I'm at a new school this year and I was looking for a way to get more involved. I was lucky enough to meet the Student Council sponsor who was very open to letting me help out. Student Council programs are different at every building so a lot of it was really new to me. I helped out at Halloween and Christmas events for the community where there were activities, decorations, and prizes for families and children to do. It was so cool to see the community show up in the school building. This last week however was one of my favorite events and after having a bad week (I read this post about a million times!) it was exactly what I needed. AND it would be pretty easy to replicate at your school if you wanted to!
Every year my school hosts the Love Bug Ball, a Valentine's dance for the students in the special education program. It started with just one or two teachers setting up a dance in their classroom for 4-6 students. They eventually reserved the commons area of the school and invited the special education programs from the local schools. A few years ago Student Council offered to do the set up and I am so thankful they did because it meant I got to help out!
Student Council students were out of class for 5 of their 7 classes Friday but it was time well spent. During 1st and 2nd hour we set up the room. With decorated tables, a photo booth, a DJ table, and a snack area, it definitely looked like any other high school dance I'd been to. A couple of students volunteered to be the photographers and write down the names of students and which school they attended so we could send their photos over. We had a playlist created on Spotify and borrowed some speakers from another teacher to set the mood. A few of the students parked themselves next to the snack table to keep it clean and the water/lemonade stocked. Each of the StuCo students were dressed up for the dance and at 9:15 just as 2nd hour was ending, we saw other dressed up students coming down the hallway! For the next two hours we all danced together! I loved seeing Student Council, Best Buddies, and 100+ students from local schools all dancing together.
After songs from Frozen, Annie, Michael Jackson, and more, the dance was over. We cleaned up and went back to class for 6th and 7th hours but I couldn't stop thinking about how great my morning was.
If you are wanting to do something like this at your school, first of all, I highly recommend it! The cost was minimal, mainly because we had so many re-useable decorations. Your first year may cost a bit more but if it's something you know you want to do next year, consider going through Valentine's Day clearance this week. We also partnered with Best Buddies who bought some of the snacks for the dance. We bought plastic table cloths, lemonade, balloons, and some more decorations for the photo center. Basically, do it. I am so thankful that I was included in helping with this event. It is definitely what I needed. It will easily become your favorite event of the year and who doesn't need something amazing like this to look forward to in February!?
Curriculum and differentiated instruction. These are two of the biggest emphasis in education since I started teaching 10 years ago. There are always educational fads and sometimes they are just renaming a concept related to curriculum writing and differentiated instruction. I would have to say though that in my opinion your curriculum and your approach to teaching are the biggest factors in whether or not you are a successful teacher.
When I first started teaching, I really didn’t think about curriculum. I was hired to teach 6th grade ancient civilizations and all of my material was essentially provided to me. I had an amazing mentor that had previously taught the same subject and a partner teacher on the other team that was also amazing. I really had great materials and I just fed off of what they gave me. My building would occasionally give us a work day to review the standards for our grade-level and make sure they matched what we were teaching. The problem was that no one ever gave us any instruction about how to do this, what to look for, or examples of quality curriculum. I just assumed that because we were covering the standards that we had amazing curriculum.
Fast forward to now. I have been teaching at my school for 7 years and working on my curriculum for 7 years. I really love what I have built and I think it is strong, but I still feel like I am just going off my gut of what I think curriculum should be like. I realized that I wanted to understand curriculum writing, what good curriculum looks like, and how to write a really strong curriculum. At the same time the past couple of years I have become obsessed with differentiated instruction and how to make it work in a high school social studies classroom. I have been searching for something to guide me on and give me a hint that I am headed in the right direction.
This led me to search amazon for education books and I came across Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. This immediately caught my eye. I am interested in curriculum writing and because of my recent move to student-directed learning I am trying to differentiate my instruction as much as possible. This seemed like it was meant for me.
Tomlinson and McTighe are seasoned educators that have multiple degrees and books on their perspective areas. Tomlinson focuses on differentiated instruction and McTighe focuses on curriculum writing. They are definitely experts in their fields.
A template and reasoning for planning backwards when creating curriculum
One of the best things is that this book takes you through step by step in planning your curriculum backwards. They provide charts and templates that you can use to start the process for yourself. That is really big for me as a person that loves to chart things out and see what it will look like at the end. The even better part is that give you logical reasons for why they have each step included. The break down what you do and why. I had a vague understanding of what it meant to backwards plan and it was something that I was sort of doing in my own planning, but what they presented was much more intentional. That was key for me.
