Tips for Taking Over A Classroom Midyear

January 21, 2022

I’d been planning this blog post for the beginning of the Spring term for a few months, sketching ideas, refreshing my memory from past experience, etc. I remember how crazy it can be to come back after Winter Break, ready to tackle the last half of the year and finally feel like you were making progress, then change happens. Or worse, you found out day before the start of break but couldn’t do much over the gap. I have had to change subjects, move rooms, do both, and even moved schools midyear. It’s stressful, but if done properly, can go smoothly for all involved.

As luck would have it, earlier today, I talked with my Principal and am…taking over a classroom mid-year, so to speak, in the virtual world. As things change, people move and our students get shifted since they are all at different paces and places. In my particular situation, I am moving from a virtual lab teacher working with brick-and-mortar schools on a set schedule to the same course, but with students that are home schooled or taking the course independently, in addition to their regular school day.

While my virtual experience will be a little different than a brick-and-mortar school experiences, there are some basic guidelines that can help any teacher transitioning into a new classroom with students that are already established in that class.

ASK FOR TIMELINES AND SUPPORT To be successful, be clear on timelines for the transition. Ask when the change will start and when it will be completed, how long you have to transition, if you will have coverage or be expected to teach while transitioning. You may need help moving your items to a new location and clearing out the new room if you are physically moving classrooms (I’ve done this and know how hard it can be!), so be sure to ask if someone is available to help you or if you are able to enlist the help of students during a particular class or all classes one day. Also be sure to ask what you need to do to wrap up what you are leaving behind. You may need to leave your lesson plans or even have the replacement teacher shadow you to learn, so ask!

FOCUS ON TEACHING This may seem like a no brainer, but many of us in the field are nurturers and caretakers by nature, so we focus on making our classrooms welcoming and visually appealing–and there is no shame in this! But, sometimes there isn’t downtime between the old and new and we don’t want to lose momentum with learning. If you can’t get a weekend or a couple of days of coverage to move, you can work on the room before/after school or do it slowly so you can focus on their skills. A clean and clear room isn’t a bad environment, and you can slowly get things organized and settled the way you like it. I often need to “live” in the new space for a bit to see how I will use it anyway. Also, make reviewing those IEPs and learning plans a priority in the first day or two, or even before you start with the kids, if possible. You want to be aware of struggles that may pop up fast and get ahead of them.

TRANSITION SLOWLY Change can be hard on everyone, but so much more so on students. They have a new person, teaching style, greeting and decor to get used to, so try to make changes a little at a time. If you are taking over due to students being behind from a long term sub or learning struggles, it may be best to keep the room and seating the same and get them into the new routine of how they will work and learn, then change gradually. I learned the hard way one year that changing everything all at once can backfire–especially when the teacher leaving didn’t tell them they were leaving until the day before and didn’t give them a “why”. The kids were resentful and we had a lot of issues until I figured this out and we addressed it.

COMMUNICATE Be sure to chat with your parents and students, as well as your old and new teaching teams. The students may have the biggest issue, especially younger ones, since they often form attachments with their teacher. If you are able to, give a WHY, but remember not to share too much or say negative things. Sometimes a change is necessary, even when nothing is wrong, and that can be hard for some to understand. It’s good to share your methods of communication and expectations, as well as methods. If you had the joy of working with the teacher you are taking over for, sharing similarities in teaching style or personality can help. Take the time to talk everyday about how they are handling the transition. Some may be comfortable with an anonymous ticket out the door to give honest feedback. Take it in stride if it isn’t positive, not all students can express emotions in a positive way, so just be grateful they are being honest and go from there.

SURVEY THEM This goes along with communication–survey your parents and students about things they liked or would like to see change, as well as preferred times and methods of communicating and what they want you to know about the student to help them succeed. Just keep it brief–a few quick questions should get you what you need to know. You can get this information by a phone call or sending a link to a google form via text or email (whichever is allowed or preferred) to make it quick and easy to sort and organize. It’s also good to continue checking in with them for several weeks to see how they are adapting. If someone is struggling, chat with your guidance office for support.

Most of all, give yourself and your students grace throughout this process. Talk to a coworker or trusted leader at school about how things are going and to seek advice if there are obstacles. No one expects you to have your rhythm in a new class from day one, so capitalize on drawing from experts that are not in a beginning of year frenzy. And remember, there’s a reason you were chosen for this change–you handle change well, you are amazing in your craft, you are very similar to the teacher they are losing and will fit in well–so have confidence in you.

Good luck!

Be sure to share below other success tips you have in the comments! I am by no means and expert and transitions will always be around. I am sure others would love to gather ideas from a variety of teachers and experiences!

Life Maintenance Hacks for a Successful New Year

January 6, 2022

Being the first full week of the new year, it’s time to wrap up 2021 and get ready to tackle 2022. Especially since some of our normal routines and needs were neglected the last couple of years due to Covid closures and limitations. As educators, it can be easy to neglect things and focus on our student needs, but if we can take some steps to plan our behind the scenes elements in advance, we will be much better focused at work.

There are some routine tasks that can be easy to forget about (or avoid) that will really help set you up for success. I’ll break them down into categories of Phone, Computer, Paper, Transportation, Finances, Home, and Appointments so that you can focus on the areas you need, or tackle them all one step at a time, or one task a day! It may seem overwhelming, but you’ll be glad to have it set up and in place for the year.

