‘Don’t Hold Me Down’ – Lökii

Well, the school year has begun, and I have found myself with less time to write than I would like. My goal is to do a few short vignettes when I have the time now that I have so little of it.

With every new year brings new everything: curriculum, systems, protocol, teammates, procedures. It’s easy to get bummed out about the things that are different when one may have been in their groove last year.

My challenge to educators as they begin a new year is not to let the minutia of running a school or classroom get them down. There are so many influences that are outside of our control, that allowing them to get in the way of reaching our students can be quite easy. I’ve said it once before, but it beats repeating–we are the magicians, the creators, the producers! There is so much that each of us is empowered with in order to make tremendous learning experiences for our students. So what, our schedule isn’t ideal? So what, we have to devote a certain number of minutes to a particular subject? So what, we have a new textbook? No one can take away the ability that we have to weave engagement and wonder into a lesson.

None of us got into teaching for the academics. The call we answered was one for children–students and young minds ready to grow into thoughtful, well-rounded, responsible young adults. By allowing pettiness to hold us down, we aren’t serving the whole child that sits in each one of our desks.

Take a deep breath. Hush the madness. Teach.

‘You Make Me’ – Avicii

It’s time to head back to school. Whether you are headed back to the same position you had last year or a new one, you need this goodness from my friend Thomas McAuliff.

Think back to your first year teaching. Remember all the feels. Yes, ALL THE FEELS. One day you might say to yourself, “I can do this!” and then maybe a few hours later or the next day wonder what have you exactly gotten yourself into. Everybody has this feeling but it’s eventually how you respond. Stress can motivate us to do better, and be better.

I’ve recently accepted a new position in a new school district. With this comes a new district, new schools, new faculty/staff, new….see a reoccuring theme here? One particular day a couple weeks in with all of the “new-ness”, the feeling of being overwhelmed hit me and I had a moment of tears. I’m convinced a good cry every now and then is good for the mind and soul. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my new position and team, but everything happens fast. I spent some time with Induction teachers (teachers new to the profession) this week and seeing the look in their eyes, I knew sharing my story of WHY I have become an educator might bring some encouragement. Hopefully through my transparency, these teachers were able to see that moments of struggle exist happen for all and one great group of community were the other educators walking the same path along them in the room. I reminded them that this group of teachers would be where power lies because they are all on the journey together.

I’m reminded by the song “You Make Me” by Avicii. A portion of the songs says, “we are one…one for sure…all united.” It relates so well to the message I shared with those teachers, and served as a great reminder to me too!

You’re learning and growing. We will all mess up, but it’s how we respond. Do we decide to doubt our abilities or do we offer ourselves grace? Keep working way and making a difference because we have the capabilities to impact in a positive manner.

There’s also support in numbers. Finding a group of educators who share the same vision as you for students. Ignore those who spend their time complaining because that’s definitely not a part of the solution! I’m personally thankful for my educator friends who cheer and encourage me during good times and the bad.

Calm your nerves, collect your thoughts, and rock it out this year with your students, and co-workers because at the end of the day we are ONE FOR EDUCATION!

Thomas McAuliff is an Instructional Technologist for Anderson District 1 schools.

‘Overthinker’ – INZO

I turn a year older tomorrow. And all staff return to school for a new year on Monday. This has my mind consumed a little, obviously.

The monologue featured in this track is from a talk by Alan Watts. Take a listen, and get out of your head a little.

This school year, don’t think so much. Step out of your comfort zone and do something audacious for your students, your teammates, your school.

…time to wake up.

‘The Girl and the Robot’ – Röyksopp (Chateau Marmont Remix)

Are you in love with a robot? Don’t be that girl (or that guy).

It’s the first year of 1-to-1 technology (or “personalized learning”) for many in my state. It’s easy to think one of two things: 1.) “Tech is taking over–no one appreciates good teacher teaching anymore,” or 2.) “Yay, I can put my kids on their devices and my life is so much easier now.” Neither of these are correct. As educators, we are STILL the number one catalyst for student learning and engagement. Our thoughtful expertise allows us to dictate how students use their devices. We know when tech use is beneficial and when it’s not. If the devices are stashed in a cart during a lesson, that’s okay. If the devices never see the light of day, that’s not okay. Consider these thoughts when using tech in your class this year.

  1. What is the standard and learning target you are trying to get your students to achieve? If this isn’t considered first, forget the rest.
  2. How will you know that your students have mastered the information? Is there a specific outcome you’d like for your students to reach in terms of assessing their understanding? Is this a a formative assessment? Quiz? Test? Essay? Project?
  3. Consider the SAMR model. Will tech use serve as substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition of the task you are placing before your students? The further away from substitution you inch, the more you are transforming learning for your students.
  4. What technology will you use? Out of the myriad of apps, programs, and tools that are available, which one(s) will help you achieve the most purposeful and meaningful learning experience for your students? If there’s not one that is purposeful and meaningful, leave the devices out of it.
  5. At the end of the learning, how will the use of tech have served in accomplishing your goal? Have students achieved learning in a way that has effectively been impacted by the use of tech? What larger understanding have they achieved through the use of technology? How have they been able to impart their knowledge and understanding to individuals other than you, the teacher.
  6. REFLECT. Good use of tech or not? What will you do differently to achieve greater results?

