We Make Our Own Dog Food…That The Family Also Eats!

No, we aren’t those uppity people that spoil our dogs with gourmet food.  Last summer, we got a kidney disease diagnosis for our 14-year-old doxie, Angel, and one of the potential causes was the bag of dry dog food we were feeding them.  The vet said it would be better for her if we could give her a homemade dog food in addition to starting her on a regiment of medications.  We didn’t expect her to make it to Christmas.  As we are rolling into summer, we still have her and, other than her hearing and vision a bit worse, she is a happy pup.  When she got a check up in December, her numbers were lower, so it seems to be helping her kidneys a bit.

Our recipe started out pretty simple—rice, chicken breast, mixed veggies.  We added in scrambled eggs a few months later when they started getting bored with the flavor. Last month, we noticed they were sleeping all the time and almost lethargic acting.  Since we weren’t sure if it was pollen or diet, we added in  blend of turkey and beef. Their spunk seems to have returned and they are enjoying the additional flavor.  The multiple flavors and textures also help us hide their medicine in, although we due add a dab of peanut butter for the pills to hide in if they aren’t eager for dinner to entice them a bit.

It takes us about 30 minutes to prepare and a batch lasts about a week, or less, if the family eats any of it.  Yep, you read that right.  It is a quick and easy “stir fry” recipe that heats up in about 30 seconds and is healthier than most of the other quick prep food. 

The best part is how much it saves us.  We buy everything in bulk and freeze it.  We purchase rice in 10-pound bags from our local store, but when we can, we will go to the local Asian store—the rice is better, and it helps a small business.  We purchase family packs of beef, chicken, and turkey.  The chicken breasts get frozen individually.  The beef (usually market ground) is split into ½ pound portions, and the turkey into ¼ pound portions, then we combine the beef and turkey portions into one bag that we will cook together.  We buy our eggs in bulk already, as well as a large bag of mixed veggies. With buying in bulk, it will last us about 2-3 months, depending on how fast it gets eaten, and we only spend about $50.  We do still buy a small bag of the dry dog food for an occasional treat, or if we will be gone for the day and may be home a bit later than typical dinner time.

So, I thought I’d share our recipe, in case you were looking for an alternative to packaged dog food, a special treat for your furry friend, or a cheap and easy recipe for you, or for you and your family.

Puppy Stir Fry


  • 2 cups of rice, prepared (white, brown, or a blend)
  • 1 large chicken breast, boiled
  • 2 cups of frozen mixed veggies, thawed
  • ¾ pound of lean ground beef and turkey
  • 6 large eggs, scrambled


  • Fill pot with measured water for rice, turn on high to bring to a boil
  • Fill pot with enough water to cover chicken, drop in chicken breast and heat on high to bring to boil
  • Put 2 cups of veggies in a bowl and cover with warm water to thaw
  • Brown beef and chicken, drain
  • By now, rice water should be boiling, so add rice, lower temp to low/medium heat, and cover to simmer per package directions
  • Scramble 6 eggs (in same pan as meat for added flavor, and less dishes)
  • Drain veggies
  • Mix beef/turkey, eggs, and mixed veggies in large storage bowl that will hold the stir fry
  • Drain chicken and dice or shred, depending on preference
  • Add chicken to bowl, mix
  • Add rice to bowl, mix well (I find it is easier to use 2 utensils and “toss” like a salad to get it mixed well without making a mess.  The dogs do NOT prefer this method, though, they like the mess to “sample” dinner).

Makes 14 1 cup portions

So that’s it, our family’s “Puppy Stir Fry” Recipe.  It’s a super simple way to feed from one person to the whole family on a budget, or to feed your dog for a week and give them fresh dog food instead of something packaged.  For some reason, they seem to like the fact that they are eating what we are . I don’t know how much longer we will have our dogs with us, but I do know that this recipe has given us more time with our oldest pup, so it is totally worth it for us.

Becoming the Teacher My Students Needed Me To Be

By Sonya Barnes    4/30/2020

Please like and comment on this article if it resonates with you.  You can also interact more frequently by following me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or join the conversation on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.

I remember the days of kids not wanting to work, or fake working when they didn’t understand and avoiding asking for help.  They would do as little work as possible to just get done as quickly as they could.  I remember calling home to parents or students to be hung up on when they heard it was me or sent to voicemail so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.  Those moments truly made me an unhappy teacher.  I questioned everything about my practices and wanted to do better, sometimes even considering a departure from the profession entirely.

We hear so much about building relationships with our students, we were shown videos of students and teachers high fiving and fist bumping, with glistening tears in their eyes about their love for each other, but not enough on how to do that.  Sure, I’ve had a few students I’ve connected with over the years and am still in touch with as adults. But it’s rare. And, honestly, I’m not even looking for that with every student. But I would like an enjoyable professional relationship with every student that is positive and progressive in their learning.  It’s not too much to ask, is it?

By happenstance, I stumbled across the how this year.  I found a way to define it, break it down into reproducible steps and saw it succeed-although not 100% because, well, what is ever 100% in life? 

My school does PLC’s a bit differently.  Our principal lets us choose our area of growth to focus on, let’s us do the leg work on it and share about it in a video at the end of the year with our colleagues—and we do so enthusiastically.  It’s not very often that your mandatory learning for the year gets to meet you right where you are and be about something you want it to be about.

