It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

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

August 4, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

KISS Strategies–Keeping It Super Simple Strategies

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

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

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

But I digress…

Setting Boundaries

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

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

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

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

Teaching Is Hard

July 22, 2021

You know the saying “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”? I heard someone say it recently and it got me thinking. And I personally think it’s not entirely true. But, then again, I don’t buy into the YOLO mindset either because, why would we do anything that wasn’t easy?

But I digress. I think that doing something you love actually means you will work harder than you ever did in a job you weren’t passionate about. And that is good. I loved DeeJaying at the skating rink in high school, but that meant we had the job of cleaning the bathrooms…used by little kids on wheels. I didn’t love that job, but I still did it well because who wants to do a hard job twice?

Teaching gets a bad rap, and mostly from people that don’t do the job or weren’t cut out for the job. No shame to either of those categories–things always look different through different perspectives and, until you’ve experienced it, you really don’t know. And if you had a negative experience, it can cloud perspectives, too.

Teaching is hard. And it doesn’t matter what you teach, this statement can apply to teaching in any field, not just in an academic classroom. You have a short amount of time to complete a bunch of items on a checklist required by various government agencies and departments in the district that want bell to bell teaching with tiered lesson plans that calculate precise and engaging learning for every student in your class, and for every minute of every day–and in writing. You have limited resources, materials, time–and in some subjects limited attention span from the students. And I can’t blame them–I am not good at some skills and I don’t work in those fields on purpose. Yet, in education, the lack of engagement reflects on teachers. And their job, their life, their family, depends on whether or not they can engage the student in the activity and make it stick long enough to pass a standardized test or licensing certification.

Then, there’s meetings, and paperwork, and duties, and committees…which usually mean work goes home with you. And, in a job that is never done, that can result in lost personal and family time and working 7 days a week if you don’t put boundaries in place. Of course, even when you do, you may endure public criticism or lack of promotion/high ratings.

And we all know teacher pay is not comparable to other occupations with similar requirements of degrees, certifications and experience.

But, from another perspective….

The challenge, while tall, can be so rewarding when you see that student get it and then light up, or better yet, share with someone else and help them. When you help that overwhelmed fellow teacher and cover their duty so they can catch up on grading or parent calls or tutoring that they are behind on. When you help out school leadership and join or lead a committee at school. When you take on a spot to coach a team in a sport you’ve never played, but you being there means that they get to play that year instead of not having a team. When you call a parent of a student you’ve called a hundred times for problems to brag about something they did well at that day and hear their pride (if they actually still answer your call). When you stay after school and help the school secretary copy and count out flyers to go in teacher’s mailboxes that need to go out tomorrow and dozen things went wrong so it’s getting done last minute and their duty day ended an hour ago, too. When you take the time to have students pick up trash, or stack chairs on desks, or you do sanitize your classroom, making it easier for that stretched too thin janitor to come in and quickly tend to your room before moving on to the next one, and the next school they have to clean during their short shift due to budget cuts. The rewards are endless and have lasting impacts on both us and them.

Teaching requires passion, but it also requires compassion.

Every person, at every level of education plays an important role in making it happen effectively.

I’ve heard the saying about how we should treat the CEO and the janitor with the same respect. I wholeheartedly believe this, and especially in education.

I’ve heard that we should never quit teaching on a bad year, but should come back for another one and try to do better. Then, if it still isn’t a good fit, at least you move on knowing you tried your best.

Most educators that chose to make this a career have bad days, too. But, after a bad day that left them screaming, crying, cursing, ready to quit–they talked to a co-teacher, a coach, an administrator, a mentor, and honed in on what went wrong, planned a new approach, and got back up the next day and tried again to get it right.

We have all had days where it wasn’t clicking, for whatever reason. The students were distracted by a holiday or a world event. You just weren’t feeling that lesson for whatever reason. The students weren’t connecting. You weren’t connecting. The students managed to sidetrack you with a million questions and the bell rang before you ever even got to the lesson (a life goal for many a middle school student). And we tried again the next day. We acknowledged that we weren’t connecting. We tried a new approach. We didn’t give up.

We’ve all had those days where we questioned ourselves. Did I do enough? Did I talk too much? Too little? Did I allow enough practice? Did I assign too much work or homework? Did they connect? Did I teach them all they need to know? Should I have done X instead of Y? What could I have done differently to get this student to engage or that student to understand and not leave frustrated?

