One Simple and Easy Way to Improve Communication with Families and Five Reasons Why I Do It!

one_simple_way_to_improve_communicationDo you find it hard to keep close communication with the families of your students? Are families involved in seeking you out? Do parents complain about you not being in contact with them often or soon enough? Are you tired of coming to work early or staying late to make phone calls? Are you replying to e-mails or returning/making phone calls during your plan, or worse, during instructional time?

Perhaps you feel none of this applies to you, because maybe the families of the children in your class seem not to be interested or simply do not have time to actively engage for a variety of reasons. Even if this is the case, as professional educators, it is our responsibility to reach out and communicate with families.

Pennsylvania has adopted Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as the vision for effective instruction. There is a rubric in which each teacher is evaluated annually in four different domains. In Domain 4 – Professional Responsibilities: Component 4c: Communicating with Families, there are three elements: teachers are to provide information about instructional  programs, about individual students, and engage families in the instructional program.

There are four levels of performance in which a teacher can fall into upon being observed. They are unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, and distinguished. I feel that as educators we can only be the best if we strive for the best. So, for the purposes of this post, I will only focus on what it takes to be a distinguished educator in this area. Below is what teachers need to do in order to earn a distinguished level of performance when communicating with families. The first row is the standard, the second row outlines the critical attributes, and the 3rd column includes some examples of what teachers can do. Keep in mind that a distinguished level includes all the qualities of a proficient level.

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Would you receive a distinguished score?

So what do I do to make this component easier for me?

I use Class Dojo.

Class Dojo is an internet and app based way to communicate with families about behavior, academics, and classroom and school happenings. It allows teachers and families to share photos, videos, group messages, individual messages before, during, and after the school day. It is a quick and efficient way for teachers and families to communicate.

5 Reasons I Like and Use Class Dojo

1) It’s Free – As teachers we seem to dig into our pockets more than we’d like to and maybe even more than we should. Most teachers spend their own money on decorations, posters, personal use office supplies such as EXPO dry-erase markers as opposed to school provided dead-erase markers that die after one use. Many teachers even provide their students with supplies such as pencils, pencil cases, crayons, markers, binders, notebooks, scissors, etc. all out of necessity and out of the kindness of their hearts. But the fact that Class Dojo is free made me jump for joy!

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This is an image I created with an app called Pic Collage, and shared with families on Class Dojo. Providing families with instructional information at it’s best!

2) Family Engagement – This is by far the main reason why I use Class Dojo. I never really struggled with communicating with families. Well, maybe I did. I bit the bullet, and I came early and stayed late almost everyday my first 4-5 years of teaching to make phone calls, or to send and reply to e-mails. I called during my plan, and my least favorite of all, I called during instructional time. But nevertheless, my families heard from me. I sent letters home over the summer (read my post about “How to Build Strong and Real Relationships with Your Students and Their Families” by clicking here). I e-mailed parents, sent hand-written letters , wrote notes in planners, typed whole class letters and had students take them home for parents to sign, had students write letters to families, invited parents into the classroom, stayed after school for family involvement activities, and went to my many of my students’ events outside of school. Even doing all of this, I have never had 100% of the families in my class be actively involved. It was my hope that Class Dojo would help with that. To a certain extent it has because I am able to communicate with families quicker and more frequently. But that is only with the families that have signed up for Class Dojo. I have 24 students in my homeroom and half of the families are connected. I will look at the bright side of this. Last year, I had less families connected! 🙂 Another positive is that I do not have to call, e-mail, or write letters to 24 families all the time. I only have to do that for 12! (Plus 15 in my second class. Eight of the families are connected.) It is very convenient to type up reminders for families in addition to letters that have been sent home. Sometimes I take a picture of a letter that is to go home, and send it to the families on the Dojo so no one can say they never saw the paper. I informed parents that I changed seats, and the mother of one of my students asked were there problems. I said no, I promised the kids I would change them over a week ago, and they were starting to bug me about not doing it. She laughed. The rapports I have with the families on the Dojo are amazing!

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Comments I have received via Class Dojo from two different families. One an academic concern the other a social concern.

3) PBIS – Many schools across the nation have adopted a Positive Behavior Intervention Support program also known as PBIS. My school is one of the schools that has done so. The Watson Institute (the organization that is assisting my school in effectively implementing our PBIS program) defines PBIS as being “based on proactive principles with the goal of teaching desired behaviors, reinforcing and recognizing students who are able to model the desired behaviors, and providing systems to support students who struggle with compliance or may present with more challenging behaviors.  PBIS is more than a ‘behavior plan”.  When implemented with consistency, this approach not only improves and sustains social and emotional well-being of students; it also improves and sustains academic achievement.”

