Evaluations are a dreaded part of being a teacher. We teach all day for 180 days a year but have only a handful of observations to catch us in action. Some teachers just teach like a regular day, some prepare and ensure they hit every mark, some fall somewhere in the middle and make the effort to hit those marks, but don’t do too much out of the ordinary. It’s the best we can do for Domains 1-3. But what about Domain 4?
Domain 4 is about our teaching practices and what we do that goes beyond basic planning, teaching, grading, and communicating. It’s the one where we can get recognized for the things, we see that need done beyond the minimum and we do them. I know very veteran teachers that don’t do this. But are you doing everything you can to get recognized for them? Have you ever been close to the next level but couldn’t think of or prove something to get that bump? I have and it sucks. I was .001 away from a Highly Effective rating one year, a year I didn’t track so my “what I did” email was brief. And their email is usually very casual, so we don’t even think of it being something of such value to us. But it is!
When I was working on my master’s degree, we were required to do projects and track them and their outcome. It was daunting work, but in doing them, I realized I kept better records and had that data at the end of the year to share with my supervisor and increased the outcome of my evaluation because I had evidence of being a highly effective teacher. At that point I decided it was worth continuing every year.
I knew it couldn’t be too complex or I’d never do it. But I needed something beyond my post it notes collection of tracking. I created a simple tracking sheet and included updating it into my weekly routine. I stuck with the STAR acronym since it made sense. It stands for Situation/Task—what I noticed or identified; Actions—what I took to improve the situation; Results—the outcome of my actions. It is clear and concise and captures all aspects of the process, plus it’s easy to share with my evaluating supervisor. Here’s an example of an entry I did about starting this process and sharing with others:
So, with end of year evaluations coming up, take the time now to gather your notes and think about what you have done and fill one in for this year. Here’s the link to a blank STAR tracking form I created to share. Be sure to create a new copy and save the blank one to reuse each year and don’t forget to calendar appointment yourself to update it as well as shortcut it for easy to find access!
I know some of you may be reluctant to put in the effort because some evaluating supervisors don’t like to give out Highly Effective ratings. Many don’t because they don’t want to have to answer for a high number of them. I don’t get that argument. I would want to show off my amazing teachers, be an example for the education system, and show our stakeholders that we are doing amazing things. And with the documentation provided in this method, it can back up administrators in giving those evaluations out and perhaps change the Education System mindset from expecting a bell curve to recognizing greatness and rewarding it. In the business world, when a location has high performing employees, they become a model for what should be done—let’s do that with education.
So, keep being amazing. Keep making things better for teachers, students, parents, schools, communities. Then be sure you are writing it down to share and get credit for all you do. You are worth it!
Note: If this is something you are interested in sharing with your team or school, contact me to schedule a Zoom meeting or I can record my training and share with you.
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!
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.
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.
What is it that we crave about summer? We count down the days as we race towards it
at breakneck speeds—longing for its arrival—but why? Is it the chance to slow down? Is it temporarily doing away with agendas,
alarm clocks, meetings and parent communications? Is it traveling or getting
quality time with family that we don’t see during our hectic school
routines? It may be some or all of
these, depending on you. For me, it is
not only these things, but also the chance to sit back and analyze how I did
things, what worked and what didn’t work, as well as trying on new habits and
seeing how I can make them fit in my life.
Routines are an important thing to me, and not just because
I am OCD (CDO my husband likes to say since I have a habit of alphabetizing
things (don’t get me started on my love of my label maker), but also because I
have learned that routines make for consistency and efficiency, two key
elements for success. This past school
year has been a challenge. We moved into a new house to make room for my mother,
my oldest son finished his Associate’s degree and started at a new college for
his Bachelor’s, my husband changed jobs after dreaming about it for two years,
and I was committed to a training program for the duration of the school year
that came to a conclusion about the time my mom became fully retired. Whew! I was exhausted. The routines we had had in place since my
husband had joined the ranks of the teaching world 4 years before (which were
pretty consistent from when he ran his own business before) were suddenly
thrown for a loop only a couple of months into the school year when he decided
to leave education and go into business for himself again. We did our best to adjust, but by the time
the school year ended on the same day that my mom became a full retiree, we
still hadn’t adapted.
I am also a huge travel bug.
I often jokingly say that I work to support my travel habit, which is
not too far from the truth. I have
downsized possessions dramatically over the last few years into a more minimalist
lifestyle as well as paid off most of our bills, so a good portion of our
budget was for now and later fun money (vacations, entertainment and
retirement). With the job change, that
changed for us quite a bit, so we’ve also had to adjust and, luckily, had room
in the budget. But we still plan to work
in a few trips this summer. Truth be
told, I am writing this in the kitchen of one of our family members we are
visiting as we are doing a loop to see them and check off a few more states
from our bucket list.
