This blog post was originally featured on Kids Discover on September 13, 2017.
You know those days when the kids are getting a little squirrelly? The days where the side conversations get the best of the quietest kids and even the smallest distraction gets us all off track? It’s time to get the wiggles out while being productive.
It’s time for a Walk and Talk!
I teach in San Diego, California, and the weather is generally pleasant outside. We can easily go outside for this activity. This also works inside around the perimeter of the classroom (you might need to push the desks toward the center) or quietly up and down the hallway.
A Walk and Talk is a structured partner discussion where students are given question cards to answer with a partner while walking on a specified path. They walk toward a set location, such as a pole or tree, then turn and walk back. You can incorporate an instructional assistant or parent volunteer into your class activity by setting them as the turnaround point.
Start the class with a lab, activity, or guided reading assignment done in class. When I’m planning this activity ahead, I will create a list of questions or task cards, then pre-write them on index cards. The questions can be a combination of a review of what you’ve covered in class and how your students will prepare for the upcoming assessment or presentation.
When this activity happens on the fly because of extra time at the end of class or an energy surplus, I’ll ask students to write the questions on index cards themselves, based on what we’ve covered in class.
Before we go outside to our Walk and Talk location, I will randomly assign students a partner. Flippity Random Name Picker is my favorite randomizer tool. Then, we quickly review our class expectations for the Walk and Talk and for outside class work.
The Walk and Talk
We all walk outside and students line up next to their partner and I stand facing the head of the line. I hand a question card to each person in the first pair and wish them luck. The first person answers their question on the way to the turnaround point (about 20-30 steps), then they switch roles and the second person answers a question on the way back to the line. I wait about 10 steps between each pair, which helps prevent extra distractions.
Once the partners return from their walk, they get back into line. When they’re back to the front of the line, I switch their cards for new questions and we repeat the Walk and Talk. I quickly check in with each pair as they return and exchange cards, asking, “how did it go?”
Typically, we do three rounds before returning to class.
When we go back inside, students take some time to share something they learned from their partner or found interesting. This happens either out loud, or as a quick-write on paper or as a question on Google Classroom.
The Walk and Talk is an excellent preparation or reflection tool for larger research projects, essays, and Socratic Seminars. My students love the opportunity to go outside and work, discuss with a partner, and move around.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Thursday, October 12, 2017
I love teaching middle school, especially 7th grade. The kids are goofy, energetic, and super squirrels (...squirrel!). They’re also pre-teens, and trying to fit into the limbo world where they’re not quite kids, but not quite teenagers. Many of my kids have faced challenging family situations that preoccupy their thoughts while in school.
Knowing things are sometimes distracting outside of class, whether it is friends, family, or both, I start my class with a warm-up. This is usually a silent individual activity that activates prior knowledge, or asks students to review what they learned last class.
In April 2015, I changed the way I did my warm-ups. And I had major positive results. Immediately.
I implemented the Daily Check-in Form. I still called it a warm-up, but the purpose expanded to ask students about their day.
Before we continue, please fill it out here.
Your warm-up questions are:
- Who do you teach?
- What made you interested in this blog post topic?
- How do you currently start your class periods, meetings, or workshops?
Ok, now that you filled it out, let’s continue. (If you didn’t fill it out, go back and do so. It’s good for you to actually go through the experience, not just open up the link!)
When students arrive for class, they line up in 2 silent, straight, and smiling lines outside. I invite them in, and they walk in silently (we don’t do it right, it’s back outside to do it over), and begin their warm-up on their iPad. I have a set of Slides for each lesson, and the first Slide is always the warm-up questions.
I reuse the same Form everyday and for all classes. At the end of the week, I hide the previous week's rows on Sheets.
|Three check-in questions with running averages.|
I know some of you are asking, why are you SO strict on coming in silently? Two reasons: First, it helps my students settle in and make the transition to class time. Second, it helps me setting in and make the transition to teaching. I use that time to take attendance, quickly check in with individual students, and skim their warm-up answers.