I think the word consistency is key here. I find it often difficult to keep track of students behaviors day in and day out. This is especially true when many of the students in one class exhibit off-task behaviors. Yes, my school is located in a poverty stricken neighborhood that is filled with a high population of special education students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and is extremely transient. All of this contributes to the kinds of behaviors we see each and every day. Just the other day, there was a student screaming bloody murder in the hall 15 minutes after the start of school.  Sad to say, but this is sometimes normal. This is why the PBIS program is so important to our building. And monitoring behavior is one thing that Class Dojo allows teachers to do.

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Behavior Chart. 

The point system on Class Dojo allows us to keep track of specific behaviors students exhibit. My partner teacher and I added our schools PBIS expectations and rules to Class Dojo. We allotted specific points for each expectation and rule. Students earn and lose points as necessary based on the exhibited behaviors. Additionally, we can write notes detailing the students’ behavior, the intervention taken, and the rationale behind it. Very useful for a PBIS Tier 1 Intervention. We also have clip charts in our rooms such as the one at right. (We are required to use a full class behavior monitoring system. I mention this because there are some teachers that are opposed to Class Dojo and clip charts for various reasons. As with everything, they have pros and cons. Another conversation for perhaps a future post). But depending on where a students’ name is throughout the day determines how many points they earn for the day (Students names are able to move up and down the chart throughout the day).

At the end of the report period, any student that has earned 500 points on Class Dojo earns a free lunch or treat with me and partner teacher. Not everyone earns 500 points, but everyone earns points, and those points are allowed to be spent. My partner teacher has created a classroom store with a variety of items that students can purchase with their points. Students can buy school supplies, snacks, lip gloss/chap stick, posters, homework passes, extra-gym passes, sit in the teachers’ seat for a day, and many other choices. Every student is able to purchase something, even our worse behaved students! (I am happy to say that we do not have many between our two classes this year.)

Another thing I do in my room is each time the whole class earns 1000-1500 points, I allow them to earn 20-30 minutes of free-time (games, whole class video, computers, reading, paper projects, desk-cleaning, reading, talking to me, etc). I am extremely unlikely to allow my students to have any downtime, so I had to sort of force myself to come up with a plan to allow the kids to be kids and to interact with them in this setting and not focus on standards, assessments, homework, and academics all the time. I cringed writing that sentence. Preparing them for testing stresses me out. I want them all to grow. But we all need breaks to help us grow.

While I do not particularly like point system (again, another conversation for another post), the kids and the families do, so I stick with it. It also helps students that need recognition, get recognition. I tend to give more points than I take away which helps me meet many of the goals of the PBIS program. I focus on the desired behaviors and let students know when I notice it.

4) Activities – In addition to Class Dojo being a free app, there are a variety of free activities that are provided to teachers to use in their classrooms. Anyone that is anyone should be aware of the buzzword for 2016, “Growth Mindset.” (Although it is a buzzword, it is based on solid evidence and psychology). At the beginning of the school year, my partner teacher and I used the Growth Mindset videos and shared those with our students in hopes of helping them to understand what it is, but also to help them perhaps develop this particular mindset regarding their learning in and out of school. In addition to this, we posted the videos to our classroom stories so that families were able to view them later. The week before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I received a notification from Class Dojo informing me of an available activity to use with my students that would allow me to help my students understand Dr. King’s struggles to push the Civil Rights Movement forward and how he persevered. Talk about one less thing to plan for! Typically you will find a video that will last no longer than 10 minutes and a follow-up activity that can deal with social and emotional learning or creativity as of now.

5) Collaboration – My partner teacher and I collaborate regarding behavior and fun activities now more than ever! I tend to want to stay to myself, but Class Dojo has inspired me to be more open to working hand-in-hand with my partner teacher more often. We have a plan that the students know we will follow in both classes, and all students are aware of the plan because we implemented it together. Other than the subjects we teach and our own personal teaching style, the rules are consistent across the two classrooms. That felt great to say! Other teachers in our building have joined our school community on Class Dojo, and I feel that other teachers will join soon as they learn more about it.

Class Dojo is easy and simple to use, and allows more opportunities to communicate with the families of my students more frequently. The downside is not all of the families have connected or will connect to the Dojo. This is to be expected. Class Dojo is not the cure to family involvement, but it can assist in getting more families involved. It can also help you earn a distinguished level on your teacher evaluation for family involvement.

If you are interested in learning more about Class Dojo and the benefits for your classroom or school, CLICK HERE.

As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s find different ways to make sure all of our students get recognized for positive reasons. If you already use Class Dojo, what are some things you like about it? What are some things you dislike about it? If you decide to give it a try, come back here and let us know your thoughts. I am always looking forward to hearing from you!

Also, remember to follow the blog or follow me on Pinterest

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

This post is purely written for you; my readers. I was not approached by Class Dojo to write this nor am I receiving anything for writing this. This is my personal and honest opinion about a program that I use to help manage my classroom. I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and will share it with others.

