This image popped up on our twitter account and it was one of those that made me stop and think.
I read it and then reread it. Would I be up for doing something like this?
I personally enjoy having teachers come into my classroom. I attribute this mainly to the amazing learning coaches that I had my first two years of teaching. They would pop into the classroom and observe me, take a few notes, and give me constructive feedback in between classes. As a new high school teacher, I loved getting the feedback during my morning classes because I could improve that lesson that very day for my afternoon classes! I could feel myself becoming a better teacher in the course of one day and it was so empowering!
Fast forward to a year later when I was taking classes to earn my Masters in Administration. For one of the courses I had to observe and fill out an evaluation form for two different teachers. My stomach dropped upon hearing about the assignment.
I felt a little bit better when everyone else in my class also shared the instant stress over having to ask a fellow teacher if we could observe and evaluate a lesson. Part of my personal issue was that I was new to teaching. Who was I to assess another teacher? It made me incredibly nervous and it got even worse when I actually had a teacher tell me they would rather I not watch their class after requesting to observe them.
Why can it feel so awkward to be watched? And is it worth pushing past the awkwardness to help each other grow to be better educators?
To that first question - It is easy to feel like your techniques are being judged. What if someone decides to come watch that class?? You know, the one with ALL of the kids who have to be told a million times what to do. That class is a rough part of your day already and now you’re inviting an audience?!?
And that, in my opinion, is the real issue here. If someone is just coming in and purely watching, that does absolutely nothing to help you and it is DEFINITELY awkward! It is completely one sided. The observer may have learned something or been given an idea to use in their class, but you are left feeling like they came, they saw, they judged, the end.
It is all about the conversation afterwards.
If you are the observer, ask yourself questions like:
If you are the observed teacher:
If we commit to that 2-5 minute conversation after class breaking down what happened and how it could be better, we all benefit from it! We can bounce ideas off of each other or even relate to having a challenging class together! We could learn a new behavior management technique from the person we are observing OR as a suggestion from the observer! There is so much to be gained from this conversation compared to so little to lose!
So to the second question, yes. If you and the observer can both commit to having a conversation about what went well and what could improve, it is 100% worth the initial awkwardness! After 3 or 4 of these types of observations, it may even start to feel pretty normal!
Give it a shot and let us know how it goes! Is it awkward? Is it worth it?
For teachers, conferences are both something to look forward to and something that we dread. They are necessary so that we can talk to parents about their students progress in class. They are difficult because those conversations can be hard, awkward, and sometimes confrontational. At the secondary level it is also a struggle to get parents to come to parent-teacher conferences at all. It can start to feel like a waste of time when there can be so much preparation involved.
Both of us (Danielle and Becca) have conferences this week and we assume that they are fast approaching for others as well. Maybe you are a first time teacher or maybe you just continue to be on the struggle bus with conferences. Either way, here are our thoughts and ideas about have successful parent teacher conferences.
To start, many schools are different in their opinion of how to structure conferences. Some schools want students to be there and have student-led conferences and some would say it should be just parents and teachers present for conferences. Is it open house style or do you need to schedule times with specific parents? What materials do you need to have ready for parents who do attend?
The best conferences I (Danielle) have ever participated in were the conferences my building did when I taught middle school. I taught at a true middle school where we had two 6th grade teams. Every teacher had a homeroom/advisory class. When it came to conferences we would schedule conferences with the parents of our homeroom class. The school scheduled one day after school for conferences and then on the next day the students did not have school and we were there until 4 but we were open all day for conferencing appointments. We scheduled an appointment with those 20-25 parents of students in our homeroom. Then my 6th grade team would meet and discuss which conferences we wanted to have as a team. If there was a student that really struggled or had specific behavior issues, we would all block out that time slot to have a team conference with that parent and student which was student-led.
In the weeks leading up to conferences, we would take time in homeroom to organize a portfolio of work from each class and the students would write reflections on their work that they would go over with their parents during the conference. I would discuss any issues that had been brought to my attention by the other teachers and answer any questions I could. If the parent wanted to talk to a specific teacher, then they could also schedule time for that during conferences as well but the main responsibility was for the homeroom teachers and meeting a different teacher was more of a special case. When we did it this way, I felt really supported since I had my team and a lot of preparation ahead of time. The responsibility was really on the students because they were leading the conference and they knew what issues they were going to have to talk about with their parents.
I (Becca) have not had experience with scheduling conferences, though that sounds like it may make it more worth the time! I try to have some candy available as well as a folder for each student containing student work and some student reflection. As parents arrive, I offer candy, ask them to sign in, and show them student work along with their grade. Most of the time the student is not with them. I explain how the grade is calculated, how their student behaves and performs in class, and how they could get better. I express any concerns I may have and check for questions. With any time left (many times the parent is trying to get around the building to see 6 other teachers and may be in a hurry), I make sure they understand our LMS so that they can have as much information about their student’s grades and attendance as possible!
