Throughout the year, I always try to embed learning opportunities for my students to grow as a person or reflect on who they used to be. At the end of the school year, it can get so busy and we need mini-lessons that can take one day here or there to fill in. I started this one my very first year and, while I have adapted it for the grade I am teaching, or even used it for a beginning of year lesson, I have always fallen back on it.
It’s pretty simple really, I have the students write a letter to their future self. For my 6th graders, I would have them write it to themselves going into high school, then I would collect them and seal them up, with a promise to find them and deliver it as they were headed to high school. I live in an area where students move frequently, so this did prove challenging. I later adapted it to seal it after adding a personal note to it, then returning it with a “Do not Open Until” instruction. For my 8th graders, it was upon graduation. So this time of year is exciting since I have students do this as an activity, and I have former students opening theirs and reflecting—and many reaching out to me.
So what do they write about? I do make a plan sheet for them to capture who they are now—favorite music, style, books, TV shows, best friends (boy/girlfriends), foods, places, goals and dreams both personal and professional, what they think they will be doing and a bit of advice for their future selves that they hope they don’t lose focus of through high school.
I collect them all and give a participation grade, but I also add a personal note to it as a motivator, a funny story or memory, or some personal touch. Then I seal it up and tell them to stash it away or give to a parent. Many pin it on a mirror or wall, tuck it in their yearbook, or give it to mom or dad to hold onto until graduation. Some open it right away, they can’t wait 4 years. Some forget about it or lose it. But several keep them and many reach out to me. I love it!
Because so many students have stayed in touch, courtesy of social media or their parents being or becoming friends of mine, I am able to get a reminder out to some of them and they spread the word. It is my favorite lesson every year and I always look forward to teaching it. I think it is what I miss most about being in the classroom, too.
It can be fun to build those memories, strengthen those bonds and give them something to reflect on when they reach this milestone. Keep in mind, you don’t have to add a personal note! This can also be adapted to a first day of school lesson and they open on the last day, or so many other variations.
If you are looking for an activity for the end of the year, I encourage you to give it a try.
I’ve been an educator for 14 years, doing the hard work and getting that week of treats and sweet thoughts from our PTA, administrators, students and community organizations and restaurants that come with Teacher Appreciation Week. This year, though, with being a virtual teacher, I was able to be on the other side and do something for the teachers of our community through my local teacher organization, Delta Kappa Gamma.
Our organization is a blend of teachers, coaches, administrators and retired educators, and our local chapter is no different. Which means that we have several people with the task, the time, or both of planning rewards for our teachers, and we like to sponsor a couple of schools for at least one day with breakfast or treats.
This year, because of how my schedule worked as a virtual teacher, I was able to carve out time to volunteer at one of the schools and be on the giving side and take on some of that responsibility from our veteran members that are enjoying retirement and travel. It was nice to chat with other teachers, tell them they were appreciated, listen to their stories, and talk about our organization, for those that were interested in it. As an educator, most of us are used to doing the talking, and I am no different, so it was nice to be in the listening seat and let others share. If you ever get a chance to volunteer for something like this, I highly recommend it.
As for our organization, Delta Kappa Gamma, we are always looking for Professional Woman Educators (and aspiring ones in school for education, or in another field but tasked with educating and training!). We are an international organization with chapters all over the world. We support not only educators, but each chapter takes on additional focuses within their community and the education system to support. We also attend trainings, conferences and gather for meetings and social events to continue to build our bond as friends. This organization was founded in 1929 by 12 women who wanted to help women in the profession at all levels be better prepared.
If you are an educator, in the classroom or even retired, and interested in learning more, go to the organization’s website at https://www.dkg.org/ . You can click on ABOUT US to find a local chapter to visit and learn more before committing to join, or if you are local, reach out to me and I will help you with our chapter or another within our District. We would love to have you!
