Epic projects are easy when you have a plan.Read More
You can’t stretch yourself and grow within your comfort zone.Read More
My goal isn’t for students to love me, but for them to love learning.Read More
Our students are not BORING, they’re just BORED.Read More
When I saw a veteran teacher get 30 kids' attention by simply looking at them, my MIND. WAS. BLOWN.Read More
Book dioramas and baking soda-vinegar volcanoes may be fun, but that is not Project Based Learning.Read More
There’s no story if there’s no conflict.Read More
One of the hardest parts about doing engaging and dynamic projects with your students is the simple fact that it could potentially crash and burn.
Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but when you task your students with creating something meaningful, that goes beyond the walls of the classroom, there is a chance it is not going to end up the way you wanted it to. Sometimes (more than once in my room), it just plain tanks. The deadline isn't met. Students weren't that invested. The final products were terrible. You and/or your students are left wanting to curl up into a ball and never do a project again.
Sometimes ambitious teaching leads to failure.
And failure sucks.
But it's also one of the best things that can happen to teachers, school leaders, students, and people in general. Failure is when the very best, transformational learning happens. In this video, I talk about a project that was an absolute disaster and the incredible learning moment that followed with my students.
So you'll see me say this in the video, but I'll say it here too---
Failing is quite alright. As long as we fail forward.
We get it, kids need to collaborate. But have you ever tried to get 4 seven year olds to work together? How about 4 seventeen year olds?!
Let's talk about group work.
The career-world has rapidly changed in the last few decades, and a student's need to be able to collaborate has increased dramatically. From law enforcement, the medical field, business, to teaching, collaboration is required to be successful in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the ability to work with others, combine skills and strengths, and give strong critical feedback is not something we are born with. Collaboration has to be taught, and that is not always a painless task.
However, there are tools and processes that can make group work in the classroom easier and more effective. That's what I talk about in this video. Give it a watch, and leave a comment about ways you teach and promote collaboration in your school.
If you are diving into the first week of the school year right now, good luck! This is one of my very favorite times to be an educator. No matter what grade you teach or position you work in a school, energy is high this time of year. Kids won't admit it, but most are excited to be back in school. And at least for me, so am I. It's a time of new beginnings and fresh slates.
This is why I think how we plan the first week and what our focus is during it is so vital. This is the week where you start relationships with students. It's where you set the tone for your class, expectations, culture, and everything else.
In the video above, I talk about some of the activities I do in this first week, and share a story about how the power of the beginning of the year can have a huge effect on the rest of it.
Sometimes you need to practice your jump shot while you're teaching. Sometimes it's with bottles of rotten milk. And if that bottle accidentally explodes against the wall, sprays rotten milk everywhere, and makes your classroom unusable the rest of the day--- you need to be flexible.
Here is another ridiculous (but all to common) story from school- and hopefully a little wisdom gained from it.
Sometimes teaching is just plain crazy.Read More
Worksheets reinforce good teaching, but they are not teachers.Read More
By Joyce Wilson
Summer side-gigs can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look, and while some teachers have the summer months free to do as they please, others have families to support and need extra income when the weather turns warm. It’s important to know all your options, and these days there are actually quite a few when it comes to earning cash outside of your full-time job. Whether you want to keep it temporary or hold onto it once school starts again, there are lots of gigs around if you know where to start.
First, think about what your needs are. Do you need specific items to run your business? Will there be any start-up costs involved? Starting your own business or becoming self-employed can sometimes require materials, whether it’s art supplies to make handmade crafts or a car that will allow you to work for a ride-sharing service. Once you’ve figured out exactly what you’ll need to begin, create a budget and a business plan. This might require you to get organized and think about details such as opening up a business bank account to keep all your transactions separate from your personal accounts.
Here's are some tips to consider when looking for a summer gig.
Consider your needs.
Whether you need a job that provides flexible hours so you can spend time with your kids, or one that will allow you to work from home, it’s important to figure out your needs in the very beginning in order to narrow down the field of job choices. Once you do that, you’ll be able to see pretty clearly what will work for you and what won’t.
Do some research.
