Saturday, January 28, 2017


Hello colleagues! I wanted to share with you a program that our school is currently participating in called Path2Empathy. It was co-created by a former SMS counselor Jennicca. The idea behind the program is that we are building empathy within our students and ourselves. From their website, Path2Empath says that this program should, "show students that seeing the world through another's eyes is essential to personal growth," that "practice and experience walking in another’s shoes demonstrates the importance of shedding at-risk behaviors in order to help others," and "students will build self-worth by contributing to a cause greater than themselves".

The first lesson of the program includes having the students take a seven-day challenge. The challenges include:
  • Eat rice and beans for one meal a day
  • Take a cold shower one time a day
  • Sleep on the floor
  • Drink only water (no other beverage)
  • Wear only two outfits 
  • Carry one gallon of water everywhere you go
  • Walk to school
  • No make-up
  • No fast food
  • No snacking or eating between meals
As part of the seven-day challenge, there are prompting questions to ask the kids. We are planning on having the kids blog about the challenges they chose and how they are feeling. Since us teachers are ALSO picking challenges, I thought it was apropos to answer the same questions as I blogged.

What challenge did you choose? I selected three challenges: eat rice and beans for one meal a day for seven days, drink only water for seven days, and wear no make-up. 

What do you expect to learn? I expected to experience the struggles of people in third world countries. I have to experience the struggles to empathize. 

What has been the most difficult part of the challenge? I honestly believed it would be a breeze to do these three challenges. I thought that wearing no make-up would be the toughest challenge. Even though I do not wear make-up when I do not go to school, I have always worn make-up in front of my middle school students. Shockingly enough, this has been the easiest challenge. The students finally said something on Friday - "Mrs. Jeffrey, you don't look all that different without make-up. You only look more tired, but it's because you're not wearing eye makeup."

The most difficult part of the challenge has been dealing with the weekend and real life with these challenges. I didn't have the best week, and I had some friends that had a rough week. One friend called out happy hour last night, and I was quick to join in. It wasn't until I was driving there that I remembered to only drink water, and boy did I have a little existential crisis! I relented and drank something other than water because I had a rough week, but I definitely realized my own privilege at that moment, and I even brought it up while we were sitting at the table.

It also was a challenge today to eat rice and beans. We had an Edcamp session today, and lunch is provided. I was going to eat rice and beans for breakfast, but then life happens, and I ran out the door with a quick and easy breakfast instead. I would love to go out to dinner tonight before a hockey game, but it is just not going to happen as I want to follow through on at least two of the three challenges! 

How has this experience changed the way you look at food and drink? These challenges made me recognize how easy food and drinks are available in America. Even though I regularly cook breakfast each morning, today I was able to grab a quick snack on the go. I can make coffee quite fast in the morning, or I have funds that allow me to stop at Starbucks. Our fridge is always stocked with food and drink to our delight, even when I say that there's "nothing" to eat.

Part of what is necessary to build empathy, instead of sympathy, is to show gratitude and be grateful for what I have. I think I need to start daily meditation is to demonstrate that gratitude each day.

Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :) 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Good morning colleagues! A couple weeks ago, I posted my resolutions for the year. Carla, a fellow #sunchatblogger, commented on my struggles and burnout with my #oneword2017: self-care. I never would have come up with that term on my own, and I'd been toying with the idea. Then this week I went to Marzano training in Denver for supporting beginning teachers. Little did I know that Tina would bring up the importance of self-care for teachers, and then the idea was cemented.

Tina led some fantastic discussions with ideas for self-care. The one that stuck out the most to me was music. Music has always played a significant role in my life! I never really thought about the idea of music changing my mood, but it happens all of the time. My husband makes fun of me for having so many playlists, but they are all created around my moods and feelings.

All of these discussions made me decide that I needed to create even more precise playlists catered around "self-care"; playlists that will help change my mood when I am having a particularly bad or stressful day. So yesterday, on Inauguration Day, on a Friday, after a long week, I put together a happy playlist to share with you.

As I said in the description of the playlist, "In a bad mood? Give this playlist an hour!"

I think I want to continue with a post once a month (or every other month) with ideas for self-care for teachers. We all need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves!

Thanks for reading and enjoy the music. I'll see you next week :) 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, January 14, 2017

High Reliability Schools

Good afternoon colleagues!

This past week, a co-worker and I sat in a team meeting. While completing the activity that was given to us, we had a side conversation about what we were doing. Our instructional coach provided us with a flip chart of Bloom's Taxonomy verbs and inquiry starters for each level. We were told to create a question for the top three levels of Bloom's. My partner and I had no problem coming up with these statements, and in fact, I was inspired to use one of the questions that day in my class!

