Saturday, August 12, 2017

Starting Strong: 6 Things to Keep in Mind as You Begin the New School Year

     The beginning of the school year is such a special time of year. Teachers excitedly get their classrooms set up, organized and decorated. There is a buzz of excitement and energy all around school. Expectations are high, and hope lingers in the air like a cool breeze on a hot day. When I think of the beginning of the school year, I think of hope. "Hope" because everyone enters the new school year thinking it will be better than the year before. Maybe it will be the best yet.
     There is a special kind of feeling that ensues during this time of year, and it's the kind of feeling one would like to bottle up and keep for later (you know, for when we're exhausted and in need of a "pick-me-up"). If only we could hold onto that feeling and make it last. What would our whole school year be like then? How would this affect students, teachers, and even parents? I contend that the consequences of such a long-lasting feeling would prove positive.
    Maybe we can't bottle up the excitement and positivity of the beginning of the school year, but we can commit to promote positivity and encourage others to do the same. It seems a tall order, but it's something that we can all do if we decide to. Below are 6 key ideas that promote positivity as you begin the new school year. Hold onto them throughout the year, and they will help you maintain a positive attitude even when things feel negative.


     We never have to wait for the big, grand things in life to be grateful for because it's the smaller things in life more worthy of gratitude. Are you breathing today? Be grateful. Do you have access to clean water? Be grateful. Did you feel the cool chill of the wind on your back today? Be grateful.
    Aside from all the wonderful things in life to be grateful for, we can also be grateful for the fact that we have jobs. Not everyone has that. Not everyone has a job for which they will rise and get ready for each morning. Be grateful.

Create an Appropriate Work Environment

     Just as we aim to create a learning environment for our students in which they feel free to take risks and make mistakes, the same needs to be true for our work environment. All faculty have the power to help create this kind of environment. It involves creating a growth mindset where teachers feel safe to make mistakes because they know they won't be deemed bad teachers. This kind of school understands that the only way to grow as educators is to understand that things won't always go well. Teachers might try things instructionally that won't always work and will adjust accordingly, and that's okay. When the entire school participates in this kind of mindset, it makes others feel safe enough to try new things, even if it doesn't work immediately (there's often wrinkles to iron out when trying something new).

Shield Yourself From Negativity

     Negativity can bring someone down like a pile of bricks. Its weight is heavy and constraining. Though it's not possible to remain positive 100% of the time, it is important to attempt to remain positive. When we fall in the negativity trap, it does nothing but bring us down (look for solutions instead of complaints as solutions are more productive). One step to attempting this is to shield your from negativity. If there's a location at your school where you know negativity runs rampant (say the teacher's lounge, for example), refrain from frequenting it. We can't control the negativity from others, but we can choose to not participate in it. Likewise, by modeling positive behavior, we have the potential to positively affect others and improve our immediate environment. This is not only beneficial for you and your colleagues, but for your students.

Assume the other person had good intentions.

     I once listened to a podcast that argued we should always assume the best from others. How often, though, do we do the opposite instead? We read an email and detect a tone and immediately feel offended. Or, we find out a colleague has done something and we assume it was done with bad intentions. Assuming another person had good intentions when they do something that, at first glance, appears otherwise, is not easy (I know, I struggle with this too). However,  by attempting this mindset, we better understand our colleagues, avoid unnecessary conflicts and drama, and maintain healthy relationships. When something happens and we immediately feel upset with our colleague, we should pause, rewind, and think that the person probably had good intentions. With that mindset, you can better examine and then manage the situation because it helps to keep you calm (as opposed to going into the situation upset and angry).


     Communication is key in an institution with so many people. I have had my own fiascos when it comes to communication, which is why I think this point cannot be left off this list. When communication is broken or lacking, relationships can suffer. When relationships between colleagues suffer, students ultimately suffer as well. If there is pertinent information, make sure everyone involved is given the information. This will prevent someone missing vital information, and when that happens, the other person involved could be left feeling upset and disrespected. Likewise, keeping others informed is an easy way to let them know they are being kept in the loop, considered, and, as such, respect.
     Sometimes communication is not easy, though. Speaking with a colleague about difficult matters can feel uncomfortable. These kind of conversations are not easy, but in order to maintain healthy relationships, they certainly are necessary. When we feel confused, upset, or even hurt, it's important to have direct communication with the other person. This can feel extremely uncomfortable, but misunderstandings and conflicts are best resolved when we go straight to the person. Remaining calm while expressing kindness and respect can help make the discussion as comfortable as possible in such a situation. Most people appreciate direct communication and will realize that you are interested in preserving the relationship.

