Tuesday, December 8, 2015

North Carolina Teaching: "First in Flight"

North Carolina has had a long-standing debate with our friends in Ohio on which state should be "first in flight." After all, the Wright Brothers were born in Dayton, but took their first whirl with an airplane at Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks, NC. While this debate is encouraged to continue, a far more frightening "first in flight" is occurring in North Carolina at the moment -- that of the teaching profession.

When I entered as a first year teacher in 2004, teaching in North Carolina was still seen as a moderately noble undertaking. Granted, they were stuck somewhere in the middle of the nation for teacher pay, but overall, it wasn't bad, and I made a nice salary bump when I got my masters after year three of teaching and my National Board Certification (which North Carolina paid for) after year five. Today, we sit at the bottom of the barrel for teacher pay, with masters pay no longer and the once-applauded National Board incentive dried up.

As I now sit as a clinical professor in the department of education at my alma mater, Wake Forest University, I am witnessing first hand the slow and painful death of teacher education programs. Last year at Wake Forest, we had 12 elementary education majors graduate, this May it will be 8, and as it stands at the moment, 9 in 2017. This is unsurprisingly an even starker decline from enrollment a decade ago. I had a feeling that this trend was not unique to my school, so I did some digging and calculations from around the state.

According to the North Carolina Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Educator Preparation Program Report Cards (which are reported to the Department of Public Instruction each year by colleges and universities), there were 9,038 full-time students enrolled in educator preparation programs in 2011-2012 school year (earliest data available to compare online). In the 2014-2015 school year, there were 7,669 full-time students. That's a 15% decrease over a three year span.

During this time, most of the state's largest educator preparation programs (East Carolina University, NC State University, all of the UNC branches, and Western Carolina University) all saw significant decreases, while Appalachian State University was the only notable large-scale program that saw an increase. We also saw three programs (Davidson College, Montreat College, and St. Augustines College) shut down their teacher preparation programs. One new program opened up (Mid Atlantic Christian University), though their reported enrollment was at 2.  Overall, 41 of the 49 (84%) programs saw a decline from the 2011 to 2015 time span.

North Carolina is not the only state in the country seeing enrollment decreases, program closures, and struggles in recruiting and developing the next generation of teachers. As the baby boomer generation enters retirement, there leaves a gaping hole in the teaching profession. You can scour the internet and find endless articles suggesting ways in which this may change: more money, more respect for teachers, better materials, etc. I have a number of ideas of my own, in which I am working to implement here at my own university. I am saddened that the North Carolina license plates that have the apple to represent teaching on them and the state motto "First in Flight" right under it has taken on a whole new meaning.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Educator Bucket List

I am Type-A. I like lists and things I can check-off. In fact, I have been known to add items to my checklists that were not on there, just so I can check them off. I blame this on my mom--the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

So I got to thinking recently, what are things that educators do ... or could do ... or should do. A list that any educator has the power to complete, even if it requires a little bit of work. That's where this "bucket list" originated. It's certainly not exclusive, but it has a wide-range of CAN DO (shout out to my Inside the Trenches book there) items and experiences unique to teaching. Some are funny, others are serious, and there are ones that just come with the territory! Don't feel bad or guilty if you haven't done all of them, I know I certainly haven't! But whether you are entering your first year in education or your thirtieth, I hope you continue to push yourself to try something new, have fun, and let your personal teaching bucket list grow!

Below you will find 123 items for your Bucket List. Why 123? My birthday is January 23rd (123). I was born at 1:23PM (123). The Jackson 5 said it's "easy as 1-2-3." And I also ran out of ideas after 123 items. It was meant to be.

Without further ado, here is the first edition of The Educator Bucket List:

1. Write a positive email, note, or phone call home to a parent about their child.
2. Go out for dinner or drinks with co-workers.
3. Go to work when you're not feeling well (because it's easier than writing sub plans).
4. Receive a "nasty gram" from a parent.
5. Apply a Band-Aid, gauze, or Ace bandage to an injured child.
6. See a student/parent at the grocery store (also insert any public location).
7. Teach a lesson in a costume.
8. Grade papers in your pajamas, on your couch.
9. Mistakenly use your "teacher voice" in an inappropriate setting.
10. Decorate your classroom with a theme.
11. Buy something off of Teachers Pay Teachers.
12. Sell something on Teachers Pay Teachers.
13. Use an idea from Pinterest.
14. Bring in items from home into your classroom for a lesson.
15. Attend a professional development during the summer.
16. Present at a professional development or conference.
17. Start a classroom blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account (or any other social media).
18. Use music in your lessons.
19. Reference something from before your students were born and realize they have no clue what you are talking about.
20. Sleep through your alarm clock and have to call your co-worker to cover your homeroom.
21. Attend a student's ball game, performance, award ceremony, etc.
22. Have everything go wrong on the day you are getting evaluated.
23. Nearly gag at the smell of your room when your students enter right after recess or physical education.
24. Have a student cry because they had a bad morning.
25. Collect Box Tops for Education.
26. Try a new piece of technology even though you aren't sure how it works.
27. A student vomits in your room.
28. Begin counting ceiling tiles or cinder blocks on the wall while proctoring standardized testing.
29. Write on desks, windows, or mirrors with dry-erase markers.
30. Talk to your students about college or careers.
31. Take your class on a virtual field trip.
32. Write a grant.
33. Volunteer in the community with your students.
34. Visit your students at their home.
35. Arrange for an author to visit your school or set up a Skype with him/her after reading their book.
36. Bake cookies, brownies, or cupcakes for your students "just because."
37. Don't say anything negative for an entire day (not one thing!).
38. Bring in a guest speaker from the community.
39. Videotape yourself teaching a lesson and critique it afterwards.
40. Teach your lesson in an accent.
41. Do yoga or aerobics with the students.
42. Be a part of a new school opening.
43. Learn all of your students' names in three days or less.
44. Dance on the roof of your school--don't fall.
45. Switch jobs with a teacher, custodian, secretary, cafeteria person, principal, specials teacher, etc. for one day to see what it is like.
46. Receive a note or a visit from a former student years after having them, telling you the difference you made in their lives.
47. Invite the local television station or newspaper to cover something exciting that you are doing with your students.
48. Coach or run a club or interest group.
49. Bring breakfast for your co-workers.
50. Loop with your students.
51. Have 100% of your students show growth on your state's exams.
52. Let your students teach in front of their peers.
53. Fundraise with your students for a good cause.
54. Organize a field trip.
55. Attend a training at the Ron Clark Academy (not a coincidence it comes in at #55).
56. Present a "symbol of greatness" for your students.
57. Host a student teacher.
58. Present your best teaching idea at a staff meeting.
59. Write a note to a co-worker for being a great teacher.    
60. Earn a teacher travel grant.
61. Attend at least a three hour IEP meeting.
62. Choreograph a dance with your students that you can perform in front of the school.
63. Read a book about teaching or education at least once a year.
64. Apply for your National Board certification.
65. Participate in a webinar or Twitter chat.
66. Teach the entire day without sitting down.
67. Make eye contact with your students the entire time you teach.
68. Dress for success!
69. Teach your students how to greet people--here's how to do it.
70. Give out pencils to students, even after you ask them to have a pencil before they enter the classroom (insert any other classroom item).
71. Be the first one to school in the morning or the last one to leave in the evening.
72. Have a student copy something that you wear, a hairstyle, or mimic your catchphrases.
73. Incorporate your students' phones or technology into your lesson.
74. Hang up pictures of your students in the classroom.
75. Attend a former student's high school or college graduation.
76. Be on time for lunch, specials classes, and class changes.
77. Earn a higher education degree or specialist certification.
78. Change your seating arrangement at least four times a year.
79. Allow the students to create their own assignment or rubric based on what you are studying.
80. Observe a colleague teaching and then let them watch you.
81. Play learning games and then share them with others.
82. Get a drum for the class.
83. Admit when you made a mistake.
84. Find time for a personal hobby or interest outside of school.
85. Show your students a picture of you when you were their age.
86. Come up with a secret handshake that only you and your students know.
87. Celebrate your students' outside-of-school accomplishments inside of the classroom.
88. If you have a student with English as their second language, learn phrases in their native language.
89. Start pen pals with a class in another state or country.
90. Invite your students' parents into class for a day so they can see what actually happens in the classroom.
91. Pull a prank on your students.
92. Have the students pull a prank on you.
93. Your interactive white board or other planned technology for a lesson fails when you are about to start.
94. Say "I'll wait until it's quiet".
95. Begin a lesson with an unexpected hook or activity.
96. Plan a "class dinner" out at a local restaurant for families interested in getting together.
97. Tutor students before or after school for free.
98. Ask your students how old they think you are.
99. Collect money for a field trip or fundraiser while trying to start your morning.
100. Forget to take attendance and getting a call from the front office reminding you to.
101. Get a classroom pet.
102. Share your life experiences with your students.
103. Successfully complete a Donor's Choose project.
104. Give a colleague a hug when they are having a tough day.
105. Create cheers or chants to celebrate your students.
106. Model the expectations and rules that you establish in the class.
107. Catch one of your students picking their nose.
108. Chaperone a dance or school event.
109. Invite a local professional sports team to your school.
110. Come up with a unique way to welcome the students back to school.
111. Publish your students' writing.
112. Switch grade levels.
113. Have your own parents or family members visit your classroom.
114. Incorporate your students' interests, hobbies, and backgrounds into your lessons.
115. Start a "house system" in your class or school (a la Harry Potter).
116. Have someone tell you "it must be nice to have summers off."
117. Beat a student at a video game.
118. Take your class outside for a lesson.
119. Have your students complete an anonymous feedback form on your class, giving you ideas on what they like and what to change.
120. Set a classroom goal and let the students pick their reward.
121. Include liquid nitrogen, helium, or fire in a lesson.
122. Stand on a desk, chair, stage, or platform while teaching.
123. Be AWESOME! (It's my teaching catchphrase.)