As a final note, some of you may be wondering about privacy laws when it comes to Class Dojo. Tamara Russell, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher I follow, has a well written post about why she fell out of love with Class Dojo. I have read it about 3 times now. Everything she says makes sense and holds truth. Maybe one day I will change my mind about using Class Dojo, but it serves the purpose I need it for. Her reason has everything to do with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). You can read her post here by clickink on this sentence. You can also find out how Class Dojo maintain’s FERPA’s compliance here.

 

3 Reasons You Should Read Ruby K. Payne’s book: A Framework for Understanding Poverty (Revised Edition)

The life of a wife, mom, teacher, wanna-be-edublogger, and a lengthy list of other roles I play is not easy to navigate. Can you relate?

I originally started writing this post about two months ago! I know, right!? That’s quite a bit of time. Well, I am happy to say that life and health has been and is good. However, my work-life balance was not good. I was not focused. I was all over the place. My friends and co-workers were asking me how I was able to do all that I was doing, and to be honest I was not doing it all. Okay, I take that back. I was doing it all, but none of it was as good as it could have been. I had to put blogging on the back burner until I figured how to focus and manage my time. I am still not sure I figured it out, but Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work week Club is helping me to become more productive day in and day out.

With that being said, I have done tons of reading since I have last posted. Reading is food for my brain while writing is working out for my mental stability. I need them both in my life like I need air to breathe.

I recently finished reading five different books. “Midwife’s Confessions” by Diane Chamberlain, “Most Wanted” by Lisa Scottoline (pronounced like Fettuccine), “The Ice Cream Girls,” by Dorothy Koomson, “The Mistletoe Secret,” by Richard Paul Evans, and “A Framework For Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne, PhD.

I know, I know…Why? How? When? I enjoy reading in my leisure time (not that I have much). It’s relaxing to me, and keeps my brain mentally stimulated. I feel more intelligent when I read and write. I am also a member of a book club, and we are approaching our 7th year. I am not an extremely fast reader, as I over analyze many things or get distracted by the other million and one things I need to do on any given day, but I enjoy the stories, and the conversations that arise after having read.

The Chamberlain and Scottoline books were for my book club. It took me about 5 weeks to finish “Midwife’s Confessions.” I finished “Most Wanted” in about a week!  I listened to this book on CD while driving to and from work, and any other time I was in my car. I call it vocabulary development for my little one (LOL!) It only took me a week to complete it, and to my surprise, I enjoyed listening to it. Even though I enjoyed listening to it, I still read at least 1-2 chapters each night before bed. To me, there is nothing like having a real book in my hands and turning the pages and seeing the amount of pages left to read get smaller and smaller.

“The Ice Cream Girls,” and “The Mistletoe Secret,” were also book club reads. I read both of these books because I could not find the audio books in the library. However, each of these books were fairly easy reads, and page turners. I could not wait to find out why these girls were called Ice Cream Girls! That part was actually my least favorite, but the meat of the book, the character development and the plot was thick and juicy and I could not put it down. Richard Paul Evans is one of my favorite authors, because his books are easy to read, touching, and profound (sometimes trite and predictable), and I have read the entire The Walk Series, and the Mistletoe Series, among other books that he has written. I am never disappointed.

So where does “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” come in to play? This book was not a part of my book club. However, I am a lifelong learner. I am on a journey to become a Renewed Teacher. This book is the first featured book from my school’s Professional Development Lounge! I read the 4th edition of this book during my senior year of college or the beginning year of my graduate studies back in 2006-2007. My principal mentioned the revised edition to me, and I grabbed the book, and started reading it as soon as I could. It took a while to finish, but below is a list of 3 reasons why I highly recommend “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and why you should read this book (I also highly recommend the “Midwife’s Confessions,” “The Ice Cream Girls,” and any Richard Paul Evans book).

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Image courtesy of Pixabay and Pic Collage.

3) You think you know what poverty is or is not. 

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Image Courtesy of Google Images.

The working definition of poverty that Payne shares, regardless of race or gender, is “the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Notice that it does not mention money. Although money is a resource that I am currently without. LOL! In chapter one, Payne mentions financial resources, but there are also other areas in life which cause people to live in poverty including, emotional, mental/cognitive, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationship/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, and language/formal register.

As I read this in the book, I was able to pinpoint a few of my students, family members, peers (and at times myself) that may have financial resources, but are under-resourced in other areas of their lives. As I write this sentence, I think about the special on ABC Thursday night: Menendez Brothers’Truth and Lies. They were wealthy financially but the relationships and role models in their lives along with their emotions and mental stability were poverty stricken.

Poverty is not just about the money you make and have. It is much deeper.

2) You work or live in a poverty stricken area.

A key point to remember from Payne’s book is, “Most schools and businesses operate from middle-class norms and use the hidden rules of middle class.” As a resident or employee, you must understand the hidden rules of people who live in poverty, and not expect it to be the other way around (Payne believes we should equip our students with the culture of the middle class. I believe equip is the wrong “E” word and feel expose and allow them to make their own choices is more appropriate.) Even if you grew up in poverty, you may think that you “get it.” I believe that I “get it.” However, as a college educated human-being, you are probably not living in poverty any longer. If you are, it is more than likely situational where the circumstance can change and is only temporary. Compared that to generational where a family has lived in poverty for at least two generations. least not the way that you were when you were growing up or when you were in college. LOL!

