‘Always Feels Like’ – Dave Winnel & DLMT

I can’t believe what a kid said to me today…

First, let me explain what I’ve been doing for the past week. When I was the IC at A.J. Whittenberg, I taught in a program called Innovate!. This program is for targeted students that have the potential to do better in school with extra instruction and intervention. It met after school on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays until 6:00 pm. We would actually teach during this time, with need-based, standard-aligned lessons that focused on areas where students had deficits, but also remedial instruction that supplemented lessons that kids were learning in class. In the summer, these students come back for 4 weeks to combat “summer slide”. I agreed to come back and teach the alumni students for 2 weeks this year. When I say alumni, I mean any student who went to A.J. Whittenberg as a student and matriculated through the program comes back to the elementary school for remedial instruction. So I have been teaching rising 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th graders for the past week.

Well today, the assignment for the students was to create a one page infographic explaining the article we read last week about Cuba and the changes that had been made regarding Americans’ travel privileges under President Obama and now, President Trump. We had a great discussion, complete with viewing videos highlighting President Obama’s detente in 2016. When we finished dissecting the article, the kids wrote a 20-30 word GIST (Generalizing Interactions between Schemata and Text) statement about the article. So today, we took it a step further with this infographic activity.

I was walking around the room monitoring kids’ work, when one student stopped me and asked, “Why are you walking around watching us?” I was confused at first. See, this child is not a troublemaker, and I know that she was asking because she was sincerely intrigued about why I was standing over her and her classmates while she worked.

“You mean why am I walking around right now while you’re working?” I asked. She and the other kids nodded. “Well, I’m monitoring what you’re doing to make sure you understand the assignment, and that you’re on task. Do your other teachers not do this?” I asked. She and all of the other students shook their heads…

“Most of my teachers just sit at their desks while we work.”

My confusion turned to shock. This is what KIDS think about us–that we dictate assignments to them, and we inattentively sit up in our desks while they work.

We have GOT to do better. It is not enough to hand out an assignment and check out to go onto something else. There are times, of course, when we are meeting with small groups or individual students; but if students are working on independent practice, or even group activities, we need to be present and continuously monitoring their learning.

Not only does circulating around the room and actively monitoring students’ work help keep them engaged, it gives us as teachers insight to their understanding of the lesson. Through meaningful glances over kids’ shoulders, we can determine if they’ve got it, they need simple redirection, or they need targeted reteaching.

Simply put, students should always feel like somebody is watching them.

‘Who We Are?’ – Gattuso (feat. Myah)

Back when I used to teach 5th grade, my teacher friends at my school would always say, “Your kids are like little Hamiltons.” Guilty as charged. Inevitably, my classes tended to take on many of my traits. They loved dance music, they were highly competitive as a class, they were grammar snobs, they enjoyed creating content-relevant lyrics for popular songs, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously. I attribute this, first and foremost, to the relationships I strived to build with each of my kiddos.

When I would get a roster of kids every year, I looked at it the way I did as a summer camp counselor. Every summer while I was in college, I worked as a summer camp counselor at 4H camps across South Carolina, and at academic camps on campus at Clemson University. Leading a group of summer campers is such an amazing responsibility because as the counselor, so much of campers’ enjoyment at camp depends on the counselor. Waking up, setting shower schedules, enabling friendships and culture in the bunk, getting to meals, dealing with homesickness, maintaining continual activity, staying on top of meds, mandating bedtime: it’s all part of truly being EVERYTHING for that set of campers for the entirety of their stay. This is how teachers should approach their new students at the beginning of each year. Sure, there won’t be showers and bedtime, but every little thing that students experience from 8:00 am to 2:30 pm is in the hands of the teacher. Shouldn’t a child be able to assess their class and be certain “Who We Are?”

