. The teachers worked hard to help the students to be successful, but very little work got accomplished in the online program and with teachers rotating in and out of the classroom, there was no continuity or anchor for our students. They continued to drift along, and we realized that there needed to be a change. 

In the summer of 2017, one of our counselors, Dr. Debbie Grant, and I volunteered to oversee the program. The superintendent had agreed to fund a full-time counselor for the program, so Dr. Grant moved from being a grade-level counselor to the New Beginnings counselor. This meant that she would be in the classroom all day with the students and provide the consistency the program and students needed. Dr. Grant is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), and she and I have heart to advocate for the students who can’t, or don’t know how to, advocate for themselves. 

To enter the program, students and parents must fill out an application. Students must want to be in the program for it to be successful, otherwise you will have students in the program who can become resentful and work to resist and possibly destroy the trust and community in the program. Parents sign a release that allows Dr. Grant to talk with doctors, counselors, and/or therapists. This allows all adults to work together to support the students and to ensure that students are getting consistent messages from their adult advocates. 

The physical space is a former computer lab that is located in our library. It has an entrance in the library, and it also has a door to our courtyard. This extra exit has been beneficial at different times, like when a student and Dr. Grant need to do a “walk and talk” or if a student needs a few minutes alone in the courtyard to regain composure. 

The space also has a restroom, kitchen area, and refrigerator. Students not having to use the public restroom at the school eases a lot of anxiety for several students, and it reduces travel time that results in lost work time. Dr. Grant created “pods” with the desks, and she provided several flexible seating options, including a small sofa, a beanbag, and bungee chairs. She provided lots of different lighting options, and she set up a  “puzzle table” in the room. Students needing a mental break can spend a few minutes at the puzzle table before returning to work. Dr. Grant also provided Rubik’s cubes, fidget spinners, colored pencils, stress balls, and more for each pod.  

The first period of the day is “Academic Success,” a time for students to do community building activities, have breakfast, discuss relevant issues, learn study strategies, review grades, work ahead in their classes… anything that they need to do to help themselves to be successful in the classroom and in their coursework. 

Second through Fifth period are designated for core classes: science, math, English, and social studies. (Students in Alabama must have 4 credits in each core area to meet graduation requirements in those areas.) After fifth period, students have C.R.E.W. (advisory) time for half of a period, then lunch for half of a period. Students can eat in the lunchroom, courtyard, or in the New Beginnings classroom. After lunch, students can go to electives in the building or go home if they have virtual classes or senior release (early release due to being on track with credits toward graduation.)

Besides creating a special physical space for the students in New Beginnings, Dr. Grant also created some special events for the students. In October, our Theatre department hosts “Haunted Hallways” through the school. (It’s is a weekend fundraiser for the theatre department, and the students in theatre classes learn about make-up, special effects, fundraising, advertising, role-playing, deadlines, and teamwork.) Dr. Grant met her students at the school and they all went through the haunted hallways, then they went to the NB classroom where she had snacks for them, and they watched a movie together. 

She had a speaker come in from a Jefferson State, a local community college to talk to her students about college admissions. 

She took the students on a field trip to the McWane Science Center. Some students had never been on a field trip in high school. 

Dr. Grant led students through a book study, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, where they learned and practiced the seven habits.

The class had an end-of-year cookout in the courtyard after one of our full days before semester exams started. 

Most importantly, besides these events, a sense of belonging and safe community was created for the students in the classroom through daily actions. Greeting each student as they entered the room, talking about the hard to talk about, holding as-needed “therapy sessions,” and providing a judgment-free zone were some of the small but powerful actions that created an atmosphere of trust and comfort.

Leaders in the class started to emerge, friendships were created, and lifelong memories were forged.

At the end of the year, the students wanted to meet with me to share their thoughts about the New Beginnings programs. 

Here’s what some of them said:

“Last year, I was basically a mute. I didn’t talk to anyone. I had no friends. This year, I have friends and I belong.”

“This program has literally saved my life. I wanted to kill myself earlier in the school year, and if it weren’t for this program, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Before this program, I was going to drop out. I didn’t care. I wouldn’t be a high school graduate without this program.”

