“And the Award Goes To…” Using Testing Season as a Growth Mindset Life Lesson for Students

April 29, 2021

Testing season is upon us, and that can be stressful for both student and educator.  But do you know what other events are big this time of year? Award shows!  Several years ago, I noticed how bad my students’ test anxiety was getting and wanted to shift their mindset. While I was thinking about it one evening, a commercial for some awards show came on and it showed someone’s acceptance speech, talking about all the hardships they overcame, and it inspired me.  This could be a great lesson for my students!

I was a Reading/ELA teacher, so did have to work it to “fit the curriculum”, but it wasn’t too much work and the kids really enjoyed it.  Here’s how I broke it down for a lesson:

STEP ONE: Have the kids word splash in groups or on the front board 2 separate ideas—one, what they are nervous about with testing and two—test strategies and tips for doing well.  This lets them see that their fears and concerns are probably the same as others and get ideas from others about ways to deal with it.

STEP TWO: Have them work in small groups/collaborative pairs to think of what they can do to lessen the stress and be prepared to overcome those things. Streamlining the word splash to things that relate to them helps focus their ideas.

STEP THREE: Have them independently brainstorm where they started from in their skill sets throughout school and the year, personal challenges they’ve faced that may have made it challenging, what they as an individual think success will look like and how they will feel when they reach their goal.  And tell them to remember those shout outs to people that supported them (ahem—YOU!) Encourage them to set more than one goal to create multiple levels of success opportunities.

STEP FOUR:  Show some of the most inspirational, moving, and, of course, school and age appropriate, speeches you can find online, just in case some aren’t familiar with award shows or don’t recall how they are done.

STEP FIVE: Have them write an acceptance speech!  Then they can record a Flipgrid video to post to the class board for you to watch and reply to! (If you aren’t familiar with Flipgrid, research HERE to find out if it may be a good fit for you). If you don’t use Flipgrid, they can use their cell phones or class computer to record and send an MP4 file, or you can have a camera set up in a corner for recording. I would avoid having them present in front of the class since some can have some pretty personal fears and knowing others won’t know might make them more inclined to share if they won’t be judged. Be sure to tell them only YOU will see it, unless they choose to share. A bonus could be to have them do it dressed up at home, or with a podium or fancy background in the classroom to jazz it up!

Be sure you give feedback, thanking them for sharing and supporting their ideas to work through it. Encourage them to save the video and watch it the day before testing to reassure them.

I love this approach since it creates a growth mindset and allows them some self-reflection.  Have data, old assignments, test scores, etc., and their word splashes from brainstorming in step 1 handy to help guide them since some may not think that big or may not be very growth-minded and may need guidance.

Most importantly, tell them that it is okay if they fall short of their goals. Share with them times things didn’t work out for you. Share stories of others you know (teachers, friends, former students, or even famous people) without using names of experiences that didn’t turn out how they expected, but they went on to find success.

We, as educators, know that this is one day and may not show their best ability if it is an off day, but the stress of how high stakes these tests can be to our career and their future can distract us from what is the most important thing—that they show up, show what they have learned and give their best effort. Remind them of this often and you will be doing a huge favor for their future self!

Going Green in Your Classroom – Earth Day Inspired Ideas (I’ve used these!)

April 22, 2021

My favorite Earth Day meme I’ve been sharing for years on Social Media. No idea who gets photo credit, but they rock!

This week, we will celebrate Earth Day, an annual event started in 1970 to inspire people to clean up our planet and make conscientious decisions in our everyday life. We see community celebrations, clean ups and crafts dedicated to this, but how can you apply this mindset to your classroom’s everyday practices.  Here are some ideas that I have tried out or were inspired by others.

Recycling bins. I’d be missing an opportunity here if I didn’t remind you to recycle in your classroom. Many communities have recycling pick up and can get bins for your classrooms and do pick ups at your school.  This will take some habit reformation since many students may use it as a trash can, or may not know what goes in it, so be thoughtful about your student population as you use this. 

