…but are they engaged? Using An Engagement Survey

…but are they engaged? Using An Engagement Survey

Student Engagement is Essential

Student engagement is key to learning. I know that if my readers aren’t engaged in the work of readers they aren’t going to grow. The same goes for my writers, scientists, mathematicians… if they aren’t engaged they’re not going to grow. Student engagement can be difficult to study. Every once in a while I complete an engagement survey with my students. To complete this survey I usually just use a blank piece of paper sitting next to me but I have attached a freebie engagement survey sheet at the end of this post. 

Completing an Engagement Survey

Shown above is an example of an engagement survey. I keep mine simple. After all of my students have found spots to work I jot down their names along the left-hand side. I generally jot them down in the order they are sitting in. That makes it easy to do a quick sweep and record the information. Then I glance up about every 3-5 minutes and jot down what students are doing. This one I have detailed jots of what each child was doing. Sometimes I just use an x to mark off-task or a green crayon to mark on task. I switch it up depending on what I am looking for. In the made-up example above I was looking for engagement in the writing process. That’s why it is more detailed. During this time I’m not walking around and watching over all of my students I am carrying on business as usual. As I confer or lead small groups I look up and around and jot down what everyone is doing. Usually, I have a code for working with the teacher and take note of that too. 

Analyzing the Data & Determining Next Steps

Now that you have all the data you have to analyze it. Right now I want my first graders to sketch before they write. It is how they plan their stories. I can note right away that 9 students (half of this class) didn’t start with sketching. Four of them started with writing. I might want to pull a small group and remind them why sketching and making a plan is so important for authors. 

The last time I checked in on them all students were actively engaged in writing. Perhaps I notice that it takes some students 10 minutes before they engage in the work for the day. Maybe I am not setting them up for success at the end of my mini-lessons. Maybe I need to hold those students back at the carpet and send them off with a more concrete plan than the other students. 

Sharing the Data

I explain very clearly to my students that I don’t take secret notes on them. If I complete an engagement survey with them I always offer to share the results with those who are curious. Sometimes I choose to share with everyone. Usually, everyone is quite curious to see. The next day I might hold mini-conferences with each student to discuss their data together and work together to create a more successfully engaged class. 

Try It Out

Click here to download your own FREEBIE! 

This will help you complete your own engagement survey in your classroom. Pick a subject, maybe one where student engagement is lacking. You might notice something you hadn’t noticed before.

Let me know how it goes!

Deciding to Teach Abroad: Should I Go For It?

Deciding to Teach Abroad: Should I Go For It?

In yesterday’s Friday Five I explained how I knew I wanted to teach internationally. I had the itch to travel, to get out of my comfort zone and see the world. I wanted something new. Maybe you’re considering teaching internationally as well. I sat down to write a quick post about what it is like to live and teach in a different country and I accidentally created a whole blog series… I guess it happens! 

This will be the first of many posts explaining the process and a bit more about teaching internationally. I can only speak from personal experience and the experiences others have shared with me. If you have any additional information or ideas to share, please do so in the comments below. I am by no means an expert but I do know a thing or two. 

Making A Choice

Deciding to teach abroad is not one that should be made on a whim. When I decided to move abroad I knew several things going into it. I talked to the people I love deeply and considered their opinions. I spoke to those I knew who taught internationally and gathered their experience. I made a lot of pro/con lists and I considered a lot of options. Hopefully this post can help you reflect on your decision to move into the world of international teaching. 

Disclaimer: I am going to talk about international teaching not teaching English in a foreign country. I am a certified elementary (actually grades 1-8) teacher. I have a degree in education and hold teaching certification. I do not have my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. I teach all of the core subjects and my school operates similarly to schools in the US. There are many schools internationally where you do not need to hold an education license or degree. There are many schools where you can teach English to children. I won’t be talking about those schools. I have never worked at one. Just wanted to give a heads up before we got into it. 

Don't Go!

Let’s talk about all the reasons you shouldn’t go. It is essential to be extremely honest with yourself during the consideration process. If you aren’t you could end up in a world of hurt with no close family and friends around you to help you out. I don’t want any of these things to sound harsh but I do want to be honest about teaching and living abroad. 

You are running from something.