The students all know the philosophy about the program -- it’s “part of the journey and not the destination.” Our goal is for students to learn coping strategies, confidence, and motivation to be able to go full-time in a regular classroom. We think that it would be better for the student to be in a building full of people who care about them on a daily basis before they go out into the “real world” after high school. We have also reassured students that if they are not ready to leave the classroom, they can stay in the program as they need to. In fact, we will have  senior this year who will be in the program first period for Academic Success, and she will go to 3 core classes that are advanced and not a part of the online course options. She will come back to the New Beginnings classroom for her government and economics class, then she will be able to leave school early with the senior release option. She is the go-to person in the room for other students, and she has become a role model for other students.

While we know that not every school could implement a program like this, we do know that our “school within a school” could serve as a model for schools who have been looking for a way to support students who suffer from mental health issues or anxiety about attending school. I encourage you to rethink your physical space, master schedule, and advocates in your building. 

If you would like to learn more or come and visit our school and see the program in action, please contact me via email or send me a direct message on twitter

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Nine ways to develop an exceptional culture

It was the spring of 1984, and father was working in Birmingham, Alabama, and his family - my mom, my younger sister, and me - were supposed to move that summer. (That meant a new school and new friends for this VERY shy teenager.) My dad had heard about a school called Berry High School that he thought might be a good fit for his daughters. He was looking for a school with a good girls' sports program, so he went to visit the athletic director. 

When my dad got to the school, he asked where he might find the athletic director, and someone told him that he would be in the gym. My dad says, “I saw this guy sweeping the floor and asked if he could tell me where the athletic director was. The guy said, ‘I reckon that would be me.’ That guy was Bob Finley."

I was lucky to get to play my last two years of high school basketball for Coach Finley. He created a culture of excellence and hard work in everything he did. (Here's a great article written a few years ago about Coach Finley's legacy.)

When I think of Coach Finley, I remember 

...that he never liked "hotdogs." He once pulled a player from the game when she pointed in the stands after making a shot. 

...we practiced the fundamentals. He made sure we knew them and practiced them until it was second nature and until we did them well.

...politeness along with competitiveness. He picked up trash in the bleachers after games. He was respectful to others. He wanted us to win. He wanted our actions on the court to speak for themselves. He never asked us to do anything he wouldn't do himself.

...he was a man of character. He set positive examples for integrity, grit, and hard work. 

So, when I saw the tweet below, it took me right back to high school and my fond memories of Coach Finley.

How can we as school leaders develop an exceptional culture?

Developing an exceptional culture by @Jennifer_Hogan

1 - Do the little things. Never be "too big" to do little things yourself. Clean up. Hold the door. Be at a post. Smile. 

2 - Be ON the team, not apart from the team. Have employees' backs. Work on the work together. 

Developing an exceptional culture by @Jennifer_Hogan

3 - Be open to stepping away from organizational charts. Empower others to hold each other accountable for the mission, vision, goals, and results.  

4 - Keep raising the bar. Don't settle for complacency, including the decisions where it would be "easier" to settle.

5 - Own your energy. We are responsible for the energy we bring to each and every interaction and relationship. Be relentless to share positive energy only.

6 - Keep your word. Period.

7 - Set gutsy goals. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. 

8 - Focus on the journey. Trust the process, and the results will take care of themselves. Focus on the people, lessons learned, successes, and stay consistent.

9 - Love your team and the work. Roll up your sleeves, enjoy yourself, laugh, and love the people with whom you get to do the important work. 

Developing an exceptional culture by @Jennifer_Hogan

Developing an exceptional culture is no easy task. In your experience, what would you add to this list? Which one resonates the most with you? I look forward to hearing from you either in the comments below or on twitter.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Five resources for teaching vocabulary

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that I'm passionate about TEACHING vocabulary and not just assigning it. 