With carte blanche, my team decided we wanted to explore the area of Growth Mindset.  It has become such a buzz phrase in education, but, other than defining it, we hadn’t really gone in depth of how to expand on it since it started. We wanted to explore this and see if we, already happy, bubbly people in a positive work environment, could find a way to do it better. And, to be perfectly honest, we were the newbies at the school still learning a new job, so wanted something we thought would be pretty easy.

We had to start by posing a question, so here is what we posed:

Once that was done, we started digging into the research element. I won’t bore you with all the details (unless you are interested, then check out the snip or comment below or email me and I can send you some links!), but we found out some amazing things. 

The sources–if you can’t read them, I can send them

We were surprised to learn that growth mindset not only impacted student learning/teaching environments but could impact whether or not dietary changes or attempts to quit smoking would be successful. Whoa. Game changer. 

A coworkers response to a research post

We realized we needed to do more than we already were, though. Especially since our project required us to make changes and implement them to get data.  We already used the “positive sandwich” approach in student feedback on assignments, but we stepped it up. In fact, when we stopped being negative at all, we saw a whole new level of connection with our students and parents.

You see, by creating a safe and welcoming environment focused on learning and not perfection, learning truly happened. We worked hard at the old proverb of treating others the way we wanted to be treated. We didn’t like being told what we did wrong, we liked hearing what we did well and what areas we could improve on and how.  So, if we, as professional adults, didn’t like negative feedback, why on earth would our kids?! How would they learn positive feedback and growth mindset if we didn’t live it?!

A student that hadn’t worked in weeks would start a conversation apologizing but would quickly relax when asked if they and their family were okay, or about some challenge they’d been struggling with the last time we talked, or how I could help them get the outcome they wanted.  I stopped telling kids to redo work they messed up on, but told them what I liked, what they could do to earn back points lost and gave them the choice of doing it—and most did.

By telling them I wasn’t worried about the past since we couldn’t change it, but that I was worried about how they could succeed right  and in the future showed them that they are the most important thing, not something they can’t change, I changed their view of the task. It truly became one of those teachable moments.

You know what else happened? Parents and students answered my calls, texts or emails. They knew my goal was to help, not judge, not make them feel bad, not point out the flaws. The students would call or text for something they didn’t understand and needed help with. And no matter how obvious the fix should have been or that I had a hundred other kids ask me THE SAME QUESTION that same day, I never made them feel bad. In fact, no matter how silly the overlook may have been, I’d downplay it as being something that was okay to not know since it may have been different than what we had known or just pretty hard to figure out. 

To truly embrace building those relationships, you’ve got to treat students as people and as equals, regardless of rank or responsibility in the infrastructure. You must respect their life and where they come from, what they are going through and be willing to walk through it with them to the other side.  You need to compliment them, celebrate their successes, and work together to solve the not YET successes.  Will it work every time and with everyone—I doubt it.  Who can make that kind of guarantee that isn’t selling something for 3 easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling?  But I can guarantee that you have no chance of seeing success if you don’t try.

So, start looking at how you interact with students, parents, coworkers, your own family—people.  Look for opportunities to focus on positives and celebrate successes or turn negatives into positives in the making.  You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain, and you may find the payoff is in more than your day to day teaching interactions.

Ergo – what? Avoiding the Aches and Pains in your Workspace

By Sonya Barnes   4/11 /2020

I’d love to hear from you!  Comment below or join me on social media: Facebook join the group Addicted to Teaching or Twitter follow me at AddictedtoTeac1. Don’t forget to like this article and let me know what you like about it so I will keep them coming!

With many of us  working from home to maintain an income, you may have noticed having more aches and pains than you normally have—especially people who are used to standing and moving around quite a bit, like teachers.  There are several factors that could contribute to this, and it’s not all stress related!  If you are sitting for an hour or more at a time and not using a proper desk or chair designed for sitting and working, you may have noticed back and neck aches, headaches, or trouble sleeping.  But you don’t have to deal with that!

Do you remember those typing classes you may have taken in middle school or high school that made you sit up straight, look straight at the screen, keeping your feet flat on the floor and your wrists off of the table?  That was ergonomics. Once our teacher graded us on it, many of us brain dumped that lesson and never thought about it again.  It took me getting carpal tunnel and tendonitis from hours of daily typing in a job, sending me into a brace for eight weeks and twelve weeks of physical therapy to relearn that lesson. 

In the corporate world, there is an ergonomics representative that trains people and checks for this annually, as well as making sure that desks and chairs as well as computer heights follow the guidelines.  But, when I transitioned into education, I never once heard or saw someone talk about it, unless they were the typing teacher.  As educators, we spend most of our time standing and pacing that little thought is given to how we sit.  In fact, if we are lucky, we may sit for a planning period or a training day, but not as a regular part of our day.  Now that so many are working on a computer, let’s go over the three areas to look at for your physical health.  Since I am a teacher, let’s use the acronym SPA to make it fun and easy to remember—Stretching, Posture, and Apparatus.

