Saturday, August 11, 2018

Expectations vs. Reality

Good morning colleagues! Welcome back to the 2018-2019 school year! I still can't believe that I've been back in school for seven days (and have been reporting since July 27th). I feel like there's so much to talk about, but so little time to do so! So my focus for this week is expectations for you in your job. 

I started thinking about expectations sometime last week as I was preparing for the first (of three) iPad parent night. As I was putting everything together, I realized that some of the tasks were completed by someone else last year. I haven't heard anything from this teacher, and it was too last minute to ask for help. I chatted with my principal and said, "Is this now my job?" She said, "I think it is now, yes." 

I was STRESSED. This wasn't something that I was prepared for, but, knowing it was a non-negotiable item, I knew it had to be done by me. Did I get it put together? Yes. Did I do a good job? Of course because I have really high expectations for myself. I also know that having high expectations for myself leads to burn out.

Have you ever met a teacher that is really, really burned-out? Like they do everything but utterly despise their job? That was me a few years ago. I felt like there was an expectation that I must do a, b, and c. Later, I realized, I was putting that pressure on myself. There were no expectations placed on me. I've had to recognize that I am my own worst critic, I am often a perfectionist, and I set unnecessary stress on myself. 

Since identifying those behaviors, I've met with teachers to talk to them about their stresses and behaviors. I tell teachers that they need to decide what is integral to their job and their classroom and that they need to rank the importance. What is non-negotiable? What do you WANT but know you need more time? What is extra that you can look at later in the year? 

Giving others the same advice, I realized that I should make my own non-negotiables for my classroom and my job. Basically, I'm setting goals for myself for the school year. 

So I would ask you to ponder these questions... Are you putting a lot of pressure on yourself? Do you find yourself spending too much time at school or doing school work at home? Have you figured out what is most important so that you complete that first? 

If not... why not? 

Thanks for reading! I'll see you in two weeks (I'll be in New York City next weekend!) :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Advice for new teachers

Hello, colleagues!

Graduation is upon us! I love this time of year because the weather is (usually) pleasant, people are all nostalgic, and teachers are reflecting on the end of the year. Last weekend I was perusing Buzzfeed when I came across an article with advice, for new teachers, from experienced teachers. That really inspired me to share some information that I have for new teachers. Even though I don't know everything about teaching (I've only been teaching twelve years),  I have learned a lot over the years and can often anticipate what will go wrong ahead of time.

So here is what I think new teachers need to know about teaching.
  1. Expect to want to quit. Teaching is HARD. You don't realize how difficult education is until you have your own classroom. You have to be "on" as a teacher every moment of every day. It's exhausting. Compound that with learning new teaching strategies, with building curriculum, and with the massive amounts of grading that you have. You will have days where you're at school until six, and you find yourself falling asleep as you drive home, and then you wake up on the couch with a full glass of wine that you forgot to drink. It will wear you out and will eventually make you want to quit. But if teaching is what you want to do, and you know you still love, don't leave. Know that the longer that you teach, the better your arsenal or strategies and lessons will get. You won't have to prep as much. And if you combine that with effective grading policies, it will get easier. 
  2. Find a healthy work-life balance. This is something that every teacher struggles with, myself included. But it is achievable. I'm someone who separates my professional and personal lives quite a bit, so I try to keep school work at school. I realized over time that I couldn't grade at home for both struggling to work at home and because I needed the separation. But it's not healthy to stay at school incredibly late either. I made a rule for myself that I would work, at school, every day until 4. I would leave school at 4, and whatever wasn't done, wasn't done. This also helped me learn to prioritize what work was essential. I also visited new and charming coffee shops in town on Saturdays where I would also do school work and get caught up from the previous week. This schedule allowed me to have my weeknights for reading or watching tv, it promised me Friday and Saturday nights for going out to eat and spending time with my husband and friends, and gave me a full Sunday for grocery shopping, watching football, and meal prep for the week. 
  3. Reach out to your PLN. PLN stands for personal learning network. This network is where you learn everything that you can about teaching. My PLN consists of my very close colleague friends, in-building colleagues that I admire, other teachers that I've met through trainings and classes, and teachers that I follow on Twitter. I insist on being around other teachers that are like-minded but push me to think and work outside my bubble. A new teacher will probably struggle with finding a PLN to start, but a new teacher should find a mentor in-building. This mentor should guide them through what they need to know about the school but also about being a new teacher. A new teacher may want to find more than ONE mentor. I've been lucky enough to mentor new (and not new teachers) because they believed I had the information that they were looking for. A new teacher should also sign up for Twitter ASAP. It's a perfect (and relatively safe) way to ask any and every question!
  4. Build relationships with your students. This is something that I still struggle with (it's easily my biggest weakness as a teacher). Get to know your kids. Find out what they like. Try to build real-world "stuff" into your curriculum as much as possible. Talk to your kids. Listen to your kids. Give them your time and your attention. Be a parent, a counselor, a friend, and an adult. Give them advice. Sometimes repeat that advice over and over. Stick up for them. Tell them when they're wrong but admit when you're wrong too. Forgive and forget. Remember that every day is a new day. Believe that every student can succeed (even if they fail your class). 
  5. Don't be afraid of making mistakes and don't be fearful of jumping into the deep end. I make mistakes EVERY day! I've told students to "tap that" (when talking about iPads), I've said some unsavory things to students in anger, and I've gotten defensive to parents when they have simple questions. I've also learned how to incorporate iPads into classrooms, I've built curriculums from scratch (twice!), and I've presented at local and national conferences. As a teacher, you must take risks to grow and mature. As you do so, you will make mistakes, and some of them will be terrible. But you have to evolve and change. Being a stagnant teacher isn't great. In your class, students will stop engaging and will start being compliant. 
  6. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Sometimes you have to start small to get big. This was probably one of the most frustrating things for me to learn. I wanted to be an excellent teacher right away. I wanted everything to be perfect (and easy). That's just not how teaching is. I think I realized this when doing flipped learning. I was never trained in flipped learning, and sort of stumbled and bumbled my way through. It was when I was explaining to another teacher about the process when she said, "It's just so easy for you." I told her that I needed five years to really grasp flipped learning in my classroom, and I realized it took me FIVE YEARS. Even now, with broadcasting, I've designed a great base that I can use for the remaining years to come, but there's still more to do. As I see new students and realize what skills they're lacking, I then have to design new lessons and create new quizzes. I want to self-pace a lot of my curriculum. I need to differentiate my curriculum for new special needs students. I want to change my work into Hyperdocs so that it's all located in one place. But I can't do all that this summer. I can do bits and pieces so that my curriculum evolves over time. 
Other advice that I have for teachers? 
  • Learn about different DOK (depth of knowledge) levels and don't be afraid to challenge your students. 
  • Understand what differentiation is. You will have students at all levels, and you need to meet them where they are. That includes ELD and SPED students. 
  • Sometimes you just need to throw your lesson plans out the window.  
  • Be the adult in the room.
  • Watch other teachers teach. 
Thanks for reading! I hope that you all have a lovely summer! I'll see you next school year :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 19, 2018

End of year reflections

Good morning, colleagues! This week I was sitting and watching my students collaborate while making their broadcasting segments. I realized, now that it's the end of the year, that I should probably blog about how my school year went!