It’s totally possible to have healthy cohabitation of your robot and your skills. Understanding technology as a tool will keep you focused on student learning and help control the wanton affections that can surface with the presence of class sets of shiny new devices.

‘By My Side’ – Nomra

The school year is approaching quickly. Between social media posts of classroom makeovers and back to school sales promotions, I wanted to drop this wise nugget advice from my friend, Kelli Coons. While you’re preparing for back to school, make sure you have a professional learning network (PLN) “by your side.”

From the start of my teaching career, I was familiar with PLC’s and PLN’s and what their purposes were. But to be honest, it always seemed artificial. Even forced, going through the motions for mandatory professional development. Working in PLN’s became more about what the administration deemed relevant for you to learn more about, and less about your individual needs as an educator. Educators work hard, every day, with little time for social lives and extra curricular activities. We as educators not only need support professionally, but personally. If the way in which your PLN is constructed was determined by someone else, based on your “perceived” needs, there is no way that it will become beneficial for you.

Early on in my career, I was always seeking a “tribe”, that I could trust and would encourage me to be better each day. However, sometimes we work in building and environments in which we feel each day is a competition. And this competition can be a good thing if we are competing with ourselves. But, if we are always competing with our co-workers and within grade-levels teams, it can make it very hard to build a trusted network of support. Often in this profession, those who choose to go it alone, end up burned out or bitter. Around the 9th year in my career, I had developed a very knowledgeable PLN through social media. This PLN provided and continues to provide me with sporadic resources and motivation, yet lacks that legitimate feeling of a true relationship. In any situation of life, we aren’t meant to go it alone, we are better together. Better together during those times of celebration and especially during those dark times. Better together when you are looking to make a career move. Better together when you want accountability to achieve. Better together when you don’t get the job you had your heart set on. Better together to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Better together to rise together.

My most valuable PLN, or my “MVPLN” , is made up of a diverse group of individuals I get the pleasure of organizing Edcamp Greenville with each year. I couldn’t put a price on how valuable this group is to me. They represent the very best in teaching, instructional coaching, technology integration, building-level leadership and district curriculum experts. Their backgrounds are varied and areas of expertise or passion, diversified as well. We not only want what is best for one another, but ultimately what is best for the future of our students.

For me, the people in my PLN, represent everything that I love about this profession. It has never been my desire to surround myself with “yes” people, just because I want to hear how great an idea is. I would rather be disagreed with or questioned by a friend who thought I might be headed in the wrong direction or give me a different perspective if what I was doing could be perceived negatively. You want to think of your PLN as an army you would take into war, and as for me, there is no other group I would rather stand beside on the battleground. PLN’s can help you realize a better you, the smartest person in the PLN is definitely the PLN.

Kelli Coons is a Technology Integration Coach working in Spartanburg School District One through the Dynamic Learning Project. @TooLegitTeach

‘Don’t Give Up on Me’ – Illenium & Kill the Noise (feat. Mako)

Dubstep is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South London in the late 1990s. It is generally characterized by sparse, syncopated rhythmic patterns with bass lines that contain prominent sub-bass frequencies. The style emerged as an offshoot of UK garage, drawing on a lineage of related styles such as 2-step, dub reggae, jungle, broken beat, and grime. In the United Kingdom the origins of the genre can be traced back to the growth of the Jamaican sound system party scene in the early 1980s. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubstep

I included a brief explanation of dubstep because it aligns with this post. Words often used to describe dubstep songs are nasty, filthy, and grimy. Usually, the more sub-bass elements, the grimier the song. Sometimes, I just happen to be in the mood for a ridiculously grimy song (this song, not too grimy… take a listen back at ‘Swagga’ for a little more grime).

Anyway, the first day of school is approaching quickly, and class rosters are being distributed. I have to admit that I’m a little salty about this, because I remember being a classroom teacher and not getting my roster until hours before Meet the Teacher some years. At any rate, with the receipt of class rosters, there is sure to be the research on students via recounts of former teachers. Well, this is me begging you not to give up on a kid before you even get to know them.

Hopefully none of your new batch has had teachers who would describe them using the words I used to illustrate dubstep, but it’s possible one or two may use be characterized some words that aren’t far off: bad, horrible, impossible. That was then, this is now. There are a multitude of reasons why that child may have been the way they were for that teacher: a period of turmoil in the home, a medical situation, difficulty with content, or maybe they just didn’t jive with the teacher. We all go through seasons in our lives, and maybe that kid wasn’t having a great one. Here’s another thought–maybe that teacher wasn’t having a great one.

You may notice towards the end of the featured song, there is a reprieve from the tempo and filthy deep bass. Could it be that this year that kid who had a rough time last year enters into a season of growth and success? Could you be the one that helps to straighten their path or rewrite their story?

I challenge you, if you are a teacher receiving a new group of kids this year, to greet each child at the classroom door that first day of school. Look deep in their eyes and remember this song. As you hug them or shake their hand, listen carefully for their silent plea, “Don’t give up on me.”

Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be. -Rita Pierson

‘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.