 Recognize Everyone's value

     All school personnel has a special role, and each person's work helps to make the school great. As such, it is extremely important to recognize the value that each person brings to his or her school. Teachers, janitors, cafeteria staff and grounds are only a few positions that make up our schools. We can show our recognition of each other's value by expressing respect and appreciation for each other. No one is above or below, nor is anyone's job more important than another's.

    Want to listen to my full episode on this topic? You can do that here.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rethinking Homework

     Homework is one of those very delicate subjects in education. To give homework or not to give homework, that is the question. However, that's not the only question. If we teachers give homework, what kind? How frequently? How much or how little? What are the parents' role in homework?
     To begin to answer this question, we have to look at the research. There's really no research that supports the idea that homework helps students make academic advances. You do start seeing some advances at the highschool level, but it's hard to tell if this is just correlational or actually a causality.
     However, the subject of homework is still complicated even when you know the research. You have to keep in mind the parents and students, because they are part of the equation. Parents have their own preconceived ideas about homework, which implies the importance of informing them of the research on homework. Many parents believe that homework should be part of school, but this is primarily because that's what parents did when they were in school. Admittedly, most of us experienced having homework while in school, so it feels natural and correct to give homework as a teacher, as well as have your child receive homework. However, just because this is the way things have always happened doesn't mean these are best practices.
     We also have to look at students. What are their experiences with homework? Those who understand the concepts do well on homework. They lose nothing but time to be children and be with their families, but they also gain nothing. What about students who struggle with the homework, though? These are really the biggest losers in the homework game. Not only do they lose time in the afternoons after school, but they experience frustration while they struggle to do something that they do not understand. If they are struggling with the concept, how does new learning occur then? It likely will not occur during their interaction with the homework itself. These students need something different in order to develop understanding. This might be the need to have the material presented differently, or it might be the need to access the content in a different manner.
     Now, I'm not necessarily saying all homework needs to be thrown out. When it comes to reading, I think students should be doing this regularly at home. In terms of traditional homework, I do think we need to move away from this. Here are a few things we can do as we begin to revamp our current homework practices:

1) Require that students read at home.

2) Offer family activities as homework options (cook together; go for a walk as a family and use your senses to explore the world; bond together over a television show or a podcast episode, etc.).

3) Instead of answering a homework sheet with multiple questions, why not offer a sheet that provides a meaningful task? Maybe your student writes on this sheet, or maybe your student doesn't. Some tasks like this might include: find different shapes in your house; using manipulatives, find different ways to make the number x; have a conversation with your child about x.

4) Send home math games instead of homework sheets.

5) Make homework optional (except for reading).

     We can no longer ignore the problem of current homework practices. Students need time to be kids in the afternoon as well as spend time with their families. That's extremenly important to developing a well balanced and healthy child. After spending 6-7 hours at school, it's only fair that students get time for other things besides academics. If we think what helps us adults feel healthy and well (physically, mentally and emotionally), we know that there has got to be a healthy balance between work and our personal lives. This is very much true for our youngest humans. They deserve better, and we teachers have the ability to help them achieve that.

     If you'd like to continue thinking about this concept, I encourage you to listen to an interview I had with a parent. In this interview we get a parent's perspective on homework.  That interview can be found here.

    Want to see an example of the kind of homework my grade level gives out? You can check that out here.

    Do you have some great homework activities you'd like to share? Please leave a comment and share with us. Together we are better.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fast Forward Series: It's Time to Worry (Literally)


     In general, we humans spend a lot of mental energy worrying about things. We worry about anything and everything. We worry when it's appropriate to worry and when it isn't.  So much worrying can make focusing on immediate tasks difficult, and impede our sleep. This can negatively affect our personal lives, as well as our professional lives. Teaching is a big job, so it's important to feel mentally and emotionally well, as much as possible. Wellness positively affects our performance as educators. Read to find out how to conduct a designated worry time so your overall time spent on worries decreases, while increasing your overall wellness.  