So in creating a yearly army of 9- and 10-year old Hamiltons, there were a few things that consistently helped us create an understanding of who we were. In the long run, this camaraderie and community ultimately led to high levels of engagement, few behavior problems, and ultimately an appreciation of learning that resulted in impressive student growth. Here are 6 things teachers can utilize to create a healthy, engaging classroom culture.

Identity | Point blank, the term “Mr. Parks’s Class” is lame. Obviously, the class belongs to Mr. Parks; it’s under the instruction of Mr. Parks; Mr. Parks is leading the class. What’s more fun and creates more sense of community is a full-on name or mascot. My class went by “Team Parks”, because we saw ourselves as a team, and strived to look out for one another as such. There’s an easy name for your group—drop “Team” in front of your last name and run with it. There are other options, however, that are even more fun. My friend Amber calls her class “The Golden Arches” because her last name is McDonald. Her teammate, Kristin is going with “Pulido’s Amigos”, which is a nod to her Mexican last name. Carli, my friend moving from 5th grade in one school to 4th in another, is taking her class name, “The Brew Crew”, with her; her last name is Brewer. Let’s not forget alliteration though. My friend, Kristin Horvath always went with the name, “Horvath’s Heroes”. Just the same, my friend Katy Freemon’s class is lovingly known as “The Freemon Frogs”. Just a little creativity with a class name makes for more than a cute sign outside the classroom door—it creates an identity that students can be excited to claim.

Events | When I come in contact with parents and students from my last 5th grade class, none of them ever bring up specific lessons. They do, however, often bring up Dance Party Friday. This was a weekly event that my students enjoyed. Every day, during morning work and independent practice time, we listened to soft, easy, popular music. This, too, was something that made us us. But every Friday morning while kids entered the room and got started on their morning work, the music was much like the music featured in this blog. Of course, there was an understanding that the music was a privilege and could only be played if students could perform their tasks without distraction, and all of the music had kid-friendly lyrics (I personally can’t handle Kidz Bop—I am in full support of unadulterated, profanity free original tracks). But this was something special for our class that made them look forward to Fridays. Sure, it stemmed from something I was personally passionate about, but there are many interests we have as teachers that we can use to engage and excite our kids. As a teacher, using your personal gifts and interests to create special events in your classroom creates something special for your students.

Cheers | In my time as an IC, I experienced many classes that had cheers for various occasions: when a classmate got a correct answer, when the class claimed victory in a schoolwide competition, or when there was some other reason to celebrate. I missed out on incorporating many of these as a classroom teacher, but we did have an understood celebration for discovering good grades when Monday Folders were distributed. Just about all kids love to exclaim “Yussssssss” when they see grades they are proud of. It’s about the same amount of kids that don’t want to hear it when they receive an unpleasant grade. That’s why we enacted “silent fist pumps”. It’s basically the same movement that goes along with the celebratory “Yussssssss”, only it’s a little more exaggerated because there’s no vocal sound that accompanies it. Think of sticking your fist up in the air, then dramatically pulling it back by your side under your armpit—that’s the “silent fist pump”. It’s getting your celebration on so no one else can hear it.

Language | Just how certain ethnicities of people find commonality due to the language they speak, classrooms can too. This is even seen in families. Here’s an example: when talking to a family member about a person, and you can remember the person’s name, sometimes you might call them what’s her face or what’s her name. Depending on your family, you might say whachmicallit or doohickey when talking about an item that you can’t recall the name of (my mom would sometimes say doomaflocky). These mean the same thing, but the terms used are often dependent upon the language in one’s community. In my 4th grade class, I used to get a kick how my kids coined the term “wurff” to stand for early finisher activities. This is because my early finisher activities were listed as Wrap-Ups (a hands-on math fact practice tool), read, Flashmaster (an electronic math device) or flash cards. Other teachers or kids would have no idea what they were talking about, but we knew, because it was a word in our family vocabulary. In one 5th grade class, my students got on a tare of saying “That sucks” all the time. I don’t claim to be too old fashioned, but I just don’t like kids saying that—it sounds inappropriate. So I told my kids about an episode of the cartoon show Recess, where the teacher made the kids come up with another word to use in place of expletives. The word happened to be “womps”, so my class adopted it and would exclaim, “That womps” to express their distaste. It meant something to us, nothing to anyone else, but it served as part of our classroom lexicon.

