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

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

By Sonya Barnes 4/4/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No frogs were harmed in the making of this blog.

Simplify your E-learning Classroom Experience

Sonya Barnes                     3/26/2020

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

Zoom link to e-learning using Google tools

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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Summer Learning

Engaging Children in Summer Learning Is Easier Than You Think

Sonya Barnes July 11, 2019†

Spending some time reviewing skills on one of our many road trips

I know people on both sides of the fence of summer learning—those that think kids need a total break from learning and those that believe they must stay proficient or they will slide.  I’ve thought long and hard on this topic, even lost sleep, both as a parent and as a teacher.  Is summer learning necessary?  Shouldn’t they be allowed to enjoy their freedom and have unstructured time to play and live life? Is the learning loss as high as they say it is? Won’t they just pick it up when we review or start building on the skill when we get to it during the school year. It’s stressful and confusing and both parents and teachers worry about making the wrong choice about it.

Playing in a learning lab in the Children’s Museum we found in Baton Rouge, LA

For the longest time, I didn’t think it necessary, until I realized a few things from both research and personal observations and conversations.  First, summers aren’t spent the same way for everyone, or the way that many of us did because life is not the same as it was for many of us coming up.  We are busier, people don’t spend as much time in person together, not all families have time to do family things, and some kids don’t have to worry about helping with as much around the house as others do.  I concluded that, if schools are responsible for teaching things like health, drug and alcohol, and internet safety because they need more than what they are getting at home.  Kids today are learning academic skills in larger chunks and at faster rates because there is so much more to know and, in the opinion of some researchers, they are learning these things before they are developmentally ready to learn them. The way many kids and teens spend their summers these days is with little to no application of academic skills to maintain proficiency. A small percentage of kids in the area I live take any kind of summer vacation beyond a weekend away at the beach, if they are lucky.  When I thought about all these things and the struggles I saw during the first few weeks back, it made me realize there was a need.

I have two children that are thirteen years apart. My oldest did summer learning workbooks I found at learning stores and eventually online.  He hated it, but we made sure we found ones that required less than 30 minutes of his attention a day.  As he got older, he complained about going back and doing review work because it was so easy, and he didn’t get why other kids didn’t know what to do.  When he transitioned to high school, we no longer did them since they were only printed through 8th grade, and he noticed more of a lag when he returned.  At that point, he saw the value of them and how much they truly helped him over the years.  When our youngest was finishing his first year of school, our oldest told me to make sure we did summer learning with him to keep him current.  When a teenager tells you that there is value in it, you know that means something.

Our go to summer learning book is one I found on Amazon called Summer Bridge Learning and it is my favorite of all the ones we have looked at and tried over the years. It has two activities to do each day, working in practice on math, reading, spelling, grammar, science and social studies.  It also has fitness activities as well as projects and experiments to do. There is a progress chart and stickers to help them see their progress. Since the work is simply reviewing the prior year, there is very little struggle on the work and often only needs a bit of refresher on something he may have gotten wrong. We no longer need the stickers because he has learned  that the daily work must be done to earn technology time.  When motivation was a challenge, we may tie a weekly incentive of ice cream for doing the week of work and a play day or picnic at the park for finishing a section.  If you are interested in the summer bridge books, use this link to find the one for your child’s grade level, plus you’ll be helping me out by using my Amazon Affiliate program. Amazon Summer Learning Books

Our school sends home district assembled summer learning packets that have incentives tied to them when they return, and this is a great motivator for some to work on it, although I have heard some kids say they did it all at the beginning, the end or had an older sibling do it for them so that they can get the prize, which defeats the purpose.  I know these learning guides won’t be a good fit for all kids.  But they need something.

If completing summer workbooks or packets is not your idea of summer, let me share a few tips we have learned over the years to engage kids  with the core skills that can keep their brains active that may not even seem like they are learning or reviewing their skills.  The key thing is to ensure that kids are learning how skills work together and practicing retaining the knowledge gained.

