Smells Like… School Spirit!?

I am a fall aficionado! I deliriously love the season, enjoy all the change it brings, love fall sports, and enjoy the feverish fun that results from a well planned and scheduled spirit week. There is just something about the energy that hums along the hallways that lifts my spirits.


Sure it’s awesome to catch a bone and get a bonus casual dress day, but I can guarantee you the students enjoy seeing their teachers look a little less than perfect and letting loose. Spirit days, and teacher participation, allow us to connect and be more human in the eyes of our students. During these silly, spirited days we cease to be red-pen wielding grading machines and become kids ourselves capable of being strange and unique. No where is strange and unique more appreciated than at the middle school level. The range of the strange is tough and when we let our hair down and let them see us be real, it does our students good!


Friday our work week will culminate the in ultimate in teen spirit displays, the first pep rally of the year. Teachers and students alike will don their blue and white and participate in crazy challenges to obtain the Sacred Paw. This is a moment of sheer passion and an energy like none I have ever experienced prior to a full moon at the elementary level. These kids, and their teachers, are in it to win it!


So when you see an educator leaving their job in the tackiest of western wear or a crayon hat, don’t roll your eyes and shake your head. Instead, smile and know that your students have got role models who are willing to live out loud and proud for their students and their school.



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Navigating Your Classroom Narrative

Right now, someone is sharing your story for you.

A former student, a parent, a colleague, an administrator, a politician, a newspaper. Will you, the classroom educator be depicted as the protagonist or the antagonist in this narrative?

What happens if I add the descriptor disgruntled before each of the nouns above? How does the story of your classroom get told then? What does the narrative look like from that point of view?

Why, as educators, do we allow others to tell our stories without offer a first person point of view tale? Our classroom walls can’t talk for us, and some of our students never converse with anyone other than us about their educations, so who is the author of our story? And should it really be anyone other than ourselves? Amongst all the readily accessible third person point of view posts, shouldn’t our first person narrative be coming out loud and clear alongside these other versions?

Social media has made it very easy for our stories to get told. They are being told, in fact, daily. These narratives start long before the first day of school even arrives. Parents and students jump online to share who their teachers are for the year and their feelings, fears, and excitement about this assignment. Is your narrative present amongst this chatter?

Are you sharing room preparation photos, your summer learning, plans you’ve made for your students, your excitement about the upcoming school year? Are you snapping pics, tweeting quotes, participating in chats on Twitter, and enjoying time with PLNs online? If so, share your story!

Pick any social media platform to get started. I chose to use Twitter, and this is my dedicated social media platform for all things educationally related. I post pics of students, with permission to be published, working in their classrooms, I share tweets showcasing the PD I am offer and new strategies we are implementing in our buildings, I participate in teacher chats using a common hashtag, and I share all the awesome events and opportunities we are giving our students.

Parents want to be involved in their student’s learning. However, realistically most are working during the day and can’t come and join their students, or at the middle school age their child may very well chose not to invite them in the first place, or demand that they don’t come because “NO ONE’s parents come to events at the middle school!” (Note to parents: This is not true. Your teenager is just testing you and really wants you there.)

Sharing information on social media is the easiest, quickest way of ensuring your information has an audience. Parents and students are on smart phones and so are social media apps. Need to share an assignment… why not use Remind to share with students in your class and parents alike? Want to communicate an important school wide event…why not share your post on Twitter and/or Facebook? Want to share your classes experiences, thoughts, and reflections on the school year and their learning… why not publish a class blog for the whole world to read?

Consider yourself the expert on your classroom. Who should be writing the manual, you or the person who is a self-titled expert because they once attended a school when they were a child? Consider your day today. What would you want a parent to know about their child’s day in your classroom? What learning took place? What obstacles did your students overcome? What achievements were had? How was learning fun?

Think about these things, and then take a leap of faith and post it for an audience to enjoy, learn from, or another educator to take back to their classroom, tweak, and make it their own. I happen to think that educators are pretty awesome people, who do amazing things for their learners (including coming to school dressed as dominoes and crayons) Share your spirit! Share your story!


#WYAMS teachers dress up for Twosome Tuesday during HOCO spirit week!

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The Great Balancing Act

Teaching can sometimes feel like the craft of a gifted ringmaster. Regardless of weather, engagement levels, attendance, and circumstances beyond our control… the show must go on!

