Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Oh, If Only I'd Known!! (Week 4)

It's time for Week 4 of my blog series, Oh, If Only I'd Known, which is geared towards first-year teachers. I'm going to try and keep it a little shorter this time around since Monday's blog post was so long! So let's go! 

This week, I am going to encourage you new teachers to step outside your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try something new! That's this week's piece of advice. 

As a first year teacher, there may be days where you are struggling to keep your head above water and it's all you can do to use those lesson plans your mentor teacher gave you or the worksheets you found from the textbook. And that's okay. I'm not telling you to reinvent the wheel every single day. I'm just suggesting that you try something new at least once in the year! 

You may find that some veteran teachers will discourage you from thinking outside the box your first year. You may be advised to stick to the basics, focus on classroom management, and don't stir the waters. But there's no reason why you can't dare to be different your first year teacher. 

Perhaps you try something small. Rewrite some song lyrics to get your content across. Decorate your room a little differently. Utilize stations or some epic games of Kahoot! Maybe even dress up to teach a lesson! Just because you're a first-year teacher doesn't mean you can't also be a little creative. It's all about engaging your kids and having fun with them. The more you embrace your creative side and get outside that comfort zone, the more likely you will be to really enjoy your first year of teaching and really connect with your students. And, like I said, there's no need to make every single day a banner day. Just some! You can do it! 

If you have time before starting that first year (or even if you want some reading in your off time - I know, I know, what off time), here are some books I would encourage you to check out. I've linked the Amazon links to the titles. For more detailed reviews of the books, check out Monday's blog post. 


So there you have it! Some more advice for your first year of teaching. I'm sure that you're ready to get going - I'd love to hear from you so sound off in the comments! 

For now, that's a wrap! 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Reading Teacher Books Should Count as Professional Development!

Over the summer, I have tried to do summer break things. I have hung out at the animal shelter (probably way too much), spent time with family, watched way too many episodes of Bones and Say Yes to the Dress, and taken a lot of naps. Ahhh...summer.

But I have also gotten bored. And itchy to get started with school prep because I always try to do something new, bigger, and better each year. So not only did I work on new lesson materials and my new classroom theme (which I will reveal in a new blog series starting next week so stay tuned!!) but I read several new teaching books.

And that's the focus of today's blog! I want to spotlight some of these awesome teaching books that I have read this summer and encourage you (especially if you're a 1st year or 2nd year teacher looking for something a little different) to check them out! They're seriously awesome. Let's go!

First up is Teach Like a Pirate. I re-read this one earlier this summer (and plan to re-read it again before school starts as it is like my manual) because it is so good. Dave Burgess presents his method - the PIRATE method - for engaging your students. He shows how he starts his year and how he continues to build student buy-in throughout the school year. I really love his ideas that teaching is, in part, the entertainment industry! He's not afraid to go crazy and dress up and act nutty in order to get his students engaged. He stresses how important it is to leave them wanting more and to have them fret about missing class because who knows what they're going to miss? This is a great book for new teachers who are wanting to jazz up their lessons and it's great for veteran teachers who want to reach even their most un-engaged students. It just gets me in the right mindset for teaching and gives you actual tools you can use in the classroom! Seriously an amazing book. Check it out on Amazon (the link is above). I'd say get it from your local library but you will want to keep it! 

Since I loved Teach Like a Pirate, I checked out Dave Burgess' website for other books he had written and I stumbled upon this gem, which is written by a different author under the "Pirate" label...and was AWESOME. Explore Like a Pirate is all about using gamification in the classroom to engage your students. I am all about trying to reach the students where they are and connect my curriculum with their interests. Last year, I saw some engagement with Classcraft and the gamification elements therein. Naturally, I was intrigued by this book. If you're looking to fully integrate gaming into the aspects of your classroom, this book is like a step-by-step guide in how to do that. Matera takes you through each element you will need in your gamified classroom from story and theme to items and side quests. It's a fully comprehensive guide! It can honestly seem a little daunting. For me, I'm going to incorporate some elements this year using my time travel theme, and try to go a little more 'gamey' each year. Matera also gives great ideas for review games (I definitely bought a Crocodile Dentist to use after reading his book!!) and other tools that you can use in the classroom. If you're looking for a way to shake things up or you're totally interested in gamifying your classroom, this is the how-to guide for you! Even if you aren't sure if you want to fully gamify your classroom, you will still get some awesome ideas from this incredible book! (Amazon link above).

