Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dear Student Teachers...

My 1st Plan Book!

In the spring, the local college matches future Student Teachers with their cooperating teacher. The goal is to learn what their classroom expectations are before the fall. It's in these moments I reflect on my first days of school, my year as a student teacher, as well as my 1st year teaching. These experiences were rough and there are many experiences that you only learn from by dealing with them hands on. 

I have experienced many things in my 6 years of teaching and after having a student teacher of my own here is my advice:
  • Student Teachers need to be open to new ideas. They need to be open to risks but realize that they are not always practical with school and state mandates. We only have so much time in the day and we need to make sure we are using it wisely. 
  • Not everything can be a large project. Like I stated before there are so many things we have to teach that large projects might be limited to one or two a quarter and has to cover so many standards to be deemed worth it. Don't be afraid to shoot for those awesome projects, but instead have them cover several standards.
  • Modeling is more than one example. Too many student teachers and practicum students think going over one example is enough modeling. In elementary we need to do something many times and reflect. This is in order for the students to know what we expect and have more practice with a particular skill. 
  • Just because you think they have it doesn't mean they do. Keep practicing it until most show mastery. Asking "Do you get it?" doesn't mean you are going to get a valid or honest answer. Kids want to please so they will say yes even if they have no clue what they are doing. Be willing to find new and different ways for students to show their knowledge.
  • Be honest when you reflect. When the lesson doesn't go well don't immediately write it off as the students weren't focused or that they didn't listen. Ask yourself how can I make that lesson better? How can I get their attention? If the majority of students don't understand something how can I explain it better? What can I do tomorrow to make it easier for them to understand?
  • If help is given don't turn it away. If you have an aide or extra hands in your classroom don't have them run copies or grade. Instead, give them students to work with. Have them work with the kids in your room who need extra help. Come up with a plan for them. Even ask them what they feel is their strength and use it to benefit your students. 
  • Teaching is a workout. An effective teacher rarely sits. You need to be moving around the room when you teach unless you are working with a small group. Your energy and movement will draw students attention to the lesson don't just stand at the front or sit while they are working. You have to monitor, keep them on task, or just mediate situations. Otherwise, pull a group and work with students because sitting at your desk isn't helping anyone grow.
  • Energy is everything! When you walk into a room you need to be able to pull students attention. It's not always about the materials you use but how you sell them. Simple lessons can be fun. You must sell it like its the best thing in the world. If you apologize to the students about the lesson and say that it is boring or lacks movement then they will not enjoy it and neither will you. If you don't like how your lesson is, change it! Don't apologize, do something about it!
  • Don't put things off. If you know you need to make a test or prepare for a lesson don't wait until the last minute. The sooner you get it done the better. Things happen but if you are organized it makes it that much easier when/ if things happen. Now, this is harder said than done when you first start out. That's why it's important to reach out to other educators to help you get started.
  • Use resources, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Beg, Borrow, Steal, is a teachers' motto. Use resources if you can or are given them. Stockpile things you use or like. Consider contacting Teacher Pay Teacher sellers and see if you can get free or discounted items. Take extra copies from your cooperating teacher to make a binder. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make sense to spend hours on a worksheet or paper if you can find one just as good online. Teachers have families and lives outside of school. We have to set priorities, staying till 8pm at night to make everything from scratch doesn't make sense. 
  • Try something new. Don't be afraid to try something new you find online, a new app or website you can use in the classroom, or even try something you have seen another teacher do. If it works keep it, add to it, make it better. If it doesn't, move on and try something else. Otherwise, alter it to fit what you need. Trying something new can be scary, but don't let it stop you. It can really make your classroom an exciting place. Plus you want your teaching to develop and change over time.
  • You are not a student's friend. You are an adult and need to be respected. It is ok to play with them at times or teach them a game, but when learning is occurring there has to be mutual respect. A great moment is when a  student calls you mom or dad. You are an elder and should be respected. Part of that respect comes from developing relationships with students, getting to know them, setting boundaries for them, and being able to laugh with them. 
  • Students crave boundaries and they will push until they find that line. Know your line and hold firm to it. Hold everyone to the same expectation of behavior and talk to them about those expectations. Have students reflect on them, create them, and discuss them. It might be tough at first, but if you develop relationships with your students and hold the same expectations for all. They might get upset, but in the end, they will respect you for it. 
This is an amazing student teacher who will set the world on fire!