Recycling markers, mechanical pencils, pens, and highlighters. There are many places that offer this service for *FREE*. Crayola allows you to ship boxes of dried markers directly to them for recycling. It is currently halted due to Coronavirus but subscribe or check in regularly to the Crayola Colorcycle site for it resuming. Staples also offers this service, so check with your local store to see how they are collecting them right now.

Create New Crayons from Old Ones. This is such a fun activity to do and a great use for old crayons!  Of course, you can find recycling programs for crayons, like those for markers, but in classrooms that go through crayons quickly, it’s much more fun to make your own! Just remove wrappers, cut into small pieces, and drop them into a muffin tin and bake in the oven until melted. Let them cool completely then pop them out!  And it’s okay if you don’t have a lot of one color, blended colors make for interesting combinations.

Change your lighting. If you are lucky enough to have windows, why not open those blinds and use natural light?  Not all lessons need reading light and fluorescents can be harsh on the eyes and those bulbs are terrible in the landfill!  You can also opt for LED lamps strategically placed around your room, so they use less electricity and last longer.  Plus, they create a more comfortable atmosphere, making your students feel at home.

Unplug that Tech cart.  If you have a technology cart for laptops or iPads, don’t leave it plugged in all the time.  You can plug it in after they are used to recharge, then unplug it until they all need charged again.  Same for your desktop or work computers.  It can be helpful to use a power strip for these so you can just flip a switch or, check your cart—some have a switch to turn off the power to the cart for this very reason.

Neglect the copier. Do you really need to make a copy for everyone, or will a class set work?  Does it need to be a full sheet, or can you make it a half or quarter sheet and cut it? 

Alternatives to copies.  Maybe your activity doesn’t need a copy at all, and you can use chalk or dry erase—a large one in the classroom, or small personal ones.  Your local home improvement store has dry erase and chalk boards to purchase.  Some of them can cut them into the 25-30 boards you need, although some are getting away from it, so you may need to do this yourself or enlist the help of someone you know that has tools.  Not an option? No problem!  Get sheet protectors and plain paper and DIY a set for yourself!  The benefit of this method is that you can drop a marker and a scrap of cloth (recycle that t-shirt, towel, or leftover fabric!) and now it’s all set for use.

Simplified supplies. If you plan well, you can get buy with not needing a ton of supplies in your classroom by using recycled items that are collected or saved, or by reusing the same item in a variety of ways. This will not only stretch your supply budget since you can order in bulk, but it will cut down on how much you must store, clean and inventory—and pack at the end of every year!

Outdoor classroom. Whether your school has an outdoor seating area or not, taking the class outside can be great for them, and for shutting down your classroom. Do give your students a heads’ up so they can bring a towel, blanket, or folding chair, in case this is an issue for them. I loved doing journaling days outside since it cut down distractions and allowed them to separate from each other to think. They loved it so much, they asked for the option anytime it was an independent/partner workday, so many days my classroom was open to both.  Just be sure your administration knows your location and supports the idea with safety protocols.

Earth friendly cleaning. Many of us were routinely wiping down our classrooms pre-Covid, but now we do it even more.  While those bleach wipes can be convenient, they are terrible for landfills.  There are many plant-based cleaning products or DIY recipes all over the internet that you could find and keep in a spray bottle.  Then, just use old t-shirts, towels, or rags for cleaning and you can wash and reuse them. If you don’t have any, don’t buy new—go to your local secondhand store and repurpose towels, rags, or t-shirts from there!

There are plenty of other things you can do, such as starting a garden or compost pile at school, crafts from recycled materials (have you seen the buildings they have made from 2-liter bottles?! Check out some of those HERE. You don’t have to go big and do everything but do what you can.  Not only will it make a difference for the planet, but you’ll be inspiring future generations by example and create many teachable moments in your room.

If you are looking for craft ideas with your kids or students, here a link to 30 Crafts and Activities Using Upcycled Materials are the ones my son and I are currently working through this month!

I’d love to see pictures or hear about your classroom applications! Like and comment below or find me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.

