Setting Intentions for the School Year

Back-to-school sales

The letter or e-mail that comes announcing in-service/professional development/new teacher training.

Ready. Or. Not.

When we are educators our life ebbs and flows by the school calendar. Most of us are required to come ready with goals for our professional practice this school year. Often we are asked that our goals be S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant.

It is very important to set goals. It’s important for us to teach our students to set goals. HOWEVER…This year we’d like to suggest you take a minute to also consider what your intentions are for this school year. They are not always as easy to measure but they are just as important.

Have a seat in your classroom. Sit where your students will sit. What’s the view from there? Follow your gaze. Where do messages of encouragement need to be? Will all eyes go to a clock, a door, or the front of your desk? If so, there’s a place for encouraging your students that they are safe and have a teacher that cares.

Intentions are a vehicle that make your classroom a feeling as much as a place. Is there music? Do you keep bread and peanut (or almond or sunflower or…)butter or other snacks for your students? Is this the year you buy a $10 diffuser, a battery operated candle, or start a minibar of scented hand sanitizers? Do you have a class mascot (one of our favorite teachers has a stuffed armadillo that students rub for good luck before an assessment), a cussing jar or a suggestion box? Perhaps you’re going to have the students help you stay accountable for drinking more water, smiling more or offering them more brain breaks?

Intentions represent a conscious attempt to live (and in this case–teach) according to your values and beliefs. Why did you get into teaching? Do you believe ALL students can learn? Do you believe that relationships are important? Then make your classroom a place where those values and beliefs are reflected every day. Take time to set your intentions for this school year.

 

 

The Micro-credential is Here

Who:

Yours truly, the K-State College of Education is rolling out micro-credentials for you, EdCats, the most well-prepared educators in the country. (But anyone can take them… and everyone should!)

What:

Micro-credentials.

A micro-credential is professional development. No, not the kind that requires a staff to sit in the auditorium and a highly compensated “guru” comes in and talks all day about a strategy (that you have been doing for the last two years–at least). This is where the teacher decides what is important to improving professional practices. Teachers develop a new skill through a guided study, implement it, and then progress-monitor continuous improvement. Participants earn badges that can be included in resumes, Linked-in accounts, and even on e-mail signatures, highlighting enhanced skills.

When:

Anytime. Earning a micro-credential is like taking a mini version of a college course. It’s more thorough than an in-service because teachers implement what was learned and then provide artifacts (perhaps student work samples, video evidence, etc.).

Where:

That’s the real beauty of it. Anywhere. How many times do teachers sit in auditoriums hearing blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda when they could have been making better use of that time in a classroom (or we’ll admit it, a coffee shop as we plug our class roster into our learning management apps)?

How:

You can click here to see two of our micro-credentials, Flexible Seating and Genius Hour (and many more are on the way).

Why:

Flexible seating can enhance your classroom in ways you never dreamed of. Meghan Chapman, Andover Public Schools, helped design this micro-credential. She is going to give you resources, tips, classroom photos, and a step-by-step implementation process to maximize your professional practice and student learning.

Genius hour is another concept that is sweeping the country. Educators are increasing student engagement like never before using this Google corporation model. Jonathan Ferrell, Shawnee Mission School District teacher and 2017 Kansas Teacher of the Year Team member, takes you into his classroom to demonstrate how his students utilize genius hour to develop passion projects that have them producing incredible ideas, prototypes, and products being sold on Etsy. He also provides a curated, “best of” list of digital resources (like Twitter accounts and classroom videos) that can help you get started.

You’ll also be happy to know–not only are you getting amazing ideas that can make you a top teacher, upon completion, you will get documentation of 15 hours of professional development.

And finally…

We have to charge for them. $100. This pays for development, hosting on a user-friendly website, uploading all the content you get, and keeping track of everyone taking them so when it comes time to document learning for a school district; we can be contacted for verification. Everyone will know you gained your new skill set through Kansas State University.  Questions? Contact Dr. Tonnie Martinez, tonnie@ksu.edu. We hope you’ll be the first in your building (hey, maybe your district will pay for you to be the first and share with your team) to participate in a K-State College of Education micro-credential.

