How I Kept My Passion for Education Last Year
I cannot believe we are already into 2018. It seems like just yesterday I was holding my brand new niece and saying goodbye to 2016. Now, she’s a year old and we’re halfway through January of 2018. 2017 brought so much change for me, both in and out of the classroom. I’m proud of who I’ve grown to be in the last year and excited to continue on that journey this year.
If there’s one that I embraced last year, it was the power of discomfort. I had to step outside of my comfort zone to find a place I felt like I belonged. It’s easy to experience burnout as a teacher and fall into a rut. Doing the same thing over and over is bound to take a toll on your passion and effectiveness in the classroom. How did I combat that this past year?
I let my teacher leader flag fly.
By no means did I wake up one day and say, “Hey, I want to be a teacher leader.” It didn’t quite work out like that. But I surrounded myself with like-minded teachers and educators who had a passion for students and a craving for innovation. I got involved in a grassroots teacher-led engagement group in my school district called JCPSForward and built my #TeacherTribe. For the first time in my career, I led district-wide professional learning on topics I was passionate about, including literacy, technology in the classroom, and using social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to expand your teacher tribe. For the first time in my career, I felt as if I had a voice in the current education landscape.
I went for it.
In 2017, I also made the decision to go back to school to get an Educational Specialist degree in School Administration and Leadership. This is something I have always known I might want to pursue one day in the future, but I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I am thrilled that I did because I am loving every second of it, even though it can be extremely overwhelming. I am eager to learn how to harness my leadership skills to create a larger impact for more students than just those within my own classroom.
I expanded my business, my brand, and my teacher tribe.
With a little push from my real life teacher friend, Kelsey (www.kelseynhayes.com), I breathed new life into my blog and my TeachersPayTeachers store. This experience, in and of itself, brought new life back to my teaching career and my passion for the job I love. My business side hustle is so much a part of who I am as a teacher and as a person and I love pouring myself into it.
A large part of growing my blog and TeachersPayTeachers store began with engaging with the larger teacher community on Instagram. I have met so many fantastic teachers and TPT sellers through Instagram and I will forever be grateful for the passion and enthusiasm they share daily.
I enjoyed the little moments with my students.
Teaching can be stressful. There’s no doubt about that. But I can almost guarantee that 100% of teachers started the job because they love kids and they love being around kids. Even when they’re not listening to you and they’re really struggling to understand the content, you can always count on them to crack a funny joke or give you a hug when they can tell you’re not having the best of days. My students are the reason I do what I do and I can always count on them to remind me why I love my job.
I hope you continue to renew your passion for education on a daily basis. I’d love to hear about how you’re keeping your passion alive. Let me know in the comments below!
My Week of Teaching in Review: November 18, 2017
What a week. With Thanksgiving break closing in, the energy of the students in my classroom is high. The energy of their teacher, however, is waning. I’m jealous of all of you that have started your Thanksgiving break already. We still have two days with students this week, but I’m excited to spend those days doing some fun activities!
This past week, we continued learning about area and relating it to multiplication. The first day we tackled area of irregular shapes was a disaster, but we came back the next day with some crayons, which always seem to help. My students were able to break apart the shapes into smaller rectangles much better with the help of some color coding! I will be sure to start with this activity next year!
Next week, we’re going to design our dream houses and find the area of the entire house. Some students have already told me they’re ecstatic about adding Lazer Tag rooms and a space just for their dogs. I can’t wait to see how they turn out!
I also had some extra time this week to sneak in a few phonics focus groups, based off the spelling assessment we gave last week. My school uses the Developmental Spelling Analysis (DSA) by Kathy Ganske to assess phonics knowledge and provide Tier 3 interventions. Below are examples of what my data summary looks like. The first image shows my entire class’ data. It’s nice to look at it and see, at a glance, our areas of growth and success. And, of course, I love color coding it! The green tells me that my students have mastered that skill, the yellow needs review, and the red needs direct, explicit instruction.