What were some of your takeaways from your student teaching or your 1st year of teaching? What advice would you give to a student teacher or First Year Teacher?

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Hat Trick: Three Goals in Teaching

Have you ever been to a hockey game? It's truly an exciting and exhilarating experience. Similar to teaching it's fast-paced keeps you on your toes, and there are amazing goals and misses. What I think is most important about hockey is the teamwork that comes into play. Watching teams like the Blackhawks depend on each other and support each other on and off the ice is inspiring. Like many other team sports, there is this amazing comradery amongst teammates. This is something we need more of in education. We need to support each other and work together for the common good of our students. Part of that means being open and sharing in the process. Share your victories, but also share your failures. We have to be vulnerable with our teammates and we have to support each other along this journey.

I have really been reflecting these last few years of teaching and thinking to myself what does a good teacher make? I can't say I truly know, but if I were to give three pieces for teachers to focus on it would be relationships, risk-taking, and reflection.

Relationships:
People always say relationships are important, especially in regards to our students. I agree! If you plan on teaching a child you need to first know and build a relationship with that child. Every year I try to start the year with fun activities, but also high expectations. I have run into teachers who worry that high expectations early on can negatively impact your relationships with the students. I disagree because high expectations say I expect more because I know you are capable of more.

Students need to know you believe in them and having high expectations helps them realize you do. It's about how you address those expectations. Being positive and encouraging when students arrive and hold those high expectations are important. When they break the rules or don't rise to expectations how do you handle it? For me, it's addressing them at that moment, but also taking time later to discuss with them their choices. Students who are yelled at and never talked to or are given a consequence, but never given any feedback will feel singled out. They start to feel detached and are not invested in the classroom. We need to make sure those students realize why. Why are they being called out? Why is what they did wrong? Often times they know, but being that person who helps them to reflect and understand is part of building those relationships. I can't tell you how many times I have said, " I know you're mad. I know you're mad at me, but I know what you are capable of and you are better than this." You have no idea how many students in your class need to hear that. I know from personal experience many of my students never are told that someone believes in them and that they think they are amazing.

Yet, relationships are not just important for your students. These relationships need to be developed in the community both in the building and outside of it. We need to build relationships with other educators and support one another as a team. We also need to support our community. We need to bring them into our classroom, have them share their experiences, and their knowledge. We also need to show them the impact they make is real and appreciated. Bringing in community members into your classroom and bringing families into our buildings brings life and support to our students. We need to find ways to work together and build these relationships over time.

Risk-Taking:
Risk-taking is a hot topic these days. The world and companies are looking for more people who can collaborate, but also have design thinking skills. People who take risks, but who persevere. Individuals who are constantly willing to reflect, adapt, and test things until they work. We have to encourage the risks in our classrooms. We have to congratulate the risks and the failures. Our education system has for too long been focused on getting the right answer. Even looking back on my own education I recall freaking out if I didn't get something the first time I tried. This idea is crazy to me. The older and wiser I became I realized that rarely happens. Often times the process is long, practice is needed to grow. We need to promote the skill of perseverance over perfection in our classrooms. The reason is perseverance is realistic and a life long skill. We need to model risk-taking to our students. It begins with us! We have to be willing to try new things, refuse to be stagnant. As educators, we need to grow, develop, and learn from those around us. It is our duty to our students and ourselves to constantly take risks and grow from those risks. If anything it makes our jobs exciting and forces us/ our students to be more creative.

Reflection:
If you have made it this far you have already heard reflection be mentioned quite a bit. Reflection to me is the root of everything. All things come back to reflection. Students and educators alike need to reflect on their day. Reflection is important when we do anything. As an educator, I reflect on my lessons, what went well, what didn't. I even have started getting student input on the lessons. It's hard not to take it personally, but we have to remember we are growing as much as our students are. If we can't take suggestions how can we model it for students? They have to take suggestions from us daily. That builds on our relationships with the students. Giving our students opportunities to reflect is a skill that is just as important as any taught in other subjects. We need our students to take those opportunities to reflect on behavior, academics, and growth. Students recognizing what they do know can be empowering. Yet, realizing what they struggle with can be empowering as well because it gives them a focus in their learning.

When all three of these come together or when you grow in these three areas you have scored a "hat-trick" in education. You have effectively scored three goals, grown as a better educator, and grown as a better person.