The next book I read also came from Dave Burgess Consulting, like the previous two reviewed in this blog. Clearly, I should just read all the teaching books published by Dave Burgess and co.! Ditch That Homework was all about doing away with mindless homework and focusing on meaningful work in the classroom instead of sending students home to do work that they can't really do on their own. I enjoyed the tips and suggestions the authors gave on how to make the work in your classroom more effective so you don't have to send home meaningless busy work. I plan to implement some of their tips and ideas, especially when it comes to retrieval methods and best methods of storing information. I learned a lot from this book and would highly recommend it! (Amazon link above).

The Wild Card is my new favorite teaching book (well, maybe tied with Teach Like a Pirate of course). I heard about this book at a conference I went to this summer and bought it to read on my trip to Texas in July. O. M. G. Soooo good!!! I am always trying to be more creative in the classroom. I am constantly looking for ways to bring the lessons to life. Everything in this book made me want to do better, be more creative (although I kind of wish I could just steal Hope King and have her do everything for me because, dang, her ideas!!). Hope and Wade King present 7 steps to being more creative and becoming the Wild Card in your classroom. They are teachers at the Ron Clark Academy and taught in SC before that. This book was great because they presented their tips and steps alongside their personal experiences. They give ideas like using your go-to thing (what you're really interested in, like music or art or cooking) to bring creativity into the classroom. Hope does these awesome room transformations - I'm talking turning the whole classroom into Jurassic World - to teach her content. I'm really bad at thinking up ways to creatively teach a lesson but I'm working on it! One thing they said that really got my attention was to institute a 'call and response' to get students' attention rather than just saying "I'll wait..." and counting until kids stop talking. ...ummm... I'm totally guilty of doing that. I think I'm going to try a call and response this year! Who cares if the 'cool kids' think they're too good for that? Don't be afraid to stand out! This book is fantastic for new teachers and veteran teachers alike and I highly highly highly recommend it. Like click over to Amazon (link above) right now and buy it - you won't regret it! 

And there you have it! Four teaching book recommendations. What have you read lately that has really inspired you? I always love reading The Book Whisperer although it really makes me sad I don't teach ELA haha. I'd love to hear what books have inspired you or encouraged you to try something new! Sound off in the comments! 

For now...that's a wrap! 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Oh, If Only I'd Known!! (Week 3)

Okay, okay, I know. I've been terrible about blogging this summer. I've had a lot going on and I'll be honest with you - sometimes I don't blog as regularly as I should because I'm pretty sure no one reads my blog anyway! If you do read, please let me know in the comments! :) All right, let's dive right into this post today.

Today's advice for new teachers centers on something that I am still trying to work through as a now-sixth year teacher. And that piece of advice is: don't dwell on what you can't control. Not everyone is always going to agree with you or see things your way and you can't control that.

I deal with this the most with parents. I can try as hard as I can to do things right, to follow the school guidelines, to care about my students and yet there are still parents who don't agree with me or parents who don't hesitate to express their displeasure - even if their displeasure isn't with me! And because I have a major guilt complex, I tend to dwell on these things and run them over and over in my head, focusing in on 'what could I have done differently' and 'I'm probably going to get fired.' 

So my advice to new teachers would just be to do. your. best. That's all anyone can ask for. If you do your best and strive to be the best teacher your students could ask for, then no one can bring you down. If everything you have done is above board and for the kids, then you have nothing to worry about. And if parents or coworkers or anyone gets mad at you or has an issue with you - let it go. As long as you didn't do anything wrong and you have the best interests of your students at heart, then nothing anyone says can get you down. You are awesome! 