The few times that the student is with them, I always include the student in the conversation. I have found that students are much more likely to say what they may need to be successful while sitting one on one with a parent present. While many would not pull you aside in class and tell you then need help being reminded what to do or would like more examples, they might in a conference setting! I have seen many students take some responsibility when I can tell both them and their parents what I think their strengths are. If their grades are not correlating well with their ability, they more often than not will take responsibility for their part. I would much rather have that conversation than just talk to a parent about what their student communicates to them versus what they communicate to me. Again, those are rare occasions for me, to have students present.
When it comes to conferences and if your district is considering any changes to your conference procedure, I would suggest the following:
If you don’t have control over your structure of conferences, try to find ways to work within your system.
BUILDING FUNDAMENTALS: BEING A GREAT MENTOR8/28/2017
Teaching is a hard profession to enter. No one can deny that. Teachers tend to have a burn out rate of 5 years. One of the best ways to help get past this is having a support system in your school. This usually starts with a mentor in the building. Most districts have a new teacher program that pairs new teachers with a mentor in their building. This mentor is the first line of defense and support for a new teacher and is an incredibility important relationship.
The quality of the mentors used in a school seem to have a direct relationship to new teachers staying in the profession and staying in that specific district.
What makes a good mentor? What qualities do mentors need to have to be what they need to be for new teachers?
Our profession is very important and we should do all we can to keep quality new teachers in the profession. Having a mentor with these qualities can go a long way to helping a new teacher grow and feel welcome in their school.
So you’re a new teacher! You may be brand new to the career or maybe you’re just new to the building. Either way, you will most likely be assigned a mentor to help you settle in and learn what you need to about the school and the culture.
My advice to you in getting the most out of your mentor is to ask questions! Ask them all! They are there to help you adjust and answer questions.
For brand new teachers specifically, you may have a million questions but these are the ones I suggest you ask early!
For all teachers new to a building, you’ll want the answer to these questions!
These questions are not all encompassing. You will continue to have questions. Keep asking them! Other than those specific questions we suggest you:
We hope you have a terrific first year teaching or first year at your new building! It can be a roller coaster but having a mentor and truly using them can make even the roughest of years a great experience in the end! Stay strong! Let us know how the years goes and any other advice you have about getting the most out of your mentor!
WHETHER YOU'RE FEELING LIKE THIS......
THE BIG DAY IS APPROACHING QUICKLY!
The first day of school! I don’t know about everyone else, but that day still makes me nervous every year. In the beginning it was straight up nerves but now has shifted to more nervous excitement. A new year! What will this year be like? What will the students be like? How will all of the changes I made to my curriculum work out? There is a lot of potential on that first day of school.
There is a lot of prep work that goes into the first day of school and the beginning of a new year. There is the room set-up, curriculum, school and department meetings, and so many other details that work up to this day. I know that the first day looks different at different grade levels and I will admit that I really only familiar with the secondary set-up. Regardless some of it is the same and most classes are trying to get the same types of tasks done:
For the new teacher, the first day of school can definitely be a day that is filled with excitement and nerves.
Here are some tips/things to know about the first day of school:
The real trick to having a successful first day is to have activities where the focus is on the students and not the teacher only talking at them all day about rules and procedures. It’s an easy trap to fall in, especially in the secondary classroom, spending every class reviewing the class syllabus, rules and procedures of the class. This is boring for the teacher and the students.
I have tried many different things for the first day to keep the focus on them and not me. There are so many different ways to approach this and it really depends on what you want to accomplish on the first day. Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, and other social media outlets are filled with different ideas for what to do on the first day of school.
Here are few ideas that we like!
The first day of school is a chaotic, nerve wracking, and exciting day. Take time to enjoy it whether you are a first year teacher or veteran teacher. It is a day filled with promise, new beginnings, and new opportunities!
Above are just a few ideas on how to make the most out of your first day of school. If you have any other ideas, please share them below!
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 EARLYfrom Pinterest and Co-teaching That Works
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/PROJECTSTypically 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! :)
Parents. I feel that teachers have a love-hate relationship with parents. We love parents for sharing their students with us, and we love when parents are proactive and work with us to help students be successful. We hate when parents are helicopters and constantly question our decisions about our class and response to students. The reality though is that it essential for us to make parent contact and try to build solid, positive relationships with parents as much as possible.
Keeping in contact with parents can be a challenge. From phone tag, numbers that don't work, trying to keep up with emails, unreliability of letters and newsletters making it home, and social media issues, making parent contacts can be a huge stress of our job. Unfortunately I do not have some magic solution to always getting a hold of parents when I want to and make every parent contact a positive one.