Because, while we need to teach our content to our student, we are entrusted with teaching so much more. Kindness. Perseverance. Follow through. Keeping your word. Helping or serving others. Integrity. An open mind. Trustworthiness. An unbiased perspective. Respect.

And we do this with aching feet, sore backs, empty bellies and overflowing bladders through side effects of chronic dehydration. Because it’s our passion. Because we love what we do and want to pass on a love for the subject, the skill, the career field. And because we have compassion for each individual person that crosses our path.

Teaching is hard. And it isn’t for everyone. But, if it is for you, go do your best every day. And, if it’s a bad day, that’s okay, too. Keep getting up and trying again. Showing up matters. Yes, the world needs you, but so does that student that sits in the back, acting like they don’t want to be there, even though you are the only reason they came to school today. Or the student that is hungry that knows, if they give a correct answer and are paying attention, they will get a piece of candy to take home and have something to eat later when the hunger pains are too much. Or the student that waits until last to come into your room so they can get a few extra seconds to talk to you and a hug since that is the only kindness they will get in their day.

And just when we think we’ve got it down at the end of a great year, the curriculum changes, we get new resources, we are moved to a new school/grade/subject, the dynamic or achievement level of the new students is different from the last group. So those lessons we spent hours on and thought we’d be able to use again and again–it’s back to the drawing board.

But don’t let this distract you from your calling. The student is our entire reason for being here. Planting a seed and ensuring it will grow–whether it’s in our classroom or years later on their journey–is what we do.

You are amazing.

You are a teacher.

You are changing the world.

And if you are a brand new teacher, welcome. Don’t give up too quickly. We’ve all been there and are here to help you succeed.

Be sure to like this post, share with fellow educators, post comments, and subscribe to my blog for future posts to be sent to your inbox. Want to join the community or personally connect? Find me on Twitter at @AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook at Addicted to Teaching.

Wrapping Up the School Year From Home – Tips for Distance Learners

May 27, 2021

It won’t take long, but this quick checklist can save you time later!

It has been a long and crazy school year, whether you have been at home or on a campus. For those of you that have been students at home, I thought it might be helpful to share some Teacher Tips to help you wrap things up for next year, whether you will still be working from home or plan to return to campus.  Taking these steps will help you start next year off successfully!

CLEAR MATERIALS Whether you purchased, printed, borrowed, or created your materials, chances are that you have LOTS of things collected from the year.  Start by pulling out all materials and sorting through them. What needs returned? What needs submitted? What needs retained for records? What can go? Can any of it be sold, recycled, or passed on? Making these decisions makes the next step of clearing them a breeze. Recycle or trash anything you don’t need.  Post any items for sale or donation on your local community board or drop at a local donation spot.  Anything that needs returned or submitted can be taken in one trip.  Finally, anything you need to retain can be put into a file folder or binder and marked for the school year. This would also be a great time to deep clean the space since it won’t be in constant use.

INVENTORY SUPPLIES Unless you graduated, you will need some school supplies next year, whether schooling at home or back on campus.  Take inventory of what you have and make yourself a shopping list now to pin to your fridge or bulletin board.  Then, you can shop sales all summer or be ready for the back-to-school shopping before school starts.

TRANSITION WORKSTATION Unless you will be doing some sort of summer learning program at home or online, chances are you won’t need to keep the workstation set up all summer.  Use this time to store away anything that won’t be needed (clean it first, you’ll thank me!) and set up the space for gaming, online lessons, or crafting this summer. Repurposing the space will keep from wasting valuable real estate in your home and allow you to truly relax this summer. Plus, if it’s a shared workspace with someone else still working, it will be a help to them.  This is also a great time to talk about how the space will be used next school year and plan for any changes that may need made so you can begin planning or save up for them now.

TRANSCRIPTS Depending on what type of home school choice you made, it may be your responsibility to collect those transcripts and submit that documentation to your local home school/distance learning office yourself.  This is the time to take care of it and you don’t want to be surprised when you go to start the next grade that there is no record of completing this one. 

PLANS FOR NEXT SCHOOL YEAR Whether you are returning to campus, remaining distance learning, or transferring to another school, whether by promotion or change in venue, be sure all parties are aware and planning for it.  Talk to your student about the plans so they can be aware, or even part of the decision, and prepare for it now.  Talk to the school and be sure they know your intentions. If you are leaving one location for another, they will need to get records sent over and waiting until the start can delay entry or be a very long wait. If you are returning to on campus, you will want to make sure they have a seat for you and your records to start smoothly and be prepared.