PHONES Most of us use these on a daily basis, and some have one for work and for personal, so be sure to tackle these for both, if needed.

  • delete old voicemails (and clear the deleted folder too)
  • clear text messages
  • clear photos and videos
  • clear notes and reminders
  • uninstall unused apps
  • organize your home screen

COMPUTERS/IPADS/WORD PROCESSORS This is also something used on a daily basis and for both work and home, as well.

  • clear email inbox (respond/forward, complete, delete/file)
  • set up email folders for new year
  • archive old email folders
  • clear unneeded files and documents (Office, Google, etc.)
  • organize keepers into files
  • archive old files
  • clean off desktop
  • clear out pictures and screenshots you don’t need (or organize into folders)
  • clear internet bookmarks/favorites
  • update your internet preferences to open frequently used tabs upon start up (yes this is a thing!)
  • update digital money manager programs and generate/print any reports you may need for taxes and have them handy
  • go through your password lists or keepers and login information and clear out any you don’t need or update them

PAPER FILES Even in this techy world, many of us still have paper that crosses our path as mail, receipts, invoices, etc.

  • sort receipts to keep (for taxes, business deductions, warranties, etc.) and destroy (everything else)
  • sort paper files and invoices the same way (for example, you only need your most recent utility bill, not ALL of them)
  • shred or burn items you aren’t keeping, or drop off at a local business that provides this service. If you have a shredder, this can be an easy way for kids to earn extra money and save you time, but only if it isn’t something sensitive like work info-use your judgement!
  • organize what you ARE keeping, either in a file cabinet or box, or scan them to a digital file and organize them to find as needed.
  • Prep tax documents by putting into a folder so they are ready when it’s time to file. There are tons of checklists online, if you need one, or if you use a tax service, they usually have a printable checklist on their website
  • Update (or create) your grab file to make sure you have the most current identification, insurance and loan information, and that it is in a safe or fire resistant box. If you keep a safe deposit box or a back up off site, update that as well
  • Check your passports, identifications, registrations, memberships and certifications to see if any are coming up on an expiration and need to be tended to (if not in the next 30 days, plug a recurring reminder into your calendar 30 days out to tend to this)

TRANSPORT I use this category to include vehicles, wallets, purses, briefcases, backpacks–anything that moves around and can gather stuff.

  • Clear storage and glove box of each vehicle, toss trash, make sure you only have the most current registration and insurance information, pull out any other items that don’t need to be in there
  • Check vehicle maintenance schedules and see if any work is due (tires, fluids, brakes, etc.) and schedule anything due (if not in the next 30 days, plug a recurring reminder into your calendar 30 days out to tend to this)
  • Clear wallet/purse/backpack/briefcase and sort items that need to stay, go elsewhere, or be trashed or donated. Make repairs or replace these items if too much wear and tear on them

FINANCES Check in on your money coming in and going out.

  • evaluate/update/create budget
  • check credit card, loans, checking, savings and investments rates to ensure they are the best
  • print a copy of these and place into your tax files
  • order checks, if needed
  • close or transfer accounts and balances, as needed
  • set up autopay for bills or update autopay amounts that need changed
  • set up a check file for receipts and bills, if you don’t already have something
  • check your annual credit report (or set up a recurring reminder to do this around your birthday)

HOME There are many routine things we need to do around the house that we forget about or neglect.

  • Purge/replace electronics or appliances not being used
  • schedule maintenance for any that are not working properly or haven’t been checked lately. (Air Conditioning/Heating as well as plumbing and electrical companies often have annual inspection packages that can check for anything not running efficiently or to get ahead of issues; you can also have your electric company schedule an energy audit, or have them level your utility bills if you’ve been there for a year or more to pay the same monthly instead of fluctuating bills)
  • Evaluate drop practices or set up drop spots to avoid piles (including mail-deal with it when it comes in!
  • Purchase and prep birthday and anniversary cards in advance to mail out when ready (be sure to put the month on them so you know when to send!)
  • Clean and purge food storage areas and take inventory for what is needed and needs replaced
  • Clean and purge medicine and toiletries and take inventory for what is needed and needs replaced

APPOINTMENTS Many places are backed up right now due to staffing shortages or catching up from the last couple of years of limitations due to Covid. Planning ahead and scheduling now can save you time and headaches. Most places let you schedule a year in advance (some schedule as you are leaving the last appointment). Scheduling your vacations and time off from work will also help keep from the last minute rush or missing out if someone beats you to it. Also, make appointments with yourself and your family to check in!

  • Dentist
  • Eye doctor
  • Annual check ups for all family members (don’t forget parents, if you are a caregiver)
  • specialist appointments (massage, nail, hair, specialized medical needs)
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • home maintenance
  • licensing and recertification tests
  • identification renewals
  • vet appointments
  • birthday parties
  • vacations
  • anniversary trips/parties
  • meetings
  • clubs/organizations/extra-curriculars/church
  • special events
  • fundraisers/yard sales
  • holiday events
  • scholarship applications
  • interviews
  • taxes
  • financial advisor
  • date nights
  • family events
  • schedule time off from work for any of these as needed, or put a reminder in your calendar if they are too far out to request)

I have no doubt there are tasks or items I missed based on your specific life needs, but I hope this helps you get your year off to a great start and set you up for a successful year!