A side-gig is defined as any job that is either part-time or temporary, meaning there are various ways you can earn extra cash. From allowing your creativity to flourish by selling your artwork online to starting your own business, it’s really up to you how you choose to proceed. You might open up an Etsy shop, sell gently used or vintage clothing online, break into the sharing economy, become a blogger or freelance writer, or take on freelance photography gigs. Or, you might put your teaching skills to good use and become a tutor or educate in a different field, such as teaching English as a second language online. Think about where your passions lie and let that be your guide.
Set goals for yourself.
Setting goals for yourself is about more than just making money; being successful at something means knowing how to find the things you’re good at and make the most of them. It’s also about knowing what not to do. For instance, if you love to paint and decide to turn that into a full-time job, will it be hard to create once you have to do it? Make things easier on yourself by setting small, attainable goals to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Many of the aforementioned side-gigs require you to work for yourself, which takes a lot of self-discipline. Knowing how to divide your time between work and your other responsibilities is essential, as is being careful about cutting out distractions. One of the best ways to do this is to create an office or desk space that is free of clutter and closed off from the rest of your home so that when you’re working, you won’t have to worry about struggling to get things done.
Finding the best summer side-gig for your needs doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. With a little research and a good plan, you can start earning quickly, and it may even turn into something you can do year-round rather than just temporarily.
For more work by Joyce, check out Teacherspark.org
On my very first day as a teacher, I met a boy named Dave. Dave was that kid who kept his head down in the back of the room and hid behind his long hair and expressionless face. I soon found out that Dave was in foster care, and heard his backstory of abuse and suffering. As an ambitious new teacher determined to engage every single student who walked into my classroom, I fought hard to win Dave's trust and attention. I'd sit down and talk to him regularly. I would comment on his clothes and ask about his interests. Sometimes I would wait with him at the end of the day at the bus stop.
However, after over a month of this, I wasn't seeing any progress. Something was keeping this kid cold and isolated, and I took it upon myself to warm him up. I remember other, more experienced staff would say stuff to me like, "Good luck with that kid Trevor. He is too far gone, and you just can't save them all." I wanted to defy those people, and believe they just didn't try hard enough. I would not let jaded people prevent me from saving this boy.
And after several months of constantly pouring myself into Dave, he began to talk to me. And then it was like a dam burst, and all of a sudden Dave was alive. He worked hard in class. He began to make friends. Dave came out of isolation.
When he received the first A of his life in my class, I wanted to scream from the mountain tops that there is not a kid a teacher cannot "save" or rescue if we try hard enough.
In fact, I did do that:
I had another student named Gerald. Gerald also came from a broken home and unimaginable pain. He usually only got his meals at school, and those were on the days he showed. Often Gerald's seat would be empty.
But this kid had a look behind his eyes that told me he desperately wanted to "make it." He wanted to defy the odds, finish high school, and make something of his life. I spent so much of my energy on this boy. I met him on the weekends to play basketball. I swallowed my pride many times when Gerald would act out in class, knowing that with enough patience, I could see this kid turn a corner. I even expended a lot of my time and energy outside of school, away from Gerald. I carried his burdens home with me, shared them with my wife, and would lose sleep over him.
I was determined to save this boy.
And then one day, Gerald did not show up to school. His cousin had been murdered, and it shattered his world. When he finally showed after being out a week, he cried in my arms and told me how scared he was. I assured him that I have his back and that we'd get through this together.
A couple days later, he dropped out of high school.
The kindness I showed Gerald; my deep questions about his life and family; the endless amount of grace I showed him when he'd steal a phone in class or even cuss me out; the hours spent at home worrying and praying for this kid- were not enough to save him. It didn't suffice to turn his life around and help him finish his education.
Those other teachers were right, I cannot save them all.
This absolutely devastated me. I began to question the purpose of my job, and the impact teachers really can have on their students.
You might imagine I've got a silver lining coming up soon. Some type of resolution or inspiration I later had about how we can reach every kid.
But this is not that kind of blog post. In the years since Gerald, I've had many other students who entered my classroom distraught and damaged. And while sometimes I do get to see dramatic change unfold before my eyes, other times I end the school year feeling like a failure. Maybe a kid drops out. Or does not pass my class. Or leaves their time with me hating the subject just as much or even more. Sometimes at the end of the year, I find out a kid even despises me. These are the hardest parts about being a teacher for me.
When I break my back with sweat and blood landscaping my yard, I expect the end result to be a beautiful yard.