As someone who gets depressed over the littlest things and who often reads more into an email or voicemail then is actually there, trust me. Don't dwell on the negative or on the 'what ifs.' Just do your best and that's all you can do. The naysayers will fade into the background as you focus on your students and improving their lives. You got this.

Veteran teachers, do you find yourself dwelling on the negative, too? Are you primed to assume the worst? What tips would you offer to new teachers? Sound off in the comments!

For now, that's a wrap! 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Let's Capture Some Hearts!

Heck, yes, I would love to go to a summer PD, said no teacher ever. Well, maybe some teachers do enjoy going to training in the summer. I know I do. I'm always up for learning new things and planning for the upcoming school year. I wouldn't want to go to a training every single day of the summer but I don't mind an occasional PD - especially if it's good.

This past week, my school held a Capturing Kids' Hearts training. We are implementing the process this year and all our staff had to be trained. I went to the training on Wednesday and Thursday. Going into the training, I didn't really know what to expect. We knew it was a program about building relationships with the students and that there had been good results in student discipline from schools that used this program but that was about it. Over two days, I learned new ways to reduce student anxiety, engage the students, get to know the students, and how to impact their lives for the better. Plus, free food! 

There's a lot to this program - shaking hands with every single student every single day and a new behavioral system - but I think that it is a program that is worth trying. Our students are becoming more and more "difficult" and I'm all about building that relationship. For me, this was a PD I could get behind.

What about you? Have you ever been to a professional development that you loved? One that you hated? I'd love to hear your professional development stories! Sound off in the comments! 

For now...that's a wrap! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

It's Easier to Talk to Kids Than Adults...

So, I don't know about you but I would much rather talk to children than adults any day of the week. Give me a bunch of sixth graders and I have no issues getting up in front of them and talking 'till I'm blue in the face. Put me up in front of a roomful of my peers and...I'm pretty sure people can hear my knees knocking.

Therefore, I'm fairly certain it must have been a moment of insanity when I signed up to lead a class at our Upstate Technology Conference. And not only am I teaching one class - I am teaching two. Granted, they are on the same topic so it's not like I had to do extra prep time or anything but that is TWO HOURS of talking to my peers as if I have something important to impart to them.

As the time has grown closer to my date of presentation (aka doom), I have gotten more and more nervous. What if it's boring? What if it's lame? What if no one shows up? What if I faint? What if I get booed out of the room? 

Okay. Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic but still. I don't know what compelled me to think I could lead a PD for teachers who have been teaching way longer than me and with a lot more success. The only upside is that I'm presenting on a tool that I really love.

Classcraft. My PD is all about how epic Classcraft is. So I'm hoping that my knowledge about the platform, my enthusiasm for how awesome it is, and just my typical awesomeness will help me to not have a total panic attack.

Since the PD is in an hour and a half...wish me luck! Any of you able to relate to this? Have you ever taught a PD and worried you'd have a nervous breakdown? I'd love to hear some advice! Sound off in the comments! 

For now...that's a wrap! 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Oh, If Only I'd Known...(Week 2!)

Welcome back to Week 2 of the series, Oh, If Only I'd Known. This week, we are going to be looking at a tip that I think is applicable no matter how many years you have taught! It is one that may be seen as a 'duh' tip but it's always good to keep in the back of your mind. 

Expect your technology to fail.

That is the tip. Always be prepared in case technology fails on you, the power goes out, the Internet does the spinny circle of death thing as the webpage refuses to load, etc., etc., etc. Trust me, it's going to happen some day and it will probably happen on the day that you've got that super amazing, super awesome technology-stuffed lesson planned.

I recommend you always have a backup. As a first-year teacher, that can be hard. It's your first time teaching the subject and you probably don't have worksheets in your back pocket that you can pull out at a moment's notice. Textbooks are great in this instance - although I'm not suggesting you treat the textbook like the Bible - because you can, in a pinch, have the students all go to such-and-such page and read the section like in the Dark Ages! Videos that can be portrayed on the Promethean board if your own computer is working are also helpful. Sometimes, I print a bunch of articles or worksheets and keep them in reserve just in case.

