Quote of the Week

Never say you are "just" a teacher. That's like saying Clark Kent is "just" Superman.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Top 10 Ways to Best Use Anchor Charts, by Erin Casler, 4th grade ELA and Social Studies Teacher at Stoner Creek Elementary

Teachers are notorious for spending hours on websites such as Pinterest or Teacher Pay Teachers, hunting for the perfect activity to use in the classroom.  I tend to over pin anchor charts.  One thing I have observed is teachers like anchor charts to be neat and beautifully designed.  This leads to teachers pre-making anchor charts and using the same anchor charts each year.  One of the biggest downsides is students not being fully connected.
            Here are a few tips when creating and using anchor charts:

1.     Make the Anchor Chart with the students.  Even if it is not perfect, involve the class as you make the chart.
2.  Teach the Anchor Chart as you create it. It is important to make sure students understand the purpose of the chart.  If you are using a mnemonic or acronym, it is crucial for students to be able to explain and talk about the different steps.  
3.  Take your time as you teach the Anchor Chart.  Sometimes it might take several days to create the anchor chart with your class.  The key is to teach and model each component as you write it. Dont rush!
4.  Post the Anchor Chart.  Once you make the anchor chart, post it in your room.  If it is a strategy the students will use throughout the year, find a good visible location to keep up all year.
5.  HOOK the students when introducing the Anchor Chart.  You can do this by beginning with a quick story or a scenario for its purpose. Students are more likely to remember if there is a hook or reason associated with the chart.
6.  Talk aloud about the Anchor Chart.  Students need to know how and why something is useful.  For example, if you are creating an anchor chart for reading strategies, it is helpful to talk aloud your thoughts.  You might use wording like, Good readers use many strategies.  One strategy readers use is…” (Have students recall or brainstorm to create the list.).  Be sure to give the why do you think these strategies are successful?  
7.  Review the Anchor Chart.  After you first make the anchor chart, spend several weeks reviewing it. You want the information to become second nature to the students.
8.  Revisit the Anchor Chart. Occasionally, take time to provide students with a mini review over the anchor chart.  You can do this by pointing to the chart during a lesson.  For example, if the chart has various steps relating to accountable talk; have students identify one component from the chart to focus on for the day.  Students can focus on asking and telling the component they selected.   
9.  Engage student to student in conversations about the Anchor Chart.  Have the students dialogue with each other as you are teaching, reviewing, or revisiting the anchor chart.  Students should be able to explain both the purpose and generalize the underlining ideas from the chart to current lesson or strategy. 

10.      If you dont like the look of the Anchor Chart you made with the class, you can redo.  I will sometimes recreate another one a few days later for the final posting.   

Rekindling the Flames: How to Survive Teacher Burnout, by Ashley Copeland, Choir Director and Songwriting Teacher, Watertown Middle School

When you read the title of this blog post, did your heart kind of sigh a little bit? Could you relate to even just the words? Yeah, I thought so. It’s that time of year again! No, I don’t mean Christmas. No, I don’t mean flu season. I’m talking about that time of year when all teachers across the country start to feel a little something called burnout. We’ve all been there! The fresh, young faces that once brought us joy and excitement back in August are now haunting us in our dreams; the Pinterest-worthy lesson plans that we once lauded ourselves over are now stuck somewhere in our “Try That Next Year” file; and we’re having secret competitions as to which teacher gets to leave the parking lot the quickest when that last dismissal bell rings. Sound familiar? Keep reading for a few tips that will help reignite those faithful flames of teaching fabulosity!

1.       Be a rookie again.
When we first started out, we felt scared, alone, and helpless. We were terrified, intimidated, and felt as if we may not survive the next day. So you know what we did? We had to start at square one, research our field, get to know our students, network with other teachers, swap ideas, and do whatever it took to survive. And guess what? We THRIVED! We had exciting lessons, cool ideas, and teaching became a little easier as we found our groove. As the weeks/months/years went on, we became comfortable; and while comfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing, complacency is. It’s when we got so stuck in routine that our passion began to drift. If your classroom has become so lifeless that you feel like a Walking Dead extra, maybe it’s time to transport yourself back to the beginning and think outside your worn-out box. Challenge yourself! Find new tricks! Swap ideas with colleagues! Sometimes a little refresher course is all that’s needed to recharge.

2.       Find new friends.
Sound harsh? But for real—how many of us spend our lunches, planning periods, and even after-hours time with that one person who just has to be the Negative Nancy? Maybe it’s even YOU? Don’t dump your friend group altogether, but if you find yourself relating to this bullet point, perhaps you should consider making a change. When constantly surrounded by negativity, it WILL begin to affect you and your own outlook. Don’t isolate yourself into your classroom cave altogether, but maybe try cutting back and spending just one day on your own or with a different group of positively-minded individuals. Trust me, attitudes are infectious, so make sure you’re catching the right stuff! {Was that lame? Probably. You get my point!}

3.       Back away slowly.
It may sound counterproductive, but sometimes all you need to find your joy again is to take a step back and channel your energy somewhere else for a little while. Leave that pile of papers to grade on your desk for the weekend. They can wait! Vow to have at least one evening where your dinner conversation doesn’t include talk of your students, test scores, and ever-changing state standards. Enjoy your significant other, your children, your furbabies, your hobbies, and just be YOU when you get home—not the “teacher” you. When you return on Monday, hopefully you will feel refreshed and refocused!