Testing season is upon us, and that can be stressful for both student and educator. But do you know what other events are big this time of year? Award shows! Several years ago, I noticed how bad my students’ test anxiety was getting and wanted to shift their mindset. While I was thinking about it one evening, a commercial for some awards show came on and it showed someone’s acceptance speech, talking about all the hardships they overcame, and it inspired me. This could be a great lesson for my students!
I was a Reading/ELA teacher, so did have to work it to “fit the curriculum”, but it wasn’t too much work and the kids really enjoyed it. Here’s how I broke it down for a lesson:
STEP ONE: Have the kids word splash in groups or on the front board 2 separate ideas—one, what they are nervous about with testing and two—test strategies and tips for doing well. This lets them see that their fears and concerns are probably the same as others and get ideas from others about ways to deal with it.
STEP TWO: Have them work in small groups/collaborative pairs to think of what they can do to lessen the stress and be prepared to overcome those things. Streamlining the word splash to things that relate to them helps focus their ideas.
STEP THREE: Have them independently brainstorm where they started from in their skill sets throughout school and the year, personal challenges they’ve faced that may have made it challenging, what they as an individual think success will look like and how they will feel when they reach their goal. And tell them to remember those shout outs to people that supported them (ahem—YOU!) Encourage them to set more than one goal to create multiple levels of success opportunities.
STEP FOUR: Show some of the most inspirational, moving, and, of course, school and age appropriate, speeches you can find online, just in case some aren’t familiar with award shows or don’t recall how they are done.
STEP FIVE: Have them write an acceptance speech! Then they can record a Flipgrid video to post to the class board for you to watch and reply to! (If you aren’t familiar with Flipgrid, research HERE to find out if it may be a good fit for you). If you don’t use Flipgrid, they can use their cell phones or class computer to record and send an MP4 file, or you can have a camera set up in a corner for recording. I would avoid having them present in front of the class since some can have some pretty personal fears and knowing others won’t know might make them more inclined to share if they won’t be judged. Be sure to tell them only YOU will see it, unless they choose to share. A bonus could be to have them do it dressed up at home, or with a podium or fancy background in the classroom to jazz it up!
Be sure you give feedback, thanking them for sharing and supporting their ideas to work through it. Encourage them to save the video and watch it the day before testing to reassure them.
I love this approach since it creates a growth mindset and allows them some self-reflection. Have data, old assignments, test scores, etc., and their word splashes from brainstorming in step 1 handy to help guide them since some may not think that big or may not be very growth-minded and may need guidance.
Most importantly, tell them that it is okay if they fall short of their goals. Share with them times things didn’t work out for you. Share stories of others you know (teachers, friends, former students, or even famous people) without using names of experiences that didn’t turn out how they expected, but they went on to find success.
We, as educators, know that this is one day and may not show their best ability if it is an off day, but the stress of how high stakes these tests can be to our career and their future can distract us from what is the most important thing—that they show up, show what they have learned and give their best effort. Remind them of this often and you will be doing a huge favor for their future self!
This week, we will celebrate Earth Day, an annual event started in 1970 to inspire people to clean up our planet and make conscientious decisions in our everyday life. We see community celebrations, clean ups and crafts dedicated to this, but how can you apply this mindset to your classroom’s everyday practices. Here are some ideas that I have tried out or were inspired by others.
Recycling bins. I’d be missing an opportunity here if I didn’t remind you to recycle in your classroom. Many communities have recycling pick up and can get bins for your classrooms and do pick ups at your school. This will take some habit reformation since many students may use it as a trash can, or may not know what goes in it, so be thoughtful about your student population as you use this.
Recycling markers, mechanical pencils, pens, and highlighters. There are many places that offer this service for *FREE*. Crayola allows you to ship boxes of dried markers directly to them for recycling. It is currently halted due to Coronavirus but subscribe or check in regularly to the Crayola Colorcycle site for it resuming. Staples also offers this service, so check with your local store to see how they are collecting them right now.