So what's your bucket list count? Which bucket list item do you hope to achieve next year? What else is on your personal teaching bucket list?

I also wanted to thank many educator friends who contributed to this list!

Kelly Dowdy, Dubraska Stines, Dana Givens Chen, Lori Gaillard, Heather Williams, Lynn Timon, Jenny Bredemeier, Beverly Newsome, Fran De La Torre, Leigh-Ann Blaylock, Marina Gold, Tracey Olsen, Annjanette Foster, Fin Burton, Kiersa Stricklen, Christi Fricks, Ron Clark, Stacey Vaught, Tricia Skelton, Esther Concepcion, Andrea Hardgrave, Mike Capizzani, Amber Barbarow, Jeehan Dinwiddie, Cassandra Rogers, John Liquori, Valine Moreno, Shaaroni Wong  

Friday, June 19, 2015

Do You Have the Next Dylann Roof in Your Classroom?

Yet again, we have a national tragedy on our hands, one that many are calling a terrorist act, which I will not argue against.  This time at a historic black church in Charleston, SC.  By now, you have heard the shooter's name, which other than the title, I will not be using again.

In the coming days, we will undoubtedly hear from the shooter's family, friends, colleagues, and teachers.  In many stories like this in the past, we have heard a barrage of adjectives used to describe the individuals responsible - loner, popular, shy, kind, unpredictable, troublemaker, and so on.  We may hear things like "I could never believe they would do such a thing" to "He was bullied in school."  To the best of my knowledge, I have never heard someone close to the individual responsible for a shooting to describe the person as they were growing up as a "killer," "terrorist," or "murderer."

Individuals do not own those monikers until they have committed the crimes, and understandably so.  It would be highly unfair and unethical to denote an individual a murderer before they have done any act.  However, each of these sick individuals who have committed such crimes all have one thing in common.  At one point, they were sitting in the desks of our schools.  They were each in a classroom as a part of our educational system.   

As a teacher, we are with our students for more hours of the day than some of their parents.  We love our students, call them "our children," and even when we don't always like their actions, at the end of the day, they are a piece of your heart.  Which is why it is disheartening to think that one of your students could be on the front cover of the newspaper for committing such a heinous crime.

Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20.  This shooter's former teachers may reflect now and think of tell-tale signs that may have been minute in the moment, but make much more sense now.  The challenge, of course, is what can you as a teacher do about it when there are signs of disturbing behaviors, racist tendencies, revengeful remarks, or sign of mental illnesses with your students?

1) Report it - Many educators, like myself, are certified in teaching, not mental health, counseling, psychology, or legal issues.  If you notice alarming behavioral trends or concerns, inform the parents and your administrators.  If the parents are not on board with your concerns, do not simply say "I did everything I could."  Find a way to get the child help.  And please ... document everything!  

2) Get to the Root - In some cases, there is something right underneath our nose that we as a teacher can deal with.  Oftentimes, bullying is a cause of revengeful behaviors, and is one of the largest issues that schools deal with.  If you are able to address the issue in your classroom, talk to the individuals involved to see what they suggest would best help them be successful and happy.  If it is bigger than you (such as cyber bullying outside of school), seek help from administrators and district personnel. 

3) Teach Cultural Competencies - The Charleston shooter's goal of beginning a race war did not arrive overnight.  Time will tell if we learn of the duration of his racist beliefs, but as a teacher, we should do all in our power to include cultural competencies in our lessons and our classrooms.  Unfortunately, at the end of the day, some individuals will do as they please despite their school experience, but this should not deter a teacher from providing all they can to include cultural understanding and tolerance.  To do this, aim to create lessons where students are learning, reading, and discussing various cultures and races, both to share histories but also to expose commonalities.  When possible, allow students to experience life outside of their own through field trips, guest speakers, or pen pals.

4) Allow Dialogue - When events like this occur, see if students have thoughts on the issue.  As the teacher, be sure to act as the facilitator.  You do not want to begin to share personal beliefs here.  Students will likely reflect the thoughts of their families (for better or for worse), so this will give insight into what students are learning and hearing about at home.  Allow students to share concerns or ideas they may have to address the issues.  After all, it's going to be their world before we know it!

No one wants to think that one of our students could be a killer.  But as we have been reminded once again, there are individuals who seek to cause harm to others, and they all started in someone's classroom at one point.  Be on the lookout for signs that one of your students needs help, extra attention, or counseling.  Do all that you can for that child, even when no one else does.  You never know how much you may impact that child's life.      

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Hardest Working Staff in the Country

I had the pleasure of returning to my old stomping ground, the Ron Clark Academy, this past week to help with the National Educators' Conference.  Almost 500 educators from around the world came together to take part in the magic, excitement, and experience that is RCA. 