Learning how to set up and break camp. He can just about do it without us now.
After helping set up the tent, he’s helping dad cook over the campfire
  • Weekly trips to the library are a cheap and easy way to solve many issues.  It is an outing, something new, lots to choose from for free, and many libraries have movie or activity days during the week to plan around.
  • Local movie theaters and bowling alleys often offer summer activities on a budget for families.
  • Children’s museums and interactive parks, playgrounds and theme parks are in many locations and could be closer than you think if you are near a major city. Here’s a link to find one https://findachildrensmuseum.org/
  • Completing puzzles, whether technology-based, book or box style, can be good.  Things like cross words, seek and finds, or Sudoku can help keep the brain active. 
  • Being responsible for planning and prepping a meal and a dessert each week can help with their reading, math and problem-solving skills, and they can learn a bit of meal planning and finance skills, as well. 
  • If your family takes a trip during the summer, have them measure and calculate distances or speeds between points based on the time it takes, find local activities to do there and the cost involved.  If you have more than one kid and they are older, making it a competition to see who can plan the best itinerary for the day and include food stops, and for the best price, could be a way to make it engaging.
  • Involving them in back to school shopping and calculating the costs and what their needs are can help, as well. 
  • If you have younger kids, they can make flash cards of words they struggle with in the books they read. 
  • If there is something they are good at, set up your phone or camera to record them making a tutorial video for how to do it and maybe you can share it with a friend or family member.
  • If they love movies or streaming services or playing on devices, have them calculate how much time they spend on it and track the “distance” on a map driving at a certain speed to see how far they could have traveled in that same amount of time. 
  • Hobbies are another great way to engage them. This could be playing sports, mechanical work or even geocaching, a favorite past time of ours.
  • Finally, I suggest having them take on additional chores and responsibilities, especially if they are older or are home all day. This shows the acknowledgement of their promotion and increased responsibility and will engage their brains in doing something that contributes to the family.
Geocaching with dad

I cannot tell you how important it is to find a way to keep their brains actively engaged to avoid that summer slump, slide, or whatever you want to call it.  Everyone is different and will have different levels of need over the summer, just like they do during the school year. The most important thing is to find what works the best, not what works the easiest.  It is hard to awaken them when they return to school, especially if they slept all day and did nothing but vegetate when they were awake.  On that note, start working on that routine of getting up early and going to bed at a reasonable hour a couple of weeks out.  This can also be a challenge and make more of an issue with behavior both at school and at home at the beginning due to being tired or hungry at non-traditional mealtimes. 

I’d love for you to comment below with your thoughts on the topic as well as other suggestions for keeping those brains engaged all summer.

Riding the Momentum Wave – Keeping Consistency Every Day

Sonya Barnes June 3, 2019

Caught in a “focused” moment

Some days I think I am a unicorn.  No, not the mythical horse with a horn sprouting from its head, but a rare and possibly mythical person in society, for sure.  I am that person that does my best to be consistent in effort and expectation each and every workday, not just for me, but also for the people around me.  And, from what I have seen, heard and observed throughout my working years, I am an anomaly. 

You know what I am talking about.

It’s Monday, I have a weekend hangover. I can’t today today.

OK, Tuesday, time to get focused and work!

It’s Wednesday/hump day! 

Thursday!  It’s Friday Eve, the weekend can’t get here soon enough!

Fri-YAY!  It’s the weekend, what are your plans?

And right before or after a holiday, it seems to be magnified.

Students stay focused when we stay focused.

In Education, we see similar behaviors throughout the school year—and I’m not even talking about the kids.  The first week back we are dragging after having more flexibility in our summer schedule as well as the dreaded list of things to do we set for ourselves, along with the list from the school, then pulling long days to get ready in time for the first day.  The first week of kids can be tough trying to cover all the things and be rock solid and execute those overly ambitious ideas we’ve had for years and THIS IS THE YEAR IT WILL HAPPEN, especially when they are still shifting from summer mode.  Then, we get to our first holiday (for my district, its about 2-3 weeks into the school year) and the day before or after there’s a shift into easy mode.  This can also happen on Early Release days, something we have in our district, that has become such a widespread “down” day, that many kids don’t even bother to come to school.  With several holiday breaks and early release days throughout the year, the cycle perpetuates.  By the time we get to the last few weeks of the school year, we may be feeling that burn out–policies and rules aren’t being upheld consistently across the school, or at all, and there can be a total breakdown with students that think they don’t have to do things we’ve expected them to do all year.  Yet, ironically, this is also the time of year that many teachers and leaders begin talking about the policies and procedures they are going to start with at the beginning of the year.

