The Book that Changed my Classroom Discipline Procedures

February 27, 2021

My first teaching job was 6th grade Reading and I had no idea what I was doing.  I had been military, then corporate while I worked through a business degree, but when I realized that life was about making money and not so much helping people and limited how much time I got to spend with my family, I changed paths and got my teaching certificate. Then I started interviewing.  I’ll never forget that job fair. I interviewed with dozens of schools. The one that ended up hiring me asked why I thought I could teach middle school without experience.  My answer?  I figured if I could handle pilots, I could handle them.  She smiled and thanked me.  Ten minutes after leaving the job fair, I had a job offer.

I started teaching when my oldest son was 9 years old and in 4th grade. He was a pretty good kid, but in typical fashion, challenging at times as he was finding his way.  I was raised in a very disciplined household with prior military parents and, as I said, had also been military.  Plus, I was a single mom, I had more on my plate to handle than I probably could.

By my third-year teaching, he entered middle school and was the same age as the kids I was teaching.  He was challenging—they were more so. It was a rough school where the kids had life experiences and situations I had never heard of and was developing a major respect for the fact that they came at all, but I knew I had to figure something out since the typical discipline system had little to no impact on them.  I had a student I will never forget.  Mom had 4 kids and my student was her oldest and lots of trouble. After several calls from me about issues, she finally said, with exasperation in her voice and a crying baby in her arms, ”I don’t care what you do, just don’t get him sent home to me”.  That hit me hard. I had to reach this kid and so many others.  And, while PBS (Positive Behavior Systems) are great, they are long term and don’t deal with problems that really can’t be ignored.  As a reading teacher and lifelong learner, I did what I always did–I turned to books.

Boy, did I find a great one!  It’s called Have A New Teenager by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman.  I’ve loaned it out so many times, I don’t even know where my copy ended up, but now I just recommend the title whenever I hear of a teacher or parent struggling with their kids and teenagers.  I even use the techniques in it with other interactions that could be tense and see my kids using it in their own interactions.

It essentially breaks down the elements that create the struggles and, therefore, the discipline issues, analyzes the WHY behind it, then teaches you about giving choices and taking away the power struggle.  I’m not even kidding—the very first time I tried it with my own kid, it worked. When I applied the strategies to my own classroom, it worked even better. Our school tracked referrals and discipline issues and mine cut in half.  The Dean actually came down to my room to find out if I’d just given up or what and was shocked. 

My favorite story to share about how well it worked was with my own son.  I don’t even remember the offense, but it needed addressed since that behavior needed to stop.  Instead of the typical grounding from video games, which he was prepared for, he was given the choice of discipline options—a week without personality t-shirts or a week without basketball shorts, two items that were essentially his entire wardrobe.  He begged to just be grounded from electronics or something else. After what seemed like hours, he finally chose personality shirts since he didn’t really have any other clothing options, then muttered I’m never going to do that again, that was  tough; I didn’t want to give up either. Victory!

While it hasn’t been perfect every time, it helps a lot, and it has been over a decade since I read and started applying the strategies. My youngest is now 9 and has been raised with choices so that, when told directly to do something, it elicits less resistance.  And, while I have been a virtual teacher at an online school for over a year now, I managed to maintain low discipline referrals throughout the years, usually only for major infractions.  In my virtual classroom, I still apply the techniques when discussing assignments and giving choices. I may be wrong, but I feel like it contributes to keeping my non-worker and dropped course counts lower.

And my oldest son?  He graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice and is headed towards a career in law enforcement. And his brother hopes to follow in his footsteps so they can be partners someday.

You can find this book at any online retailer, new and used book stores, even audio books carry it.

Why I Stopped Failing Students – and How You Can, Too

January 29, 2021

When I started teaching in 2007, I was the hard teacher that had no issues failing a child that wouldn’t work or didn’t complete all their work. It took me about ten years of teaching to realize that, at least through middle school, it was a pointless standard to uphold and I decided to create a “guaranteed C policy” in my classroom.  As a result, student engagement improved and I stopped working so hard. I continued to refine this policy each year and found it to be successful. So I thought it was time to share with you.

First, ask yourself why we fail a student? Because they don’t complete their work, right? End of story. But what if we kept digging into our thought process?  Shouldn’t a classroom be a place for learning to happen, exploring many different methods of executing a task? Thomas Edison’s response to failing was that he didn’t fail, he found ways NOT to do something. In his case, a lightbulb. So why do we hold students, especially in Kindergarten through 8th grade, to a standard higher than that of one of the greatest innovative minds in history? If you can think of an answer, you’re better than me.

Sure, students need to learn to work, to complete the tasks, and do all the things. It’s a life skill that will benefit them in all the do. But every single person learns at different rates and through different experiences. And it is easy for a middle school student to feel deflated or defeated and give up. So, I say we focus on creating an environment focused on learning and mastery of foundational and lifelong skills, not the grade on a report card.

I open my grading policy conversation with parents and students by asking ”What if I can guarantee you a C or better in this class—would you put in the work to focus on learning?” And of course, the answer is a resounding yes, with piqued curiosity for me to explain.  And it is as simple as this:

DO EVERYTHING I ASSIGN, ANSWER EVERY QUESTION, FOLLOW EVERY DIRECTION, AND TRULY TRY WITHOUT GIVING UP.

Yep, that’s it.  Now, it’s that simple for them, but it does take some preplanning as an educator to make it happen.  Here’s how.

  • Vary the assignments graded in the week and weigh them, either by points or by percentages (however you create your gradebook) to equal a minimum of 70%.
  • Build in opportunities for self-check and redoing until mastered when they get to the next level, as well as allowing for collaboration. This lets them test ideas out and hear how they sound out loud.
  • When they get to demonstrating mastery, be sure they have all the tools they need for this. Notes, examples, feedback.