 

Closing Your Classroom for Summer

Congratulations EdCats!

Some of you are closing out your very first semester of teaching. YOU DID IT! Other EdCats are celebrating validation of the rumor they heard–the second year sails by when you know more about what to expect and have greater confidence in your teaching. The great equalizer, whether your it’s your first year or fifteenth, is it’s time to think about closing your classroom for the year. Here are some of our tips combined with advice from veteran teachers and your fellow EdCats!

1. Communicate with administration/facilities to determine what is happening to your classroom this summer. Schools begin to hum with facilities repairs and projects once the final dismissal bell rings. Perhaps your room will be used for summer school or this summer may be your classroom’s turn in the annual rotation of floor stripping and waxing. Knowing what is ahead will help you make good decisions on moving and storing items.

2. Purge. Stacy Dillinger, 5th grade, shares, I ‘pretend’ I am leaving each year. It forces me to clean out that messy desk or cabinet that I wouldn’t do otherwise. It also helps me to purge what I really don’t need. Anna Kohake, K-8 Spanish & Reading, agrees. Chances are if you didn’t use it this year, you’re not going to use it next year.

3.  Think ahead to next year. After summer break, I often forget why I ordered organizers, clip boards, specific folders, specific supplies, etc. so I write down my ideas/reasons for ordering an item and staple the note to my copy of the purchase order, says Jill Rehg-Baith 5th. I keep a Google Doc going titled ‘to-do before August’ and update it.  Sarah Campbell, secondary ESL, keeps a running list of “things to buy this summer” Post-it in her planner. Angie Bretches, 6th, encourages, Force yourself to take down bulletin boards. It makes you more creative for the next year when you come to set up. Something as simple as a new board can invigorate a boring classroom. Sarah Campbell, secondary ESL, wants us to take a photo before we start taking things down. Crystal Holzer, Middle School Avid Instructor, wants to remind us that when we take things down we should LAMINATE EVERYTHING!

4. Label boxes and objects. This author lost the battle of the podium. I came back after the summer break and unbeknownst to our department, the custodians put all of our classroom objects in the hallway and mixed them all together. One podium was old and rickety and the other was newer and nicer. You guessed it, my podium (the newer one) was put back into another classroom and without sharing the drama, I lost the battle. If I had been as smart as one of our EdCats (who wishes to remain anonymous) and used painter’s tape, I could have clearly marked my classroom belongings. She recommends the blue painter’s tape and a sharpie so as not to damage any surfaces. Another helpful hint is to photograph your classroom or any important information on bulletin boards before you take it down.

Sarah's photo

5. Enlist the help of your students. We like the idea of having this year’s students make a bulletin board or wall display for next year’s students with advice for succeeding in that grade level or classroom. To get additional ideas for including students as you close your classroom, Wynn Godbold offers 5 Practical and Ingenious Tips for Closing your Classroom here.

Do you have additional ideas for the EdCat Community? Feel free to add your advice in our comments section. Here’s our advice:

ENJOY YOUR SUMMER!

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EdCat Guest Blogger: Tips for Communication with Parents/Guardians

By Meshell Thornley

Parents/Guardians. Many teachers agree that they are one of the scariest parts of our job. I can remember feelings of anxiety that came with meeting parents my first few years on the job. I wish I could say those feelings do not crop up now that I’m a veteran teacher, but I cannot. But I have had my perspective change over the years. So without further ado, these are my top five tips for working with parents/guardians.

1. Be on their side.

At some point in time during my first one-on-one contact with a parents I try to express my belief that I am on their team.  Good or bad, they are the first and most important educator of their child.  As a result, we as teachers are secondary.  I don’t mean to down play our importance.  Without a doubt, we have the power to make or break a child.  By expressing our support of them as parents they are then free to be open with us and to share and brainstorm about working with their child.

2. Frequent contact is important.

I am ashamed to realize I did not learn this lesson fully until I became a parent.  If you make casual contact frequently you can get by with less of the formal, more time-consuming types of contacts.  Keep in mind this only works if you have made an initial effort to make a more formal, time-consuming contact towards the beginning of the year.

You see, your first formal contact that is not required sends the message to parents that you do actually care about their child.

