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How Walt Disney Would Manage Your Classroom: Part Three

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Disclaimer: Once again, I want to start by clearly saying that I have no affiliation with Disney, and that all of the opinions and ideas I’m sharing in this podcast and blog are my own. πŸ˜Š

Episode Show Notes:

Just a quick recap –

In Part One and Part Two of this series, we talked about the first two elements that, in my observation and careful study, Walt Disney masterfully wove into his Disneyland theme park design that we can learn from in designing and managing our own classrooms.

In those shows, I talk about how your first step is to:

  1. Create your own “Legendary Lay-Out” in your classroom, just like in Disneyland, to ensure an easy flow of traffic and materials.

  2. The next step is to "Establish “Energizing Expectations” for you and your students with a clear schedule, rules and routines.

  3. And then finally, you are ready for Disney's amazing third element, which we are going to talk about in this show.

This is the reason we all go to Disneyland:
Something I call “Magic, Love, and Sunshine.”

How can you include a dash of motivational magic and a sprinkle of love and sunshine into your classroom?

How can you give your students
a reason to look forward to being there every day?

Well, how does Disney do it?

Walt Disney includes four key elements in all he creates, whether it be a theme park, a favorite character, or a feature-length film:

  1. He harnesses the incredible power of imagination: What would fairytales be without it? Without transporting us into other worlds, other perspectives, and making real that which was only an idea, a concept?

  2. He invites impossible possibilities – for everyone. Bambi loses his mother and there are hunters and forest fires, but everything turns out all right in the end; Even Dumbo would discover that he was special and loved!

  3. He is a master storyteller. We are always invited into a problem where there are three tries before we succeed... but we always succeed. πŸ˜‰

  4. He believes in the power of surprise. Just when we think there is no hope, Anna finds Elsa and the kingdom is restored to goodness and light just in the nick of time.

So - how can we apply this mastery to our own classroom teaching?

We need to become much more thoughtful and intentional about the kinds of motivational systems we select for our classrooms, because so many of them are just “band-aids” for getting kids to do what we want them to.

To really get kids on your side, to let them know that they truly can trust you, and to create the same kinds of magical spaces and feelings we crave when we go to Disneyland, we need to learn a thing or two from the master:

Why does the tagline,
“The happiest place on Earth”
speak to our hearts so directly?

It’s because Disney knew intuitively something very special
about the human spirit, and it’s this:

That at the heart of it all – that the meaning of life –
and we hear this from sages all around the world
from all religions and spiritualities –
is that happiness IS the point.

So, ultimately, whatever we can do in our classrooms to bring even just a sprinkle of joy into children’s lives and hearts and spirits – this, above all else, is going to be what drives your students to excel.

Here's one example of how I invited magic, love, and sunshine into my own classroom by taking a page or two from what I learned from studying Walt Disney’s example.

The Treasure Chest

It was an afternoon in August when I came up with this idea for using a treasure chest and a treasure map in my classroom to motivate and inspire students through stories.

Because I have traveled a lot and because I am a passionate storyteller, one of my students’ favorite rewards is to hear stories about my travels around the world.

It dawned on me that I could use these stories not only as a way to bond with my students through sharing our stories, but also as a way to teach geography and to motivate my class.

I designed a “treasure map” and, using gold glitter glue, I created a path around the world with gold coins pasted on it at specific locations (and about 10 steps apart on the map).

The trail begins in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (where our classroom was) and ends on Crete, Greece – the location of Barbarossa’s Cave where he hid his pirate treasure.

Next, I searched until I found what looked like a treasure chest at a garage sale, and I filled it with gold cloth and stories of my travels written on scrolls tied with gold ribbon...

(Now, to be clear, I didn’t actually write out all of these stories. I simply wrote a sentence, or sometimes even just a phrase, to remind me about what the story was. So for example, if I wanted to tell them a story about when I went diving with sharks in Australia – true story, by the way – I simply wrote those words, “Shark Diving in Australia” to remind me about what story I wanted to tell.)

Then, I glued a picture of a pirate ship onto a magnet, and my class could earn spaces on the treasure map for following class rules and routines.

When we reached a gold coin, we would gather around the treasure chest.

I’d pull a name out of a hat (so that every child would have a chance by the end of the year), and that child got to choose the scroll for that stop on our adventure.

As we gathered around and shared the story, it became the catalyst for stories my students didn’t even realize they had but which suddenly needed to be told – to each other, in their writing, in their whispers during free time.

As we traveled around the world through their imaginations, we not only learned about each other and the importance of our stories in our developing classroom community, but we also learned to work together to share a common goal.