I had some large shoes to fill in my the broadcasting position. The teacher who left, to become a full-time filmmaker, was beloved by the students and set an excellent precedent for the job. I knew that I wanted to put my own touch on the broadcast, so my focus for the year was to have students design stories that involved as many Skyview students as possible. Here's what went well:

All three classes worked together to produce the weekly broadcast. I set up a Google Doc script at the beginning of the year. The doc was accessible by all three of my classes. This allowed all three groups to work together to design the script because they could all see each others' work. This also drummed up excitement as students saw other ideas, were inspired, and then pitched concepts to me for later broadcasting segments.

Students had choices when picking weekly stories. Because I have three classes, I didn't want to favor one more than the other. Every week a different group picked "first" for broadcast segments. Students selected their top three choices for the videos (using a Google Form), then I put them into groups based on their decisions. 99% of the time the students got one of their top three choices. Because I rotated which class picked first, everyone got their first choice at some point (including being anchors!). Also, if a student or group pitched a topic to me, I ensured that they got that idea as their first choice.

The script layouts worked really well. I ended up having to build brand new scripts for Broadcasting 2.0. I knew when making the scripts that students would need guidance and structure, but I still wanted students to always have the ability to present their voice. I realized, over time, that some stories were very similar. I recognized that I could build a script template that could be reused over and over. I then put together that I could grade those scripts the same way! Once I developed a model, then I would plan a Marzano scale for proficiency grading. The script template gave the students structure for what they needed for proficiency but was flexible enough to allow for student creativity.

There were new students on the broadcast each week. To get student and teacher "buy-in," I created a Google Form that teachers would use to sign up their classes for the weekly show. Part of the video included teacher and student interviews. I would work with my students each week to pick new students that have not been on the broadcast. Then, to build community, I would have my students put the interviewee's name on the screen. That is a start to how people get to know each other. First, you have to learn their name. I also partnered with Yearbook to have access to their photos. We did a photo slideshow every week as a) a preview of the yearbook at the end of the year and b) so that more students could see themselves in the broadcast.

More school stories. As I said in my previous section, the broadcast is meant to build a community in the school. When dealing with middle school students, we have to walk a fine line between creativity, being outlandish, focusing on the school, and not being boring! I knew it was important for students to see themselves in the broadcast instead of just the broadcasting kids. I knew it was essential to design stories that focus on what's happening in the school. But I also want to honor MY students and provide them with the opportunity to be creative and have choice and voice. When I put the broadcast script together, I would always include some sort of original video. Even though a video is creative, if it's about a topic that the kids care about, then it will matter to everyone, though it may not be school related.

Added extra touches. I wanted kids to take ownership while also learning about all of the different jobs that are required to make a broadcast. I taught all of my students how to use GarageBand on the computer and iPad. I wanted students to design music so that, in some cases, they take ownership of the video they are creating. I also taught my students twenty-three different camera shots to try to add variety to the videos they produce. I also added extra school information like sports scores and daily announcements. My colleague who does daily announcements even thanks the broadcasting kids on Friday for saying them! I wanted to make sure my students were still seen in the broadcast, so they put the credits at the end of the show on top of videos of them dancing or being silly. I even let them put bloopers at the end of the broadcast for extra fun.

All in all, this year was a success for my students and for myself. I never thought that I would have a job in broadcasting (especially after eleven years as a social studies teacher), but I was excited to have this opportunity. I'm just taking it all in!

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Grading Policies Evolved

Hello, colleagues! Are you guys tired? I know I am - it's the end of the year, and I just spent eight hours at our last track meet of the season yesterday. I'm also frustrated... we had students that couldn't compete in the competition because they were ineligible. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a teacher more than I'm a coach, so I've seen it all through my own classes. Students do fail assignments which cause them to fail classes. I've also had students fail my class and be ineligible. However, one thing I noticed this year is students failing a class due to strange grading practices.

Instead of blogging about what I think my colleagues are doing "wrong," I'm going to post about grading practices that I've changed over the years due to reflection and research.

1. No zeroes. A zero in the grade book implies that a student has LITERALLY DONE NOTHING. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Is that ever the case? Sometimes, sure. I've given kids zeroes on flipped learning because they never started it. Other than flipped learning, I did not give students a zero. If you look at a standard grading scale, an F is between a 0 - 59%. That is an enormous gap. If a student does not turn in an assignment, they still did work in class. Did they do 59% of the work? Usually, they did more, but just didn't turn in the assignment! A student should not fail a class because of one task. Give students a chance to be successful even if they didn't complete one project.

2. No late grades. Students have all sorts of reasons for turning in work late, stemming from them not wanting to do the task, to having a sibling get sick, or due to a family celebration. Should a student be penalized an arbitrary 10% because they turned an assignment in one day late? I don't think so! If students can prove that they know the information, and they meet the criteria of the rubric, then they deserve a better grade, even if it's overdue.

3. More formative assessments. Does this mean I should get rid of summative assessments? Absolutely not; they have a time and a place. Should a kid's grade suffer because of one test for an entire quarter? That's a tough one, but I would argue that it's also crucial that a teacher checks for understanding throughout the unit. Those checks should also be considered assessments, even if they are formative assessments. I would always know if a student would fail ahead of time because of all of the checkpoints that were done along the way. Also, if a student demonstrates quality understanding on a past formative assessment, then the grade should be changed. The student may have achieved proficiency at a later date, but they still exhibited mastery of the content.

4. No more "fluffy" grades. Students do not receive participation points. All students have to participate in my class whether it's by raising their hand or collaborating with a colleague. I also stopped grading assignments based on how they looked. My rubrics would have one category for "basic requirements" (like a specific minimum time or that it had the 10 pieces of criteria), but all of the other categories were based on research and content presented. Do I want a pretty project turned in? Sure, but I also want the students to show me and tell me what they know and what they learned.

5. Behavior does not equal achievement. Every day is a new day. Students act out for various reasons. There is no reason to "punish" a student by giving them a low grade. Grades should be reflective of student achievement, not student behavior. Yes, we want our students to be able to communicate, collaborate, be creative, and think critically. Human beings learn through practice, so if you want your students to learn to communicate, give them time to talk. Students don't need a grade to know if they can talk to other people.

The problem with sharing this information is that I definitely sound like an insufferable know-it-all. Do I have all of the answers? NO! I've evolved as an educator over the last twelve years (and will continue to grow as I teach). I just feel like these changes made a difference in my classroom. I want all students to have the capacity for success to have a promising future.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Work that matters to you.

Hello, colleagues! This week I've been thinking about my job change (prompted by my yearly teacher evaluation) and how I love my new job. I enjoy this position because I feel like I'm making a difference! Making a difference fits in with my personality (which I blogged about already). It's important to me to feel like I'm making a difference because it means that my work is meaningful. I can see the impact that my class is having on my students, the rest of the students in the building, and on the staff members. So, in this post, I want to talk about HOW to create meaningful work! Why is it so important?

Step 1. Work. Continue to work. Go to work every day.
I am lucky that I enjoy my job. I don't love waking up early, and I don't love going in to work every day, but I like it more than I don't. I am also lucky that I have a job that excites me and is a little bit different every day. I'm also passionate about making people better, so I throw myself into my career to make my students better people. I care about education, and I care about how to educate people, so I am continually learning new ideas to use in my classroom.