When you're in a place working each day, sometimes you miss the obvious.  There are things right underneath your nose that you take for granted.  Now that I have been away from RCA for a year, I am able to look at things from a different perspective.  I realized something this past weekend that I had said for a long time, but it made much more sense now.

Ron and Kim, co-founders of RCA, oftentimes call the staff the hardest working staff in the country.  The long hours and the many extra events could qualify the staff to be hard working, but I saw this weekend that it is more than just the hours.  I realized that being the "hardest working staff" means that every job is everyone's job at that school.

On Friday night, after a full day of setting up for the arrival of the guests, and dancing for three hours to a hype band, 235 chairs had to be set up in preparation for Saturday's performance of the RCA musical.  Where some individuals would have said "that's a job for someone else," the RCA staff jumped to work without a single person instructing to do so.

On Saturday morning, breakfast needed to be set up for two waves of guests, about 250 a piece, with Einstein Bagels breakfast boxes.  Thanks to the help of the amazing RCA parents, it was set up beautifully.  After guests were done eating, there was a ton of trash.  Once again, while the "it's someone else's job" may have been used at some places, the RCA staff stood by garbage cans (in their suits) and broke apart boxes, emptied trash cans, and brought trash to the dumpster.  This is all just minutes before many had to give workshop presentations.

On Saturday evening, as guests were to return to their hotels, there was a bus issue and we had about 50 guests needing to get back to the hotel.  Instead of making them wait any longer, every RCA staff member grabbed their car and drove them Downtown to the hotel.  Here are some guests driving with Ms. Bearden.

Mr. Clark has a new book coming out called Move Your Bus, and in it he talks about the various types of people that work in your school, business, or profession.  He calls the individuals who are ready to help, be pro-active, and lead "the runners."  I considered RCA staff members "runners" for a long time because of the long hours worked or creative lessons planned, but I realized this weekend it was much more than that.  Being a runner, or calling yourself "the hardest working staff" also means doing things that are not "your job."  It means jumping into action when action is called for.  It means not complaining when things aren't perfect, but taking action to fix it. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Testing's Over, Now What?

It's that time of the year.  Countdown calendars are posted on classroom doors, summer camp sign-ups are underway, and testing season is complete! 

But wait, that countdown on the door still says 10 days!  There is no way we can do "my favorite memory of the year writing" for the next two weeks.  It was a common problem for me early in my teaching career, and I am sure I am not the only one who scratched his head when trying to figure out how to maintain order and keep my sanity before that final bell rang on the final day.  Here are ideas that you can do in those final days of the year to be productive and engaging:

1) Preview the next grade: Give a "teaser" for what the students will encounter next year.  Talk to the teacher in the next grade level and find out what they start the year off with and give the students a sneak peek about what they will see in the fall.

2) Self-selected study: Students select a topic that interests them, from music to sports to hobbies, the students choose a specific topic and create an array of products that demonstrate their deeper learning on the topic.  I ended up doing this in my fifth grade classes for several years and had some amazing presentations!  My favorite ever was Hunter bringing in his dirt bike and giving us all lessons on how it works.

3) Community service project: Collectively choose a service project that the class would like to do.  Discuss what is realistic, meaningful, and impactful in a short period of time.  Assign groups to different roles and tasks with timelines attached.  Some ideas may include collecting items for a food bank, hosting a community yard sale, or cleaning up an area of town.

4) Put on a performance: Perhaps there was a book or topic that truly engaged the class this year.  Come back to that topic by writing and putting on a performance of that story.  Invite the parents to come watch the final product.

5) Keep on teaching: Inevitably, there will be topics or content that you simply just ran out of time to teach before the tests came.  Use the remaining time in the year to keep on teaching like nothing changed!  For those of you thinking my students are already checked out, think first "are you checked out?" 

6) Memory projects: It is fun to reminisce about the year.  There are a number of fun things you can do to remember the year: scrap books, ABC book about the year, video commercials or testimonials.  You can also do something more artsy like designing tshirts or a class mosaic.  I have been to a number of schools where the teachers are allowed to take ceiling tiles down and paint them with memories of the class.

7) Superlatives: True superlatives are typically reserved for senior year of high school, but you can create fun class or grade level superlatives that are appropriate for the grade.  We used to have fifth grade superlatives like "most responsible," "best friend," "kindest," "most athletic," "most studious," and so on.  We did them as a grade level, so we had nominations from each of the five classes and then created one ballot for everything.

8) Play with technology: If your school is fortunate to have an array of technology that perhaps did not fit into your day-to-day teaching, this is a great time to test out platforms or devices that you could learn more about and then use next year.

Whatever you decide to do, remember, it is all about the presentation.  Students will acclimate with the culture of the classroom.  If you present the final days as an opportunity to still learn and be engaged, they will follow suit. 

Enjoy the final moments with your students and leave them with an ending to remember!