Maximizing Your Evaluation

January 1, 2022

Happy New Year! I thought I’d start this year out with reaching some goals!

Evaluations are a part of every educator’s school year and can be quite daunting because of so many uncontrollable variables. With many educators’ jobs being dependent on a good evaluation to be offered a position the next year or for promotions, they become even more important–and stressful. So the best plan is to focus on what we can control.

EVALUATION RUBRICS Rubrics are the guide for both supervisor and educator and give the parameters for what constitutes highly effective, effective, needs improvement or ineffective. However, they can vary from district or school, and even from year to year. They can also be very subjective. If your administration doesn’t already do so, schedule a meeting to go through each area to find out how they envision it and don’t be afraid to ask for demonstrations and modeling, not just a generic example. The more specific an example (or non-example) can be, the more likely you are to be clear on what you are expected to do.

PRE-AND POST-OBSERVATION CHATS For every observation, there will be some sort of conversation. For Informal observations, these may be in a faculty meeting or even an email. It should tell you which are they will focus on. For formal observations, this will be a one-on-one chat and will talk specifically of what you will be teaching and how it will look, what class they will come in for, and where they should sit, how long they stay, etc. Every supervisor is different, so be sure to ask questions and take notes to help you in your planning and preparation.

OBSERVATIONS While I don’t personally recommend performing for the evaluation and think it is best to teach as you normally would (trust me, they can tell the difference), you will want to plan ahead to ensure you cover all the criteria for the observation to ensure the best rating as possible. Especially for experienced teachers that may only have one informal and one formal a year for their scores. When choosing your lesson and class, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, choose content that students have a high level of success and interaction with. Also, be sure to choose a class where the focus is on teaching, not classroom management. Yes, they want to see you handle unexpected situations, but too much and they won’t see you teach. I also find it helpful to let the class know you will have a guest in the room, but they are there to watch you, not them. Some students get stressed by administrators in the room and this can ease their mind.

ABOVE AND BEYOND In my district, one of our areas is for things we do beyond just the typical teaching. This can be things we do to help other teachers, creating additional resources for the department or special needs students, serving on committees and teams, and volunteering for duties. Be sure you aren’t doing everything, but know that these make a difference.

KEEP YOUR OWN RECORDS This is super important. Be sure you are keeping records of all you do. Anecdotal records with dates, what inspired the action, what you did, and the results or outcome are fine. Also, I highly recommend recording your informal and formal observations. There are so many things that are being looked for and many take notes while observing. However, while jotting something down or when distracted by a radio call or another student, they may miss something. Having a video recording can help provide evidence if you notice something on your observation you disagree with or are unclear on. This also allows you to see yourself teaching and find your own areas for improvement. Check out March 2021’s blog post on STAR Tracking for more on documenting your school year.

ALWAYS GET FEEDBACK FOR GROWTH Whether you were marked off for a deficiency or were praised for all things being amazing, feedback is your friend! If there is room for improvement for effective or lower ratings, this is your chance to find out what they are looking for. Take notes and ask questions. If you were highly effective, still ask for ways to grow and improve your craft, or ask for insights for your techniques and the upcoming class you’ll have next year. This valuable insight can save you mistakes in that break-in time with next year’s class.

If you disagree with your evaluation, don’t be afraid to speak up, and don’t sign in agreement. Once signed, you are locked into it. Most have a place to make notes as well. This is a time when your video recording can be a very useful tool, but don’t challenge just to challenge and be sure you can back it up if you challenge it. You don’t want to ruin your credibility and look unprofessional by challenging everything based on emotion and not fact-based evidence.

Catching Up – Changes to the Blog, and Life

December 9, 2021

It’s been awhile since I blogged. Life has been going 90 miles an hour with family and teaching, as well as doors opening for new chapters in life. So, let me catch you up!

At the end of October, we took a week off and traveled to the mountains to Helen, Georgia, one of our favorite little towns! This time we took my dad with us and we all had a great time enjoying the cooler weather. On our way home, we stopped to see my brother and his family, then stopped at Amicalola Falls, but it was too foggy to even see Springer Mountain. I have always dreamed of the AT and was hoping for a day hike to see the official start, but we could barely see through the lodge window. We also stopped at Stone Mountain, which was amazingly beautiful. I hadn’t been since I was a kid and it has changed so much.

In November, we decided to take a leap of faith and check off some dreams. We are selling our home, moving into an RV and will home base at some family’s property nearby when we aren’t traveling. We love Florida and have seen many places, but there are several we have never seen and some we have always dreamed of living in. So we will be traveling around the state to see them all, as well as allowing my husband to grow his photography business and pursue other goals for it. My son and I will continue to work and school remotely since my job allows me to work anywhere in Florida, so it’s perfect!

So now…we have purchased a camper and are in the process of selling everything we own that won’t go with us, and storing only a few hard to replace or things we will definitely need. Don’t worry, the 2 dogs and tortoise will be going with us! The chickens will have to find another home, though. Our house goes on the market this week and, once it’s sold, we will get some things done to the RV so we can live and work in it, then hit the road. We’ve been dreaming of this for at least 6 years, so we know it won’t be easy, but we have back up plans!