I have to admit that I, too, have just assigned words in the past. My biggest "aha" moment was when I was a young teacher and I had a student in my class who was from Russia. I gave the students a homework assignment to copy the vocabulary words from the chapter and copy the definitions from the back of the book. When the student turned in his work, he had used the Spanish glossary at the back of the book. At that moment, the light bulb went off and I realized just how ineffective my assignment was.

The problem wasn't that I didn't WANT to teach vocabulary, it's just that I really didn't know how to teach it. Over the years I have read and learned as much as I can about teaching vocabulary, and I share what I have learned with the teachers at our school and with the readers of my blog. 

Before I share my new resource with you, I want to recap four resources I've written about previously. 

If you click the image above, you can read about a specific technique that teachers can use with any grade level to teach vocabulary. If you're a parent, I challenge you to try it this summer with your own children. You can also go ahead and download or print the PDF that's linked in the post and tuck it away with your plans for the next school year. 


A resource that you can use with staff members can be found in the post, How to help struggling readers. It helps to create the WHY around teaching vocabulary. While it's technically not a teaching strategy, it is powerful and reminds us of the role of vocabulary in reading comprehension.


Looking for an awesome book on how to help teenagers to read? This one is packed with practical strategies that can be implemented in a classroom. After you read what I highlighted from the book, I would love to hear your thoughts on them. 

Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book:

"For vocabulary instruction to be effective, students need to have numerous opportunities to use words and to receive feedback about how well they are doing their word usage.”

That strategy was definitely NOT on my radar when I assigned the vocabulary list to my students long ago! I just keep thinking of what Maya Angelou says... when we know better, we have to do better. 



Kids love video. They watch it, they record themselves, they share their videos. 

I've found that in class, they are very hesitant at first to do an academic recording. Has this been your experience, too?

Recap is a great resource to use for short videos (See what one of our math teachers did with Recap), and Flipgrid is another terrific and easy-to-use resource for learning about vocabulary. 


A new resource that I learned about this week is a person. Her name is Vocab Gal. (Don't you just love it?!)

The image above is linked to her blog (Sponsored by Sadlier). There you will find some VERY creative ways to teach vocabulary! For you Pinterest fans, you can also follow her board on Pinterest. And finally, if you like to keep up on Facebook, you can follow her page on Facebook

Do you or someone you know have a strategy for teaching vocabulary that works? I would love to hear it! Please shoot me an email (click the icon on the top right of the page) or connect on twitter. I would love to hear from you!

Monday, April 30, 2018

End the School Year Strong and Celebrate with #LastBell

You’ve spent all year getting to know your students, and now is the time to celebrate those relationships and keep growing them. Here are a few ideas to spark ideas for ways to energize or put a twist on your finish to the school year! 

What if you have them write a letter to themselves that you can mail back to them in a year or five or ten? 

Now is also a good time to communicate one last time with parents. What if you called the parents of every student and told them how much you enjoyed having their children as your students? It will create a memory that will last a lifetime - for the student and the parent. 

Be intentional about praise. What if you wrote a short note to each student, praising them for at least one thing you observed/appreciated while they were your student?

What if you took your students on a field trip in your own school? 

End of year learning at Hoover High School

End of year learning at Hoover High School

End of year learning at Hoover High School

Since February, I’ve been helping a long-term sub with our Foods & Nutrition classes. Recently, as part of their learning about the National School Lunch Program, they got to visit the cafeteria and learn alongside the lunchroom staff. Talk about making memories! 

Give students time to reflect on their school year. What if you ask them how they want to reflect? It will look different at different levels - it may be in the form of a feedback survey, an art project, a thank you card, or a _______… the sky’s the limit when you open it up to students’ imaginations!

Use flipgrid to talk to the future. What if students recorded a message your students for the next year? Maybe they could each share 1 - 3 tips for being successful in the class? What a neat treat for the kids in the fall to hear from former students and their suggestions for success! 

Whatever you choose, continue to build on students' strengths as well as your own. The last month of school can be the most meaningful and impactful time for you and your students. 

Enjoy the time you have left with them, and share your excitement and adventures on social media by using the #lastbell hashtag!

Previous years' #lastbell posts



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Teacher Appreciation Week is in May - Here are 9+ ideas to celebrate teachers!