This is perhaps overall general life advice but you cannot run from yourself. You cannot run from your experiences. You cannot run from your problems. You cannot run from your past. You cannot. Moving to a new country doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a new person. Your life doesn’t become suddenly new. It is the same you, the same past, the same problems in a new country. The teachers I have met who moved to run from something are still running. Their experiences abroad have been difficult. They have had big breakdowns with none of the people who know and love them around. Be careful if you want to move abroad to get away from something. 

You are running to something. 

This one might sound strange but I have met so many young teachers who moved internationally to find the partner of their dreams. Perhaps moving for love could be a factor but it shouldn’t be the only factor. Also, dating a new country probably won’t go the same way as dating in your home country. Different cultures have different unwritten rules and expectations for dating. In Poland guys never speak to you at bars. They will not approach you. This can be alarming for some people who moved here to find the partner of their dreams. I’ve talked to a lot of teachers and a lot of young women especially list this as a top reason for moving internationally. Do you date a lot in your home country? Do you put yourself out there? How do you handle rejection and dating in your home country? I wouldn’t say this should be a very high priority on your list. Of course, date while teaching internationally but don’t go international just to date. Ya, feel me?

You’re not independent and don’t like to be alone. 

Let’s be real. There is a lot of alone time when you teach internationally. You have to be independent and able to stand on your own two feet. You have to be able to land in a new country and set up a life for yourself all by yourself. Despite having friends you sort of are all alone. Can you problem solve all by yourself? Are you ok being alone? I don’t necessarily mean lonely but alone. I think those are two different things. 

You have never spent a holiday away from your family or you have never lived far from home. 

Ok, hear me out on this one. Holidays are a big deal for many many people. Traditions live around holidays. Ask yourself if you will be ok not being home for Thanksgiving. What about Christmas? Can you handle your birthday all on your own? Is it ok if you can’t make a family member’s funeral? Wedding? It stinks missing out on lots of family time. But I knew I could handle it. I already skipped Thanksgivings and Easters. I already celebrated my birthday far away from home and I survived. Some people need to be close to family. A very good friend of mine in college explained that some people had wings but she had roots. Having roots isn’t a bad thing. But are you going to be really upset Facetiming your family on Thanksgiving? They’re all together hanging out. Eating pumpkin pie and watching parades. You’re alone and can’t even make your own pumpkin pie because you can’t find the ingredients. Is that ok to you? I do still celebrate Thanksgiving with a lot of fellow American teachers but I’ll be honest, it is not the same as hanging out at home. Not at all. Can you build new traditions around the holidays and be ok with leaving old traditions behind?

You are in a serious relationship and your partner isn’t joining you. 

I don’t mean that you’re married and your partner is coming with you. I mean that you have a partner that you’re leaving behind and going to try to make it work long distance. How strong are your feelings for this person? Is it hard to go a few days without seeing them? Can your relationship handle this? Do you trust them? This might sound silly but consider your relationship with your pets too. I left behind a family dog whom I love with all of my heart but who is also 15 years old. I can’t tell you how hard I cried hugging him goodbye at Christmas knowing that he might not be around the next time I return to the US. Can the relationships you’re leaving behind handle the distance?

You just suffered some sort of trauma in your life. 

This isn’t Under the Tuscan Sun. You aren’t going to hit a rough patch in your life, move abroad, buy a tuscan villa and fall in love with life. That is Hollywood and we live in the real world. Your life isn’t Eat, Pray, Love. Wandering around the world after enduring a trauma is very traumatic. Going back to the alone piece, you won’t have your support system with you. The people who listen and dry your tears won’t be in your timezone. You also won’t have the supports of the doctor’s and therapists you’re familiar with. The people I’ve seen struggle the most teaching internationally are the people who have suffered a trauma and moved abroad to teach. 

You have no savings. 

It is expensive to move especially if your school reimburses you for all your moving expenses in the first paycheck… or if they don’t reimburse you at all. Even though you can end up saving a lot of money while teaching internationally, the start up costs can be a lot. When I first moved to Poland there were a lot of start-up costs. I was reimbursed for some of them but I did have to put a lot of money into my move. Think: plane tickets, extra luggage, shipping, first month’s rent and security deposit, trips to IKEA, new phone plans, dinner with new friends, etc. The list could really go on and on. Moving is expensive and moving internationally can be even more expensive. Make plans so you don’t end up in a tough situation. 