Being able to say something positive and be able to discuss the parents’ recommendation on how to handle their child allows the parents to see that you will work with them.  After that, your little notes and social media posts will have a positive connotation connected with them.  And as a result, you can get by with less phone and face-to-face contact.  Keep in mind that with some students, you are going to be the one desiring the contact because the parents can empower you when working with their ‘difficult’ child.

3. Remember, they know their child best.

Every year I smile as parents look at me and say, “Are you talking about my child?”  Students are different for us than they are for their parents.  Whether it’s that they are super neat at school, but not at home.  Or that they are quiet at school, but not at home.  The reality is we see a different side of students than their parents do.  I know this has given me the impression that I might know a student better than their parents do, but the majority of the time this is not true.

As a parent, we are present at the birth of the child and for the majority of developmental milestones thereafter.  Obviously the parent is going to know their child best.  They have been around a great deal more.  Keeping this in mind will help you to meet that child’s needs.  Thinking back to my own daughter’s second grade year I can remember feeling as if her teachers were not recognizing this very fact.  They were trying interventions with her and I only found out about after the fact.  I can remember thinking, “If they had only asked me I could have told them that that wasn’t going to work.”  Parents know things we do not, even if they are not the educational experts we are.

4. Admit your errors.

We all make mistakes. Hopefully they are not big mistakes. And hopefully they do not negatively effect a child–but when you do make a mistake, own it. If possible, catch the mistake and let the parent know prior to them finding it themselves. Apologize. Don’t make excuses or try to explain. Admit you were wrong and apologize. If they want an explanation they’ll ask for it. Now here is the REALLY scary part. Make sure your administrator knows of your mistake first (especially if it is a big mistake) and they can be supportive as you make the parent contact. In some cases they may advise you not to make a contact and you should do as they suggest.

5. No, parents cannot do your job.

After all of these words about how important parents are–you need to realize that you are too. There are ways we can influence students their parents cannot. This is why parents need us to be their partners!

Also keep in mind that just because parents might be professionals or be able to talk educational theory does not mean they can do your job. You are highly trained. You are skilled at forming relationships with students. You are skilled at recognizing the needs of 25 students all in the same day (and usually all at the same time)! You are professional and intelligent even if you use first grade words all day!

You are great and your superpower is teaching!

MeshellThornleyA K-State College of Education graduate, Meshell is a gifted facilitator for Manhattan-Ogden schools. She has worked in gifted education for the past 12 years. A mother of two children who attend Manhattan-Ogden schools, she is currently working on a graduate degree in Building Leadership in K-State’s College of Education.

 

 

Culturally Supported Students

On a recent visit to Apache Innovative School in the Shawnee Mission School District, students were actively engaged in the building’s Makerspace. The student featured in this photo was particularly happy as she and her classmates sorted through a bin of Lego shapes and characters.  As she found her favorite Lego she shrieked, “I just love it here!” Drawn to her excitement, we asked, “Why do you love it here?”

Her reply? “I love this school because they have Legos that look like me.”

According to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRES), “…effective teaching and learning occur in a culturally-supported, learner-centered context, whereby the strengths students bring to school are identified, nurtured, and utilized to promote student achievement.” We EdCats certainly want to be effective teachers, so what are some strategies for creating a culturally-supported, learner-centered context?

  1. Self-reflection. The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has some excellent strategies for self-examination of our own cultural-bound assumptions about other cultures and the assumptions that may influence our teaching. We want to constantly ask ourselves how our course materials, resources (yes, even Legos), activities, assignments, grouping configurations, and assessments are relevant and accessible to all students.
  2. Overcome Stereotypes. We need to know our students as individuals rather than relying on cultural/racial/ethnic stereotypes or prior experiences with other students of the same background. Find some good ideas and resources for mythbusting stereotypes here from Teaching Tolerance Magazine’s great website and resources.
  3. Conduct a scavenger hunt in your classroom and building. Do you see all of your students’ cultural backgrounds represented? Do each of your students look around and think, “My teacher sees me and values me.” Posters, photos, guest speakers, multicultural literature representing your students, flags, maps, and opportunities for students to bring in beloved objects from their families can teach students to value their own cultural heritage and gain appreciation of classmates’ communities as well.  Keep in mind our featured student photo. One of the reasons she loves her school is a Lego that looks like her.  Does your classroom contain items that make your students feel happy and valued?
  4. Get to know the biographies of your students. It’s never too late! Students move in and out. Most “get acquainted” activities happen at the beginning of the year and a lot may have changed since August. We like the activity Everyone Is Unique: Spin a Classroom Web that 5th grade teacher Melissa Walker has posted on Scholastic’s website. The activity can be modified for all grade levels and is a powerful way to build community. Jennifer Gonzalez has a clever, 4-part system for getting to know students on her blog, Cult of Pedagogy that we think EdCats will like.
  5. Finally, don’t forget our ever-growing Pinterest board on Diverse Learners where you will find additional ideas for meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