Create New Crayons from Old Ones. This is such a fun activity to do and a great use for old crayons! Of course, you can find recycling programs for crayons, like those for markers, but in classrooms that go through crayons quickly, it’s much more fun to make your own! Just remove wrappers, cut into small pieces, and drop them into a muffin tin and bake in the oven until melted. Let them cool completely then pop them out! And it’s okay if you don’t have a lot of one color, blended colors make for interesting combinations.
Change your lighting. If you are lucky enough to have windows, why not open those blinds and use natural light? Not all lessons need reading light and fluorescents can be harsh on the eyes and those bulbs are terrible in the landfill! You can also opt for LED lamps strategically placed around your room, so they use less electricity and last longer. Plus, they create a more comfortable atmosphere, making your students feel at home.
Unplug that Tech cart. If you have a technology cart for laptops or iPads, don’t leave it plugged in all the time. You can plug it in after they are used to recharge, then unplug it until they all need charged again. Same for your desktop or work computers. It can be helpful to use a power strip for these so you can just flip a switch or, check your cart—some have a switch to turn off the power to the cart for this very reason.
Neglect the copier. Do you really need to make a copy for everyone, or will a class set work? Does it need to be a full sheet, or can you make it a half or quarter sheet and cut it?
Alternatives to copies. Maybe your activity doesn’t need a copy at all, and you can use chalk or dry erase—a large one in the classroom, or small personal ones. Your local home improvement store has dry erase and chalk boards to purchase. Some of them can cut them into the 25-30 boards you need, although some are getting away from it, so you may need to do this yourself or enlist the help of someone you know that has tools. Not an option? No problem! Get sheet protectors and plain paper and DIY a set for yourself! The benefit of this method is that you can drop a marker and a scrap of cloth (recycle that t-shirt, towel, or leftover fabric!) and now it’s all set for use.
Simplified supplies. If you plan well, you can get buy with not needing a ton of supplies in your classroom by using recycled items that are collected or saved, or by reusing the same item in a variety of ways. This will not only stretch your supply budget since you can order in bulk, but it will cut down on how much you must store, clean and inventory—and pack at the end of every year!
Outdoor classroom. Whether your school has an outdoor seating area or not, taking the class outside can be great for them, and for shutting down your classroom. Do give your students a heads’ up so they can bring a towel, blanket, or folding chair, in case this is an issue for them. I loved doing journaling days outside since it cut down distractions and allowed them to separate from each other to think. They loved it so much, they asked for the option anytime it was an independent/partner workday, so many days my classroom was open to both. Just be sure your administration knows your location and supports the idea with safety protocols.
Earth friendly cleaning. Many of us were routinely wiping down our classrooms pre-Covid, but now we do it even more. While those bleach wipes can be convenient, they are terrible for landfills. There are many plant-based cleaning products or DIY recipes all over the internet that you could find and keep in a spray bottle. Then, just use old t-shirts, towels, or rags for cleaning and you can wash and reuse them. If you don’t have any, don’t buy new—go to your local secondhand store and repurpose towels, rags, or t-shirts from there!
There are plenty of other things you can do, such as starting a garden or compost pile at school, crafts from recycled materials (have you seen the buildings they have made from 2-liter bottles?! Check out some of those HERE. You don’t have to go big and do everything but do what you can. Not only will it make a difference for the planet, but you’ll be inspiring future generations by example and create many teachable moments in your room.
My oldest son and his girlfriend are coming over tomorrow night for Taco Tuesday dinner, a family favorite. But I wanted to do something a bit more special since we don’t get to have dinner together as often now that he doesn’t live at home. I remembered Tijuana Flats cookie dough flautas and thought it sounded good, but when I searched the internet, I couldn’t find anything.
I did some research on ingredients, and methods and settled on trying the air fryer. We found quick ingredients prepackaged so it only took about 5 minutes to prep and 5 minutes to cook, so these can be prepped and made quickly for any occasion. It was a hit with my boys, although we figured out a few things to do differently. So here’s a breakdown of the how to make them, for calorie info, just check the packages of your ingredients you choose.