You are set in your ways and perhaps close-minded. 

Living internationally is going to shake up your life. Like your whole life. It is going to shake you to your core. This sounds super dramatic and I don’t mean for it to be but… The majority of your beliefs are going to be tested. Can you handle trying to look at things through a new perspective? What happens when your core beliefs are challenged? How do you handle people doing things differently than you’re used to? I once witnessed a serious breakdown because someone felt the McDonald’s cheeseburger in Poland had pepper. I’m not kidding. If you value your McDonald’s a certain way… rethink things. In all seriousness, you need to be able to handle being the outsider and having people not understand your values in the least. 

You don’t want to start over.

Sometimes I just crave my classroom with all of my things that I have in storage in the US. Starting over is hard. I worked long and hard and spent so much money to build up an amazing collection of books. Now I have none of them… although, I have spent a ridiculous money on books since I’ve been in Poland. Starting over is hard and it isn’t for everyone. 

Yes! Go!

Now let’s talk about why you should go. Deciding to go was one of the most exciting decisions I’ve made. If these sound like you then start applying! 

You’re open to new possibilities.

Teaching internationally totally opens up your world. I have learned so much about myself as a teacher and I have learned so much about education since teaching internationally. Not only have I learned so much about myself as I teacher I have learned so much about myself as a person. I have tried things I never thought I would try. I have made the most amazing friends with people I might not have been friends with in the US. I am open to any experience that comes my way and that is a very important attitude to have. If you’re open to new possibilities and looking at things from a new perspective then international teaching is for you.   

You want to travel.

I really love traveling. I would actually love to be a travel blogger but… I don’t want to put in any of the work to actually do that. Flights in Europe are so cheap. I have been to so many different countries since moving here. I took a weekend trip to London once. When in your life do you ever just fly to London for the weekend just because? I went to see Beyoncé in Germany. I’ve been to Venice and visited friends in Spain. My passport has gotten a workout and I have seen so much. I still have so much to see. If you like to travel international teaching will open up that possibility for you. 

You want to learn and grow as a person.

I am all about personal development. You think I like growing and learning as a teacher? I LOVE growing and learning as a human? I seriously love it! I have learned so much about myself. I know who I am and I know what I stand for more than before. When you’re put in different situations than the ones you’ve always been in you learn a lot about yourself and you grow a lot.

You can handle being on your own.

I’ve always been the kind of person who is ok to to march to the beat of their own drum. I moved far away from home my first year after college. I learned a lot through that experience but I really learned how to stand on my own two feet. Being able to stand on your own is important. I have great friends here who are really like a second family but at the end of the day I am on my own. I like it and I sort of thrive when thrown out into the world all by myself. 

You can handle being away from friends, family, and pets.

I’ve missed out on friend’s weddings. I have missed out on the birth of my friend’s children. My dog might not be alive when I come home. That one hurts… a lot. But I knew going into this and I am ok with missing out on some stuff. Moving abroad has made my friendships at home grow stronger. I did lose a lot of friends when we just didn’t put in the time. The friends I have stayed in contact with will be my friends for life.  

You’re open to learning (and maybe failing at learning) a new language.

I attempted to learn Polish. I tried so hard and I also failed so hard. I know the basics and I can get by in a shop but I can’t have a full on conversation. Language is a struggle that some people can’t handle. In Poland most people know English and it isn’t too hard to figure things out while shopping or out in the world. Learning a new language isn’t easy but I think it is so so important to familiarize yourself with the language and the culture of your new country. I’ve learned so much about Poland, Polish and Polish culture.

Your family supports the idea.

This is really important. If you go abroad and your family doesn’t support the idea you are going to feel conflicted. It can be hard to make life choices that aren’t supported by your family. You are going to need your family support while living abroad. I constantly lean on my sister for support and advice, similar to how I did at home but in a different sense. If your family supports your choice, go! 

Deciding to go is no easy task. Once I knew that I was going to go I decided to keep that choice to myself. I didn’t want to hear other people’s opinions on it. I only told select people in my life about where I was applying and what my plans were. Once I knew I was going to go I didn’t want to be talked out of it by anyone. That worked for me but I know people who tell everyone. Deciding to go is a really exciting time.