People, people, people.  First, let’s talk about the kids.  They need consistency at school all the time because many of them don’t have it at home.  Not to mention that we should just set a good example of work ethics.  They are in their formative years and we help define what that really means by expectation and example.  Next—and this is a big one for me—it may be their last day of school, but it’s probably not yours.  The world isn’t ending and you are probably not retiring, so why would you risk your career, all of your hard work throughout the year, or worse, the perception of your work ethic as teachers are being considered for new positions or eliminated positions. 

Consistency is better.

They need you to be consistent.  You need you to be consistent for your own peace of mind.  I won’t bore you with tons of research points on how consistency is better for your health, career, etc., because you probably already know that you work better when you are consistent and have a rhythm from following your routine.  At least, I know that I do and most of the people around me do, as well.

Stick to your routines. You’ll be glad you did.

So, make your daily routine lists, your weekly/monthly routine lists, plug those bad boys in your calendar or on a corner of your desk and  get it done.  You’ll be glad you did.  I promise, you will feel better sticking with a routine because it becomes automatic, which helps on those days you may not be piquing.  If you are truly dragging or having an off day, have a pal to boost you up or follow the “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra and act like you have got it together, at least in front of everyone. Your kids will be better with routine, which means you will do less behavior interventions, and you will be able to make those last days more meaningful.  And that will make your break more relaxing for you, as well. 

Make every day count for something by being the best version of you that you can be.

My first blog – ever

I have wanted to be a writer my entire life. I spent much of my youth writing short stories and poems that mainly saw either the inside of my drawer or the occasional teacher’s inbox for an assignment. I spent a good amount of my youth composing the letters of a family member that had something to say to the local paper on a regular basis but needed me to type and edit it for them. I briefly wrote movie reviews when a friend put me in contact with another friend. But those weren’t the dream. The dream was the novelist, but the realistic dream was the travel writer.

I still dream of being a travel writer and having my husband, the photographer that falls somewhere between professional and amateur, capture images that added visuals to my globetrotting tales. I dream of us living on the road full time and finding a way to pay for that journey while doing what we love. The dream is still there. But the reality of life has delayed it a bit.

By day, I am a teacher. I never planned on it. But my desire for family time and travel time combined with a love of reading and writing brought me to the classroom where I have stayed for the last twelve years, and will probably be for a while longer while I figure out how to do what I want to do when I “grow up” (for the record, I’m 40 and still don’t consider myself “grown up” except when I try to move first thing in the morning). But I love what I do. Sharing a passion for literature, poetry, fact and truth with tomorrow’s leaders. Helping teachers around me strengthen their craft, picking them up on tough days and leaning on them when I am having a tough day. It’s not an easy job and I have wanted to leave so many times, but I can’t yet.

I’ve had a YouTube channel for a couple of years where I have posted several videos about the classroom and balancing life. I’ve taken some time off to get life together as my husband changed jobs and we settled into being a multi-generational household.

But now is the time. Now is my time. I will be posting blogs to accompany videos I will be posting on YouTube. Most of it will relate to classroom content, but some of it will be life stuff since I believe we are more than what we do for a living. And, with any luck, there will be some travel stories, too.

This is me!

So welcome to the family and into my crazy life. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me as I grow as an educator, mentor, mother, wife, daughter, sister, writer, traveler, vlogger, blogger, and whatever else crosses my mind to try. I’d love to hear your story, your why, or what brought you to my page. We are all here for a reason, and it should be to strengthen each other.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Thanks for being here. Thanks for being you.

Sonya