Inside Jokes | One of my 5th grade classes asked to have a class pet. I wasn’t really sure of this at the time, so I did not agree. Being the creative kids that they were, they decided we would have an invisible class pet—a chinchilla, to be exact. They named him Jackie Chanchilla, or Jackie Chan for short. Of course I went along with it. Kids would come up to me on Friday afternoons and ask if they could take Jackie home for the weekend, and I would either agree or tell them that he was going home with someone else. This erupted into playful arguments between students where they would bicker about why the other shouldn’t babysit Jackie for the weekend. Jackie evolved into a little clip art character that I would place in the footer of 2-sided worksheets: “Jackie says, ‘Don’t forget to turn the page!’” Jackie was a special friend that reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously… I wonder who he went home with that last day of school?

Non-verbal Communication | I have seen this done amazingly in so many ways. Having these types of signals is not only great for classroom management, but similarly to language, it develops a way to communicate that is almost like a secret code within a classroom. In my room, 2 fingers meant “May I visit the pencil sharpener?” Three fingers, or a sign language W meant water, and a sign language R meant restroom. More than anything, it was great for me because I didn’t have to interrupt instructional time with having a verbal exchange; I could just acknowledge the student and let them do what they needed to do. One teacher I knew had the best way to allow his students to go to the bathroom. In fact, he didn’t even have to know they were going. He had a stuffed turtle that sat on a bookshelf in the room. When kids had to go to the bathroom, they’d simply retrieve the turtle from the bookshelf, and place it in their chair. They’d go to the restroom quietly, and put he turtle back when they returned. It limited the amount of kids that could go to the restroom at a time, and it also allowed kids the freedom to go without creating any disturbance in the room.

Reminiscing on some of the ways my classes were truly their own tribes makes me laugh and smile. These are some of the things I cherish as a teacher—building a community that is inclusive and values learning. It made me proud to know that my students each had a special place in my room each year, and together they all understood, collectively, who they were.

‘Better’ – SG Lewis & Clairo

My EdCamp Greenville PLN and I just finished presenting at Summer Academy put on by Greenville County Schools. Summer Academy is a 4-day long professional development conference that our district provides to teachers in the summer. The great thing about it is educators can check out a variety of sessions, and find the ones that interest them. Also, it’s taught by teachers and teacher leaders who are actually in classrooms and schools in Greenville County that have truly practiced the things they are teaching.

Before I get to the incredible strategies, let me just say that this 3 hour session was JAM PACKED with good stuff to make teachers better. Oh my goodness. As a matter of fact, later in this post is a link to the Padlet we created also, because all the tools, strategies, and “hacks” we unpacked just have to be shared.

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Roughly 20 educators from pre-K all the way to high school joined us this afternoon. The title of our session was “Get Hacked: Identifying your Teaching Super Powers”. Our goal was to facilitate an EdCamp-style session where participants could share best practices that worked for them, or learn from their peers. We divided the session up into “villains” or areas where teachers and administrators may see roadblocks or areas in teaching that could use improvement. These areas were classroom environment, grading/assessment, lesson planning/engagement, communication, leadership, and teachers supporting teachers. At the beginning, much like in an EdCamp, we had participants share their individual areas of concern for each “villain” on sticky notes. In the normal EdCamp model, participants share what they would like to share about or learn about on sticky notes, and then sessions are built out of the interest. Since we didn’t have all day or a school-full of rooms to break up in, as a team, we developed the things we would discuss, and polled the attendees for specifics within each area that they wanted to tackle.