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Image courtesy of Google Images.

I have sometimes intentionally and mostly unintentionally distanced myself away from a life of what I thought was poverty and have attended college, graduate school, and have formed more and new relationships, developed new beliefs and a different mindset (while still holding on to some old relationships, beliefs and mindset ideas). In college, you would not imagine the quarrels my father and I got into because I was growing and somewhat changing. It was rough, but it all worked out. After all, he did raise me to become a better person and more educated than what he was. I don’t know if that will be possible. My dad was awesome! God rest his soul. Love you, daddy! I am learning real-life experiences out-ranks formal education many times in life.

1) You are an educator, employer, policymaker, or service provider.

I believe that anyone that has chosen to work with people has a responsibility to learn and understand how and why people are the way they are. It helps to develop empathy as opposed to sympathy. It aids in helping one to take offense slowly, and put down the guards of defense. As person who works hard at not being judgmental, this is fundamental for me. Growing up, I was told that I was the best and the smartest, and that I had to work harder than everyone else to show that I was the best, and well, I believed that. School was my job, and I had to be the best at my job. Why wouldn’t I believe what my mother and father believed about me? Why wouldn’t I believe that message when many of my teachers and other adults throughout my childhood reinforced the same message? I’d like to believe that I thought I was the best meant I was the best, but not necessarily better than everyone else. I would like to believe that I was somewhat humble in this belief. I am not sure that I was.

But this brings me to my point. Everyone is raised to believe something, and people who were raised in poverty have a totally different mindset and belief system than those that were not raised in poverty. Chapter 2 in Payne’s book focuses on language and story and how they impact thinking, school, and work. Beliefs come from words and these or lack there of are powerful.

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If none of these reasons resonate with you, I will be slightly surprised, but not disappointed. But if you need a good non-fiction book to read, this is the book to read.

If you are looking for ways to build better relationships with the people you spend most of your day with, read this book.

If you are looking for ways to understand yourself better, read this book.

As an educator, employer, policymaker, or service provider, it ought to be our personal duty to seek out how we can better serve our clients and this book provides some insight for that.

As mentioned earlier, I read a previous edition of this book when I was in graduate school. During this time, I also had the opportunity to attend a conference where Dr. Rita Pierson was the speaker. I have yet to forget her name and the impact she had on my career as a beginning teacher. I was sad to learn of her passing back in 2013. Pierson was a nationally renowned public speaker and led hundreds of workshops for aha! Process, Inc. since 1997. aha! Process, Inc. was founded by Ruby K. Payne! Not everyone will agree with what Payne says in her book. But when you meet a person like Dr. Rita Pierson who is as passionate, real, humorous, and has such a strong belief in the power of relationships who also happens to represent Ruby K. Payne and her company, I can’t help but think that this book could be helpful in so many ways.

As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s open our minds and read how to cognitively approach poverty. If you decide to read the book, come back and add your take-away and your reasons why you think others should read it as well. I am always looking forward to hearing from you!

Also, remember to follow the blog or follow me on Pinterest

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

3 Ways for Teachers to Check-In and get Checked-Up!

If you have not already done so, you will probably be going to see your doctor to get a flu shot soon, or some other immunization to make sure you and your family stay healthy as we fall deeper in autumn and near winter. But this is not the only check-up you need at this time.

This is just one way to take care of yourself. But there are many other ways in which to so.

Now that many of us are 4-6-8 weeks into the school year, I’m sure the honeymoon phase has ended for some of you, while others are just trying to keep their heads above water with keeping up with paperwork, school events, and family and friend social desires or obligations. But do you notice what I haven’t mentioned in this paragraph. You have been doing your best to take care of all of these other things, but you left yourself out of the equation.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay and font Pic Collage.

It’s Time for Your 4-6-8 Week Check-Up!

If you are feeling burnt out and tired, it’s time to take some time for yourself. Take time to ease your mind, body, and soul with these tips!

 

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Image courtesy of flickr.