From this daily warm-up, I have learned many essential things about my students, from death of family members or arguments with friends, to excitement over weekend plans or their deep love of tacos. These are things my students may have been too shy to tell me, or I likely would not have taken the time to listen to their needs.
|Screenshot of the Sheet. I use conditional formatting|
to make it easier to skim how students are feeling.
If there’s a concern, I’ll pull the student aside during class and chat privately about what they shared. If they rank their day as a 1, then I’ll make sure I make it over to their desk more frequently, offer a friendly smile, and start a conversation. (I don’t take them aside, unless they show additional signs of being upset or stressed in class.)
The day I first implemented this warm-up, I learned that my student’s uncle died the week prior. Over the next three weeks, she lost three more people close to her. Because she willingly shared this with me, I was able to support her emotionally in class, and refer her to our counselors for additional support. I am 100% positive this prevented serious behaviors in my class, because she had struggled all year with attitude and off-task behavior.
When I present at conferences and workshops, I often start my session with an identical Form--I ask about participants’ prior knowledge on the topic and goals for the session. I feel like this helps me connect to my participants in the limited time we have.
I’m grateful for this simple tool that has helped me build community in my classroom!
Love this idea? Here’s the Form template.
Have fun with the Form, make it work for you, and please share!
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Mari is a middle school Science & AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA.
Meagan is a middle school Math, AVID, & Technology teacher and the Team Technology Leader in Hesperia, CA.
Aubrey has been a music teacher & Summer Learning principal, and is currently an Educational Technology Specialist in Boulder, CO.
Teach kids all day, then bring grading and lesson planning home at night. Does this sound familiar? If you asked a room full of teachers, I’m sure nearly every head would be nodding - this is the story of our lives! According to an NPR article, “Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all." Budget cuts, paperwork, behavior challenges, and ever-increasing demands add extra stress to our already stressful jobs.
Work/life balance has always been struggle for all three of us. We have this tendency to work many hours past the required hours of our teaching days. It’s very common for us to get into work early, leave an hour after our days finish, and spend a large portion of our nights working on lesson planning, grading, blogging, or various side projects. If you’re thinking this sounds like some “Woe is me” story – it isn’t.
In the end, the underlying issue is that we love what we do. We love being teachers, working with students, developing lessons and, yes, even grading and reviewing their work. Education has never been just a “job” to us – it’s a major part of our identity. It’s our passion. And we spend a large portion of our days working on various projects because we enjoy it. However, we began to realize that it isn’t healthy for our work/life balance or the relationships with those around us to work the majority of the week.
Enter the idea of Work Rules. We each began to create boundaries for ourselves, unique to our specific situations, and write them down. We were amazed (and horrified) at how challenging it was for us to try to define some limits to our work! We also included reminders of what we could do instead of work [behavioral therapy concepts - you can’t just extinguish a behavior without developing a replacement behavior] and why we were doing this in the first place. Then we gave permission to hold each other accountable, which has been key to changing our habits.
Aubrey: I’ll be honest, there is no silver bullet to finding and maintaining balance. I still bring more work home than I would like and don’t always follow my “work rules”. That being said, I have noticed a definite difference in my mindset as we’ve gone through this journey. A night without work is becoming something to be celebrated, rather than a reason to feel guilty. I find myself asking, “Does this really need to be done at home, or could it wait until tomorrow?” more often. And I am slowly getting better at setting limits for myself, such as only bringing one project home (instead of everything that needs to be done) or setting a timer for how long I work (once it goes off, no more work for me)! The accountability and camaraderie has been huge - for picking me up when I am struggling, for spurring me on to do better, and sometimes just to have a place to share how hard this is! In this ongoing journey of living LIFE to the fullest, I am grateful for friends who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and provide gentle reminders when needed. It’s not always easy...but it is worth it!