There is too much to really give you the full low down but the three core pieces of the planning backwards in this book are:
They do a great job of taking you through each stage and talking about each piece of the stage with tips and suggestions of how to do it. They also give examples tied to different contents and grade-levels.
A reminder that I am responsible for designing and facilitating learning in the classroom
This reminder came at the best time for me. I had just wrapped up one of the hardest semesters of my teaching career and I wasn't sure what to do about it or fix the problems I was having. As I read this book, it reminded me that I am responsible for creating valuable learning experiences in the classroom and making sure that students are learning it. I had been wrapped up in the high school mentality that they need to learn to be adults and figure things out for themselves. This book reminded me though that it is my job as the teacher to guide them and find ways to make learning meaningful for my students.
Tomlinson and McTighe believe that teachers need to "balance student opportunities to make sense of the big ideas of content, to monitor the evolution of student understandings, and to engage in teacher-guided student reflection on and direct instruction related to the enduring understandings." This was what I needed to be reminded of. In my journey to create a student-directed learning environment, I let go of the teacher guided material and was pushing to hard for the students to create meaning all of the time. This book helped remind me of the things I knew to be true to be best practices and why I need to do them.
This book does such a great job in discussing the reasons why we do the things that we do. The first chapters of the book are dedicated to 'What Really Matters in Teaching' and "What Really Matters in Learning?' This honest discussion of why we do what we do and why it is important was a great refresher and affirmation of why I am a teacher.
What I also love is that Tomlinson and McTighe want the students to work for it. My favorite quote in the book might be "Understanding must be earned." That is the best! There is so much blame going around and while teachers have a lot of responsibility in the learning process, the most important thing is that we have to provide opportunities for students to earn their understanding.
Where differentiation occurs in the process of creating curriculum and what differentiation really looks like
I have never really been taught as a teacher what differentiated instruction really looks like. We talk about it a lot in schools and we all know that it is a good idea, but what does that mean. What does real differentiation look like? What pieces of the curriculum can be differentiated? All of these questions are answered in this book. Tomlinson and McTighe first talk about what differentiation really means then go through their stages of curriculum and discuss where differentiation can and should take place for students. They give scenarios to show what it looks like in different contents and grade-levels. I will say that there were times that I would like even more specific examples, but that is because I am very specific and like to see how things are broken down.
One of the things I have really taken from this process is the importance of pre-testing. It is hard to actually differentiate your instruction with out first pre-testing students for their prior knowledge and their interest in the content. Without this it is hard to create activities that will address student choice and readiness level.
Along with this I was afraid in taking the steps towards true differentiation that I would have to individualize everything for every student. That thought alone sent me into panic mode. There is no way I would have the time to do that in a way that was effective. Tomlinson and McTighe put me at ease though by saying that you do not have to individualize everything in the classroom. It is better to look for patterns of instruction that can help with multiple learners. This was such a relief. By identifying major patterns of instruction and areas that many students may struggle with, I can create supports and activities to build those areas.
I really recommend this book if you are looking for a book to take you through the process of designing a curriculum that works for all students and how to use differentiated instruction to better instruct all students.
I'm teaching a new class this semester - one that I've never taught before. The school I teach at places all freshmen together in their core courses and tracks them. If they are below a certain map score when entering high school, they can also be placed in a "Reading and Writing Strategies" course or a "Math Strategies" course. While a long term sub taught the first semester of Math Strategies, I am taking over this semester and I am pretty excited.
I get a whole class period every single day to help freshmen work on strategies for math! I can finally do all of the activities that I don't have time to do in my Algebra or Geometry courses. And I can go sloooooow.
I have loved this week so much and I want to share a couple of the activities that we did in class that could be adapted for time or grade level pretty easily!
the 8 mathematical practices
My goal for this class is for students to know and understand the 8 mathematical practices. I asked students on the first day, "what makes someone good or bad at math?". Many of them said focus or not giving up. After we had shared out what they thought, I introduced the 8 Mathematical Practices. I downloaded this freebie from TPT and hung them up in my room. Most importantly, after each activity we do, I ask them to each write down and share out which mathematical practice(s) we used and how.
This one takes a round or two for students to really catch on to the goal. Just ask them to bear with you and make sure you understand and can prompt students through the first couple of times. It also helps if you can divide your class evenly by something visual. I usually do boys v girls but I have 13 boys and 2 girls in my first Math Strat class so that wasn't going to work. I numbered them teams 1 and 2 counting off around the circle and gave a bright sticky note to all of my team 2 players so they could be easily identified.
