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.

Have You Been to Eduporium Yet?

Guest Post July 18, 2019

Finding new and affordable educational technology tools that align with the concepts you’re trying to teach and the standards you’re required to follow can be tough. Especially as new technologies are released seemingly by the day with slight or significant variations from previous models, it can certainly be challenging for teachers and tech directors to keep up with what’s worth their while. Keeping this in mind, the experts at Eduporium stock all of today’s latest EdTech in one place – an easy-to-access online store where educators can learn about and purchase all of the STEM tools they need. Oh, and they also offer a discount on most of those items exclusively for educators!

What makes Eduporium unique is that they don’t simply scour other stores and place every single EdTech tool they find on their own store. Their experts are actually doing the research, searching for the most useful tech tools, testing them out themselves, and corresponding directly with those vendors to make sure it’s a worthwhile product for enhancing 21st century education. Once that determination has been made, they then negotiate the lowest price possible and get it on their store for educators to easily find it and save when they make their purchase. [

Eduporium is a reseller, but they specialize in offering those EdTech tools with the greatest potential and add to their own value in the education community by offering free consultation, personalized technology bundles, and an Educator Discount of as much as 20 percent on technology items that’s available to all classroom teachers, principals, librarians, tech specialists, and makerspace facilitators. Knowing the importance of hands-on learning, they work directly with educators from some of the country’s largest districts and recommend only the STEM tools they need.

The Eduporium store includes the classic EdTech tools for engaging students in deeper learning as well as those that have been just released. Having established working partnerships with many of today’s top EdTech vendors, like littleBits, Wonder Workshop, Ozobot, Sphero, and more, they’re able to get new products onto their store and into classrooms quickly. Among the kinds of STEM tools you can find on the Eduporium store are robotics, coding kits, 3D printers, drones, virtual reality systems, circuitry sets, engineering tools, and more!

Take the Ozobot robot, for example. It’s one of the most widely used STEM tools in elementary and middle school classrooms. This tiny robot can be used to teach students how to code using color codes that they can draw with markers on paper. It can also be paired with a computer or tablet and students can build their own programs on Ozobot’s online learning environment, OzoBlockly. As new updates and releases are announced for the Ozobot, such as Ozobot Classroom, Eduporium is always on top of informing their customers about the latest information.

If you’re looking for any other options from today’s top brands in STEM education, Eduporium is a great place to look. They sell the Dash and Dot robots from Wonder Workshop, for example, which are great for introducing elementary students to coding. Eduporium also has the Cue Robot from Wonder Workshop, which middle school students can use to learn text coding! In addition to the robotics tools, Eduporium also supplies coding and electronics kits, including all of the top kits from littleBits. These electronic LEGOs are great for teaching circuitry, perseverance, programming, and inventiveness! 

Not only does Eduporium offer educators an easy solution for all of their EdTech shopping, their advice and consultation help ensure that teachers don’t waste their time or money. To learn more about this company and to check out their extensive store with all different kinds of EdTech, click here!

This is a guest post. Andy Larmund at Eduporium reached out to see if I would share information about their company, products and services offered. After communicating back and forth and browsing their website, I was excited to share his information and I look forward to finding ways to work their products into my classroom this year, though! Note: This is not a paid promotion.

Using Your Break to Better Yourself

By Sonya Barnes                                                                                                       June 13, 2019

What is it that we crave about summer?  We count down the days as we race towards it at breakneck speeds—longing for its arrival—but why?  Is it the chance to slow down?  Is it temporarily doing away with agendas, alarm clocks, meetings and parent communications? Is it traveling or getting quality time with family that we don’t see during our hectic school routines?  It may be some or all of these, depending on you.  For me, it is not only these things, but also the chance to sit back and analyze how I did things, what worked and what didn’t work, as well as trying on new habits and seeing how I can make them fit in my life.

Routines are an important thing to me, and not just because I am OCD (CDO my husband likes to say since I have a habit of alphabetizing things (don’t get me started on my love of my label maker), but also because I have learned that routines make for consistency and efficiency, two key elements for success.  This past school year has been a challenge. We moved into a new house to make room for my mother, my oldest son finished his Associate’s degree and started at a new college for his Bachelor’s, my husband changed jobs after dreaming about it for two years, and I was committed to a training program for the duration of the school year that came to a conclusion about the time my mom became fully retired.  Whew! I was exhausted.  The routines we had had in place since my husband had joined the ranks of the teaching world 4 years before (which were pretty consistent from when he ran his own business before) were suddenly thrown for a loop only a couple of months into the school year when he decided to leave education and go into business for himself again.  We did our best to adjust, but by the time the school year ended on the same day that my mom became a full retiree, we still hadn’t adapted. 

I am also a huge travel bug.  I often jokingly say that I work to support my travel habit, which is not too far from the truth.  I have downsized possessions dramatically over the last few years into a more minimalist lifestyle as well as paid off most of our bills, so a good portion of our budget was for now and later fun money (vacations, entertainment and retirement).  With the job change, that changed for us quite a bit, so we’ve also had to adjust and, luckily, had room in the budget.  But we still plan to work in a few trips this summer.  Truth be told, I am writing this in the kitchen of one of our family members we are visiting as we are doing a loop to see them and check off a few more states from our bucket list.