First, let’s talk about STRETCHING.  Starting and ending your workday with a few minutes of stretching will prepare your muscles for the work you are going to do and save you from injury or aggravation.  You can use simple basic stretches, engage in yoga, or a combination, depending on what aches and pains you may already have had.  You can find videos and tutorials all over the internet for these or take advantage of online yoga instructions for personalized guidance.  Just start at the top and work your way down.  The basics are neck stretches, shoulder rolls, arm circles, shoulder, chest and arm stretches, forearm stretches and flexes, lower back stretches, lateral trunk stretches, quadricep and hamstring stretches, calf and ankle stretches.  If you type or mouse a lot, I also recommend hand and wrist stretches and flexes.  I would recommend doing this both at the beginning and end of your day, possibly even midday, just depending on how long you are working and if you are feeling stiff and achy.

Next, let’s discuss your POSTURE while working on a computer, starting at the top down.  Your eyes should be on the screen, and the screen should be centered at eye level.  If you are using a laptop only, this won’t be as easy to do, so just make sure you aren’t straining your neck too far up or down.  Next, your back should be straight with your shoulders rolled back, but relaxed and not pulled up or forward—the best way to do this is to not put your back against the back rest and sit a little forward on the seat.  As for your wrists, they should be straight, floating above the edge of your keyboard or table surface and not resting on the surface.  Finally, your feet should be flat on the ground beneath you.  Pairing the correct posture with frequent breaks—every 20-30 minutes to stretch, walk around, and look away from the computer—is a best practice to avoid strain and stress on your body.

Finally, let’s discuss APPARATUS that can help take the strain off a long workday.  Since this is temporary for many, I will talk about alternatives with things that are around the home and won’t cost you a dime and put a bit more detail into this section!  For your work set up, you should have a well-lit room or a task lamp–the more natural light the better–to avoid eye strain.  Next, for proper monitor height, if you have a second monitor or keyboard, that can be most helpful in adjusting to the proper visual height, or even taking advantage of modern TV’s with USB hookups, can be helpful. Just be aware that TV’s give off a lot more blue light than a monitor will and can result in more headaches, a lesson I learned the hard way!  Next, a standing desk can be a great way to keep from those aches and pains of sitting too long.  Amazon and IKEA have some great options if you are looking to invest in a more long-term workspace—to include adjustable desks for both sitting and standing. The price usually starts at $100 and goes up. Next is a proper chair with back support and appropriate height. I found that a gaming chair is best for this since they are made for long term sitting.  Amazon or your local office supply store usually carries them, and they often have sales.  I also invested in a core balance disc (under $15 on Amazon) to help with core muscles and stretching and can even place behind my back to offer better posture support.  An alternative to a desk and chair is to opt for a standing workspace set up and you can add a box or a shelf made from leftover wood scraps you have around, or a countertop is a great option—just be prepared to clear out when it needs to be used for mealtime.  I also recommend a step of sorts to prop feet on and take the strain off your hips and lower back, especially if your legs don’t easily reach the ground like mine.  I purchased two monitor stands and used one for a footrest, or you can buy a true ergonomic footrest.  The free alternative would be to get a shoebox to rest your feet on.  If you are using a phone frequently, be sure to use the handsfree options whenever you can—either a headset or speakerphone setting, to avoid the aches of holding the phone all day.

Partnering these strategies, along with proper water intake, nutrition and exercise can help eliminate a great deal of the aches that come from working on a computer all day.  Especially when we are not in an ideal situation for those routine massages and chiropractor trips. 

I hope these tips help you find a healthier way to work, whether it be for long term or short term.  Taking many of these practices back into your classroom or office could be to your advantage!

Eating the Frog – A Taste of a Teacher’s World

One of the frogs living in my garden in progress posed for a picture with me

By Sonya Barnes 4/4/2020

I’d love to hear what your frog is!  Comment below or join me on social media: Facebook join the group Addicted to Teaching or Twitter follow me at AddictedtoTeac1. Don’t forget to like this article and let me know you like it so I will keep them coming!

There is a story from my childhood that comes up from time to time about when, after reading about the frog prince, I went outside, gathered a bucket of frogs and, one at a time, kissed the frog then tossed it over my shoulder and moved on to the next one when it didn’t turn into a prince.  I adore frogs, but the idea of eating one seems completely out of the question.  So when I was having a monthly chat with my instructional leader and she asked me about eating the frog, I definitely raised my eyebrows, before she went on to explain to me and encouraged me to share this concept with all of you.  So here I am.

Brian Tracy wrote a book on this catchphrase of Mark Twain’s, equating it to our modern day lives        and the tasks we do.  As educators, we have many things we must do regularly, and they are not always enjoyable tasks.  It took me many years to figure out effective strategies in my classroom for managing everything and that seemed to change from year to year depending on several factors from leadership to level of students in my classes.  When I moved virtual teacher and working from home, it became even more apparent that time management was incredibly important, especially with family home during the day when I was working. 

If you haven’t caught on my now, this phrase has little to do with literally eating frogs and everything to do with the figurative element of it.  You see, eating a frog is a repulsive idea and something we will put off if possible.  But the gist of this phrase is about taking on the most difficult thing to do and doing it first thing.  For me, grading has always been the bane of my existence—grading is my frog.  I have primarily taught reading and language arts in my career field, so grading meant reading a great deal of writing assignments several times checking for content and mechanics to help improve their skills.  I’d procrastinate on this task due to having so many other things to do and not wanting to, that I’d have a massive pile with hours of grading to do. Sometimes, I’d have so much when it was quarterly writing time, that I’d burn a personal day to spend grading just to have a quiet house to work in—and I’d still procrastinate.  I justified it by saying I was more effective if I graded at once, so I had the same mindset for all and wasn’t so subjective. 