1. Get in a circle with each person in between two people from the other team.
2. Declare the location of THE COUCH! 4 spaces in the circle become the sacred couch. The goal is to get your team on the couch in all 4 spots. At the beginning of the game, it should always two people from each team.
3. Create an open seat or spot in the circle not on the couch.
4. If you have an open spot to your left, then you can call someone's name and they must move to that location. The one person who's name is called is the only one to move.
5. After the person moves, there will be a new open spot in the circle. Repeat step 4. You cannot move the same person twice in a row.
6. The game ends when one team has all four spots on the couch.
An oldie but a goodie!
1. Choose one person to leave the room so they cannot hear discussion.
2. The remaining people get into a circle and decide on a rule. The rule could be that every person is now the person to their left or it could be that everyone is Suzie. Whatever the rule is, everyone in the circle should answer all questions following the rule.
3. The person who was outside comes back into the room and stands in the middle of the circle. They have 3 chances to guess the rule but can ask an unlimited number of questions.
4. The person in the middle asks questions like, "What color is your shirt?", "Are you a boy or a girl?", "What color shoes are you wearing?", etc. The students in the circle answer the questions according to the rule. If they do not know the answer without somehow giving it away or if they answer a question incorrectly, someone can call out "Psychiatrist" and everyone in the circle gets up and moves to a different spot in the circle. The game continues until the person in the middle either guesses the rule or uses all 3 tries.
Logic Puzzles & Sudoku
If I teach my students how to complete logic puzzles and sudoku squares then I am giving them another option for an activity to use when they need a brain break. Beyond the perseverance and critical thinking needed to solve these puzzles, I want students to be able to work independently or in small groups on something that doesn't require a lot of noise or movement. Much like English teachers can start class with some independent reading time, teaching students to solve these puzzles could add a great spot for some math practices to be done quietly at the beginning or end of a class period. I used Puzzle Baron's Logic Puzzles to teach them how to complete them. The only issue with this site is that some of the problems include alcoholic drinks. Just keep an eye out for that!
I saw someone post on Facebook about doing something like this in a journal personally and I loved the idea! I created a Google Sheet and added it to my Google Classroom for my math strategies students to use. Many students (and adults) struggle with interpreting graphs and may think only of the coordinate plane when hearing the word graph.
I started by having students tell me something they knew based off of the example chart on the right. Students were able to summarize that the example represented a generally happy person who had a couple of rough days. I responded that it was my personal pixel chart and that I was generally happy but I had a pipe burst (in 3 spots!) and got my basement ripped up on January 5th. They filled out the days they could remember leading up to this week and will now fill it in each day when they come to class.
I am excited because I can pull a lot of things from this.
The color code
With another focus on interpreting graphs, I had my freshmen students take the color code test. When they got the results, they looked at the pie chart (which shows only the most dominant color) and tried to guess about how much of the pie the other colors took up.
This was great for self reflection, for learning about how they are motivated, and for learning that others are motivated differently. It was also great data for me to see so that I can use it in future lesson plans.
I bought the jumbo pack of popsicle sticks so that I could create multiple Kaboom! games but I decided to use them in Math Strat as well.
I put students into teams of 2 and gave them 20 popsicle sticks, 4 feet of yarn, and 1 foot of ductape. They had 30 minutes to make the most money.
The money aspect definitely took it up a notch from just challenging them to build the tallest tower.
week one done!
We did all of this in a 4 day week back from Christmas break and I absolutely loved watching my students who feel like they are not great at math be so confident and enjoy themselves with each of these activities. I'm looking forward to week 2 and more!
Semester Break is almost here!
I know we are all excited for this semester to be ending and to have at least 10 days off. If you are anything like me, you are excited but also thinking about everything that you need to do to prepare for next semester.
One thing that I am trying to work on is balance between my teaching responsibilities and my family responsibilities. To this end I am really trying to work on ways to recharge over the break so I am ready to go when it is time to come back to school!
Here are the ways I am going to work on recharging and we would love to hear from all you on how you recharge over the semester break.
Make Time for Family/friends only
Basically I have a ban on work once the semester ends through the 26th of December. Those days are for family and friends. I spend my time baking, hanging out with my family, wrapping presents, and all of that stuff. My family always appreciates this, because they have my full attention and turn off my teacher brain for a little while which I think is really important. It helps clear my mind and allows me to come back to my work with a fresh start.