When I was a first-year teacher, we didn't have Chromebooks yet. We were 5 years away from being a 1-1 school. We didn't even have the Chromebook carts yet. All we had were computer labs with those big, blocky Dell desktops that were new when I was in school. One day, I planned this awesome lesson. The kids were going to use the computers to create Facebook pages for some of the famous thinkers of the Enlightenment. They would be able to add friends of the thinkers, status updates, the works. I was pumped because it was going to be so insanely incredible. I marched those little darlings down to the computer lab and they got started. Three computers wouldn't turn on. One computer emitted a shrill whistle constantly unless we turned it off. Several students got booted off the website before they finished their first Facebook profile. 

Technology was not my friend that day. But, because I was a first year teacher and hadn't considered that the computer lab would go kaput on me, I didn't have a backup plan. We kept muddling through and I just prayed for the day to be over. By the time 7th period rolled around, half the computers weren't working. Halfway through the class, I gave up completely, took them back to the room, and put on CNN Student News.

Not my finest hour.

Now, I make sure I have something in reserve, even if it is just textbook work. I think that is very important because you never know when something is going to go wrong. My school is now 1-1 with Chromebooks so you've sometimes got 400+ students on the network at the same time which can cause it's own sorts of problems! 

Technology is great - as long as it works. My recommendation to you as you get ready for your first year as a teacher? Always have a backup.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you experienced the tech fails? Do you have any tips for things to have on hand as backups? I'd love to hear about it! Sound off in the comments!

For now...that's a wrap!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bringing Back the Board Games!


I don't know about you but, growing up, I loved board games. I was a bit of a sore loser (seriously, I was known to get up and walk away if I started losing) but I enjoyed playing with my family. We played Monopoly a lot and often had to leave the game set up on the dining room table to finish at a later time since it took so long! 

Unfortunately, kids these days don't seem to play board games all that much. Instead, they play video games. Now, I'm not knocking video games - I grew up on Mario Party and Pokemon Snap - but I think that kids have missed out on the enjoyment that is board games.

Last summer, I purchased a few games from Goodwill on a whim. I'd never had board games in my classroom before and never given kids the opportunity to just play something for fun, something that had nothing to do with education. So I bought Horse-O-Poly thinking maybe the horse-loving sixer ladies would enjoy it. I also scored Star Wars Operation. Both of these were an instant hit! I began letting the kids play games after they finished their Friday assessments and they really loved it. I was surprised at the number of boys that wanted to play Horse-O-Poly, to be honest. They also really enjoyed playing cards. 

I added more games throughout the year as I saw the kids really engaging with the ones I already had. I brought some from home - Disney Charades and Harry Potter Uno were just languishing in a closet since I live by myself and therefore rarely have anyone to play games with. Even though the students don't know many of the classic Disney characters (a fact that makes me sad to this day), they enjoy trying to act out the characters they do know. Uno was a big hit as well. 
As I watched these board games bring together students who wouldn't usually associate with each other and teach students soft skills that they wouldn't normally get in a regular curriculum, I realized that unstructured 'fun' time with board games was a big hit. They looked forward to just being able to chill and play a game with their friends. I liked the fact that they were getting exposed to games that weren't on a screen and I really liked that kids from different 'cliques' would work together to play a game! I continued to add board games like Taboo, Star Wars Trouble, and Clue to my selection. One student even donated the game Sorry! 

This summer, I bought Mouse Trap, Scattergories Categories, Guess Who?, and HedBandz to add to my collection. I'm contemplating offering board game free time on Fridays to those students who've behaved all week or have turned in all their assignments, hoping that that would encourage participation. I have to do a better job of monitoring clean-up of these games this year - someone ripped my Clue board in half last year and I was always finding Horse-O-Poly money on the floor - but I really like offering students these board games in a rare moment of unstructured free time in the classroom.

What about you? Do you think that there's time for unstructured free time in the classroom? Or should it always be all about the curriculum? Have your students ever played board games? I'd love to hear your thoughts - sound off in the comments! 

For now...that's a wrap!