Every educator does different things with their down
time. For me, I spend it reconnecting
with family, both near and far, refreshing my home with a variety of projects
and trying out new routines that I can establish at a slower pace and maintain
when I go “back to work” in August—although I, like most, will work during the
summer attending trainings, reviewing my practices and material from the past
year, analyzing test data when it drops, and creating/adapting new things for
next year based my end of year student surveys and data about the upcoming
students given to me by the prior grades teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I also
get out and enjoy the longer days and extra family time by taking advantage of
some of the discounted or free activities available in our local area like
weekly movies, zoos, aquariums or theme parks—if you are lucky enough to live
close to any of those.
Our family will have to establish some new routines with all
our lives changing in the last few months, so there are things we can do over
the next 6-8 weeks to help us out during the school year.
Meal Planning and Preparation. We will try out new
recipes and get back into meal prepping and menu planning, as well as
simplifying our meals. We got in the
awful habit of eating out or eating prepackaged/easy meals for the last month
and that did not help us handle the crazy routines that the end of year brings. We have tried all of the prepping ideas for
meals and have actually found the simplest for us is stocking up on family
packages of meats and freezing into portions (we cut into bites when cooked to
cut down on overeating) and we keep fruits and veggies on hand to accompany
them. We can go from freezer to table
(or lap on the back porch) in 45 minutes, even on a busy day, and feed our
family of 5 for well under $20 for the meal.
Going out is actually an inconvenience for us.
Home projects. There is always maintenance to be done as a homeowner, so we will take care of those, as well as cleaning out closets and cabinets to purge forgotten possessions and reorganize them. We have found that having less stuff helps us clean faster and we have less to clean, which means more time for life. I stumbled over minimalism a few years ago while looking for solutions since I am a terrible allergy sufferer and we have loved the simpler lifestyle. But those old habits of a lifetime to take a while to break, so refreshing the home and reviewing the books I have help quite a bit. Not familiar with minimalism, or not sure how it could possibly fit for you? Check out the author Joshua Becker and his realistic family approach that works for us at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/.
Planning for the next school year. I know, you don’t want to think about it, and
I don’t either. But I don’t like a crazy
start to a new year, so I do a few things early in summer to help. When we are cleaning out those closets and
cabinets, I purge any clothing items that don’t fit or need repair or replaced
so that I can get those ordered, fixed, purchased or budget for them. My son’s school has a uniform, so we will
pass on any items that someone else can use and get his items ordered early so
that we can pick them up at orientation.
I also start shopping school and art supplies, prepackaged snacks,
cleaning supplies, and anything else that could help around the house or
classroom or could be donated to his classroom teacher. Those BOGO sales run all summer, so taking
advantage now helps me out a lot later in the year.
New routines and habits. My daily reading, devotions,
exercise and cleaning routines all slacked off in the last couple of
months. I take the time to figure out
why, shuffle my day around and put into practice my routines during the summer. I can go at a slower pace while I make them a
habit and then a few weeks before going back to work, I can time how long it
takes me to do all the things, allowing me to adjust my wake-up times and bed
times to accommodate. I do the same for
my little one so that we can reestablish his routines before going back, as
well. I also look at how well we have done with chores and will adjust our
chore charts, laundry rotations and shopping days. With so many changes this year, many of our
routines never got followed or were tweaked during the year, so a family
meeting over a delicious and relaxing meal gives everyone a chance to chime in
on what works and doesn’t work so that we can adjust. It sounds like a silly thing, but no one
fights over the washing machine, yells about a stack of dishes, or complains
about an empty cabinet when we work together.
Travel and quality family time. We usually plan a
couple of trips in the summer in addition to celebrating birthdays for several
family members. We usually plan a big
family trip and a smaller get away nearby, and sometimes these double as a
birthday celebration. With the change in
jobs, we sold our camper and have less time to go on adventures. This year, we are fitting in an early summer
trip to see family and check off more states (with any luck, by the time you
are reading this, I will have checked off state number 50 for me, and number 30
for my soon to be 8 year old). We are
also working in a couple of other trips, but they will be business related for
my husband. When we are at home, we
capitalize on the summer movies at the local theater and the passes to parks
Rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. This is probably
the most important one I do with the slower pace. I love to sit on the porch in the early
morning, before the Florida humidity chases us all into hiding until sundown
like in those apocalyptic movies. While I am out there with my tea, or a book,
I will take the time to connect with each sense—what do I see, hear, smell,
taste, feel—and it really helps me connect with the world around me and helps
me stay clear and focused during the day.
I also try to get in for a massage, a new exercise program I heard about
from a friend, as well as taking care of as many doctor’s appointments as I can
so as not to interfere with the school year.
So, what kind of things do you do over your break? Are you a Netflix and chill in your jammies
all day, every day while capitalizing on Uber Eats and grocery delivery
services? Are you like me and try to
accomplish a lot? Or are you somewhere
in the middle?
If you are not a teacher, or get only a week or so off, you
can work in some these ideas to your own schedule, even with only a week or two
off. Choosing only one or two things to
start with this break can still make a difference and you just work on other
things on future breaks. It may not
sound like how you want to spend your break, but if the way you were doing
things wasn’t working or making life run smoothly, then you owe it to yourself
and those around you to try new approaches to making your life easier. You just need to take that first step. Happy summer!
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
OK, Tuesday, time to get focused and work!
It’s Wednesday/hump day!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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