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

Zoom

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!

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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.

Sincerely,

Sonya Barnes Veteran, Educator, Parent, Advocate

The 12 Days of Catch Up

December 3, 2019

If you are a teacher that is buried in work and have so much to do that you fear you won’t see your winter break this year, then this is for you! Read on to find out how to catch up and get ahead before Winter Break starts.

A busy day at the office!

If you are like most teachers, you are counting down to Winter Break, even though you just returned from Thanksgiving Break.  Only three weeks to go, but so much to accomplish on your to do list!  And, as much as you’d like to be prepared for when you return, you are just trying to get to break without getting lost in the mountain of papers to grade, mid-year data reports and parents to call.  So, let’s talk about how we can break this down into manageable steps and get you organized and accomplished!  As teachers, we love our acrostics, so we will use GLEAM to organize our major teacher tasks and what they include. 

  • Grading—scoring work and logging the grades
  • Lesson Plans—going through standards and curriculum and organizing into daily lessons and assignments for students, as well as completing school-based required documents
  • Emails & Calls—communication within and outside of the school with stakeholders, whether it be other teachers, administration, parents or students
  • Actuating Data—testable data from benchmarks, data from computer-based programs, or looking at how students performed on assignments to determine if reteaching is necessary
  • Materials—Create & Copy student assignments, teaching tools or manipulatives and making printouts or photocopies as needed

Having a plan for when and how to accomplish these tasks can be very helpful.  Some will need to be kept up with for a few minutes daily, some will take longer and need done daily and some won’t need done as often.  I highly encourage you to accomplish the tasks every day just to stay on top of things.

I know that break seems forever away, and yet really isn’t that far, but if we buckle down now, you will be able to go on vacation without a care or worry and, if you are lucky enough to have a teacher work day upon return, you can spend it getting your room updated for the new year, watching videos to brush up on your skills, or helping another teacher, like the first year teacher that is losing their mind and buried under everything—hey, maybe you could share this with them!

Once you have conceded to working hard, block off your calendar with work time, but don’t forget to block off family time to enjoy festivities now.  You can choose between committing to longer work days if your weekends stay packed, weekends if your weekdays are packed, or break it into a combination that works for you.   If you cannot work in extra hours during the week, I would suggest keeping up with emails and calls daily, and grading 3 days per week, leaving you only lesson plan and prepping for your weekends.  No one wants to go back to work on Monday after grading, but after preparing a fun lesson, it may not be so bad.

So, here’s a sample of how you can spend your time to get caught up between now and break to allow for a more manageable schedule upon your return.  If you are working these on weekends, then you will need to combine days for the major activities, but still complete some of the daily tasks and smaller tasks.  I know it may be tempting to cut something—like calls home, but DON’T—especially the positive calls.  Making those every day between now and break will do wonders for the students’ motivation and the parent’s support during this hectic time. Making routine parent contacts, whether on a monthly basis or at least every term will have a huge impact on engagement for both parents and students.  Creating a call plan is something I usually tackle at the beginning of the year, so we will work that in, as well. I have also included a printable version of this checklist here to guide you and check off as you go!