Website: www.insidetrenches.com 
Twitter: @adamdovico
Facebook: facebook.com/insidetrenches

Friday, May 1, 2015

9 Ways to be Prepared to Substitute

I took on a new role this week.  After twelve years of being the classroom teacher, a math/science facilitator, professional development trainer, and college professor, this week I was Mr. Dovico, Substitute Teacher.  One of my closest friends is a 4th grade teacher at a local elementary school, and her six-year-old son was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma last fall.  Well he beat it!  And the wonderful Make-a-Wish Foundation granted him his wish to be a zookeeper this week.

I had some flexibility in my schedule on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I told her I would be happy to come in and substitute for her while she was with her son's Make-a-Wish.  Coincidentally, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed last evening, I came across an interesting article called 9 Ways to Prepare a Substitute for Your Tough Class.  It offers sound suggestions and ideas for preparing your classroom and your students for the arrival of a substitute teacher.

Given the new circumstance I was faced with this week, in the role of the substitute, I thought I would look at this from the other side of the table, and offer ideas on how to be prepared if you are the substitute teacher.

1) Set the Tone: Even though the class I was substituting for is a wonderfully behaved and organized class, I have been around long enough to know that "when the cat's away, the mice shall play."  Kids will be kids.  I treated my experience as the first day of school, where I always set the tone immediately.  As students entered the classroom, I welcomed them and had instructions on the board for beginning their morning work without talking, though I did have music playing in the background to offset the request for no talking.  When a student tried talking to his neighbor, I quickly fussed him out and that is all the rest of the class needed to see I wasn't playing.

2) Smile: While I did fuss out that child for talking, I did it with a smile.  There is no reason to go into a classroom as an ogre.  These are children, they appreciate happy people.  Find the balance of setting the tone with a smile on your face.

3) Be Prepared for the Worst: Luckily, I had plenty of time to talk to my friend about what I was going to do with the students, but many substitute teachers do not have the luxury of knowing the teacher they are subbing for or have much time for preparation, so they rely on the sub plans that the teacher creates.  Unfortunately, not all sub plans are created equal.  Last week, one of my Wake Forest elementary education seniors did a workshop presentation (their final assignment in my leadership course) on what she created called her "Substitute Notebook."  She had done some subbing this semester since she was a part-time student and encountered a number of instances where the plans left for her were insufficient.  She went ahead and created this notebook, which included backup materials, worksheets, lesson ideas, and a number of other "lifesavers" in case you are left with nothing to do with the students.

4) Establish Guidelines: As a substitute teacher, you walk the line of abiding by the procedures and rules that the classroom has become used to, but also maintaining order according to what you are comfortable with.  When I subbed this week, I spoke to a few of the students before the day got started to find out their procedures with the bathroom, getting materials, and transitioning.  However, I also established my three rules that I bring with me to any class I teach: 1) tracking the speaker, 2) speaking and sitting respectfully, and 3) standing up when you speak and answering in a complete sentence.  This allowed me to still allow the students to feel comfortable with what they have become accustomed to throughout the year, but also for me to feel comfortable in what I like to see in the classroom.

5) Identify Your Go-to Kids: As I greeted the students on Tuesday morning, I was carefully paying attention to who was following the routines of the classroom even with their teacher not there.  I used those students as my go-to kids when I had a question about procedures.  I would simply whisper my question to them or call them to me to ask; this avoided making a spectacle with a simple question to the entire class.

6) They Know the Answer: When one student asked me "Where do we put the answers to the trivia questions?" I honestly had no idea.  However, I did not want to open Pandora's Box with asking the class, so I simply acted like this was an unnecessary question and turned it back to him and said, "Where have you put the answers since the beginning of the year?"  He said, "Oh," and put it where it was apparently placed all year.  Sometimes you just need to take a chance and assume the kids know!

7) Build Relationships: This may sound odd because you may only be with these students for one day as a substitute, but students who respect you and know that you are there for them tend to behave better and cooperate more.  You can do simple things like asking about their day, complimenting them on their clothes, making connections with them by bring up community activities, sports, or family.
8) Earn Street Cred: Students, parents, teachers, administrators all talk.  When students leave your room saying "He's cool," after you had them for the day or even a period, they are bound to tell someone else.  Before you know it, word will get around about you as the substitute teacher.  Reputation precedes you in many cases.  This can work in your favor or against you, and can also impact your likelihood of being asked back by a teacher or school. 

9) Have fun: "If you're not having fun, you're in the wrong profession."  I use this phrase in general when I speak to teachers, but I believe the same goes for substitute teaching.  Why would you want to spend six hours in a place with kids if you're not having fun.  Frankly, there are many jobs that pay the same as subbing where you do not need to work with anyone else if you are that miserable being with kids.  Make the most out of the short time you have with the kids and have fun!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Great App for Your Class and Home

Shout out to Dr. Geoff Price for showing his students and me this really neat app for Apple products called Green Screen by Do Ink for just $2.99.  Used on the iPad, this program allows you to insert your own background into a photo or movie using the same basic concept of a green screen that news and multimedia producers use. 