I know you are just ready for summer to start so you can relax and have one less BIG thing to worry about but taking an extra day or two now to get these things resolved will make it a much more restful summer!  Enjoy that break, you deserve it!

Don’t forget to pass this on to others that it may help!  You can also support me by going to the blog page and clicking the STAR button to like it or subscribe to my blog, so the latest post gets sent to your inbox every week.  Join the conversation in the community on Twitter at AddictedtoTeac1 or on Facebook in the GROUP Addicted to Teaching.

Setting Up for Success – Plan a Weekly Date with Yourself

May 21, 2021

When it comes to getting things done, I have found there are 2 camps of people—the Procrastinator and the Prepper – although some people can fall somewhere in the middle.  Most of the time, I am somewhere in the middle. I will prep to an extent, but then fly by the seat of my pants and am in it for the adventure.  Work is something different for me, though, especially with teaching, and especially as a virtual teacher where I am pretty much in control of my schedule.

I have a variety of life experiences and many different types of supervisors that have helped me learn how to manage my time effectively, from making a list of 6 things to do each day, to making sure I have something to do at all times, even if the job isn’t busy.  In short, I adopted the work smarter, not harder mentality of working.

With those ideas in mind and struggling my first semester, I learned to set up a weekly date with myself to plan out my week.  I tried several different methods and days to accomplish this and have gone through so many types of planners. I have finally streamlined my process and have used it all school year and have found it to be easy to use, quick and not a dreaded task each week.

I chose to have my weekly date on Friday mornings and spend 30 minutes completing this task.  I sit down with my Outlook Calendar that is part of my work email, which saves me money and time since this is where my meetings and appointment calls are already plugged in—more about how to print that later.  First, I review my week so far and see what I still need to accomplish that day. If there’s anything I can’t fit in that isn’t time sensitive, I just move it to the next week. Then, I start planning the week.  I find it helps to create recurring tasks that I know I have every week to do—grading, email, reports, even my workouts and lunch time is plugged in since I will work straight through!  I start with fixed time things like appointments from my personal calendar, times I meet with my students and classes, training sessions, meetings, etc.  Next, I adjust any recurring tasks that may overlap or are flexible. Then, I look for gaps since some days are slower than others and can plug in projects or personal development tasks, I have on a backburner that I want to tackle. I do have blocks of time each week just for personal development and projects so I can continuously focus on refining my craft.  Finally, I set work hours for each day and put them in the calendar, too. My hours vary from day to day since I have some early schools, late parent calls, my schools are on block schedules, so the time of classes changes every other day, so I flex my time.

a screenshot of what the printout will look like

Now, I am ready to print my schedule since I like to have a checklist.  I simply choose the print option for my Outlook Calendar (Ctrl + P is the fastest way) and choose the weekly agenda style. Once printed, I like to highlight the day and hours I am working, then highlight the fixed appointments I can’t miss.  I also white out the weekend days to create a notes section so as I think of tasks for next week or future project/personal development ideas, I can jot them down and address them on Friday and avoid getting lost in distraction.

The benefits of having this weekly date with yourself is helping to find a balance of your work and personal life.  I do NOT work weekends and rarely work more than my 8-hour day unless I choose to.  Plus, I only have to think about it one time, then it’s just checking things off or adding in scheduled calls to a block I already have set aside.  This means I have less distractions and more time on task during my week, plus I can anticipate any gaps or conflicts by merging my work and personal calendars.  Since I am not a morning person, this helps me start my day on task and organized, and I can eat that frog right away!  (Not familiar with the Eat the Frog concept?  Check out the blog post from last year here.)

A couple of other things I do along with this include filing that calendar page away in a folder just in case I ever have to show my work hours and tasks. Also, I reset my workspace daily by clearing my desk, and twice per week I clean my office and keep it decluttered since a busy day can make a huge mess!

In reflection, which of these practices do you already use?  Which could you see yourself using?  Do you still have questions or need more help? No problem!  Comment below or find me on Twitter @AddictedtoTeac1 and in Facebook I have a group called Addicted to Teaching. I’d love to chat more and help you out!

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Tracking Like a STAR – How to Maximize Your Evaluation

March 12, 2021

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.

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.

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.

Using Your Break to Better Yourself

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                       June 13, 2019

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.

I use this in the camper with a dry erase marker to keep it super simple. One of these days, I will do it for the main house.

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.

Nap time is a summer favorite, especially during those afternoon storms Florida gets

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.

Hoping to get 5 more states filled in this summer, then we can start working our way out West.

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 nearby.

The beach is our happy place

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!

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