Changing Our Thinking: Economy of Language

Changing Our Thinking: Economy of Language

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teachers using economy of language in the classroom.


Why We Talk

That seems like a very silly heading… why do teachers talk? Well, we talk because we need to say things to students. What sorts of things are teachers saying to students? The role of a teacher used to be primarily talking… talking as teaching. Teachers were viewed as the people who had the knowledge and students were viewed as the people who needed the knowledge. Classrooms were filled with teacher talk. In my head, I was just picturing a one-room schoolhouse with a teacher lecturing and having students repeat after her but even when I was in elementary school my teachers talked more than the students. 

My teachers talked and I listened, followed directions, took notes, completed assignments and talked at specific times. My talking wasn’t considered a priority in the classroom. Students talking was often considered a distraction or a waste of time.  

What's the Problem?

The person doing the talking is the person doing the learning. We are social beings and meaning is constructed through talk. Picture a young child around 3-4 all that child does is talk! Kids talk talk talk and as they talk they are making sense of the world around them. They’re figuring things out. People build meaning through talk.

Balanced literacy builds upon the child’s known and a child’s oral language is their known. When teachers are the only ones doing the talking or are the ones doing the majority of the talking children aren’t being given their own time to make meaning of what is happening in the classroom, of what they’re learning. 

Whoever is doing the talking is the one doing the learning. 

What to do Instead

Build in talk time. I build in time for conversations in every single period of every single day. Here is how I build it into my day.

Classroom Conversation- Each morning we have a conversation. We practice talking without raising hands. Together we set guidelines and we learn how to enter a conversation, how to encourage someone else to share in a conversation and how to end a conversation. These conversations are student-led and I do not speak during them. 

Turn and Talks- When teaching something new offer up time for the students to turn and talk with one another. Listen in as the students share ideas with one another. You’ll quickly be able to hear misconceptions, building upon ideas, and questions they might have. Allowing them to talk through things that are being taught allows them to build their understanding of what is being taught.

Read Aloud- Gosh! Let them talk during read aloud. Let them interrupt and ask their questions. Allow time for them to wonder. Ask questions to get them thinking and beginning to comprehend. Let them build meaning together.

Class Leaders- Give them a voice outside of learning time. In my classroom students frequently make announcements to one another. These announcements are as simple as, “someone didn’t push in their chair. We all need to push in our chairs so the classroom is safe.” or “I just found a marker without a cap. We need to find it and then we need to make sure our caps are clicked.” Teachers often make these sort of announcements but why not allow your kids to make them. They should feel empowered and want to take ownership of their classroom. 

Whispering In- During conversations, book clubs or even guided reading groups I often whisper to a student to share a question or idea instead of sharing in myself. This seems weird but it works. At first, when I was crawling around the edge of our conversation circle I felt so stupid. As I whispered in, “say why do you think Edward felt that way” during conversations and listening to kids parrot it out did not convince me I was doing what was best. BUT after a while, after coaching in with my quieter students and having them share what I was thinking they started sharing their own thoughts. As a conversation is going on I am listening in and I am also whispering a conversation with a student who might not chime in unless prompted. I am checking in on their learning and pushing them to share an idea. Any idea. When they are sharing an idea that isn’t their own they feel safer. If someone disagrees it is still ok. Whispering in has empowered my students who might just sit out to lean in. 

What I've Learned

Limiting my teacher voice in the classroom didn’t happen overnight. Let me tell you that there are still days where I do the majority of talking in my classroom. Nobody is perfect but on those days I am more conscious of what I am doing. I am reminding myself that I need to hear my students’ voices more than my own. I am checking in on student voices that I don’t always hear and together we are building community and growing in knowledge through conversation. 

How do you promote oral language and communication in your classroom? How do you ensure that students are talking and that you are listening? What questions do you have about limiting your teacher voice? Let me know in the comments below. 

…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!

Balanced Literacy: Conferring

Balanced Literacy: Conferring

Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on conferring. All the kids are independently reading and now it is your turn to teach! Let’s dive into how this works!