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The participants shared their sticky note “villains’ all while completing the GooseChase that we had actually introduced last Wednesday via social media. GooseChase is an app-based scavenger hunt where participants complete the tasks to earn points. This is a fantastic tool to use with students with 1-to-1 devices. It’s so fantastic, in fact, GooseChase gave us a free year Educator Upgrade to share with the winner of our GooseChase. Along with this fun, we posted the phone number of our missing teammate, Thomas, up on the board and challenged the participants to FaceTime him, and the first to get an answer earned an EdTechTeam neoprene zip bag. That’s one thing about our team–we all truly believe engagement does matter, and it doesn’t stop at the students!

Each of us EdCamp team members had prepared a few hacks to share, but we really wanted the discussion to be organic and laid back, just like EdCamp is. It just so happened that we had a fantastic bunch of teachers from many backgrounds that were eager to learn, share, and participate. We had such rich discussions and enlightened each other with a variety of tips and tricks to make teaching easier and ultimately be better teachers for our students, their parents, and our colleagues.

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It would be impossible for me to recreate all of the rich discussion, laughs, and learning that went on today, but Shalonda painstakingly compiled the following Padlet that is jam packed with all the amazing resources and talking points we covered today.

 

This is what we wanted teachers to walk away with.  It’s what we believe in, as EdCamp organizers. When teachers come to a PD, they want to walk out with something they can take and put into action immediately–something that will truly make them better. Teachers who are equipped with “super powers” like these are able to provide thoughtful, engaging, student-centered learning experiences for kids, which is truly the ultimate goal. And what’s better than that?

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We closed by addressing “Teachers Supporting Teachers”. This is so important! If it were not for these people, I don’t know where I would be professionally right now! In order to bring our best for kiddos, we have to have a strong tribe that will lift us up and encourage us on a daily basis. Some of the takeaways from this discussion were:

  • Create a group text of like-minded colleagues.
  • Build a tribe of people in diverse positions with varying strengths.
  • Step out of your comfort zone and make connections outside of your school and district.
  • Meet up for meals, coffee, or outings.
  • LAUGH.

For me, there is nothing that inspires me like seeing teachers empowered to be the absolute best they can for their students. Taking precious time out to participate in professional development opportunities to recharge ourselves is such an effective way to improve ourselves. It’s also important to remember that teaching is a contact sport. We touch the lives of not only our kids, but colleagues and administrators. We have got to lean on each other and shout the positive, because we all deserve to be better.

‘Maths’ – deadmau5

The boy reluctantly peered into his report card envelope that cool, fall day. He knew that he had done his absolute best, despite what letters were printed the sheet of paper inside. He had been an honor roll student ever since elementary school, and he knew that he had given his best the first quarter of middle school. Even with the changing of classes and having to remember a locker combination, he was sure that he had succeeded. What he wasn’t so sure about, however, was what he had made his first nine weeks in math. Sixth grade math wasn’t a whole lot different from elementary school math. He liked his teacher, he completed all his assignments on time, and he even did his homework each time it was assigned. It’s just that ever since 3rd grade, when the long term substitute told him he was in danger of failing if he didn’t pull the grade up, he was scared of the jumble of numbers that would mockingly peer back at him from the pages of his textbook. Somehow, he maintained an A that 3rd grade year. He did that until 5th grade, when his first B came in the form of a math grade. He had managed to pull out a B in math his entire 5th grade year. It so happened, that the story of the B continued that day in 6th grade–until 7th grade when it devolved to a C. And then in 10th grade to a D. It was then, that he decided he better rethink being an architect, something that he had wanted to be since preschool. He ended up being a teacher–then a coach–now he’s an administrator writing this blog post.

Math anxiety is real. I wrote my second masters thesis on it. I’ll spare the barrage innumerable statistics, but I will say that in a 2009 study, Mark Ashcraft and Alex Moore found that 17% of the US population suffer from high levels of math anxiety. Ashcraft also defines math anxiety as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” (2002, p. 1). I bring this up because there’s a strong chance that maybe 3 to 5 kids in each class have it, and even more, a significant handful of teachers may have it.