Meagan: A couple of months ago, I really began to reflect on my work/life balance. Around this time, Aubrey and Mari shared their idea for “work rules” and…it was amazing! I quickly began to develop my own set of rules in hopes of developing some balance in my life. As Aubrey mentions above, I still struggle with maintaining balance and following these rules but I can tell that there has been a definite shift in my mindset. Although I have always been a good time manager, I’ve started to balance when I will do “work-work” (site/district) and when I will do my “side work” (blogging, presenting, etc). I’ve been able to use much of my time at school to finish my lesson planning, grading, and projects which has opened opportunities to work on my “side work” projects at home. Before, I was doing both and it was clear that this would not last forever. I have also tried to set aside one day of the week where I do not do any “work-work” and at least one night where I do not do any work related to education. I’ve definitely broken these rules several times but it has been helpful to have friends who check-in and encourage me to keep with these goals. I still have a long ways to go on truly creating a work/life balance but…you have to start somewhere, right?
Mari: It’s been a constant battle for me to find the right work/life balance because teaching is both my passion and my job. However, I began realizing that in order to be the best teacher for my students, I also need to take care of myself. Prior to creating the Work Rules with Aubrey and Meagan, I felt guilty if I didn’t work all weekend and most weeknights. That pace was neither sustainable nor healthy for me. Now, I give myself all of Sunday off from anything education-related, and use this time to recharge, relax, and pursue fun things (like napping!). As both Aubrey and Meagan said, there are times the rules have been bent or broken; while I’m routinely committed to my Sundays off, I haven’t always given myself a few work-free weeknights due to school commitments or interruptions/distractions during my prep period. I’m so grateful for our group. Not only do they keep me accountable to my work/life balance commitments, but also they encourage and push me to be a better person!
We are on a journey together - far from perfect, yet always growing. Frequently just before or after work, we check in with each other to see what the day looks like and what our work/no-work plans are for the day. This keeps us centered throughout the day and into the evening.
What steps are you taking to balance work and life?
Saturday, August 26, 2017
Welcome to our adventure. Please keep your hands, feet, and shoulds inside the bus at all times.
Should is a word that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Every time I hear, think, or say this word, I cringe. I’m trying to change my mindset, by first changing my vocabulary.
I don’t run a makerspace. I don’t fully integrate robotics and coding into my science curriculum. I haven’t tried flexible seating in my classroom. I don’t have Flipgrid Fever. I’m not certified in every app, tool, and program out there.
Some of y’all are thinking, “oh my gosh Mari, you really should try __________.”
Should. Should. Should.
I know I am a great teacher. I build great relationships with my students, I design engaging lessons, I empower my students to be curious learners, and we have lots of fun in our class. I try new things and take risks, and I am transparent with my students on my successes and shortcomings. I want to be the best version of me.
One of my favorite authors and experts on the topic of shame and vulnerability is Brené Brown. She has published some phenomenal books (Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), and more), as well as done some incredible TED Talks. I highly recommend them, especially Listening to shame (TED Talk).
My favorite takeaway from Brené Brown is when she differentiates between shame and guilt, “Shame is, ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.’" I feel guilty when I forget to submit my attendance. I feel shame when I’m not doing all the things in my classroom and with my students. After reading her books and watching her TED talks, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one struggling with attaching self-worth to what we do and don’t do.
When I get excited about a new tech tool or idea, I immediately sail out onto the Sea of Shoulds with the Shame Sharks ominously circling my boat. I’m 100% sure I’ve sent subliminal shame messages to friends and colleagues as I’m trying to get them to use this “Awesome New Tool” that they just can’t live without. When I say, “You should try this!” it becomes less about the tool, and more about their shortcomings as a teacher.
When I start attaching “shoulds” to my suggestions, I am also unintentionally adding shame to the conversation. Me telling you, “you should try this!” inherently attaches shame--the hidden message here is “You’re not doing enough. When you try _____, you’ll have more value in this edu-world.” I apologize, and hope you’ll give me another opportunity to share...in a different way.
I am working hard to reshape my language and approach. Rather than telling people what they should do, I am taking time to hear their needs and ask how I can support their needs. When I am beyond excited for the “Super Awesome Thing,” I’m shifting my language to “I just learned about the Super Awesome Thing, I’d love to share with you how it’s impacting students in my classroom.”