The topics of diversity, culturally competent teaching strategies, and meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families are certainly too vast to cover in a single blog post–or a single college course for that matter. As lifelong learners, EdCats will always need to seek new and different ways to reach and teach all learners. Let’s keep the conversations going!

 

Getting on Board with the Makerspace Movement.

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K-State College of Education Makerspace

A spinoff of the Maker Faire movement, makerspaces are learning environments with tools that offer opportunities to create, learn, play, and invent. Spaces may run the gamut of non-profit, community spaces where people learn trades, to classrooms where project-based learning takes place. Many school libraries are currently being reconfigured to include areas that expose students to maker projects. Every makerspace is different because needs can be so different. Here are some ideas for getting on board with the the maker space movement.

  1.  One of our favorite websites for learning about all types of makerspaces offers a free “playbook” for getting your own space up and running. It’s a comprehensive guide and covers aspects such as what to put in your space, safety rules, and other helpful resources. You will also find photos and templates from maker spaces around the country to help you make decisions about your makerspace.
  2. School-based makerspaces are a fairly new concept for students and families. A resource we like (and it’s free on Amazon for Kindle) is Roselund and Rodgers’ Makerspaces, a great book for introducing your 4th grade and above students to the concept, content, and use of makerspaces.
  3. Want some additional tips for starting your own? Check out Colleen Graves’ article, Starting a School Makerspace From Scratch.
  4. Jen Walsh has put together 103 ideas on her Pinterest page for projects, challenges, and makerspace projects. We liked the design cycle she features as well.
  5. The design thinking process is certainly a great takeaway from the makerspace environment. keslerscience.com offers an awesome blog on the shift from making in the makerspace to becoming a maker outside the space.

Elementary teachers may want to get students involved in the makerspace mindset but have no formal space designated in the school. A corner of a classroom can certainly suffice. Supplies could be center-based or included in a content rotation. Makerspaces and students are a natural combination.  Be sure to make your materials needs known to parents and PTOs. With access to an array of materials, students may create something unique that has never been seen before.

Secondary teachers may want to meet with technical skills teachers to discuss goals and needs. School-to-community connections may be possible by offering maker nights that allow community members to work with teachers, students or on their own to develop new skills. If your building currently utilizes family math or literacy nights, how might making incorporate those contents?

Everyone has the potential to be a maker. Hopefully these ideas will give you inspiration and you will share your maker spaces with us! We would love to feature photos of your makerspaces in future blogs!

Easing Back Into the School Year

It’s time to go back.


The transition from winter vacations to back-to-school days can be challenging for all. Readiness to return can differ enormously–from students in dire need of food security to students that have been on luxurious ski vacations. Somehow teachers must find their own place in the school readiness continuum while supporting students as they make their journey back to relationships, relevance, and rigor at school. Here are some tips for navigating your way to second semester.