Step 2. As you work, what makes you excited?
I was also lucky in that, after six years of teaching, I was asked to be on a 1:1 iPad team. I threw myself into digital education and how it can be useful. I got excited about using technology in the classroom.

Step 3. Start to focus on what makes you excited. Focus on that excitement and research to learn more.
I decided that I wanted to become THE iPad teacher. I wanted to be 100% paperless, and 100% focused on the device. I wanted to become the teacher that everyone came to for advice on using tools seamlessly in the classroom.

Step 4. Dig into your excitement and pull out those pieces. Get specific. Find the meaning.
I realized, especially over the last two years, that using technology wasn't always the answer. Figuring this out shook me to the core. But I realized that I cared more about educating children than just using a device in class. So I focused on excellent strategies to use in the classroom, with technology or without. I focused on being a fabulous teacher that uses technology a lot.

Step 5. If your excitement wanes, try something new in your life. Get excited about it.
After five years of being on a 1:1 team, I was burning out. I was working TOO hard because of my passion for education. Sometimes it's hard to be a "black sheep" and an innovator. I paved a singletrack trail, seemingly by myself, and didn't have a support system. I knew I had to take a step back and be passionate about other things. I regularly went to yoga, I bought a new camera for my photography, I read more books more often (and not about education).

Step 6. If your excitement continues to wane, go back to your work. Then repeat steps 1-6.
Then I had the opportunity to move to a new position - one that is concrete and provides real-world skills for students and also allows me to share my passion for education with my colleagues.

I would like to think that every teacher wants to make a difference and wants their work to be meaningful. I also would like to believe that teachers want their students also to be creating significant work. I've talked in the past about student voice and choice. It's become an integral part of my educational philosophy. Giving the students an opportunity in how to speak their voice provides meaning to your class for your students. Realize that you can use these same six steps with your students!

Allow students to work on open-ended topics and/or essential questions in your class. Have them do lots of work in class. Keep them busy, but don't focus them too much on one thing. Start picking their brain - what do they find interesting or exciting? Have them dive deeper into those ideas. Would you rather have a student memorize dates or make connections to someone who escaped from slavery? Would you rather have a student know all grammatical rules or write a creative story that has a well-written character and descriptive language? As their interest wanes, and they feel that they've covered the topic, move on to another unit and repeat the steps.

For students to grow (as students) and become young adults, we don't want them to worry about whether or not they got an A. We want them to create good work and be prepared for the future. Students have to produce in order to be creative. Students have to work to see what is solid work. In order for students to grow, they have to find their passions. Give students some autonomy, make their work complex, and help them find connections between your content AND who they were in the past, who they are now, and who they want to be.
Autonomy (freedom from external control or influence; independence). Give students some flexibility (e.g., student voice and choice). That doesn't mean that students to get to do whatever they want, but they should have opportunities to make decisions. Let students pitch you different options. Let students redefine your rubric. Let students invest in content that is useful to them. Let students build relationships with each other and build trust with you.
Complexity (the state or quality of being intricate or complicated). Make your students think. Give them hard questions that make them wrestle mentally with themselves and others. Force your students to think "outside the box" and present outside the box. Give students time to dedicate themselves to these tasks and support them. Make your students stretch, in your class, to be the best citizen possible when they leave at the end of the year. Set ambitious goals and help them map a process to achieve them. Don't let your students sit idly by.
Make connections (a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else). Don't let your class only be about content, objectives, and standards. They are necessary, but they're not enough. We don't live our daily lives through content, goals, and standards. We crave connections and meaning. Make your classroom a place for making bonds, whether it's to a historical figure, a data point, another person in the room, to the school, or to themselves. Let your classroom be a tangible place for the students, so they walk away with some appreciation for life.

There are a lot of ideas in this post, but in the end, we want students to come to class, to care, and to create. Hopefully, something sits with you, and you make a change for Monday. Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 28, 2018

This is what Democracy looks like!

Good morning colleagues! It is a BEA-utiful Saturday morning in Colorado Springs! It is already 63 degrees out, so I'm just itching to go for a walk or hike. It's surprising that I even wanted to get out of bed after a very long day yesterday! But to tell the whole story, I have to go back to last Friday, April 20th.

I'd gone out to eat with friends as we were celebrating someone's birthday. While sitting at BJ's, eating a gluten-free pizookie and watching the Cubs just utterly destroy the Rockies, a friend received a text message - her district will be closed on April 27th for the Colorado educator rally. Recently I've been quite politically active, but this bit of news just flew over my head. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about this rally as things are happening in the Colorado Legislature that will AFFECT ME as an educator. So as my friend fills us in on the march, and another friend and I look at each other and say, "You in? I'm in."

Monday morning rolls around, and I put in for a personal day on April 27th. I'm even lucky enough that my preferred sub picks up the job quickly! A colleague comes into my classroom to ask if I'm going to the rally on Friday and I smile and say yes. After that conversation, word about the rally spreads among the teachers in my school, and the "situation" begins to escalate. We get an e-mail later in the day asking for teachers to let admin know if they will be gone on Friday. I, of course, told admin that I will be gone and that I have a sub already lined up. The response I received back was not that nice, but I know also stemmed from frustration. It was evident that teachers were talking and were putting in for subs, and not all of the sub positions were getting picked up.

Then, on Tuesday, we get an e-mail from our superintendent. It was not well received. In fact, in an act of situational irony, the e-mail had the exact opposite effect and teachers started taking the day off in droves. It was all that anyone could talk about, and the teachers that I spoke to were irate. Luckily, the next day, the superintendent decided to change the school day to a professional development day for teachers. Across all schools, it would have been "all hands on deck." I heard that there would be classes held in the auditoriums and gyms because there weren't enough teachers, counselors, or administration left to cover. It would have been a waste of a day if there was school.

So yesterday morning my husband and I were able to sleep in (so luxurious!), run some errands, then pick up a friend to drive to Denver. We took the light rail from the south edge to downtown, then walked along 16th Street Mall to Civic Center Park. It was powerful to be on the train and see more and more teachers in red pile on. As we walked along 16th Street, there were teachers in red everywhere!

 The march, from Civic Center Park to the Capitol Hill, started at 1:00 pm. The march was short (too short) but was powerful. We shut down a busy street, but as we marched, many people in cars honked in support! We were near the front, so we ended up on the hill. As we looked back, people kept streaming towards the hill. It was pretty exciting! But around 1:30/1:45, the police reopened the busy street and cut the group of teachers in two. At 2:00, when the rally began, it was evident that the sound system was not up to par for the number of teachers in attendance. It was hard to hear. I found out later that Governor Hickenlooper spoke, but I have no idea when he spoke. I looked back down the hill after 10-15 minutes, and teachers started leaving. It was disappointing that the rally turned out that way, but it was still a powerful experience. As people left, we did move our way forward. We were near the front for the last 20 or so minutes, so we heard some great speakers, saw some hilarious signs, and chanted, clapped, and yelled with the remaining educators!