In a week plagued w/ extreme temperatures, rain, and potential hurricanes may we all remember that our focus needs to stay firmly fixed on the stars of the show… our students.

This weekend the rain wreaked havoc on my home town and took out two electric poles and blew a transformer. We dealt with the inconvenience of not having power, complaints from children dependent upon today’s creature comforts to stay happy, and found ourselves conversing, reading by candlelight, and enjoying ourselves despite the inconvenience. This reminded me of the importance of balancing tech and no tech options. Too much of anything is never good. Our students need solid instruction with or without the technology.

As educators we sometimes feel that everyone is a critique and trying to do our jobs or tell us how to do our jobs from afar. These armchair QBs can be frustrating and cause hardworking teachers to feel disenfranchised with their profession. After all, how many people would dare to tell their surgeon the best way to operate on them during a procedure?

This is when I am reminded of the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman. When Keala Settle bravely and boldly sings This Is Me for all the townspeople to hear I get chills. As educators, we need to be proud of ourselves, each other, and our time-honored profession. We cannot allow the opinions and harsh commentary of a few to tarnish us and our feelings. We need to shine and share all the great things we are doing in our classrooms and with our students. Please know if you have made it through rounds of interviews, mock lessons, and managed to rope a job and your own classroom you are ALREADY a star! Don’t be afraid to shine and share your starlight with those around you!

As we prep for another exciting week in education, remember to find balance for yourself as well. Educators tend to forget they’re only human and need to take care of themselves before they can fully care for others. Spend time with loved one, exercise, take a nap, prep meals, and reflect on all the great moments from the week gone by. Without taking care of yourself, your star may not shine as brightly as it has in the past. Don’t let your star burn so brightly that it’s light extinguishes.

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Forget “Finally Friday”

I truly love my job! I love teaching kids and working alongside other educators to make learning challenging, fun, engaging, and interesting for our learners. Does that mean that students are going to go home raving about every lesson we plan to their parents? No! As middle school educators, we are happy if our students come up for air from their personal devices to speak to their parents, let alone talk about school. As the mother of one such middle school student, I totally get it.

I am working hard to make some shifts and practice better self care this year, because I firmly believe if I’m not my best self I can’t help my own children and my students to the best of my ability. If I feel good, I can help them, teach them, be a role model for them even better.

One thing I’m working hard to do is reframing my thoughts. I love the end of the week, not because I get to leave my job but because I get time with my family and they need it. But the mindset of “finally it’s Friday” makes me cringe. Instead, I prefer to called it finale Friday! The opportunity to pull off the show stopper of the week and have your students looking more eager to return to the next week’s show!

What will you do today to go that extra mile and earn a curtain call or two for you and your students? Will you tweet out some learning experiences or student reflections on the week? Will you create a digital breakout so your learners can experience a families class? Or will you take time to make a few of those treasured positive parent phone calls? Whatever you chose to do, chose to go into the weekend with a finale mindset and not a finally the week is done one. After all, if you’re a teacher you are a star and need to shine brightly for our futures.

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Google Classroom Changes

Like any online tool, changes come and changes go! This year many educators were shocked when they went to update or create new Google Classrooms to find the familiar gone.  Google has updated Classroom and while there were some shocked teachers who waiting until the school year commenced to explore, there is much to be excited about in this new version of Google Classroom.

I will use this blog to explore the updates and share some cool tips and tricks with my readers.