So what did that look like? I made sure the tasks are weighted by level of learning. Here’s what I mean:

  • In *DOK 1/introduction and recall level, everything is based on completion that lets them try again—a ticket out the door, notes completed, matching activities.
  • For *DOK 2 or 3/changing the variables level, give some risk of getting it wrong, but offer support like collaboration, open notes, phone a friend or ask a teacher passes (these are fun to reward with on recall/introduction days when checking for understanding)
  • For *DOK4/applying to other areas level, have them create something using the skill that they have control of the platform so they can use skills they already have mastered to work in the new skill. Using technology such as music, PowerPoints, videos, and photographs, allow drawings, comic strips, songs, collages, or a million other ways to check for mastery of a standard (Google alternatives to writing assignments for inspiration). Not everything has to be a writing assignment.

My method was to have 3 grades per week. One was a participation grade—note checks, ticket out the door, etc. that earned them an A just for doing it. The second was a check for understanding assignment that I would grade but gave 60% for completion and the other 40% came from accuracy—then I gave them a chance to correct to earn those lost points back. The third was a standards mastery task that they got 50% for completion and the other 60% was from accuracy that, if missed, they could correct to earn half their lost points back. I also provided a rubric for them so they could self-assess and have an idea where they were at. I would give feedback and mark the rubric when given back so they knew what to fix. If you are doing the math, here’s a breakdown: 100% + 60% +60%=220%/3= 73.3%. So even if they never go back and attempt to correct, they still get their C.  But, by doing ALL the work to get to that point, they increase their learning potential, and many do go back and try for at least some of the points.

I also found it helpful to clear grading every single week so they stayed on top of things and knew where they were.  With digital grades now, it’s much easier than when I printed grades each week with a student code number/name to post for them to check.

I do realize that, at some point, failing does need to be a part of the educational since it is a part of life, but who decided they should fail starting so early in life?  I personally feel that should apply from 10th -12th grades, possibly as low as 9th grade, since K-8 are mostly foundational skills, especially looking at common core standards.  If we fail children in elementary and middle school when they are trying and still learning, we can inadvertently instill a fear of failing into them that will establish a comfort zone that will be hard to break free from.

How can you adapt your methods to increase their confidence and have a classroom focused on learning, rather than grades?  If you want to try this method, but are drawing a blank at how to apply it, let me know and we can brainstorm together!

*DOK is Based on the teachings of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Here’s a great video that makes it simple to understand *DOK is Based on the teachings of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Here’s a great video that makes it simple to understand using a chocolate chip cookie analogy.

Life Lessons from a Dog: Luna and the Cone

January 22, 2020

Luna and her Cone

Luna is our newest family member.  We adopted her in August, a couple of months after our oldest doxie, Angel, passed away.  Molly, our remaining doxie, was quite lonely without her lifelong pal and our 9-year-old son had desperately wanted a dog to be both a cuddle buddy and a playmate. Our lifestyle doesn’t accommodate large dogs, despite my dreaming, and my allergies are often a source of contention. So, when we found Luna, a 3-month-old shih-poo (shih tzu mixed with poodle), she was a perfect fit for that tall order. Her energy has been a source of stress for Molly and Reba, my dad’s dog that joined the household a couple months later, and she has kept us laughing as she has learned to be a dog from them and find her place in the family. We continuously work on her basic commands—she’s a total work in progress.

The week we brought her home – she wasn’t much bigger than our Guinea pig

Last week, she reached the 6-month milestone, and it was time for her to be spayed, plus she had a toe that needed tended to, so this was the perfect time. She came home, groggy, and unhappy, and in a cone with orders to wear it for the next 2 weeks until she returned to have stitches removed.  We, like many houses, call it her “Cone of Shame”, much like Dug from Up.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick clip of Dug and his Cone of Shame.

The ride home from the vet after surgery. I was not her favorite hooman

In typical puppy fashion, when they don’t like something, the struggle to escape it—and she struggled hard.  After a day or two, though, she stopped and accepted it, learning to do all the things she loved with it, and even adapting it to her advantage for scooping up toys, treats and food. It even proved a great assistant for digging, her favorite hobby.

As I sat with her this morning, it occurred to me how much I can learn from this little fluffy ball of cuteness and energy, which brings me to this posting.  Life rarely goes as we envision it. The older we get, the more our conversations shift from our dreams and aspirations to the things we always wanted to do but had to sacrifice. Sometimes it leaves us frustrated, sad, or even bitter because of the void of what we feel is missing from our lives. I know I get that way from time to time, especially after all the obstacles 2020 brought us.

It’s always a good time to play – bringing me her toy this morning, in the hopes of a good tug and toss session

And then I realized that, if we embrace our challenges like Luna, accepting it and learning to use it to our advantage, we can be happy just the way we are, possibly happier.  I dreamed of traveling this beautiful country and around the world, but life keeps changing the course of that plan, no matter how hard I try to get back to it.  But life is pretty good most days. I have my faith, family, friends, a career I love that makes a difference, however small, and amazing memories of travels I have experienced, as well as books, movies and shows to watch to continue to learn about all the places I dream about. And I have a puppy, that is growing into one amazing dog, to sit beside me while I enjoy them, walk with me while I explore locally, and beg for a bite of every tasty experience I enjoy.  Thanks, Luna, for teaching me something today and inspiring me to share it with you.

My Goody Box Experience – A review of both thredUP and Stitch Fix

January 18, 2021

I don’t like shopping.  I know, crazy, right?!  Or, maybe it’s more I don’t like hunting.  I had no problem spending money when I would go shopping in my younger years, buying anything that appealed to me that fit both my available balance and my body.  But when I ran out of both credit and closet space, I realized I had to change some things.  I learned that, when I shop, I should have an idea of what I was looking for or shop to fill specific holes in my wardrobe.  But then I could never find what I was looking for. I eventually adopted a uniform for work, using shirts with my school’s logo on it, and didn’t sweat it. But when I left my brick-and-mortar school to teach virtually, I didn’t need them and didn’t have a budget for new school shirts, so used what I had.  My uniform has settled into t-shirts and either shorts or pants, depending on the weather.  Occasionally, a dress or nice outfit is thrown into the mix for zoom meetings or if I have an event after work, but not often, especially since I take breaks to go for a walk midday.