Self-Care for Educators: With a Little Planning, You Can Get the Time You Need for YOU

April 15, 2021

I love my work set up, but that doesn’t mean I have to live here!

I am a workaholic by nature and a very goal-oriented person. I do not like to stop until I finish something, even if that means a very long work session.  If you’ve been in education for 5 minutes, you know we are never really finished.  I have had to work hard to set working hours and an end point to stop at, as well as breaking my goals down into chunks to accomplish realistically. But I am terrible at taking time for myself until I reach the broken and burned-out phase.  I push so hard that when I was a 10-month teacher with summers off, I found it was at least 3 weeks before I’d slow down enough to feel in control and not just caught up in momentum.  When I switched to 12-month in August of 2019, I gave up summers off and last year was tough without that time off and the disconnect.  I realized I had to do something different.

The Covid pandemic and shutdown in 2020 really taught me slow down and that it is very beneficial to make time for myself and to be by myself. I’m a 12-month virtual teacher, my son is a virtual student, and my dad is retired.  My husband is the only one that works out of the house. That’s a whole lot of together time that can be very overwhelming. I learned to find times to get a break and do things for myself or by myself, and it has been a huge help.

As life started getting busier as we gradually reopened, I found myself missing the solitude and extra downtime without outside demands, so I set my 2021 New Year’s Resolution to include more intentional time for myself, or to use the new term, self-care time. I decided to set time each day, week, month, and quarter intentionally for me to relax, rejuvenate, and recharge. I fill that time with road trips, pedicures, massages, hair appointments, hikes, trips to the playground, a coffee, meal, or dessert out with someone I want to catch up with. I also make sure they are budgeted so I don’t go broke.

Feeding peanut butter to 3 dogs at once CAN be done, if I get creative

Daily.  Every day, I have my devotion and prayer time, and I go for walks.  My goal is to walk for an hour a day, however that may break down.  With a young pup, this has become two thirty-minute walks a day to give her an outlet and training time.  I’ve also set the goal to start my day with prayer instead of my smart phone or scrolling social media, and I try to do my daily devotions over breakfast.  Sometimes this looks different, if my son wants to go for a walk or I’m chatting with family over breakfast, but most days I work all these in without issue.

Taking the pups out for a walk

Weekly. This one has been a challenge.  We are blessed to have parents that live nearby and help by letting us have one date night each week (and sometimes, an overnight or weekend!) It’s been great and took us several weeks to get used to not having the kids or to rush back to them.  We go gaming, walking around, get pedicures, go to dinner, play tourist somewhere—whatever we feel like doing.

In addition to date nights, I’ve been working to have one slow day, or Sabbath, to relax and do as little as possible, without filling it with technology (i.e., I avoid movie marathons or binge-watching TV for more than a couple hours). This could be a rainy day on the porch, a few hours out on the water, a road trip with no real destination, or time with family and friends talking, eating, playing games.  We are a very busy family, but most weeks I am getting at least a half day for this.

Monthly. This one has taken more planning and I am just getting to it.  Some months we have holidays and a build in long weekend, but not every month. I decided to sit down with my calendar for home and work and am picking a day each month that doesn’t have a holiday and works with my work schedule, and I am taking a day off to get a long weekend, even if we just stay home. 

Quarterly.  My goal is to take a week off each quarter to get away somewhere. For this, it took a bit more strategy and, truth be told, this was actually my starting point before I planned my monthly days off since I don’t take a long weekend in the months I take a week off.  I’m old school, so for this I grabbed our wall calendar and a highlighter, as well as my work and personal digital calendars.  First, I marked off the holidays and breaks we get built into our schedules from our work calendar. Next, I looked at our typical workflow and volume and what time is available on our team calendar. Then I looked at our family plans—family we want to see, vacations, birthdays, summer camps, our travel wish list—and started plotting.  I try to balance things out to maximize those brain breaks, then I submit my requests.  Can I tell you how excited I am that my husband and I will be off the week our son has weeklong day camp an hour from here this summer and we will get to play tourist and get time together in a fun area to explore!