As you can see, I have a wide variety of learners in my classroom. I use guided reading to meet all of their needs! I used the DSA data to create phonics focus groups, which students who are working on the same skills. Take a look at the next photo – it shows one of my groups. The post-it note is the area of focus for that group. This group in particular is working on consonant blends and digraphs.
Interested in learning more about how we utilize the DSA or other literacy assessments? Let me know!
I will probably be taking a break next week, since it’s such a short week (and Thanksgiving!) – I hope you enjoy the long weekend and take some time to rest and relax.
My Week of Teaching in Review: November 11, 2017
It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. To be honest, I have a hard time coming up with ideas that I think might be of interest to you. But I love writing, so I decided to start a weekly post called My Teaching Week in Review. I love, love, love the time I spend with my kiddos each week and I can’t wait to start sharing that with you. Here’s a peek into what we did this week!
Literacy is my absolute favorite subject to teach and I love using Pixar shorts to expose students to new concepts. These short videos are not only extremely well made (uh, hello, Pixar!), but they’re also usually dialogue free. Students have to use their inferencing skills to figure out what is going on. This week we continued learning about central message and talked about character motivation. To help us understand what motivation is and how it affects a story, we watched Partly Cloudy, a film about a cloud who creates babies to send to Earth. It is such a cute story and my students LOVED watching it. Plus, it helped their understanding of character motivation so much and they were able to apply the concept to the story we were reading. I can’t wait to use La Luna next week! Check out the full list of Pixar shorts and literacy strategies here. I apologize because I found this list on Pinterest years ago and I’m not sure who or where it came from. If you know, please do tell so I can give credit.
|My students completely engaged during a viewing Partly Cloudy.|
We got to have a board game party this week! My school implements a school-wide behavior incentive program called PAWS. If a class or student is caught showing exceptional behavior, they earn a paw and the class in each grade level with the most paws for the week wins. For every 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 10th time you win, you get to spin the wheel of rewards – and this week, we spun to win a board game party. Thursday afternoon we took a field trip to the cafeteria and students got to choose from a variety of games to play. They had a BLAST! It was a nice break from the normal day-to-day routine, plus it allowed them to work on social and cooperative skills… which some of them really needed. 😄 In addition, it allowed me to see some of their strengths and skills outside of the classroom, which I always love!
Since today is Veteran’s Day, we also had a visitor from the Army National Guard come to our classroom to speak about her job and other military jobs on Thursday. She is the mother of one of my students and my class loved asking her questions about how difficult her job is, the food she eats in the military, and more. I was very proud of how respectful they were, even if their questions were a little weapon heavy sometimes. 😒
|Army National Guard Member Sturtivan visiting our classroom for Veteran’s Day.|
Finally, I spent most of the week assessing my students using the Developmental Spelling Analysis. It was developed by Kathy Ganske. We took this assessment when school started back in August, so it was great to see how much growth they’ve made since then. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a nerd, so I loved pouring over the data and creating new word study groups for my students. I’ll let you know more about that next week!
Oh – and the best part of the week – I got to spend a night out with my teaching besties! We enjoyed a night or dinner and fun. It was nice to step away from the classroom for a little bit and spend time with each other. We should definitely do it more often!
Enjoy your week, teachers!
How to Survive Your First Teaching Job if You Start After the First Day of School
I wasn’t hired for my first teaching job until September 21st. School had already been in session for more than a month and I went into a classroom full of students who had only known the weird place known as “limbo” for the last few weeks. It was chaos, to say the least.
No routines and procedures had been established. There was no real behavior plan in place. The teacher who was fulfilling the position up until that point was balancing between two jobs, so she her focus was on her new job as the instructional coach. The students knew there was a new teacher coming, but they didn’t know when and they had no idea what to expect.
Then there was me, fresh out of college, begging for any school that would take me. I had no real classroom experience outside of my college courses and student teaching. I had no experience in third grade. I didn’t know what to expect either.