Thank you all for being on this journey with me!
Saturday, July 29, 2017
It’s fun to reflect back on where I was a year ago, and the goals I set for my classroom (read more here). I was ready to hit the ground running with Restorative Practices in my classroom, including using circles regularly. And, I generally did an okay job using circles and restorative conversations. Toward the end of the year, circles became fewer and fewer, so this year a big focus is sustaining Restorative Practices. On the bright side, using restorative conversations with individual or small groups of students was incredible helpful (blog post coming soon).
As I look to this school year, I’m excited to focus on a few new things with my students and refine my practice on last year’s topics.
Right now, I’m temporarily winning the battle against the Shoulds. There’s an overwhelming pressure to do all the things, and be a pro at all apps, tools, and teaching practices. And, I don’t have the time or energy to jump on board with every single one. I can’t be the only one that feels this way, right?
So, I’m really going to focus on building relationships with my kids first, and everything will come second.
7th grade science
My big goals for 7th grade science are to use social media better to connect with my kids and have them connect with experts, and to guide my students to be more self-directed and in charge of their own learning.
With social media, we have classroom Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. Last year, I had students dictate some tweets as we were asking questions to local meteorologists. This year, I’d love to turn my iPad over to students (with supervision) to post to classroom social media accounts. If anyone has a way to introduce this to kids, (target length: 45 minutes), let me know. I’m planning to accomplish this with a Common Sense Media digital citizenship lesson and social media certification.
I think using more purposeful social media will also lead to the second science goal of building more self-directed learners. My goal is to empower students to take charge of their learning, ask more in-depth questions, and work more independently within groups. One step I’ve taken toward this goal is to create group work roles; I’ve tried this in the past, but haven’t been consistent.
8th grade AVID
Last year in AVID 8, I had my kids start blogging. While it fizzled out a little bit during second semester, it was a lot of fun. I want to build this back up this year, and connect with at least one classroom. Last year, we did some commenting between my class and Aubrey Yeh’s class, which the kids especially enjoyed.
As with social media in 7th grade science, I hope this gives students a platform to express their ideas and thoughts.
Blended Learning Specialist
Within my technology role, I’m trying to maximize my time again this year--I only have a 2. (one class period) dedicated to technology. I’ll continue to run monthly Parent Tech Breakfasts, and post monthly Virtual Vikings newsletters in the staff bathrooms. Additionally, we’re continuing with Viking Tech Crew, our student tech club.
One of my big goals for my BLS position is to be in classrooms more and work one-on-one with teachers in a coaching context. It seems that a lot of teachers don’t know what I do in my role, and do not know I’m available to work with them. For now, I’m going through coaching frameworks to find one that feels comfortable to me, then approaching teachers who I think would be willing and interested to start this coaching journey with me.
Additionally, our goal is to become a Common Sense Media Certified School and help other schools in our district become certified as well. I’m working on adapting the Common Sense Media lessons to fit within core content, which will help with school-wide buy-in. Our amazing AVID department will help me push out content to the content areas (we have AVID teachers in all 4 core departments!), and will also each become CSM Certified Educators.
This is going to be a great school year! Kids came back on Thursday, July 20th, and I can already tell I have a wonderful and hard-working bunch. They are goofy, and also know when it’s time to be serious.
If you do any of these things, or have insight, I’d love to hear it! Comment below, or email me at email@example.com.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
I am so super thrilled to announce that my first book is now available on Amazon! This is a combined effort of about 60 teachers from all around the world, and I have the honor of coordinating and leading this project!
Fueled by Coffee and Love is a collection of real stories by real teachers. Each person shared a story from their teaching journey. Some will make you smile, some make you think, and some will make you cry. These are our stories.
The intro was written by the one and only Doug Robertson! And, if that isn’t enough, all proceeds from this book will be donated to classrooms and teachers. (Ok good, you’re convinced. Go buy a copy, then read on.)
|Fueled by Coffee and Love|
This project started in February 2017--my AVID 8 students were starting 20Time projects, and I decided to do one myself. My inspiration for this project stemmed from news media and politicians telling a one-sided tale of what teaching and education is and is not. I feel frustrated that the individuals making decisions about our profession have little idea of our day-to-day joys and struggles.