When I pour everything I have into the students in my classroom, I cannot guarantee the outcome. I can't ensure the result will be beautiful. I think this difficult reality is shared by every teacher and person who works with kids. And it's been enough at times to make me want to get out of education. All of the love, kindness, consistency, discipline, and work will not save, or transform every student
But it can for some of them.
And this fact is why I did not quit when I saw a student I care about fail. I've seen enough students transform before my eyes throughout the years- grow in confidence, adopt a hopeful view of the world- to know that love, kindness, consistency, discipline, and hard work is worth giving.
So while you can't save them all, you can still love them all. And show every student respect. And strive to engage them in your class. And let them know their potential for greatness.
Whether this causes them to overcome their past or not is not for us to decide. But the potential for this work makes it worth it.
WHAT TO READ NEXT
After a long day in the classroom teaching, growing, disciplining, loving, and working with our children, teachers don’t feel like painting a house or driving an Uber.Read More
In 1970, a man named Edward Packard was telling his daughters a bedtime story about a character he made up named Pete. Every night, Pete would encounter different adventures, and Packard would make up a new adventure for Pete on the spot. But one night Packard ran out of things for Pete to do. If you are a parent, you know exactly what this guy was going through.
So with no ideas for what Pete was going to do next, Packard asked his daughters what the character’s adventure would be that night. Each daughter came up with a different idea, and so Packard came up with a different ending for each adventure.
Choose Your Own Adventure books were born.
And it went on to become one of the bestselling children’s books during the 1980’s and ‘90’s, selling over 250 million copies. The magic of Choose Your Own Adventure is that the reader gets to become a participant in the story. Rather than just absorbing the information, one gets to have a say in what information is presented to them.
Often when we lecture, the story and information is being told by one source. This can work for a time, but study after study has shown that people can only sit and listen for so long before they lose interest and the teacher loses engagement.
Having your students interact with your story, your lecture, is vital. Direct instruction does not mean that the teacher is the only one who gets to talk. Teachers can create opportunities for students to join the story and determine how it gets told. There are a number of ways to create pauses in your speaking and allow students to interact with it. Here are a few suggestions to allow students to be a part of the adventure.
Turn and Talk
At any given point in your story, pose a question to students. It could be what they think happens next, or a reflection of what they’ve heard so far. Then have students turn to the people around them and discuss the prompt. Mix opportunities for students to turn and talk throughout any lecture that you ever give.
Like Turn and Talk, you first pose a prompt to the students. However, before discussing with each other, give them time to think and process by themselves. Following an allotted amount of time, students discuss with a each other, in pairs or group. Next, the students share with the rest of the class what they talked about.
Sketch-noting, or visual note-taking are visual stories a student creates when listening to a speaker or reading a text. Rather than traditional note-taking techniques, where it can be easy to regurgitate information in text and not actually comprehend the material, the learner sketches out what they are hearing and creates images of the story. To be able to draw what one is hearing or reading, one has to have some comprehension of it. This encourages engagement with the story and active listening.
Sketch notes can contain a combination of visual and text notes. The primary objective is for the students to create notes that work best for them.
Students create two columns on a sheet of paper. Title one column: “Quotes,” and the other column, “Thoughts.” As students are listening to the lecture, they write down any quotes they hear that stand out to them in the “Quotes” column. In the “Thoughts” column next to the quote they wrote down, they write their reaction. Their reaction can sometimes be whatever is in their stream of consciousness, simply putting their thoughts on paper. They can also write down questions that they have, to be asked later or just to ponder over. The Double Entry Diary serves two purposes. First, it makes great notes for students to recap what they heard and to study if there will be a test or paper later. However, more importantly it provides another opportunity for students to engage with the story. It simulates a conversation with themselves, giving them focus and making them think about everything they are hearing.
12 word summary
At any given point in the lecture, have students summarize important aspects of a particular section of the story in 12 words or less. While lacking detail, this is a useful way to make sure students are comprehending the key points of the story. How many words are in the average tweet? If a kid can pack a thought in a tweet, they should be able to do this.
Name the story
Have students identify the different parts of the story. What is the setting, theme, and plot? What is the conflict? How do you think it will be resolved?