My teammate wondered out loud if we were doing this activity because our school is actively seeking the level two High Reliability endorsement from Marzano. I hadn't even thought of it, but once she said it, it made sense. Our school just passed level one, so it makes sense that we would be working towards level two.

This made me think about three things this week: 1) what does level two entail, 2) how can I ensure that my teaching practices support level two, and 3) what has Marzano's High Reliability levels done for our school.

1. Level Two: Effective Teaching in Every Classroom: Our school has a committee that is working towards this process. The committee hasn't been secretive per se, but I will admit that most of the staff have no idea what exactly is going on. I do believe this is on purpose as the point is to make these practices common place within the school instead of people putting on a "dog and pony show" when the Marzano peeps come to town. I am lucky that a good friend is on the committee, so she's told me a few things about what Marzano is looking for. I still had to, however, do some online digging for more information. I found a decent PDF from 2014 that helped detail what I was looking for.

I feel like our school is doing a fairly decent job with level two, but we definitely have some work cut out for us over the next few months.

2. How do my teaching practices support level two: It is interesting to look at the indicators and see that it does not fall much on me, the classroom teacher. Many of the indicators come from administration or instructional coaches. What falls on me is clearly communicating with my grade level administrator, my evaluator, and the instructional coach on when I feel as though I am not being supported in these ways. I do think my teaching practices will come more into play if we attempt level three as a school. 

3. How things have changed at school: Now that I have a better idea of level two, it has become apparent how things changed from when I started teaching at Skyview eight years ago. In the last couple of years, I have noticed that I could request to attend trainings, or even more recently, I asked to co-teach with my mentee, and was enthusiastically given a "yes" and a "how can I help." For teachers to grow, they have to be given ways to further develop their pedagogy and curriculum. I do believe that our weaknesses, as a school, appear when talking about sharing effective instructional practices and being provided with clear, ongoing evaluations. It will be interesting to see if these practices change over the coming months, knowing that they have to change to achieve level two. 

I am aware that this post has been rather tedious and cumbersome, but it was something that I actually reflected on this week. I am excited for the changes that I've seen recently, and do wonder if this has something to do with it. Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :) 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Year's Resolutions

Greetings colleagues! Welcome back after what I hope was a restful and relaxing winter holiday!

This morning I received an e-mail from a colleague who was excited to share work from innovative teachers in the district while also linking an article about innovative teaching. It spurred my idea for today's blog post!

As I read articles like this, I am always reflective about how I can improve my teaching practices. I am a thoughtful teacher - it is one of my strengths as I have grown much as a teacher (while also a weakness; I take things too personally while being reflective). I see within my units ones that are more innovative than others, and that's due to the frustration of being an "island."

I have come to realize, after the last five years of "iPad teaching" that I cannot do it all. Even though I have a good idea of what I'm doing in my classroom, I still need training, support, and colleagues who are willing to be risk-takers with me. But after five years, I am still an island. And I believe that is part of what is stressing me out and burning me out of teaching.

Bloggers have been focused this last week with #oneword2017 blog posts. I am jealous that I don't have one of these posts because I a) cannot come up with a word for myself and b) am so stressed out and burned out that I haven't worked hard at coming up with a term for my 2017 goals. So I am going to blog about my New Year's resolutions that have absolutely nothing to do with school.

Goal #1: Read 35 books before the end of the year. For many, this may not seem like a lofty goal, but I have to be intentional about reading each night. There are times where I feel pressured about school and make a choice to grade instead of read. There is simply no reason for that. My job is teaching, but that is not the only thing to me. With that, I also vow to read whatever book I want - it does not have to be educational, it does not have to be historical - if I want to read some chick-lit, well, I am going to do just that!

Goal #2: Exercise three times a week. I already know that I will not do this EVERY week of the year. Sometimes there are just weeks where I should workout, but will find it difficult to make the time. I made a vow that my exercise does not have to be something I do not enjoy. I don't like running. I don't particularly like hiking. I do, however, enjoy swimming, yoga, walking in Palmer Park, and lifting weights. Exercise is about being intentional and supporting one's physical and mental health. If I am not at my best health-wise, then I cannot be my best as a teacher.

Goal #3: Be invested in photography. I take pictures. I actually take pretty good pictures. I bought a new camera last summer that helps me take awesome pictures. This year, I want to take more pictures. Sure, I sell my photography online. But I take pictures because I enjoy seeing the final results. I like studying new photographic techniques that allow me to take pictures like a pro. So I want to create a new set of photographs at least once a month.

I know that most of this blog was not school-related even though this is an educational blog. But I also know that I have interests, outside of school, that need to nurturing as much as my teaching practices.

If you made it to the end, thank you for reading! I'll plan on seeing you next week :) 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website