Spend some time/Energy on myself
This is just as important as spending time with family and friends. I need some time for myself, so I don't feel like I am going to go crazy and snap at people. This can be as simple as reading a book for an hour at night or my favorite is a day at the spa. To me, if we don't do this we are really hurting ourselves, family, and students. We can't take of others if we don't take care of ourselves. We just need to find a little bit of time for ourselves, so we can give the best version of ourselves for everyone else.
take some time for growth
I have lately really become aware or rediscovered how important it is for teachers to keep learning. When we do this, it keeps us growing which is important considering that is what we want from our students. I have also found that it just gets my creative process going and helps me think of new ways to do things and new ways to solve problems I have been having.
So during my break I am going to finish reading a book on differentiated instruction which is a huge focus for me right now. I have already started it and the ideas are already flowing!
Time Chunk your work
This is strategy that we use with kids all of the time, but I found that it works for me as well. When I am on break, I find that I like to schedule time for work or a specific task and then I make myself take a break and do something completely not related. I will take time and play a game with my kids, watch a movie with my husband, or have lunch with a friend. This allows my mind to take a break and process anything that I was working on and then I can come back to it or start a new task. This also helps me keep some perspective and not get overwhelmed by all of the things that I want/have to get done.
Also this process helps me keep my work goals realistic for the break. It is a break after all and if schedule chunks of work then I am forced to prioritize my work and really see what needs to be done before I go back to school in January.
For the over-achievers out there...
Get some work done BEFORE your break. For those intense planners who won't be able to really check out of work, try to get the first 2 weeks of the 2nd semester planned and materials ready BEFORE you leave work for break. If you know that the first two weeks are all set to go, you may be able to unplug better and really enjoy your break!
Your Turn! How do you recharge over break?
I spent the past Thursday and Friday at an Educational Technology conference in Springfield, Illinois and it was amazing.
So many times when signing up for a conference, especially when it means missing instructional time, I hesitate. Will it be worth missing the time? Writing the sub plans? The cost of registration, travel, and stay?
The Illinois Education And Technology conference this year was worth it all several times over. You will probably see me reference something from this conference for weeks and months to come! And I LOVE when this happens! So often when we hear “professional development” it feels like a bad thing so I love love love when I can share about a great experience. IETC, you guys are doing it right! 👍🏼
There were several sessions I went to that I felt were worth the full amount of money and time spent, but one seems so fitting for this time of year.
I’m drained. My co-blogger has had a couple of really rough weeks in a row. I’m feeling a bit run down and discouraged myself. Neither one of us is one to start complaining hard about kids or school but it sure helps to have at least one of you in a good spot during one of those low points. Lately for us, that hasn’t been the case. My conference time started off that way. I drove about 30 minutes towards the conference before realizing I’d left my luggage at home and needed to go back for it. When I checked in, they let me know there’d been an error and my room was booked for the following two nights. They were able to get a room for me, but it was quite the process. I checked in and thought, “what a great start this is”.
But that didn’t matter because when you attend conferences like this, you are surrounded by teachers who love their jobs and want to be life long learners! That energy and attitude is contagious!
My favorite session(s) from day one were led by Joe Sanfelippo, a superintendent from Wisconsin. You may recognize him from some of his videos on his district's facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FallCreekSchoolDistrict/)
This guy was so awesome that I attended his morning session, heard him as the lunch keynote, and then went back for his afternoon session. I felt so energized and ready to role after all of it that I knew ole Joe would get his own honorary blog post (I'm in the Joe Sanfelippo fan club now! Go Crickets!) Below are some of the takeaways from attending his sessions.
The first session I attended was titled "Hacking Leadership", titled the same as his book (which I bought and have already read because wow).
He focused on a cyclical model for healthy and productive schools revolving around being intentional, opening doors, and building staff.
So often I feel bogged down by trying to make a change by contributing to a positive culture but Joe mentioned that upon entering a school building that had had 4 principals in 5 years, he was determined to change the culture 30 seconds at a time. 30 seconds at a time...now that I can do. I think I need to do some huge thing that in the end is too overwhelming to actually happen. Instead, I can commit to smile at people in the hallway, converse with co-workers and students, and making positive calls home.
As a group, we came up with these other ways to be intentional
Tell your story
At lunch Joe spoke more about his specific experience at his K-12 school of 800. He spoke about the importance of sharing your positive school story. The negative talk seems to be a lot louder and said a lot more often. We need to drown that out with all of the truly terrific things happening in our schools. Even the people making most of our decisions (the school board) only ever get to hear about the three B's: beans, busses, and balls (food, transportation, and sports). If we want the real story to be told, we have to do it!