Math anxiety is said to come from a lot of places, but often it can be traced back to the classroom. This is sometimes due to a frustration that begins early on with difficulty to create 1-to-1 correspondence, the inability to memorize basic facts, or a lack of adequate teacher support. Now I’m the last person to beat up on teachers, but as I told my own story, sometimes we enter into classrooms with our own struggles and lack of confidence. Thankfully, I grew to adore math as a teacher due to the fact that I have a soft spot for the struggling math student. However, many teachers just don’t like math, or like me, we’re always just not as good as it as they were in other subjects.

We’ve got to tackle this thing head on. As the cheerleaders of every subject we teach, we have to approach math with a gusto that brings comfort to anxious students. Of course, this means pouring into ourselves with meaningful professional development that will assist us in reaching our students on their individual levels with a variety of meaningful strategies. I’m going to go into just a few, and the first comes from a colleague of mine, Austin Greene.

Groups | Responsive, small group instruction based on students’ needs is a powerful method for fostering students’ mathematics growth. Targeted and focused small group mathematics instruction scaffolds and increases student understanding by using the students’ specific skill sets and addressing the underlying misconceptions. Data plays a crucial role in this small group instruction. Formative assessments embedded throughout a unit of instruction can be analyzed to make decisions regarding small group instruction. These assessments include anecdotal notes, short pre-assessments, observations, and independent exercises, such as exit slips.

These data provide timely information in determining next steps and prioritizing the focus for groups of students, which allow the teacher to tailor instruction and meet students’ needs. The power of student work can be quickly lost in the data shuffle; however, the analysis of student work provides the why of a missed problem and point to what misconceptions exist. This allows teachers to group students together based on individualized needs and to develop a targeted implementation plan.

The teacher plays a crucial role in the guided small group. Once the teacher unpacks the unit, having a firm understanding of the skills needed for mastery on the unit assessment and the grade level standards, the teacher is equipped to analyze the real-time student data to find the balance between what each student knows and needs to know. The teacher provides a targeted lesson or a student-led activity and is responsive to the students’ needs during this small group instruction. The teacher serves as a facilitator, encouraging student reflection and helping students connect concepts, all while continuing to monitor progress towards mastery­. Small group mathematics instruction can be a powerful tool in providing differentiated and focused instruction when the teacher facilitates student learning using the unit goals and the students’ specific skills and underlying misconceptions, all while conducting ongoing data analysis to give specific, responsive feedback to students.

Austin Greene is a Title I academic specialist for elementary math at Greenville County Schools in Greenville, SC. She is in her 13th year of education, and has served as a teacher, math interventionist, and instructional coach.

Games | Who doesn’t love a game? Games engage kids like a Jedi mind trick–they are so jacked up on the idea of winning (or not losing) that they totally overlook the realization that they are learning. They put all their effort into achieving the correct answer, and if they are anything like me in front of a Monopoly board, strategy and accuracy matter. A variety of games can be developed from just about any math standard, and providing this type of learning experience allows for application of skill that goes deeper than independent practice that simply displays use of an algorithm or identification of a correct answer choice.

It is important, however, to be highly intentional about the games we place in front of our students. There is a place for games that rely on speed in mathematics, but they should not be the go-to for all types of math learning. When encouraging students to improve on their fluency, games that count on speed are valuable. For example, allowing students to use a deck of cards and determine who can multiply the most pairs of card values serves as a way for students to exercise their speed in regurgitating multiplication facts. Having students compete to solve long division problems, on the other hand, is not the type of activity that would be best exercised with speed. More complex computations require students to pay close attention to the operations and steps required to perform such tasks. These games can still be played, with encouragement from the teacher that accuracy and precision are important.