So why did I march and rally yesterday?
  • Colorado schools are currently underfunded by $822 million and $2,700 below the national average in per pupil funding. Right now, Colorado's economy is #1 in the nation. Why is there such a disparity?
  • Initiative 93: Great Schools Thriving Communities is a bill that will raise $1.6 billion annually in support of public education, while 92% of taxpayers will not see an increase in their taxes.
  • SB 18-200's legislative intent is to improve PERA’s (our pension fund) funded status and lower its overall risk. It will phase-in a 3% increase from the current 8 percent to 11 percent of pay, starting in July 2018. As currently written, the bill would change the retirement eligibility age for all members who are age 46 or younger (i.e., me) as of January 1, 2020, by adding one year to full-service retirement eligibility for every four years less than age 46, not to exceed 65 years of age. At 34 years old, I would have to add three more years to my full-service retirement eligibility. 
Right now, my husband and I are okay. We are living a comfortable life and have enough left over each month to put into savings and retirement (outside of PERA). BUT, the reason that we live a comfortable life is because of two things. 1) We were lucky enough to "win" a house through a HUD program called Good Neighbor Next Door. We were one of the last people to get a house, through this program, in Colorado Springs. We have a low mortgage rate and much more house than we could ever fill. We have been able to improve the property over the last seven years, and now, because of the housing boom along the Front Range, we will be able to walk away with a large amount of money when we sell. But we can't sell because we wouldn't be able to buy another house in town. The market is so hot that houses are selling, sight unseen, in less than 72 hours. We are really, REALLY lucky that we own a house. 2) We've made the conscious decision to not have children. We would be struggling if we did have children. 

Even though we lead this comfortable life, it could easily change by not having our salaries grow each year with the massive rise in the cost of living. It could easily change by our rise in rates for health coverage. It could easily change by having to contribute more to PERA each year, but have a chance that it will run out by the time I retire. 

As I saw on many signs yesterday, you can't put students first if you put teachers last. Thanks for reading... I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The A-Z of Digital Learning Problems!

Good morning colleagues! The struggle is REAL! I had such a busy week, and I'm exhausted. Luckily, I stumbled across an article talking about the A-Z problems in a digital classroom. Even though the article was only a year old, I felt like there needed to be an update. So here are MY A-Z problems of digital learning!

Applications - as teachers, we have to wade through 2 million applications available in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. That's A LOT of apps. 
Building rapport - Our students, when using digital devices, will put their head down and put their face close to the screen. It is imperative that we get them to look up every once in awhile, and maybe even have them talk to each other, and to you as a teacher.
Celebration of learning - when providing praise or feedback, we have to be intentional with sharing student success. It is a little more challenging with digital devices as we don't have a way to put work on a bulletin board in the hallway. As digital teachers, we must use Instagram, Twitter, and blogs to share those successes.
Distractions - "What did you say?" It is not challenging to end up down a rabbit hole when on a digital device. It is so important to make your curriculum engaging and relevant to keep kids present. It is also essential to help students learn HOW to stay present with a device. Be a good role model - be present YOURSELF.
Engagement - a digital device is JUST A TOOL! Make your content appealing and authentic. That will keep students engaged in your class and hopefully free of distractions. 
Feedback - it can be tough to provide timely feedback. What is a better use of your time... discussing feedback with your students in class (either in person or digitally) or handing back an assignment with feedback that they'll never look at? Google Forms is so easy for providing quick feedback, especially with Autocrat and Simply Send add-ons.
Group Work - group work can be a challenge when students are working digitally. G Suite has helped the digital classroom move forward, but we still have to be on guard. Apple Classroom has recently been a lifesaver because I can see what all students are doing. Every student needs to play a role, in group work, because that will also happen as students move into the workforce. 
High expectations - no longer should we be expecting DOK 1 level work... especially when students can just Google an answer. We should have high expectations, especially when it comes to the 4Cs (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking). Our high expectations should also include students sharing their work with the general public.
Instant gratification - students just want everything to work, work right, and work right now. Life DOES NOT work that way, especially the internet! We have to help students move past needing everything done right now and slow them down. Patience is a virtue, and it's been learned young. 
Jargon - if we teach our students digitally, we need to understand and explain technological jargon. This also includes what's relevant to the students right now (gifs, memes, DMs, dog filter). If our students live on the internet, we have to keep up just a little.
Knowledge mastery - even though we should be moving beyond DOK level 1 activities, we still do want students to know and understand the content information. We must build exercises that use content knowledge for our students to master the topics. Memorization cannot be the only activity we use! Yes, I want my students to know what the Constitution says and means, but I also want them to understand how the Constitution affects their daily lives and how it will continue to influence them as they age!
Learning Management Systems - Which is better, Google Classroom or Schoology? Both options are fantastic depending on what type of classroom you have (or want to have) and what kind of students you have. My district pays for Schoology Enterprise, but we also pay for G Suite. I used Schoology religiously as a Social Studies teacher (for flipped learning), but now I find Google Classroom better suited for my broadcasting students. Find what works best, but know them both! Be an expert!
Managing time - I've come to realize over my 12 years of teaching that students DO NOT know how to handle their work! With digital devices, it has only gotten worse (due to so many distractions)! Helping students utilize calendars and find apps that quiet their devices can assist them in managing their time. Kids are busier today than we ever were! 
Networking - Emma Gonzalez was just another senior in high school until the school shooting at  Stoneman Douglas High School. Instead of staying quiet, she became an outspoken activist in the media. She has become a celebrity as people around the world know her name. She didn't continue to be quiet - she reached out to anyone that she could, to find her voice, and to find her purpose. Our students should be able to also network in that way, so we have to help them and support them through reaching out to strangers. This takes time but is a skill that is absolutely necessary today.
Objectives - technology can be fun and engaging, but you should also ensure that your curriculum has strong student objectives that align with state standards. Don't be a "fluffy" teacher! 
Plagiarism - two ways to prevent "piracy": 1) make your lessons un-Google-able and 2) teaching your students HOW to research. Students plagiarize when they are frustrated and have run out of time. We want students to explain their thinking, not someone else's.
Questions - Students. Have. A. Lot. Of. Questions. How can we provide help? Make video tutorials, write out explanations, make an FAQ for major projects... then put them all on a Google Site. Institute a policy - 1) ask a friend, 2) check the website, 3) ask me. Hopefully, this will help students become a bit more self-sufficient.
Rudeness - Students struggle with personal interactions with other humans. This is likely due to them staring at a screen for a majority of their day. Along with building relationships and rapport, we also need to teach students empathy and proper social interactions. Do not let students continue to be rude - model how people should be interacting with each other.
Scaffolded instruction - this is a problem that every teacher has, but technology should help support scaffolded instruction. Gone are the days where we just assign fewer problems to complete for homework. We want all of our students to understand the content, explain their thinking, and meet the same objectives. We need to, then, think of a variety of activities, using technology, that will meet their needs.
Troubleshooting - Even though we would love to assume our students are "digital natives," that myth is just not accurate. Yes, students, for the most part, know how to use digital devices, but they do not know how to use them for an educational purpose. We have to teach our students how to troubleshoot their way through a digital issue. We have to reinforce those troubleshooting techniques until our students know what to do. We cannot always fix the problem for the students!
Understanding failure - students have to be challenged to face frustration and, sometimes, defeat. Not everything in life comes easy, and students have to understand that before they are adults. We do not want our students to purposefully fail every time they try something, but they should be challenged so that tasks are challenging. We want students to be tested in a way that may cause them to fail so that they learn from their mistakes and move forward with a growth mindset. 
Video tutorials - Stop assigning homework! With the free time that you now have, design video tutorials over your top vital concepts. Put them on YouTube, or Schoology, or Google Classroom. Use Edpuzzle to build in comments and questions. Then, after this year, make another set of videos over your secondary key concepts. Start small to be productive!
Wifi - technology is not going to work at all times, so we have to be prepared for when it does not work. Does that mean we need to double plan? Maybe. Should we have the capability to think on our feet? Probably. 
Xenagogue - our students are not always prepared for living in a digital world, so we have to assume that they do not speak a digital native language. We have to believe that our students are "foreigners" to the internet and teach them as such. Never assume that the teacher before you has prepared your students for how YOU teach - educate the students that you have, right now, at this moment. 
Your students - you know your students best. Prepare them for a world not yet imagined, but also ensure that your students are getting a high-quality education. Not every great task requires technology, so sometimes you need to suck it up and use paper or provide a hands-on activity.
Zombie Syndrome - The internet is not the answer for everything. As a teacher, take a break. In your classroom, take a break. Go for a walk and enjoy nature. See what is around your school or even your community. The internet will be there when you get back. 