As for the blog…I love teaching and won’t be leaving anytime soon, but probably won’t be putting out as much content. I will create more based on teaching while traveling and share resources from the places we go that may be useful to teaching. I have always dreamed of being a travel writer, so plan on blogging about our adventures. That means I will create a new blog just for that, and will be able to showcase some of the mister’s amazing pictures! I’ll keep you all posted in case you want to follow along there and learn more about Florida!

If you’re like most of our family and friends that found out what we are doing, you have questions! Post them in the comments below or follow me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1) to find out more.

When the Teacher Becomes the Student

#A2TPDClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below with your favorite professional development topics or strategies.

October 23, 2021

If you’re like me, October is when you finally start settling into your classroom routines and things level out. It’s also when things like Professional Development and Professional Learning Communities start coming up as topics of conversations and in meetings.

For many, the first thought is usually a deep sigh. Something else added to our plate. Something else to do. More documentation. I was just getting the hang of last year’s new stuff and it’s working, why change that?

But I want to challenge you to change your perspective. We need to set an example of what lifelong learning looks like for our students. If we dread learning, they will learn to dread learning. But if we learn to embrace this as an opportunity to improve, well, that changes everything. And since our students, and the world we live in, are different every year, learning to embrace that as a starting point will help you be the kind of teacher you want to be.

Some schools and districts will specify what they want they want the focus to be. A few will allow you to choose your own topics to explore. If your school or district doesn’t, but you have an idea, present it to them, you may be surprised to find they will support you!

Start by looking at your routines, habits and techniques. What’s an area that you dread or takes way too long every time you do it? That may be where you need to focus. What has changed in your subject area? Explore the new discoveries! There’s always new technology coming out, give it a try! One requirement we have to be rated highly effective is finding new things, so this is a great opportunity.

Don’t discount the idea of working with others! We’ve all heard the expression many hands make light work and learning can be no different. Learning new things when you are busy can be daunting, so having others to share the load with, bounce ideas off of, practice with and vent to can be greatly beneficial. For the same reason we have students work in groups, we can benefit from those varied perspectives, too.

Be sure to get word out about what you are researching. There may be others with experience and resources to save you time or they maybe interested in joining the team. either way, it helps you broaden your perspective as you gain new insight.

Keep notes on what your thoughts and ideas are an make yourself a big sign or post it you will see to remind you of your focus and your why. When going down the rabbit hole of research, it is easily to get derailed and go off in the wrong direction, losing valuable time.

Gather data. Ugh, the D word. But it’s beneficial to see if what you are learning and doing is working. Remember, not all data is Quantitative and numbers based, Qualitative data can be helpful and gathered by observation, feedback, surveys, interviews, etc. Just be sure to have some method of measuring. If it can’t be measured, adapt your focus so it can be.

Vary your resources that you draw from. Websites, scholarly articles, book studies, YouTube videos, and personal interviews are all helpful, and the more mediums you bring in, the more well rounded your research can be.

Make sure you have an objective to apply your learning. Every teacher has a formal observation in the second half of the year, so make your objective something you can practice and then apply for that observation. Remember, it doesn’t have to work or get the results you want, so don’t worry about failing. Sometimes, how you handle speedbumps and dead ends in an observation can help your evaluation so much more than a perfectly executed lesson for your supervisor.

I want to take a minute to namelessly praise all the amazing educators, mentors and leaders I have worked with over the years that have helped me grow as an educator. The conversations and feedback I have gained from our conversations and projects have stayed with me. And to all the students I have taught over the years, thanks for being my guinea pigs and going along with some of my crazy lesson ideas, and for your authentic feedback on whether or not that lesson should stay in my repertoire or get trashed.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with your favorite professional development topics or strategies. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers using the hashtag above, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Coping During a Pandemic: 8 Strategies for Educators

#A2TStudentNeedsClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below with how you are going that extra mile to help your student’s cope this year.

October 7, 2021

I saw an infographic on social media a few weeks ago that hit me with a startling realization-this is the 3rd school year we have been in this pandemic. Translation–its been 3 school years since these students had a normal year. My 5th grader’s last normal year was 2nd grade. The 6th graders I mostly work with haven’t had a normal year since 3rd grade. It made me realize, my normal expectations and handlings of typical issues with class have to be handled differently.

Not only are they coping, but so are we. We have our own life challenges we are dealing with, then we are the sounding board for friends, coworkers, parents and students. If you are like me, you have occasionally wondered where the skills you are teaching rank in the grand scheme of things–and are working to adapt them to fit in to today’s world and needs and to make up for those inevitable learning gaps that have resulted from these last 3 years.

Here are 8 Strategies to help you, your students and their families cope while we work through this year.

HAVE A WEBSITE FOR RESOURCES Empowering students and parents can result in fewer calls. Resources like Schoology and class dojo have places to post videos, documents, and resources that they can access for learning, reviewing, self-guided tutoring, and even submitting their work. It can also be helpful when students make mistakes and need to relearn or get guidance. It may take some time to set up, but once in place, a weekly upload is all it will take. Taking the time to make a step by step video for how to complete a lesson that you can post will also save time and be very helpful for your visual learners or those that need to see it modeled more than once. You can do this with Zoom, Teams, or your cell phone, then just upload it to a free YouTube channel you create. I post mine as unlisted so they have to go to my website to find it, not just my Teacher YouTube channel.