Here are some tips that have been passed to me and what I have found in time teaching:
Make contact early in the school year. Many schools have a back-to-school night, so try to make the most of this time and have a conversation with parents that come and share with them some basic class information and get their contact information. If you are super organized and ambitious, you can try to make contact before this and make a parent phone call inviting them to back-to-school night and introducing yourself. This would obviously be easier for elementary teachers because they have less students that would have to called. For secondary teachers that would seem insane and I totally get it. The way this could be doable for secondary teachers would be if you have a homeroom or advisory class. Then you would have one class that you could call and make contact with personally. At my school that is what our expectation is. Within the first 2 weeks of school, we have to call all the parents in our advisory class to introduce ourselves and discuss our role as advisor.
Make the first contact a positive one if possible. If you have been working in education, you know this to be true. Parents are more apt to work with you and be receptive to negative information, if you have first had a positive conversation. Even if you do have to have a conversation with a parent about something negative related to their student, it is helpful to start with 1 to 2 positive things and then bring up the issue that happened in class with that student.
Try to make it a partnership. When you have a student that is difficult, I have found it helpful to ask for help from the parents. I ask them to help me understand their student and what we can do to help that student be successful. When parents realize it is not an 'us versus them' scenario, they might be more open to addressing classroom issues at home and supporting your actions in school.
Write a script. If you are a new teacher or just uncomfortable talking to parents, it could help to write a script. I definitely did this when I was a first year teacher, because I had never done it and while I am super comfortable talking to 130 teenagers in a day talking to their parents is something else entirely. I still use scripts now, mainly because it keeps me on topic. Sometimes a parent just wants to talk and then I get off topic or after making so many calls I just forget what I need to talk about. Either way writing it down and having it in front of me is helpful.
Don't take it personally. This is hard. I still find this hard to a certain extent. When a parent is hard on you, it can be easy to take it personally, just as it is when a student is difficult. The thing to remember is that parents are trying to look out for their students and they don't know what it is like in the classroom most of the time and they have only heard one side of the story. As the teacher our job is to first listen and then ask questions that help get to the root of the problem. Then discuss with parents your version of things and reassure parents that our goal is have students be successful. We all want what is best for our students. When parents are going off though it 99% of the time isn't really about you, but frustration with their student, their history with teachers and education, or any number of family issues that could be happening. I know that when it comes down to it, that may not help you feel better when you have a rough parent contact but it can help you put it in perspective when you are more calm.
Make use of Technology. There are so many tools out there now that can help you reach out to parents. They definitely can make life easier for you and parents. Here are some tools you can try out:
Original post : 9/25/2017 Revised: 7/23/18
The search for the best teacher professional development book can be an overwhelming task. In an effort to make your search easier, I want to share 5 of my favorite professional development books. The topics vary but these are books that I always come back to help remind me of the best practices in teaching or have really helped me grow as a teacher.
These are some of the professional development books out there on a range of topics related to teaching, but I find all of these to be useful and interesting. What good professional development books would you recommend? Have read any of the books above? We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for all teachers!
By Genevieve Laucher, 6th grade teacher in San Jose, CA
Summer: that time of year to recharge, a time that teachers look forward to as much as (if not more than) their students do. However, as a brand new teacher who just started teaching full-time midway through the year this February, I felt that I hadn’t quite earned my break yet and wanted to keep my momentum going for a bit longer. I decided to teach summer school; specifically, Speech & Debate and Creative Writing for incoming sixth through eighth graders. Although a part of me envied my teacher friends who were taking trips and sleeping in, teaching summer school turned out to be a very enjoyable learning experience.
Having never taught these subjects before, I set out to do my research on the internet. There are so many resources out there that can be helpful for new teachers, but the challenge was sifting through and making my own tweaks to fit the needs of my eleven to thirteen-year-old audience. Finding lesson plans is great, but every group of students is different, and our lessons should reflect that. Throughout the planning process, I kept in mind that it was summer—my students wanted to have fun in their learning and so did I!
In my Creative Writing class, one of our favorite lessons was having my students create a “Fictional Facebook” for a character they were working on. They drew out a “profile picture” of their character, listed his or her hobbies, interests, birthday, relationship status, and more, and even wrote “status update” posts from the character and posts from the character’s friends and family members. As we know, students are on social media younger and younger, so why not take note of this interest and use it as an educational activity? My students were fully engaged, laughing and being creative as they developed fictional personas. At the end of the activity, they better understood the importance of character development and were excited to write their characters into a story.
