Thursday, December 18, 2014

recharge

Enjoy this winter break, dear readers. It is most certain to be earned and is likely happening not a moment too soon. As a teacher I chatted with in the hallway said a few weeks ago, the weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break fly by, until the last two, when time stands absolutely still.

Take this time to recharge in your most favorite winter ways. Drink hot chocolate, read a book for pleasure, go ice skating, take a walk in the snow or build a snowman, listen to holiday music. Rest up and recharge.

See you in the new year!

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Monday, December 8, 2014

disillusioned, the 2014 edition

There comes a point in almost every teacher's academic year where they begin to feel disillusioned. This is particularly true for novice teachers. It usually happens after the excitement of the beginning of the year wears off. Disillusionment is characterized by the stress that settles in after the beginning of the year flurry. You have likely been evaluated by your principal, made it through the first set of parent-teacher conferences, and might be struggling with aspects of your teaching that aren't going as you'd envisioned. Things seem different than you imagined them.

 It's important to acknowledge the way you feel, first and foremost. This doesn't mean that you don't enjoy teaching. It is a very common phase of teaching. Check out the New Teach Center phases of new teachers for more info. Or, check out previous blog posts about this topic here, here, here, here, and here.

There are a lot of things you can do if and when you begin to feel this way. First, take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself makes you a better teacher. Get sleep, enjoy a night away from the gradebook with your spouse or children or friends or doggie. Exercise. Try a new healthy recipe. Watch videos of cats or the beaches in Bali. Spend some time every day thinking about what you are thankful for. Whatever it is that fills your soul, find a way to make it happen.

Then, focus on what might be contributing to your disillusionment. Next time you feel frustrated, write down things that are causing your frustration. From your list, think about what is in your control and is ongoing. What is one thing you can do to make a change in this factor? Think about ways to let go of those things that are not in your control.

The upcoming winter break can serve as a chance to reset - to gain some perspective, to refocus on the big goals for the academic year, to recharge with family and friends and fun.

What is your plan to get through the disillusionment? If you have experienced this before, what has helped you in the past?

Reference: Mendler, A. N. (2012). When teaching gets tough: Smart ways to reclaim your game. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

teaching about Ferguson

Though the grand jury decision was announced a week ago, students still have questions and are working through their responses to Ferguson. Teachers and classrooms are often the safe spaces where conversations about controversial topics can happen. So, if your students want to talk about Ferguson, here are some resources to help you.


How have your students responded to the news in Ferguson? How have you facilitated discussions with your students about this, or other controversial topics?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

formative feedback

In the best classrooms, grades are only one of many types of feedback provided to students.
― Douglas Reeves
Feedback. We know we need to provide thoughtful, thorough feedback to students in order for them to make progress in their learning goals.
The importance of feedback has been widely studied and documented. We all know from our own educational careers that feedback was important to us. It helped validate our work, identify strengths, and show us areas to continue to improve. Formative feedback is usually the most helpful, as it provides us with tools in the midst of learning rather than presenting achievement after learning. Time is a factor, of course, with providing feedback to students, and especially at this busy time of year, time is at a premium.

There are a number of places to look for suggestions to make formative feedback work for you. An article in Educational Leadership describes 7 keys to formative feedback. Edutopia has a link to some formative feedback ideas here. Here is a list of 10 tips to make formative feedback most effective. Across these articles, the keys are that effective feedback is practical and timely, and specific to the learners' needs and the learning targets. While this type of feedback is challenging, finding ways to incorporate specific feedback, rather than simply a "good job" at the top of a paper, can really help propel students' learning.

What are your favorite tips for providing formative feedback to students? What challenges do you face? Comment below with your thoughts and ideas!
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

alternatives to withholding recess

“Those of you who did not finish your math homework
will be staying in from recess to complete the assignment.”

I’ll admit it – I was guilty of saying this. When I was teaching 5th grade, I occasionally had students who missed homework chronically. Managing missing and late homework is such a difficult aspect of teaching, and there were times when I felt I needed to hold students back from recess in order to finish this assignment or that.