OPEN OFFICE VIA ZOOM FOR TUTORING Everyone needs help at some point, but can’t always stay after school, especially if quarantined or ill. Having a set day and time each week after school can help with peace of mind and balancing your own schedule. I set 30 minutes aside each week and invite parents and students to just drop in for help, questions, or anything else needed.

USE AN APPOINTMENT SCHEDULER Since your open tutoring time may not fit for everyone, capitalize on the free appointment schedulers available, such as calendly.com or setmore.com to allow them to schedule on their own. You can block off holidays and days off, set up work hours, and even categorize the appointment type so you know what they will need. Then just choose what times and days you will have availability and you can help them. I have this link on my website and it’s included in every email I send, but some still text or call. If I am in the middle of another task, I simply tell them my next available time, ask if they want me to reserve for them, and then I schedule it and reach out at that time. They can get help, I can maintain focus on the task I am doing

GOOGLE VOICE FOR CALLS AND TEXTS Yes, they can contact the school, but it is just easier to reach you if they need you. But you still need to keep your personal number personal, so Google Voice is a free option to set up a number and use it for calls and texts. It has an app you can download to your phone, or just use the website on your work computer. The best part is the Do Not Disturb hours and days you can set up so they won’t come through during that time. You can also add names and labels to these so you will know who is reaching out to you when you do check messages.

SEND WEEKLY GROUP EMAILS I like to send an email every Friday to my parents and students reminding them of what should be turned in by now, a preview of next week, any upcoming important dates, as well as links to reviews, resources, and my appointment scheduler. I also remind them I will be unavailable on the weekend and I will get back to any replies they send on the next school day.

SEND BIWEEKLY PROGRESS REPORTS This may sound overwhelming, but an informed parent is a supportive parent. Since most school gradebooks are digital and have an option to copy and paste or download to a spreadsheet, you can actually do this quite quickly. Get an email from every parent at the beginning of the year, if your school doesn’t do this already. Have it in the spreadsheet or a comment section on your gradebook and include it in a column of your spreadsheet. Then, open your Office Word program, create a short but sweet blanket letter, then go to the Mailings tab and choose Start Mail Merge and use the mail merge wizard to walk you through step by step in setting up fields, choosing the source and creating emails via your Outlook email (if you don’t already use Outlook, but have Microsoft, it is very easy to set this up no matter which email you use). If you are not a techy person, there are several YouTube videos available to help with both of these set ups. Once your mail merge letter is created, just save it and you can open it and reuse it. If you have a lot of students, create this as a weekly task and just split your students into 2 groups to make it easier to field responses.

HAVE GRACE This should apply to you as well as your students and their families. Allow extensions and redos, but within limits. Maybe 2 weeks extra time and 2 additional attempts to correct. This puts the focus on learning and not just completing, and keeps you from having to worry about who is allowed what if it is a blanket policy. If you are having a difficult day, modify what needs done and do what absolutely needs completed. Repeat after me: there are no emergencies in education.

HAVE BOUNDARIES If you don’t set boundaries, you will work too hard and not have time to replenish yourself. Set work hours each day, set work days and take weekends off. Say no to additional requests. Don’t drop everything to do something now, schedule it in your next open appointment time. Eat lunch. Use the restroom. Talk to friends. Go for a walk. Those papers to grade, lesson plans to submit and emails to answer will keep until your regular work day. If you can’t fit it all in, then schedule time with a mentor or administrator to talk about your tasks and time and see how they can help guide you-sometimes that fresh outside perspective can help us see things we missed.

Remember to take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Going in all directions all the time is not sustainable. Creating these tools can empower your parents and students, making your life more manageable and theirs, as well. You’ve got this!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with how you are going that extra mile to help your student’s cope this year.. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Using Your Inbox as a Task List

#A2TInboxClick the STAR to like this post! Comment below and tell me if you are an email collector or prefer to keep your inbox cleared out.

September 30, 2021

I don’t know about you, but I get a ton of emails, both at work and at home. And for work, I have 2 different email systems I use for communicating with coworkers, the organization, parents, schools I work with, and students. At home, I am juggling emails for my kids, our extracurriculars and commitments, family and friends, bills, travel and entertainment. They can really add up. If you are interested on when to find time to work that in, check out a prior blog post about setting a weekly date with yourself HERE. But that isn’t the focus of this post. I want to share how you can use it as a task list.

Let those inboxes work to your advantage and be used to guide your progress each week.

SEPARATE EMAIL FOR WORK AND PERSONAL It may seem like a good idea to have one account, but it can get overwhelming, especially if you run your own business. A best practice is to have one for personal and one for work to focus on during those times. If you have more than one job or run a business or side gigs, like so many do these days, consolidate! This will also allow you to have a professional address to give out for interviews, work connections, etc. But make sure your personal one isn’t too tacky either, especially if you have kids. It’s awkward to email a parent about their child and send it to juicybooty@randomemailaddress.com.