Somewhere in there, I work in a hair day

I realize that time off is a blessing that most occupations don’t have, but in education, we do.  Most school districts offer personal days in addition to holidays, but there is this stigma against teachers that use them.  Stop letting that bother you!  You earn them.  They are a part of your salary and benefits.  You NEED them, why don’t you take them?

So, grab your calendar(s) and a tasty beverage (coffee, tea, chocolate Dr Pepper, wine) and plot your time off. Talk to your family about what you all want to do.  You can plan for a month or two at a time, or plan for the whole year.  Just plan something or you will constantly find yourself justifying why NOT to do it and feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by your day-to-day life. It will give you something to look forward to on those tough days and be a great reward. Refill the pot so you have something to give to others. It may be awkward at first, but you will get used to it and find yourself enjoying it.

Take care, my friends.

Using Menus to Inspire Student-Guided Learning

April 9, 2021

an example of a menu overview from a class slide

While the structure of school hasn’t evolved much since its inception, anyone who’s been in a classroom for a second year or more can tell you that the structure of a classroom has evolved immensely, even from year to year.  And not just from when we were students to when we became educators. Over the course of my educational career, it has changed dynamically, creating a need for us to constantly evolve with it.  I have rarely been able to use the same lesson two years in a row without tweaking it ever so slightly for improvements or changes in my classroom. And that is what led me to adopt a menu option approach to use in my classroom.

sample planning guide for menu project

A menu option doesn’t give total control to the students, but it does allow them to have some control over their learning—a great way to get student buy in and lessen conflicts and boredom, especially in middle school, where my educational experience has been.  Plus, it creates an automatic differentiation in your classroom where every student can succeed, which is our desired income, right? This method isn’t something to be used every day or in every case, some days may still be predominately teacher led or everyone doing the same activity. But when you can make it happen, this is a great method to use. Here’s an overview of what I do.

Day 1—teacher led: New topic—introduce, give background, chunk concepts, model, check for understanding often—interactives can be fun.  Students are taking notes as they go (best options are fill in the blank, highlight, or Cornell style notes).  With some concepts, I recommend 3 to 5 7–10-minute sessions, each with an interactive check for understanding where they are up and doing something with the new knowledge. Conclude with a ticket out the door or 3-5 question check in to see if they have the foundation.

Days 2 & 3—student led/teacher guided:  Quick check for understanding with a review they can interact with each other on—some students will have retained longer or more knowledge about it since the last class and this let’s them help each other.  Something competitive can be a great motivator—a relay, matching game, or technology-based game can be great for these since they are “fun” and will inspire student engagement.  Once you know they have retained it, they can now go onto a small group activity to continue to build knowledge and apply it.  This also allows for creating a teacher led group for those that may still be struggling with the concept.  Have a few options they can choose from based on learning and personality styles. Build in chances to correct mistakes to 100% are a huge bonus on these days and allow you to check for understanding.

Days 4 & 5—independent menu day: Students will use these days to create a product to apply what they have learned.  This will take them to the mastery level and apply the knowledge to a new topic, subject or area of life and do something with it.  Having a list of options they can use will allow them flexibility to use a medium they are comfortable with to truly see what they learned about this concept and how they would use it.

I based this on a five-day concept model, but it could easily be stretched or adapted for a longer unit, even scaffolding as you go to a bigger menu project at the end of the unit. I’ve used it for a 6-week research unit that coincided with testing. It was a great stress relief for both myself and the students since they tested on different days and times for somethings and always new exactly what they needed to do upon return.  No make-up work, no keeping track—I just adjusted the number of days in the model if I knew everyone had testing.

By using this method of teaching, I found that I was able to respect the differences within my classroom for learning styles, backgrounds, where they were starting from on concepts, their personal interests, learning disabilities and their personal methods of working.  It automatically created differentiation within my classroom.  I worked hard to make sure that there wasn’t an “easier” option and I created rubrics for each mastery task (TIP: use the same menu style for each concept so you can reuse rubrics and only the content has to change) I also found that, while it was more work for me to create up front, it made assessing throughout the unit a lot easier and quicker, so my grading turnaround time was lower. I could sort by product and grade quickly by scoring and noting on the rubric and returning that with it.

