Focus on Three Things (or less) Today

tumblr_m8z4yltfxY1qiph2fo1_500If you are a high achiever who has 110 things on her/his to-do list today, this post may not be for you.  If you want to be a high achiever but get overwhelmed at times, this might be more suited to you. I was talking to a new friend, Justin, the other day through emails about how we can get over indulgent in work and actually be less effective.  That conversation made me think up a challenge post to my readers:  I want to tell you to focus on only three things today. You decide what they should be.  You’ll be tempted to focus on more, but limit yourself.

As a teacher, I tend to get bogged down in all the demands from the district and parents.  Sometimes, it can sap my energies.  The professional solution is to focus my energies with an almost tunnel vision on no more than 3 things.  I can still do other things, but my success for the day will be determined on whether I got those three things accomplished.  For example, tomorrow my 3 are: 1) Multiple meaning words, 2) Finalize my parent conferences calendar, and 3) Teach the final 2 math concepts we’ll be testing next week.  There are many other things I could/should be worried about, but these three are the most important.  I will name the day a success when these three things are done.

It is the regular attention to goals that makes me feel like a great teacher.  I wasn’t born great and I do not remain great just because of what I have done.  My puritan upbringing cringes at calling myself “great,” but I am simply referring to the data that says: I set goals and achieve them.  To me, for any occupation or endeavor in life, that is success.

How to Be the Teacher Your Students Will Never Forget

I was asked to mention this article and I really liked it. So here it is mostly in its entirety. Source is linked below. A very good read, full of some good truths for teachers.

A teaching career can be one of the most challenging, yet one of the most rewarding careers that a person can pursue. Most educators embark upon their careers with a determination to make a difference and to be a teacher that students remember and count as an inspiration. Chances are, you have had a teacher at some point in your academic career that truly stood out, perhaps even inspiring your own desire to become a teacher. If you’d like to make that same impression on your own students, these tips may point you in the right direction. Keeping this advice in mind while emulating some of the behavior that your own inspirational educator exhibited can help you become just as important of a figure in the lives of your students as a few great teachers once were to you.

Respect Your Students

In order to maintain control over a classroom full of kids, you’ll have to command their respect. One way to accomplish that goal is to play the role of the authoritarian teacher that refuses to accept anything less. More gentle educators know that getting students to feel genuine respect, rather than blind fear, depends upon the amount of respect they show those students.

Be Patient

Some of your students will learn differently than others, and have to go at their own pace. Others will have behavioral problems that prevent them from comporting themselves in the same manner as their peers. In every class, you will have at least one student that tries your patience, but it’s important that you do your best not to let it affect you. When your students look back at you through the lens of adulthood, they’ll be more likely to remember the wonderful teacher that was patient with them and coached them through their difficulties than the ones that couldn’t manage their needs.

Show Compassion

Your students will come from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds. They’ll have different learning styles and different home lives that will affect the way they behave at school. Rather than lashing out at a student who’s clearly acting out due to anger or fear, take the time to work with them and show the compassion they need.

Teach Enthusiastically

In order to inspire enthusiasm for a given subject in your students, you’ll have to show that you’re excited about teaching the subject matter. Approaching every class as if it were the most exciting thing you’ve ever done and showing a sincere eagerness to share your knowledge and help your students learn can make a significant difference in the way they respond to you and how they remember you throughout the years.

Set High Expectations, and Help Your Students Meet Them

It is okay to set lofty goals for each and every one of your students, as long as you’re willing to put in the extra work it takes to help them meet those expectations. Work with students that need extra help, coach those that need a confidence boost and make sure that they know you’re behind them all the way. When your students look back at the time spent in your classroom, they’ll think of the sense of confidence you instilled in them and all the encouragement you gave. While the memories of apathetic or bitter teachers fade away, they’ll still remember the teacher that did everything possible to make them feel powerful and capable.

