Hold onto the Knot in the Rope

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 10.27.03 AM

During one of my undergraduate teacher preparation courses, my professor held up a piece of rope with a knot in it and told us that there would be times when we would be overwhelmed and would question why we even became teachers. And THAT, she reminded us, is when we need to hold onto the knot in the rope. I’ve discovered that the knot is different for everybody. For me, the knot formed at a very young age when I experienced the joy of teaching my younger brother how to read. The excitement of sharing my knowledge and witnessing him grasp the rules of phonics, recognize sight words, and develop a love of reading was magical! I became a teacher at the age of six. No other career path even entered my mind.

James Bayard writes, “I am a teacher because I have experienced first hand the role education can have in lifting young people out of a cycle of disadvantage.” His article reminded me of when I chose to follow the path of teaching whereas many of my fellow scholars chose career paths of law, medicine, engineering, or business. Many people viewed my choice to teach as an “underachievement” but failed to realize both the challenges and rewards of teaching.

This problem largely goes unnoticed. Many districts, schools, and universities do not actively recruit strong teacher candidates. Some organizations even advertise the teaching career as a “stepping stone” to a better career.

Chuck Poole, a fellow educator, reminds us to be proud of what we do. Teaching really is one of the most prestigious and rewarding professions in the world. We are charged with passionately teaching students who will go into all other professions, and that amazes me!

A Pre-K teacher, Brian Smith, wrote a list of some reasons why he teaches. He encourages fellow teachers to “Keep in mind what inspired you to begin with, and remember the reasons you chose to take on this daunting, wonderful job.” I encourage you to take some time and make your own list and review it whenever you need those reminders!

How do you “Hold onto the knot in the rope” during the difficult days? Leave a comment below!


Back to School!

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 10.37.17 AM

Back-to-School Stress

Parents, children, and teachers tend to feel a lot of emotions and stressors when summer is coming to an end, and school is about to begin.

Parents are likely thinking about adjusting their schedules; students are likely thinking about seeing their friends AND having their summer freedom aborted; but teachers are likely stressing the most about getting ready for a new school year.

Psychologist Gail Kinman offers advice on how to reduce stress and prepare for the new school year.   Among other suggestions, she advises becoming in touch with your feelings, listening to your body, doing a bit of planning, and getting extra rest.

Researching advice from psychologists and teachers, five top tips emerged for relieving “back-to-school” stress. They are as follows:

  1. Practice self-care. Get in the habit of taking care of yourself so that when the onslaught happens, you are already in the habit of taking some time for yourself. Remember the flight attendants’ instructions: “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting the person next to you.” If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the energy to take care of anyone else, particularly a room full of students!
  2. Meditate and/or pray. There are multitudes of studies showing that meditation and prayer lower According to a University of Pennsylvania research study, just 30 minutes of daily meditation improves the ability to prioritize and manage tasks and goals, re-focus attention and stay alert to the environment. Even 5 minutes helps. Close your eyes for 5 minutes and breathe deeply to get back on track.
  3. Be prepared. Just a little bit of preparation can reduce your stress before it even starts to build up. Spend a little time organizing yourself before school starts and you will likely feel more relaxed. Make a list of what you want to do, then prioritize the items on your list. Don’t try to do everything at once. Feel free to cross off a few things on your list. Accomplishing the top few items can relieve a lot of anxiety.
  4. Use your mind. Take a few minutes to visualize yourself making a positive impact on your students. It is amazing how much this little practice can change your mindset and reduce stress.
  5. Get moving! Studies show that exercise reduces stress and releases endorphins. When you think you are too busy to exercise, it is often the times you need it most. It doesn’t have to be a full workout – just a quick walk or some stretches will do the trick. Yoga is also highly recommended.

(Reduce Back-to-School Anxiety Naturally)

Additional links are as follows: Back to School Tips, Back to School Preparation.

Summer and school breaks are great times to work on professional development classes. Flexible, online classes can be helpful for busy teachers.

So, take some deep breaths, and welcome the start of the school year!

If you have some good tips for reducing back-to-school anxiety, please comment below.

Try Something New!

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 9.51.16 AM

Do you ever feel like you have gotten into a rut with your teaching practice? Maybe you haven’t lost your passion but are looking to do something different than what you’ve done in the past. Whether you are a fairly new teacher or a veteran, consider some of these unique ideas to engage your students in learning!