This method works with a lot of different course curriculums and at a lot of different levels.  I’ve used this in Reading, Language Arts, Leadership, Critical Thinking and Technology, and have seen teachers use this in History, Math and Science.  We have even used it on a grade-level project where students were working in multiple subjects on the project. I love the flexibility and it makes plugging in my lesson plans faster and easier since it follows a modeled pattern—also a plus for your students that thrive on routine but still want to exert control!

I’d love to see pictures or hear about experiences where you have tried this, so be sure to share in the comments below or find me on social media and share!

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

January 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life and Teaching – Reflecting on 2020

Sonya Barnes                     December 24, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays and all that jazz.

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

Ideas for A Clean and Healthy Workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming the Teacher My Students Needed Me To Be

By Sonya Barnes    4/30/2020

Please like and comment on this article if it resonates with you.  You can also interact more frequently by following me on Twitter @addictedtoteac1 or join the conversation on Facebook in the group Addicted to Teaching.

I remember the days of kids not wanting to work, or fake working when they didn’t understand and avoiding asking for help.  They would do as little work as possible to just get done as quickly as they could.  I remember calling home to parents or students to be hung up on when they heard it was me or sent to voicemail so they wouldn’t have to talk to me.  Those moments truly made me an unhappy teacher.  I questioned everything about my practices and wanted to do better, sometimes even considering a departure from the profession entirely.

We hear so much about building relationships with our students, we were shown videos of students and teachers high fiving and fist bumping, with glistening tears in their eyes about their love for each other, but not enough on how to do that.  Sure, I’ve had a few students I’ve connected with over the years and am still in touch with as adults. But it’s rare. And, honestly, I’m not even looking for that with every student. But I would like an enjoyable professional relationship with every student that is positive and progressive in their learning.  It’s not too much to ask, is it?

By happenstance, I stumbled across the how this year.  I found a way to define it, break it down into reproducible steps and saw it succeed-although not 100% because, well, what is ever 100% in life? 

My school does PLC’s a bit differently.  Our principal lets us choose our area of growth to focus on, let’s us do the leg work on it and share about it in a video at the end of the year with our colleagues—and we do so enthusiastically.  It’s not very often that your mandatory learning for the year gets to meet you right where you are and be about something you want it to be about.

With carte blanche, my team decided we wanted to explore the area of Growth Mindset.  It has become such a buzz phrase in education, but, other than defining it, we hadn’t really gone in depth of how to expand on it since it started. We wanted to explore this and see if we, already happy, bubbly people in a positive work environment, could find a way to do it better. And, to be perfectly honest, we were the newbies at the school still learning a new job, so wanted something we thought would be pretty easy.

We had to start by posing a question, so here is what we posed:

Once that was done, we started digging into the research element. I won’t bore you with all the details (unless you are interested, then check out the snip or comment below or email me and I can send you some links!), but we found out some amazing things. 

The sources–if you can’t read them, I can send them

We were surprised to learn that growth mindset not only impacted student learning/teaching environments but could impact whether or not dietary changes or attempts to quit smoking would be successful. Whoa. Game changer. 

A coworkers response to a research post

We realized we needed to do more than we already were, though. Especially since our project required us to make changes and implement them to get data.  We already used the “positive sandwich” approach in student feedback on assignments, but we stepped it up. In fact, when we stopped being negative at all, we saw a whole new level of connection with our students and parents.

You see, by creating a safe and welcoming environment focused on learning and not perfection, learning truly happened. We worked hard at the old proverb of treating others the way we wanted to be treated. We didn’t like being told what we did wrong, we liked hearing what we did well and what areas we could improve on and how.  So, if we, as professional adults, didn’t like negative feedback, why on earth would our kids?! How would they learn positive feedback and growth mindset if we didn’t live it?!