It reached the point it was time to jazz up the wardrobe, but I dreaded shopping .  Some of my friends and favorite YouTubers mentioned the mail order fashion goody boxes, and I wondered if that might be a way to go.  I settled on Stitch Fix and thredUP as my goody box options to compare them and share what I learned. Let me start with a little background on both.

Stitch Fix uses personal shoppers and special algorithms to find items at your price point to send you new items on a one time or recurring subscription basis, based on your profile you create—I chose every 3 months, I’m not looking for too many things and prefer over time for both budget and closet size reasons. You pay a $25 deposit for the clothes that, if you decide to keep anything, credits toward them.  I was surprised by how detailed the profile was and was lucky enough to get a referral credit to try it out for free for my first box (I did have to pay the difference for anything I decided to keep).  It arrived within a few days of submitting and I got 2 cute outfits—a black jumpsuit and a blouse, sweater, jeans, and boots, as well as with a card on how to work them into different looks.  Both super cute, but the jumpsuit ended up being way too long and, while I liked the look of the blouse, jeans, and sweater with the boots, I already had the boots in another color and wasn’t a fan of the style of jeans they sent, so only kept the blouse.  Processing was super easy—I logged in, selected what to keep (the blouse), gave reasons for what I didn’t like on the others to help my stylist for future boxes, and was charged the difference for what I kept (they do give a good discount if you keep everything, too!)  I then put them in a return shipping bag that was included and dropped it at the post office within the 3-day turnaround time.  Pretty simple.

ThredUP uses a similar process of a profile with lots of questions about style, pricing, etc., has you choose a subscription option (I chose 3 months for this one, as well), pay your $10 non-refundable deposit that also credits towards any items purchased and it arrived within a few days, as well.  The thing about thredUP is that it is consignment items that are in good condition—some of my items arrived with tags still on them! In this box, I had 10-15 items to choose from and a style card with these, as well. I had several tops in both long and short sleeves, shorts, pants, dresses, and sweaters. Anything I wanted to keep, the $10 went towards, then I simply put the other items back in the box they arrived in, affixed the label, and dropped it at the post office within 7 days.  I also went online to give feedback on what I like and kept (the long sleeve with buttons and the short sleeve blue) and don’t like for what I returned.  There wasn’t a way to choose what I was keeping and check out immediately, as with the other company, so I assume it will reconcile when the package arrives back to them (it had only been a couple of days over the holiday weekend at the time of writing, so I am not sure yet). I also love that, should I have good quality clothes I want to part with, I can also sell them through their company, too.

My thoughts? Both were a great experience. I got great products, had time to choose them at my convenience and was able to see how they paired with items in my closet already, and liked how easy it was to return items I didn’t want to keep.  They were both good quality items that were things I was normally drawn to or may not have picked for myself typically but liked getting to try them on. I didn’t opt for accessories in either profile, so other than the boots from Stitch Fix, can’t speak about jewelry, bags, shoes, etc. I like that both allow me to give feedback to my stylist for my next box so they know what I like and don’t like to pair with my profile.  I like that thredUP is second hand, so I feel a bit better about the items and don’t have to necessarily worry about production information or business practices on my conscience, but neither are producers, simply middle…people? I also like that thredUP sent more items to choose from, but I know that is cost based. I plan to get another box from both in April before deciding whether to keep one or the other, or cancel both, especially since I am only looking for a few new items to spruce up my wardrobe. I also want to add that they do sell items by the piece without going the goody box option.

If you’ve tried them, or any others, I’d love to hear your experiences!  If you want to learn more about either company, here’s a link to their ABOUT US information to learn more about their backstory and business practices:  Stitch Fix About Us  and ThredUP About Us

If you are looking to try them out, I have a referral code for you that will cover the cost of your first box deposit, and credit towards any items you keep, plus it earns me rewards for shopping.  They are linked below.

ThredUP referral code: http://www.thredup.com/r/UZP0VT

Stich Fix referral code: https://www.stitchfix.com/invite/x2fv8858dw?sod=w&som=c

Let me know your thoughts, either commenting here, or find me on Facebook (search private groups for Addicted to Teaching) or on Twitter (@addictedtoteac1).  Happy shopping!

Celebrate the Prodigal Student

January 12, 2021

Most everyone has heard the story of the Prodigal son from the Bible, where the father celebrates the son that was gone and returned, making the son that never left upset, until the father explains his why. But, as a whole, society rarely celebrates the prodigal anything. We have awards for Honor Roll, Perfect Attendance, Top Readers, Math whizzes, the fastest runner, the best athlete–people who excel right away and straight to the top. Those that don’t succeed right away or first are shunned. As educators, we have a chance, and a responsibility, to change that.

We need to celebrate the Prodigal student.

If you’ve been a teacher for even a single term, you know which one this is. The student that, somewhere along the lines “checks out” mentally. They are absent often. They don’t complete work and rarely, if ever, turn thing in. We invest hours in them. Calling home, tutoring sessions after school or during lunch, allowing extra time on work, providing guided notes–you name it. And then we eventually stop and let them fail, or find their own way.

But what if we didn’t?

What if, when the student engages, even for a fraction of a second, we celebrate them? We could brag about their accomplishment to them with an attaboy, a note, a call home, an email to the principal. And we can repeatedly do this without focusing on the past, especially since they cannot change what already happened, no matter what we say or do. Eventually, with celebrating these successes, they will give us more to celebrate, in most cases, until they cross the finish line and go on to the next class or grade. Even if we only get to celebrate some and they do eventually fail, though, can you imagine the impact of the seed planted with celebrating what they did instead of chastising what they didn’t do?