Attempting to catch a frog in the garden was about as challenging as trying to eat the frog in my work day!

Now that I teach a technology course virtually, the grading isn’t quite as time consuming for each item, but it is still time consuming since many of my students will complete more than one assignment in a day and we have an expectation of grading within a certain time period.  This has helped me make sure I make time for it in my day.  I used to work it in when I could, sometimes leaving it to the end of the day, sometimes forcing myself to do it both in the beginning and end of my day. I even tried only grading every other day so that I didn’t have to deal with it as often but could still make the expectation. But after that conversation with my leader last month, I started grading as my first thing of the day every single day.  My brain is fresh and rested and I can start on it early before everyone in the house is awake and moving—which is much more of a distraction now that we are all at home during the Covid-19 orders. 

And do you know what I found?  It really does work.  Not only is my most challenging task completed, but it helps prepare me for the rest of my day.  I can then run an updated report to see the exact status of my students which prepares me for the phone calls I have to make during the day to students and parents.  If my student is successfully ahead and I call and they are stressed about some upcoming test or project, I can talk to them to plan around it. If they are behind or have a poor grade, we can talk about how to catch up or improve their grade and I know exactly what is needed.  It makes these conversations less about what they are supposed to be doing based on a checklist and makes it a more personal conversation about their individual learning and success. 

Considering parent calls were my second frog that I used to avoid in my brick and mortar days and now it’s a routine part of my day, finding this change has made those calls the most enjoyable task (second only to checking things off of my to do list!).  I can tell mom, dad, guardian, student not to stress or worry, we can do this together— do you have a plan or here’s a few options, which works best for YOU? 

This approach to my interactions has allowed me to be a blessing and they answer my calls, instead of the annoyance they send to voicemail.  When I have called home during this challenging time of everyone home and sharing devices, I have been able to be the calm and kind voice in their day.  I can hear the smile in their voice when they answer and saw me on caller ID or hear my name.  I want to be a blessing in people’s lives, so if that means I have to eat that frog every day, I will do so with a smile.

No frogs were harmed in the making of this blog.

Simplify your E-learning Classroom Experience

Sonya Barnes                     3/26/2020

With the current situation, many educators are being forced into e-learning platforms, whether it is wanted or not.  It can be a challenging endeavor to take on, especially with the rapid transition to get there and finish up the school year.  I started as virtual teacher in August and have gained a few insights and helpful tools from colleagues and experience, as well as listened to parents of my own students and friends and realized that it is an overwhelming place to be.  I created a video using Zoom to navigate you through some features in Google using voice, classrooms, slides, docs and forms, as well as a few things to make life easier such as tracking logs and tiny URLs for sharing sources.  Check out this link for the tutorial—and forgive the poor quality, it was via Zoom on a laptop camera, not a professional camera or studio J  Below is a brief description of each of the features I cover in the video.

Zoom link to e-learning using Google tools


I don’t go into a lot of detail about using Zoom, but I am recording in it!  You can use it for live interaction or prerecord lessons.  I do suggest using presets for live interactions to lock out video, audio, chat, and annotation features without you granting permission and I would also let the students know that you can boot them from the lesson and not let them back in, then set up an alternative option with parents, if needed.

User-friendly Homepage

My school offers a website with the ability to add links and embed codes, but Google Classrooms is a pretty basic alternative that can meet most needs. However, you can create a customizable image using Google Slides that includes a photo, your contact info, a link to resources, office hours—anything you want or think your students may need.

Google Voice

This free feature allows you to have a phone number for work use, set do not disturb hours, send texts, make calls, have a voicemail greeting and even has an app so you can use it via your phone if you don’t want to use your computer.  I use it daily and love it.

Teacher contact info

Having this in your display just makes life easier for students and parents. Include your email, phone number, working hours, open office hours in Zoom for lessons or tutoring, or a link to resources (using a google doc you share the link of and then convert to something easy using tinyurl.com) The easier to find, the higher the likelihood of successful student engagement.

Gathering student contact info

Using a Google Form, you can gather updated contact information from your students and parents, then view it in a spreadsheet for easy sorting.

Tracking Contacts

Some schools may require this, but even if they don’t, this helpful tool can be created in Google Sheets and used to track calls, texts, emails, etc.

Netiquette training for kids

If your kids aren’t used to online learning, they may need to be shown the rules. BrainPOP has a great one that is a 5-minute video and includes a quiz that they can then screenshot their score and submit to you. This way, you can at least know you showed them the right way. I am sure there are others, but BrainPOP has never let me down with their resources before.  Here’s the link: https://www.brainpop.com/technology/digitalcitizenship/digitaletiquette/

Calendar app through setmore.com

I have tried lots of apps, including Google Calendar, which is great, but I love this one since I can share a URL and my kids can book an appointment with me without a lot of back and forth.  With the app downloaded, it even sends reminders of appointments to my phone, in  case I am away from my computer.  If you are using it solo, it is free indefinitely, not just for a trial period.  I’ve used it for a week now and love it.  I tried Calendly before and it works well, but this one just has a few features I love that make it more of what I was looking for.

I am sure there are so many more tech savvy ways of doing this, but for the short term, this will take you less than an hour to set up a streamlined digital classroom that will run efficiently, whether you use it until we are back in classrooms, or you continue to use it as a tool along with being in brick and mortar.