Engage Your Students

Getting kids to connect with the source material is a key to helping them retain it and to fostering an appreciation for it. Working in as many hands-on ways as possible and getting kids engaged and connected is a great way to not only help them learn, but also to help them feel secure in their environment and eager for each new day.

Get Involved

Teachers might have summer vacations and weekends off, but the truly great ones spend time outside of the classroom working with their students. Whether you’re coaching a sport, supervising an after-school activity or spending time in a tutoring program, your students need to know that you’re taking an active interest in the school. Kids can spot the teachers that are simply going through the motions until summer vacation arrives and those tend to be the educators that they don’t carry such fond memories of when their school days are over.

via How to Be the Teacher Your Students Will Never Forget – Become A Nanny.

Teachers Who Create, Innovate, and Integrate Add Value

Teachers who invent solutions are my heroes! Sometimes after getting a teaching degree, one is surprised that what they learned isn’t reality. In other words, for some challenges, there is no beaten path. This can be due to legislative changes or just the needs of a particular area in education. In those situations, I have learned the value of these three words”Create. Innovate, and Integrate.” Whether you are teaching creative writing jobs or the alphabet, as a teacher your innovation will always yield a lot of value.

The teaching certificate is just the beginning. After that you must conform to your classroom needs and use all your talents to meet them. Here are a few examples, feel free to add more of your own in the comments. This will help us all be better. Continue reading Teachers Who Create, Innovate, and Integrate Add Value

Proximity and Presentation in Lesson Plans

Teaching can never be described as a simple endeavor. Planning lessons is a challenge that will always stupefy the greatest teaching minds. That doesn’t mean we give up though! Humility is a necessary ingredient in the dynamite teacher. If we ever reach a mental place where we feel we “have it wired” I think we will never reach our potential as educators. Through difficulty and yes, failure, we become great. Anyone who tells you failure isn’t a requisite for teaching greatness is not a great teacher in my opinion.

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the proximity and presentation of our lessons. Take this idea for example: say you have delivered guided practice to your class on a math topic for nearly 2 hours and you still do not see 80% accuracy in the kids. You might be tempted to blame them or even still yourself for not getting the lesson out in an effective manner. Quick, simple question:

“Where do you stand?”

Could it be possible the kids couldn’t see your numbers as you wrote them on the board? Could it be possible your glorious “steps” you created and taught were hidden from the students because the screen turns snow-blind at a given angle? Perhaps you should take the time to test and measure the proximity and presentation of your lesson before you begin. No time teaching kids is ever wasted.  However, you can make the most of your time by deciding the answers to some of these questions before, during, and after your lessons:

  • Can every seat see me and the content I am presenting? You might go to every seat with your content on the overhead to test this. Or, you might ask a colleague to pop in and test your visibility
  • Where do you stand? You should know the blind spots you create with your body and/or writing hand.
  • Is the overhead or document camera a better tool than standing at the board for the content you are delivering?
  • Are your visuals big enough for the back to see.

After you have addressed question like these, you are more likely to produce a dynamite lesson.  But don’t stop there. If you find yourself puzzled as to why kids aren’t getting it, you don’t have to wear yourself out asking questions like background checks for employment. Simply use proximity and presentation as a way to troubleshoot and pinpoint issues holding your teaching back. The reason you aren’t reaching all your kids may very well lay in the question: “Where do you stand?”

Teacher as Student

tumblr_n19nvqQrgQ1r1kqreo1_500.jpgThis is true for teachers too. The next time you are leading your class, why not be open to the idea that some student in the class could teach you something new. If not about the standards you are studying, then about people and children the age of which you teach. We should be listeners as well as pontificators of lessons.

Goals Help Solve the Riddle of Setting up a Classroom

I wrote this post last year upon setting up my classroom. After reading it just a couple weeks before I do the same this year, I found it had some very helpful reminders. Today was my first day setting up my classroom. I made a LOT of planning notes and I am far from done. It was a challenge as always and at times overwhelming. There is so much you COULD be doing that you often get caught up majoring in the minors. I am proud to say I was a success today based on my goals set beforehand. My dad shared with me in my youth the concept of SPIDOG. It stands for “Set priorities in direction of goals.” The theory being that if you have clear and concise goals, your priorities and actions will be predicated upon them. After that, when you review measurable progress toward goals, decide if you are a success or not. Don’t let other people decide if you succeed, only you should determine that.