I started making this my focus in the last couple of years. I was listening to Toby Mac’s song If You Wanna Steal My Show on the radio one day, and it hit me that I didn’t need a stage, my classroom would do just fine to give God the same chance to work through me. (If you haven’t heard the song, check it out here). Then I wrote a simple prayer that is tacked to both my bathroom mirror and my clipboard that holds my agenda at work:

Dear Lord, Today let my words and actions be yours and what you need me to be in the world. Amen.

I read it several times a day. I say it out loud. And I finally started to live it. I have students that will go all term and not work, in spite of calls and texts and encouragement to make progress, then want extensions to finish when they realize that failing is upon them. And I do what I can to make it happen. I have worked beyond the end of my work day to be there for that student. I text every day to check in during the extension. I call when I see they are on something challenging, then send them a video that shows them how to do it if I wasn’t able to catch them and help.

When they turn things in, I send a celebratory text to mom and dad with them in the group text about what they accomplished–another step closer to success! I say. I know not everyone can, or will, take these extra steps, it’s just what I do. But everyone can celebrate those little victories and plant that seed of encouragement. I celebrate every student’s success, but my smile is a little bigger and my heart races just a little faster when it’ the kid I thought I’d lost.

Let them be the kid that gets seen for doing something great. Everything we say and do for our students plants a seed. We hope that it’s in the lessons we teach and they will take the knowledge and skills into their future classes, jobs and lives. But what if it is a seed of hope, pride, accomplishment that is what they really need?

Be that teacher.

Celebrate the Prodigal Student.

Life and Teaching – Reflecting on 2020

Sonya Barnes                     December 24, 2020

I haven’t written in a while.  So much craziness has happened in my life this year, and most has nothing to do with Covid-19. My oldest son graduated college, transitioned into a new career field, and is looking to move out on his on now with his friends. My mom decided to move out on her own now that her health has improved, and she is retired so she can enjoy life at her pace a bit more.  My dad moved in with us and my stepmom moved with my brother, sis-in-law, and niece as they transition from one duty station to another, but not yet to Florida, like we hoped. Which means our move to be closer to them was pushed back, as well.  Projects around the house ensued.

We lost our 15-year-old doxie Angel, and welcomed a new Shih-poo, Luna and have been working on training her and helping our remaining doxie transition from being the little sister and everything buddy to the big sister with an annoying puppy.  And did I mention that my dad brought his rescue, Reba with him?  We also built a chicken coop and are raising 8 backyard chickens that have been a great source of eggs, a consumer of leftovers and scraps, and have brought hours of entertainment for us and the dogs.  Oh, and did I mention the extra-large Guinea pig, Java, that joined our family?

But we have family meals together daily, go for walks, play games and have family movie nights. We’ve been creative on travel with camping or focusing on outdoor areas. We have learned how much we enjoy being around each other all the time and how much busyness we had in our life that was unnecessary and we didn’t miss when we cut it out.

Around all of this, I have continued to gain more experience as a virtual teacher and my husband has slowly but steadily grown his handyman business and found a balance between work and family time. Add all of that to the pandemic and everyone facing unexplored territories, I didn’t feel I had the knowledge to guide anyone since none of us knew what we were doing or for how long—or the time!  But as time passed,  I realized a few things.

A rainbow right before it grew into a double rainbow just before sunset–a beautiful sight on one of our walks

One, I miss writing immensely. There is something powerful of taking an idea, expanding on it, and sharing it with the world, along with all the vulnerability that comes from that.  Two, it’ a great way to focus my thoughts and get time to myself—events that are very rare in my day. Three, and this is the big one that brought me back, so what if I am not an expert? So what if I don’t have great insight that will change your life? Right now, we need to share ideas, hear ideas, and explore new options, even if that means failing at something and starting over a new way. 

So, here’s the morsel we all need to hear: how is what you are doing in your classroom helping your students? Are they learning skills they will need in future classes or careers? Great! Are they learning techniques for adapting to new ways of doing something? Super! Are they exploring a way of life that could be an option for them in the future by working at home and learning to be self-motivated? Fantastic!  Are they getting a voice and your focused attention because a Zoom or Teams call can minimize distractions by muting people or viewing only the speaker? Gold! Maybe this is the chapter of their life where the lessons come from the relationships being built and learning to handle boredom and self-management, skills that are lacking from our always on lifestyle we live.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the chance to talk to my students, whether it was about what they were learning, how to use it in school, how they may use it someday in life, or what is happening in life right now.  I’ve sent a text just to check in or to remind them of something due. I’ve even spent time just talking to their parents.  They needed someone to talk to that didn’t live under their roof about what they are dealing with or how to help their kids and, sometimes, I was the call at the time that they needed. It created a great bond and helped them through a challenging time, even if it was simply sharing a quick tip on balancing their schedule, answering a question or a weekly video snippet that gave them insight on the work due for the week. Those moments may be brief but can be very powerful.

So, as you enjoy your holidays and start thinking of your return to school and what you can provide that is meaningful to your students, remember to make time to take care of you and to teach them how to take care of them. What they learn from this major life event will shape the rest of their lives—how can you make that meaningful?

From my family to you and yours, whatever and however you celebrate, just celebrate.

Happy Holidays and all that jazz.

We grouped our trees together this year, kept the ornaments in the box to enjoy just the lights, but couldn’t forget my son’s train that he loves so much.

My Simplified Approach to an eLearning Station

Our eLearning station takes up a small wall in the dining room, just off of the kitchen and family room. Centrally located if he needs us, but in a low traffic area during the day.

August 2020

Since we decided to keep our son home for eLearning for the first term of 4th grade, I’ve been racking my brain and the internet for how to set up a learning area for him. I work from home already, but we quickly learned during the pandemic closure and 4th quarter of last school year that it is impractical for us to share my office.  Between my phone calls and zoom meetings and his zoom meetings and lessons, we were a constant interruption to each other.  We needed someplace for him. But where? And how? And his school has the students following their school day schedule, meaning he will need to be logged in to a certain place at a certain time for his lessons and for attendance, so we needed it to work with little effort or supervision on our part.