“Groceries” | I don’t mean, actual groceries. I actually mean application, like we must do with groceries. Math is one of the things that kids will use all their life, whether they are going to be an architect, or not (like me). When it comes to setting an alarm clock or tipping a server, math is ever-present. Presenting math tasks in a highly applicable format creates awareness in students that the skill is valuable and worth knowing.

The example of groceries that I mentioned is just one application for math. Students can be given a budget for purchasing goods, and they have to create a list of things to buy for a meal without going over. Students could also determine which brand of food is better to buy by comparing the amount of food in two packages per the dollar amount. Even more, students can figure out what fraction of a package of food actually serves as the serving size, and what percentage of daily nutritional values that serving will satisfy.

But like I said, it doesn’t stop at groceries. Knowing students’ interests and hobbies will help to find an enjoyable way to apply math knowledge. The trick I always hold up my sleeve when tutoring middle school boys is applying integers to the football field. What is boring to them as -8 + 10 is so much more enjoyable as “your team just got a first down, but on second down, the quarterback got sacked and lost 8 yards.” One middle school female tired of mine was all about shopping, so understandably, we took to the Justice website and tackled the sales in order to understand percents. Again, Jedi mind trick.

Math anxiety is something we can battle just as easy as “i before e, except after c” (bad example, I know… protein, beige, weight, neighbor). If we are highly intentional and data-driven, and make math engaging and applicable, we can create experiences that kids not only look forward to, but are confident in participating.

I say this all with the understanding that the end of the day, there may just be a wannabe architect in your class meant for greater things.

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Ashcraft, M.H. (2002), “Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences”, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11: 181–185

‘Shelter’ – Porter Robinson & Madeon

I have the amazing privilege of working alongside 11 ridiculously on fire educators as part of the EdCamp Greenville team. We are the ultimate professional learning network (PLN), and we have an ongoing group text that talks about everything from Cardi B to classroom environment…

It was my intrigue about one of my teammates’ classroom environment that sparked the post I am sharing today. I had the amazing privilege of being Shasta Looper’s instructional coach at A.J. Whittenberg a few years back, and we have grown to truly be coaches for each other, as well as dear friends and Disneyworld ride partners! Shasta is venturing back to the elementary classroom after a 3-year stent as a middle level literacy coach. I asked her what she felt were essentials for the classroom learning spaces.

Well, Shasta did not disappoint. She actually took this prompt and ran with it, authoring a blog post of her own at her site, The Teacher’s Loop. Here is a direct link to her post on “My Top 5 Essentials”, where she discusses building a shelter of learning for her new class of 4th grade kiddos.

‘You Don’t Know About Me’ – Ella Vos, Icona Pop, & VÉRITÉ

I am so excited to feature the first guest blogger to EDM. My friend and colleague, P. Sloan Joseph joins the blog today with this gem that will encourage you to know about  your students this coming year in an inspiring new way.

Communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are known as the 4Cs of teaching and assessing students. Without these skills, it’s difficult for them to become responsible, productive citizens of society. Isn’t that the ultimate goal for all of our students? Preparing our students for college and career, begins with getting to know them. Being mindful of another set of 4 Cs is essential in building relationships with students and maximizing their success.