*****EASY COOKIE DOUGH FLAUTAS*****
10-12 Fajita tortillas
1 package of cookie dough of your choice
Follow the package instructions for the cookies. Helpful tip: many recipes call for the butter to be softened but not melted, so check for that so you can set it out in advance.
Spoon a tablespoon amount onto a tortilla and spread as thin as possible. Then roll the tortilla tightly.
Preheat the air fryer to 350 degrees. We didn’t use any oil for this recipe.
Set the tortillas into the air fryer basket. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Let cool for a minute or so.
Garnish with powdered sugar, drizzle with chocolate sauce, or, like us, do both!
We have a strong sweet tooth in this family and it was sweet to us, so I recommend cutting in half before serving (use a very sharp knife so you don’t squish them).
I am a workaholic by nature and a very goal-oriented person. I do not like to stop until I finish something, even if that means a very long work session. If you’ve been in education for 5 minutes, you know we are never really finished. I have had to work hard to set working hours and an end point to stop at, as well as breaking my goals down into chunks to accomplish realistically. But I am terrible at taking time for myself until I reach the broken and burned-out phase. I push so hard that when I was a 10-month teacher with summers off, I found it was at least 3 weeks before I’d slow down enough to feel in control and not just caught up in momentum. When I switched to 12-month in August of 2019, I gave up summers off and last year was tough without that time off and the disconnect. I realized I had to do something different.
The Covid pandemic and shutdown in 2020 really taught me slow down and that it is very beneficial to make time for myself and to be by myself. I’m a 12-month virtual teacher, my son is a virtual student, and my dad is retired. My husband is the only one that works out of the house. That’s a whole lot of together time that can be very overwhelming. I learned to find times to get a break and do things for myself or by myself, and it has been a huge help.
As life started getting busier as we gradually reopened, I found myself missing the solitude and extra downtime without outside demands, so I set my 2021 New Year’s Resolution to include more intentional time for myself, or to use the new term, self-care time. I decided to set time each day, week, month, and quarter intentionally for me to relax, rejuvenate, and recharge. I fill that time with road trips, pedicures, massages, hair appointments, hikes, trips to the playground, a coffee, meal, or dessert out with someone I want to catch up with. I also make sure they are budgeted so I don’t go broke.
Daily. Every day, I have my devotion and prayer time, and I go for walks. My goal is to walk for an hour a day, however that may break down. With a young pup, this has become two thirty-minute walks a day to give her an outlet and training time. I’ve also set the goal to start my day with prayer instead of my smart phone or scrolling social media, and I try to do my daily devotions over breakfast. Sometimes this looks different, if my son wants to go for a walk or I’m chatting with family over breakfast, but most days I work all these in without issue.
Weekly. This one has been a challenge. We are blessed to have parents that live nearby and help by letting us have one date night each week (and sometimes, an overnight or weekend!) It’s been great and took us several weeks to get used to not having the kids or to rush back to them. We go gaming, walking around, get pedicures, go to dinner, play tourist somewhere—whatever we feel like doing.
In addition to date nights, I’ve been working to have one slow day, or Sabbath, to relax and do as little as possible, without filling it with technology (i.e., I avoid movie marathons or binge-watching TV for more than a couple hours). This could be a rainy day on the porch, a few hours out on the water, a road trip with no real destination, or time with family and friends talking, eating, playing games. We are a very busy family, but most weeks I am getting at least a half day for this.
Monthly. This one has taken more planning and I am just getting to it. Some months we have holidays and a build in long weekend, but not every month. I decided to sit down with my calendar for home and work and am picking a day each month that doesn’t have a holiday and works with my work schedule, and I am taking a day off to get a long weekend, even if we just stay home.