You might want to read Planning for Teaching During Independent Work Time before reading this post. It breaks down how to decide which teaching move to use during workshop. Conferring is just one option.

Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday to gain a better insight into using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom! 

What is Conferring?

Conferring is one-on-one with just a student and a teacher. The teacher typically follows the research, decide, compliment, teach method. First, the teacher will observe and research the skills the reader has and does not have yet. The teacher will decide what teaching is best for this student next. Then the teacher will compliment the reader to reinforce a skill they have. Next, the teacher will teach a new skill and practice it a few times with the reader before the reader is left on their own. This lasts about 5-7 minutes. 

How Do I Start?

Grab a small post it and make a t-chart. On one side write notice and on the other side write teach. Now, choose a student to confer with. Sometimes I observe a bit before I walk over to the student. Do they have a book out, do they have a pencil, what are they doing with most of their time? I jot down any sort of observable behavior I see. 


Research is the first phase of conferring. Here the teacher sees the student working independently. The teacher can see what skills, strategies, and behaviors the student knows,  almost knows and, doesn’t know yet. At times this last part will be the most obvious. Sometimes we research and just see lots and lots the student doesn’t know. The mini-lessons we’ve taught that they aren’t using or the previous conferring that isn’t being used. When this happens, look closer. You can’t build off of the unknown, only the known. Read more about the Zone of Proximal Development here

I like to observe a bit before I walk over and sit down next to the student. I also teach my readers and writers to keep working when I sit down next to them. Sometimes I dig in and read previous pages in their story or look at their reading log or post-its. After I’ve gotten a feel for what they’re doing it is time for me to talk to them. Usually, silent observation only takes about a minute. I like to ask what they’re working on as a reader or writer. I’ve found that opening line to bring forth the best conversations. Different teachers use different things. Try out a few lines to find your conferring style and see what works best for you. 

Sometimes I ask guiding questions related to our mini-lesson. At times I’ll ask what they’ve tried that didn’t work out recently or what they’ve tried out that was a big success. It all depends on the reader. The questions you want to ask will tell you what the reader can do and what they need help with. That is what you want to determine.

During the research phase (and every phase) jot down some notes. Record keeping is so important in balanced literacy… and all of teaching. I like to keep open notes. This means that I will always share my jots with the students. It can stress students out if they know you’re writing about them and you don’t show them what you’re writing. Imagine if your principal observed you and jotted down lots of things and then never shared them. It would frustrate me so I make sure not to do the same to my students. After sharing notes a few times students don’t continue to ask. 


This phase is sort of incorporated into research but it is significant enough to have its own section. Once you know what you can compliment and teach the research phase is over… and so is the decide phase! A lot of times this phase happens quickly at the end of research. You’ll see something the reader/writer is doing to reinforce and you’ll see something you want to teach them. 

The teaching point is something that the student is almost doing. They’re right on the edge but they just need some tips to finally do it. This teaching point is something you want the students to be able to complete independently forever and ever (with a bit of reinforcement) for the rest of their reading and writing lives. Keep that in mind as you choose the teaching point. It shouldn’t be something that they don’t know and aren’t even close to doing. That is much too big for conferring. Think what is one step this reader/writer can take toward this large goal today. One step they can take on today by themselves.

Sometimes you can’t decide on a teaching point. Sometimes you sit and observe a reader and jot down a lot but nothing comes to mind. If this happens, compliment and then walk away. Plan later for that reader/writer and then confer with them another day. Don’t waste their time. It happens to all of us. 


The compliment serves several purposes during conferring. It helps build a positive relationship between you and your reader/writer. We all like to hear positive things about what we’re doing. It helps readers and writers recognize the good work they’re doing and encourages them to continue that good work. It also butters them up to hear something that they need to work on. Let’s be real, we all like to hear something good before we hear something that we need to work on. Sometimes my compliment will lead to my teach especially if I want to build off of the good things that are happening. 

Every teacher has a different way to document their compliments. I usually put a star by it on my conferring sheet. Sometimes I’ll circle it. Some teachers jot it under the teach and just know the first bullet is always the compliment. Everyone does it differently. Find what works for you. Below I jotted down the language I might use. Remember, this language might not feel natural to you- try out a bunch of stuff to figure out what works for you. You want to come off genuinely during the entire conference so using someone else’s words might not work out. You’ll get it with more and more practice.