I recently wrote about my goals for the 2011-2012 school year. I followed them the entire 8 hours I was working. It saved me from time wasting. In fact, according to my goals, I was darn productive if I do say so myself. Below are a couple shots taken on my iPhone. They show first day progress toward consequence based rules, my primary goal this year. I am putting the desks in a “U” so I can walk around easily. I did other actions based on the goal of consequence based rules. Are you setting priorities in direction of goals thi year?

U desk formation left side
U Desk formation Right
Taping names on the desk for calling on random non-volunteers is part of a consequence based rules system

Tell me about your goals for setting up your classroom …

Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

tony-anticipates-his-next-classI’m convinced that teachers who are starting out need to learn this lesson with time. It makes little logical sense to tell kids the answers but it serves a powerful function toward mastery when you are starting a new concept. Students often don’t answer because they do not know what is being asked of them. This can be the actual math or language arts of the thing or it could just be the manner and style in which the teacher expects the answer. Sometimes when students say the predictable phrase, “I was gonna say that,” they aren’t lying. They didn’t know what you wanted from them and that is a simple problem to remedy. At the introduction of the lesson, go around pucking random non volunteers by your chosen method, I use cards. Use this pattern: 1) Say the answer 2) Ask the question and 3) Ask the question again and pick a random non volunteer. This will inform them how to listen and answer questions and get you more familiar with their process. It sounds silly to give the answer and then ask someone to say it back but it really decreases their affective filter and makes them more comfortable branching out and taking risks. In short, they become more comfortable with you so you can ease into more higher order questions like “why is that the answer?” Continue reading Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

Transition Activities to Break up the Long Day

8-tips-to-smooth-transition-between-consulting-firms-e1387739127278Whether a teacher sees the day as long is irrelevant, we’re there for the students. Having said that, the school day “bell to bell” can feel extremely long to a student. This can result in poor classroom behavior. I have good news, good scheduling and transition activities can help students stay awake, alert, and engaged throughout the school day. If you do a day correctly, you’ll hear the coveted, “Mr. Riley, today seemed short!” The first thing you need is a solid schedule that is accessible to both students and teacher.

In between blocks of teaching, you should have transition activities on hand in case you need them. A few that I use are: throwing the nerf ball with a simple, silly question. Whoever catches it has to answer. I do stretching, classroom-safe forms of what I call “quick yoga,” singalongs (This Land is Your Land etc.), and even putting our heads down with the lights dimmed to simply process the silence. Surprisingly, some of my students have requested this, You get the point: breaking up the day can make it run more smoothly. The theory of time spaced learning states that more chunks of information are retained in a period of time when breaks are taken periodically. In effect, doing “break” activities actually can produce more learning than trudging through the day like mud trying to stay focused and on task. Please help me and other teachers: What do you do to break up the day?

Ideas for Better Teaching 2011-2012

This is my 13th year teaching public school. Like most things that matter it has taken time to achieve what feels like some level of mastery. This past year I found it helpful to keep a small section of my whiteboard for writing down ideas and solutions.This is important because many times I forget about “light bulb” solutions that take things like a trip to Staples or laminating to make happen. Here are some teaching strategies and tools I plan to use in the 2011-2012 school year.