Ease Your Mind

  • Look for positive things each day.
  • Make positive phone calls home to your students. It helps build rapports with families and students.
  • Reread notes from current and former students about how you are the best teacher ever!
  • Give a compliment, and watch you get a compliment.
  • Read an inspiring book such as Awakened or Unshakeable by Angela Watson. If you are a wife, read The Happy Wives Club by Fawn Weaver (I read it over the summer and it has contributed tremendously to my positive frame of mind).
  • Try to complain less and try to develop an attitude of gratitude. (I often have to tell myself that things could be worse when something bad happens. This often helps me to find something to be thankful for. I am not always successful, but 90% of the time it works).
  • Watch a mindless movie or show.
  • Pray and/or Meditate. I just finished a 21-Day Prayer Challenge hosted by Linda Kardamis over at Teach 4 the Heart. I prayed everyday for different people and different reasons, and it felt internally rewarding to do something so personal and discrete for others.
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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Build a Beautiful Body Inside and Out

  • I workout at least 3-5 days a week. When I say workout, I mean lift heavy weights and run as fast as possible. If I’m not sweating, I might as well go home and sit on the couch. My motto when at the gym is: Go hard or go home! This takes care of my mind and body! But this is not for everyone. Do what works for you, or try something new. A co-worker of mine will be hosting a Pound Workout after school this week. I will be there. I am excited to try it!
  • I have a co-worker who takes a bath after work every day. Heaven! I wish I could do this, but there are other things I want or need to do more. I think I will start with once per week.
  • Watch your diet. (But you can cheat every once in a while! This is why I don’t have six pack yet.:-)) You would not put olive oil in your car to fill the tank, so be just as mindful about what you fill your tank with.
  • Get a massage. I am overdue for one. While everyone does not enjoy being touched, let alone by a stranger, there are other options. Maybe start with a facial, hand or foot massage. Then maybe do a body-wrap. There are ways to ease into a full body massage. A good friend and co-worker of mine, took about 4-5 years to get a full body massage, and now she gets some form of a massage every year! Check-out some options at Massage Envy which is located all over the country.
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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Satisfy Your Soul

Teaching is your passion. I get it. But when teaching gets touch, and it will, you will need an outlet that will satisfy your soul.

  • Bake – I work with some talented women that have made cupcakes for my wedding and my sister’s bridal shower and received rave reviews. These are their other passions.
  • Knit, quilt, create clothing or other products – Another teacher in my building who used to be a Zumba Instructor, now has an Etsy store. Her creations are amazing. This is her other passion.
  • Create baskets – After attending one of my friends/co-workers bridal showers, I fell in love with making gift baskets. She and her mom buy baskets from random places in order to have them readily available for when it is time to make a gift. I love seeing her creations, and getting ideas from her, when I make them.
  • Join a band – If you can sing or play an instrument, why are you not sharing your talents in some capacity?
  • Start a blog – Wow! I used to love writing in high school and in college. As I continue to write these posts, I can’t imagine what I would do if I were not writing my thoughts, ideas, fears, and attempts at renewing myself down in some format.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Attend a religious service. (Maybe visit a service with a different denomination.)
  • Do what it is that makes you happy. Find that one thing that it is work that does not feel like work. That is what this blog does for me. 🙂

So teachers, are you ready for your 4-6-8 week check-up? Don’t try to do everything on this list. Maybe start by picking one idea from each section and implementing them into your life one at a time.

As wise teacher sent me a text a few weeks ago. The text said, “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.” I agree 100%.

So teachers, as we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s follow the directions of all flight attendants: “Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

Do you have other ideas to add to this list? I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments section, and I will add them to a future post! Also, remember to follow the blog or on Pinterest

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

 

How to Prepare for Monday

“I hate Mondays!” proclaims the lasagna loving, orange, fat, mischievous, sarcastic tabby cat we all know as Garfield.

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And you know what? I’m not too fond of Mondays either. I COULD sit here and type a list of reasons why and get all of you riled up, and listen to your rants and complaints about Mondays, but that’s not my style, nor is it the purpose of this blog.

I am more interested in coming up with solutions to problems. I hope that you are too! As a renewed teacher, I realize I don’t have time in my daily schedule to complain about things that are beyond my control. (Even though I occasionally find myself expressing my many annoyances. Hey, being a renewed teacher is process. I am not perfect.) But as I grow professionally and personally, I am learning that time is precious. Each minute and what you choose to do with those minutes can be beneficial or detrimental to your life. I choose to make the minutes of my life beneficial, and that means letting go of many of the things that are beyond my control.

Monday coming around each week is a problem beyond our control. How we plan for Monday is all up to us!

To make Mondays less traumatizing and the week ahead a little easier to look forward to, planning ahead for tedious things is important.

Let’s start planning!

1. Meal Prep

20160925_222809I often cook meals for  days at a time. On Saturday or Sunday, I wake up early, throw about 4-6 chicken breasts in the oven, brown some ground turkey for spaghetti or chili, cook some turkey burgers, cut up vegetables, and pack my husband’s, my son’s, and my lunch for Monday. This past Sunday, I baked egg muffins with spinach, onion, green and red peppers. We eat these for breakfast with oatmeal, turkey bacon or turkey kielbasa, and a piece of fruit. I also made a big pot of chili, a fresh vegetable salad, and chicken salad. Although I spend about 2 hours doing this on the weekend, it saves me at least 3-4 hours during the week. It saves time because I do not have to cook a whole meal when I come home from a long day at work. All I have to do is cook a side or two and heat up the meat, and were good to go in 15 minutes or less. Additionally, I am into eating clean, so meal prepping allows me to manage what goes into my body. I also do not have to worry about spending money on something quick from a fast-food restaurant or corner store if I happen to be running late to work. For more on meal prep, please click here.