  1. I still feel it is best to create a new classroom each and every school year. It is tough to navigate the endless stream of posts and assignments if you hand over a used classroom to new students. Plus we all know that we update, redevelop, and alter lessons each year so it makes sense to begin with a fresh canvas each year.
  2. The tabs have changed. Be advised that there is some basic formatting changes to Google Classroom. No longer will you see 3 tabs at the top that say Stream, Students, and About. Now you will see 3 tabs that have different classroom tabs The stream is the default tab and will allow you to post new and old posts from archived classrooms. This is useful if you had questions you asked a class every year and want to save some time.  Here is a simple video on how to post a new announcement.
  3. The second tab is the classwork tab. This is where you can assign assignments or questions to your class. This is also where you can reuse assignments that were posted in past, archived classes.
  4. Creating questions is a great way to give your students a ticket out the door. They can be open ended responses or multiple choice questions. The image below shows users that questions can be added to the classwork tab. These questions can be given a point score and due date. You can offer an short answer response or a multiple choice format to your students. If you are grading their responses I would most likely turn off their ability to edit their response.
  5. Using topics can help your students and yourself to organize and find assignments in Google Classroom. On this question I added a topic and I will use this topic for all of these types of questions.question editing screen
  6. Reusing assignments is simple. You must be in the classwork tab to view previous assignments. Watch this video to learn how to reuse assignments.
  7. Rearranging your assignments has gotten easier. Especially if you chose to use topics. You can move individual assignments or topics up or down in Google Classroom to rearrange your feed. reordering assignments
  8. Giving feedback and grading is easier than ever before! Check out this video on graded work and offering feedback:
  9. The last tab is the people tab and you will go here to manage all students and co-teachers, as well as add parents emails to the classroom.  Here is a snapshot of my people tab on a new course. I have redacted student names for privacy purposes. I can invite students to my classroom through a code or via their email.people tab
  10. Neat tip; if a student is posting silly, nonsensical posts or being inappropriate in the chat feel free to mute this student. That student can still complete assignments, but will no longer have his/her posts viewed by other students in the class. muting students
  11. The student view was updated as well.  The students view defaults to the stream as well.  Then they can move to the classwork tab where they will view all their assignments nestled under the assigned topic headings. topc view

There are many more updates coming to Google Classroom soon, but these are the big ones that are up and running for educators currently. Feel free to share any comments about these new features or any Google Classroom tips and tricks you want to share with others here as well.

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Failing Forward; Not Just for Students

As a technology integration specialist, sometimes I feel like I have to have all the answers and be able to figure things out lickety-split, then other times I laugh at my naive self and realize that technology is fluid, ever changing, and certainly can be fickle.

As educators it is imperative that we practice what we preach. Tech is going to fail, lessons are going to go sideways, and we need to be ready to exercise flexibility and grace during failure. This week, the very first week of school for the 2018-2019 school year, I certainly modeled failing forward for my colleagues and students. Did I do it as gracefully as I would have liked… probably not. After all I am a red head and I do get pretty tough on myself at times. However, I did stick with it and get it better… not perfect, not right, but better. I had to. My students and my colleagues were depending on me.

My wheelhouse is instructional tech. I am not a broadcaster, nor have I ever been a fan of being in the spotlight on camera. So when I am asked to create a news studio to live stream student news on the daily at school, I may have been more than a bit nervous. I did what any other petrified person in this role would do… I sought out those that have been petrified and persevered before me. That’s right, I went to my PLN. I hit a home run with my #ktifamily and found some friends who dabbled in Wirecast. I viewed sample videos, got ideas, and plotted with my building admin team until we had the means and tools to make it happen. But having it, and knowing it are two VERY different things.

Thank goodness for webcams and iphones and patient #ktifamily who are calm in the face of frustrated, fiery red heads. I learn a lot from the head shots of my favorite friends online.

Day 1: Test run in front of faculty

I learned it is imperative to text the right person. I am attempting to signal my colleague in the studio to start test run as I teach my colleagues how to access the live feed and I am feverishly texting my building admin. At least we can laugh at these flubs later. Test was a success and faculty is excited about this new venture. Mission accomplished.

Day 2: Live run  with transition day students

Computer won’t log on! Ack! Technician hero saves the day. Bus delay leaves us with a 5 minute streamed muted segment, but finally at minute 5:15 we hit jackpot and 2 students go live for the first time. Of course it results in a barrage of emails to tech support for broken audio, but after an email clarifying where to start feed and a heart attack over daughter looking even older than 8th grade on camera… all is well.

Day 3: Teleprompter nightmares. It won’t scroll. Small office is too noisy? Too many background noises? Not recognizing soft student voices?  No one knows but you can bet someone jumped into scroll the feed and we got through that live stream with one restart hiccup and much less nerves.

I know it’s not perfect, but it’s been a labor of love and the students bringing the daily news to their classmates, in front of and behind the camera, are proud of their accomplishments and their advisers have learned a lot about streaming, software, and failing forward.

I will sign off by encouraging every one of  my readers to embrace the unknown, stretch themselves, and trust that every failure is a chance to fine tune. Find your goals and chase them down, but don’t allow the flops to intimidate you, because all lofty goals will have their fair share of flops before the magic ensues.