Now the reader has heard a compliment and they are ready to hear something to work on. Our readers and writers will get the hang of the pattern of a conference so after the compliment they know they’ll get a tip to make them an even better reader or writer. I always use language to explain that all readers and writers are good but we can become even better. Also… a bit of a tangent here but I share my reading and writing life with my class so they can see my strengths and struggles too. Ok back to the teach. 

Your teaching point should follow the same sort of format as a mini-lesson teach. It should be quick, focused and explicit. 

Teacher: “I want to teach you one thing today that is going to help you as a reader. Readers pay attention to many details while they read a book. One thing they keep track of is the characters in a book. They get to know them just like they are old friends and can predict what they’re going to do before they do anything. To keep track of characters at the beginning of a book or series. You may want to make a post-it for each character, just in the beginning, to help you keep track. Let’s do that here. Who are the main characters?”

Student: “Jack and Annie” *inspired by Magic Tree House*

Teacher: “Ok, let’s list Jack here and Annie here. Let’s list down some things we know about Jack here. What do you know about Jack?”

Student: “I don’t know.” Here a student might say something. If you already know this is going to be the response skip the question.”

Teacher: “Let’s read a bit to help us figure out what we know about Jack. We can pay attention to what the characters say and how they act. That will teach us a bit about who they are.” 

This goes on until we have a few things for Jack. Then the teacher could prompt the student to try Annie on their own.

The teacher will want to circle back to this student at the end of the book but before the student reads the next book in the series. Students should know that Jack likes to follow the rules and complete the mission according to the rules every time. Annie is more impulsive. She likes to explore and is more adventurous than Jack. Annie always puts them into some sort of danger at the last moment and Jack is so worried. They always escape just in time. Knowing these things about Jack and Annie will help the reader of any Magic Tree House book. 

Knowing how to get to know book characters by paying attention to their actions and their words is a skill that a reader could use in every story they encounter.

Teacher: “I want to teach you one thing that will help you become a better writer. Writers use paragraphs when they write to organize information for their reader. Let’s take a look in this story to see how writers use paragraphs.” Here I would pull out a class read aloud or a familiar story to show paragraphs. 

Teacher: “You can see that each paragraph is about one topic. It helps to organize information so that the reader can read it easier. Can you imagine if this whole page was just words without breaks? It would be sort of hard to read. Do you see that each paragraph starts on its own line and the first word is pushed in a little bit, that’s called indented. Now, we won’t rewrite your whole story but let’s figure out where we could make a paragraph.” The teacher and student could reread the story so far and add a mark where each paragraph should begin. Perhaps this student is one sentence into what should be a new paragraph, then you might consider having the writer erase and start a new paragraph. Don’t make them erase lots and lots though, that’s discouraging. 

Circle back to this writer before the end of workshop to check in and see if they have paragraphs. You might even want to sit with them and watch them write until it is time for a new paragraph. It all depends on how much support the writer needs taking on this new knowledge. Make sure to compliment them when they do! 

Using paragraphs can be a hard thing to master. If we push students into paragraphs before they’re ready they use them infrequently and often incorrectly. Using paragraphs is a huge transferable skill. Often we teach students a number of sentences in a paragraph but writers don’t count sentences. Do you think J.K. Rowling went back through her paragraphs to make sure they were 3-5 sentences in length and somethings seven? No! That isn’t what writers do. Teaching paragraphs through writing conferences when a student is ready will ensure greater success and less formulaic understanding. We want writers to understand what they do and why so they can transfer that knowledge into new contexts. 


Now you’ve complimented, taught and you’re ready to leave your reader/writer behind. You might want to leave behind a reminder of the conference. Sometimes I re-create a piece of our anchor chart to leave behind on a post-it. Other times I leave a small note of encouragement. I make sure the reader/writer can continue their work as I leave them with high levels of success. 

Now… I used educlips clipart here but I don’t just draw like this on the go. These would most likely (100%) be stick people. Don’t feel like your artifact has to look this beautiful! 