Perhaps you, new teacher, are walking into a similar situation.
Let’s just say that my first year of teaching was a train wreck. I wish could personally go apologize to every student in my classroom, as well as all of their parents. Looking back now, seven years in, there are so many things I would do differently.
As desperate as you are to start your new teaching job — whether it’s a month after school starts, six months into the year, or 45 days before the last day of school — it’s important that you have a plan. The students that you are inheriting have likely been in a state of transition leading up to your new place as their teacher, so they are probably craving some routine and consistency. Your students NEED you, now more than ever, to be the guiding light for them.
Below, I’ve listed a few things I think will help you succeed in your new position:
1. Establish routines and procedures for how things are done. How will your students enter the classroom? Where will they put their book bags? How should they go about sharpening their pencils? How do they ask questions? (Yes, don’t assume they know to raise their hand… they don’t.) Don’t assume ANYTHING. Have a clear, explicit procedure laid out for every single part of your day. You don’t need to type it all out and give it to your students, but there should be a discussion about each of them. If a student doesn’t follow the procedure, explain it again and have them do it correctly. Hold them accountable. Remember, these students have likely had no one to consistently telling them how to do things. It is your job to tell them.
2. Have a very clear and concise behavior management plan. Have a set of classroom rules and follow them. Make sure you’re aware with any school wide rules and expectations there might be before your start so that you can hold students your students accountable for those as well. Talk with the principal about his or her expectations for handling behaviors in the classroom as opposed to sending them to the office. In addition to making a plan on consequences for negative behavior, make an even better plan for rewarding positive behavior. Your behavior management plan should focus on positive reinforcement, as well as teaching students how to replace inappropriate behaviors with the correct one. This is something that I tweaked over and over again my first year. Keep tweaking until you find something that works for you. However, be sure that you maintain consistency.
3. Find a mentor with whom you can be honest. Depending on how your state handles new teachers, you will probably be assigned a teacher mentor. Hopefully that person is caring, understanding, and able to guide you through your struggles and mishaps as a first year teaching. If they are someone you feel like you cannot talk to, seek out other teacher friends. Bottom line, you won’t get through this career without support! Reach out to others and find someone you can trust.
4. Be flexible. You will plan a lesson that is too short and you have to find something else to do for the next 20 minutes. You will have an awesome lesson that gets interrupted by an unexpected visitor. Someone will throw up when you’re least expecting it, probably all over your math manipulatives. Go with it. Fake it until you make it. Teaching is about people and people are unpredictable. Being flexible with your plans is key.
5. Forgive yourself. You are going to mess up. You are going to have bad days. You are going to make the wrong decision. Keep going. The kids will forget about whatever it was by tomorrow and they will love you anyway. Reflect on your mistakes and learn from them, but never dwell.
Truth is, your first year will probably be a train wreck anyway. But now that you know better, you can do better. Keep on keeping on, new teachers! And, as always, if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to hear from you!
Lessons Learned from the Worst Lesson Ever
Teacher friends, today was a hard day.
I walked out of my classroom this afternoon with my head hung and my confidence shot. This afternoon, in my seventh year of teaching, I experienced one of the worst lessons I have ever taught. It wasn’t pretty.
Let me give you some backstory to start. My grade level recently agreed to pilot a new math program. We were super excited to get our materials — student books, teacher guides, tons of new math manipulatives, center games, and more — and begin teaching this week. We planned last week and, over the weekend, I poured over the new materials to prepare for the coming week. I knew that my students would struggle with the material, so I prepared some supplemental materials. We were ready.
Sometimes, however, you just can’t be prepared enough. I don’t know if it was the material was too hard or the fact that it was directly after lunch and the attention span of my third graders was lacking. When my students’ eyes started to glaze over and their attentiveness started to fade, I realized the lesson was going south. I tried to redirect and pull out some fun, hands-on material… only to be met with what seemed like chaos. Too much. Too soon. It was a disaster. They were lost and I was only confusing them more.