Stitch in Time

Anna Davidson tried something most teachers wouldn’t even think to do with their students. She taught them to embroider! “With fabric, needle and thread in the students’ hands I have their absolute, undivided attention. They are learning with their hands and their hands are teaching their brains things that cannot be learned any other way. How to think in three dimensions, how to manage and manipulate the tools and materials to achieve the task, how to be the boss of the process, how to plan ahead, how to treat an error, how to avoid error in the first place. Their brains are as busy as their hands.”

Start from Scratch

What do your students need? What resources would open up doors of opportunities down the road for them? In one of the oldest public schools in California, Deron Ambler built a lacrosse program. Since its start in 2013, the school has successfully had a lacrosse team with the support of the student body, friends, a grant, and the community. Some of Deron’s students have even received full scholarships!

Storytelling with Podcasts

When it comes to technology, no limit exists to the ideas of engaging students with content! Jennifer Osborne opened up the exciting world of communication for her 11th grade students by having them create a podcast to share a personal event. Her students also created visual interpretations of poems through video-making platforms and collaborated on a literary group project using NoodleTools.

Serve the Community

Students can measure ingredients to make a cookie mix for local workers in the community such as police officers, firefighters, or nurses. Beautify your campus with environmental education. Donate non-perishable food, blankets, and clothes to a local shelter. Learning through service benefits both the students and the community!

Do you have a great idea to share? Are you inspired by one of these ideas? Let us know in the comments below!

Improving Communication with Parents

Screen Shot 2018-05-25 at 8.38.36 AM

Whether your classroom overflows with a steady stream of parent volunteers or your heart breaks for students with unengaged families, parent communication can almost always be improved. Parents are often gold mines of helpful information to help motivate, teach, and connect with our students. While teachers certainly have their plates full with various responsibilities, communicating with parents is very much worth the time and effort!

You might decide to take on these ideas by yourself, enlist a few fellow colleagues, or get your entire school involved. Here are some suggestions to improve communication with parents:

Use technology

Create a class website, blog, or wiki. Include resources and news about your classroom. Technology serves as a convenient way for you to share information and for parents to have access to it.

Plan Parent Workshops

A colleague once approached me with an idea to create a fun, interactive family Saturday workshop for students and their parents. We incorporated academic games and centers that we had already introduced to the students during the school day. We divided the attendees by the number of teachers involved in the workshop. Parents rotated with their students to different classrooms and teachers, spending about 30 minutes in each rotation.   After a brief mini lesson, the students led their parents in the activity, reinforcing what they were already learning in the classroom. Everyone enjoyed the workshop. Not only did teachers and parents interact in a positive way, but the bond between the students and their parents grew stronger, as well.

Back-To-School Barbecue

Food breaks down barriers, brings people together, and encourages a relaxed atmosphere. I love this idea of teachers and administration mingling with students and parents. Imagine the conversations about student interests, family traditions, and aspirations that could take place over a feast of hamburgers and hotdogs! What a wonderful way to “enlist the parents and caregivers who sent us their most prized possessions each day—and who had loved these children long before educational institutions began applying all kinds of unflattering labels to them.”

Think Outside of the School

Hold a workshop or event at a park, community center, hotel conference room, or rental hall. Families might feel more comfortable outside of the classroom setting.   In fact, teachers and administrators might enjoy the change of scenery, too!

How have you effectively communicated with parents? Leave a comment below!

How To Make the Most of Your Summer Break

Summer-BreakReport cards are done, bulletin boards have been taken down, and you’ve said goodbye to your students. Before you know it, the next school year begins. Here are a few ideas to maximize your vacation days:

  1. Summer cleaning

You probably didn’t do much around the house during the spring, so take on a home project you have on the list, de-clutter a room in the house, and prepare your little oasis for the coming year.

  1. Read!

Take some time to read for fun. Visit your air-conditioned local library, a used bookstore, or even join a summer book club!

  1. Catch up with loved ones

You may have more free time, but your friends and family might still have work. Meet them for lunch, send a letter, or make time for a phone call with a long distance relative. Invest in the people you love!

  1. Be a student

Whether you need to move over on the salary scale or just want to revitalize your teaching, a professional development course can help you meet your goals. You will feel excited to go back into the classroom and implement all that you’ve learned over the summer.

  1. Work

For many teachers, more income is needed to make ends meet. So whether you choose to teach summer school or pick up an odd job, enjoy the opportunity to keep busy and earn extra money.

  1. Travel

Get a change of scenery and explore a new place. Recharge your batteries. It’s good for your health!

How are you planning on spending your summer break? Leave a comment below!