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Helping Students Research

Good morning colleagues! This week researching in class came up two different times. The first time research came up was when my former teammate needed some advice to help students analyze Civil War historical figures. The second time research was in a conversation was talking about some students that are ineligible for track because of failing a research assessment in math.

It is very evident that students struggle with researching a topic. I think the main reason is that students are overwhelmed with information as they investigate, because they expect instant results (instant gratification), and because learners have never been taught HOW and WHY they should research a topic.

This is not a blog post where I wag my finger at other people and their inadequate teaching of research in their class. I am less than a year out from being a Social Studies teacher myself, and I will own that I did a poor job teaching my students. This post is, instead, about how I think we can get students to research thoroughly.

I believe that this problem can be resolved through teaching students advanced Google searching skills. If a student is studying Abraham Lincoln, there are 10,500,000 results. TEN MILLION RESULTS! What if the information that they need is hiding on page 36 of the results?! I've long been a proponent of teaching students advanced Google searching skills. I haven't always been the best at explaining it to the kids, but it's essential to help students dig through the waste of the internet to find the diamond. I even put together an infographic of my (personally) most used Google search terms when I research. If a student is analyzing Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on Google, there are 646,000 results. "Abraham Lincoln" "Gettysburg Address" has 8,650 results. "Abraham Lincoln" "Gettysburg Address" has 7,550 results. Both of those searches have many results to wade through, but it's approximately 98% fewer results than the original search AND all results come from an educational or government website. "Abraham Lincoln" "Gettysburg Address" has only 343 results. We have to help students "dig" to find the information that they need. If you have your students doing general research, I would encourage you to force students to find information from .edu and .gov pages, and maybe even ask them to use a reputable news source.

If you want students to slow down as they work, SLOW THEM DOWN and give them time. I would encourage you to do a class research project at the beginning of the year. Work together as a class using the same search queries and search results. Have students look at the author to identify bias and to evaluate the source. Have students discuss what makes a result better than another. Force students to find a wide variety of sources as they research. Then, as students get better at slowing down, start giving them more of a challenge. Give them questions that cannot be "Googled," i.e., have them form an opinion about the subject and find evidence to support their answer. It makes it much more difficult to plagiarize, AND if they're passionate about the topic (or their opinion), they will invest and want to find the answers.

Why should we make our students investigate a variety of topics? I think the better question is, do we want our students to be self-sufficient, well-rounded, life-long learners? I feel like every teacher would answer yes to that question. But not every student is going to be an academic for the rest of their lives. Some kids may end up as a mechanic, a doctor, or a secretary. No matter what occupation someone has in the future, they will likely have to do some research. We seek more efficient methods for doing our job, and in an ever-changing technological world, how we do our jobs changes. We have to be able to adapt to those changes through making and understanding that evolution. So after we conquer the "why" with our students, we have to teach them the HOW. Students need to learn how to use advanced skills with Google searching, they need to understand what a good source looks like, they need time management skills through assigning small chunks of work at a time, and they need to cite the sources that they use to avoid plagiarizing someone else's work. In the end, if you want students to be excellent researchers, you have to teach them to be thorough and thoughtful researchers. Never expect that the teacher they had the previous year showed them anything about research. Take ownership of the students that you have, right now, in your class.

As I wrote out my blog, I realized there was an extra problem - meeting the needs of ALL of our students. This problem was always my most challenging. I did a decent job at differentiating and accommodating my assignments, except for research. You have to scaffold inquiry for students, whether that's finding and vetting websites for them, creating research cloze notes, or even putting students into homogeneous groups for a research project. I would also think about doing small mini-lessons for research or even severely chunking a student's time in your class as they research. It is hard for kids to stay focused past 20 minutes. How can you use that to your advantage? Can you make 20-minute research blocks available for your students so that they're not doing the same thing for 60 minutes?

Hopefully, this gives you some food for thought as you are thinking about an upcoming research project (or how you can improve a previous activity)! Thanks for reading... I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Vetting Apps

Good morning colleagues! I'm back! I was going to post last week... I had this great plan of reading The Innovator's Mindset and doing a book review blog post. But then Spring Break happened, i.e., I sat around and did NOTHING and enjoyed my time off. So then I was going to finish it this week, but we started track practice, and having two and a half hours less each day really cramps my time! SO...  I have a completely different blog post this week!

While reading The Innovator's Mindset, I saw a great quotation from George Couros, "My belief is not that teachers don't want to change, but they sometimes lack clear guidance and support to make the desired change." This bit of information has stuck with me this whole week as I've thought about supporting teachers in my position, but also as I've read more on the news about Cambridge Analytica. If you don't follow the news, Cambridge Analytica is a political consulting firm that mines and analyzes data. Why this story is huge is because they accessed private information from between 50-80 million Facebook users to influence and target American voters in the 2016 Presidential election. Cambridge Analytica is mostly funded by two people: Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon.

So why am I bringing up this breach on my educational blog? Because I, along with a group of three other teachers, have embarked on an ambitious program to "vet" apps for our school district. Traditionally, large school districts have an "edtech" team that does this, but because our district is still designing (hopefully) this team, some of the responsibilities have fallen on everyday teachers.
What is app vetting and why do we do it? In simple terms, we are auditing/reviewing apps to ensure that they meet student data privacy laws such as FERPA and COPPA. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. One aspect of this is that schools must have written permission from the parent to release any information from a student's education record which includes their name, location, student ID, etc. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a law created to protect the privacy of children under 13. COPPA imposes specific requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age.

Right now, D49 is not meeting the requirements of these two federal laws. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is even more imperative to be in compliance ASAP! We have to ensure that our students' data is not being accessed, let alone mined, for nefarious purposes!