The lesson bombed. HARD.
I am a seventh year teacher, by no means a pro, but also far from a beginner. I’ve grown tremendously in the last seven years and I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve also learned that sometimes, no matter how much you prepare and plan for the unexpected… sometimes, your lesson just sucks.
And you know what? It’s okay.
My confidence took a major blow and we lost nearly an hour of instructional time, but it’s okay. After the manipulative fiasco, I had my students calmly put away their materials (they did so wonderfully) and close their books. After taking a quick thumbs up/thumbs down assessment of the room to confirm my fears that about four of my students were understanding today’s lesson, I did something some teachers would never dare to do.
Even reflecting upon the lesson, I’m not sure where it went wrong, but I know that it was not my students’ fault. It was mine. I apologized to my students and assured them that it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t understand. I told them we’d come back to it tomorrow after I’d had time to come up with a better plan. Then, we moved on.
Bad lessons happen, teachers. It does not matter how prepared you are or how well you know the content or your students, bad lessons happen. Hopefully, they do not happen often, but they will happen. You show the kind of teacher you are by how you react to it. Will you blame your students for not paying attention or understanding? Or will you reflect upon your practice and work to be better? There’s always a lesson for you to learn.
Keep at it, teacher friends. Your students depend on you. And remember, even on the bad days, you make a difference.
Using Google Forms To Assess
Earlier this week, I posted about my love for Google Apps for Education (GAFE, for short) and I shared how I utilize Google Sheets to collect and analyze data. You can go back and read all about that here, but today I’m going to talk to you about another of my favorites: Google Forms.
Whether you feel comfortable with Google Docs and Sheets or not, you can use Google Forms to create a super simple assessment that will export data into Google Sheets. Newsflash: It’s not that complicated.
I use Google Forms to create exit tickets, surveys, and short assessments for my students. They are very quick, easy to use, and, because they export directly into a spreadsheet, they give me lots of tangible data to analyze for next steps.
Here are just a few of the ways to use Google forms in the classroom:
1. Exit tickets – Sometimes I’ll ask students to share 1 or 2 things they learned during today’s lesson using a generic form like this one. Other times, the questions are more lesson-specific, like this exit slip for third grade math. You can even turn on the “quiz” feature and Google will grade them for you! (Hello, extra free time!)
2. Surveys – You can use Google Forms to administer informal reading inventories and pre-assessments to determine student interest or level of prior knowledge. For instance, last school year, my class participated in the #GratitudeExperiment and they had to fill out a pre- and post-survey. Totally did them on Google Forms to save time and money! You can check out the pre-survey here.
GAFE for Classroom Data
Am I alone in saying that Google has been a God-send for teachers? With the rise of the Google empire, we’ve been able to connect, collaborate, engage, and organize like never before. For those of you that are familiar with Google Apps for Education (GAFE, for short), you know that they can be used to simplify a teacher’s life tremendously. I use them pretty much exclusively for my classroom needs, including for lesson planning, data collection, data analysis, and collaborating.
This post is designed to give the Google beginner some tips and tricks for using Google in the classroom. While there are a million ways to use Google with students, I also love utilizing it for my own personal organization and efficiency. Today, I’m going to explain to you how to use GAFE to collect, analyze, and share student data.
Let’s face it, no one became a teacher because they like to look at data. Or maybe they LOVED to grade papers as a kid, but quickly realized that the follow-up work as a teacher made it almost unbearable. The reality is that our jobs are highly tied to data now and rightfully so. Collection and analysis of data makes it easy for us to track where students are and make plans to accelerate their learning or intervene as necessary.
I personally love using the GAFE suite to collect and analyze data. I originally started a data sheet on Microsoft Excel but quickly moved it to Google Sheets after realizing that I did not have to be tied to one device in order to access it. I can pull up my data on my laptop, a school desktop, a colleague’s computer, or any iPad. (I will say that I’ve tried to access the GAFE suite on my Kindle Fire and it’s a little more complicated. I’m not sure about other Android devices.) I also love that I can share my spreadsheet with anyone. This is especially helpful when we are looking at classroom data in our professional learning community and is great to modify and share with parents.