  1. Caring | Showing your students that you care is the first step in the process of building relationships. Do students know that you genuinely care about them separate from their academic success? How do you tell/show them? Take some time to say, “I care about you. I will/will not accept _____ because I want what’s best for you.” Listen when they contribute to class discussions and require their classmates to listen, too. Explain how your rules and procedures are created to keep them safe. Most kids like talking about themselves, their family and friends. Give them opportunities to talk, write, and draw to express their interests? Whether we like it or not, students tend to learn more from teachers that they like and/or respect. And they like/respect those they feel like, respect, and care about them.
  2. Competent | Most educators think competence is solely about their content area. Competence also means considering non-curricular factors that impact the learning environment. Your students are experiencing various stages of psychological and physical development. Do you assess their learning preferences and allow your findings to guide your decisions? Do you consider that students may be self-conscience about his/her weight or the new pimple that has appeared on his/her face. Does your lesson require lots of “sit and get” or do you consider that your students are experiencing “growing pains” and need to move around? What about non-verbal cues? Do you notice your students losing their excitement with a specific strategy, game, or tech tool? Considering these factors will have a huge impact on class culture and your relationships with students.
  3. Consistent |During the first weeks of school, you are focused on implementing rules, procedures, and pre-assessments. You are observing your student’s attitudes and behaviors to determine your seating chart and learning groups. In the midst of being busy with these daily tasks, you may forget that your students are observing your attitudes and behaviors, too! They are watching your body language, facial expressions, and listening to your vocal tone. They notice if you are organized or easily distracted. When your students are observing you, will they describe you as being consistent? Are you consistent with addressing negative behaviors? Are you consistent with implementing rewards and consequences? Do you show biases towards certain groups based on gender, race, or achievement level? If you aren’t consistent, your students will not trust you. And relationships are built on trust. Be mindful of being consistent. How? Record your lesson and do some self-observations. Have your instructional coach or a colleague observe you and be willing to accept their feedback (good or bad). Use this information to make adjustments.
  4. Candid | You are an educated, professional adult. Therefore, you speak and think like an educated, professional, adult. Sometimes, there is a break down in communication and lesson implementation because our students are kids; not educated, professional, adults. They may not understand idioms or regional phrases. They may not know how to “read between the lines.” Some of our students are from other countries and speak a different language. What you say and what it means to them can be very different. For this reason, you must be straightforward and truthful about your expectations, rewards, and consequences. You may need to repeat instructions multiple times. Use pictures, videos, motions, and skits to help your students understand. Your willingness to be candid decreases confusion and chaos, and increases student’s confidence and competence.

P. Sloan Joseph

P. Sloan Joseph is an Instructional Technologist at Greer Middle School, part of Greenville County Schools in Greenville, South Carolina. She serves teachers and students with almost 16 years of experience as a business education teacher, professional development facilitator, and administrator.

Twitter: @psjoseph718

‘Bad Dreams’ – Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson (Feed Me Remix)

I haven’t had to turn in lesson plans in 7 years. It never fails, however, that around this time every summer, I end up having a bad dream about school that involves me not having my lesson plans.

I know exactly where this comes from. Sometimes I wonder if some administrators put too much value in lesson plans. I don’t mean the planning; I really mean the well-worn parchment that, in my experience as an administrator, is somewhere among the mess of papers, forms, and sheets that are ACTUALLY important to the teacher. There’s no way that I’m going to discount the invaluable moments spent digesting standards and support documents, painstakingly collaborating with team members, and researching best strategies. That is truly where the magic happens. But the document that arrives out of all of that good, good work–meh.

I have learned to read between the lines for rich learning experiences, though. And the teachers that I have coached and led have been trained to articulate well in these documents that seek to guide instruction for a week at a time. I love looking at them, mostly, for times when I can pop in to classrooms to see either A.) something that seemed incredible in the plans, or B.) something that didn’t quite seem to be all there. Normally, when I do visit for the latter, I am met with understanding that just wasn’t best communicated in the plans. This just confirms my point that the plans are blah. Good teaching is good teaching, and it can’t be identified in a lesson plan.

Now before my fellow administrators kick me out of the club, I understand the purpose for lesson plans, just like there is purpose for any plan; it’s to serve as a road map for the actual trip–in hopes that the trip will go smoothly with no detours or flat tires. Well on the journey we call the classroom, detours and flat tires can pretty much be guaranteed in the form of misunderstanding and the need for reteaching. So yeah, that map? Toss it out the window, and prepare to go off-road if necessary!

In all seriousness, these plans are also highly important for accountability purposes. Administrators can’t be in classrooms all day (and this one really has a strong desire to be there). We’ve got to be able to see what teachers are teaching students and how they are doing it; and just like I mentioned before, we are interested in what is really awesome, and what needs just a little more clarification.

