How I Individualize My Students Learning Using Edmentum’s Exact Path

During the 2016-2017 school year, my school had the opportunity to use a Beth version of Edmentum’s Individualized Learning Solutions, now called Exact Path.


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

As teachers in the trenches daily, we know it is not easy to individualize learning for 20-30+ students. Making adaptions, accommodations, and modifications for each and every student, each and every day, is impossible if we want to have a life outside of our career. Nevertheless, we must find a way to meet the varying needs of our students. We cannot simply say to a family,

“Um yea, your child doesn’t know how to read or understand basic math operations, and neither do the other 25 students in my class. I have a life outside of work that involves being a wife, mother, sister, aunt, care taker, health food and fitness junkie, avid reader, and blogger, etc, etc, etc. I don’t have time to individualize learning for every student in my class on a daily basis. GTHOH!”

Harsh right? Regardless of how true this may be, the families we provide services for don’t really care about what we have going on in our personal lives. Nor should they. They care about their children, and they want to know that we are doing our best to keep them safe and help them learn. We chose this field because we wanted make a difference in the lives of children while helping them learn and become respectable citizens of the world.

Exact Path offers a solution to the lack of time you may have in your normal, and busy daily life and schedule. It allows you more time to be engaged with your students during your work day, as well as other things you love outside of work, including self-care. It “utilizes adaptive assessments and targeted learning paths aligned to your goals, paced to your students’ needs, and structured to give students control over their own educational journeys,” ( Yaasss!

In March, I wrote a blog post that was published on Edmentum’s site titled,                          “[Individualized Learning] Getting Started with Edmentum’s Exact Path and Overcoming Classroom Challenges.” In this post, I answer four questions to help teachers get started with Exact Path and how to overcome some common classroom challenges. The four questions were all questions I had when I was first introduced to the program last fall. They are:

  1. Why should I use Exact Path when we already have individualized learning programs?
  2. How would it benefit my teaching and my students’ learning?
  3. How easy is it to use for me and my students?
  4. When would my students be able to use it?

If you are interested in how Exact Path can work for you or teachers in your school or school district, check out this post. Additionally, a modified version of this post was featured as an advertisement in Education Week’s Spotlight where selected Education Week covers critical issues in education.

If you have experience working with Exact Path, we welcome your thoughts and ideas on this topic! Share with us what worked, and didn’t work so well in your classroom!

As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s find ways to enhance our teaching abilities and use technology to our advantage so we can motivate and encourage our students to continue learning and growing!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The Renewed Teacher

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye…Deuces to Another School Year!

Hello my fellow educators! Happy first day of” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>summer!

Do you remember this song? I’m sure you do!


Image by Angela George, CC BY-SA 3.0

My last day with students was Wednesday, June 7th. My official last day was Monday, June 12th.

Its So Hard to Say GoodbyeBelieve it or not, the last day of school is a bitter sweet day for us teachers. Many of us finally get to do all of the things we had to give up during the school year such as working out, spending ample quality time with our families, watching our favorite prime time shows, reading, vacationing, doing absolutely nothing…ya’ll know what I’m talking about. 😉

But why is the last day or end of the school year so hard to say goodbye to? Why is it bitter sweet? Different teachers have different reasons. Consider the two following experiences teachers can have.



Did you have a particularly rough year with a group of students who’s behavior seemed


Image courtesy of Pixabay.

beyond your control, a lack of support from administrators, colleagues, and your students’ families? If so, I’m sure you couldn’t wait to see many of your students leave! Maybe there were a select few students that you cherished throughout the school year, but overall you dreaded waking up and walking into your building each day. You probably even counted down until the last minute! You may have shed a tear or two out of shear joy because the students were leaving, aaaannnd maybe for the few that touched your heart. If you were in this situation this year, I get it. All you may want to so is sit back, relax, and forget all about the previous school year. These years are the years that make some teachers leave the profession. If you are reading this, and considering leaving the field, I urge you to think hard about that decision and refocus by remembering your why. This profession needs good, dedicated teachers like you.

On the other hand, maybe you had the most uplifting school year ever! Maybe your administrators, colleagues, and families were a gift sent from heaven!  Whatever you needed, you received it. If this is your experience, you may not want to see your former students go out of a fear that next year may not be the same. (Unless you teach in a school where students loop). Your students may have caused you some grief and had a few rough days here and there (especially at the end of the year), but overall, they respected you as the teacher, families were available, behaviors were not too out of control, and if they were, they were dealt with effectively and fairly. You may have even succumbed to tears before the students exited the building too, but only because you will truly miss them.  Although it seems you may have had a rather easy school year (I know that is never true), you deserve the much needed R&R the summer offers as well. This may be a year, where you may also consider leaving the classroom, because you want to impact children, teachers, and the field of education on a broader scale. In a sense, you may also be looking for a fresh start.