If you have questions, please join our community on Facebook in the Group Addicted to Teaching or follow me on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1.

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Schedules, Routines, and Ideas – How to Get Things Done When Everyone Is Working From Home

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                                               March 20, 2020

We all have a place to work in our home so we can all be productive!

Working from home is not for everyone, but many people are finding themselves with this as their only option to earn an income these days.  As a virtual teacher, I have talked to many parents this week that say their children are struggling with getting all their work done while they are also trying to work from home. They are feeling overwhelmed by all they need to do and no idea how to do it.  And many parents are probably feeling the same with their own schedules.  Factoring in trying to help their family and balance everything with so much together time and it’s no surprise that many are short-tempered, frustrated, or giving up. 

Here’s are a few printable schedules to help you find balance with your routines, as well as a few helpful tips to keep your sanity.  I mapped out times for you, but they can be adjusted based on the hours you decide to work.  I highly suggest making this a family meeting discussion, especially if you have flexibility in your work hours.  It will allow everyone to have hours that work for everyone’s schedule and goals—or to capitalize on sleeping in later, even if that means working a bit later to do so! All these schedules are back to back on time, so it’s okay to start a few minutes late or end a few minutes early for a brain, bathroom, snack or stretch break. The title is a link to a printable sheet you can use and pencil in your tasks or download and type in.  I made these quickly, so forgive me if the lines are slightly askew.

Straight 8 Schedule

This schedule is the most familiar for people. In this schedule, you break your routine into a different subjects or activities to do each day, then repeat the same for each day of the week.  I created it in 30-minute chunks, which is about how much time most students can truly focus on a challenging task.

Block Schedule – 2-week rotation

This schedule is great if you need more time to devote to a task, you just work on that task or subject every other day.  This schedule is created in one-hour chunks so you can focus on more enduring tasks.

Modified Block Schedule

This schedule is my favorite because it combines them both, and it has a built-in reward at the end of the week if you are efficient or ahead on something.  In this schedule you spend 1 hour on each task 2 days a week and, if needed, the end of the week allows for an additional 30 minutes to wrap up the task for the week or enjoy 30 minutes of free time as a reward to spend on something else that needs done or some down time.  This could also be a good time to go through each task, ensure its completion, submit it, and communicate with teachers, colleagues, etc. to be sure it is wrapped up.

Helpful Tips to Fill Your Time

So, now that we have your work time maximized for efficiency, let’s talk about how you can fill some of that family down time.  We may be inclined to binge watch TV, zone into our phones, or get lost in cyber worlds, and these aren’t bad, but will get old quickly, especially if you will be following this schedule in a full house for a long time.

  • Create TV/main room rotations. Everyone deserves to get the big TV to themselves, so create a plan to spoil everyone
  • Cooking/baking lessons.  This could be a great time to teach kids some family favorite recipes.  It can also be a great time to teach them how to portion plan and meal plan.  Bonus—you’re showing them real world skills for math and science!
  • Family dinner. This is a staple that is missing from many families. It creates the opportunity to talk about your day, what’s on your mind, and truly hear each other.  Bonus would be cooking together, taking turns planning the meal, and taking turns to clean up.
  • Learn something new. Pick up a new hobby or resume an old one.
  • Learn something you thought you always should know.  A fun fact about each president, the names of all 50 states (The Animaniacs have a fun song that can help with this), fill in a blank map, learning all the oceans, countries or continents. This could be a fun challenge between parents and kids to see who can complete it or complete it fastest.
  • Learn to sew, knit, crochet, make clothes, grow a garden, build something. Many of these skills have gone thanks to mass production, but why not learn to be a bit more self-sufficient.
  • Write a letter to a family member that lives far away
  • Find a pen pal and start writing to each other—email or snail mail
  • Create a video letter to send to someone—a boss, a coworker, a teacher—they’d love the personal contact to catch them up on daily life and it would be a nice distraction from the every day
  • Play a board game
  • Read a book…for fun!
  • Write a story or play and share it with the family
  • Work a puzzle—kids can make them by coloring a picture then cutting it out
  • Family fitness/obstacle challenge.  Find a family you love to hang out with and chat on video or speaker phone to come up with a series of activities that both could do with items on hand, then video your family completing the challenge.  Once both have, share the videos together and watch while on a chat.  Zoom can be a great platform for doing this online and you can all see each other to talk and share videos there from both sides.  Zoom offers free accounts that you can host up to 25 people in your party.
  • Deep clean/purge. If you have an area that is a trouble spot in your house, you now have the time to devote to it and get it under control once and for all.
  • Create a help jar.  You know that money you would have spent on gas, shopping, eating out, etc. that you aren’t spending now?  You can set it aside and have it to help down the road if you lose income, to help a family in need that lost income purchase food, tip extra when restaurants resume, buy gift cards to help those in need, donate to an animal shelter, zoo, or homeless shelter that needs assistance due to less traffic.
  • Journal. Paper, video—doesn’t matter.  Journaling can allow you to get your thoughts out and make sense of them. It can be a great way to document this transitional time in life.  Who knows, it could be a life-changing memoir that gets published someday.
  • I’m sure this one has been told many times, but I will conclude with it anyway—keep your normal routines.  Get up at the same time, get dressed, make your bed, do your chores, go for walks, eat meals—and if you didn’t have a routine, now could be a great time to create one!