The app is user-friendly and a lot of fun.  In my elementary education field experience lab course today, we had planned on taking basic photos so that they could create their bulletin board in the hallway dedicated to their cohort.  One of the students suggested using the Green Screen app, so we borrowed Dr. Price's iPad and green tarp and each student uploaded their self-selected background and took their photo. It only took a matter of minutes.  They made me take one as well with my other children - the Potato Head family! (see pictures below)

In the classroom, this is a great tool for projects like creating weather reports (since you can insert a map and add a voiceover), demonstrating geographic concepts or locations, or narrating a cartoon or scene from a movie.  I am still learning the product, so there are many functions I have yet to learn, but I have found it extremely easy to play with and enjoy.

At home, I already have plans to use this for Ryder to have fun inserting himself into various Potato Head pictures and other cartoon "friends" of his.

Jess and her goldfish

Melanie running in Chicago

Evelyn, Dora, Boots, and Swiper

The Potato Head Family

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Where the Arts are Alive and Well

I admit, I am a harsh critic when it comes to teaching.  I am quick to find holes in pedagogy and engagement; skeptical when I hear about the best teacher in the school from the administrator. To be fair, I am also my own worst critic of my own teaching.

In other words, it is hard to blow me away these days.  I am usually set after observing a teacher for about 10 minutes.  So I stand (or type) before you humbled and in awe of a teacher who captivated and amazed me this week. 

I had the privilege of having my lab students observe Ms. Adams, a dance teacher at Arts Based School here in Winston-Salem.  I will do my best to paint a picture of what we saw:

Day 1: Ms. Adams was teaching a Kindergarten class.  The students were learning about weather in science, so on the board were weather vocabulary words that they had been learning about with their classroom teacher (tornado, thunderstorm, rain, snow, wind, etc.).  The students came up with symbols that could represent each of these words, such as a swirling cyclone diagram for tornado.  Then the class broke into groups of two or three and had a dry erase board and marker.  Each group came up with a dance movement for each weather vocabulary word (like a hammering movement for thunderstorm).  Next, each group was able to come up with a sequence of weather terms that they wrote on their dry erase board, for which they could use the full word or write the symbol.  Finally, the group had to practice their movement sequence based on the movements they derived for each word in the order they wrote them down.  As time wound up, she took her tambourine and hit it twice, at which point all students stopped what they were doing and faced her like little soldiers.  She then had the students line up and share what letter they were on today (E - expert, S - skilled, N - novice).  This was a self-reflection on their ability to listen to directions in class, perform the required tasks, and control their bodies and behavior.  

Day 2: On this day, Ms. Adams was teaching a 2nd grade class.  When we walked in, the class was broken up into pairs, with partners making human mirrored images with each other.  They then had to identify how many lines of symmetry their formation had created.  Ms. Adams challenged them to create formations that would have three and four lines of symmetry.  Students were called back to the dry erase board, where they reviewed various shapes they had been learning with their classroom teacher.  Next, students received large stretchy bands (see picture below):
 Students were challenged to make polygons, quadrilaterals, and identify lines of symmetry at first, but then more specific challenges like "make a quadrilateral with three lines of symmetry" began.  The students took their math vocabulary and demonstrated these directions alongside of my WFU students.  At the end of class, this 2nd grade class did the same as the kindergarten class in evaluating themselves.

Ms. Adams, a veteran educator (and also the NC Charter School 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year), showed how easily and how much fun it can be to integrate movement into curriculum.  She demonstrated rigor in her approach, and the active engagement was flawless.  The collaboration of content and the arts is skillfully done at Arts Based School, and Ms. Adams has at least one new huge fan of hers!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Where Common Core Is Working

I was in a second grade classroom this week observing one of my elementary education majors in her room.  The cooperating teacher was leading the morning work review of two digit addition.

In what seemed as natural to us as adding 36 + 67 as we were taught (line up the numbers vertically, add 6 + 7, write down 3, carry the 1, add 3 + 6 + 1, write down 10), these second grade students fluently demonstrated five different methods to add these numbers, including drawing base ten blocks, breaking apart the numbers, using number bonds, and so on.  The vocabulary they used, the methods they implemented, and the confidence in which they solved these problems in one fell swoop showed how policymakers royally screwed up implementing the Common Core.

You see, these second graders have been taught to use various solving methods since kindergarten.  Quite simply, they do not know any other way.  As parents and educators complain that Common Core is complicated, convoluted, and unnecessary, I wish they could see how fluently these students were breaking apart numbers and reconstructing them.

The flip side to this story is where it went wrong.  Three years ago, asking fourth, fifth, sixth graders to suddenly change the entire way in which they learned math to something entirely new was setting them up for failure.  It would be like the United States suddenly deciding we would drive on the left side of the road.  Could people figure it out?  Eventually, yes.  But there would be an uprising like no other in the interim, not to mention a lot of accidents.  The crashes of the Common Core are well documented in a series of viral videos, articles, and testimonies from students, parents, and teachers who cried to come back to the old ways.    