Most of us probably fall somewhere in between these two extremes. You may have had extreme life changing events happen this year.  Maybe you married the love of your life; had your first, second, or third child; adopted; became a caretaker for a parent. Maybe you had a rather difficult personal and/or family situation to withstand this year. Maybe you lost a parent or another close relative; someone near and dear to you was diagnosed with a terminal illness; a significant other lost their job; a near fatal accident; miscarriages and/or infertility. In case you’re wondering, yes, I do know teachers who have experienced one or more of these expected and unexpected events within this past school year. I’m sure you can name one in your circle of teachers as well. I personally had to deal with losing my grandmother back in March. She was the glue that held my family together. I love you, Ganny!

Regardless of how your school year may have fared, leaving the school year behind is almost often tinged with sadness with some gladness.

I will truly miss all of my lovelies. There were days when they annoyed me to no end, but then there were times when they made me truly love coming to work. I personally did not cry the last day of school, but the day before, I was a water head, as my dad used to say.

As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, remember that self-care is an important part of summer vacation, which makes this time of year so important and necessary for us. However, let’s make it a goal to take it a step further next year, and practice self-care throughout the year as best as we can. You can read my post on how to prevent and reduce back to school stress here. This will make us less likely to get burnt out, and less likely to count down the days until summer vacation next year.

But right now, I want each of you to enjoy your summer to the max! Go to the beach, workout, sleep in (or not), go on a road trip, have a day in and binge on Netflix or Amazon Prime, spend unlimited amounts of time with your significant other, children, parents, and/or friends and other family members. Do whatever it is your heart desires to take care of yourself!

I also challenge you to reflect on what parts of the year were good and not so good based on what you had control over in your own classroom.  Take time to learn new things, read old and new books, attend conferences, take summer courses, watch podcasts, follow this blog or any blog that is there to motivate, encourage, and inspire teachers, and do whatever it takes to further develop and enhance your teaching craft.

Remember, it’ll only be about 6-8 weeks before it’s so hard to say goodbye to summer! Oooooooooooooo!!!

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

If you like, love, or enjoyed what you have read follow the blog and follow me on PinterestLinkedIn, and Facebook

Until then, Happy Teaching! and Deuces!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

P.S. Here is an amazing interview on teacher self care, with two teachers I follow and admire, Jennifer Gonzalez and Angela Watson. Both are educators, bloggers, and Nationally Board Certified Teachers. Check it out by clicking here here.



The Tightrope of Life

My Day


Image courtesy of Creative Commons-Google Images and Pic Collage. 

At the beginning of this school year, I woke up at least two to three days a week at 4:30 am to get to the gym by 5 am, to work out until 6-6:15 am, to get back home by 7 am to get my son ready for daycare (Mr. Smith takes him to daycare), and leave the house by 7:30-7:45am, to be at work by 8:30am.


Once at work, I completed all of my teaching duties including: attending morning meetings, making copies, communicating with families and colleagues, having my students’ assignments and activities ready for the day, handling any attendance, bus, or personal issues students were having, getting prepared for the next day, organizing my classroom, and a laundry load of others things teachers are responsible for doing. By the time I usually left, it was about 5pm on an early day. Some days I forced myself to leave at 4pm which is my school’s ending time. Other days I had to leave at 4:45pm to ensure I picked my son up from daycare on time. Once or twice a week, I stayed in my school building until 6pm-7pm.

It takes me roughly 30-40 minutes to get to and from work. I made it home between 5:30-7:30 pm on any given day depending errands I may have needed to run. Upon getting home, I was able to enjoy some quality time with my son and husband. We’d eat dinner, play, listen to music, watch some television, read a story, or go for an evening walk, and then bathe, and get the baby ready for bed. After putting the baby down for a good night’s rest, my husband and I clean house and prepare for the next day (that’s if he was not working the evening or night shift at his part time job) by getting our meals prepared and clothes laid out. By the time we’re finished, it is 9:00pm or later. We usually watch a little TV from 9-10pm. At this time I may or may not have graded some papers, written some ideas for the blog, or worked on Component 4 for National Board. By the time I was finished with this, it was about 11-11:30pm. It’s time for bed. I usually read for about 15-30 minutes before I turned off my lamp and lay down for some beauty rest.