The lines here would probably be scribbles. I might want to label the new line and indent if I think the writer might need them. I also refer the writer to a page to check if they aren’t sure. This helps to create independence in the new skill. 

Are You Ready to Confer?

This week choose just one or two students in your class to confer with. Grab a post-it, make a t-chart and start. Your conferences won’t always go perfectly- I’ve been conferring for over 8 years and mine still don’t always go according to plan. Just try it and then keep going. I highly recommend starting out with compliment only conferences. These might be the least intimidating. All you have to do is find one thing to reinforce with the student through conferring. 

Click here to download free conferring templates!

Leave your questions and comments below! I can’t wait to hear how conferring is working out for you! 

Changing Our Thinking: Assessing, Not Assuming

Changing Our Thinking: Assessing, Not Assuming

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing the importance of not making assumptions about students and using assessment to guide our instruction.


How We Discuss Students

Kevin is good at math. DaQuain is good at science. Kara is good at reading. Amaria is good at writing. Teachers used to define students by what they were good at and what they aren’t good at. Recently I heard a colleague say, “And she is really good in math… you know, even though she is a girl.” This came out not even moments after I was praised for including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) in my class this year. “It is so good for the boys. They really need that time. The girls like it too…” There is a real danger in categorizing kids and then holding kids to the label that has been applied. This becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers end up pushing kids harder in the subjects they are good at and creating excuses for them in the areas they aren’t so good at. I’m sure that as a child I was labeled good at reading and not good at math. I knew it. Teachers had lower expectations of me in math and I had lower expectations of myself. 

We need to believe that all students can learn every subject. All students can do challenging things. All students can learn. Our learners might have different learning styles and they might become proficient at different times but all learners can learn. 

What's the Problem?

Recently I completed an addition fact inventory of my students. We sat down one on one and I asked them different facts. What is one plus four? What is six plus zero? I took note of what they did. Could they answer the question? Could they answer the question within five seconds? This is part of our schools definition of fluent. Could they explain how they solved the fact? What strategy did they use? This information was so helpful to me as a teacher. My role in the assessment process was simply to document- yes they did, no they did not, what did they do. I was as objective as I could be. Later I was asked by a peer why I assessed everyone. Why didn’t I just assess the kids who were bad at math? 

The assumption that some of my students are bad at math and some are not is inherently problematic BUT the fact that we would assess students only based on our assumptions is extremely problematic. Listen, there is a saying about assuming things. Do you know it? If you assume you make an ass out of you and me. Just look at the spelling… Ok, inappropriate jokes aside, assuming is so harmful to student learning. 

While completing this fact inventory one of the students who might be considered the highest struggled the most. Had I assumed this student knew because he almost always has an answer first would have meant I missed gaping holes in his understanding of numeracy. One of my students who takes the longest to answer math problems and might be considered low actually had the best strategies for solving. This student consistently structured to five or ten and could always explain how they arrived at an answer. 

In reading, the same applies. I have a student who is quite a high decoder but while reading has very limited comprehension. This child would be considered a good reader and might not be assessed because she can decode. When kids miss comprehension questions while doing B.A.S. I can’t say, “Oh they know. They just made a mistake.” If kids actually know, they’ll do it. Sure, everyone has off days but, is this mistake due to an off day or a lack of understanding somewhere. I always try act as though it is a lack of understanding. Giving the benefit of the doubt during assessments doesn’t help student learning. 

The problem with making assumptions about our students is that we’ll usually get it wrong. When we make incorrect assumptions we are missing out on opportunities to teach. 

What to do Instead

Remain Objective

The most important thing I know about assessing students is go in with an empty mind. Try to be as objective as possible. Notice what students can and cannot do. Act as though this student belongs to another teacher. What do you notice? What can this child do independently? What understandings does this child have? What partial understandings does this child have? Are there any misunderstandings? These are the questions that will assist us as teachers. 