A student that hadn’t worked in weeks would start a conversation apologizing but would quickly relax when asked if they and their family were okay, or about some challenge they’d been struggling with the last time we talked, or how I could help them get the outcome they wanted.  I stopped telling kids to redo work they messed up on, but told them what I liked, what they could do to earn back points lost and gave them the choice of doing it—and most did.

By telling them I wasn’t worried about the past since we couldn’t change it, but that I was worried about how they could succeed right  and in the future showed them that they are the most important thing, not something they can’t change, I changed their view of the task. It truly became one of those teachable moments.

You know what else happened? Parents and students answered my calls, texts or emails. They knew my goal was to help, not judge, not make them feel bad, not point out the flaws. The students would call or text for something they didn’t understand and needed help with. And no matter how obvious the fix should have been or that I had a hundred other kids ask me THE SAME QUESTION that same day, I never made them feel bad. In fact, no matter how silly the overlook may have been, I’d downplay it as being something that was okay to not know since it may have been different than what we had known or just pretty hard to figure out. 

To truly embrace building those relationships, you’ve got to treat students as people and as equals, regardless of rank or responsibility in the infrastructure. You must respect their life and where they come from, what they are going through and be willing to walk through it with them to the other side.  You need to compliment them, celebrate their successes, and work together to solve the not YET successes.  Will it work every time and with everyone—I doubt it.  Who can make that kind of guarantee that isn’t selling something for 3 easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling?  But I can guarantee that you have no chance of seeing success if you don’t try.

So, start looking at how you interact with students, parents, coworkers, your own family—people.  Look for opportunities to focus on positives and celebrate successes or turn negatives into positives in the making.  You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain, and you may find the payoff is in more than your day to day teaching interactions.

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.

Ten Social Superpowers To Teach Our Kids

September 22, 2019

Kids these days catch a lot of flak for how easy they have it compared to prior generations.  If you’ve spent even an hour in the presence of a kid recently, you will realize that they handle a lot, and most of them do it surprisingly well.  They have had so much exposure to a global life at an early age through technology, the media, or our ever-traversing populations in most areas, not to mention the information they are exposed to in school.  Designated adults in their lives do so many things to give them what they think they will need in life and they do a fantastic job considering how busy their own lives are these days.

But as someone who has worked with kids in various ways for four decades now, there are a few things that used to be commonplace in prior generations that are lacking these days, whether through lack of practice or because technology has created a new version of something old and needs to be adapted.  For some, it is a displacement because it isn’t a cultural norm and so many cultures have blended together, losing social traits along the way.  But we must remember that social interactions these days are a culture all of their own, and the culture of conducting business, whether it is going to school or making a purchase, has established certain a etiquette that, when followed, just make the transaction go well for all parties involved.

With that being said, I have compiled a list of the ten traits that, if incorporated into our lives and those of our children, would ease tensions in some scenarios.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or just interact with them socially, you can play a part in this.  And it doesn’t have to be formal lessons, either—model these behaviors consistently, talk them through what you do and why (all people LOVE to know the why about something, especially kids), create opportunities to practice, and gently correct them when you see them not doing it right.  Not only will they benefit from more positive interactions with people of all ages, they may find that things get a tad bit easier when they do them.

Respect

Any student that has ever been in my classroom knows that this is my number one rule.  Be respectful of everyone and everything in all that you do.  I find it pretty much covers it all and provides for a pleasant working environment for any age and in any setting.  I encourage them to be respectful of everyone’s time and to be on time and prepared, to be respectful of people’s money by caring for the resources being provided in our classroom or in their home, and respectful of themselves because they deserve to learn at their own pace, have a voice and the chance to form an opinion for that voice to be used towards. I also think this includes things like turning off your cell phone while in a group setting and not looking at your phone when interacting with others.  I feel like respect can be interwoven in each of these below, but I wanted to point it out all on its own.