1. Collect student data.
I collect student data in a couple of ways. First, I use it to keep track of the universal screener data we collect in the fall, winter, and spring of every year. For example, we assess students using the Developmental Spelling Assessment, the Developmental Reading Assessment, and the Test of Word Reading Efficiency three times a year. This data is all compiled in one Google Sheet.
Additionally, my data sheet has essentially taken the place of my grade book and I use it to keep track of weekly formative assessment data. My data sheet is set up very much like a standard grade book, with the name of the student going down the left side and the assessments going across the top. The biggest difference is that each of the assessments are grouped by standard so that I can easily track progression within the standard.
2. Analyze student data.
Once the data is collected, this sheet becomes my life. It’s very simple to format the data so that it tells a story about each student, as well as your teaching. Below are a few ways I format my data sheet to help tell the story of our classroom:
- Color coding – I use red for novice, yellow for apprentice, green for proficient, and blue or purple for distinguished. This is my favorite part of the data analysis because I can easily see who is performing at grade level and who needs interventions after every assessment. You can easily do this by selecting the data, choose Format at the top, and then select Conditional Formatting. From there, you can set the formatting for each cell based on a simple “If.. Then” statement.
- Class averages – I can look at a glance to see how to entire class performed on the assessment. This gives me a clue into my effectiveness of teaching. When I have a bad week, the data shows. You can calculate averages by selecting a row or column of data, then clicking the Functions (pointy E) button and selecting “SUM.
- Standard average – This is my way to evaluating student progress toward the standard. While we don’t use standards based grading (yet), this is a great way for me to plan small groups and intervention.
Teacher Toolbox DIY Makeover
You guys, I LOVE my teacher toolbox! I bought it from Home Depot about 5 years ago and it’s been sitting in my classroom ever since. The first year I got it, I wrote on some white Avery labels and stuck them onto it. It wasn’t super pretty but, hey, it worked! Pinterest, Instagram, and TPT have gotten the best of me and I had to give it an update this summer.
This is the toolbox I bought from Home Depot. It’s not my actual toolbox, as mine is blue, but it’s the same style. You can see in the pictures below that my nasty labels were starting to come off. The best part about this project was that it was less than $5 to make! I just printed some labels that I made, grabbed some Modge Podge that I already had, a paintbrush (you can use a sponge brush), a pair of scissors, and Rust-o-leum Painter’s Touch spray paint in magenta. It’s my fave color, if you couldn’t tell. 🙂
I started by taking the drawers out of the toolbox shell. After wiping the toolbox down with a wet paper towel to get any dust off of it, I took it outside and spray painted the first layer. The paint went on really thick!
While it was drying, I took the old labels off the drawers and washed them. I tried to get the tackiness completely off, but there was still residue. It didn’t matter though because the label and Modge Podge covered it up.
After cutting up the labels and drying the drawers off, I painted the Modge Podge on the front of the drawer. I stuck the label on it and then painted over it with more Modge Podge. Even if it’s thick and kind of opaque, it’s okay because it will dry clear!
I had to put a couple more coats on the toolbox to cover up the original dark blue, but I am so pleased with how it turned out! I love it and it will look so good in my classroom!
Just look how pretty those labels are! So cute! You can pick up your own labels here for just $2.
Happy DIY’ing! Share in the comments if you redo your toolbox too!
Ultimate Teacher Planner – Now on TPT
What happens when you can’t sleep? Why, you stay up all night and create a new Ultimate Teacher Planner for your TPT store! This planner has everything that a teacher might need. It’s 80 pages and includes…
- a cover page;
- a school information page;
- class roster pages;
- grade book pages;
- teacher meeting note sheets;
- long term planning pages;
- two different monthly spreads; and
- a lesson plan template.