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To the Shiny & New

Every year new teachers step up to the plate for the first time. There is so much to learn, do, and organize that sometimes I feel that the most critical parts of the puzzle are lost in the shuffle. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has advice for you. Every where you turn there is a new training, district implementation, or face to meet. How do you tackle it all?

The answer is simple; you don’t.  As a first year teacher, you need to focus on you and your students. You need to define who you are as a classroom teacher without all the interference and subterfuge that comes from well meaning people who you interact with in the hallways and workrooms in your schools.

So here it is, another well meaning person sharing some advice with you. Take it, or leave it, but these little gems are the ones I wish I had gotten from my mentor 20+ years ago.

  1. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will the perfect classroom set up.  Be kind to yourself. Take breaks and realize that as pretty as Pinterest makes all classrooms appear, the decorations and banners are not going to make or break your year.
  2. Focus on making connections with your learners. Take time to get to know them. I know well meaning coworkers are piling copies in your room and reminding you of all the curriculum you have to cover, but please remember to put your learners first. Invest in them and they will invest in learning with you.
  3. Find your marigolds. Choose the faculty you spend precious time with wisely. If someone’s rhetoric is negative and downs your first year enthusiasm with sage words like; “Things were so much easier when I was a first year teacher,” or “Teaching these kids is tough.” Maybe they are the walnut tree raining toxicity down on your garden.
  4. The test is important, but the kids and their growth is the most important thing you need to focus on. If you teach, care, and focus on kids their growth is sure to follow.
  5. Be brave. Try new things. It’s okay for a lesson or project to fail. Embrace the ability to fail forward, reflect on that failure, plan, adjust, and soar the next go-round. Your students aren’t perfect and neither are you. Our students need to learn that failure is a learning opportunity and modeling that is essential.
  6. Communication is key! Please communicate with others and often. Communicate with your students, their parents, your coworkers, your admin, and your mentor. Make positive phone calls home, and yes I said phone calls. I’m a techie, but hearing your child’s teacher gush over your child is a moment of sheer bliss for all parents. Leverage technology to allow yourself to reach a wider audience. The more you allow people into your classroom through clearly communicating your goals, missions, progress, and student victories, the better the sense of community.
  7. It’s okay to ask for help. Don’t believe for one second that anyone expects you to know what you need to do and how to do it every moment of every day. There are seasoned teachers who will candidly tell you that every year is a new year. Ask for help. Learn from your marigolds. Seek out your mentors and instructional coaches. You fought hard for your coveted position, now allow your school’s support system to help you find success.
  8. Understand and embrace the importance of your role as an educator. Students will look to you as a role model. That’s a heady responsibility. When you are in public, they will see you. Rush to say hi, or even hide from you. Be prepared to be spotted on your worst hair day ever, sick and running for meds. Smile, because that student who spotted you and rushes up to say hi just realized you don’t live in your classroom and you have a real life like them.
  9. Take care of yourself. You will get sick, tired, and overwhelmed. This is to be expected. However, if you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of your students?  Sick days, though not ideal, are given for a reason. You will be tired your first year, and germs are a reality in classrooms. Find time to do things that make you feel good, relaxed, and happy. Hit the gym, go for a walk, curl up with a good book, or spend time with a loved one. Whatever you do, pace yourself the school year is a marathon, not a sprint.
  10. Don’t overextend yourself. Superheroes weren’t created/born/mutated in a day. It takes time to hone your craft. Allow yourself time to get good at your instruction, routines, etc before you volunteer your life away. There is always need for something more and all hands on deck in schools. However balance is essential. As a first year teacher, teaching is your job and I dare say should be the only one whenever possible. Coaching, running clubs, doing extra duties can come later. Stick to learning the basics and becoming the best teacher you can before you don your superhero cape and flex those extracurricular muscles.

Now that I’ve shared those nuggets of wisdom, I am ready to don my superhero cape, rush into school, and overextend myself with too many projects and too little time. As you rush into your first year in your classroom, find time to cherish it. You will never get another first year of teaching. This year will be a year of amazing learning and growth for you. You’ve worked hard to get through school, interview, and land a position. Now celebrate your arrival. You are a teacher. You are a star. Allow yourself to shine.

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