The 12 Days of Wrapping Up Fall Term

Day 1–prepping Clear emailsOrganize papers to grade by assignment and stack with oldest on top, newest on bottom—include grading key with piles; divide into 3-5 sections, depending on how behind you are and how involved the grading isMake contact list of current grade concerns/missing work studentsCatch up on overdue lesson plans to include current week/next 6 days and try to keep it as simple & student created as possibleDay 2—the worst day Clear emails Bundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pile (we’ll catch those up after you’re current)Catch up on any overdue lesson materials needed for the next 5 daysBegin grading 1st section of papers organized yesterday & log in grade bookCompare updated grades against contact list and updateCreate a plan for students-missing work list, redo assignments, tutoring sessions, etc.Create a list of kids to make praise calls onCut both lists into 5 sectionsBegin making parent contacts with students with the most work due/lowest grade and don’t forget at least 1 positive callDay 3 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 2 kidsCreate lesson plans for next weekComplete 2nd section of grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and update
Day 4 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 3 kidsComplete 3rd section of grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and update  Day 5 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 4 kidsComplete 4th section of grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and update  Day 6 Clear emailsBundle todays turned in work and set aside in a new pileCalls for group 5 kids (should be end of list of calls)Complete last of overdue grading pileCompare updated grades against contact list and updateSketch basic plan for next lesson plans
Day 7 Clear emailsOrganize todays turned in work, add to bottom of pileCreate lesson plans through break, again try to keep it as student created as possibleCatch up grading for all of last weekCreate call list for any grade concerns/praise reports from grading pile (divide into 2 parts, if too many)Day 8 Clear emailsBundle the day’s work for gradingGrade and log them all (Update current call list, as needed)Make calls from list (at least part 1)Create lesson materials through breakDay 9 Clear emailsBundle the day’s work for gradingGrade and logUpdate call listMake calls from part 2 of list or calls from todayComplete lesson plans for the week after break
Day 10 Clear emailsBundle the day’s work for gradingGrade and logDaily calls (Create/complete call list from grading or observations for the day)Create lesson materials for the week after breakDay 11 Clear emailsDaily gradingDaily callsOrganize materials for week of return into folders or piles with labels of some sortLesson plans for return turned in/in file you need to locate upon returnCreate a calling plan for after break (i.e., 1-2 class periods a week for 4 weekly groups,  alphabetical listing divided into 20 groups, etc.)Day 12 Clear emailsDaily gradingDaily callsgive the classroom a good cleaningholiday shut down proceduresturn on out of office replies

So, how do you keep from getting buried again at the next end of term?  Try creating a routine!

If you are current, you can start here, but chances are you are not current if you are reading this.  These steps can be applied to managing your schedule any time of year, but why not now to start your new spring school term off on the right foot?  You can either work this into afternoons/evenings or work into weekends, depending on what works best for your life. Once caught up, it is easily manageable, just see what works for you.  For me, I stay within 2 days on my grading, daily clear emails and calls (I make contact with all my parents on a monthly basis and have for years), and prep my lessons a week in advance and run data reports once a week and schedule how I need to process it—whether it is conferences, calls, re-evaluations, etc.

 My usual day works like this, but you can work it in ANY order–

Start early and spend 1 hour before starting official work:

  • Check emails
  • Grade yesterday’s assignments
  • Grade late work
  • Make list of parent contacts for concern/praise (5 calls)

Planning/midday:

  • Actuating data from mid-year tests or weekly reports (I have computer-based course programs, so this allows me to get a quick snapshot of progress and it helps me better prepare)
  • Send text to 3-5 parents on my list to ask a good time to call today about progress update, or, if you have a text relationship with parent, go ahead and send text.  This count is based on secondary teachers with 100+ students.  If you are elementary or have a smaller number of kids, this can be cut down to a smaller number, but I still suggest a positive call daily and parental contact with ALL on a monthly basis in some fashion.  I usually prefer a voice chat for both praise and concern, but a text helps me make sure it is at the right time).

After School/Evening (1-3 hours, until tasks are done)

  • Check text replies and plan when to make calls
  • Organize the day’s work turned in for grading tomorrow and to ensure completion
  • Lesson work–work on lesson plans for next week on the first day or two of the week, the next day is to prepare the materials, day 4 is to copy/create, and day 5 is to assemble by day for drop files to run the next week.  If I can condense the time on easier weeks or lessons with less prep, then I start working on the following week.  If I am doing a project-based unit, I can sometimes plan and prep for a 4-6 week PBU in a week and then have less to do in future weeks or get further ahead into the next unit and only have to tweak things as I go)

Obviously, this schedule will vary based on your personal factors, but it can give you a good starting point to work from so you can keep yourself on track all year long and accomplish so much more than you realized you could. Remember, you may need to tweak it as life happens or as seasons change. I know beginning and end of term can always get more hectic than other weeks, so just do the best you can and take time to make memories and relax.

Happy Holidays!