So I propose, for the sake of no bad dreams, teachers writing plans that work best for them–the ones delivering the instruction. I get a little twitchy when I hear that schools or districts are “mandating” a certain template or style when it comes to lesson plans. I totally understand requiring certain elements, in case a school or system is employing a certain framework or curriculum. However, it’s important that teachers are allowed to differentiate for themselves, just as we expect them to differentiate for their students. This is where creativity is given the room to blossom, and the planning actually flourishes. The planning is more important than the actual plan.

That being said, these masterful plans that are birthed from precious planning are not “done” when they are submitted on Monday morning at 8 am. They’ve got to allow room for those flat tires and detours, right?

My favorite thing to see as a coach and as an administrator is some highly-loved on plans–plans that have been annotated to death with different colored pens that have crossed out well-intentioned quizzes because the kids aren’t ready, drawn arrows from Tuesday’s small group session to Thursday’s, and scribbled Pete and Scarlett’s names down for reteaching on Friday. Those are plans that have heeded the GPS warning of “heavy traffic up ahead.” This doesn’t make me, as the teacher’s supervisor, concerned about their plans. This makes me so proud that they have understood the needs of even individual students, and placed them ahead of their menial sheet of paper. Literally, it make’s me pumped just thinking about it now!

So let me empower my teacher friends with a few tools for plans that may help create that road map to weekly wisdom. May you never have bad dreams.

EdPuzzle | This website allows teachers to craft personalized videos for their lessons. They can crop them so that unnecessary junk is deleted, and they can add in voice overs and notes with their own voices. Teachers can pull from resources like YouTube, Khan Academy, or TED Talks to enhance their students’ learning. An added bonus? It works seamlessly with Google Classroom.

InsertLearning | This one is similar to EdPuzzle, in that it allows teachers to personalize web content for a lesson. The difference is that it can be done to websites instead of videos. With this tool, teachers can literally insert varied types of questions, notes, and even videos into a website. This tool, also, can pair with Google Classroom.

PlanbookEDU | I’m a big fan of this site because it allows teachers to pick their preferred standards so that while using the software, they can bring up lesson standards right on the page without having to look in another document. It sets plans up more like a calendar, however, which is not really my taste. The next resource combines the user-friendliness of this site with what I feel is a more teacher-friendly template.

Planbook | I actually used this when I taught 5th grade and I loved it. Back then, though, there was no feature that would allow you to use pre-loaded standards. So now, I’m sure it’s amazing. Even more, it is set up to allow communication with administrators and students. Not gonna lie, I’m a little salty that I was early to the Planbook party back in 2010. Another great thing about Planbook is that teachers can color-code their subjects, which I know is a plus for us very organized, type-A creatures.

Chalk | Chalk is another tool similar to Planbook and PlanbookEDU, however it seems to have a lot more bells and whistles. It’s got extra perks like a gradebook and attendance log, which I feel might be a little overwhelming for teachers in districts that are using a schoolwide program like PowerTeacher. It is free, though, to individual teachers.

‘Hyper Paradise’ – Hermitude (Flume Remix)

No matter how hard one may try to deny it, the first day of school is on its way. The ads for Back to School sales and specials have surfaced, and as of today, Target is throwing an irresistible bone at teachers with its Teacher Prep Event. We might as well turn our speakers up and join the party.

At UTC last week, I learned about a tech-based engagement tool called Hyperdocs. This tool synthesizes Google Apps for Education to create a learning experience for students full of a range of tasks. Learn more about Hyperdocs here.

I also stumbled across the Mac daddy of Back to School Hyperdocs called The First Days of School.

This Hyperdoc includes a variety of activities that will help students share information about themselves and allow them to get to know each other. This is the first, most integral step of student engagement–creating a relationship!

Get hyped up with your students this year and employ this tool with your students.