Reflections After the Hardest Year

Reflections After the Hardest Year

Colleagues,

Do you feel like this year has been your toughest year in education? If you do, then you are not alone. I have too many days to count this year wondering what has made this year even harder than the last.

As this school year is quickly coming to an end, I have been reflecting on my career, the educational system as a whole, and where children are academically, socially, and emotionally. Each of these components to my work weigh heavily on my heart. In my role as an Assistant Principal, I make decisions that will drive my career forward as a life long learner, make decisions that have the potential to impact thousands of students, and have interactions with dozens of students a week where I see where they are in all areas of learning and growing as young adults. Some days, the job can feel overwhelming due to our current climate, so here are my takeaways as I begin planning for the next school year.

Passion Drives Progress

I recently spoke with a fellow educator and he asked me what is something about me that he would not find on a piece of paper? I thought about this for a minute, all of my accomplishments or ideas you can easily find on documents that I have worked on in the last 10 years. What I decided to share was my passion for education. It is hard to put into words when you are truly passionate about something. When that passion is what you think about first thing in the morning, gets you through the tough days, and occasionally keeps you up at night thinking about how you can do better.

This is how I feel about education. It is my driving passion. I obviously love my children and my husband and they are also a huge reason I do what I do. But outside of my family, what personally motivates me is my passion for education. This includes wanting to find the best ways to nurture the developing minds of children, creating a positive and healthy work environment, and brining in innovative ways to further teaching in the 21st century. I spend my days reading and day dreaming about what more can we do for education in America. Although some days I feel discouraged, more often than not, I feel inspired and ready to face another day.

Trusting Work Places

My husband started his first year in education and I have to be honest, there have been many nights that I have had a smug look on my face when he comes home utterly exhausted and has nothing else to give for that day. I may have said a time or two “Glad you know what I have been talking about for the last 10 years… teaching is exhausting!” We always say that when you come to work you have to leave your baggage at the door and be ready with a smile on your face for your students and coworkers.

This is very emotionally and physically draining and that it is essential that you have a trusting work place, one that has coworkers who are there for you when you are having a rough day to help lift you up. A trusting place that when you need a minute to talk through the hard things, that you can leave knowing you have spoken in confidence. A trusting place that you know that the people around you are there to support you and help you grow as an educator.

There are plenty of negative comments circulating in the news and on social media about teachers and education. Education is under a microscope right now — what books are in the library, what standards are being taught, what curriculum is being used, what is the districts stand on these hot topics… I am hopeful that things will be easier next year, but this job is hard enough. We must support one another and create a safe and trusting environment so that educators have the mental and physical energy to give students their absolute best.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I knew Maslow was on to something with his hierarchy of needs, but it has become abundantly clear in the last two years that without basic needs, safety, and belonging being met for not only students but teachers, then personal growth and learning cannot take place. Teacher burnout and student discipline are both at an all time high, instead of putting more on teachers and students plates, we need to start with the basics.

What I have seen these past two years is that schools had to pivot within the matter of days from in person teaching to remote teaching. This was unavoidable and a part of being in a global pandemic. What schools would have implemented slowly over the course of years was implemented in days. Since then, we have been adding more and more to teachers with blended learning and constantly changing policies and procedures.

I keep hearing “we have to go back to how things were before COVID” but this is just not a realistic statement. The pandemic changed how we do education, so instead of trying to go back we need to start with the basics in this new style of education— are basic needs being met, are there structures in place that ensure safety and security for all, and does everyone have a sense of belonging and know their role and how to perform it on a day to day basis? Once we can answer those questions, then we can move forward with growth and learning.

Change Takes Time

Ultimately, things are changing in education. Some for the better and some for the worst. I have heard podcast and read blogs saying that education in America is going to have to crash and burn before it gets better. I really hope that is not the case, because there is an entire generation that may not be able to recover if that happens, including my children. Give the process time and continue to push for what is best for students. You can never go wrong if you view your work through the lens of “Is this best for my students?”

Dear First Year Educators

Dear First Year Educators

This past week I had a conversation with a first year teacher and one of his questions was how to know when you are doing too much. This really struck home for me because I am currently in my second year as a school administrator and my husband is in his first year as a middle school ELA teacher. We have struggled to find a work/home life balance.

Here is what I have learned in my nine years in education, you cannot do everything. This is one of the hardest things to realize as an educator, because people get into this profession because they care about children, their content, and doing their best. Acknowledging that something you feel would benefit your students and yet you are not going to do it, it extremely difficult.