He started broadcasting all of the important things happening at his school on instagram, twitter, facebook, and through podcasts. While school newsletters are useful for some, we need to meet our community where they are at. After surveying the community, Joe found the majority of our student's parents are more likely to read from facebook because they already spend a few hours there daily.
If we want to communicate with our community, we need to find out where they are and GO TO THEM! They can't only hear from us when we need something. They should be hearing from us all the time! Find the best way to start and then do it! Tell the story of your school and why you show up to work and others will want to be a part of the story!
Be a social media superstar
Schools are scared to use social media. What if someone sues us for posting a picture of their kid? What if someone posts or comments something horrible?
Joe spoke about overcoming both of these issues but more importantly, he tied it back to telling a story and loving what we do. People don't know why we became teachers. They don't know what the day to day looks like inside a classroom. And a lot of those people are not reading that newsletter you send home once a month or quarter by mail. We ask ourselves, "How do we share with people what is going on and how incredible these kids and teachers are?". We already know the answer: social media. But there are so many!!! How will we ever have time to spend on all of the social media? We won't have time to do our own jobs! Well you don't need to learn ALL of the social media outlets, just find where your community lives. Most commonly the kids are on instagram, the parents are on facebook, and the alumni are on twitter. Lucky for us, instagram allows you to post to all three with one click which means it is no longer about managing a million apps. Just start documenting all of those amazing things that are already happening!
But what about kids who don't want their pictures taken?!?! Joe operates on an opt-out clause meaning students have to sign a sheet of paper in order to say that they don't want to be in pictures the school may post. For the few who do sign it, Joe contacts them personally to talk about why they want to be able to share the story and include the students. More often than not the parents didn't read the paper and just signed all of the papers sent home the first week of school...which doesn't speak so great for that process either but that's not what we're talking about this week. :) For the families who truly don't want the picture and aren't able to connect through e-mail or social media the school sends a paper newsletter. The goal to communicate with parents is prioritized.
What about when someone comments something nasty?!? Now that's on our facebook page!!!!
True. Joe suggests replying to it with something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way. If you would like to talk more my number is ___________. This is not the place to have that conversation but I would be more than happy to speak on the phone or in person."....then he runs around and takes 8-10 pictures of the amazing things happening in classrooms and posts them so that the ugly comment gets buried in all of the great things happening.
It's all about the story we're telling. It's too important of a story to not tell because we're scared of a couple of people who are going to complain no matter what. So often the negative comments are the ones heard the most. Change the culture by drowning them out with all of the incredible students and teachers and staff that make up your school building!
There is a reason why many schools hire someone specifically to run their communications and social media: it's important.
I love joe! go crickets!
I listened to Joe for about 3 hours. I could have listened and talked to this guy for days. Lucky for me (and you!) he has his own website with tons of resources. I know I will be checking it regularly!
Lastly, please please please feel free to ask me if I've written my notes for the day and how I'm telling my story. It is way too easy to go to these conferences and feel the mountain top experience for a couple of days and then....
But culture change doesn't happen that way. It happens consistently....30 seconds at a time.
Teaching is really, really hard. When you take your college classes and visit classrooms for observations, you really don’t appreciate how difficult it really is. Then you start your teaching career and assume the responsibility of applying all of your knowledge from college as well as worrying about how to make the lives of students better while trying teach them your content. Reality sets in and you realize how hard it is to balance everything that comes with your job.
Every teacher is going to have a rough week. Some years, you may have more rough weeks than easy ones. I am personally coming off one of those rough weeks. I have obsessed over the events and struggled with it to the point where I didn’t want to see my students. How do we come back from those types of weeks and keep our love for teaching and students? I can’t speak for everyone, but these are the things that I need to do when I have a week like this past one.
I have been teaching 10 years and the process of taking care of myself so that I can be the best I possibly can be at my job is something I am continuously working on. I don’t know anyone that is perfect at finding a balance between being a good teacher and being a person. It is something that I will continue to strive for. So far doing some combination of the things above have helped me come back year after year to teaching and allow me to gives kids a fresh start every week. I don’t wish any of these rough weeks on anyone, but the reality is that we all have them and it is nice to have a plan of attack for those days, weeks, months, or years. Hopefully some of these strategies are helpful to you when you go through those times, too. And for me, writing about all of it was one more release!