So why did I bring up the George Couros quotation? Because it has been briefly mentioned to my 1:1 colleagues that there will be changes next year and some apps will not be able to be used. Some teachers were quite frustrated and wanted to know why this change was happening. I even mentioned FERPA and COPPA, but the teachers didn't know what those laws were and wondered if they were new. After looking at, reading, and thinking about the quotation,  I've realized that the frustration stems from teachers lacking the guidance and support for the change.
So I'm going to lay out how we vet apps (what we're looking for) and how we will make changes for the next school year.
  • We look at the applications that teachers want to use and determine if they will be used for educational purposes. 
  • We access the iOS application's App Store page so that we can quickly find the developer website and privacy policy. 
  • Once on the privacy policy, we scour for a few things. What types of information are being shared?  Is there any information shared that could be considered sensitive?  Are students sharing personally identifiable information? How does the application gather data? Does it share or sell the data? Does it retain the data after the account is deleted? Does the application have ads? Are students under 13 allowed to use the application? Does the app require parental consent before use? Are students generating content? Is that content shared publicly? What happens if there's a breach of data?
  • After finding answers to all of the questions that we have, we put the application on a spreadsheet. The app will fall under one of four categories: 1) approved with no limitations, 2) approved with limitations, banned completely, approved for a teacher account only. 
  • By the end of the year, all 1:1 teachers need to make a list of applications that they want to use in the classroom. We will compile the list and vet apps over the summer. At the beginning of year registration, parents will sign off on all applications to be used. 
  • If a teacher wants a new application through the next school year, at SMS I will vet the app. Once approved, the teacher will have to send home a parent permission form, receive all forms back, then I will add the application to the 1:1 device. 
This is all a work in progress, and it is very slow moving as there are only four of us teachers vetting applications. I hope, through this process, that teachers understand the importance of vetting apps to keep our students safe in the 21st century.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Good afternoon colleagues!

Yesterday was STRESSFUL. Long story short, I had 10 (TEN) colleagues in my room taking the Google level 1 or 2 certification. Because they were logged in with their Google exam account (instead of their district account), YouTube and Google Sites were blocked by our district web filter. We figured out a solution, but it was a nerve-wracking three hours for all involved. We probably won't test under district wifi again!

But in the end, most teachers passed their exam! What stood out to me was their growth mindset and desire to push their teaching philosophy forward. It was a fabulous end, to a long week, that was full of inspiration! One day last week a tweet popped up in my feed with a TED video. I'd never seen the video before, and when I opened it, it was from February 2006 (as I am student teaching and preparing for college graduation). I found this video to be efficacious and inspirational.

Wow! There's a LOT here. What spoke to me was...
  1. Creativity is as important as literacy. Yes, we want our students to be well-spoken and well-read. But we can't scare them away from what they are passionate about. What they are excited about has meaning and has a purpose. If we do not allow our students to be creative and take chances, we will never come up with anything new and original. I liken this to Snapchat. Who knew, eight years ago, that people would use a messaging platform that sent pictures. And these pictures would disappear after a period of time. You could add filters and text to become a storyteller. Or professional snowboarding. Five years ago, you could win a competition with back to back 720s. Then it was back to back 1080s. Now back to back 1440s. As more snowboarders take chances (and fall in the process), the sport will continue to change and evolve, and push the limits of a human body. But if you tell a kid that taking pictures, or snowboarding, is not as important as doing math, these results will never happen. 
  2. Degrees are no longer worth anything. A degree used to ensure a job after graduation. Now, it doesn't. Now you need an MA or Ph.D. to get the same position. Instead of "preparing" every student for college, prepare them for what they want to do! Some jobs require on-the-job training or maybe a two-year degree from community college. We have to stop telling EVERY student to go to college. Instead, we need to listen more and help guide and facilitate them to their goal. 
  3. Intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct. I am a great example of this. I was a good student in school, but I was always the "dumb" of the smart kids. I could play the game of school, but I wasn't learning anything. I knew I wanted to teach history because I wanted to SEE students learn (not lecture them to death). The longer I taught, the more strategies I learned and the more creative I became. The more creative I became, the more my students learned. I started to find my passion and creativity with technology and found what I am really good at. I am more creative (and intelligent) now than I ever was as a student, or even when I first started teaching. It just took me awhile to find who I was as a teacher, to educate my whole being. 
After watching this video, I ended up down a rabbit hole of further inspiring videos.

  1. Human beings are different and diverse. That means our curriculum ALSO needs to be varied and diverse. Students should not sit, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work. Students should be up and be moving while they are learning. I feel like this idea connects to Teach Like a Pirate with all of the "hook" options. How can we hook our different and diverse students?
  2. If there is no learning going on... there's no education going on. You must discuss LEARNING when you talk about teaching! What are the outcomes? What do you want the students to KNOW? How will you know that they know? 
  3. Students are creative. We've beat creativity over time. It is challenging to get eighth-grade students to be creative when they haven't had to be creative in nine years. How do we do that? How can we engage, provoke, and stimulate our students? Find their passion. Right now, their focus may be their cell phone. What is it about their phone that is engaging and exciting? Is there any way that you can bring those ideas into your curriculum? And it doesn't have to be about gamifying the classroom! How can you get students to create, design, modify, and improve? 
  1. If you are going to lead, lead. Be visible to the students, whether that's in the hallway or the classroom or at events. The students should know who you are if you are a leader. Students don't have to necessarily like you, but they do need to respect you. They should see you as someone they want to be in the future. If you are transparent in your interactions and challenge students to be who they are meant to be, they will see you as a leader. As a leader, surround yourself with people that think like you and support students like you, but also challenge your ideas. With your fellow leaders, figure out the fundamental "stuff" and what the students require.
  2. So what. Now what? No more excuses. Teachers say that they never have enough time. It is unfortunate to admit that there are only 24 hours in a day, so there will never be more time. What are you spending your time doing? Could your time be better spent elsewhere? No more excuses. Be solution-oriented and then ASK for change.
  3. If nobody told you that they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will. Love your kids. Love who they are now so that you can admire them in the future. Believe in them and believe in their possibilities. Only look at what they can become and let that drive your love for your students. Students want to feel special. You can do that by listening to them and allowing that support to guide your curriculum, your interactions, and your mindset. 
Find a way to be inspired these last few weeks before spring break! Thanks for reading! Be on the lookout (in a few weeks) for my next blog!

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Good morning colleagues! I haven't been feeling great (AGAIN), so I don't have more to share than a sketchnote and a playlist.

Here is the story of my life this year...

I had an "aha!" moment last night. I was drinking tea, while all of my friends were drinking adult beverages (*sigh*), when I said, "I think I'm getting sick so much this year because I'm handling all three grade levels of iPads!" The last few years, I would only mess with my students' iPads. Now I'm dealing with 450 iPads... and middle school students are notoriously disgusting... I need to load up on hand sanitizer and start washing my hands once an hour. I want to be healthy!

In honor of NOT being healthy, I am going to lay back down and read more of Game of Thrones while listening to this chill, relaxing playlist courtesy of Monument Valley.

BTW, have you played Monument Valley? It's not cheap, but it is SUCH a relaxing game! Look into it! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Promoting Creativity

Good afternoon, colleagues!

Teacher Toolkit posted an article on Thursday with 10 tips for promoting creativity. I loved what they had to say because it's essential for teachers to think "outside the box" to meet students where they "are right now." This is one of my current obsessions... I even blogged about it a few weeks ago! Because of my role as the technology specialist, I've been working on taking ideas and making them technologically realistic for my colleagues. That's what I'm going to do with this article as well!