Greetings

People are so busy these days, they often immediately start a conversation without so much as a hi, hello, or what’s up with a pause for a greeting to be returned.  Remembering to do this can go a long way in establishing the equality and mutual exchange between parties.  We can help with this by saying a simple hello when the kids get home or come into our classroom or place of business.  It doesn’t have to take long, but it is a kind acknowledgement of each other’s presence and could lead to a real conversation between people.  There are some cultures in the world that will think a person rude for not doing this and may not even conduct business with them.  I had this experience when visiting Paris a couple of times and, finally as I was leaving, a Parisian informed me that our ‘keep to ourselves’ American way of not saying hello when we walk in is why we are dubbed rude by so many other countries. This opened my eyes and now I try to make it a habit wherever I go.

Eye contact

Making eye contact while speaking and listening to someone is a great way to show you are listening to each other and giving each other your attention.  This can be true in a one-on-one conversation or even in a large conference with a guest speaker.  Looking at the person that is talking will go a long way in both you getting something from what they are saying and them in knowing what or how much to say while talking.  In some cultures, making eye contact can be seen as challenging one’s authority or as disrespectful.  However, when conducting business eye contact can establish trust, honesty and sincerity in the transaction. The best rule of thumb in this scenario is to know your audience and be aware of norms where you are–in other words, do a bit of research on the background and national culture if you are unsure and it isn’t your own.

Manners

Simple gestures of kindness can go a long way in showing someone they are important and valuable in the world.  Using manners is one of those gestures.  Coughs, sneezes, burps, loud voices—these are all things that have a time and place, but generally a public setting isn’t the best place to let them reign, so try to minimize them.  Saying bless you, excuse me, please, thank you, holding a door for someone coming up behind you or with their hands full, offering a hand to someone carrying too much, helping the elderly cross a street, or a short person reach something up high (me, I need this!) are some examples, but there are so many more.  There is debate on using ma’am and sir in different circles, but I have found that most people appreciate when they are called these–learning to read people can help with this.  At a minimum, use yes instead of yeah or no instead of nah, and avoiding exclusive head nods or uh-huh’s and uh-uh’s will show that you have some manners.

Punctuality

Be on time.  We must make every effort to be on time to what we attend. We’ve heard the expression that time is money, and if you think about how fast-paced our world is today, there is a lot of money being lost when someone waits even just a few moments on another.  With technology at our fingertips, calendars can be set up and even include alerts for when to leave based on traffic.  I have often heard the expression ‘to be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late’ and it is a good practice.  Arriving a few minutes early can let you say hello, get a feel for where things are located, get a good parking spot or seat, use the restroom or people watch as others arrive.  As a book lover, I find this can be a great time to get in a chapter all to myself.  Not to mention that no one likes the flustered feeling of arriving late and always feeling behind, or when everyone’s eyes are on them as they make a tardy entrance, however unintended.  This factor is a common reason why medical offices are often running behind—that person that showed up right on time for their appointment but had to do their paperwork.

Patience

Keeping calm when everything around you isn’t is not an easy habit to establish.  Learning that sometimes things happen that are beyond our control and are just not worth getting upset over can be very valuable to your health and sanity.  When we rush, mistakes can happen.  So, if we learn to take our time, be patient if things don’t go as planned and be understanding of obstacles, it can go a long way.  I live in Central Florida—theme parks and traffic are a part of daily life for me.  I am always amused by the people rushing to get to a line to stand in, yelling at people that are not doing something at a rapid pace because they themselves are running late, or darting through traffic at an unsafe speed for whatever reason.  If they slow down just a little bit, they may find that they still get to wherever it is they are going, but so does everyone else, and we are all in a good mood. If you lack patience, be early and allow for things to go awry, and relish the extra time when they don’t.