I hope you found something helpful in this article.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed during challenges, especially when we feel like we have no control over the situation. We’re all in this together, so don’t hesitate to create a community you can talk with.  Be safe.  And wash your hands!

Please take the time to like and comment on this article to help me out. Subscribe to my page to get more of my articles sent right to your inbox! Thanks for reading!

Maintaining A Healthy Learning Environment

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                                                         3/8/2020

A welcoming classroom can be beneficial to student learning, but how can you keep it a sanitized and healthy environment, and how can you keep the focus on learning if they have to be out due to that illness?

It is currently flu season, allergy season and, unfortunately, Coronavirus is making its way around. In other words, students missing school is highly likely as we get through the last several months of school, and it is right during testing season. In addition to keeping a clean classroom, there are some things that we can do as educators that can help keep the focus on learning, even if a student can’t be in the classroom.

Student cleanliness

Some students have healthy habits, but most do not because they just don’t think about it—I know I didn’t as a kid.  And, while hand sanitizer is great, especially as they walk in the door first thing, nothing beats a good washing with soap and water. Create a routine to have them wash up as soon as they enter, as well as when they use the restroom or before and after meals.  Posting steps for how to properly wash hands can be good, as well. The CDC has some that you can print at this link CDC Handwashing Posters. Also, encourage them to bring only what they need to school to avoid the number of items around.

Classroom cleanliness

Many of us already make it a practice to wipe down our desks and other surfaces, as well as keep hand sanitizer in the room on hand, but are you involving the students so they are consciously aware and a part of it? Alcohol wipes for keyboards and bleach wipes for desks, switches and other surfaces can be helpful, but expensive.  A cheap spray bottle with a disinfecting cleaner, as well as one with rubbing alcohol can be used on paper towels or even reusable rags like a cut up t-shirt or towel that the kids can have access to and be tossed in a bucket to be taken home and washed when full.  Healthline.com recommends using a 90% or greater rubbing alcohol on electronic items so it will evaporate quickly.  Check out their website for other cleaning tips using alcohol here.  At the end of the period or the day, depending on how often they transition, have students take the time to wipe down their work area.  Keep in mind, this may be something that will need to be taught and modeled repeatedly, and you may still want to do a wipe down at the end of each day, as well.   If you have items that cannot be easily cleaned or disinfected, I highly suggest tucking them away for now, or working to replace them with things that are.

Community Classroom Supplies

Many of us have a community location for paper, pencils, erasers, scissors and all the other things that a student may use. If you teach a contained classroom with the same group of kids, using pencil pouches to hold all their items at their desk and having a clean-up time at the end of the day to wipe them down can be helpful.  If you don’t have a pencil pouch and lack the funding to purchase, look at gallon freezer bags as an inexpensive substitute that you may even be able to get donated.  If you have students that change classes, encourage them to keep a bag or pouch of these items in their own bag and carry around. If a community area is a necessity, have alcohol wipes to wipe down utensils and handles, or just be generous and give them the writing utensil. 

Planning lessons

Yes, this needs to be part of it.  Kids are going to be out, and some may not be able to have someone come to school to pick up work.  Hopefully, at this point in the year, you have an idea of the technology access your students have at home, but a quick poll can tell you—maybe a quick bell ringer!  With this information, you can develop lessons and activities that they can access electronically.  Many schools have access to google drive, Schoology, or Google Classrooms, so capitalize on that and begin adapting your lessons and activities to start teaching the students how to access this.  Perhaps partnering with your school administration for a schoolwide adoption or working with your team or the technology instructor, if you have one, could help with this process. If technology is not an option, perhaps planning the unit in advance and copying it as a packet they carry with them back and forth could be a good alternative.  Communication will be key as to the best way to keep them informed.

To maximize success, definitely make contact with your parents to let them know that it will be coming back and forth and a clear idea of what the expectations will be (i.e., what will be daily classroom or homework, what they should do in the event they are absent, due dates, where to find this information, how to contact you with questions in general or to help their child while they are out, etc.).  I can hear your arguments as I write this—what if they lose it; what if they go home and work ahead and finish it early? Well, a master copy at school to work from can help with lost copies (laminated or in sheet protectors that can be wiped down and sanitized could be helpful) and sending a google drive copy of the packet to parents can help, as well. This could be an email, through a communication app you use, or even just having it in their google classroom and making sure the parents have been invited to access it, or create a parent classroom they can access materials or ask questions/get help if they are helping can be beneficial.  And, if they happen to work ahead, they can use class time to review or complete an enrichment menu activity to reinforce the learning.

Don’t be afraid to listen if the students want to talk about it—this could be a great chance to dispel rumors or fear, as well as educate them on facts.  Keep yourself informed by following updates directly from the sources handling it, linked here—the Center for Disease Control – CDC, World Health Organization – WHO and your local health departments and school board (sorry, you’ll have to find that link on your own!).  While local news media may be helpful, you are going to want to get the bigger picture that they may not be able to cover in a short segment or, sadly in these times, may not be as accurate or thorough as we need it to be. 

It is always a good practice to be flexible and supportive to the learning needs for a successful learning environment, but as we navigate through this season, it will be even more important to do so with a positive and caring attitude.  Be healthy, fellow educators!