How can you use technology to promote creativity?
  1. Project-Based Learning and Genius Hour: I think these two go hand-in-hand. Utilizing the Google Suite would be very helpful here whether it's through collaboration and discussion, building a public website or blog, using e-mail to contact teachers or outside sources, storing and sharing information through Drive, designing presentations for data and other information... G Suite can make all the difference!
  2. Create Opportunities for Creativity: Think about student choice and voice here! Adobe Spark Video is an easy way for students to be creative, but iMovie and Garageband are also great applications! Find a challenge or competition that students can join, whether it's for class or outside of the classroom. Have them share their work on their blog or through your professional Twitter. Have the students make connections outside the school that inspires them. 
  3. Make Cultural Connections: Google Arts & Culture is a great way to bring art into the classroom. ARTE360 is a VR application where you can experience, first-hand, concerts, music, and artworks. Google Maps allows you to build a "tour map" of locations you "visited" to talk about the culture of the people in that location. 
  4. Embrace Failure: Flipgrid is PERFECT for this! The reason why I would use Flipgrid is that it's video-based (instead of writing) and the students can see each others' videos. It's necessary, if your class is to embrace failure, that students can be both vulnerable and honest. The more students see others be exposed and authentic, the more open and candid they are willing to be. I think learning can be powerful when students learn from each other. They might listen to another student's failure and realize where they went wrong. Students can learn from someone else's mistakes! Students can also be the influencer for someone else!
  5. Whole Brain: This requires you to create a lesson, or unit, that taps into working, declarative, and procedural memory. You want to chunk the information, provide context and connections, and design physical actions to accompany the learning. Explain Everything is useful for using the whole brain because students can explain the links, they are physically drawing and writing while creating a video, and they have to chunk their information into a precise presentation.
  6. Create Time to Think: An application I would use here is Padlet. The online corkboard is an exceptional way for students to post questions, comments, images, or videos. Also, students can now leave comments on other students' post which is a great way for students to learn from each other. One thing I saw another teacher do was to leave the post layout as "free" so that students can move their post onto another post if there's a connection between them. It's an excellent way for students to see and design associations!
  7. Teach Creativity: Start class every day with mindfulness (there are apps available on the internet) to set the creativity tone. Use Sketches for drawing and sketchnoting. Brainstorm (or do a project) as a class over Google Docs or Padlet. 
  8. Celebrate with Pomp and Circumstance: Use social media platforms (Blogger, Instagram, Twitter, even Snapchat) to share what the kids are doing and what they are doing well. I use Instagram for my class to just post what the kids are doing. Recently a number of students have been asking about signing up for broadcasting next year. They're excited because they get to see the behind the scenes action, because they see the broadcast in class, and can catch up on missed broadcasts on YouTube. It makes my current students PROUD to be in broadcasting and proud of their accomplishments!
I hope some of these ideas are useful and inspiring! Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Looking at a morale problem...

Good afternoon colleagues!  I'm posting this week about an issue (but not a problem) that I'm having in my new position... I've become a sounding board for others. I'm trying to help people sort out problems, both technological and personal. I enjoy being a sounding board and I'm shocked that people come to me for advice! But because morale is SO low at Skyview right now, the majority of these conversations are negative. It's hard to be positive when I'm surrounded by negativity.

So instead of focusing on the negativity, I'm going to provide advice. Is this a step towards positivity? Not sure, but here we go.

I have to start with what I see at Skyview that is causing low morale and poor climate.
  1. At the end of the school day, we have an advisory period called REACH. These 30 minutes are meant to be used for interventions, catching up on school work, doing homework, or checking in with enrichment classes. This year, based on state requirements, we had to make a change. REACH time, on Monday and Wednesday, is now used for extra, pre-made lessons. The problem is that the students (and teachers) were not notified much before the school year beginning. This led to animosity from tired teachers and from students who rebelled at their lack of study hall.
  2. We have too many programs going on at the same time, so it is hard to focus on what is essential. How do we mix Capturing Kids Hearts, Path2Empathy, and Marzano at the same time without overwhelming teachers and taking up precious class time? How do we also implement high-reliability math and reading strategies, new technology, and design digital portfolios?
  3. We have a good administration team that is lacking in some critical areas: transparency,  visibility, and perspective. Part of this is out of their control as our middle school is hovering near 1200 students and we are in a "choice state." I see administration spending more time in customer service than in servicing the building. They are often not transparent with the staff in WHY we are doing something, they are not usually visible in the hallways or classrooms, and they do not have the greatest perspective in what's necessary for teachers (which trickles down to students). 
  4. MEETINGS. We have meetings four of the five days of the week and have staff meetings once a month. Most of the time, it feels like we're having a meeting because we're supposed to have a meeting. It feels like forced collaboration which just does not work.
That's a lot. As a "lowly" teacher, there is not much I can do to change the climate of the whole school. I am trying, however, to change the view of using technology. My goal is to move my role from reactionary technology support to proactive technology support. I am doing this by providing technology support through the tech tips newsletter and by making screencasts for colleagues instead of requiring face-to-face meetings. I hate when my time is wasted and feel it is crucial for me to also not misuse my colleagues' time.

What advice do I have to give about these four problems?

  • Problem #1 - new REACH lessons: I genuinely believe this problem with sort itself out over time. Teachers will know that this is a future expectation, and students will be less likely to rebel over time. It won't be helped that teachers are tired at the end of the day, but students won't push back. This will trickle up into the high school as well. This year is just an in-between,  learning year. I do think that the administration needs to survey the staff at the end of the year about how it can be improved. It's not going away, so how can it be better? 
  • Problem #2 - too many programs: the unusual thing about all of these programs is that they work independently from each other. CKH is a way to build rapport with your students through greetings and dismissals and positive interactions. Path2Empathy are character building lessons that can be connected to content. I would encourage teams to split up the Path2Empathy activities so that each teacher only "loses" one day a year. And Marzano is a way to backward design your units and lessons. Is it a lot? Yes. Is it manageable? Yes. This may be another blog post for a different time, but I feel like teachers can spend time in their classrooms better and can actually prioritize their lessons differently to save time. 
  • Problem #3 - administration: This is a sore spot for a lot of the staff, and I know I need to tread carefully here as I could be written up. The administration just needs to listen to the teachers and prioritize solutions. I thought they started to do this earlier in the year when they had us do the post-it activity. Teachers were asked to write down what to start doing, keep doing, and stop doing in the school. Most teachers went all in, and of the post-its that I saw, there were some great ideas. Administration took the post-its to our leadership team, and from what I heard, the conversations were contentious, and some administrators took the discussions personally. I've heard nothing about the post-its since. When situations like this arise, teachers feel like they're not being listened to. Most teachers don't want to complain... they want solutions! I would love to see this post-it conversation continue to show that administration is listening to the staff is that the building is moving forward. I also want to see admin in the classroom more often. I read a blog post from a principal who says that she blocks an hour of time (or more) a week. She marks it on her calendar as a meeting, and for that hour, she's in classrooms. If a parent stops by, the secretary can say that the principal is in a meeting and when the principal will be back in their office. By doing this, administration could have a good pulse of what's happening in the building and in individuals' classrooms. This helps with giving feedback, helps with evaluations, and also makes their presence known to students and staff. 
  • Problem #4 - meetings: I'm not sure how to fix this issue. One thing that I've been asking for for years is a pre-made agenda. There has to be a way to replace forced collaboration with reasons for collaborating, but I don't know if I have answers for this. 
My last bit of advice is for the teachers themselves. When teachers have low morale, it leads to burnout, which then leads to teachers switching schools or leaving education altogether. How can you take care of yourself to prevent this? How can you change your attitude? I gave this advice to a colleague and friend the other day. Make a list of what's important to you. Rank everything from most to least important. My guess is that your job isn't what's most important to you, so don't spend all of your time working. I call this my "midnight rule." Like nothing good happens after midnight? Nothing good happens when you're at school past four. It can wait until tomorrow. 