Quarterly. My goal is to take a week off each quarter to get away somewhere. For this, it took a bit more strategy and, truth be told, this was actually my starting point before I planned my monthly days off since I don’t take a long weekend in the months I take a week off. I’m old school, so for this I grabbed our wall calendar and a highlighter, as well as my work and personal digital calendars. First, I marked off the holidays and breaks we get built into our schedules from our work calendar. Next, I looked at our typical workflow and volume and what time is available on our team calendar. Then I looked at our family plans—family we want to see, vacations, birthdays, summer camps, our travel wish list—and started plotting. I try to balance things out to maximize those brain breaks, then I submit my requests. Can I tell you how excited I am that my husband and I will be off the week our son has weeklong day camp an hour from here this summer and we will get to play tourist and get time together in a fun area to explore!
I realize that time off is a blessing that most occupations don’t have, but in education, we do. Most school districts offer personal days in addition to holidays, but there is this stigma against teachers that use them. Stop letting that bother you! You earn them. They are a part of your salary and benefits. You NEED them, why don’t you take them?
So, grab your calendar(s) and a tasty beverage (coffee, tea, chocolate Dr Pepper, wine) and plot your time off. Talk to your family about what you all want to do. You can plan for a month or two at a time, or plan for the whole year. Just plan something or you will constantly find yourself justifying why NOT to do it and feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by your day-to-day life. It will give you something to look forward to on those tough days and be a great reward. Refill the pot so you have something to give to others. It may be awkward at first, but you will get used to it and find yourself enjoying it.
While the structure of school hasn’t evolved much since its inception, anyone who’s been in a classroom for a second year or more can tell you that the structure of a classroom has evolved immensely, even from year to year. And not just from when we were students to when we became educators. Over the course of my educational career, it has changed dynamically, creating a need for us to constantly evolve with it. I have rarely been able to use the same lesson two years in a row without tweaking it ever so slightly for improvements or changes in my classroom. And that is what led me to adopt a menu option approach to use in my classroom.
A menu option doesn’t give total control to the students, but it does allow them to have some control over their learning—a great way to get student buy in and lessen conflicts and boredom, especially in middle school, where my educational experience has been. Plus, it creates an automatic differentiation in your classroom where every student can succeed, which is our desired income, right? This method isn’t something to be used every day or in every case, some days may still be predominately teacher led or everyone doing the same activity. But when you can make it happen, this is a great method to use. Here’s an overview of what I do.
Day 1—teacher led: New topic—introduce, give background, chunk concepts, model, check for understanding often—interactives can be fun. Students are taking notes as they go (best options are fill in the blank, highlight, or Cornell style notes). With some concepts, I recommend 3 to 5 7–10-minute sessions, each with an interactive check for understanding where they are up and doing something with the new knowledge. Conclude with a ticket out the door or 3-5 question check in to see if they have the foundation.
Days 2 & 3—student led/teacher guided: Quick check for understanding with a review they can interact with each other on—some students will have retained longer or more knowledge about it since the last class and this let’s them help each other. Something competitive can be a great motivator—a relay, matching game, or technology-based game can be great for these since they are “fun” and will inspire student engagement. Once you know they have retained it, they can now go onto a small group activity to continue to build knowledge and apply it. This also allows for creating a teacher led group for those that may still be struggling with the concept. Have a few options they can choose from based on learning and personality styles. Build in chances to correct mistakes to 100% are a huge bonus on these days and allow you to check for understanding.
Days 4 & 5—independent menu day: Students will use these days to create a product to apply what they have learned. This will take them to the mastery level and apply the knowledge to a new topic, subject or area of life and do something with it. Having a list of options they can use will allow them flexibility to use a medium they are comfortable with to truly see what they learned about this concept and how they would use it.
I based this on a five-day concept model, but it could easily be stretched or adapted for a longer unit, even scaffolding as you go to a bigger menu project at the end of the unit. I’ve used it for a 6-week research unit that coincided with testing. It was a great stress relief for both myself and the students since they tested on different days and times for somethings and always new exactly what they needed to do upon return. No make-up work, no keeping track—I just adjusted the number of days in the model if I knew everyone had testing.