  • Teach higher volume in answering voice – Teaches all and reduces class boredom.
  • Fruit: Our school gives each class a basket of fruit every day that is provided by a private grant. My rule: must eat all 10 minutes prior to recess or no recess.
  • Random Non Volunteer Cards. Begin use on day 1. #’s work better than name cards.
  • #’s on desk a priority that requires maintenance make a dedicated spot where you can maintain the numbers when kids pick them off etc. Make replacing damage they do an easy task I am prepared for.
  • Plastic “glass” overlay for desk to show observation papers etc. Helps with focus and anxiety over the unknown.
  • Homework is Focus Reading Comp etc. packets. Also Scott Foresman Math. CFU first thing in am with questions. They must be ready to answer my question of “why.”
  • Have a central location to file report cards etc. Organization takes effort but saves mental and physical energy in the long haul.
  • Desks rows and “away” areas for troubled students. Protect the rest.
  • Pick days to stay after school and do copies. This will avoid traffic jams there and hence discouragement. Take the let downs away before they happen.

These are just a few things I plan to implement to make my year better. Have you taken the time to reflect upon your year last year? What worked and what didn’t?

Educational Opportunities for Students in Low-Resource Schools

Although free K12 public education is available to all students in America, the fact is that not all public schools have the resources to fully educate students. Many schools, particularly those in low-income rural and urban areas, lack fundamental educational tools like computers, microscopes or even current textbooks. Other schools have eliminated programs like art and music entirely.

If your school district only offers limited resources, what can you do to help your students get the educational opportunities they deserve? Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, consider implementing one or more of these options to give kids a chance to improve their education even in a low-resource school district.

Online tutoring

Not every school has a dedicated music teacher, Spanish teacher or physics teacher. Fill the gap with online courses. If your school doesn’t have a functioning music program, encourage interested students to take online piano lessons during lunch, study hall or after school. Invite students to join teams and sign up for online language lessons, math tutoring or book clubs. If your school doesn’t have the resources to teach a particular subject in-house, chances are there’s a great way to learn it online.

Donated Computers

Not every classroom has enough computers for all its students. This is becoming a critical literacy gap, as computers are now a fundamental part of life and students who graduate high school unable to type, navigate an Internet browser or handle fundamental programs like Microsoft Excel are at a huge disadvantage for both college and the workforce.

Meanwhile, plenty of companies and individuals find themselves upgrading their computer systems every few years, meaning there are many functional machines that are no longer being used. Talk to your school district about setting up a computer donation request; a few states, such as Delaware, actually require companies to offer old computers to schools before sending them to be destroyed. Look for sources of donated computers in your area and use them to teach your students computer literacy – it’s an essential skill for today’s connected world.

Summer Camp Scholarships

Summer camp is a great way for kids to pick up skills they might otherwise miss in a low-resource classroom. There are camps for kids interested in science, math, art or drama; in fact, there’s a camp for nearly every subject! The best part is that these camps nearly always offer scholarships to low-income students. If you’ve got a student in your classroom who can benefit from an educational summer camp experience, take the time to help the student apply for a scholarship and make sure to write a glowing letter of recommendation.

Problem-solving Opportunities

Many schools focus their curriculum on “teaching to the test,” and this is especially true in low-resource schools which require high test scores to receive much-needed funding. However, this kind of education means fewer classroom hours are spent giving students problems that require innovation or invention to solve. The working world – not to mention life – is about solving problems, and students need these skills to perform successfully as adults. (For more information on why innovation and invention are key skills for students to learn, read the Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform.)

Create problem-solving opportunities by setting up a science fair, asking students to write and stage a play or pulling out one of the tried-and-true problem-solving games like the toothpick bridge project. If your curriculum is already too jam-packed to include these items, start an after-school club or announce that an upcoming Saturday will be “Science Day.” The more opportunities you give your students to solve their own problems through innovation and invention, the better they’ll function in our complex, problem-filled world.

Local Libraries

No discussion of educational opportunities would be complete without mentioning the importance of your local library. Many libraries offer tutoring, after-school clubs and other opportunities, and even the smallest libraries have that most magical of inventions, inter-library loan. Take your students on a tour of your library and show them how it can be used to help with homework, college applications or independent study on a favorite subject.

Use these ideas as ways to augment your low-resource school and give your students a better chance to compete in today’s world. Do you have other ideas for boosting a school’s resources? Start a discussion in the comments. The more we share ideas, the more opportunities we’ll be able to offer our students.