FLAGS, REMINDERS AND CALENDARS These tools are already built into most email domains, or you can set it up to go through Microsoft Outlook on your computer, regardless of what domain you are using. Flags can allow you to mark something important that you will need to do, but may not be able to tackle now due to time or needing information. Reminders are great for things that have deadlines to meet and can even set up alerts. For appointments, tasks and meetings with times designated, dragging these items to your calendar will let you block time off to complete it. I have even done this with emails that are about projects so that I have all the details right there in the email and time set aside to complete it. (I do still keep it flagged and in my inbox until complete)

CREATE FILE FOLDERS WITHIN THE INBOX Some emails we don’t want to delete, even when we finish them. Creating a file folder within your inbox gives you a place to save it and find it later. I get all my receipts sent electronically and file them away for that year. I have one for school and each of our extracurricular activities, and entertainment files. I do not want to lose that recipe, but it doesn’t need to stay in my inbox. Do set up a time the first week of the year (or quarter) to go through each folder and clear it out, and be sure to clear deleted items and sent items on a monthly basis to save on storage.

UNSUBSCRIBE OR BLOCK JUNK We all end up on mailing lists from time to time, but we don’t have to stay on them. If it isn’t useful, look for that unsubscribe link in the message or login to it and manage your preferences. If that isn’t an option or it doesn’t cut them out, you can block the email address or domain from sending you anything at all. Then just delete the message. Don’t give up valuable mental space or digital storage to things you don’t need.

EMAIL YOURSELF It never fails, I have a flash of a brilliant idea for a lesson on the weekend or I think of a chore or call I need to make while at work but can’t do then. Other times I will have a conversation and commit to doing something and don’t want to forget. I just send myself an email! This allows me to keep it in my inbox until I have a chance to complete the task, then I can delete it and move on. When committing to something after an important conversation, this can also act as a summary follow up to send to you and the other person to make sure you have the details right. I also CC myself on important emails so I get a copy to file away for future reference.

I’ve been doing this since I started using email, but until my supervisor shared it in a weekly update last week, I never thought about sharing the idea with others. I should have.

Some of my friends and coworkers are email collectors, with an inbox with hundreds of messages, many of them unread messages. Some of you reading this right now know it’s you.

Some of us are borderline obsessive about keeping it cleared out. That notification and unread message number makes us ache.

Whichever camp you fit into, start putting that inbox to work and let it help you become more productive.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below and tell me if you are an email collector or prefer to keep your inbox cleared out. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

I Lost My Balance This Week

#A2TBalanceClick the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best ideas for keeping balance and not getting lost to the job.

September 24, 2021

It’s been a busy month. Not just with work and the start of the school year as a teacher, but with life. We have celebrated successes, grieved lost loved ones, had home projects and chores to tend to, refinanced our house (yay for lower interest rates) and prayed without ceasing over illness and struggle.

And there has been so much struggle.

I got consumed in trying to take care of everyone else, I forgot to take care of me. The other day, I lost it completely and was in tears. Major anxiety attacks over things that weren’t worth it. And I have never really been one to get to this point, until the pandemic. I could usually rationalize, make a list, go for a walk–something to regain balance, then tackle it and get through. None of that worked this time.

I called my husband, being the steady rock of logic that he is, and he helped me immensely. you know what he told me: stop worrying about helping everyone else and focus on you.

SMACK!

So I did. I went through my work schedule and cleared anything that wasn’t necessary. I had my youngest son help with a few tasks as his “big helper chores” for the week. I avoided committing myself to others, other than just to pray for them. The biggest thing he said that helped was taking a break from social media.

I’m like most people and check the streams on two or more apps several times a day. So I posted that I was hitting a rough road and taking a break. It’s now been a few days. Several friends and family members called or texted just to check on me, which was amazing. My brain hasn’t slowed down, but it has refocused. I got through this crazy week of obstacles and created a plan of attack for the next two super busy weeks at work, and I set my boundaries of hours and stuck to it. I said no, and that hardly ever happens. Most importantly, I focused on my faith–my anchor in life–and prayed several times a day, even if just to say hi and thank Him for my porch swing and the cookie I was enjoying.

If you are like me and feeling overwhelmed, I hope that you can also find balance by eliminating what isn’t necessary. I hope you also have someone you can reach out to that can help you and be a voice of reason. I hope that you have faith or a connection to a higher power or life force than just you.

We can’t escape struggle or challenge. There is no easy way around it, avoiding it makes it worse, so all we can do is get through it as best we can.

I may check my social media pages tomorrow, when I am off work and relaxed. Or maybe I will go for a walk, call and have a long chat with someone, or explore someplace new instead. It could really go either way.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best ideas for keeping balance and not getting lost to the job. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

Data Day is Coming – Make It Meaningful

#A2TDataDayClick the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best Data Day suggestions .

September 2, 2021

It’s September, which means many schools will soon host a teacher work day to look at student data and formulate a plan for lower-tiered or struggling students. For some schools, this can mean asking teachers to look at students test scores in last year’s state standardized tests and, if they are below a certain level, or close to the next level, they are added to a list of target students to maintain focus on and provide additional structured support. Then a form is completed and submitted with the names and some ideas of how you will support them.