By using this method of teaching, I found that I was able to respect the differences within my classroom for learning styles, backgrounds, where they were starting from on concepts, their personal interests, learning disabilities and their personal methods of working. It automatically created differentiation within my classroom. I worked hard to make sure that there wasn’t an “easier” option and I created rubrics for each mastery task (TIP: use the same menu style for each concept so you can reuse rubrics and only the content has to change) I also found that, while it was more work for me to create up front, it made assessing throughout the unit a lot easier and quicker, so my grading turnaround time was lower. I could sort by product and grade quickly by scoring and noting on the rubric and returning that with it.
This method works with a lot of different course curriculums and at a lot of different levels. I’ve used this in Reading, Language Arts, Leadership, Critical Thinking and Technology, and have seen teachers use this in History, Math and Science. We have even used it on a grade-level project where students were working in multiple subjects on the project. I love the flexibility and it makes plugging in my lesson plans faster and easier since it follows a modeled pattern—also a plus for your students that thrive on routine but still want to exert control!
I’d love to see pictures or hear about experiences where you have tried this, so be sure to share in the comments below or find me on social media and share!
As teachers, we often feel a sense of urgency with the tasks we do. Deadlines, testing windows, end of term, personal goals set by us, parents or even students—so many things impose this on us.
What if I told you that not everything is an emergency, would you believe me?
Because they are not.
It is so important that we learn to set boundaries and stick to them so that we can maintain balance in our lives and avoid burn out. If we take the time to properly prepare for anticipated situations, we can avoid many of them. Here are some tips I implemented that have made this idea a reality for me.
Set Work Hours This one is huge. You MUST have boundaries. You are not paid for 24/7 work, so stop giving it. If the amount of work needing done constantly pushes you over, keep a detailed activity log for a week or a month to analyze what you are doing and perhaps you can find some things to eliminate or do more efficiently. Most teachers I know that work so much in the evenings or on weekends are also those always chatting during planning time.
Set Days/Times for Routine Tasks You know you have things that always need done—calls, planning, copies, grading, teaching, projects, tutoring, duty. If you set up days and times to complete these tasks, you will find yourself much better prepared and using your time a lot more efficiently. I made a video about this a couple of years ago (when I still made YouTube videos) that can talk more about this. Check it out here https://youtu.be/UT2-Utq9Jcw That was one in a series on time management, so you can check those out, too.
Don’t Create Extra Work for Yourself Whenever possible, create templates or frameworks for the lessons you do, such as Mastery Menu tasks, that can apply to all kinds of lessons and they can choose how to show what they learned. This also includes EXTRA CREDIT and MAKE UP WORK PACKETS. Don’t do this! Have a folder for a copy of every lesson you do and then you can make a make up work packet from that. As for extra credit, they usually only want it from not doing prior work, so only offer existing work and, if they want a better grade, implement some type of redo policy to earn lost points back. This also reinforces the idea of revisiting missed learning to work towards mastery.
Don’t Let Another’s Urgency Become Your Emergency Just because someone else needs or wants it done right away doesn’t mean you do that. Incorporate these into your routine tasks and tell them it will be done at that time. Late work or work turned in to bring up a grade? Set up a grading policy—work is graded and returned in XX school days from day received. Phone calls, emails and text messages returned within 24 hours—set up an autoreply on this one and include it in your voicemail greeting so they are aware of it. Many “emergencies” are often the result of procrastination, so by working in lesson planning, grading, calls, and projects into your daily routines, you will be able to address these on a weekly basis and defer it to that time.
Don’t Take Work Home If you plan efficiently, you can get it all done at work and force yourself to stick to those hours. It can be way too tempting to work when we need to rest our minds and focus on other things. This also means not checking emails and calls after hours. If you create an internet phone account (Google Voice has a free option) then you can set up the do not disturb hours, so it won’t go through at that time.