Assess Everyone

Don’t skip over kids because you’re sure they know. Assess all of your students. If you think they have an understanding and then see that they do have understanding- great! If you think they have an understanding but see that there are some misunderstandings- great! Now you can use this information to guide your instruction. Just the other day I noticed a student drawing tallies to solve a math problem but then counting by ones. This is information I can use to teach. I now know we need to work on structuring to fives. What do you know, this student doesn’t know how to count by fives past 20. Ok, now we’re talking. Now this is information that I can use. Imagine if I saw tallies and then just assumed this student knew how to use them. 

Don’t Give Kids the Benefit of the Doubt

Just, please. Recently during reading assessments I had a student who retold every story backwards. The student always started with the ending and then retold back to the beginning. This is something I hadn’t noticed before. I immediately thought, he must know. Why is he doing this today? If had just made an assumption and given him the points on the assessment he didn’t earn I would have missed this opportunity. Later while speaking with him he said he likes to start with what he remembers first. We later read a story about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Being able to retell a story in the order it happened is an important skill. We can work on this skill now. Giving him the benefit of the doubt would have meant a missed opportunity for learning. 

Understand That a Single Assessment is a Snapshot

I know this is totally cliché. I know but I am still going to say it. One assessment is just a single picture of learning in one particular moment and setting. You need to take each assessment as fact but don’t forget to put it back into the larger context of learning. 

Maybe today one of my students didn’t know four divided by two when I asked on the fact inventory but can always do it in class. I watch for the next few days and notice that this student consistently demonstrates proficiency. After observing I notice that the student does know how to divide by two. I can ask him the problem again and see or maybe I just decide he knows based on what I have observed and move on. Just make sure that this decision is based on something concrete and not an assumption. It is never bad to give additional practice just to check.

What I've Learned

Assessing students can be a tricky thing. I know that it is best to try to remove all bias when assessing. Look into their misunderstandings and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s tricky but I know that with practice it gets easier. 

Happy New Year! Resolutions for Teachers

Sparkler New Year Teacher Resolutions

Happy New Year! 

I hope this new year brings a lot of great things your way. While I’m not a big fan of resolutions in my personal life, I do always set some in my teacher life. Here are 10 resolutions I think all teachers should have this year. 

1. Build Stronger Relationships

Classrooms rise and fall based on the relationships within. Take time to get to know your students. Each morning or class period when they come in take a moment to greet them by name. Ask them how they’re doing. Acknowledge them when they do great things or when they attempted to do great things but didn’t quite make it. The more positive your relationships with your students the better atmosphere within your classroom.

Create stronger relationships with the adults that pop into your room too. Check in with them when you see them. Say hello with a smile! Get to know a bit more about them. Even if it is just a teacher who pops in for 10 seconds to pull a kid out. The stronger the relationships between the adults in your classroom the better functioning your classroom will be. Remember it takes a village, you aren’t at this alone. 

2. Become More Culturally Responsive

Over the last few years I have learned a lot about being culturally responsive. I am in no way done learning and have so much that I am still learning. I learned a lot in 2018 and I’m working to learn ever more in 2019.

Every educator should strive to be culturally responsive. We have racist educators all over the country and even the world. At Halloween, we had teachers dress up as the boarder wall and Mexicans. As if that’s not bad enough we had more teacher defending what they did because they’re “good people.” Now, let’s get real here, good people aren’t racist. They just aren’t. We can’t ignore the fact that this was blatant racism. Sometimes we like to find comfort in calling racist acts things like “a lapse in judgement” or “insensitive” while it is both of those things it is also straight up racist. Step outside of your comfort zone.

It isn’t enough to not be racist, we have to be actively anti-racist. 

Ok, so how do you become more culturally responsive and anti-racist? Good question. First of all you must understand that it is not a member of the global majority’s problem to fix racism. You also learn about terms like global majority and don’t brush off politically correct terms but learn why the shift in language is important. It is also not their problem to educate you when you don’t understand something or when you feel uncomfortable or attacked. Ok now here are some easy steps to follow to become more culturally responsive.