Getting Started

     Schedule 1-2 times during the day in which you will worry. This should be about 10-20 minutes in length. Spend that time worrying about one specific worry you have. Do not think about about positive alternatives during this time. Allow your worries to take you where they will. You don't want to tell yourself that your worry is silly. Embrace your worry in all its glory. Once your designated worry time is over, you release yourself from the worry. Take a few deep breaths, even shake your shoulders and body, if needed, to transition out of this worry time.

Managing Your Worry time 

     Choose a time when you can sit down and only focus on your worry. It's probably best to choose a time when you are not work (i.e. before or after work). Again, you want to fully focus on your worry. It's not time to convince yourself that it's not worth worrying about. Instead, look at this worry in every possible angle. You really want to examine this worry inside and out. If you have exhausted every aspect of your worry, go through them again.

How This Works

     You are shifting your feelings and emotions as you confront your worries. Initially, you can expect to feel frustrasted, stressed, even anxiety while you first confront your worries during this time. However, after you have spent a few days dealing with a worry, you will become bored. You start to lose ideas about the worry and you lose interest. When this happens, it means you have accomplished your goal! You have successfully dealt with your worry. It will no longer be a worry that takes up your precious time.


    Again, it is suggested that you choose two worry times in your day. If a worry happens to pop up during the days, decide that you will tackle it during your worry time. Postponing worries will allow you to focus your time on other tasks instead of mindless worrying. Of course, if a problem or concern arises and there is a clear and quick solution, it's just fine to solve it then. Worry time is meant more for worries and concerns that might have an unclear outcome.

Different Ways to Conduct Worry Time

1) In a quiet space by yourself
2) On a tape recorder (speak your worries into it)
3) Have a designated worry coach

     If you decide to use a worry coach, it obviously should be someone you feel comfortable with. Your coach's role is to listen and do very little talking. In fact, your coach is strictly there to keep you talking. They can ask questions like "How else do you feel about your worry?", or "Tell me more", "what else?"

     Worries and anxieties are normal. However, there are ways to take control and manage your worries so that they don't take over your life. Learning how confront your worries will help you achieve better wellness overall. A healthier you benefits you and your students.

     If you would like to listen to the podcast episode in which I discuss this topic in depth, you may do so by clicking here.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fast Forward Series: Digital Tools and Resources at Your Door


     In episode 9 of "Time to Teach", I discussed digital tools that I am loving that you might want to try. These are tools that enhance teaching and student learning, and tools that you might want to add to your toolbox. Try them out this summer and you'll be ready with a few new digital tools for the fall.

 Get Epic

     This is a fantastic website for children's books. I use this site primarily for books I think will be good for a read aloud. You can also set up your class so that students have access to the books in class or at home. Teachers can set up an account for free, and free is always nice!


     This is a tool that is new to me. It's easy and simple to use, and that's something I can appreciate. This simple tool allows you to upload pictures, use filters, and add text. As such, you can use it to make memes. Memes are all the rage right now, so why not get your students doing something they enjoy while connecting it to academics?
     A few ways you might want to use memes in your classroom: vocabulary, word study, character studies in literature, announcements and sayings.


     Canva is one of my new favorite tools. You can make infographics and many other kinds of graphics. Many options within canva are free, but there are also items you will have to pay for if you want to use it. You can use this to make digital invitations, memes, announcements, online posts, etc. I love this tool!


     Padlet is a digital bulletin board. It is wonderful because it is so versatile. You can create boards and add links, texts, and images. You can invite collaborators, or you can share the link for others to simply view. It's uses are limitless, but here are a few ways I have used it: to upload student pictures to share with parents; my own dream board; planning.

Google Drive

     Since Google Drive is in the cloud, you can work on your documents from anywhere. That's probably one of the best features of Google Drive. Anything and everything can be done in Google drive. I type letters, announcements, create presentations, and lesson plan within Google Drive.

Story Jumper

     Digital story telling is such a fantastic way for students to develop their craft of writing. I really like to use Story Jumper for digital story telling as I find it easy to use. You may add the preset images (backgrounds, objects, etc.), or use your own. I actually use story telling to write my own books to read as read alouds! I have done so to introduce myself to my students at the beginning of the school year, explain how to treat our classroom books, include math & social studies concepts.