Group conversations

We often get together with groups, whether it is for an informal chat, an impromptu discussion on the sidewalk, or an organizational meeting working for a goal.  One of the challenges is giving everyone a voice and allowing time to process things.  Learning to listen with the intention of learning what the person has to say can go a long way in accomplishing a goal.  So often we talk at or over others without actually hearing what they had to say, and this can be for a variety of reasons—dominance, disrespect or pure excitement about an idea (I’m so guilty of this one).  There is much to be said for listening to what other’s say and waiting to speak.  In many groups, the person that hasn’t spoken will be given a chance to talk and asked directly by the group leader, but if not, it can give time to process and create a chance for a follow up message or conversation so that the other person can speak.  There will be times where it will be necessary to directly ask for a chance to speak, and that is okay, just do it kindly so that it keeps an equal balance of power within the group.  Dominance is a fast way to shut down a conversation, as is insulting those around you.  Keep in mind, I am not saying their shouldn’t be a leader in a group chat, but it should be to keep focus and share attention equally, not lead the conversation. If you find that you disagree with someone, be clear that it is the idea and not the person, and be ready to leave a subject for later if it is clear that opposing sides won’t merge.  I’ve seen too many relationships damaged from arguing over opposing sides to a situation and it just isn’t worth it.

Pride in work

The work you do represents you and creates the impression others will have of you.  Everything you do should be done to the best of your ability for this reason.  It doesn’t matter if it is cooking dinner, cleaning a toilet, running a fortune 500 company or completing an assignment for class.  You should make your best effort to do it completely and correctly.  This also is a sign of respect for those that must interact with your work product.  As a teacher, I have students that rush through work or don’t complete work they are turning in.  This takes me five times longer to grade because I must give feedback, contact a parent, hold a conference, make documentation.  Not doing a complete job the first time also uses more of your time because the task will have to be redone or could cost them their job and make it difficult to get another one. We see this when a patch is poorly done in haste on a busy road, a meal or beverage is incorrectly prepared, or a place of business is is organized or even dirty. Taking the time to complete something to the best of your ability and properly the first time will go a long way in showing your clients, supervisors, or peers that you pay attention and do quality work.

Electronic communications

Emails and text messages seem to have all but replaced letters and phone calls, understandably because of how quickly things can be tended to. But learning which to use when and how they differ is important.  A text message should be for something quick  when an interruption can’t be made, or time is not of the essence.  If it is time sensitive, a phone call or visit may be best.  An email should be much like a letter, a complete thought organized and pieced together and with the intent of patiently waiting for a response.  It should have a greeting, a body with a clear and organized message, a salutation and a signature.  Again, my teacher experience has shown me this is a lost art.  I will find a full inbox with several emails from one student sending a series of single line messages only a few minutes apart, hastily seeking a reply to their question that could have easily been answered by a text message or, worse, was resolved before I got to the message because they found the error while waiting for the reply–possibly meaning they hadn’t really made much effort to find an answer on their own prior.  If you must send an email, proofread it and let it sit for a few minutes before sending in case another idea pops into your head.  If you send weekly emails to people, keep a notepad to gather thoughts throughout the week of non-urgent ideas that could be compiled into one. This is a huge way of showing you respect their time and to ensure that something doesn’t get missed because it was buried in their inbox.

Being Prepared

Bring what you need with you and make sure it is usable.  If you are attending a conference or class, expect to have paper and pencil at a minimum, and any other items required like computers, textbooks, completed research or work product.  I learned something in the military that has always stayed with me—two is one, one is none.  If there is something you must have to continue, have an extra.  This could be a charger for electronics, a pen or pencil, or even a bottle of water or snack if you know it will be a long meeting or event.  I have seen many times where there was a delay for everyone because someone had to find a pencil to write with, knowing they were coming in for a writing task or would be taking notes. If it is a paid event you are attending, be sure to have your ticket or proof of purchase or the funds handy to pay.  I am often surprised when I see people walk up to a show or take-out restaurant, wait in line then look at a options to decide when it is finally their turn, then must find their money to pay for it.  Being aware of what you are going into and preparing for it in advance can increase everyone’s take away from the event and save you some glares from onlookers.

Some of you may realize that you already do many of these yourself and are passing them on to younger generations. Some of them may not apply to you. Just remembering to be respectful of other’s time and personal investment in a situation can go a long way in showing that you are making the effort, and that is a superpower that everyone can have, regardless of age, location or situation.