What I thought would be a small and manageable project exploded (in a great way) and turned into a full-scale book project. In March through May, I gathered stories and facilitated the editing process. A total of 53 stories came in! Then, it took May and June to finish the editing, final formatting, getting a logo and cover design created (thanks Michele Osinski!), and getting the whole thing published. (Shoutout to Ray Charbonneau & y42k Publishing Services for making the self-publishing process easy.)
To make things even more awesome, Jennie Magiera’s ISTE 2017 keynote was all about sharing the untold stories! It takes courage to share these stories, and it’s important to shine a light on the great things we’re doing. Jennie mentioned Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk in her keynote--if you haven’t seen it, make sure you check it out! Adichie says, “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED Talk, The danger of a single story). It is a dangerous thing to allow others to tell our stories, especially when they are doing so for political or economic gain.
One of the biggest challenges in this project was recruiting a diverse cross-section of teachers, especially including teachers of color. Because this project grew out of my group of friends and PLN, I know there is some diversity of authors and I also know it isn’t representative of all teachers. (And, since I don’t know all of the authors personally, I’m making this judgement based on their stories, bios, and Twitter profiles.) This is something in the forefront of my mind as I begin asking for writers for Volume 2. I’d love your help in spreading the word!
It has been such a labor of love throughout this process. And, I’m thankful for everyone who made this project possible. Along with Michele and her graphic design skills, I’m super grateful for Aubrey Yeh, Meagan Kelly, and Nick Brierley for stepping up and helping with extra rounds of edits, bouncing around ideas, and providing constant feedback.
|The proof arrived!|
In all honesty, it was such a fun project and I loved every second of it. I will say, it didn’t feel real until I held the proof copy in my hands for the first time. That was an incredible feeling! All our hard work, in a tangible book! Go team!
Get yourself a copy of the book on Amazon or other ebook sources. While you’re there, buy a second copy to gift to a teacher who has made an impact on you! Find out more about the project on the Fueled by Coffee and Love website.
And, in true project style, I’m already thinking about a potential Volume 2. If you’re interested in writing and/or editing, please fill out the interest list and I’ll email you once Volume 2 gets rolling (likely September 2017).
Lastly, I leave you with this challenge:
Go thank a teacher who impacted you, went above and beyond for you, or made a difference in your life. Send them an email, a text, a postcard, an owl (bonus points: buy them a copy of the book and write your thank you inside!)...whatever you have to do. Please, take a moment to acknowledge their love and hard work.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
As I am getting more and more involved in the edtech world, working on education related projects, and presenting at conferences, I’ve found myself really failing at the work/life balance. I can’t be the only one struggling here, right?
On weekdays, I get up, go to work, come home from work, make dinner (usually while working), then work some more. Not all of this is lesson planning and grading--much of the work I do when not at work is via social media, working on projects, or preparing for conferences. It’s still work. On weekends, I wake up, work on something on and off all day, taking breaks for naps or to run errands. Even when I’m not directly working, I find myself thinking about work. Throughout teaching, the one positive limit I’ve had for myself is no work email on my phone.
I’ve found myself stressed and easily overwhelmed with the amount of things I think I need to get done. And struggling to differentiate between things that need to get done, and things I want to get done. I know I’m not giving my best self to myself, my boyfriend, our dog, and my family/friends.
Simply unplugging doesn’t always work for me because I feel guilty for not working, and be constantly thinking about what I should be doing. (Sidenote: Should is my danger word. I’m frequently wrapped up in the shoulds and should nots, rather than what’s best for me.)
I needed to make a change. ASAP.
I made the decision to gift myself Sundays.
I set guidelines for what can and cannot be done on Sundays. I’ve decided that working on projects or work-work is off limits, including work email. I can chat with friends on Twitter, do chores around the house (even if my brain tries to talk me out of it because it’s my rest day!), hang out with friends, or do absolutely nothing.