So how do you decide when to say no to something? The best answer I can give came from my training with Tina Boogren on Motiving and Inspiring Students. Tina shared that the first thing we must look at in education whether it is as a teacher in a classroom, an administrator in a building, or a superintendent for a school district is Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Basic Needs

According to Maslow’s pyramid we will see that the bottom two levels make up the basic needs- physiological (food, water, shelter, rest…) and safety (security). When sharing this with my first year teacher I said that without those basic needs being met no student can learn. These needs are ones that you cannot say you will deal with later. These are the ones that you address first.

Physiology needs are ones that we should not put on teachers to meet, but we ask teachers to know their students well enough that if those basic needs are not being met then let someone know. Safety needs in the classroom are more than just asking if the room is physically safe (which is still extremely important) but are their procedures in place so the students knows what is expected of them when they come into the room? That security of knowing what to do in the classroom is essential and again, is not something that can be put off. You must establish your procedures, even if you end up tweaking them over time.

I always tell first year teachers that year one is the hardest and it will get better. So naturally, my teacher I visited with was worried because he is adding two new art classes next year and he was not sure how he will manage. The beauty of physiology and safety needs your “have to” for work, is those don’t change every year. You determine what works for you and get better and better each year at implementing them no matter what course you are teaching.

Growth Needs

Now, if we look at the next three tiers on the pyramid we see belonging (relationships, friends, connection), esteem (status, recognition, strength), and self-actualization (achieving full potential), this is where growth takes place. But remember, we cannot have growth without the first two needs being met. These three tiers will change each year as you have different students and how you meet their needs of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization will change, but once you have a firm grasp of implementing physiology and safety needs it will not feel so overwhelming.

So What Can You Do?

A great activity to determine how much time you are spending on each need is to track your time for a whole week and label each activity with which need is being met. The basic needs cannot be put off and must be addressed. These are the needs that no matter the class you are teaching once you have established what works for you then you can replicate with minor tweaks. Basic needs are also things that you can ask for support. If you are spending a lot of time addressing physiological needs then ask a counselor or administrator for help with these issues. If you are spending a lot of time on safety needs then visit with a veteran teacher to get tips and tricks that work well in the classroom. You do not have to find someone who teaches the same content as you, good classroom management looks similar throughout the school.

Once you have learned how to meet the basic needs of your students then creating a sense of belonging should be your focus and priority. Each year this will look different as your students and their needs will be unique, but a sense of belonging should always be a priority. While in your first year in education, it can be a challenge to learn how to make all students belong and establishing authentic connections in the classroom. Do not hesitate to visit with other teachers on how they build relationships and create an inclusive classroom environment.

So, in your first year of education if you put a focus on physiological, safety, and belonging needs of your students then you will be doing a great job. You will figure out what works for you and what works in your classroom. Year two you will get even better and year three even better than that. During this time is when you start to devote more of your time looking at esteem and self-actualization needs in your students.

Just remember, it is a lot and no one expects you to be an expert during your first year. Honestly, no one expects you to know everything at any point in your career. If you ever feel that you have learned everything there is to learn, then you have a fixed mindset which is not a good thing (I will save that for another post). Prioritize the have to haves your first year in the profession and know that the work you are doing will carry over for the rest of your career and that people are always here to help.

Three Promises I Make to My Children

Three Promises I Make to My Children

Parenting is tough, like really tough. I had no idea what I was signing up for 12 years ago when my son came into this world. I have made more mistakes than I care to share, but I have also experienced more joy than I thought possible. As time has gone on, I have been able to define my personal goals as a parent.

I tell my children regularly that their are three things that I must do. Every decision that I make can be traced back to these three jobs or promises that I have made to them.

As I look at my role as an educator I can apply these same promises to my students no matter the capacity to which I serve them.

For the sake of clarification- throughout the rest of this blog when I say “my children” or “children” I mean both my biological and students at school.

1. My promise to LOVE and show you love.

Keep in mind, these three promises are in no particular order, they are all equally important.

This first promise is to make sure my children grow up to know what love is, feeling loved, and learn how to appropriately love others.

Choose Love is a popular Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum that is being used around the country. The title says it all, choose love. I want to model this with my children that in all situations you have a choice and I hope they choose love. There will be times when we mess up and that is okay. It does not mean you are a bad person, but you need to own it, learn from it, and do better by choosing love the next time.

2. My promise to PROTECT you.

My daughter is a little dare devil. Throughout her life I cannot tell you how many times I have told her she cannot do something. The conversations goes like this;

“Why not mom? I want to.”

“I know you want to, but you cannot. It’s not safe because…”

As children get older the conversations will change from “you can’t run with scissors, its not safe” to “let’s talk about why you should not vape and how dangerous it is for you.”