Delete Work Related Apps Seriously, it will be too tempting to jump over and check your email after scrolling social media. Delete your email, google voice, chat programs, whatever you have, and only be available during hours. If there is a true emergency, your Principal, Assistant Principal, co-teacher, or team will have your personal number and can reach you. But be sure they are aware of your boundaries. If you aren’t sure what they are calling about, let it go to voicemail—you can always call right back.
Set appointments To Hold Yourself to These It can be easy to make excuses but setting up appointments to be at can not only help you stick to them, but it can also give you a reason to NOT do something thrust upon you at the last minute. Find a walking or workout buddy, have a set dinner time, set up a standing coffee or dinner date with a friend or family member (or rotate who each week!), set up a date night with your significant other, make a self-care appointment for each week (yoga, manicure, pedicure, a chair massage, hair trim or wash and blow out—these are all options you can probably find for around $30 each and can work into your budget easily). These are all things you can do that will give you a reason to have to leave and help you mentally shift from work.
Apart from a true emergency, there is nothing that cannot wait until the time you set aside for it. Your peace, your mental health, your family, your relationships—none are worth sacrificing to grade a stack of essays or prepare a lab for class. With that said, when people do ask things of you that don’t fit those boundaries, especially if you always have before, do not be rude about it, and don’t say NO, just get into the NOT RIGHT NOW mindset by letting them know when you will get it taken care of and to them. There is no need to create a riff in your workspace. Instead, share with people what you are doing and why and you will probably find that they will probably support you, and some may even join you on your journey.
These tips can also apply or adapt to non-education career fields, especially in this new normal we are living in that is exponentially overwhelming to so many. Share this article with your friends, family members or coworkers, it may help them. I hope it helps you.
Today was my monthly call day for the week. In my virtual teaching world, I have to have a monthly call to check in with my students and families working at home. It’s just what we do. I always thought that what I did was the same as everyone else—until today.
I was talking with a student this afternoon. I teach a middle school career and technology course and always chat with them about their life, other classes, what’s happening in my life—you know, regular conversations we’d be having if they were in my classroom or passing in the hallway. Last month, she had been assigned to read a book I hadn’t had a chance to read, and I asked her about it. She hadn’t gotten far, so I told her we’d talk about it on our next call. I made a note for myself and, today, when we were just chatting about life and school, I asked about the book, the assignments, and her thoughts. We talked about her course work, too, but at the end of the call, she said something that caught me off guard.
I’m really going to be sad when I finish your class because I enjoy our conversations. None of my other teachers have ever talked to me every month like you do.
I mean, not even factoring in this crazy Covid life we are living right now, how is having a real conversation with students not a part of our calls?
Then I realized, as teachers, we have so much to do, many are probably so overwhelmed and just trying to get it checked off and done. Very much how students approach our assignments—get it done and move on to the next thing.
Several years ago, I made a shift in life to be more intentional in how I live. As a parent, a spouse, a human, a citizen, a Christian, and a teacher. That meant having real conversations with everyone. Making sure our chores and tasks we do at home, school and work were essential to forward progress and served a purpose. Designing lessons and presenting the assignments in a way that it showed the benefit it would present in life—and if it didn’t, finding a way to change that.
That fed into the phone conversations I have as we have shifted to a highly virtual world. Sure, we could talk shop and in 5 minutes I could be off the phone and log that we discussed their progress, grades and what needs done. But, instead, I block off 30 minutes for my calls. I text on Mondays to let my families know it’s Monthly Call time and send my calendar link to schedule it for a time that works, and I wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to cold call. And when I do, I ask if it’s a good time or if we need to schedule for another time. Most schedule and like being able to prepare thoughts and questions. But we all thoroughly enjoy that chat with parent and student on speaker phone with teacher, chatting about life stuff, sharing stories and experiences, laughing, and connecting like friends or long-distance family. Sometimes, we talk for longer than that half hour window because we are enjoying the conversation.