What would be your hat trick? Do you agree with my three goals or do you have a different three?
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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Carmen Sandiego & the Main I-Deer Mission

So after winter break, I decided to review with my students. I thought reviewing would be the best way to ease them back into the classroom. This will spark some brain cells. I decided to focus on ELA skills such as Main Idea, Inferences, Research, and Text Evidence. I tried to create something that covered these skills but also was an engaging experience. It would make the students excited to be back. So I stumbled across an old favorite in the form of a Christmas Gift, Carmen Sandiego!

I LOVED the old TV show! I remember my dad teaching me how to play the computer game as a kid. I was all about bringing it back and making it a true experience for my students. I got straight to work making tasks that give students clues on the location of Carmen. This included filming my own videos portraying Carmen and Chief. It was so much fun and I loved being so creative. I hoped that when I put it all together that my students would love it too. So I got started right away developing my Google Slides. This consisted of putting my tasks, videos, and printouts in one place. So I never lose it.

Like I said before, I was able to create 3 different tasks for my students to take on to help find Carmen Sandiego.

Task 1:  I found a Main Idea Sentence Strip activity that came with a TPT back I bought. I decided to use four different paragraphs and cut the sentences up and put them into bags. I gave background information for the activity. We found one of the V.I.L.E. agent’s bags at an airport and these shredded documents were inside. As agents, they have to sort the papers into the two separate topics. Such as all the sentences about dogs and all the sentences about the beach. Then they had to read through them and find the sentence that describes the main idea. This was a tricky one for my students so I plan on making sure I explain it better next time. I need to break down what they should be looking for more than letting them run. #reflections

Task 2: Students were given text messages that were intercepted from V.I.L.E. agents. They had to read them then use inference skills to infer what is being discussed. Students did well on this, but I prepared them to work in their groups. Students were expected to read the documents together and discuss the answers before writing it all down. I still had one group who struggled, but I spent more time with them. This was helping them to get started by leading discussion and having them model what I expect.

Task 3: Students were given four “pieces of art” to interpret. They were given four task cards that include a paragraph in each. After reading through a paragraph the teams had to discuss what they felt the Main Idea was. After the discussion, they had to write it in their own words. This was one of the better tasks. The students did a great job discussing and coming up with their own Main Idea.

Between all these tasks, I had video clips or evidence slides that the students would watch/ read. These were needed to write down clues in their detective notebooks. They did a great job and loved solving the mystery. They especially got excited using the clues at the end to research “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”

I will say that this is my second year doing this activity. Last year, I took student feedback to make it better this year. I created my own materials for Task 3. Students felt they should be paragraphs about Greece, the location of Carmen. I also added more slides explaining the tasks and where they came from. Explanations to why these Jr. Agents are working with the shredded paper, text messages, and works of art. Developing the back story was important to tie everything together. This made it a real case to the students. I share this to say that even when I do an activity it is not always perfect. I take the leap and try something new, but there are always things that I reflect on, learn from, and make better.

Needless to say, the students loved this activity! So did I! It was a fun way to review skills after a long break and helped bring joy back to the classroom.

What are some activities that you do in your classroom after a break? Do you review or jump straight into something new?

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Shake Up Your Snow Day!


It's that time of year again where snow days are possible especially in the midwest. There is always seems to be the struggle as a teacher where you are happy that our students don't have to come to school in this dangerous weather. However, you also don't want them to miss learning. So what to do? I know some schools are moving towards digital school days where assignments are online and students complete them from home. Other districts have a folder or packet that students take home and have to complete the work within on Snow Days. I always struggled with both of these because I know my students. Many don't have a computer or internet access. Some won't even open the folder if it is sent home (truth be told do YOU really want to grade a packet of work?...If you do then you are better than me). We have to be creative as teachers and create learning experiences that are engaging even from home. It is possible! There are teachers who are amazing at creating activities or connecting to their students even on a Snow Day. I know you're wondering what are some of these amazing ideas. Don't worry I compiled some amazing ideas that you could try yourself.