Every educator does different things with their down time.  For me, I spend it reconnecting with family, both near and far, refreshing my home with a variety of projects and trying out new routines that I can establish at a slower pace and maintain when I go “back to work” in August—although I, like most, will work during the summer attending trainings, reviewing my practices and material from the past year, analyzing test data when it drops, and creating/adapting new things for next year based my end of year student surveys and data about the upcoming students given to me by the prior grades teachers. Don’t get me wrong, I also get out and enjoy the longer days and extra family time by taking advantage of some of the discounted or free activities available in our local area like weekly movies, zoos, aquariums or theme parks—if you are lucky enough to live close to any of those.

Our family will have to establish some new routines with all our lives changing in the last few months, so there are things we can do over the next 6-8 weeks to help us out during the school year.

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

Meal Planning and Preparation. We will try out new recipes and get back into meal prepping and menu planning, as well as simplifying our meals.  We got in the awful habit of eating out or eating prepackaged/easy meals for the last month and that did not help us handle the crazy routines that the end of year brings.  We have tried all of the prepping ideas for meals and have actually found the simplest for us is stocking up on family packages of meats and freezing into portions (we cut into bites when cooked to cut down on overeating) and we keep fruits and veggies on hand to accompany them.  We can go from freezer to table (or lap on the back porch) in 45 minutes, even on a busy day, and feed our family of 5 for well under $20 for the meal.  Going out is actually an inconvenience for us. 

Home projects. There is always maintenance to be done as a homeowner, so we will take care of those, as well as cleaning out closets and cabinets to purge forgotten possessions and reorganize them.  We have found that having less stuff helps us clean faster and we have less to clean, which means more time for life.  I stumbled over minimalism a few years ago while looking for solutions since I am a terrible allergy sufferer and we have loved the simpler lifestyle.  But those old habits of a lifetime to take a while to break, so refreshing the home and reviewing the books I have help quite a bit.  Not familiar with minimalism, or not sure how it could possibly fit for you?  Check out the author Joshua Becker and his realistic family approach that works for us at https://www.becomingminimalist.com/.

Planning for the next school year.  I know, you don’t want to think about it, and I don’t either.  But I don’t like a crazy start to a new year, so I do a few things early in summer to help.  When we are cleaning out those closets and cabinets, I purge any clothing items that don’t fit or need repair or replaced so that I can get those ordered, fixed, purchased or budget for them.  My son’s school has a uniform, so we will pass on any items that someone else can use and get his items ordered early so that we can pick them up at orientation.  I also start shopping school and art supplies, prepackaged snacks, cleaning supplies, and anything else that could help around the house or classroom or could be donated to his classroom teacher.  Those BOGO sales run all summer, so taking advantage now helps me out a lot later in the year.

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

New routines and habits. My daily reading, devotions, exercise and cleaning routines all slacked off in the last couple of months.  I take the time to figure out why, shuffle my day around and put into practice my routines during the summer.  I can go at a slower pace while I make them a habit and then a few weeks before going back to work, I can time how long it takes me to do all the things, allowing me to adjust my wake-up times and bed times to accommodate.  I do the same for my little one so that we can reestablish his routines before going back, as well. I also look at how well we have done with chores and will adjust our chore charts, laundry rotations and shopping days.  With so many changes this year, many of our routines never got followed or were tweaked during the year, so a family meeting over a delicious and relaxing meal gives everyone a chance to chime in on what works and doesn’t work so that we can adjust.  It sounds like a silly thing, but no one fights over the washing machine, yells about a stack of dishes, or complains about an empty cabinet when we work together.

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

Travel and quality family time. We usually plan a couple of trips in the summer in addition to celebrating birthdays for several family members.  We usually plan a big family trip and a smaller get away nearby, and sometimes these double as a birthday celebration.  With the change in jobs, we sold our camper and have less time to go on adventures.  This year, we are fitting in an early summer trip to see family and check off more states (with any luck, by the time you are reading this, I will have checked off state number 50 for me, and number 30 for my soon to be 8 year old).  We are also working in a couple of other trips, but they will be business related for my husband.  When we are at home, we capitalize on the summer movies at the local theater and the passes to parks nearby.

The beach is our happy place

Rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. This is probably the most important one I do with the slower pace.  I love to sit on the porch in the early morning, before the Florida humidity chases us all into hiding until sundown like in those apocalyptic movies. While I am out there with my tea, or a book, I will take the time to connect with each sense—what do I see, hear, smell, taste, feel—and it really helps me connect with the world around me and helps me stay clear and focused during the day.  I also try to get in for a massage, a new exercise program I heard about from a friend, as well as taking care of as many doctor’s appointments as I can so as not to interfere with the school year.

So, what kind of things do you do over your break?  Are you a Netflix and chill in your jammies all day, every day while capitalizing on Uber Eats and grocery delivery services?  Are you like me and try to accomplish a lot?  Or are you somewhere in the middle?

If you are not a teacher, or get only a week or so off, you can work in some these ideas to your own schedule, even with only a week or two off.  Choosing only one or two things to start with this break can still make a difference and you just work on other things on future breaks.  It may not sound like how you want to spend your break, but if the way you were doing things wasn’t working or making life run smoothly, then you owe it to yourself and those around you to try new approaches to making your life easier.  You just need to take that first step.  Happy summer!

Riding the Momentum Wave – Keeping Consistency Every Day

Sonya Barnes June 3, 2019

Caught in a “focused” moment

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

You know what I am talking about.

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

OK, Tuesday, time to get focused and work!

It’s Wednesday/hump day! 

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

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

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

Students stay focused when we stay focused.

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

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

Consistency is better.

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

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

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

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