This isn’t necessarily bad, or wrong, but it is monotonous work that is often unproductive or meaningless to simply check a box that it was done. Which can leave teachers dreading the experience and the lost time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

First and foremost, we must remember the WHY. Every child learns and excels at different times, in different ways, and at different things. As educators, we know this. This day is about identifying students that struggle and need extra help. These get grouped into Tier 2 and tier 3 students, based on how much help they need. But when you are in a low school and MOST, if not ALL, the students meet the criteria, choosing them based on other elements, such as how many points they count for at the school, this can feel overwhelming.

Not to mention, this can leave teachers feeling invaluable since this doesn’t get them beyond a DOK level 2 and a deeper thinking in their field, or use of their skills and trainings they’ve spent time on. Knowing who and what isn’t enough, and knowing when it is simply because of low test scores doesn’t reflect a teacher’s personal experience, knowledge and observation, or really dig into the HOW to achieve this goal.

So, let’s talk about how we can add value to Data Day for our teachers and our schools, and capitalize on their expertise.

BEYOND THE REPORTS – MEETING AS A TEAM The data is great to have, but, let’s be honest, processing data is time-consuming and strains the brain. Once this step is done, most are too exhausted to go beyond this point with any real meaning and may plan to come back to it, but can get too busy to do so. The most beneficial use of time is for the data to be processed ahead of time, given to the teachers, then let them use their time to plan for interventions and supports to build into their curriculum. Have you ever seen a group of excited and inspired teachers get together to plan? They are an unstoppable force, which can result in better ideas created and implemented. This can be great when you have new teachers to education or the subject area that can benefit from veteran teachers and their expertise. Also, it can be very beneficial for students since it will give them consistent support in multiple classrooms and allow them to find value in seeing it in use in other areas. So, how can these teams be broken down? Well, that depends on your school and how it is structured.

STUDENT DATA PROCESSED IN ADVANCE–BY TEACHER Many schools will pull the data by teacher and give them spreadsheets of test scores, then ask the teacher to process and find the target students. This wastes valuable time the teachers could be spending on planning for Tier 2 and 3 supports and interventions. After years of experience, this is not the best method to use, but it is the one most frequently used because it is easiest.

STUDENT DATA PROCESSED IN ADVANCE–BY SUBJECT Another option is to already have student data pulled and processed by subject area to allow the teachers in that subject to plan interventions together. This will allow them to focus on the core subject area and share strategies that work well for various student types, while learning knew ideas from other teachers they may not get to co-teach with. And it may inspire them to co-teach or swap on some subject areas.

STUDENT DATA PROCESSED IN ADVANCE–BY GRADE This option is great with lower grades or upper grades that use team teaching since it allows them to work as a team to plan supports across the curriculum. That means that all the teachers can be consistent and focus on their subject area, as well as examine opportunities to co-teach between complimentary subjects on projects to truly engage a student.

INCLUDE THE ELECTIVE TEACHERS These teachers shouldn’t be left out of the intervention planning and support process. Often, struggling students look forward to these classes, so giving them an opportunity to engage in them and build their academic skills can help them see the value of the skill in action. But some elective teachers are experts in their field of expertise and may still be building their “teacher tools”, especially when it comes to tested areas. And since many of them teach multiple grade levels, they can miss out. A great plan is to have them meet with the intervention specialists/academic coaches to match skills and practices to student and subject area. While it may make for challenging scheduling, it is extremely beneficial if they can meet after the academic teachers have met and have their intervention supports shared so that it is an extension of, not in addition to.

DON’T LEAVE STUDENTS BEHIND This seems like a no brainer, but I have seen students that are performing on target, are average and doing okay, left to struggle and fall into needing support.

COME BACK TOGETHER Whatever you do, come back together to talk about it, not just on that day, but make this a part of the weekly meetings so it isn’t forgotten. If the objective of the day is to fill out a form, it can make buy in from teachers very low. Some may rush through it and move on to other tasks that need their attention. By working together to plan and discuss successes and failures and to make adjustments in meaningful ways throughout the year, not only will their be more teacher engagement, but the success rate of the students will improve.

The key to a successful data day is that it works to the benefit of the benefit of the student, and the best way to do that is to use the “work smarter, not harder” principle.

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with your best Data Day suggestions. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

#A2TImperfectTeacherClick the STAR to like this post and comment below with what you stress the most over as you start the school year.

August 4, 2021

For most teachers, summer is drawing to a close very soon, if not already. Classroom plans and projects are starting. Boxes are being unpacked. Meetings are beginning to appear on your schedule. Your email inbox is starting to fill up. And those mixed feelings of not wanting summer to be over, but ready to start fresh and execute all those visions and ideas are consuming you and you are ready to make them happen!

But, somewhere along the way in our school year, we lose this refreshed feeling, that excitement. How does that happen?

In short, we tried too hard to make everything perfect, putting too much on our plate and spreading ourselves too thin, and lost the most important thing we have to offer–ourselves.

When you work 14-16 hours a day, six or even seven days a week, you lose yourself. You are trying to fit in family and responsibility around work and you just burn out. Sound familiar?

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to have everything perfect, or even done on that first day they come back. There are two keys to successfully keeping that burnout at bay: keeping it simple and setting boundaries.

