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.
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?
As this semester draws to a close, it is natural to begin to evaluate it for its successes and challenges. I start thinking about the changes I want to make to next semester and what I wish I had done differently and reviewing new tools that I have found over the past months.
I feel like this is a natural process that all teachers go through as we approach the ending of semester or school year. Being reflective is something that is ingrained in us by our desire to do better for the students and any teaching program I have ever heard of. We recognize the importance of being reflective and intuitively practice it.
My semester has been one of challenges to be frank. I have had personal challenges and professional challenges that have really highlighted the need to be purposeful in the classroom, my reflections, and reactions to my reflections.
I feel like this year I fell into the trap of reflecting but not acting. I was thinking a lot about what was happening in my classroom, but not taking the time to process my reflections and create an action plan around them. Those last two steps are really important to being purposeful as a teacher and reflective professional. The failure of not processing and acting on my reflections is one of the reasons, I continued to struggle.
The impact this had on my classroom
Reading this, it probably seems like I am being really hard on myself and that it could just be one of the groups of students that struggle and no matter what I did in the classroom, those students were going to struggle. That could very well be true, but I also feel like this semester was a humbling, challenge that reminded me of two very important things about teaching.
My plan Moving Forward
I do not want to make the same mistakes I made this semester, so I have reflected, processed, and developed this action plan for next semester to make sure that I am being the best reflective and purposeful teacher I can be.
Teaching is hard, but it is also amazing, fulfilling, and incredibly important. I want to be the best I possibly can be for my students and I think that doing these things will help me do that. I hope that you take away from this post that it is O.K. to struggle, because when we struggle we learn things about ourselves. That when you find yourself struggling at school take time to reflect on what is happening, but don’t just stop there. Take the next steps. Process your reflections and develop an action to help or celebrate if needed. Lastly, don’t forget to keep learning. Learning is essential to great teaching!
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.
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.
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! :)
An open house is typically the first chance that students and parents alike get to put a face with a name. They know that they (or their child) has been assigned to you for the year but now is you chance to put their minds at ease and give them a good idea of what to expect for the year. Depending on how well your community turns out, this may be your first impression opportunity for the majority of your students...or it may be just a few. Regardless, it is better to be prepared!
The first thing any visitor notices when they come to your open house is your classroom and you. This is not the time to be in shirts and t-shirt working on your classroom. This is your first teacher duty for the year and parents will be looking for a professional. You want your classroom to be welcoming, clean, and organized. This parent is entrusting their child to you and you want to leave them feeling confident in you. Greet them at the door and have a space designated for them to sign-in and leave contact information, any handouts you want them to give, and places for them to sit and wait in the case that you have a line.
Some handouts you may want to give:
Every grade-level and school does open house differently, some may have presentations for parents and others are more of meet and greet. If you have a large group, you may have a presentation style overview of your information ready and maybe an activity that parents/students could participate in. At the secondary level it is more of a meet and greet where we get to meet with just the parents and student which makes it a lot easier to get to know them. At this point, we like to go over the handouts. At the secondary level we talk about the syllabus. The big points for us to include are how we grade and what our rules and expectations are. Communicating this to the parents now before school really gets going will help us avoid confusion about grades and discipline later on. We also discuss the supplies they may need throughout the year. We are at one-to-one schools and complete a lot of things online but ask our students to have some organizational tools like a folder, notebook, and/or binder as well as pens and pencils. Once we have gone over the handouts, we like to check in with the parents about their understanding of the school learning management system. Most of us have an online portal where parents can see their student’s grades and attendance. I like to make sure parents know they have access to this and answer any questions they may have at this time.
You’ve now introduced yourself, let them know rules, procedures, what to expect, and what supplies to purchase. Give them a chance to ask questions and then help them find their next stop! Maybe they have another classroom to visit or maybe they are on their way home for the evening but your last job is to guide them in that direction! You'll be exhausted after doing this over and over but you can rest easy knowing you put your best foot forward!
We hope you had a successful open house! Let us know if you tried something different that either went really well or you wish you'd never done!