2. Clothing Prep

I learned this from my husband. When we dating, and I would visit with him, I noticed him ironing 5 shirts and 5 pairs of pants. I was curious about what he was doing. He told me that he likes to have his clothes out and ready for the week so that he doesn’t have to scramble for clothing during the week in the mornings. I thought it was a genius idea, and I still do. I have been getting 5-6 outfits ready for the workweek for almost 10 years now. I even do the same thing for our son now! It saves me so much time in the mornings and makes me not dread waking up because I am already prepared to get dressed. 20160925_223610

3. Plan Work-Outs

This one may not be for everyone, but what ever you do with your spare time…whatever that thing is that you do that keeps your mind and body clear, insert here. But if you’re like me, and you enjoy looking fit and being healthy or are trying to lose or gain weight, you need to workout (and meal prep). Working out can take up a tremendous amount of your time if you let. I unfortunately let it. But I don’t say that to complain. I do have personal fitness/physical goals that I am working towards, but working out also clears my mind. I enjoy being healthy. This is a picture of me at the gym. I am currently finishing up Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer, and you can see a screenshot of one of the workouts below. I plan to do REMIX RIPPED next. I am very intimidated, but I enjoy challenges.

In 20160925_224652order to workout 4-5 times a week for at least 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, I have to plan. I need to plan which days I will go and at what times I will go and schedule the dates. In addition to this, I also plan what body parts I will work on and on which days I will do them. I break it down to days in which I will lift weights only, cardio only, lift weights and do cardio, and plyo-metrics. On weekdays, sometimes I am at the gym at 5:00 am. Other times I am there at 5:00 pm. On the weekends, I like to be there as soon as the gym opens which is 8:00 am or 9:00 am. I enjoy starting my day off with a good workout. My mental state is 10 times better when I do. Working out on Sunday helps to prepare my mental state for Monday.

4. Create Lesson Plans and Make Copies by Friday

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Image courtesy of flickr.

Don’t you hate when you go to the copy machine and all it does is play for least favorite jam? And it usually plays when you really need your copies the most. Planning my lessons and copies the week before I need them, usually works for me. Our lesson plans are due on Fridays. I am sad to say that this week beat me to the punch. Because I create my plans based on what my students need and where they are, I usually plan a little each day starting on the Wednesday before. When I begin planning at this time, I am usually able to have my plans done by Friday. If I wait until Friday to begin planning (which is the case this week), I usually am not done with my plans until Sunday (which means I’m working on them at home) or Monday morning. When my plans are done by Friday, I am able to make my copies on Friday and have them ready and organized for the following week. I try to make copies all at one time to prevent having to go to the copy machine multiple times throughout the week. However, there are so many amazing teachers out there in the Pinterest world! They share a wealth of awesome ideas I think will work to help my students learn content and concepts better. Because of this, I am always copying something new. However, I still feel good because my necessities are taken care of.

5. Last But Not Least: Sometimes You Have to “Just Say No!”

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Image courtesy of Deviant Art.

I remember when every time someone asked me to do something, I did it. I went out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, parties, clubs, home events, and could not figure out where my weekends went. I finally had to stop, and put myself and my family first. This is no easy feat as I do not always want to stay home to cook, clean, grade papers, or even workout. I’d much rather catch up with my friends and family over a nice meal or go shopping. But in the past, the closer Monday came, the more apprehensive and stressed out I felt. These were not normal feelings for me. Something had to give. I had to start saying no to somethings and be very particular about what I said yes to. But I still think the government, or whomever is in charge of things of this nature, should add one more day to our week, and I prefer it be between Saturday and Sunday. One more day to sleep in!

I don’t do each of these ideas perfectly all the time. But when I am able to at least commit to getting two of these items checked off of my list on Saturday or Sunday, Mondays are much easier to love…like. 🙂

As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, finding practical ways to plan our lives and make the most of the minutes we have in our days is of the utmost importance. When we are prepared personally and professionally, we are able to be prepared for our students.

I enjoy sharing tips and ideas with other educators, but I do not blog because I have all of the answers or even any of the answers. As I share what works for me, I’d like to hear what works for you! So post your comments, tips, and ideas on how you prepare for Mondays and the week ahead.

Thank you for reading, commenting, following, posting to other social media outlets, and being a supporter of the RenewED Teacher!

Until next time…Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

If Your Students Won’t Stop Talking, It’s Time to Let Them Talk More!!!

Do your students talk too much? Is it stressing you out? If so, why don’t you let them talk more?

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Thank you!) 
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Courtesy of Pixabay and Pic Collage.

While this might sound strange, hear me out. If you constantly hear a little buzz of chatter in your classroom, and you cannot tell from which direction it is coming, this is a sign that your students need more time to talk.