I realized quickly I was not going to be one of those Pinterest or YouTube moms that went all out.  No offense to them, it looks amazing, but that isn’t his learning style, our family’s living style, nor did it fit our budget for what we hope will be a short-term situation.  We needed simple and easy.  I also didn’t want to use the dining room table since that would mean having to put it somewhere when it was mealtime, and he would have to get up to get things when he needed them—way too inefficient for my taste.

I also made sure to include him in the decision-making process—what he wanted and didn’t want in the space, where he wanted to be in the house, decorations, etc.  With his input and my experience as both his mom and a teacher, we were able to come up with a plan.

What resulted was a compact area on a small wall in the dining room that has everything he needs in one location and is organized in a simple to use fashion that already embraced the toy system we use—cubbies that are taken out, used, cleaned up, and put away when finished.  It was also low on budget—including the school supplies he needed, we spent under $100.

Here’s a breakdown of our e-learning center.

DRY ERASE MESSAGE BOARD This will be used to post the date/day of the week, as well as daily quotes and inspirations for him each day. There are all sorts of websites with quotes for kids and we can tailor them to him or to what he has going on for this day. Having the day and date will also replicate the classroom and help him in finding what the online resources and dates are.

DAILY SCHEDULE This schedule came from his school with what time the classes are and where he should be.  It is color-coded to match the bins since he has two academic teachers this year so it will help him keep up with who is when. Our school gave us a general version and the teachers were really awesome and had one ready, so all I really had to do was adapt to fit on a clipboard (their version was landscape layout, I preferred portrait so that it would hang on the clipboard for easy reference.

COMPUTER He is going to be sharing my personal laptop with me, but we created his own profile and have been working with him, so he knows how to access his school’s site and the sites needed for his lessons.

IPAD & STAND The iPad is programmed with alarms for each of the start times for his schedule just in case he gets distracted—he is nine after all!  The stand we already had, but it gives it a home to sit on his workstation and be out of the way, and he has a clock and timer ready, if he needs it.

SUPPLIES CUBBY This is a top shelf for easy access.  He has a cup with pencils, highlighters, and scissors in the bin, as well as his paints, markers, crayons, color pencils, ruler, and whatever other supplies he may end up needing.  We also have a binder with notebook and plain paper for whatever they may need.

CLASS CUBBIES He has one for electives, one for his morning classes and one for his afternoon classes.  The textbooks and other materials will stay in here so he can find it quickly and easily or pull out all materials from it.  We have his notebook and folder for each subject that will be during that part of the day, as well.

LUNCH MENU He will have the same amount of lunch time as the students at school, so we needed a way to eat quickly that would allow him time to relax.  He and I sat down together and decided to create hot and cold options for Monday through Friday, make them slips, and he can fill them out on Fridays so we can grocery shop and restock. Every option can either be prepared in the morning before school or they are thing he has experience making or preparing independently, just in case our work schedules don’t allow us to break away at the same time, although we hope to be able to eat with him and socialize each day.

UNIFORM Yes, we are going to be those parents that make him wear a uniform each day—at least his school shirt.  We want him to keep the routine and have a “work mindset” by being dressed for the role he will be in.  As someone who works from home, I know that this routine and getting ready element helps me to mentally prepare for a workday instead of a personal day, and it makes a difference.

PRIZE BOX This was a must—he is in elementary school, and our school is a part of the PBS (positive behavior system) so we wanted to continue promoting that at home, again trying to maintain and simulate the routine for him. He isn’t much on toys, but he can get a piece of candy or a Molly Moo-lah at the end of a good day.

our Store inventory

MOLLY MOO-LAH This is our version of school bucks that our school also uses for PBS.  The students can earn them for various actions of responsibility and good behavior.  Our dog’s name is Molly, nicknamed Molly MooMoo, so she became our mascot.  We then created a list of items he can redeem them for.  At school, they can use them at the Bucks Store for various items or even dress down days.  We created ours to include dress down days, as well as prizes we can easily give including ice cream dates, dinner and a movie night, an extra week of allowance (he is saving for some bigger items) or an extra piece of candy from his daily prize box (we don’t do a lot of candy in our home, so this is a treat).

our Molly Moo-Lah!

It isn’t a perfect plan, and it may adapt as we go and find flaws or at least adaptations.  But he is set up to be independently successful in his day. If I happen to be busy and can’t break away or dad is working outside of the house that day, he is set up for self-guided success.  He may miss something or be late sometimes, and we will figure out why and it will be okay.  Our goal is for him to learn to take responsibility for his learning and to be a part of his routine and actively contributing to his own success.

I hope this helped inspire you for your e-learning station and helped you realize it doesn’t have to be fancy or take up a huge amount of space. Good luck in your project!

Why I’m Grateful for the Pandemic

August 2020

A few minutes on the beach when we tried to catch a launch on the coast

My life goes ninety miles an hour most days and has for as long as I can remember. I have tried to slow down so many times, but things just continuously come at me that it feels impossible. I found myself searching for ways to simplify and slow down.  Minimalism has crept into my life and I have cut down on how much stuff we have, which helped a lot with time spent working in the house.  But, as a teacher, there is always work to be done and the brain doesn’t stop working just because the school building is closed. I prayed for life to slow down. And then the Pandemic hit.

I’m not saying it’s completely my fault or anything, but…over the years, I’ve heard it said about both prayers and wishes to be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.  As a former middle school Reading and ELA teacher, The Monkey’s Paw immediately comes to mind and reinforces this idea.  Yet I still prayed for this.  So, when things started shutting down around town and around the world, I found myself grateful for it and sought out to make changes to our lives that could continue even after the world returned to normal.