  1. Snow Day Challenges: This was an idea I saw a few years ago on Twitter shared by an amazing educator and then reshared by Class Dojo. This teacher created a list of different activities students could do in order to earn Dojo points. I loved this idea and borrowed it! This list consists of so many different activities from helping around the house, spending time with loved ones, to academic websites or activities. I have really enjoyed seeing students doing more than just academic activities. Parents love having homework be something that can help around the house. Also, make sure you ask to share pictures. It is great to see students doing these things. Now this works out great if you use Class Dojo, but you could also print a list of challenge items for students to take home. Parents can initial boxes of challenge items that were completed. I have seen schools where instead of Dojo Points students earn House points, coupon rewards, or just a special reward when they return to school. What you ask the students to do and the rewards you give are really your chance to be creative. 
  2. Snow Day Read Aloud: I will totally admit I saw this over the past few weeks on Facebook and LOVED IT! If you haven't followed Allyson Apsey you should! She is an amazing principal, public speaker and book author of The Path to Serendipity. She has done a read aloud live on Facebook everyday student have had a snow day and its so amazing. Parents and students can log on and watch their teacher or principal reading a book to them. This is fun for all readers. If you have Class Dojo you can record yourself and post it to your classroom or to the school story page. You could even have students log in to their Portfolio page on Class Dojo and record themselves reading their favorite picture book. Such a great way to engage students in reading and share the love of a good book.
  3. Reading Challenge: Speaking of reading, there is nothing wrong with a good reading challenge. I like to create them for my students from time to time and have two going on right now. One I created on a half day last week knowing that we might not be seeing each other for a while due to the snow and cold weather that has taken Illinois by storm. I looked on TPT and found this amazing free resource from More Than Worksheets and tweaked it to work for my Snow Days. I decided to give out Dojo Points as a reward and talked about how students could be creative when trying to accomplish these different challenges. Another challenge I created was where my students are trying to complete 10 books by April 26th. Then they have different options to show what they know like presenting on their book, creating a Flipgrid book commercial, writing/ designing a book report, or taking a test on the book. 


  4. Design You Own Math Adventure: Students don't always love math. They do enjoy a great adventure! This is something I came up with on a whim and I will tell you it does require a little more work. As much as I love reading I wanted to create a math challenge to get students excited to practice skills we have been working on in class. It would also be a chance for students and parents to work together and possibly see where their students are struggling and see what we are working on in school. 
    • (Now before I start explaining this weird, some might say a crazy idea; I need to let you know I have a flair for the dramatics. I love a good costume and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday because I got to be someone I'm not. Teaching is fun in that way because we can be characters and dive into lessons to get students engaged that adults might find strange. Regardless, I know that not everyone is comfortable putting on a costume. Or comfortable being loud and crazy like me. No worries there are still ways to modify it to fit you and your personality!) 
    • So after waking up and eating breakfast, I wrote out a quick script. I wanted there to be two characters, one good, and one evil. The whole goal would be to defeat the evil character, in this case, the Ice Witch from taking over the world with snow and ice. The students were put in the role of the Math Wizards and had to complete 4 challenges in order to get parts of a spell to send the Ice Witch packing. So here is my script: 
      Queen Lilac and the Ice Witch 
       It was nothing too epic, but simple and helped to relay the goal and give a sense of urgency. I then looked through my closet at home to help me find items to wear to make the characters come to life. After I had created my outfits I used my iPhone to film my short videos. The hardest part was listening to them back. To listen to yourself will always be awkward but you want to make sure you can be heard. So alas I listened. In all honesty, they were not going to get me an Oscar but I kept the first take almost everytime because it was the most me. Students want to see you engaged and having fun no matter how strange it might be. If they see your willingness to go all out they will too. 
    • After filming the 5 videos I then used a free app called LIKE. This app allowed me to add digital effects to my videos like ice, snow, and flowers to make them more exciting to watch. After saving them to my phone I was able to upload them to Class Dojo as I pleased throughout the day.
    • As for the 4 challenge I created my own math problems and found free Teachers Pay Teachers resources that I used and modified. 
    • To start with every hour or hour and a half I posted a video and a math challenge to complete on my Class Dojo Story page. This allowed all parents and students to be able to view it. Some students printed the pictures others wrote down the problems. After completing them the parents would send a photo of the work back to me and I would check it. If the student got a problem wrong I would tell them to look it over, give them hints, or even send youtube videos to help. If the student got the math right they would earn a part of the spell to cast the Ice Witch away.
    • The Spell was just a short 4 line rhyme I created and at the end, I asked students or parents to film students casting the spell and send it to my email or record themselves on Class Dojo. I had so many creative videos with expression, dogs, and even wands! 
    • Was this a lot of work? Yes. Did it have me committed to my phone and laptop all day? Yes. Was it worth it to see students learning and having fun? YES!!!
    • If you are willing to take the time to make something like this it can be so worth it, but don't think it has to be just like mine with videos and made up spells.
    • Consider: 
      • You could post challenges on Facebook if you or your school has a Facebook page
      • Post to Twitter, send it through email. or post to Google Classroom
      • Type a Story instead of filming a video with clipart
      • Use gifs and attach them to challenge questions
      • Make a tic tac toe board of math questions
      • Find fun math riddles or puzzles like on Mash Up Math
      • Have students design their own math questions and share them
      • Post challenges and give clues to a keyword or letters instead of giving parts of a spell.
      • *So many ideas, comment or share your own!
  5. Snow Day Project: Have students create, research or design a project of their own choosing or focused on a single theme. Since it's so close to the beginning of 2019 why not have students create their own Vision Boards at home. Set goals for themselves and create action plans to achieve them. It would be an awesome chance for family time and discussion. Also, a great chance for students to present when they return to school!