American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy Statement on The Crucial Role of Recess in School states:

Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

I realized that, after reflecting on why students were not completing homework, there were things I could do proactively to support students and avoid withholding recess. I made sure that students’ planners were updated with the homework, and had some positive consequences if they got their planner initialed by a parent each night. It might be the case that students forgot what was assigned by the time they got home, so having an accurately filled out planner was one step.

Because I was teaching in a self-contained classroom, I was able to adjust my schedule a bit to include 20 minutes in the day that was choice time for students that were caught up and homework make-up for those that were behind. This time was really valuable for students, so they were motivated to get their homework done so they could have choice time. I know that not all teachers can play around with the schedule, but it could work to have 20 min / week out of your teaching time work for this if missing homework is a big problem in your classes. It can allow you time to work in small groups or individually with students that might not be completing homework because they need additional instruction.

Now, if the misbehavior is during recess time itself, then the consequence of missing recess might make sense. But in the case of missing homework, this wouldn't seem like a good consequence. And as an educator writes in this Edutopia article, you can talk to the student. See what might be behind the missing work. But try to avoid withholding recess.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

rejuvenation

It's hard to believe that it is already mid-Oct, and for those in Minnesota, that means it is MEA weekend. The Education Minnesota conference is going on today and tomorrow, and it provides teachers a chance to connect, learn, get some freebies, and have lunch for longer than 18 minutes with friends and colleagues. For others, this weekend is a chance to get away - one last fall weekend to the cabin. The chance to play with your children, read a book, knit, work on the yard or house projects that desperately need finishing before the winter. Whatever you do this weekend, take some time for yourself. Take a few minutes to do something YOU love to help you handle the stress of being a teacher. It is HARD WORK being a teacher, and you are pulled in many directions all at once. Sometimes we need a break.

While you're at it, perhaps you can develop some ways to handle the stress of teaching during the week too. Some teachers I talked to recently said they started to walk around the block at lunch. They ate their apples and yogurt on the go while chatting and getting some exercise. Since we all know how long the winters get, being able to get outside, even for 10 minutes, can boost our spirits and make us happier and more patient in the classroom. Maybe you could start noticing things your colleagues are doing well and write them a post-it note to leave in their mailbox. It might start a trend of positive feedback throughout your building. Maybe you want to learn about meditation and think a few minutes a day might help. Of course, there's an app for that. Or maybe, just maybe, you can ask for help. Think about what really stresses you out the most and ask for help.

Check out other posts about taking care of yourself here.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

what new teachers want

I was out at a school last week and ran into a new teacher. She said that of all the things she needed support on, she was currently struggling the most with grading. She wasn't sure about her expectations for student work and how to evaluate it. Was she on the same page as the other teachers at her grade level? This conversation reminded me of an article in Educational Leadership from a couple of years ago. The article, What New Teachers Want From Colleagues written by Deborah Bieler, shared themes from conversations with new teachers about what their experience colleagues could do to help support new teachers.

Bieler, in her conversations with new teachers, found that above all else, new teachers are looking for help with teaching ideas, curriculum questions, classroom management, and someone to observe and reflect with them. And, the idea that connected to my conversation, help with grading. Grading is something that many teachers get less practice with throughout their preparation, while they get lots of practice writing lessons and teaching lessons, but collecting assignments, evaluating them, and using them to plan future instruction is something many new teachers feel less confident about. Grading an assignment given by the new teacher or a common grade-level assignment together with an experienced colleague could help enlighten the goals of the school/grade/department and help the new teacher feel more confident in their grading.

So what does this all mean? Well, maybe you have a faculty mentor and you can ask them for some support in these areas. OR, you can request that some of your grade-level or department meetings be devoted to curriculum, management, and grading. If you don't feel confident yet having this conversation with the whole group, perhaps bringing it up with one colleague and asking them if this could be a focus for common planning time would be a good place to start.

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