Next to parenting, teaching is one of the hardest jobs there is. Teachers do more than teach content to their students, they build self-esteem, counsel, encourage, manage behavior, foster hope, and MORE! 

While we should celebrate teachers every day of the year, there is one week set aside for special celebrations across the United States. 

Teacher Appreciation Week is celebrated in May each year. This year (2018), it is celebrated May 7th - 11th, with National Teacher Day on Tuesday, May 8th. 

In today's post, I'm sharing 9 ideas with you to celebrate teachers in your school, district, or lives.  

1. Cookie Day

For Cookie Day, parents brought in homemade cookies and they were re-plated and dishes were labeled. Paper bags in three sizes were provided so that teachers could "grab and go." Each bag was stamped with "Merci Beaucoup."

2. Teacher Appreciation Station

I just love the blog post written about the "Appreciation Station" found in the picture above. A station like this would be easy to set up in a lobby, library corner, lunchroom, or other common area. Provide Thank You cards and allow students and staff members to write thank you notes to teachers. 

3. Door Decorations

Decorating teachers' doors would be a great project for a student council, parent organization or booster club, or a student club to take on.  Even better... what if the students (and/or parents) come in over a weekend so that when the teachers arrive on Monday they are greeted to their new door decorations?!

5 - A Token of Appreciation

I don't know what it is, but every teacher I've ever met loves a good pen! Here's an idea to give a small token of appreciation with a sharpie and cute gift tag. In the blog post at The Review Wire, you can download free printables to attach to the pens. (You can also download the "Let's stay sharp" tags for the current year.)

6 - Donuts + Cute Printable

Drop by your local donut shop and pick up some donuts for your teachers. Be sure to print out the cute and free printable at Ashley's blog, Teach, Create, Motivate, to go along with the sweet treats! 

7 - Show or create an inspirational video

The 2-minute video above is inspiring! If you are a student or a parent, it would be just as meaningful for your or your child's teacher to get a video from you. If you are a member of a school leadership team, perhaps you create a video for your teachers to thank them for the hard work they do each and every day of the school year. 

8 - Provide a small plant for a teacher's desk 

I LOVE the idea of giving a small plant that a teacher can put on his/her desk and also be able to take home and plant in the yard or in a flower pot. It's a great gift that a teacher can look back on with fondness even after Teacher Appreciation Week. Check with local nurseries to see if they would donate the small plants and decorate with cute signs and/or ribbons. 

9 - Hand deliver goodies

Hand delivering snacks to teachers in their classrooms is a special way to say thank you for what you do. It's a time-saver for teachers and it's a fun way to visit classrooms. Provide a variety of snacks (healthy options included) so that teachers have choice on their treat. 

Want more ideas? 
See my Pinterest board, "Teacher Appreciation Ideas."

During Teacher Appreciation Week, be sure to share on twitter how you celebrate the teachers in your life and use the hashtag #ThankATeacher. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

We must Maslow before we Bloom

Maslow over Bloom by @Jennifer_Hogan

The fourth quarter of school is a special time. 

At this point in the school year, teachers and students should know each other well, the warmer weather welcomes outside play and activities, and the approach on the close of one of life's mile markers rapidly approaches. 

It's at this juncture that we as educators must ask ourselves, "Have I made a connection with each student?" and "Have I helped students meet their needs in my classroom?" 

We must remember as we enter into this last phase of the school year that we must "Maslow before we Bloom." 

Abraham Maslow (1908 - 1970) was a psychologist who developed the Hierarchy of Needs in a pyramid form with five levels. He describes human motivation as being driven by unmet needs. The lower level of needs must be met before one can move on to the next level. 

Maslow was driven by a desire to understand self-actualization and "peak performance," where a person experiences life at a level of wholeness, service to others, creativity, and profound happiness.

Maslow over Bloom by @Jennifer_Hogan

Each and every interaction that is made on the way to and from school and at school in a classroom, hallway, office, lunchroom, playground, or gym can contribute to a student's needs being met. 