What ways do you intentionally de-stress after a long week? I am open to any suggestions!
I hope you have a fantastic week! And if you don’t, try a few of these steps and don’t forget that you get a fresh start next week.
Co-teaching is hard. It can take years to really perfect your flow as a pair of teachers in the same room and a lot of co-teaching partners don’t get the chance to do that. Someone moves or gets their schedule changed and it’s back to square one.
While you may not have years to perfect it, here are some tips for the here and now while you still have your co-teacher!
divide up responsibilities clearly and early
Co-teaching is somewhat like a year long group project. If you don’t know who is doing what, you are likely to get frustrated and do more (or maybe less!) work than you really should. Think about the major parts of your classroom and split up responsibilities. I use something like the chart to the side when dividing up work.
Some of these are responsibilities are pretty obvious to me about who should be doing it in my classroom and may be obvious to you. The point, however, is that a conversation is had with your co-teacher and you agree on specific responsibilities. What may be obvious to you may not be what your partner teacher is thinking.
Something else to take into consideration while splitting responsibilities would be how often you see your co-teacher. Maybe your co-teacher is already moving between multiple classrooms throughout the day! You may want them to be with you all day or want their focus more on your class. Maybe they help with a special activity or coach outside of school and one time of the year is busier than others. Talk about it and be sure to take their schedule into consideration when dividing up responsibilities.
share facetime in front of the class
This is just one person's opinion BUT I don't think co-teaching works well when the students see one of you as the teacher and the other as the assistant. When one person is using all of the face time in front of the class and the other is only used one-on-one, students see one teacher. And a big part of co-teaching is teaching together. While you have different specialties, you were both trained to be in the classroom. Maybe one of you delivers the notes/lecture portion but the other can explain the transition activity or homework. Maybe there is a weekly activity like What's in the Box? that they can run. Whatever it is, you need to share face time. Decide how this will happen and then don't interrupt each other unless you've discussed being ok with it. Co-teaching is sharing and all of your students are watching it happen in front of their faces! Set a good example for what sharing a classroom and being polite looks like when talking to the class. :)
come to an agreement on modifications and all big assignments/tests/projects
Typically the set up is that one of you is a master of content and the other is the master of special education. You each have your specialties and there is a reason you are both in the room. It is important to talk about what types of modifications will need to be made for students and to BOTH have a good idea of what they need regularly. My co-teacher made a "students at a glance" page so that accommodations are easy to see rather than needing to reference a 504 or IEP all the time. A different co-teacher I worked with made a spreadsheet and checked off the modifications that each student needed so it was easy to see what a majority would need.
Sometimes I get really into my content and start making tests or projects that are really awesome but may be super overwhelming for some of my students who have learning disabilities or 504's. Bouncing ideas off of my co-teacher helps me think through it and chunk better or completely remove parts of a project that aren't necessary.
It is important for BOTH of you to agree on the modifications when it comes to shortening tests or projects. Just be sure to communicate! Which brings me to my last point...
Be a team!
There are days when the last thing you want is another person in your room BUT there are also times when that person is the ultimate life saver! Everyone has one of those days where you need to be able to step back and let someone else take the lead and having a co-teacher means you can take a breather and get back in there rather than feeling the full weight all day. A good teammate provides that breather for you when you need it!
A good team adapts together. Maybe this is your first year co-teaching and you are used to having the run of the room with no one else to check in with. You already have your routine....but you aren't alone this year and it is no longer your classroom. Not gonna lie, I had some trouble sharing and adapting my first year co-teaching. But digging my feet into the ground with my own routine didn't help anything and I had a million times more positive experience the next year when I completely opened up my routine to change. It became our classroom and our routine rather than just mine. It was better for me. It was better for my co-teacher. Most importantly it was better for my students. Be willing to change and don't take things to personally in the process!
In fact, this person is now your work wife/husband in a lot of ways! Students will definitely treat you that way. You may have told a student they need to wait to use the restroom just a seconds before they walk over to your co-teacher to try again. Have each other's backs! Be their freaking person!
There is definitely some extra stress that comes with co-teaching (at least your first time or with a new partner). Communicate early and often, always take each other into consideration, and don't take things too personally and you'll be just fine!
And on those days when it doesn't feel "just fine" dance it out!
Just kidding...kind of.
I've witnessed some really toxic teaching partnerships that just were not going to work. If you are communicating and considering the other person in sharing your classroom and procedures but you are still frustrated, set a time for a conversation one on one.