4.       Remember your WHY.
Why did you start teaching to begin with? Because of the fame, fortune, and light workload that comes along with it? Ha! Okay, so since none of those are it, why DID you get into this esteemed profession? Think back to the first time you decided to become an educator. Something about it made you crave more. What about in college when you were so passionate about teaching that you could hardly contain your enthusiasm, or your first year teaching when you had a student who finally “got it” and all you wanted to do was jump for joy and give them a hug? Remembering back to when teaching was a calling and not simply a career can help remind you of why you’re in this.

Perhaps after reading this article you have gathered a few remedies to help with the dreaded teacher burnout. If you have any other helpful tips, please feel free to email me and share. If nothing else, at least remember that Winter Break is just around the corner and we CAN make it! Here’s to a great ending to the first half of the school year, Happy Holidays, and a fabulous year in 2016!

Monday, December 7, 2015

End-Of-Semester "To Do" Lists - By Mary Kay Kelton, Spanish Teacher at Mt. Juliet High School

Congratulations, you’re almost done with your first semester of teaching.  The break is almost here!  We are in the home stretch.  But there is still a lot to be done before the 18th.  Start by making 3 lists:

·         1st List: “What do I HAVE to Do Before the Break”

Write down your deadlines.  Keep this list somewhere very visible like on a desk calendar or beside your monitor.  Check it daily.  Every time you finish something, mark it off.  Don’t be afraid to get things done or turn in stuff early.  Don’t ever assume you will have “plenty of time” to do it later.   Keep everything that you need to turn in in a central location like a folder, box or even a specific drawer in your desk. 

·         2nd list:  “What Didn’t Work This Semester and Why” 

Did you have that awesome lesson plan that just fell flat?  Just because a lesson failed doesn’t mean it’s a bad lesson or idea.  We work with living, breathing individuals who are all different.  What works for one doesn’t work for all.  The same lesson may work
for one class and not another.  Class size can also contribute to this.  What works great for a class of 25 may not for a class of 35.  Don’t be afraid to tweak your plans and try again.  Talk to multiple teachers to see if they have any tips or hints at how to improve or
modify the lesson. 

·         3rd list: “What Do I Need to Get Started for Next Semester” 

Once you’ve finished this term, start planning and prepping for the next.  It’s never too early to start figuring out what materials you need, supplies, assignments, etc.  Go ahead and run off your handouts.  Start setting up your room, making your lesson plans, and updating your website.   When we return from the break, you are only going to have one day before the students return and there will be meetings and deadlines that have to be meet.  Go ahead and do what you can when you can!  

What is Really Important? - Meredith Ashworth, Kindergarten Teacher at Tuckers Crossroads

     As a teacher I think often about this phrase.  I am constantly asking myself if I might be too busy to see the important things that are going on in my classroom.  The child who is sad because Mom and Dad were fighting last night, the child who is lonely because they just don’t fit in, the child who is acting out because they don’t have any other way to communicate how they are feeling.  I sometimes wonder how many opportunities I might have missed because I was so caught up in what I was teaching that I didn’t “see” those real teachable moments.   Here are a few things I try to do during the course of the day and throughout the year.

1.     Take the time to really know your students.  Build a relationship with them and an open door for communication.  Build trust.  After all, the most important part of teaching is the children!
2.    Make a list of 2 to 3 students each day and take the time to talk to them.  I call this “Face Time”.  Sometimes this can be led by the teacher and sometimes by the student.  This is not only good for your struggling students but for your children who just want to share for a few minutes.
3.    Build an open line of communication with parents.  This is so important.  Sometimes you find out things that may be going on at home that you were unaware of.
4.    Speak with a friend or fellow teacher for ideas.  It often is helpful to ask others how they make their students feel safe and special. 

I hope this blog reminds you to keep the important things in your classroom at the front of your mind.  Children who do not feel valued will not be as successful as those who know that their teacher genuinely cares about them.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Building Confidence in the Struggling Learner, by Carol Melvin, 7th grade Math Teacher at Tuckers Crossroads

As a middle school math teacher I have so many students enter my room in the fall broken down and discouraged about their abilities in Math.  Unable to keep pace with the rest of the class they fall further and further behind each year.  With skills that directly build on one another they feel helpless to make up the gap that is formed.

In so many ways 7th grade math gives them an opportunity to become successful in math.  Until recently it was really the first time the curricula on application rather than skills.  To many struggling learners this breathes a breath of fresh air into their academic careers.  I have seen many students who could not remember their math facts, but could easily solve a complex equation or even the dreaded word problems with the help of a calculator.

By rewarding small successes and chipping away at the negative perception of their math skills I have seen so many begin to blossom and most of all believe in their capabilities.  I have witnessed that confidence grow with every success.  By focusing on their achievement I believe they actually begin to expect more from their selves.

Struggling learners can be some of the most difficult but ultimately rewarding students for teachers of any subject.  Perseverance and building confidence are the keys to their success.