  1. Follow people of the global majority on social media. We all have social media so do a little review of who you’re following. If you are only following people who look and think like you (or slightly differently but pretty much the same) then this is a place to start. Your social media should be both a window and a mirror. I would argue a window more than a mirror.  If your social media just provides a mirror to you then you must find some windows. I started with my social media this year and it made a world of difference. 
  2. Teach about different cultures year round… and accurately. You better not be pulling out resources about Black Americans for the first time on Martin Luther King Jr Day. Don’t teach that Martin Luther King Jr’s dream has been realized in this country when there is inequality all around us. When I was in college we learned that the old way of teaching went like this… Imagine a storage room near a classroom and in the storage room there are different boxes filled with books and activities related to people of the global majority. During certain points in the year the box comes off the shelf and is taught about and then returned. Oh, it’s Black History Month, let’s learn about slavery and civil rights. Oh, it’s Cinco de Mayo let’s learn about Mexicans. Time to learn about Native Americans because it is Thanksgiving. Oh it’s Woman’s History Month let’s learn about women’s place in history. Let me tell you that I went to college a long time ago but there are classrooms who still pull out the boxes (perhaps figuratively), feature a global majority group, and put the boxes back on the shelf. We have to do better. 
  3. Buy resources created by members of that culture. Is the resource about Black History Month created by a Black American? What better way to make sure your resource is accurate than get it directly from the source. Also what better way to support people of the global majority than to purchase resources from them. Don’t do cute, do meaningful and educational and accurate. 
  4. Examine your own bias and explore your identity. Sometimes I see posts on Instagram or Twitter and they rub me the wrong way. When this happens I reflect a bit and try to decide why that happened. Then I do research and try to educate myself further. We all need to do this. I was raised in a white family in a white conservative neighborhood. I didn’t know much about people who were different than me. I can’t live in that bubble and I need to realize that I may have certain biases because of this. I need to recognize my own bias and work to learn more and confront it. We can all learn more about ourselves and grow. 
  5. Remember: You don’t get to decide what is an isn’t racist. If a First American says using the word tribe or spirit animal is offensive to their culture you stop. If someone says it is offensive to dress in their cultural dress, you don’t. As a person who is not a member of the global majority, I listen to those who are and take the lead from them. Just because you just don’t see racism on a daily basis does not mean that it does not exist. Recognize that privilege and try to do something for the cause. It isn’t enough to not be racist we must actively be anti racist if we want to see true equality in our future. Isn’t that what we want for all of our students? 

3. collaborate More WIth Your Peers

First of all, if you skipped number 2 because it made you feel uncomfortable or because you’re not racist go back and read it- it is 100% meant for you. 

Stop. Collaborate and Listen. Can you ever start writing about collaboration without a little nod to Vanilla Ice? I don’t think so. Collaboration is what makes or breaks teachers. I have learned so much through collaborating with peers. A district I used to work for constantly repeated that the smartest person in the room was the room. Think about that. We can learn so much from each other and I think collaborating is sometimes overlooked. You are surrounded by so many smart, wonderful and brilliant teachers-why not collaborate more with them. Even if you disagree about education philosophies you can always learn something new through collaboration. 

4. Create a Classroom With More Joy

Once when I was teaching in WI we had to write our SLO about reading. We emailed a professor at a nearby university because our district always said students below grade level should move up 1.5 years over the course of a year. We wanted to read more research on this practice before setting our goal. Instead of emailing us back with any research she emailed us to say we should set a grade level goal based on joy within the classroom. While it didn’t work for our SLO, I think creating more joy in the classroom is always a good idea. 

This resolution goes hand in hand with the first resolution on this list. How often are kids smiling in your classroom? Do you hear laughter coming from within? Are kids eager to learn and engage in learning? Are student interests at the heart of your classroom?

5. Use Your Planning Time Intentionally

Sometimes I like to pretend that I always use my planning time wisely but I don’t. Sometimes I spend my planning time chit chatting with my teacher friends who also have prep. Sometimes I spend my planning time catching up with my assistant. Sometimes I use my planning time to walk a lap around our entire school, which is sometimes needed. All of the things I do can be great but they can also get in the way of the work that needs to be done. 