KISS Strategies–Keeping It Super Simple Strategies

Most of us have all had to calm a stressed out student that was overthinking a task or a question, yet we do this to ourselves on the regular. We put in crazy long hours to get our room ready for orientation or the first day of school, and by the time we get there, we already need a vacation. How do we let that happen?! Here’s a few things I have learned over the years to simplify and still be ready.

  • Two bulletin boards: one as an information posting area–calendars, lunch menus, due dates, resources, monthly tidbits–and the other for posting student work, pace or success tracking, tickets out the door, a parking lot for questions or ideas, whichever best suits your style of teaching. Both only need a basic background and a simple border. I have done the same border all year, or the quick change every month to rotate way. Bonus, I usually had a student, parent or a para/intern that wanted to do this for me, so I only had to choose which one.
  • Procedures. Every room has procedures for how to do things, so have them posted. Littles can’t remember them all and older students have multiple classes and different teachers with different procedures–compliance is easier when they know where to look. If you can work this in on your informational bulletin board, even better!
  • Supply and Work station: a turn in bin, an absent bin, and a place to finds needed supplies (borrow pencils, paper, handouts, student files or binders, etc.)
  • A clock. Realistically speaking, a digital is best, modern society doesn’t really use an analog clock, so why hang one that will cause a student to be distracted from your lesson or their work while they try to figure out the time for a hall pass or how long until class ends or lunch?
  • A place for students to work. Versatile seating can be great, depending on content area. Single seats, pairs, groups, floor seating, standing seats. Students work best in a variety of ways, so providing options can be great. Do you really need a seating chart? That is time you could save, especially at the beginning. Pro tip: if you must have a seating chart, seat them the first day and take a picture, then print this out as your seating chart. Faces will be way more helpful for a substitute than a name will be!
  • A place for YOU to work. I rarely sat, but needed a place for my computer and for grading and planning. Some years, it was a cart I could move around the room, but mostly it was a desk with everything needed.
  • A health station. Even pre-Covid, I needed a healthy classroom for myself and for my kids. I kept tissues, hand sanitizer, soap and towels (if I had a sink that year), alcohol pads for technology, wipes or spray and cloths for sanitizing desks (and a bucket for the cloths so I could take them home for washing–old t-shirts are great for this!). I also kept a broom and dustpan in the corner by my trash and recycling.
  • School/District Requirements. Some schools and districts have things they want posted in your room at all times. These can make it feel pretty cluttered. I met the requirements and reduced the overstimulation by creating a PowerPoint show that continuously looped and had all the things on the slides. I even included our agenda for the week. Then I set it up on the overhead to scroll unless I was using it for a lesson. I had a fellow teacher use this strategy, but had a spare computer and had it loop and it hung by the information wall.
  • Things to avoid: cluttered rooms, too much stuff, too much on the walls, Fire Marshall hazards (you don’t always know they are coming, so why play the “I’ll hide it when they get here” game). And of course avoid assigning too much work and additional work. You, and they, don’t need MORE, but rather, MORE MEANINGFUL. So get creative and cut that workload!

I use the “could I move and reset a room in an afternoon” mentality of setting up my room. Because changes happen, and I did not like giving up my weekend or evenings to have to get it done. I also try to use the “I should be able to grade the day’s work in one class period approach” as a means of measuring workload, although when I was an ELA teacher, that was harder. Pro tip-we wrote essays in chunks as “drafts” and I scored the draft each day, then it was turned in with the final so a quick read for corrections and technical elements made it possible.

But I digress…

Setting Boundaries

I have blogged about different strategies for making this happen, so I won’t revisit all of these again. But I will stress the importance of not letting your job consume your entire life–even if this is your passion, even if you feel like you have no life outside of teaching. Even Jesus took time off from his purpose on Earth to replenish himself, so there is nothing wrong with you doing the same. Learning how to get the desired outcome with less effort on your part is key to finding that balance of being an amazing teacher and getting that time you need to rejuvenate. There are many topics covered in my blogs, but here’s a compiled list and links for some of those areas to tackle:

Your students come through that door needing two things from you, an education on content areas and someone who truly cares about them. Focus on creating a space that facilitates those two areas. Be the teacher that has time to talk to the students. The place they can come eat lunch, do homework or get help before or after school, the safe space for the student that has a stressful life. In ten years, they may or may not remember that theme or poster you spent so much time stressing over, but they will remember the conversations, the time spent with them, the lunches in your room where they could relax, the place to get homework done since home wasn’t an option. Be that teacher.

When your teacher work days have come and gone in a blink and you didn’t get everything done, don’t worry. It is better to have an undecorated classroom that can come together over the first few weeks, than a burnt out teacher on day one. Remember your WHY-why you became a teacher, why you stay a teacher. Write it down and put it in your planner or as your background on your phone if you need to, just remind yourself regularly. You’ve got this!

Be sure to click the STAR to like this post and comment below with what you stress the most over each year. Also, be sure to share this blog with other teachers, and subscribe so future blogs come straight to your inbox! I blog about teaching, but also food, family, travel and other inspirations! You can also find me on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1), Facebook (Addicted2Teaching) or even on YouTube to check out some videos before I just focused on blogging (Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching) and join the conversation, get more ideas, share your story or just interact with me.