When we reached our final destination at Barbarossa’s Cave, our class earned a “Pirate Pajama Party.” On this day, the students were invited to come dressed either as a pirate or in their pajamas, and we would enjoy popcorn and a short movie to celebrate our accomplishments.

Then our ship would return to its original harbor and we’d begin our journey anew (approximately once every three months).

Now, why did this treasure chest and map work so well in my classroom as a classroom management tool?

Let’s go back to those four reasons why I believe Disney was so successful in creating magic: 

  1. I captured my students’ imaginations with positioning them as pirates and explorers, traveling around the globe in search of treasure. Children spend most of their lives with one foot firmly planted in imagination and the other in reality. Walking into their little worlds for a while and imagining we are on this great adventure together helped to bring us together in ways that only dreaming together can.

  2. Which, of course invites impossible possibilities – for everyone.
    What? Diving with sharks in Australia? That’s actually possible? And you didn’t die?

    And here’s the possibility part:
    "Yes, and you can do it, too. Every single one of you.
    In fact, you can do anything you dream of.
    Anything you want to.
    What do YOU want to do someday?
    Anything is possible."

    In fact, this reminds me of one of Walt Disney’s most famous quotes:

    “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

  3. I not only invited storytelling into the experience – I made it their reward for working together to follow class rules and routines like rockstars

  4. The treasure chest and map harnessed the power of surprise:
    Although the students could see where each pocket of buried treasure was hidden because there was a gold coin placed every ten spaces or so, they never knew when it was going to be awarded, because sometimes I would throw up my arms and say,

    “You people are just so amazing for cleaning up without me even asking you to AND helping each other to do it that I think we have earned 3 spaces and are ready for our next treasure RIGHT NOW! Come on over to the reading corner and let’s get this little surprise party started. Who is my Special Person this week? I really need you to come and pull a name out of my hat so we can unlock our treasure chest and choose a scroll!”

    Alternatively, I might say,

    Oh no. Only saw Samantha and Tom helping to clean up when I asked all of you to. They each earn a Special Person Award, but our class needs to go back 2 spaces on our Treasure Map because we weren't all working together. It makes me so sad.”

    However, when the students DID earn their story, we were all surprised by which one we would hear…

    And by the way, I share more about how I created the atmosphere for what I came to call “Five-Minute Field Trips” around the world in Podcast #003, so you might want to go back and check that one out and then download the freebie I created to help you get started with doing this with your own students!

As a beginning teacher, I encourage you to find your own “Treasure Map and Treasure Chest” from the experience that has been your life and incorporate this into your classroom in a way that will not only help your students to get to know you as a person, but which will also help you to define your own teaching style.

I encourage you to not just grab the next cool thing you see on Pinterest. Choose a classroom management tool that will:

  1. Harness the incredible power of imagination.
  2. Invite impossible possibilities – for everyone.
  3. Involve master storytelling.
  4. Include surprise.

For example:

  • If you’re a sports lover, you could create a field/court for your sport on a wall in your classroom and teach your students how they can score points/goals, and then tell cool stories about real kids who had big dreams and achieved them as your class earns certain numbers of points, and then eventually earn a larger class reward of watching an inspirational movie of a famous sports star who never gave up on their dreams.

  • If you love outer space, you might create the solar system on a wall of your classroom and give your students a space ship – create a way for them to earn travel to other planets where they learn really cool facts and stories, and then earn a class reward when they finally reach the sun (or whatever path you take them on). 
  • If you love animals, you could create a rainforest collage and let your students earn points for plants and animals they can “save” through great behavior and working together - maybe your class gets to watch a cool video about amazing, endangered animals that they can help, and then eventually earn a class reward of going to see a real animal rescue at work.

Whatever it is...

I encourage you to find that something special that will make your classroom a reflection of who you are becoming as a teacher – while ensuring that you add that special dash of motivational magic to inspire your students to buy into the rules and routines that make your classroom a community.

And this, my friends, is when the magic of princesses and heroes, the invitation to imagination, to love and happy endings, and all things possible, can, and I would argue – should - be layered into your classroom experience.

Want Some Help with Classroom Management NOW?

Go ahead and grab the freebie I’ve created especially for you by clicking the link below. This checklist is a fantastic way for you to get a clear picture of where you are currently in your understanding of classroom management, and to give you a clear path forward for the next steps you need to take towards creating the classroom of your dreams.

Subscribe and Review in iTunes:

Also, be sure to subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode, and if you’re feeling extra loving, please leave a positive review. It really helps me to know what has been helpful to you and what you need more help with. I hope you have a wonderful week, and I can’t wait to connect with you again soon. Bye for now!


Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at and at

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