Family meals This is something we have always tried to make a priority, even after my mom moved in.  With eating out not an option for us during the shutdown, we capitalized on trying new recipes, planning more efficiently to cut down on grocery trips and orders, and being more consistent.  It really paid off for us.  We enjoyed themed nights and tried our hand at making things we’d normally have gone out for or just ordered.  Dare I say, we even like our version of many dishes better than what we get dining out and for a fraction of the price!

When we desperately missed the Bavarian pretzels and beer cheese of Disney, we got creative! Not a huge success, but a lot of fun and we will try it again!

Routines This one is a challenge for everyone, so I know we are not alone.  We live in a multi-generational household with morning people that go to bed early, late people that are up into the wee hours, light sleepers, and loud voices.  There has been some tension for us, to say the least.  But we have found that we get our rhythm by being aware of each other’s routines, which comes from conversations during family mealtime, and we have established a sort of quiet hours for each other.  We also maintained getting up at the same time each day, having breakfast, going for walks, and doing our chores on specific days or at certain times to keep that consistency.  All day pajama sessions or binge-watching Netflix or YouTube never once became our life, although there were a couple of days when we stumbled across a great series or channel…

Family spaces – indoor and outdoor We are blessed that everyone has their own rooms as well as having both a family and living room and offices for those that work from home. The joys of owning an older home with oddball rooms in various places came in handy! But we had a few spaces that we had never really defined since moving in two years ago. They were just filled with leftover furniture or temporary items.  We capitalized on our savings from gas, dining out and entertainment and invested it in our home.  We created a comfortable family room for movies and game nights, and we got real patio furniture that gave morning tea or evening dessert & drinks a place to be enjoyed.  We also took the time to declutter things by the end that we realized we weren’t using despite being home more, which had been our excuse for not parting with them in prior purges.  Another dream project of having a garden and backyard chickens finally came into fruition and we have thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and delicious eggs from our lady yardbirds, although our greenthumb still needs work since we didn’t get much of a harvest.  Now that we can go out and enjoy more things, we still find ourselves staying home more often, planning nights in the family room or on the porch and enjoying our spaces, even when we have other options.

some of our eggs from one day–we usually get 2-4 from our 8 chickens, which isn’t too bad in this heat and some are not daily layers.

Personal Care Habit This one has been an ebb and flow thing in our home.  When the pandemic and shutdown first became a part of life, the weather was nice here in Central Florida, so the routine of an evening walk to see the sunset and talk about our day or dreams of life after was great.  But when the afternoon storms crept in and the mercury rose, it became darn near impossible to keep it up, so it fell by the wayside, as did our personal care.  Hair cuts got neglected and manicures and pedicures were non-existent.  But after a couple of months, we missed these and realized that we still needed them in our lives.  We couldn’t go out to a salon, but haircuts, mani’s and pedi’s could still be done, especially digging out some of those bath salts and scrubs we lovingly purchased on previous outings.  We shifted out routine to walks and runs to the mornings and just start our workday around 9 instead of 730, letting ourselves come alive a bit before sitting down.  It really sets the tone for a day of success when you’ve done 2/3 or more of your step goal before sitting down to work at 9AM! I also loved reading but rarely could find the time. With life slowing down, now there is time in my day to read for me as well as to spend time reading with my youngest.

enjoying lunch and my book on the porch during a lunch break from working

Day trips and vacations This was the hardest part for us to give up since we were always on the go.  We are passholders and live close to Disney, the Zoo, nearby gardens, and the beaches are a two-hour drive in any direction. We have family all over, love to camp and have only taken our youngest to about half the states in the country and hope to visit more.  With all of that dashed, it affected our daily life.  One way we coped was packing a picnic lunch and planning a loop drive to places.  One of my favorites was a drive to the coast, up a coastal road and back home.  It was most of the day, but it was amazing to see everything so clean and clear and with light traffic and few people, we didn’t even mind that we could only walk small sections.  We even ventured to Texas to see family by taking a camper and boondocking along the way.  We saw about a dozen people on the entire trip and only had to go into a couple of stores.

a geocache travelbug we helped along on our camping adventure

Now that we can get out and about more and things are opening, we are starting to go more places.  But we are nowhere near at the pace of life we previously were.  Our excursions may be once or twice a month instead of every weekend. We are more selective on what we decide we want to spend our time and money on.  We still don’t turn on the TV until later in the day on most days and we continue to enjoy our family dinners several nights a week.  I don’ think I want to return to the breakneck pace we used to live at, I’m just sad that it took a pandemic to force me to change. 

Ideas for A Clean and Healthy Workplace

Keeping a clean and healthy workplace or classroom is always a challenge.  I know for many, especially where a hundred or more people can rotate through during the day, this can be nearly impossible. But adding the concern on all our minds as we look at returning to a bit more normal life, especially amid the Covid pandemic, means we need to up our game.  So, let me share some ideas I’ve tried or seen for maintaining a healthy workplace or classroom and see if any will work for you or can be adapted to suit your purposes.

KEEP IT SIMPLE Many of us put in a great deal of effort to create a welcoming and homey workspace, especially in a classroom. Wall décor, comfortable furniture, knick-knacks and so on.  But this can be additional items to have to clean or move to clean.  I would suggest taking a close look at your space, determine what items you really need and would be worthwhile and hold up to frequent cleaning and store the rest.  You can bring it out later or rotate the items.  I stumbled into minimalism several years ago for health reasons and decluttered 70% of my home, then rolled that into my classroom.  I cleared so much stuff from my room that both my coworkers and my school leadership came by to ask if I was quitting.  But even with so much of it being cleared, my room was welcoming and functional.  My students told me that they felt relaxed in my room since there wasn’t so much around them. If much of what you must put up is school or district mandated, have a conversation with leadership to find out what can be adjusted.  I opted to digitize my required wall posted items and had a scrolling PowerPoint on repeat so it was always posted.  With that information, announcements, and our daily agenda all in one location, it made student life easier since they could come in, prep materials, and watch the board and get all the information.