Think about it this way, when you need water, your body tells you when you are dehydrated. On the moderate end, your mouth gets dry or sticky, you may feel sleepy or tired, and you could develop a headache. On the extreme end of dehydration, you may feel an extreme feeling thirst, irritability or confusion.

Just as there are signs and symptoms for dehydration, there are signs and symptoms displayed by our students when they are bored, uninterested, antsy, already “get it,” or need more time to talk. On the moderate end, YOUR mouth gets dry and sticky, you and your students feel sleepy or tired, and you and your students could develop headaches because YOU are doing all of the talking. (Click here to read article on How Teachers Can Talk Less… by Angela Watson). On the extreme end, you and your students feel irritability because they know you see how bored they are, and you are doing nothing about it. They start acting out, talking, and being off task. You are confused about why they are bored, uninterested, and exhibiting these behaviors.  You stayed up late the night before because you were so excited to prepare what you thought was an awesome lesson with great and interesting standards-based content. You couldn’t wait to share it with them!

So what is going on? Well, I will be the first to admit it! Sometimes (Okay, Most times) I talk too much, and I need to make a bubble and shut up! As teachers, I’m sure we all need to “shut up!” sometimes.  Before I continue, I need to mention I am not a fan of this phrase unless it is used in a jokingly manner (For example, one of your students says something so funny, and your only response is a burst of laughter, and you saying “Shut up! That’s hilarious!” There is no disrespect intended here, and it’s loving and fun!). The phrase is rarely used in my classroom except in these rare and extremely funny occasions, and it is treated as a curse word when students use it otherwise due to its disrespectful tone. When/if they use it, my students often have to think of and write 5 alternative statements they could have said instead of those bad words. But nevertheless teachers, we need to shut up!

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Courtesy of Google Images and Creative Commons.

You might be wondering,” How am I supposed to do that? I am the teacher!”

Today, I am sharing a strategy with you that could perhaps help you to do so. I have begun using this strategy in my classroom that allows my students to talk more, learn more from each other, and gets them to listen to me more when I actually do need to be the only one talking.

CLOCK BUDDIES

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Courtesy of Penny Juggins, Fairfax County, VA

Have you ever heard of Clock Buddies? I learned about it at a training I attended about 2 years ago with world-renowned educator and author, Marcia L. Tate author of “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.” I am a huge fan of Clock Buddies as it gives my students several opportunities to interact with each other and with me academically. Students are out of their seats, moving around, engaged with each other and me, and learning from each other. The other day, a set of buddies approached me because they could not agree on the correct answer. One student was correct and the other wasn’t. I think I told the students to use a place value chart to settle the dispute. They were able to come to a mutual agreement with evidence to prove it!

Clock Buddies is meant to be a quick and easy way to create pairs for partnered activities while avoiding the problem of kids always having the SAME partners. It begins with a clock face, with slots for names extending from each hour on the dial. The basic idea is that each student has his or her own copy of a Clock Buddies sheet, with the names of [4-12] classmates on each hour’s slot. Each of those other students, in turn, has this student’s name in the matching hour slot on each of their clock sheets.”

My Personal Clock Buddy Experience

In order to break the ice, Marcia had each of us in the room (about 25 people) walk around for about 5-10 minutes or so, while listening to an old Motown song. In this time frame she had us make appointments with different people in the room for 12 different time slots on the Clock Buddy Sheet she gave us. Once the song was over, she began her presentation. We didn’t use the clocks, but she did inform us that we would. She also cleverly mentioned that having students walk around the room and talk before starting her lesson was a strategy that helped students become engaged and ready to learn before the lesson actually began. I bought in. About 20 minutes into the lesson, she gave us a writing task, and said to meet with our 12 o’clock buddy to complete it. We used the clocks throughout the remainder of our 3 hour time frame with her, and it really helped to keep us focused and engaged on what she was teaching us, and to hear others’ perspectives, and many opportunities to engage in discourse.

What Can You Use Clock Buddies For and When Do You Use It?

  • Anytime!
  • Homework review
  • Partner reading
  • Think, pair, share
  • Question, answer partners
  • Test review
  • Writing activities
  • Partners for field trips
  • Games
  • Gym activities that require two people
    • Can you think of anymore? If so, please share!

Why You Should Give Clock Buddies the Time of Day!

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Courtesy of Pixabay.

Earlier this year, I surveyed a group of teachers on how they continue to stay inspired and motivated to teach. One response was by one of my friends, fitness buddy, and co-workers, Lena Fitchwell. She said what motivated and inspired her to continue teaching each year is by “Changing things up.” As the school librarian, she does an amazing job at cross-curricular teaching. She is always taking a new class and keeping up with what’s new in education and using new strategies to keep her students engaged. I don’t know one child in our building that does not enjoy library (not even the kids that dislike reading!) As teaching can become boring and monotonous if you let it, Clock Buddies is a chance to change things up, everyone!