Sharing assessment data and planning next steps for certain students is important to chat about with my assistant teacher. Getting ideas and brainstorming is helpful chatting with my teacher friends. Taking a walk while reflecting on an idea is useful. 

Plan out what you use each prep time for and stick to it. I started doing that at the start of the school year and it has been a game changer. First of all, I am so much more productive during the day. I hardly bring anything home anymore. Second of all my classroom has run so much smoother. Of course from time to time I have to step away from my scheduled out preps due to a meeting or something but it really does work wonders. 

6. Learn a New Skill

When was the last time you learned a new skill? If you are a teacher and you can’t remember then that is a problem. This past year I became a Google Certified Educator, maybe that would be a place to start. Read a book, try something new, engage in a twitter chat, do SOMETHING NEW. 

Right now I am working on my Level 2 Google educator certification and it is tricky. Mostly because I teach first grade with one iPad so I don’t have a lot of use for all the cool Google features but I am learning a lot. Learning is what is important. Seek out opportunities for learning and growth in your professional life. 

7. Organize Yourself and Your Time

A major goal of mine within the classroom is organization. If you only know me outside of school, you’ll think this is hilarious because I am the least organized person in the world. At school, I must have a Sasha Fierce type of alter ego who is extremely organized. (If you do not know who Sasha Fierce is then you need to hit up Google ASAP or unfollow this blog #beyonceforlife) 

This resolution obviously relates to resolution number 5. I do have one schedule prep (not the whole time but a chunk) set aside for organization. When I am organized the world is happy. I don’t have the most organized class this year and we are taking time each month to work on different organizational goals. Currently, we’re working on putting caps back on markers. We’re in the midst of a serious marker crisis. Each day we’re losing upwards of 7 markers due to cap issues. I find this insane! We might have a marker lockdown if this sitch continues into February. Also, if you have any solutions, hit me up! 

8. Increase Student Engagement

More student engagement leads to more joy. (Something I just made up but can probably be proven true.) Please see resolution number 4 about joy. Every once in a while I’ll do a quick engagement survey to see where we’re at. A post about completing an engagement survey will be up on the blog soon. You might want to subscribe so that you don’t miss out. 

Increase engagement by following student interest. We recently read The Quickest Kid in Clarksville and my kids were fascinated by Wilma Rudolph. We then searched our classroom library database and found Wilma Unlimted in the grade 4 classroom library. We had to run to that classroom immediately and interrupt their learning to get it! We were so excited! This story is LONG. Like really long for first graders. It also uses so many hard words. I thought for sure our class was going to give up the quest to learn more about Wilma but we did not. After reading (over the course of 3 weeks) the story they wanted to see if there were any youtube videos of her racing. There were. Now some kids are researching further. This was not in the plans. I just read The Quickest Kid in Clarksville with the intention of focusing on character actions and feelings but we ended up doing a little research on Wilma Rudolph. Instead of learning about characters we learned that readers can find out more about what they read by researching. The squeals of delight that came from our classroom as the kids saw a picutre on google that was also in the text wmade this completely worthwhile. 

9. Use Less Worksheets

Yeah… we gotta talk. It might be time for you and the copier to start seeing other people. I’m not saying you can’t be friends and see each other from time to time but you don’t need what it’s giving you on the daily. Trust me you and your students will be better off if you just take a break. I don’t make many copies at all. We use a lot of whiteboards and scrap paper to work on problems. Recently our school’s copier has been on the fritz and it has caused me to rethink a few things. Maybe just play pretend that the copier is broken. Can you still deliver your content without the paper? Maybe not, then make your copies but maybe you can reimagine your class and find a new possibility. 

10. Create a Better Work/Life Balance

Since living in Poland my work/life balance has hit the ultimate balance. This is partially due to the culture and the expectations of teachers at my school. I wouldn’t be honored as a teacher or be considered so dedicated if I worked all weekend or extra long hours each day. People would be concerned about my time management and just think I was straight up crazy. There is more to life than teaching. Happy teacher, happy classroom. Stressed teacher, stressed classroom. 

Click The Image Your Free Printable!

Happy New Year! 

Take a moment to leave a comment with one of your resolutions for the rest of this school year!