     How are you preparing yourself for the fall? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fast Forward Series: Other Digital Matters That Matter

     In my most recent podcast episode from "Time to Teach", I discussed several digital matters and tasks that teachers should work on during the summer. Working on these items in the summer will lighten the heavy to-do load at the beginning of the new school year. Here are the items I discussed: 

Lesson Planning

     Plan at least the first week back to school. Activities during this time should primarily focus on building community in your classroom. You also want to include time to observe student habits, as well as really get to know them (i.e. what are their interests? what do they enjoy to do outside of school?). 

 Emergency Sub plans

     You never know when an emergency (sickness or otherwise) will occur, leaving you with no choice but to miss a day of school. Nothing is worse than lesson planning when that happens. Do yourself a favor and have one emergency lesson plan already typed up and ready to go. Do yourself an even bigger favor and type out three. You will probably not need more than one, but it's better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. 

Policies and Procedures

     Everything needs procedures, and many things need policies. How will you handle students going to the bathroom? Transitions? Electronic usage in the classroom? Pencils? You will need a plan for everything that takes place in your classroom, and you will need to share this plan with students from day one. If you are a veteran teacher, think about what hasn't been working and decide on tweaks you can make to improve it. 

Learn a New Digital Tool for Productivity 

     There's so many digital tools out there meant to enhance your productivity. Take time this summer to find one and learn how to use it. Once you do that, learn another tool. My new favorite is Google Keep. It's essentially a platform for virtual sticky notes. Anything you might put on a sticky note you can put here. Additionally, it can hold links and images. It's my new favorite tool!

Social Media

     Social media is a great way to network and learn from other educators. If you aren't already networking, you want to start. Begin with one social media platform and learn how to use it. Once you have a good understanding of it, then try another one. If you are already networking, challenge yourself to learn another social media platform and start using that one as well.      Even though I have been signed up with Twitter since forever, I've really started using it like crazy this summer. My completely new social media network, however, is LinkedIn. I finally set up an account and have started using that this summer. 

Online Courses

     Summer is an opportunity for learning. With the movement of massive open online courses (MOOC), education is more accessible than ever before (Coursera is one of my favorites). Take time to grow professionally this summer, but also take time for your personal interests. Find a course that has nothing to do with education, but speaks to your interest. It's important to grow your whole self! 

Educational podcasts

     Podcasts are such a wonderful medium for education. Find an education podcast this summer that will help you grow professionally. Likewise, find a podcast that speaks to your personal interests. Growing all parts of you benefits your students, because the more you grow, the better of an educator you will be.  

     Taking time to work on these digital matters and tasks will help lighten your load come fall. Happy growing!

     Listen to the podcast in full here.

    How are you growing this summer? I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fast Forward Series: It's a Digital Mess: Clean Up Time

     In Episode 7 of Time to Teach, I shared many digital tasks you should do this summer to help you prepare for fall. The beginning of the school year is always busy, so you want to take advantage of the summer and start tackling some of your to-do list. Here are some digital tasks you can do right now to help lessen the chaos of the fall:

Pacing guide 

     Having a clearly planned out school year is important. You don't want to start the year without a scope and sequence, even a most basic scope and sequence. You can do this in any calendar that works for you. I prefer Google Calendar to do my pacing guide.
     Your pacing guide should have the most basic information you need, such as the name of your units, the beginning and end dates, and any holidays and events. I also like to count the number of weeks in my pacing guide, so I add that in there as well (ex: "week 1"). You probably have a pacing guide to work from, so it will likely be just a matter of plugging in the new dates in which your units fall.

Unit map (or Unit Document)

     It's important to have a detailed plan for your units. A unit map (or unit document) differs from a pacing guide in that it is very specific.  It includes all of the small details of your unit. Most likely you already have an existing unit map to work from.  If you do, you will want to take time this summer tweaking it so it matches next school year's calendar.  This will include changing the dates to match the new unit dates. You’ll also want to consider including the number of school days within that unit.  Since there are specific programs and series that I use within the unit's curriculum (such Math in Focus, Reading and Writing Workshop) with their own scope and sequence, I want to know how many days are in that scope and sequence and compare it to how many actual academic days I have. I suggest doing this so you don't run out of academic time unexpectedly.