  1. Tidy up your classroom. You may have felt desperate to start the vacation and left some chores undone. Look at the learning space with a critical eye. Could a first semester tub be used to clear away items that will not be used anymore? How about your desk? Perhaps you want to revisit some of your ideas for setting up your classroom in the fall. Some Pinterest hopes may not have been practical. Other Fall ideas may still be viable now that you know your classroom community well.
  2. Review your curriculum. Everyone may struggle physically and mentally towards the school schedule. Ease into the curriculum by reviewing academic vocabulary and concepts. Make the first weeks more fun for you by collaborating with a colleague on an upcoming unit or project. If you are starting from scratch as a brand new teacher, it is okay to ask for help! New teachers need to keep in mind some “thank you’s” (a bottle of water and a granola bar on a desk can go a long way) for veteran teachers that take time to mentor and support.
  3. Anticipate challenges to the work-life balance. Frozen meals in the freezer? Grab and go snacks in the fridge? What types of time-friendly supports offer you and those you love some time together? Sometimes setting the alarm for 15 minutes of uninterrupted time can be a boost that lasts the whole day. One follower of this blog offered: This may sound crazy, but “Taco Tuesday” is sacred. We get caught up on each others’ lives and make our rest-of-the-week and weekend plans.
  4. Organize your mindset. This blog is a huge fan of Carol Dweck’s Mindset materials. Our mindset is the key to how we and our students experience reality. We may need visual reminders to help our minds land on thoughts that are energizing, empowering, and affirming. We may need to remind ourselves to compliment our students’ work efforts, not the just end product.
  5. Model your coping strategies. It is a new year, a new semester, and a new chapter of life! What are you doing to make 2017 a great year personally and professionally? As a successful professional, YOU have goals, grit, and a reflective practice to propel yourself into the new year. These good habits may only be available to your students from you. Including your students as you plan your work and work your plan may model some of the most important skills your students learn this semester.

As you all ease back into the school year, don’t forget to have fun! Teacherhub.com has some great ideas for you and your students to kick off the spring semester. We’ll be here, cheering you on and bringing you more ideas as we celebrate all things EdCats! #WeAreEdCats

 

Genius Hours: Something all Teachers Should Consider for Spring

screenshot-2016-11-28-10-08-45When teachers adopt and adapt successful  business models in classrooms, the results can be as beneficial in schools as they are in the business world. Here’s one business concept taking classrooms by storm:  Genius Hours.

Mr. Ferrell’s 6th graders explain their passion project.

 

The idea is credited to something started at Google corporate in 2004, when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote a short blurb in their annual IPO letter, We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner. Some of the highly successful 20% products include the development of Google News, Gmail, and even AdSense.

Teachers across the country have taken the idea to their classrooms. For a designated amount of time (some teachers tell us they use minutes each day, others prefer 1 block of time each week) students work on projects they are passionate about while meeting state standards and indicators without even realizing it.

In order to see the concept in action, we turned to none other than K-State College of Education Graduate, Jonathan Ferrell, a 6th grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary in Shawnee Mission School District. A Kansas Teacher of the Year nominee, Mr. Ferrell’s students have found rigor, relevance, and relationships through their Genius Hour projects this semester. Mr. Ferrell’s  students’ “passion projects” include an ever-evolving list of projects and products. Here are just a few:

  • Prosthetic fingers
  • Designing a game
  • DIY Cooler
  • Cleaning spray
  • Prosthetic limb for an injured dog
  • Inventing a stylus
  • “Bake It” a bakery Etsy shop
  • Model train
  • Designing clothing

Students hone their skills by researching real-life concepts and interviewing industry experts. Mr. Ferrell’s sixth graders host outside audiences as they gain confidence in their product designs and prototypes. Cross-curricular applications are discovered as they present to students in other grade levels and schools.  Students become highly motivated as they see inventions realized and sales made.

Want to know more about how you might incorporate Genius Hours in your classroom this spring? A great resource is Chris Kesler’s YouTube video and the resources found at The Genius Hour webpage. Clicking around that site you’ll also find books, webinars, and blogs to get you started. Do you teach primary grades? Click on Erica Adams’ YouTube video of her 2nd grade Genius Hour experiences. Whatever grade level you teach we think you’ll be convinced that adopting and adapting the Genius Hour concept this spring is a good thing!

Virtual Reality: Coming to a Classroom Near You

Child with virtual reality and network

Think of the possibilities… You live in a remote area and teach in a school with limited assets, yet after lunch your students are going on a field trip to walk around The Louvre.

A field trip to the Louvre?

It’s possible. Without even leaving your classroom.