There were a couple times in the last few years when my co-teacher and I stayed for a few minutes during lunch or after school to talk over how something one of us said came off as rude or disrespectful in front of the class. For us, it was always just a miscommunication and we were able to just apologize or laugh it off and move on. That is not the case for everyone.
If a few one on one meetings don't seem to be doing the trick, ask your co-teacher if they would be willing to sit down with an administrator to work out the problems. I really hope it doesn't come to this and some of you may be laughing thinking about two adults not being able to work things out at work but it happens. If your co-teacher is open to it, hopefully you can resolve differences or your administrator can see the relationship is not healthy for students and make a schedule change. If they don't want to speak to an administrator together, you should go alone and ask for advice. At that point, it is documented and if you work with some great administrators like I do, they'll be able to help you out one way or another. The key here is to work up the chain of command and not turn it into school gossip. We're all adults here. Be sure to act like it!
That's all for co-teaching! How long have you been co-teaching? Any words of advice to add?
Let us know by commenting below! :)
The anniversary of September 11th brings about a lot of feelings for many of us. At this point, we (Becca and me) are teaching high school students who were either not alive or too young to remember 9/11 or the impact it had on our country. How do we pay respect to such an event in our history? And what about everything else going on? A controversial president, a rise in political action, a rise in terrorist events, natural disasters, and a media battling each other are just some of the issues that our students are witnessing in our world today. The question is what role do schools play in dealing with these issues?
It has always seemed to me that at least while I was a student that schools tended to shy away from certain topics and teachers never shared their personal opinions and thoughts because that was seen as trying to sway students to certain side. This has become even more tricky, with the rise in parents challenging schools and their curriculum. I can understand why teachers have wanted to focus specifically on their contents and not delve into the swamp that is current and/or hot button events and topics. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have made the decision that I am going to hit the hard topics head on and focus on teaching students how to question what is happening, how to have conversations about hard issues, and come to their own conclusions about the issues.
To me it comes down to building critical thinking skills in students. Critical thinking is written into every content area's standards that I have ever seen. We want to produce productive members of society and to be truly productive, citizens need to be able to analyze the events around them, apply their content knowledge, be able to have civilized discussion, and come to a conclusion. There is a lot of noise out there in the world and I think it is time for schools to meet it head on and work on ways to teach students how to navigate it. One of the easiest ways is to simply talk about current events. This may not be comfortable for everyone and I wouldn't encourage a teacher to enter into territory that they are not comfortable discussing, but there are ways to discuss current issues and connect them to your content without entering the realm of arguing and name calling.
Here are the strategies that I use to bring current events into my social studies classroom and some ideas for other contents:
These strategies are definitely not anything new and many teachers already do this I am sure. What I want to us to do as teachers is to be more intentional about our use of current events and make time for students to talk and question what is happening in our world. Social media and the news outlets are changing the way people have discussions about our world and not entirely in a positive way. One question I have been asked by teachers in my building, is how I have these conversations with students without telling them what I personally think. To be honest, I don't necessarily hide my personal thoughts and feelings about issues from my students. The reason is I want them to know that even if you disagree with someone about particular issues, you can still work with them and have respectful discussions with them about issues. I make it very clear to all my students that it really doesn't matter if you agree, it is that you have come to your own conclusion using facts and that you discuss the facts in a respectful manner including me. I encourage them to question me and where my information comes from. They know that I will not tolerate inappropriate language in our discussions and all opinions have to be backed by facts that they can discuss.
As teachers, I feel our job is not to tell students what to think but teach them how to question, gather facts, see the opposition and come to their own conclusion. Every content can contribute to this and I hope that other teachers see the need to focus on these skills with their students.
Please share how you are using current events in your class and how you breach difficult topics in your class!
“READ THE DIRECTIONS AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE. DO NOT TURN THE PAGE UNTIL TOLD TO DO SO…”
With these words, the nightmare begins. For the next fifty minutes, a typical teacher will experience a range of emotions that would make Dennis Rodman seem normal. A teacher has waited, prepped, looked forward to, dreaded, longed for, talked about, banned the word, and despised this day, the first day of STANDARDIZED TESTING. At some point during the school year every teacher has made the statement, “I just wish the TEST was over.” This statement was mostly likely retracted, no more than a few hours later, to be replaced by: “My kids are not ready yet. I still have standards to teach, oh goodness please delay this TEST!”