The facts about Common Core's flawed construction is well-documented (or see any other Diane Ravitch speech or article), and there are any number of other holes that can be identified, but with my own eyes, I saw where Common Core is working.  So to those policymakers (especially in NC looking to once again rewrite standards,  it would be a shame to have those second graders (and kindergarten and first graders) who have started their schooling with Common Core to now have to learn another whole way of learning math if we were to get away from Common Core for them.  Oh wait ......... [let that sink in for a minute]

Monday, February 9, 2015


I have come across countless positive, hard-working, dedicated educators as I have traveled across the country.  In fact, I am confident that most of the educators I have met are there to do the best job they can, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

But every once in a while I come across an educator who sucks the life out of the room.  This person carries in a black cloud of despair as they walk across the threshold of the school.  These educators are few in number, but it feels like they are the majority because they are typically the most vocal.  I have found that there are some common traits amongst these types of educators:

1) They are the first to complain, no matter what the topic.  From getting a new student, having to go to a professional development, or being asked to join a committee, everything is fair game for grumbling.

2) They are the last to volunteer.  When a co-worker needs help, a program at school needs staff to attend, or the staff is taking turns to complete a task, no opportunity is too small for this educator to not help!

3) Somehow, someway, this teacher claims to have the worst class in the school for the past 15 years.  That is quite the streak!

I have a term for these people.  Since these individuals are negatively charged educators, I call them "electronators" (electron + educator).

It is easy to get hung up on electronators because they can be intimidating or pushy, especially when they are looking for people to join their bandwagon.  It would be easy to say "ignore them," since that's what we would tell our students to do, but adults can be tough to ignore.

So what is an electronator's kryptonite?  In my experience, electronators want fuel.  They want a subject to complain about.  They want to find a reason they cannot do something.  What if you provided things they could do?  Be a cheerleader for them.  Find ways to cheer on their contributions, even if it's menial.  Ask them questions that you know they can have a positive response for.  This can be painful, especially when you're pulling at shoestrings to compliment, but it can make a difference.

Being a teacher leader is a daunting task, but part of it is empowering your co-workers, and finding ways to make the team stronger.  So the next time you run into an electronator, see what you CAN do to make a difference in their life.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Yes, I Still Teach Like This in College (Part 1 & 2)


One of the more frequent questions I have been asked since transitioning from the K-12 world to the college world is "How have you changed my teaching?"  The answer is simple: I haven't.  I still pride myself on engagement, passion, and fun.  People want to be engaged at all levels of life, so the tactics I used with 3rd graders have proven equally as effective with 7th graders as they have with 10th graders as they have with college Seniors.

I am currently reading a wonderful book called Made to Stick by brothers Chip Heath & Dan Heath (suggested by my colleague Dr. Pat Cunningham).  As the name suggests, it explains the six basic ways that helps ideas stick in people's minds.  One of those methods is to provide the "unexpected."  The authors offer the anecdotal example of the flight attendant who made her "flight safety speech" into a comedy, which caught people by surprise and had them listening to her.  To boil it down, the authors state that the "most basic way to get someone's attention is this: Break a pattern."

In my experience, many of my most successful and memorable teaching ideas include the "unexpected" factor (dressing up as Elvis, standing on the roof of RCA to teach Pythagorean Theorem, turning the classroom into a battleground to name a few).  When my Wake Forest students enter my classroom for the first class of the semester next week, they are expecting what they have been exposed to in most other classes on the first day: introduce yourselves and why you are taking the course, hand out the syllabus, assign the first homework, and likely leave early.  While accepted by most, this in my eyes opens up a great opportunity to "break the pattern."    

Next week, the pattern will be broken, and I am excited to see the results.  I will have five different classes to meet next week, with different introduction activities for each prepared.  By the end of next week, I will write Part 2 of this entry, filled with pictures and stories.


First week of the spring 2015 semester is under my belt, and here are some results from each of my first classes:

EDU 201L Class: "Building Blocks of Education"  Each student took a few of Ryder's plastic "Mega Bloks" and wrote what or who were the building blocks of their education on them with a dry erase marker.  We went around the room after they finished to explain their blocks.  They then worked as a team to construct their "wall".  The activity was a lot of fun, and it provided a nice way for them to break the ice.  It allowed me to learn more about the students without asking them to share answers to a canned set of questions.

This section's wall had a bit of a structural issue.  It fell.
Students working on their building blocks.

This wall stayed strong.


EDU 203 Class: "Piped Out Introduction" Each student created a symbol out of pipe cleaners and beads (purchased at Target for $6).  They then went around the room to explain their symbols.  Since this group already got to know each other in previous methods courses, I did not need to have this be a "introduce yourself" type of activity.  Rather, I presented it as more of a "symbol" that represents you.  The students had a blast creating designs and creatures, but some struggled a bit figuring out what to make.  Next time I may have them brainstorm for a minute about what represents them before giving out the materials. 

