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.

Summer Reset Series – Part 2 The Home

#A2THomePurge

July 15, 2021

Last week I shared with you some tips to reset your classroom by purging items so you can be more efficient, so this week I wanted to share some tips to do something similar with your home. Wait! Before you close this, hear me out. By purging your home in at least a few key areas and making it more efficient in areas you touch daily, your schedule will be more efficient, making your days smoother when you are juggling work and home life. Don’t worry, we are not clearing your home of everything!

Still with me? Great!

So, let’s break it down by areas of our home so you can focus on those you need and skip those that you don’t, or don’t apply!

BEDROOM Starting here is vital since this is your sanctuary and place of rest and rejuvenation! The key in this space is to remove things that don’t bring you peace or make you feel relaxed. Eliminating clutter from surfaces will help your brain turn off, so find a place to tuck away those as many of those things on display as you can. Some experts say to even remove electronics from your sleeping area, but some of us like to curl up and watch shows before bed, so it’s up to you!

BATHROOM/DRESSING AREA I like sleep, or at least being lazy in the mornings, which means I wait until the last possible minute to get moving. It has helped me immensely to purge grooming products to only what I need (I even gave up make up to save myself 15 minutes!) so my morning routine takes me 10 minutes or less. Likewise, I keep my wardrobe super simple and rotate things out each month so it’s easy for me to get dressed in the morning. If you want to learn more about this, check out my post from a few weeks ago here and see how I live like I am on vacation.

LIVING SPACES Just like your bedroom, this is a place you use to unwind. If you come home from a crazy day and are greeted by clutter, piles, or a lot of visual stimulation, it can be overwhelming. Go through those stacks of books and magazines and create a home for those that you are waiting to read and pass on those that you are done with! Keep only pillows and blankets out that you use daily or tuck them away and grab them out when needed. Decluttering surfaces can be helpful here, too, since it won’t overwhelm you when relaxing and makes cleaning faster–when you can get to it!

KITCHEN/EATING AREAS These areas are used multiple times a day and often get the most use, so it makes sense that this is where everything gets dropped…and gets cluttered. Make sure you have the cooking items you use regularly readily available. Those items that are less frequently used can be stored in an out of reach shelf or cabinet, or boxed to find when you need it. If you don’t use it, pass it on! Next, take a few minutes each week to meal plan and do the shopping. There are many methods for doing this. In our house, I have a dry erase board calendar that we meal plan on and one for our shopping list. I splurged and use Instacart so once a week, I put in our grocery order and they are delivered within 2 hours. Coincidentally, this is also the time use to clean the house, so it all gets done at once! Since mail can be a huge clutter in this area, sort it as it comes in. I have a shredder for junk, an outgoing mail clip by my door, and a paper weight for bills that I clear out weekly (or biweekly, if it’s crazy times!).

WORKSPACE If you work from home, or have a home office you use for planning, grading, etc., this space can also get cluttered. That clutter can make us dread getting things done, so plan ahead for it. Sort through all your papers and items that are in the space, leaving only what you need on your desk surface, and have a place to put things you need to work on so you will know when they are on your TO DO list, or when they are a TADA item and done! Bookshelves can easily overflow, so make sure that what is on it is something you use at least once a year, can’t find online, isn’t outdated, or needs to be kept. Then just make sure they are organized in a way that works for you. I’m a bookworm, so ours has non-fiction on one shelf, then a fiction shelf for each of us. If we run out of room, something has to go, which makes it simple to decide what comes and goes.

STORAGE Whether you have a garage, carport, large closet or shed, you keep tools and supplies for your home, hobbies and possibly your vehicle. When you need them, you don’t want to have to search, or worse, go buy more since you can’t find them. So clearing extras, trash or what you don’t need (like those wiper blades from a car you haven’t owned for 5 years) you will be able to find what you do need quickly and easily. Organizing it into zones will help, too, and make it easier when you have time to go back and better organize it! And if it’s a garage–maybe you can park your car IN it, making life easier for coming and going!

CHORES Now that things have been decluttered and your home should be slightly less overwhelming, you can create a routine to keep up with everything. Some things will need done daily, some weekly, and others either as needed, or less frequently. If there are others that live in your home, this can be a great thing to meet and talk about and divvy up those tasks. Even little kids can do somethings, like a quick daily sweep, putting toys away, or gathering laundry. Dishes and cooking need done daily, so someone can take charge of that or you can rotate! Assigning weekly chores that can be done on a designated day as a family can help, but if that’s not possible in your busy household, try assigning at random around someone’s schedule, or better yet, assign everyone a room (in addition to their own room) and then you won’t have to worry about waiting for others to get your chore done. We also do a daily reset before bed to put away things like toys, blankets, things that came out and got used during the day, so that we can start our busy morning with a clean space. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen, but most days it does. And my rule with my little? If it’s out after he goes to bed, it’s mine to do with as I please. This tends to get things put away frequently!

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? It may take some time to get each of these areas to a place that helps you, and you may have to do a reset every so often. In our home, we have crazy weeks of meetings, work schedules, appointments, or the weeks after a vacation that turn us upside down. Then we make the time to do a reset so we can get back on track when we get an hour or so.

Good luck to you! Be sure to like this post by clicking on the star if you like the idea of creating a relaxing home space, and comment below with your trouble areas–let’s work together to solve them! I’d love to see those before and after photos, so use the hashtag #A2THomePurge and post them on social media so I can check them out!

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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“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.