There are so many ideas to keep students learning and motivated during snow days you just have to think outside of the box!

Share Your Thoughts!
What are some things you do during snow days or your days off to keep students learning?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Reflections on BURNOUT!

I have spent the first part of this school year focused and exhausted. I've been focused on trying to teach my students and get them farther than before. Also focused on figuring out the best way to teach math since we departmentalized this year. What I have done in past years doesn't always work or is as effective especially with the time frame and the number of students I see now. I'm constantly reevaluating and changing my curriculum along with my lesson plans. It's exhausting. I love what I do. I got into this profession because of how important I find this job. I want to show students learning can be fun, show them that they matter, and shape students who are better, more openminded people. Over the last few years, I have started to wear thin. What used to bring me joy is exhausting me more and more. I have gotten to a place where I do want to be better and help my students, but I also need to find time for me. I have given countless hours to school activities, planning events, committees, presenting, edu chats, and so much more. Now I need to slow down, take a step back, and focus on what matters to me.

As educators, there is a balance that we have to work towards. The balance between what we give to students and what we give to ourselves. In the age of social media, I feel like this makes it harder. I constantly see things that I want to do with my students or want to create for my classroom. I never feel like I am content with my class. I'm constantly working to do and create more. There is a part of me that is like, "That's a good thing Megan! Reflection is good and you should always be innovating and updating." Yet, there is a part of me that is shouting, "BREATH! Slow down, you can't do it all and you need time for you too!" I watch amazing teachers daily who have mastered the art of being powerful educators and masterful parents at the same time. I'm getting to a part in my life where I know I want a family and I know I will have to master the balancing act in order to make it all work. I know I'm not the only one feeling this way, but I also realize in the age of social media we post the successes and not the lows. So here is my low: Burnout is real and I might be struggling with it.

I have really been struggling with this the last year or so. As we start in 2019 I wanted to set some goals for myself in order to be better. So here are my resolutions to grow as a person this year while still balancing my career.

  1. I want to read 9 books this year because I do love reading, but I never make time for it anymore. 
    I love Once Upon A Book Club!
  2. I want to workout 2-3 times a week because it does make me feel good and proud. 
    All runs should end with taking your dog down a slide.
  3. I want to post on my blog once a month because I do love to share, but the pressure of posting weekly or biweekly was too much for me. 
    I loved being able to blog about my experienes and ideas
  4. I want to spend more time connecting with family and friends especially outside of the school setting. 
    My fellow educators and friends at our college reunion.
  5. I want to create one new creative lesson for my classroom that I can add to my toolkit. 
    I loved my rockstar day and I hope to make it even better!
  6. I want to plan more trips and take on more adventures. 
    The Bucket List Family is inspiring.

I write all this to say its ok. I know that these feelings are not only personal to me. I want those who connect to these feelings to know that you will be ok. With the title of teacher comes great responsibility and sometimes that responsibility feels like that of a superhero. We feel like we should be fighting every battle, creating new and unique moments, and be present at every single event when truth be told we are allowed to be human. We are allowed to take moments to ourselves, say no, and relax. I will never stop innovating, sharing, and creating but I will be working on myself too. I want to be a healthier, stronger person and sometimes that means breathing the fresh air. Never let your job define you, but instead, let your inner passion shine through your job. It's ok to admit that feeling of burnout, but it's not ok to not do anything about it. You are amazing and you matter so take care of yourself and don't feel bad about it!