In case you are second-guessing reading this post, no this is not a post depicting a teacher as a crazed loon, but rather an attempt to portray the immense stress placed on this precise moment in time. A whole year of chatter, hours of planning and execution of those plans boils down to the next fifty minutes.
THE MOST IMPORTANT FIFTY MINUTES OF THE YEAR and of course Jimmy has already broken his pencil. Bobby has devoured his snack with only a few crumbs left, darkening the corners of his mouth. Sally is asking about today’s softball game and Johnny simply just doesn’t like his hair this morning. The most crucial morning of the school year and yet curiously they seem no different than every other morning. How can they not see how vital this test is to their success?
Often we get caught up in the stress and pressure to succeed as a teacher, and forget the single most important detail. We are working with children! These test-takers are not professionals. They are not even adults! Heck, they are not even cognitively fully developed. Johnny’s hair looks the exact same as yesterday, but don’t you dare tell him that. Today’s softball game won’t be played, as it is pouring down rain, but Sally doesn’t realize that fact. Jimmy will break three more pencils before the day is done and Bobby just had the only snack he will be provided all day. Each of these stressors are miniscule, trivial problems that must be treated as such. This day will not be perfect. Someone will bubble in on the wrong answer document. Hannah will finish in five minutes and promptly stare at the wall. Yet, life will go on.
The make or break moment isn’t really a “moment” at all. The success of this day, is rather determined by the moments throughout the school year. The moment that Sally understood a difficult math concept because you related the problem to softball. The moment Johnny forgot his hair, despite the mess it was becoming, because he was too busy running around reading clues to a scavenger hunt you spent hours creating. The moment you thought no one noticed anything you did, only to be pleasantly surprised by a small thank you note from Bobby. These moments and countless others throughout the school year are the secrets to a successful year, NOT the next fifty minutes.
You’ve had these moments, the kids are equipped with the tools of success thanks to you. Don’t allow the stress of fifty minutes overcome you. Sit back and enjoy your coffee. Enjoy fifty minutes of no school emails and know that you have done your best. You have earned that second doughnut waiting in the lounge. Bask in the glory of your moments! Just make sure, however you celebrate, you don’t let the students turn the page before being told to do so.
......for more from Norman, an 8th grade social studies teacher, visit his blog!
Confession. I have the Ron Clark bug. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, here is a little preview:
He did amazing things with his classroom and now he does amazing things with his school. At the heart of this success is high expectations for his students as people. He has 55 rules about behavior! He includes things like making eye contact, always saying thank you, answering questions with complete sentences, being grateful winners or losers and respecting others comments and ideas. I knew I wanted to bring some of these rules into my high school classroom but was hesitant to just lay them out with no incentive. (See the full 55 Essentials here!)
Lucky for me, I work with a math teacher who has found a brilliant way to incentivize behavior change. He has a couple of major pet peeves including sprinkling the word “like” throughout conversation unnecessarily and people saying, “I have a question” when they are called on after raising their hand or calling him over for help. At the beginning of the year he tells his students his pet peeves and challenges them to not break the rules. He asks them to set a cost to pay for breaking the rules (they usually decide on a dime or quarter). At the end of the year he uses any money collected to buy pizza for his classes. The great thing is that if you don’t break any rules, you get free pizza. If you did break a rule, you had to pay for it, but you still get pizza!
*If you didn’t pay, you didn’t get pizza however this doesn’t actually happen. Every year someone has donated money to wipe clean debts so that everyone has pizza.
I decided to combine the two ideas this past year and it went great! I told my students about both ideas and then told them while I didn’t want to enforce all 55 rules, I wanted them to choose three as a class to focus on for the quarter. They voted to pay a quarter for any time they broke the rule and we set a date for the pizza party at the end of the year.
How did I make kids pay money?
When someone broke a rule I just said, “quarter” and moved on with class. At the end of class I would tell the class that they owed money and someone would pay. Most of the time it was the person who broke the rule but I didn’t make a big point of calling someone out or bullying them in class. I am a teacher who teases light heartedly but it never became something awkward or rude.
Did parents/admin get upset?
Nope. I actually received two letter from parents saying that they appreciated the focus on manners!
What about the students who couldn’t afford it?
Like I said before, I never called out a kid for not paying and I often had students who would say they would like to wipe debts clean and pay a full dollar. I had one student donate twenty dollars near the end of the year to wipe out any debts that may exist.
I really enjoyed it and so did my students. I saw a lot of them become more aware of how they treated one another and we had a great time at the party with some great stories from the year!