An explosion of virtual reality (VR) technology has found it’s way into education. At first only high end and pricey headsets made classroom use seem frivolous. However, Google Cardboard–an inexpensive cardboard viewing device– can provides students with 360 degree virtual reality experiences for less than the price of a school lunch (We actually found them for $1 on E-bay).

How can EdCats get in on the ground floor? Here are some ideas:

  1.  Here is an early demo of Google Cardboard. You will quickly see the potential the inventors had in mind.
  2.  This is more of a nuts and bolts video of how Google Cardboard works and how you put the pieces together for classroom use.
  3. While Google Cardboard is the least expensive, there are other choices. We found the Oculus Rift at Best Buy for about $600. Pricey, but includes headphones, a Microsoft controller, and other gaming accessories. So why would a classroom need such an expensive piece of equipment? Here’s a great demonstration of how students could virtually walk through parts of the human body while wearing an Oculus Rift.

If we have whet your appetite for the potential of using VR technology in your classroom, head over to vr.google.com to see apps, demos, or even order your first classroom set of Google Cardboard.

Let us know if you are an early adopter and how you are using VR in your classroom!

When the Honeymoon is Over.

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The grind has started. New shoes are scuffed, knees in students’ jeans are starting to fade a bit, and the five extra minutes of sleep is worth more than the latte at the local coffee shop. Welcome to the REALITY WEEKS.

What’s different?

TIME… the beginning of the school year began after weeks of anticipation, Pinterest and preparation for your honeymoon, er…classroom. Now it seems that time is a commodity that is more valuable than you ever dreamed.

MONEY…you may not have the first paycheck of the year yet–if you have, it may have depleted quickly as you purchased personal and professional items that were long overdue.

You have gone from an outsider to an insider, and the view may be markedly different than you had anticipated.

So just like a relationship gone stale, it is important to know and understand ways to keep a vital, vibrant, engaging classroom on track:

  1. Keep the classroom alive. Look around. Have you changed the seating arrangement yet? Have you moved your desk? Can you see your desk? If parent conferences were tonight, would the room look inviting and tidy? In this Scholastic Article on organizing physical space, Linda Shalaway discusses ways to keep your classroom student-centered grades K-12.
  2. Get a reading of your instructional practices. Better yet, give them a survey to discover what’s going well and what could be improved. Robert Marzano has some excellent surveys to enhance your reflective practice. There is even a primary grade survey with smiles and frowns that could be read to students to gain information on how they perceive school is going.
  3. Stop and Smell the Roses. The season is changing. Is it cool enough to go outside and read in a shady spot? Can you open a window in the morning? What are some successes and achievements thus far? CELEBRATE! Any milestone can become a fun celebration.
  4. Bring in a Guest Speaker. Educator Michael Adams has 8 reasons bringing in a guest speaker is a good idea. Adams suggests that guest speakers provide student benefits–such as hearing a new voice, to teacher benefits–such as learning from the guest speaker and enhancing future lessons. Remember, guest speakers don’t physically have to be present, you can Skype, Face-time, or Zoom them right in! Many parents would love to visit and participate in a way that can be helpful.
  5. Take a risk. Try something you have never tried. Perhaps there is an app, an idea for a lesson to try, or something simple as getting under desks/tables rather than sitting at them. Switch things up! Perhaps you could swap teachers for a teacher trade for 15 minutes of calendar time, lesson introduction, or other creative endeavor?

Keep in mind that none of these tips can be helpful if you are exhausted and grumpy. As a new teacher you are laying the foundation for future years of teaching. What seems like an endless cycle of planning/teaching/grading will be much less intense in future years. Files and folders may only need a little tweaking next year! Take good care of YOU. Restock the treat drawer (or make a list of what treats to buy when that paycheck finally comes in), download a guilty pleasure on Netflix and watch 10 minutes while you eat lunch. Better yet, take a quick walk outside, inhale deeply, and reset for a minute. Need more ideas? Please consider checking out our EdCat Chats created by professors and partners in the College of Education. You’ll find some additional helpful hints for enhancing YOUR professional practice. Another great resource is the Before the Bell  news letter put out by the College of Ed. Thank you for all you are doing for students!