Politics in the Classroom

by Sonya Barnes                                                                                                                            January 25, 2019

As teachers, we spend a great deal of time with our students and they learn our preferences just from how we talk bout things.  They know favorite foods, drinks, TV shows—all because of conversations we have and anecdotes we may share during our lessons.  And sharing a part of who we are is an integral part of being an educator.  It is what makes the personal connections real and connects theoretical classroom knowledge to real life application.

One area that I believe personal preferences should never be shared in a classroom, though, is the area of politics.  I am not saying we should avoid political discussions—it is important for students, at least in secondary education, to be aware of the issues being discussed and changed and to learn about varying opinions and ways of thinking.  A classroom with a diverse grouping of people is a fantastic place for these conversations to take place.  Sadly, we see teachers that are using their classrooms for political platforms.  Their students are keenly aware of how they feel about issues and politicians.  Students who agree with them feel empowered to speak out, but students that may be opposed can feel disconnected or even shunned by the teacher, even if they are not. 

Having taught reading for many years, one of the units I had to cover included research, analyzing non-fiction, and learning whether information was valid and authentic.  I often used political elections as the platform for this.  One of my favorite lessons was during my first year teaching with 6th graders when we used candidates in a primary election but removed face and names and only gave them a number.  The students completed a profile on primary issues based on their own beliefs, ranked those based on which were most to least important, then noted each of the other candidate’s stance on those issues.  From that data, they saw the candidate they most aligned with.  Once all had the data, we revealed which candidate they aligned with.  It was a great lesson that I hope stuck with them.  We had real conversations about issues, they learned to listen to another’s point of view without judging or getting defensive because it was different—sometimes even refraining from sharing their ideas publicly and learning that it was okay to do so. 

But they never once found out which side I was on for an issue or which candidate I supported, a practice I have intentionally continued to this day.  You see, I could talk to any kid about any issue or topic and they new I’d be open to their idea.  I found myself explaining things that came up from current events as they related to articles and stories we were reading or topics we were writing about but doing so on both sides of the issue.  When directly asked by students, I would refuse to share my beliefs or ideas because I didn’t want to skew their free thinking.  Don’t go thinking I am noble or bragging—I am just a firm believer that young people should have a safe environment to try out different ideas or versions of themselves without feeling judged, and I tried to make my classroom that place.  How else was I going to get authentic and real writing from them?

But I have also known teachers that were extremely political and used their classrooms as a way of sharing their views every chance they could.  And students would come to me having felt very uncomfortable or left out if they didn’t see it that way.  It wasn’t that the teacher did anything wrong necessarily, it was just an opinion-based connection the student couldn’t make or disagreed with.  I have no doubt that there are teachers that use their classrooms as a soapbox for their opinions and push them hard on their students and impacting the grades and learning of their students.  I have seen it firsthand as both a student and an educator, and more often at the post-secondary level than in middle or high school level. 

Educators have a responsibility to present information with facts and all the varieties of opinions that exist.  We should, discussing political topics as they relate to our subjects and at a level our students can handle based on knowledge and age/maturity level.  Far too many people of all ages these days don’t know how to have a difficult conversation about a topic with someone that has an opposing viewpoint and truly listen for the sake of learning.  Most listen for the sake of arguing (I am guilty of this myself, on occasion).  As educators, it is so important that we learn to separate teaching from influencing based on our own beliefs.  We must teach them to think, find evidence, analyze the details, ask questions, discuss at every opportunity with all viewpoints within our classroom.  But it is so important that we leave the opportunities for drawing conclusions to the individual students to do privately or safely in an anonymous way.

Parents, this part is for you.  I encourage you to do the same as I am asking of educators.  Remember that reading unit about researching candidates I mentioned earlier?  Many of the students found their views aligned with a candidate perfectly, but when it came time to write their conclusions and participate in our mock election, most voted differently.  When we had our wrap up discussion about the mock election, some students said that their parents would be mad, even disown them, for supporting someone else.  Some just wanted to do what everyone else was going to do and not be left out.  I grew up with family that has strong political beliefs.  I changed political parties as an adult and had close family members sever all ties with me because of it.  But, in my household, three of us are of voting age and are all registered in different parties—yet we can have many political conversations about hot topics, openly listening and considering each other’s points of view, and still respect each other if we continue to differ in our views.  It’s what I envision for the community to be like, and eventually the world.  But you must play an integral part of this.  Listen to your children, encourage them to think for themselves and reassure them that it is okay to support a different ideal than you—and truly mean it.  Together, we can raise children that can truly make the world a better place.

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to like so I know you read, subscribe to get notified when I write, and comment to share your thoughts.

Teaching Children to Work

by Sonya Barnes January 16, 2016

In past centuries, children would begin working the family farm or business at a young age to contribute their share—even if they went to school.  Some children, in their adolescent years, may have even been sent away to work as an apprentice in a trade for a variety of reasons.  But, in recent generations, the focus has shifted to classroom-based learning and “on the job” learning as an apprentice is lost in most children, unless they volunteer for community service hours or still help with a family business.

As teachers, we often have work to do at home, as do many other professions. So, is it a bad idea to have your kids help work on classroom projects around their own school and activity schedule?  I personally don’t think so.  Even if they don’t desire to go into their parents’ professions, there is still much to be learned from the experience.  They can learn time management, pre-planning projects, completing a job to the best of their ability, working with others, and so much more.  It is just important to make sure the task is age appropriate.