I look forward to these talks.
They look forward to these talks.
Moms, dads, students—they all thank me for chatting and for taking the time. They ask about my family when I call.
These connections are vital to their social and emotional development. Not just the teens and tweens on my roster. Yes, they need to learn about how to have a conversation, plan and manage their time, and ask questions about what they are learning. But the parents need the social and emotional connection. They need to know they will survive their child’s shift from child to adult. They need to hear the good their child is doing.
Even on my large group Zoom calls with some of my courses, I still strive to chat them up and make the connections. I post a joke of the day and a fun fact of the day. I call each of them by name and ask how they are doing, what’s new, if they have some insight to share or question to ask. Many don’t engage, but some do.
So, the next time you talk to your students or their parents, make it meaningful. Make it personal. Make notes and follow up.
I’m blessed to have these connections with students. This is my 14th year teaching. Some of my friends in life, were once students in my classroom, and I value the roll they have evolved into in my life and the small part I played in theirs as they grew into adults.
Make those connections. Even if it is only one a year—I promise, it’s worth it.
I’d love to hear your stories about those teacher-student connections, both as the student and as theteacher.
Evaluations are a dreaded part of being a teacher. We teach all day for 180 days a year but have only a handful of observations to catch us in action. Some teachers just teach like a regular day, some prepare and ensure they hit every mark, some fall somewhere in the middle and make the effort to hit those marks, but don’t do too much out of the ordinary. It’s the best we can do for Domains 1-3. But what about Domain 4?
Domain 4 is about our teaching practices and what we do that goes beyond basic planning, teaching, grading, and communicating. It’s the one where we can get recognized for the things, we see that need done beyond the minimum and we do them. I know very veteran teachers that don’t do this. But are you doing everything you can to get recognized for them? Have you ever been close to the next level but couldn’t think of or prove something to get that bump? I have and it sucks. I was .001 away from a Highly Effective rating one year, a year I didn’t track so my “what I did” email was brief. And their email is usually very casual, so we don’t even think of it being something of such value to us. But it is!
When I was working on my master’s degree, we were required to do projects and track them and their outcome. It was daunting work, but in doing them, I realized I kept better records and had that data at the end of the year to share with my supervisor and increased the outcome of my evaluation because I had evidence of being a highly effective teacher. At that point I decided it was worth continuing every year.
I knew it couldn’t be too complex or I’d never do it. But I needed something beyond my post it notes collection of tracking. I created a simple tracking sheet and included updating it into my weekly routine. I stuck with the STAR acronym since it made sense. It stands for Situation/Task—what I noticed or identified; Actions—what I took to improve the situation; Results—the outcome of my actions. It is clear and concise and captures all aspects of the process, plus it’s easy to share with my evaluating supervisor. Here’s an example of an entry I did about starting this process and sharing with others:
So, with end of year evaluations coming up, take the time now to gather your notes and think about what you have done and fill one in for this year. Here’s the link to a blank STAR tracking form I created to share. Be sure to create a new copy and save the blank one to reuse each year and don’t forget to calendar appointment yourself to update it as well as shortcut it for easy to find access!
I know some of you may be reluctant to put in the effort because some evaluating supervisors don’t like to give out Highly Effective ratings. Many don’t because they don’t want to have to answer for a high number of them. I don’t get that argument. I would want to show off my amazing teachers, be an example for the education system, and show our stakeholders that we are doing amazing things. And with the documentation provided in this method, it can back up administrators in giving those evaluations out and perhaps change the Education System mindset from expecting a bell curve to recognizing greatness and rewarding it. In the business world, when a location has high performing employees, they become a model for what should be done—let’s do that with education.
So, keep being amazing. Keep making things better for teachers, students, parents, schools, communities. Then be sure you are writing it down to share and get credit for all you do. You are worth it!
Note: If this is something you are interested in sharing with your team or school, contact me to schedule a Zoom meeting or I can record my training and share with you.