A typical Sunday might include waking up slowly (sleeping in until 7am!), playing with the dog or going on a longer walk, going to church, grocery shopping, taking a nap, reading, catching up on MasterChef and Food Network shows on the DVR, crocheting, watching baseball without multitasking on work, doing laundry, and making a more involved dinner. I enjoy doing everything on this list (except for putting away the laundry)!
Even throughout the long and difficult process completing my National Board Certification (NBCT) this spring, and coordinating my book project Fueled by Coffee and Love, I didn’t do any work on Sundays. I found myself more focused on Saturdays and at work, knowing I couldn’t do last minute things on Sunday.
My one exception to this “no work on Sundays” rule has been conferences. However, when I’m at a weekend conference (usually an EdTechTeam summit) I’m having so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work!
This change has been absolutely magical! Because I know that all of Sunday is off-limits for work, I don’t feel guilty for relaxing. I’ve found myself less stressed, and more present in both work and rest. Additionally, I’ve found it easier to limit my work on weekday evenings.
This is what works for me. It may or may not work for you, and that’s okay. Maybe you pick a different time period, or your “rest rules” are different. There is no judgement in how you choose to rest and rejuvenate yourself.
It's less about the amount of time, and more about the practice of it.
What do your rest habits look like?
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
One of my hats at school is .2 (one class period) as a Blended Learning Specialist. I work with teachers to do purposeful integration of technology into our classroom. As I try to encourage my colleagues beyond simple substitution with our 1:1 iPads, I’ve found that we’re all sort of stuck in the swamp of so much to do, and not enough time to implement everything.
|Virtual Vikings Newsletter|
I had to really sit down and consider what will work best for my teachers. They don’t need more PD or expansion of Tech Tuesday lunches. I post resources and ideas on Google Classroom, initiate discussions, and try to be present in classrooms as much as possible. We attend local conferences, such as Edcamp619 and the San Diego CUE Tech Fair. However, they didn’t need more of any of that.
It took me the better part of a year analyzing this challenge, talking with colleagues and mentors, and observing how our teachers go about learning.
When I visited Google Boulder for the Innovator Academy in June 2016 and the Googleplex in Mountain View in August 2016, I noticed they had newsletters in all the restroom stalls. This made for some very interesting and technical reading. (Sorry, didn’t take any pictures. Google’s rules!) And, it reminded me of freshman year of college when our RAs would post the weekly newsletter in the bathrooms--it was impossible to ignore.
|Text from my friend!|
A lightbulb went off, and Virtual Vikings was born.
I used Google Slides to create the monthly newsletter template (see template & example here), then added in new content for each month. When I see cool tech tips, ideas, or lesson spotlights, I add them to a list on Google Keep. My featured sections include: Tech Tip, Classroom Highlight, Spotlight, Monthly Challenge, Viking Tech Crew, and Upcoming Events.
The hardest part is getting classroom spotlights, since I can’t be in every classroom every day. I’ve recruited my Viking Tech Crew (tech club) students to share what they’re learning, and take pictures of lessons and activities they’d like to share.
I’m thankful my dear friend Deb, guardian of the color printer, happily prints me 12 copies each month.
In each staff bathroom plus the copy room, I used 3M Command Strips to hang up plastic sheet protectors on the wall or back of the stall door. Each month, I do a Tour De Bathroom and slip a new newsletter into the sheet protector.
I’ve intentionally chosen not to also email out a copy. I want to preserve the magic and excitement of the physical newsletter. In the future, I’m not opposed to posting a digital archive of past newsletters.
Since starting this in March 2017, I have received extremely positive feedback on the Virtual Vikings newsletter! Each time a new one goes up, friends text me, email me, or stop me in the halls to share what they learned. They like that it’s short, colorful, visual, and convenient.
In fact, a few people love Virtual Vikings SO much that newsletters occasionally disappear from the sheet protectors!
I can’t wait to post our next Virtual Vikings newsletter when we go back to school in July!