Spend time doing what you love. I want to be healthy and I enjoy reading. For the past month I've been going to the gym and walking on a treadmill for an hour. It's not much, but I'm getting my 10,000 steps a day. I also take my Kindle and read while I walk. So far, I've read 16 books this year

Spend time with your family. Have a drink with your friends. Take a bubble bath. Purchase a subscription box. Take your dog for a walk. Light a candle and listen to music. Cheer on the US at the Olympics! Just do something for your. Take care of yourself. Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Teach Like a Pirate" book review

Hello to a VERY snowy Saturday at a great coffee shop in Colorado Springs! I was definitely MIA last weekend as I got SLAMMED with a nasty cold. I didn't get the flu (thank goodness), but I did miss three days of school. I spent four days laid up in bed (minus watching the Super Bowl). It was definitely something... But I am well rested, back to getting to the gym, and am drinking some chai tea.

I decided to change it up this week and do my very first book review! I discussed with Mari, a fellow #sunchatblogger, about blogging what we're reading. She's jumped in and created a book-focused blog! I'm not entirely there yet but did want to blog about a book that we're studying for Skyview's mentoring group. (I'm a mentor for another teacher. Have I mentioned that? I still struggle with the fact that I'm helping a new teacher, even if it is the second year of me doing this.)

ANYWAY. We're reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The book is split into three parts. The first part is called "Teach like a PIRATE" (passion, immersion, rapport, ask and analyze, transformation, enthusiasm). Even though he explained that PIRATE was an acronym on the first page, I didn't read closely enough to realize this acronym until I was 3/4th of the way through the book. I kept thinking, "What does this have to do with being a pirate?" Duh Rachel. Get πŸ‘πŸ» It πŸ‘πŸ»Together πŸ‘πŸ»!

We were tasked with reading the first part before our mentoring meeting this past Wednesday. We were given a handout with discussion questions. As an introvert, I was not very excited to do a full group discussion. I wanted to discuss the book with "my people" in the building because I can easily communicate and collaborate with these people. As our whole group conversation continued, I shut down. I'll admit that I acted like a baby because the conversation did not go as I believed it should. That's a "me" thing that I have to get over.

The meeting did push me to read the rest of the book ASAP. Part two provides "hooks" to engage your students in your classroom. If a teacher doesn't walk away with one, ONE idea to incorporate into their classroom then they have <begin blunt honesty> a fixed, instead of growth, mindset. I legitimately have no other answer than this <end blunt honesty>. Part three is about "building a better pirate" which is just a way to conclude the book by looking at next steps in the classroom.

So what are my thoughts on this book? I'm going to bullet point the list because it's how I think, collaborate, and function :)

  • As an introvert, this book makes me uncomfortable (in a healthy way) as it pushes me to be more creative, innovative, and "out there" than I already am. I have to work on being more silly (I don't like looking stupid) and be more humor. On days when I'm crabby, I still need to put on a show. 
  • Dave talks about bringing personal passion into your classroom. I started doing that the last two years through sharing good news. I often talked about my photography and shared my pictures with my students. A few asked for my Instagram handle which I gladly shared. This has spilled into my current position as a broadcasting teacher, and now I take pictures of my students working on the broadcasts (and a few of them have asked to post as well!)
  • The six words: "It's easy for you. You're creative." BOOM! This spoke to me because I've heard people use these six words against me. Yes, I'm creative, but it's because I practice. It's because I'm not afraid to take risks and try something new. This section made me realize that I need to share more about my failures in the classroom. It's taken a lot of failure and mistakes to get where I am now. The last six years has not always been easy. Turns out I can "fake it until I make it." My colleagues are none the wiser, but they should be... 
  • "If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?" When I taught history, I know that some students would show. Teaching broadcast, I've heard on the regular that students come to school for my class. If I ever go back to teaching history, I would really challenge myself to make my social studies class like my broadcasting class. 
  • If you don't read the whole book, please check out part two, the "hooks" section. Dave covers thirty-two different thematic hooks with multiple ideas for each. This part is helpful for new teachers, to give them ideas, and for experienced teachers, to encourage them to refresh their curriculum. 
I am quite glad that I finished reading this book. It cemented a lot about what I've already done, and what I currently do, as a classroom teacher. It also pushed me to continue to grow and learn so that I can fulfill my promise that I made in my phone interview for Skyview nine years ago... "I am a good teacher, but someday, I'm going to be a great teacher. You want me on your staff."

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Mind. Blown.

Happy Sunday, colleagues! This past week I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across a post from Jennifer Gonzales. Of course, the title got my attention, but the article, itself, was even better.
This blog post is 2 1/2 years old but is still very much relevant. A lot of what is spoken in the blog post directly relates to my classroom and my education philosophy: 21st-century learning, real-world projects, and engagement. The part that blew my mind was the piece about how real-world knowledge is when it is real for students, but not necessarily real for teachers.

When I taught Social Studies, and I heard about making curriculum real-world, I struggled. I was frustrated with trying to explain what I considered "modern day" topics while teaching about what happened in the US 300 years ago. The closest I ever felt I got was the very last unit I developed last year when I had the students study a modern event dealing with racism and connect its lineage back to Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws. I felt so successful, and it was the last US history topic I taught over nine years.

After reading this blog post, I realized that I was unintentionally teaching real-world concepts for the last five years! I was doing so by connecting to their real-world NOW. I knew it was a best teaching practice to provide students opportunities to interact and communicate with each other. For some reason, I never thought about how beneficial it was to produce situations (or simulations) that were similar to their lives right now. Those situations/simulations are real-world for THEM (even if they're not real world for us).

What are some ways to design real-world lessons, projects, or units for our students?

  • Even though students can't vote, they are interested in today's politics. If you teach Social Studies, compare and contrast political actions in 1789 with the government today. Compare the Presidents and their agendas. How is the Supreme Court different? How is Congress different? As you continue to teach your curriculum (into the 19th and 20th centuries), discuss where the changes happened. Focus on, How did we get here today? 
  • Let students write a blog. Sometimes you can give them prompts, but sometimes, let them free write. Let them blog about what they're reading or have them blog about a recent personal Instagram post. If you want students to comment on each others' posts, have them look at vocabulary. Are there any words that might sound better than what they posted? It's a sneaky activity that expands their vocabulary!
  • Students are obsessed with Netflix! Do you want them to write a story? Have the students "pitch" their plotline to Netflix executives. Want to make the lesson even more real world? Have a panel (teachers, students, maybe even local filmmakers?!) that discuss their storylines with them, in person, in front of the class. 
  • I'm speaking here as a non-math person, but is it possible for students to study algorithms? Is it possible for them to look at how Facebook's news feed has changed (based on the algorithm)? Could they do a scientific study of how (or how often) they see a person on their Instagram feed now that it is no longer based on time of posting?
My challenge to you, this week, is to find a way to make your content more relevant to students TODAY, whether you update a lesson, add technology, or just listen to what students care about today. Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website