SELF-REGULATED CLEAN UP No matter how clean an environment we start the day with, at some point, if someone passed through, it would need cleaned again.  Sometimes, we just missed them leaving and a new person coming in, other times, there just isn’t time and isn’t a health requirement, especially outside the food industry.  There’s couple of options for this.  One is to have a bottle of sanitizing spray cleaner and a batch of rags.  This is good for a small turnover area.  You can get cleaner from your supply order or any local store, shred an old towel or t-shirt into cleaning size scraps or purchase a pack of cleaning rags, then have a designated bucket for clean and dirty rags, then take them home and wash/sanitize as needed.  Another option is prepackaged alcohol wipes can be a great way to allow people to clean their area before or after use.  I have had these on hand for years in my classroom, especially in my computer lab areas.  I encouraged students to wipe down the equipment before and after use and, if they had a cold or sneezing and sniffling from allergies, it was encouraged to clean before leaving for the next one coming in.  I often ordered them with my supply order for the year, or you can find them online at Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2ZQltl5  for a reasonable price, this pack of 200 individually packaged alcohol wipes are only $6.25. In secondary, these will go fast, so check with your supply office to see if you can find larger quantities for a better price or go with the spray and rag option.

WRITING UTENSILS Most businesses and classrooms have a need for utensils for people.  While many carry their own with them to the classroom or to businesses, some will not.  There are a couple of options to choose from. First, you will need to decide if they need a pen or pencil to complete the tasks.  For pens, pick up an inexpensive pack of pens from any office supply location (Dollar Tree, Walmart and Target all have packs for a reasonable price) and then you can clean them—one idea I saw was to have a clean pen bucket and a place to put used ones that can be sanitized.  For pencils, take advantage of golf pencils so they are pocket sized and can be kept. You can find these on Amazon, as well, ranging from .04 to .06 cents per item—it’s cheaper in larger quantities.  You can get 144 for $8.69 here https://amzn.to/30DZiO9 or 864 for $38.99 here https://amzn.to/30A9Wpn

SUPPLY KITS FOR PROJECTS In some places, like a classroom, people may need to have access to something beyond a writing utensil or computer.  Since these tools can be useful in the learning process, we obviously don’t want to eliminate this element.  Some parents will be able to provide their children with their own supplies, but they may get forgotten or lost overtime, they may not get cleaned, they may run out and need replaced.  I found that keeping a kit for each student in the class with all the things they’d need to be very helpful.  I had a plastic pencil box with scissors, a ruler, highlighter, markers, etc. in the box that could be easily wiped down or sprayed with disinfectant and left to dry overnight.  If you have only one group coming through, these could be labeled with their names, so it limits contact and use.  If your classes rotate, having two class sets can be helpful so one can be sanitized and drying while the other is in use.  I would have these labeled either with the students using or at least the class periods/seat numbers so that limited contact could also be managed.  Then just have a place for clean and used ones to be deposited.  For math, science or other STEM classes, printable resources for rulers and protractors could also be helpful, then they can just be disposed of.  I know that not all teachers will have time to manage the supplies, so appointing a supply or sanitation manager to the task can save you that time.  I have always had a student or two that sanitation and organization was important to and they were eager to volunteer.

SEPARATE ENTRY/EXIT POINTS Having your visitors/guests/clients enter and exit in separate locations, especially at peak flow times, can also help manage room flow and proximity.  In some locations, you will have multiple points of entry and can just designated one for entry and one for exit.  If you happen to have an adjoining office or classroom, working with your neighbor to have one room be for entry and one for exit could work with this flow, but that will depend on when your groups will enter/exit or if you want that many people coming through your space.  If this is not a viable solution for your situation, just be sure you have a procedure in place, such as for those entering to wait until someone exits.

TURNING IN WORK PRODUCT In an office or a classroom, there is a lot of material that can get passed around.  If access to electronic devices are an option, this can be a great way to minimize contact.  If paper items are a must, student created work could be best so there isn’t a lot of passing, then have a designated drop spot on the way out the door or, for small groups, have clipboards they keep all their completed work product on and can hang on a board or put in a drop spot at the end of the day.  You could have their graded work to return as well as the new work for the next day on the boards as they come in.  Another alternative to check for understanding without additional paper, you can use dry erase boards that are in their kits.  A cheap way to make these is with a sheet protector and piece of paper!

EFFICIENT CLEANING For some of you, this may be a given, but if not, let’s talk about how to clean efficiently.  The best method is to work from top to bottom and from back to front, or your exit point.  Start by making sure clutter is kept to a minimum or that everything is put in its place first.  Then, simply start at the top in the location farthest from your exit. For example, I would start at the back of my room and disinfect my computer station, then stack the chairs and sweep that section out.  I would then move to the reading station and clean the books and return them to the shelves, clean the shelves, and sweep the floors to the pile from the prior section.  I continued to the cubbies, the supply counter, then finally the student desks and stack those chairs.  Finally, I would go and spray all the stacked chairs with disinfectant as  I was leaving so that I didn’t have to breathe it in, and it would clear by morning. I would speak to your custodial staff about the floors—some would sweep and mop anyway, but I had some that just didn’t have time for both and, if I swept, they would make sure it got mopped.  When all else fails, you can take care of it or see if there is a volunteer student or parent that may be willing to help and save you time. Have all your supplies with you and work your way out of the space.  Be sure to have someplace to deposit your cleaning materials and clean your hands when you finish. 

DON’T BRING IN MORE THAN YOU NEED This is straightforward.  The more you bring in, the more you’ll need to clean.  Since my classroom always had a lot of traffic, I got out of the habit early from bringing in much other than my lunch, car keys, and ID tag.  I kept my emergency meds on sight in case I needed them.