The importance of building relationships goes back to the age-old saying, Kids don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

We can't focus on Bloom without first making sure that students' needs are met. 

So at this time, I encourage all educators (myself included) to reflect about the relationships that we have developed with students at school and ask ourselves, Is there anything more I can do?

While there can be no checklist that is comprehensive enough to ensure positive relationships between teachers and students, there are a few things that can be done during the fourth quarter of school to make sure that students' needs are met and relationships are repaired, created, or nurtured. 

I would love for you to share in the comments about what you think should be added to this list.

Is there anything more I can do?

1 - Smile and greet each student. (If you are a classroom teacher, be at the door to shake hands, fist bump, and greet by name. Also, look students in the eyes as an initial barometer of how they're doing that day.)

2 - Avoid the use of sarcasm. (It doesn't matter how "funny" you are or how sarcastic the student is, avoid it.)

3 - Do a survey of your room for visual clutter. Do you have papers piled up on the counter/desk/floor? Are there items in the corner that you meant to throw away and just haven't gotten to yet? Are old student projects taking over a section of your classroom? If needed, clean your room and provide order for your students.

4 - Teach / re-teach behavioral expectations when working with a partner or in groups. Provide opportunities for students to practice behaviors and be consistent on respectfully enforcing behaviors. Avoid judgment.

5 - Say I'm sorry. If sarcasm is used, apologize. If you recognize that the words, body language, or tone damaged a relationship, apologize. 

6 - Forgive. When a student messes up, forgive him. When a student apologizes, say "I forgive you."

7 - If you notice a student is unhappy, pay attention and ask questions. It just may save a student's life. 

8 - Keep snacks in your drawer/fridge. Students don't usually binge on healthy snacks. Keep carrots, apples, crackers on hand for the hungry student. (I learned the carrot idea from Allyson Apsey.

9 - If you don't have systems and/or routines in place, incorporate them for the last quarter. How to turn in homework. How to schedule a make-up test and/or re-take. What to do when entering the classroom. What to do with cellphones while in the classroom. How to transition from individual work to group work.

10 - Give lots of praise. Even for the things that students should already be doing. Think about the last time you were praised at work... did it make you want to do more or less?

11 - Try the "2 x 10" strategy. For those students you don't know much about or with whom you have a strained relationship, spend 2 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days having relationship-building conversations. Don't talk about school and/or assignments. Talk about life outside of school, dreams, likes, dislikes, etc. to build or strengthen a relationship with a student. 

12 - See below....

If you haven't seen the video below, it is a wonderful reminder of the importance of every interaction at school. While we can't meet the needs of students while they're away from us, we can be intentional about our interactions while they're with us. 

Sometimes at this time in the school year, we can take for granted our relationships and each other. We get focused on content and curriculum, but we must remember that positive relationships always come first. 

Pin this to share later>>
Maslow over Bloom by @Jennifer_Hogan

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Free Download: Goal-Setting Guide

It's mid-March, and you still haven't done that thing that you said you would do. 

It's mid-March, and you don't have a way to track your progress on your way to reaching your goals. 

It's almost summer, another school year over, and you've given up on one (or a few) of your goals you set for yourself back in January. 

Can you relate to any of the sentences above?

With Spring Break around the corner, I wanted to share some inspiration and a FREE GIFT with you today. 

Feel free to print the images below for your classroom, office, car, or any other space where you need and want inspiration. Also, be sure to fill out the form below to get a copy of my FREE Goal-Setting Guide. I want you to ROCK YOUR GOALS this year, and it's not too late!

Just hover over each image and choose right-click and "save image as" to your computer. 

I created the Goal-Setting System to help me with my goals this year, and it has helped so much already this year that I wanted to turn it into a free download to help others, too.

Just fill in the blanks below and get a link sent to your Inbox for a FREE, instant download. 

Keep rockin'!

Sign up here to Rock Your Goals with Jennifer Hogan's Goal-Setting Guide.

* indicates required

After signing up, check your Inbox for an email from me with a link to the Goal-Setting Guide. Be sure to drop me a line and let me know how it's working for you!

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