EDU 300 Class: "Photo Booth" These are my seniors, who just finished their student teaching and are in their final semester together.  They are great friends, so this "first class" activity worked perfectly for them.  I bought all of the dress up items at Party City and made the signs myself.  They were excited to see each other after not seeing each other for a month and this was a great way to celebrate for them.  I would like to make the signs a bit bigger next time because they enjoyed using those, but could stand out more if they were bigger. 

EDU 311 Class: "Play-Doh Introduction" The goal for this class was to take play-doh and create a symbol that represents themselves.  This is an idea adopted from Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  Unfortunately, I had three students come down with the flu in that class, and it was already a small class, so I will be doing the activity next week instead.  But here's the play-doh ready to roll!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

15 for '15

Here are 15 things you can try out in your classroom in 2015:

1) Start a classroom Twitter or Instagram feed: Many of your students (especially in the older grades) and/or students' parents have their own accounts, so why not keep them updated with fun and interesting things you're doing in class?  Parents love to see what their child is doing, and this is a great way to keep them informed and connected.

*Note: check with your district about regulations, some school districts have specific rules about what can and cannot be posted.

2) Push urgency: It's always a little rough coming back from a two week break, so don't let the students set the pace when they come back to school.  As the teacher, you have complete control over the pacing of the class, so encourage a sense of urgency during transitions, entering and exiting the room, and tasks that need to be completed.  Using time limits and timers is a great way to encourage this.  One of my favorites for appropriate tasks is the Minute to Win It timer.  Start this from the second they walk in Monday morning!

3) Collaborate with someone: Find a colleague, a community member, or a business to collaborate with on a project, unit, or lesson to enrich the content and excite the students.  For example, if you have a science unit on rocks and minerals, find a local scientist (colleges are a good place to start) who could come in to talk about something cool that they study with rocks. 

4) Dress up: Find an opportunity to dress up as a character from a book or unit of study.  It engages the students and will help them make the connection between what you're teaching and what you're wearing.  Not to mention, it's a lot of fun! 

5) Be a teacher leader: When your administration needs something completed or is looking for volunteers to step up, be that person!  Don't look around until someone else raises their hand.  It shows leadership and initiative on your part.

6) Get a classroom pet: My whole teaching world changed around when I got Deacon (ball python snake) many years ago, and it caused great excitement and talking points in each classroom I had.  Fish, hermit crabs, gerbils, and rabbits are all fairly simple classroom pets that the kids will enjoy and can learn responsibility with.  You will also get major bonus points from the kids if they can name it!

7) Have perfect attendance: We often celebrate students who achieve perfect attendance throughout a quarter or a school year, but what if you aimed for the same goal.  You may not get a certificate with the principal's signature, but it's something to be proud of nonetheless!  Plus, you won't have to make any sub plans, which are sometimes more work than being there!

8) Do a home visit: If you ever want to understand why a student acts the way they do in class, visiting their home can be quite telling.  Aim to visit at least one home a month.  Be sure to make the visit a positive experience; don't bring up the problems (if any) you're having with the child.  The point should be to build relationships and trust with the family.

9) Celebrate along the way: It's not uncommon to have an end-of-quarter celebration for those students with good grades or perfect attendance, but what if you had opportunities along the way to celebrate achievements?  Consider ways to celebrate students throughout the quarter, and in ways beyond just academics and attendance.  Citizenship, athletics, community service, and extracurricular can all be ways for students to be recognized in front of their peers for things they excel in.

10) Have a secret handshake: It's fun to be a part of something, whether a club or a team, and even more fun when you have traditions or secrets that no one else knows.  Come up with a secret handshake or hand symbol that you can share with the students, so if you see them outside of class you can recognize each other in a fun way.

11) Teach manners and respect: Not all of our students are taught or required to use manners at home, so find opportunities to integrate these essential skills into your everyday routines.  Some ways to do this are to have them shake your hand before they enter the classroom, require "yes sir/ma'am" when responding, holding doors for people when they see them coming, and clapping for classmates after a presentation or great answer.

12) Have a class outing: Enjoy the company of the students outside of the classroom.  Inform the parents of a time and place that they are welcome to come join for family time with you and your family.  The movies, a local park, or a restaurant can all be good places to meet up to enjoy an opportunity to bond with your students' families.

13) Document everything: With such easy access to picture taking on our phones, snap photos of projects, fun activities, field trips, day to day fun, and the kids with their friends.  This will serve as a nice slideshow to share at the end of the year, but will also make for a great reminiscing opportunity in a decade when you look back at your previous classes.

14) Do something that scares you: Make it a goal in 2015 to conquer a fear, whether it's public speaking, heights, or touching a spider.  Do something bold!  It will make you stronger and can become a great story for your students.

15) Promote college and careers: Without sounding too "common core-ish," it is important to promote positive vibes on college and careers, and you can do this by exposing your students to college options and career paths.  Schedule a college tour, have a career day at school, or incorporate various careers into your teaching.

For more things you can do in the classroom, take a look at Inside the Trenches, available on Amazon and Kindle.  I also have some of my favorite lessons on my Inside the Trenches website.

Have a great 2015!