Please share your thoughts, ideas and questions in the comments below. 

Next we’ll start talking about applying and interviewing. 

Friday Five: March Challenge

Friday Five: March Challenge


Welcome March

Let’s be real. I need a little kick in the pants when it comes to my blogging game. I have so many great ideas to share. I have so much training and experience to draw on. I do so much research that I think other teachers could benefit from but I just never take the time to put these big dreams in my head into action. That is about to change. You might notice that I had limited blog posts in February (and January but the idea didn’t happen until February) because I decided to spend February planning for March. Hello! Look at this gal figuring out how to plan! This means that there will be a new blog post coming your way almost daily. I say almost daily because I wanted this to be sustainable. Now while you’re reading throughout March I’m planning for April. Is this how legit bloggers do it? I would like to think so. 

If you want to be alerted of all the amazing content coming your way please make sure you subscribe to the blog… I’m not really one to beg for subscribers and there certainly aren’t a million popups encouraging you to do so but… maybe you don’t want to miss any amazing thoughts coming out of my head! 


So.. this week’s Friday Five is all about getting to know me! 


I Teach in Poland but I'm From Wisconsin

So many people ask, “why did you want to teach internationally?” and let me tell you, it is a hilarious tale. 

21 year old Natasha was student teaching in Green Bay, WI. My cooperating teacher graduated from the same college I had (in De Pere) and she was telling me that she student taught abroad in St. Lucia. I had studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. My friends were heading back in a few weeks for spring break. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to go back for spring break and my spring break no longer aligned with theirs because I was student teaching. So I was pretty bummed. I explained how bummed I was to my cooperating teacher and she said, “yeah. I always planned to go back but I haven’t made it yet.” 21-year-old Natasha panicked. My first thought… and this is now hilarious to write at an almost 30-year-old… was, “oh my gosh! What if I turn 30 and I still haven’t traveled back to Spain?!” The horror of it all. To be old and untraveled. I just laughed so hard I cried writing that sentence. BUT in my mind right then and there I decided that I would teach 5 years in Wisconsin and then I would move internationally. That’s exactly what I did. 

I taught three years in a small town in northwestern Wisconsin and then moved to Madison where I taught (in a suburb near Madison) for two years and then I moved to Poland. I’ve now been in Poland for three years and I have to say I really love it.


I love bold lipstick

Ok. I am a sucker for any and all things hot pink. A hot pink lip is no exception. I love a bold lip and I wear lipstick to school every day. Though I don’t always wear bold lipstick at school. I just love, love, love it! This year I didn’t wear lipstick one day and the next day one of my students said, “Woof! Lipstick again!” and breathed a sigh of relief… the kid really did say woof and sigh. I cannot sometimes! I cannot!


I Love to Travel

Well, one great thing about living in Poland is traveling throughout Europe is very accessible and not too expensive. I’ve traveled a lot in my three years here and I look forward to lots of traveling in my future. Traveling gives me life. I actually have another blog (that is updated maybe once a month… maybe) with my travel adventures.


I've Had Extensive Training in Math and Literacy

Now… I am not an expert in all things (please see image above! lol!) but I have been extremely lucky throughout my teaching career to receive excellent professional development. At my first school I was trained in Literacy Collaborate, a balanced literacy framework. We were originally affiliated with Ohio State and later switched to Lesley University. While there I also was trained in Math Recovery. These two trainings provided such a strong foundation to build upon as a teacher. The next school I worked at was a lab site for Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I got to work with amazing staff developers to further my professional growth. I also served as a Math Curriculum Leader during my time there and I am currently our Elementary Curriculum Team Leader. I’ve been trained in UbD by Jay McTighe and I am leading our elementary staff to rewrite our science curriculum. I trained our whole staff on Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System this year and we’re working to use data to inform our instruction. 

I have a lot of experience and knowledge and I want to share my expertise with more than just my colleagues. That’s why you’ll see me blog, almost daily, all month long! 

Friday Five: Valentines Week

Friday Five: Valentines Week

This was the week before our February break and you could feel it. The kids were checked out and I was exhausted. 