My children have always helped with work. I was a single mom for a long time, so it allowed us to get things accomplished and spend time together. My oldest would help in my classroom, although I didn’t become a teacher until he was eight. He would help organize, move furniture and, having been a student already, was valuable to me in learning what a good classroom environment felt like and flowed like. I think he helped me become a better teacher from the start because of his contributions. As he got older and his time was filled with sports and other activities, I recall taking my youngest to prepare my classroom as a two-year-old and him holding border as I stapled it to boards, finding letters for me as I sorted them out, and putting books on the shelf. Even at 2, he was a huge help and saved me lots of time—it was a wonderful bonus to be able to teach him skills, give him independence, and get time with him. As he has gotten older, his tasks have increased.  When I taught at the same school he went to, he’d help stack or unstack chairs, turn technology on or off, straighten things, wipe down tables, staple papers I had copied and even gather the day’s work from the turn in bin and clip it for me using my system.  When I had projects for my students, he’d do a trial run of creating them, give me feedback, and then prep the sets of supplies for me by class so it was ready to go.

Knowing what a huge help they were with work has allowed me to entrust them at home with chores beyond what I normally would have thought, especially my youngest.  My now eight-year-old not only cleans his own room, helps tidy the house and take care of his fish, but he also does his own laundry, loads the dishwasher, helps with meal plan and prep, cleans up after the dogs in the yard, and  helps his older brother bathe the dogs—a chore he will take over when his brother graduates and moves on. My oldest has been doing laundry since he was about eight, helping with the yard and housework, and even with his brother since he was a teenager when he was born.

They don’t just learn by working with me, either.  My husband is has a handyman business and can fix just about anything and includes them in home and car repairs as often as they are available (or willing)—a lost art for many, but something he learned by helping his father.  When something makes a noise, our youngest son will often try to fix it from what he has learned, or he tells dad so he can fix it.  While this can backfire sometimes, more often it is a blessing.  My oldest likes having a car paid in full, but that means repairs, so he has learned a lot about mechanics and maintaining his own vehicle. My oldest is into computers and they spend time together so my little one is learning from him about how they work and what he can do on them.  And both have been a huge help when I made videos and was prepping, taking photos or editing, even planning and setting up my office to work from home.

They may never grow up to do any of these things in their own career, but will have immense respect for the work people do, the effort they put in, and will have skills to take into a future of their own, whatever it may be.

I’d love to know how your children help at work or home and what career field you are in.  Comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe and get this article sent to your inbox!

An Open Letter to Florida Leadership about the “Rally in Tally”

Here is the letter I sent to FLDOE and district leadership regarding the chastising email sent to Polk County teachers threatening their jobs if they took their approved personal days to attend the Rally on Monday 1/13/2020 to make their voice heard the day before the legislative session begins on 1/14/2020.

In education, we are often faced with teachable moments–the term we use for opportunities that present themselves for us to truly teach our student a valuable lesson that, we hope, will have a lasting impression.  This rarely comes from a planned lesson.  More often than not, it comes from an interaction while passing in the hallway, during a lesson that has gone completely awry.  This could be on a perfectly good day, or on a day when we are trying to recover the point of learning when the internet is down, the copier is awaiting a repair man and we spilled our morning coffee down our shirt when we were already running late after being up all night caring for a sick child or loved one.  How we respond defines us as a person, a leader, and a teacher. And it doesn’t require one to be in a classroom to be defined by a teachable moment.
My husband and I are both military veterans and former Polk county public school teachers that left for health reasons–the demands of the classroom were negatively impacting us that severely. We are both a product of Florida schools through our college degrees.  Our children are both in Florida schools–one a 3rd grader and the other a senior in college.  I now teach from home for another Florida school. Teaching is not standing in front of compliant and obedient kids delivering a rehearsed lesson on a standard, giving an assignment and grading it. Teaching is a skill set that requires reading students carefully, finding their strengths and weaknesses and finding a way to meet somewhere between what they need where they are and what the state or district demands they achieve, even if they are miles apart.  In essence, without legal requirement, we create an Individual Education Plan for every child that enters our room, even when those numbers in one school year are 150 students or more. And, if we do it well, students from prior years come back for help. 

I recall hearing about the Rally in Tally as early as last summer.  That means that Polk County Schools and the State of Florida have had several months to prepare for this date.  They could have met and changed the calendar to make this a teacher work day. It could have been a staff/student holiday. The legislative session that was scheduled, and the prompting catalyst for this date could have been set for a week later when educators would be off the day prior for a holiday and could be present without any impact to their jobs in any way.  But none of these things were done.  This is not a teacher problem, this is a leadership problem.
Teachers that followed the protocol of applying for a personal day and had it approved are being threatened in an email sent out after work hours on Friday night regarding an absence for Monday as a result of a lack of coverage by the district.  This is not a teacher problem, this is a leadership problem.
So, this is your moment.  You are the leader.  This will define you.  This event will make your mark on history.  Will you support your educators on the front line, teaching children that disrespect them because they see leadership disrespecting them, not supporting their efforts in the classroom, providing support services for those children, adequate resources to teach with, sufficient time to meet the required content, and appropriate compensation for their efforts in relation to the years they have committed?  Or will you continue to blame them for their circumstances and use fear to control them?
What kind of leader will you be? I pray it is the kind that stands in solidarity with teachers, works to solve the problem instead of finding blame, and supports educators being present for decisions being made that impact them.


Sonya Barnes Veteran, Educator, Parent, Advocate