Click here to see my actual Unit Map for Unit 1

Digital files

     Now is the perfect time to clean up your digital messes. This includes files on your hard drive, as well as any files you might have in the cloud.  Be careful and plan strategically.  You will need a "plan of attack" so you don't lose track of which files you have already cleaned out, and which ones are pending. I  suggest starting at a specific row and either working across or down. The other option is to choose a column and work down.


     It is probably best to regularly clean out email (something I am guilty of not doing consistently). If your email is in need of cleaning, then do so before fall. This includes not only your work email, but any personal email accounts as well.

Class website

     You will also want to start working on your class website. This might mean some light tweaking, or a major overhaul. I have had summers when I have completely redesigned my class website. A complete redesign usually implies there will be a good amount of time spent on it. Other Summers, though, I have only had to modify and update my website. For example, the homepage for my website is a class newsletter that's actually a Google Document. I update the class newsletter document every week and then I upload to my website. It's fast and easy, but it does have to be done.

 Forms of Communication  

     This probably is not going to demand too much of you digitally, though it might.  Yet, you definitely want to decide on the method of communication with parents and students. It's very possible that you already have a method that you like and will continue. In that case, you won't need to spend any more time on it this summer. In my case, however, I am going to start using the Remind app. Since I know nothing about Remind or how it works, I will need to spend some time this summer "learning up" on it.

Wrap Up

     Working on these digital tasks during the summer will help decrease your fall tasks. You don't want to wait to find time to squeeze these tasks into your busy and chaotic beginning-of-the-school-year schedule. Do them now, and you will thank yourself later.

* Interested in hearing the episode where I speak in depth on these things? Click here to listen.
     Do you have other digital tasks that you work on? I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fast Forward Series: Using the Summer to Establish Healthy Habits


     In episode 6 of my podcast "Time to Teach", I discuss three healthy habits to establish in the summer. I explain the importance of forming those habits during summer so that they are a natural part of your life by fall. Once these habits are in place, you'll be able to start your new school year feeling healthy, energetic, and refreshed. A healthier you will lead to a successful school year!
    To begin, establishing healthy habits can seem a daunting task. This is especially true when we are in the midst of a busy time, such as the beginning of a school year. This makes summer the perfect time to slowly establish healthy habits. Doing so will mean you start the new school year with a new, healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle will cause you to feel better, and when you feel better, everything is better.
    Here are the three healthy habits I speak of in Episode 6, as well as strategies for you to beginning forming these healthy habits.

Habit: Healthy eating


A) Begin to decrease the amount of processed foods you are consuming a week. Start slowly. Choose 1-2 foods to decrease. Eventually you want to eliminate these foods completely so that by the new school year you are eating much less processed foods.

B) Each week, include something healthy into your diet. For example, week one, start to eat more salads. Week 2,  include more healthy vegetables. Make sure that each week while you are minimzing processed foods, you are adding in healthy foods!

Habit: Exercise


A) Choose a time and stick to it. Keep it close to the time frame you will be exercising during the school year. 

B) Start slowly. Choose 3 days, and exercise 10-15 minutes. Each week, add another 5-10 minute to your work out time. 

C) After a couple of weeks of adding to your workout time, then add another day. 

D) Repeat this process until you have met your desired workout time and number of days each week. 

Habit: Good Sleep


A) Decide how many hours you need each night to feel well rested the following day. 

B) Pick a bedtime that works for you and stick to it. Keep it close to what your bedtime will be during the school year. 

C) Set your alarm (yes, even though you are summer vacation) to allow you to get the amount of sleep hours you need.  

D) During the last week of vacation, start adjusting your time closer to what your bedtime will be when school starts. 

     Following these strategies will help you fully implement the above habits by the new school year. Once you have healthy habits in place you'll feel better and perform better. Consequently, you will enjoy your days so much more. Are you ready for a healthier, more energized you? Let's get started!

     If you would like to listen to the episode where I explain more about these 3 habits, just click on the play button above. Like what you hear? You can subscribe to my podcast Time to Teach, available on iTunes or Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You may also listen online here.

Starting Strong: 6 Things to Keep in Mind as You Begin the New School Year

         The beginning of the school year is such a special time of year. Teachers excitedly get their classrooms set up, organized and d...