Macaroni and Cheese

You know what I miss most about the USA? Target! But do you know what is second? Quality macaroni and cheese. I think a lot of American expats feel this way. On Sunday a bunch of teachers gathered and had a macaroni and cheese contest. 

Now, I thought I should try something new. I went to the store and got everything I needed and I started to cook. I cooked and cooked and my kitchen looked like a disaster… I’m not the neatest of chefs. I finally finished and tasted a little and it tasted plain. Plain old boring. I debated leaving my macaroni and cheese at home but I brought it to the party anyway. Mine did not take home any prizes but people did like it. 

We ate so much macaroni and cheese and then swapped the leftovers so I came home with almost the same amount I left with. It was delicious! 


The Pad Incident

So… recycling has been a focus of our school this year. Our grade 1 class has learned a lot about recycling and we wanted to put recycling bins in every classroom. Another class was doing the same thing. So… they hung signs on all the trash cans in the school asking people to think to see if they could recycle before putting in the trash. 

Anyway… they put up signs in the bathroom near the grade 1/2 classrooms that said something like don’t flush pads. We just completed a Words Their Way sort the week before with the short a word pad. The sort showed a picture of a pad of paper. Kids were super confused about why people would even have a pad in the bathroom. Why would they try to flush it? It is so innocent and so hilarious! 


Printing Gone Bonkers

I don’t know what the deal was but I tried to print some stories and they just kept coming out like this. Not cool printer, not cool! Like, all I want to do is print some books off so I am all planned for when we get back from break. Luckily it only did this a few times before printing the real deal! 


The Plague Sweeps Through Grade 1

On Thursday we had two students absent because they weren’t feeling well and then FOUR went home with a fever! FOUR KIDS! Can you believe it. It seemed like every time I looked up another kid was staring at me with huge, tearful eyes begging to go to the nurse. I’ve never had so many kids go home sick on the same day. Something is going around and hopefully I dodged the bullet so I can have an excellent vacation week. I hope whatever this is passes quickly so these kids can have a great holiday. 




This week seemed extra long but also seemed to fly by. I know that doesn’t make sense but maybe if you’re a teacher it makes sense. I’m heading out of Poland for a week of relaxing and fun travel! 

How was your week? I hope it was wonderful! 

How many kids have you ever had leave school sick on the same day? How worried should I be about catching this illness?


Valentine’s Day- Seriously, It’s Not Valentimes!

Valentine’s Day- Seriously, It’s Not Valentimes!

First Of All...

If you teach elementary school then you probably know exactly what I mean when I say Valentimes. IT. IS. NOT. VALENTIMES. DAY. NO! 

We have to correct kids when they are pronouncing words incorrectly because they won’t be able to read them or spell them if they’re saying it wrong. One time I taught a student (who was wonderful but…) who said gynasics instead of gymnastics. Everyone thought it was so adorable until he tried to read a story about a girl who loved gymnastics…. He couldn’t figure out the word. He even said, “It should be gynasics but they spelled it wrong.” Then I had to tell him he was saying it wrong the whole time and it was not good. He was very upset no one told him and he was unnecessarily hard on himself. 


If your kids are saying Valetimes please correct them. Show them the word. Show them that it sounds like tines at the end not times and help the kids out! Also make sure that you’re pronouncing it correctly too! 

No Valentines in Poland

Valentine’s Day is super American. Super, super American. We love to take a whole day and devote it to love and friendship and buy things that are red and pink and send notes to each other filled with gushy messages. The rest of the world doesn’t really do Valentines Day. Not like we do. 

That means that you can’t go to a shop and purchase valentines for your class. There are no little chocolates in heart shape… although I think there are large boxes of heart chocolate. Anyway, this means that when we celebrate Valentines Day kids don’t have valentines to pass out. 


I Made My Own

This year instead of sending home a note with a list of names and an attempt to explain Valentine’s Day I sent home already made valentines. All the kids had to do was pick one for each classmate and color it in. Easy Peasy! (As my firsties say) 

If you too would like these valentines, they are free in my TPT shop

Except in true hypocrite fashion I’m not personally handing those valentines out. My assistant teacher and I found these Bella and Rosie Valentines from Pioneer Valley so we’re handing these out. Our kids are simply obsessed with Bella and Rosie!