My Life

I followed this schedule for about two months. When my husband started working his part time job over night and coming home at 6:30am, I was no longer able to get up and get out to the gym in the morning. I have about 10 extra lbs. on my invisible 6-pack to prove it! Some of you may say this is an excuse, and I can workout at home, and you know what, you’re right, it is an excuse. However, what’s not an excuse is the fact that I was tired. Yep, Tired with a capital T. Each morning I attempted to wake up to work out at home, my body said no, and my head said h*ll-to-the no. I was starting to wake up with headaches. You know that feeling you get when you drink a little bit too much of fermented grapes? I felt like that, and I was only drinking water and coffee! I knew I needed more rest, and that’s what I did.

I knew that if I continued on this path, my mental and physical health would suffer. I must confess that I was, and I still am walking the tightrope of life.


Image courtesy of Creative Commons-Google Search and Pic Collage.

An Attempt to Balance Work-Life Demands

“Walking the Tightrope of Life: Refuel, Renew and Re-center Your Work-Life Demands,” is Sharise Nance’s second book due to be released on April 1, 2017. I am happy to be the first to say that I cannot wait to read this book! I personally know Mrs. Nance to be honest, direct, and passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of everyone she encounters, and it seems that this book will back up how highly I think of her and how much I respect her as well as her work.

Sharise Nance, MSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and co-founded of Hand-in-Hand Counseling Services located in Penn Hills, PA. A Pittsburgh native hailing from the Homewood/East Liberty neighborhoods, Mrs. Nance has over 17 years of experience in the helping profession. Since I have known her, she has always been interested in the human mind and has always wanted to understand and help others understand how relationships and the environment affect our lives and vice versa. This book is a prime example of that.

“Walking the Tightrope of Life…” is written for us, dear readers! We are working day-in and day-out attempting to make positive change in the lives of others. We are teachers, nurses, counselors, mentors, tutors, custodians, politicians, police officers, etc. We work for others! We experience times when we are unable to disconnect from the work day and furthermore struggle with emotional, mental, and physical burnout because of all that we do for others. We sometimes forget about our needs because we are so focused on the needs of our students, clients, patients, colleagues, employees, and employers while at work. Then we continue to neglect our needs when we get home because we are now focused on our spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, and extended family, or even close friends. While you should be gracious because you are able to help others, it’s time to refocus and renew you!

You Are and Can Be a RenewED Teacher Too!Attitude_of_Gratitude

As a RenewED Teacher, I do not proclaim to know it all. As I reflect, since I have begun writing this blog, I really thought being renewed was the end point. I am learning it is a process, a cycle of continually working to become a better teacher and person. The RenewED Teacher doesn’t become complacent and plateau when they reach a goal. The RenewED Teacher realizes that when one goal has been accomplished, it is time to set a new one. The RenewED teacher has an attitude of gratitude and is thankful for even the smallest opportunity to help others. The RenewED Teacher is always willing to learn something new, take risks, and share with others. This book is a chance for me and you to do exactly that!

The RenewED Teacher also understands that balancing work-life demands is not a one-time occasion in a person’s life. Rather it’s the ability to adapt and be flexible when work adjustments and life altering events take place.

The Challenge

I want to challenge you! I want you to go on a journey with me. I want you to Refuel, Renew and Re-center your work-life demands. You deserve it! You work hard for others 5 or more days/week! Take some time to find some balance. Take some time to “practice good self-care as well as find renewal in [your] work in order to experience more balance and satisfaction in [your] professional and personal lives.”

Your challenge is to read the book, share your comments here, and tell us how this book has helped or can help you balance your work-life demands! I cannot wait to hear from you!

Vitamin_C_HealingYou can order a copy of “Walking the Tightrope of Life: Refuel, Renew and Re-center Your Work-Life Demands,” by Sharise Nance by clicking here.


I am raffling a free autographed copy of the book to the first person to like this post, leave a comment, follow and subscribe to my blog. Please e-mail your first and last name along with your mailing address to 

Once you receive the copy of your book, feel free to visit Sharise on April 1, 2017 from 12pm-3pm for The Book Release Signing of her 2nd Publication! I will be there. Will you?

Click this link to see Sharise on the Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show.

Air date: Saturday, March 17, 2017.

If you really want to work on yourself, Mrs. Nance will be hosting a workshop on April 22, 2017 called, “Refuel, Renew, & Re-Center Your Work-Life Demands. See the flyer below. And I hope to see you soon!


As we continue to grow and renew our passion for teaching, let’s make it a top priority to take care of ourselves first. Remember, as the old cliché goes: “Take care of yourself first or you will have nothing left to give others.” Click here for more self-care and inspirational quotes!

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

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

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.


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!


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!


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.


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).


Image courtesy of Pixabay and Pic Collage.

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


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!


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.


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.


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!



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.

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.

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.


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


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!”


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