 

Where Can I get Access to Clock Buddies?

You can simply Google or use Pinterest to find a variety of different templates for Clock Buddies, but why would you, when you can click right here for a FREE COPY!

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Courtesy of Pixabay and Pic Collage.

Tips If You Decide to use Clock Buddies in Your Classroom

  1. Students need to write their name on the paper. Either in the center of the clock or at the top of the page.
  2. Teach students how to ask: “Are you available to be my Clock Buddy at 12 o’clock?” I have heard students respond by saying, “Sorry, but maybe when we make appointments for 3 o’clock, you can be my buddy!” The language is helping students to speak politely to one another.
  3. Make sure students know that must have 4 different names on their sheet (they may not have their best friend as their clock buddy more than once).
  4. Start with 4 slots only. It can become quite daunting for your students to start with more.
  5. Only fill one slot at a time. Tell students to stand up and find a buddy for their 12 o’clock slot, write each other’s name on the line, and return to their seats. Then have students complete the next time slot. Continue this pattern until all 4 slots are filled.
  6. Some students will not want to participate or stand up, encourage them to participate, but do not force them. Explain to them they are still responsible for completing the work, but they will not receive a grade for participation. Once they see the rest of the class having fun with their buddy, they will most likely want to join. At this point however, it may be too late if everyone already has a buddy. You can use this as a teachable moment on how sometimes you can’t always get what you want when you want it, and have the student sit this one out, or you can choose two students you want this student to partner with since they have no scheduled buddies. Hopefully in the future this student will learn to partake in an activity when the opportunity presents itself or risk not being able to make his or her own choices.
  7. If you have an even number of students, the teacher may not need to be a Clock Buddy. If you have an odd number of students, the teacher may need to participate as a Buddy. (I typically choose students that may need more help with specific topics or have difficulty reading.)
  8. Watch out for students that may be intentionally or unintentionally left out. Do not sweep this under the rug. Be upfront about what you notice and make it clear to your students that you notice it, and that it’s not cool. You do not necessarily need to name the student(s) that were left out because most of them already know who you’re talking about including that student. Just tell them that everyone needs to be included. 2-3 students should walk up to the left out student the next time it’s time to choose a buddy. J
  9. Be willing to give up some control and quietness with this. You will observe your students talking about what you actually asked them to talk about and learning from each other.
  10. Make multiple copies of the clocks. Each day will be different if even one student is absent.
  11. The more you use Clock Buddies, the easier it gets in your classroom. You also learn different ways to use it, and it becomes less time consuming to set the buddies up over time. It should also alleviate the need for students to talk so much when they are not supposed to.
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Courtesy of Pixabay.

As we continue to learn, grow, and renew our passion for teaching, we must try new things. Will you try Clock Buddies in your classroom? How will you use this strategy? If you decide to use it, come back and tell us how it worked. Did it work well? What things would you change? Did the students like it? Did they stop talking less when they were not supposed to? Do you have any suggestions or tips that I may have overlooked? Please share. Thank you for reading, commenting, following this blog, sharing, posting to other social media outlets, and committing to renewing your passion for teaching.

Until Next Time, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith (The RenewED Teacher)

An Opportunity to Prevent and Reduce Back to School Stress

Last week, I was approached by another blogger named Maria Stefanova at Music, Teaching, and Parenting. She is working on a new blog post titled “Surviving the Beginning of the School Year Stress.” What teacher doesn’t need these tips? I guess the teachers that know how to deal with stress effectively do not need them. If you are one of the stress-less teachers, we need your tips too so please comment and share your ideas too! 🙂

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Image courtesy of picserver.org.

Maria’s purpose in reaching out to me was to collaborate. First and foremost, I am honored. So I say thank you for thinking of me, and offering this opportunity, Maria. Secondly, I am really interested in what other teachers have to say about this topic. She has chosen to interview a variety of teachers to compose this exciting and upcoming post I am sure will be useful for all teachers.

You will be able to read this post on Maria’s Site next week so please return here to access her site. Or visit and join Music, Teaching, and Parenting now to have direct access to her site when the article posts.

I offer three tips to surviving beginning of the school year stress:

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Image courtesy of pixabay.

  1. Pre-Plan (Be Pro-Active)  – You already know that back to school is a stressful time of year. Take a moment to consider what causes you the most stress.
  2. Pamper Yourself – I am a huge believer in taking care of oneself first. That does not mean neglect your friends or family. It just means to have a little “me” time. Pamper yourself.
  3. Contact Families Early – My sole purpose for this is to build relationships with the families. Nothing causes more stress than an unfriendly family member of one of your students.

This is just a little taste of what you’ll get when you visit Maria’s site to learn all the ways to avoid the stress and relieve the stress we teachers fight during the first few weeks of school .

In the meantime, as we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, take a few moments to consider how you prevent or reduce stress, and share some of those tips here. I am still working on how to leave work on time everyday. 🙂

Happy Teaching!