DON’T TAKE WORK HOME This is a hard one for teachers.  Don’t do it.  First, your job is stressful enough and you are ON a lot.  Your time off is for your family, your mental and physical restoration, or anything you want it for.  If there is grading or planning, allocate time for that before or after work.  I gave myself an extra hour each day to complete these tasks and I assigned tasks to certain days.  Check out the blog I did on this topic here managing-your-time-effectively or you can watch the video (back when I had time to make videos) here A2T Assigning Daily Tasks .

HANDWASHING We will all be doing a lot of this and soap can get expensive to replenish.  Maybe you will be blessed with parent donations or can order a large refill bottle with your supply money or get lead money to purchase.  Perhaps you will just purchase on your own.  If you are looking for a less expensive alternative, grab some inexpensive bar soap and your potato peeler from the kitchen drawer.  Scrapings will be all they need for single use washing and can be tossed if any is left, eliminating a soap dispenser to clean.  For storage and distribution, get a small set of tongs to grab a piece from the container and avoid reaching in.

I hope some of these ideas have helped or inspired you.  I’d love to hear any of your ideas, tips and tricks that work well so I can share them with others!  If you are looking for other ideas, I blogged about this at the start of the epidemic in March, so have a lot more classroom specific tips at maintaining-a-healthy-learning-environment

For other ideas, tips and tricks for your classroom, check out my blog at www.addictedtoteaching.com or check out past YouTube videos by finding me at Sonya Barnes – Addicted to Teaching

Building a Plan B into Your Lessons

It happens, all too often.  We spend hours sorting out all the fine details to make a lesson perfect and something goes wrong, and we don’t have time to compensate for it.  Technology fails or ends up unavailable.  None of the copiers are working.  We must double down on students since our buddy teacher had to leave for an emergency.  Half the class is out for a field trip or with the stomach bug that is going around.  A student ends up in ISS/OSS and need their work provided.  A student with a long-term absence due to medical issues or a family emergency but needs to be able to keep up with schoolwork. A global pandemic impacting education and forcing us to adapt to some students learning in brick and mortar while some will be in e-learning situations, and we may be responsible for teaching both. These things can completely throw off our lessons and leave us with a potential lost day of learning for our students.  But learning doesn’t have to be derailed if we take just a bit of extra time to think outside of the box and plan ahead.  Here’s a few ideas to do this.

EMBEDDED TECH ELEMENTS Building in elements into our lessons that are digital work product or completion can be a great way to prepare for alternative scenarios.  We also often use videos from YouTube and other resources to help our students, so having these embedded into a PowerPoint or Google Slides Show can be a great way to have them available for whole class, small group, independent, or distant learning needs. 

STUDENT CREATED WORK PRODUCTS Allowing students to create their own work product can be a great time saver and adaptive method.  Whether it is answering on their own paper, creating a digital product online and submitting digitally, or using resources on hand, like recyclable materials to construct something then take photos or videos with a smart phone and submit.  But some assignments need more guided structure that must be teacher created.  We often create our own resources or have digital items that were shared or acquired digitally, especially these days. If you are like me, you will make many of your consumables customized to the theme of the unit.  Some teachers may have those ‘copies of copies’ resources that have been around and are a good go to, so it may be a good idea to spend some time recreating them as a digital version.  With that said, many items we already use are digital already.  Turning them into a document that can be shared or into another digital tool such as a google form to respond to can help you check for understanding of learning goals. Taking a survey of our students at the beginning of the term can let us know how many prefer tech, how many prefer paper/pencil, or how many are fin either way.  This can help you prepare effectively for those copies you may have to have on hand.

PRERECORDED LESSONS This is a favorite go to of mine I didn’t discover until many years into my teaching career.  Did you know that PowerPoint has a recording feature built into it?  You can run the PowerPoint, record your lesson, and just press play when the class is ready to begin.  For students that are out, you can share it and they won’t miss a thing from the day—I would incorporate a ticket out the door for students to complete to ensure they were on task, whether it was done in the classroom or out of class as make up.  This can be a huge time saver for teaching new skills and ensuring consistency, and having it available for student access after the lesson can be a huge help for those that may not get it the first time—you can post it online with a time note shortcut list for them to find sections they may need to get to quickly if they don’t need the entire lesson.  It can also free you up to circulate the classroom to help those struggling with notetaking strategies or the concept itself, or to keep easily distracted students on task.

LEARNING MENUS Sometimes we have concepts or tasks that can be completed in a variety of ways or various orders.  By giving our students a “menu” to choose from will allow them to have control of their activities, but it can also make it possible to move the week around, should something come up.  This can be done with a menu of learning activities that have a weekly checklist with time allowances in different categories—appetizers (hook activities), side dishes (extension activities for those that learn differently or think outside of the box), the main course (could be one or two things to choose from) and dessert (a way to demonstrate mastery of the concept with a few ideas you give them, or creative control, depending on age or skill level of your students).  This can also allow them to choose learning partners, groups, or independent work, depending on their preference.  If you use this option, I would be sure to make it clear to students that this may not always be an option, but if they handle it well, it could be used often.  This often encourages self-governing to stay on task and behave since students often like control and this can eliminate power struggles within the classroom.

ROTATIONS/CENTERS This is often a go to of mine.  It can work in conjunction with learning menus, as a step building towards them, or as they are.  Most learning maps have students learning several concepts at one time, but it can be challenging to acquire, practice or demonstrate mastery of them individually.  By creating rotations/centers, it will allow for specialized practice, explicit teaching, or support for struggling learners and advanced learners to expand their knowledge.  What I like about this is that I could allow my advanced students to rotate in small groups throughout the week, but could easily become a whole group or independent learning concept if our calendar changed or the class needed adjusted for management in the case of struggling learners or behavioral management issues.

By incorporating these into my lesson plans, I am already ready for the unexpected.  Often, these could result in my being over planned and having additional materials ready to go for future lessons, the following week, review activities or concept assessments, or even emergency plans for myself or for a buddy teacher’s emergency absence.  If I have learned nothing else in my thirteen years of teaching, it’s that things will rarely go according to plan, and are even more likely to fall apart if I planned it as my only option.