Be intentional with the story in your lectures or talks, allowing your students in on the fact that you designed the lecture that way. Knowing this, they will look for different elements as you tell it, creating engagement.
We don't need to abandon the lecture at all. Instead we just need to make it interactive, and invite our students to be apart of it.
Have you ever said something in anger or frustration, and the second it left your mouth you knew it probably should have stayed inside your head to bounce around a while until you were less angry or less frustrated?
I published a blog post a couple days ago that I wrote from a place of anger and frustration. In the past week I’ve lost a grandpa and a friend, all while dealing with several issues in my school that have not been easy to wade through. Throughout my life when I am angry, I’ve always found it helpful to write. About what I’m feeling; why I’m angry; and what I wish would happen. For me, writing is therapeutic, and is a great means to cool off and evaluate issues from a different angle. Oftentimes I write my thoughts, read them after, and gain new perspective.
This week I did this exercise, and made the major error of publishing my frustration- writing to my blog before I cooled down. I didn’t wait for new perspectives to arise or the clear thoughts that come after anger. Instead I hit PUBLISH, and I think in the process didn’t represent my true thinking, and even hurt some feelings along the way.
My blog post was about how I have upset other teachers in my school with my different style of teaching. Judging them for judging me on how I run my class. I essentially said that learning should be fun (which I still wholeheartedly believe), but made it sound like my style of fun is the only way.
That music has to be loud.
Silent reading should be outside.
That teachers have to be funny.
That I have teaching figured out, and whole lot of people don’t.
It wasn’t my intention, but more than enough people have expressed their feelings that I was saying that their brand of teaching is not ‘strong’ or ‘effective’ because it is not like mine.
From my place of frustration, I left out the anecdote about my high school senior English teacher, Mrs. Perry, who was the most difficult teacher I ever had. Every piece of work she gave us was more difficult than the last, and I remember thinking that she got joy from making us suffer. We'd sit in rows in her room while she hammered home the material and made us practice the work over and over again.
But then one day she stayed after school and helped me write my college entrance essay, and praised me for how well written it was. When I received my acceptance letter and showed it to Mrs. Perry with pride, she gave me this smile that told me, “See? The hard work was worth it.”
Now that was fun.
She may not have been the boisterous, energetic teacher I now am, but she was the best damn teacher I ever had. And I think my blog post from this week gave the impression I don’t recognize the greatness in teachers like her.
Or in the many teachers out there who have countless different styles to reach kids and help them succeed.
If you are a teacher and you are dedicating a huge portion of your life to education and all that it does to make our society and world a better place, thank you. And if my blog post earlier this week did anything at all to make you feel less as a teacher, I apologize. I’ll always advocate for finding more ways to engage students and make learning come alive for them, but I want to do better at noticing how there are many ways to make that happen.
I’ll also buy a Moleskine notebook or something. It’s probably best to keep my journaling on paper :)
Yes my class can be loud and messy. And yes that is on purpose.Read More
during Spring Break, I will not respond to emails.
Yes, I know you’re worried about your child passing this semester, and so am I. As a matter of fact, I worry about that all the time and I’m with you, I really want him to succeed.
But I’m not going to worry about it for the next 7 days. I need a break from that. So if you send me an email, expect an auto-response, and know that I’ll get back to you when I get back to school.
I will not give you homework of any kind over Spring Break. You’ve worked hard for and with me this year, and you need a break. So take one, and spend this time resting, and playing, and creating, and reading, and hanging out with friends, and not thinking about English class.
Unless of course you’re that kid who’s mom will email me while I’m lying on a beach. The you might have some work to do over Spring Break.
Please give your teachers the whole break off. Encourage them to setup auto responses in their emails, to not grade papers, plan curriculum, or come into school over the break. A lot of the teachers I know need permission to rest, but all of them need it. So maybe you could give them that permission.
And dear teachers,
let Spring Break be a break. Spend time with family, go on a trip, read a novel, don’t check your email! Sleep in late, eat good food, and don’t think about school for a few days.
Of course we love teaching, otherwise we wouldn't’ do it. But you have worked hard this year, and your brain needs a break. And Spring is a great time for that. So enjoy your time off, recharge your batteries, and then come back strong.
Oh, one more 'Dear Students'- if you see your teacher at the beach lying on towel in their bathing suit, do us a solid and walk away.