For the Speech & Debate class, one of our most successful debate activities was a simple one: the Four Corners Debate. I made signs that read Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree and put one in each corner of the room. I then wrote a statement on the whiteboard and students moved to the corner that best matched their opinion. There, they talked with other students in their same corner and put together an argument to persuade the students in other corners of their position. Each corner got a turn to share their reasoning and finally students could switch corners if hearing other arguments had changed their mind. Some interesting topics included “Schools should require students to wear uniforms,” and “Homework is beneficial for students.” I had an opinionated group of students, so they were excited to share their thoughts. This activity encouraged them to take sharing a step further and explain not just what their views are, but why they disagree or agree with the given issues. The ability to reason and persuade others will help them throughout middle school, high school, and beyond! One of the more controversial topics, given the 2017 trends that teachers love to hate, was “Fidget spinners help kids focus.” Surprisingly, this issue was evenly divided! What this means for the future of fidget spinners in the classroom, we will have to wait and see in the fall…
Overall, teaching summer school gave me more insights and experience with lesson planning, something I’m getting used to as I begin my teaching career. Throughout the regular school year, my goal is to provide variety in my lessons and keep them engaging. The first step is to know our students and plan activities that will best fit their learning needs while also appealing to their interests. Something else that I always want to keep in mind is that learning can and should be fun—both for the students and the teacher!
A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I loved attending the Illinois Education and Technology Conference and focused the blog on the first amazing keynote, Joe Sanfellipo. He spoke about leadership and culture in your school which is really important for the building as a whole. The second day of the conference was all about Alice Keeler for me. She was 100% about putting tools into the hands of teachers so we can serve students better.
Who is Alice Keeler?
You can find out a lot about Alice Keeler by going to her website (alicekeeler.com). What she shared with us at the conference was that she is a mom and was teaching math and needed Google apps to do more for her. She started coding within Google apps and sending them to her friend who works at Google. Some of what she codes becomes an extension Google offers. Others she lists on her website for easy access regardless of becoming an official extension or not. These extensions exist to help save time or be more efficient or effective in teaching or organizing information. Also, I think she may like sheets even more than me...I didn't know that was possible!
Alice at IETC
I attended two breakout sessions as well as her keynote lunch. Her first breakout, Google Apps Coding for Noobs, was a great introduction to coding. A lot of people get intimidated when they hear the word "coding" because they picture someone sitting in a dark basement surrounded by computer screens wheeling back and forth between them and speaking words no one ever really uses...or maybe that's just me! I went anyways and I was pleasantly surprised! Alice reiterated that most of coding is looking for patterns and then knowing which things to copy and paste. The link below takes you to the presentation she used for the session and walks you through how to:
- Create a Google sheet that has a separate tab for each student with one click of a button
- Send an email
- Copy a Google Doc
- Do something a lot of times with one click
-And more that we didn't actually get to within the breakout
Google Apps Coding for Noobs Presentation by Alice Keeler
No, I would not need to write a code in order to send an email or copy a Google doc BUT learning the code behind it was helpful in order to complete the other codes.
NO, THAT'S TOO OVERWHELMING! I CAN'T CODE!
THAT'S OK! THE SECOND PART WAS WAAAAAY EASIER!
The second breakout was about the add-ons that she has already created so that all you have to do is copy and paste! At alicekeeler.com/scripts there is a list of add-on codes that Alice has already created, posted for easy access, AND written a blog about how to use.
***Because they are created by her and not an official extension of Google, you will be prompted to give access to your GSuite apps each time you copy Alice's code. Just do it.***
I already thought she was pretty legit but this breakout and exploring her website more just put it over the top! There are so many to choose from. I highly suggest taking an hour or two one day and just playing with these.
This may seem overwhelming but please try one before you decide it's too much! You may decide you really like them!
My Favorite Alice Codes
Not sure which ones to check out first? Here are my favorites!
With winter break approaching its end, we have to start thinking about returning to school for the new semester. The question is what do we do on the first day back?
For some of us especially in the high school world, it could mean an entirely new bunch of students and it is the first day of school all over again. For others it is a continuation of the previous semester with a 2 week break in the middle.
I hope what we can all agree on is that jumping right into content would not be the best way to start a new semester. Even if we have the same students all year, the students are coming off of two weeks of no school. The students are going to need something to get them back into the swing of school. Here are some activities and ideas that we have found that could work for the first day/week back from winter break.
Team Building Activities
Whether you are starting over this semester or bringing students back together, team building would be valuable at this time. For the classes starting over, it is a good way to get to know your classes and have the students get to know each other. For the classes coming back together after break, it is a good way to reconnect and get students back to thinking about other people and catch up.
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Content Review Activities/Games
This is mainly for the classes that are staying together all year. Reviewing the content from last semester is a great way to get students thinking about the content again and getting back in the school mindset. Depending on what type of activity you do for this, it could also double as a team building activity.
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Classroom Procedures Review
This is something that we think is essential whether you are starting over or picking up where you left off. The start of the new semester is the perfect time to review the classroom procedures and remind students of how they need to operate in the classroom.
Some of the potential activities we suggest above could be changed to review classroom procedures.