Protecting children in a school setting can look different. It can be protecting students physically, such as having crisis plans in place to ensure the safety of all students. But protecting a child is no only from physical harm, but emotional, social, and mental harm as well. Just a few examples are cyber bullying, dealing with struggles of life in and outside of school, and equipping students with the skills needed to survive and thrive after school.

Letting children learn from mistakes is a part of growing up; therefore, make sure you can clearly identify what you are protecting them from and why this is not a good learning opportunity. If you cannot identify those, then you may actually be keeping a child from growing.

Continually reflect.

3. My promise to TEACH you how to be a GOOD HUMAN.

My husband and I say this often to our children- just be a good human. Be kind, be accepting, be generous, be selfless… the list go on.

If you notice, none of those attributes are political. I do not have to impose my beliefs on children to communicate how to be good. If anyone disagrees and thinks that being a good human needs to be addressed cautiously in the classroom, please feel free to write to me so we can start a dialogue.

Every day when I leave for work I tell my children at home “be a good human today.” I have said the same thing to my children at school as well. I hope when children see me they are able learn from my example of what it means to be a good human.

I also recognize that leading by example is not enough. The promise is not “to SHOW you how to be a good human.” It is to “TEACH how to be a good human.” Teaching how to be a good human must be intertwined with the daily learning at school.

Imagine an entire school where every person lived by that phrase- be a good human.


Yes, people make mistakes, but that is the beauty of school. Children get to learn and have loving adults in their lives to help guide them.

One of these promises alone will not do. I have to live by all three when I am parenting at home and as educator at school. If one fails, the overall well-being of the child is at risk.

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Managing Stress Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Managing Stress Edition

Today hit me hard.

I woke up, worked out, made my cup of coffee, got the kids up, made our breakfast, got dressed, and then walked 15 steps to my desk.

Real talk, as I sat there waiting for my computer to start up, I felt like crying.

I am an extrovert. Enneagram, I am a 7- the Adventurer. I love being an educator because I get my energy being with people and my passion is inspiring the next generation of movers and shakers of the world. Social distancing and isolation is a nightmare to me, but I am doing it. I know this is what is needed to help flatten the curve and to literally save lives.

As I started getting into my groove working I thought about the fact I have 30+ years of life experiences to prepare me for this; and yet, I am struggling big time! So how on earth are my 11-15 year old students handling life right now?!

Today led me to writing the next edition in “A Student Guide to Learning from Home- Managing Stress”. I want to give students tools to not only be successful academically during this time, but also stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy as well.

Please feel free to share any of the graphics I create and you can find my personal email on my contact page if you have questions or ideas. We are all in this together!


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Communicating with Your Teacher Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Communicating with Your Teacher Edition

I have been getting lots of great feedback and requests for new editions and the top requested one was an example of how students can correctly email their teachers. I remembered back in my Keyboarding class we were taught how to make envelope labels and format a letter, but now we need students to know how to creat a subject line and write a short and concise email to their teachers. This is my motivation for “Communicating with Your Teacher Edition” of A Student Guide to Learning from Home.

This graphic is a two part edition. The first is an infographic with important information to help format your email and the second is an example.


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Work Space Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Work Space Edition

This is possibly one of the trickier ones, as people are limited with what they already have in their home. So look the latest infographic from the series “A Student Guide to Learning from Home” and do the best you can. It will make all the difference in the world when you have “your” space for working/learning.


A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Email Edition

A Student Guide to Learning from Home: Email Edition

I had a slight panic attack when I looked at the thousands of unread emails in my 6th grade son’s inbox. He had asked for my help looking for an assignment from his teacher and surprisingly – insert eye roll – couldn’t find it. I realized that organizing and managing emails was not a skill he had yet, understandably so. Therefore, today infographic in my series is- Email Edition.


A Student Guide to Learning From Home: Routine Edition

A Student Guide to Learning From Home: Routine Edition

Today’s infographic is about creating a routine for your day of learning from home. Key components:

  • Make a clear separation from when you wake up and when you start working/learning
  • Take breaks- you are no good if you cannot focus anymore
  • Schedule time for physical activity/movement each day
  • Set realistic goals and chunk your assignments
  • Set a time to walk away from school/work at the end of the day and stick to it
  • Make your schedule your own! There is not a perfect routine that works for everyone, find what works for you!

Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 3: Organization

Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 3: Organization

My original post was going to go something like, “Top 5 tips for being organized as an educator…” I planned this about 2 months ago. A lot has changed in 2 months.

Uncharted Territory

Overnight, teachers across the world were asked to change their delivery of instruction to digital learning. Every student was asked to begin a whole new level of self monitoring and pacing to complete weeks worth of education digitally. This is not even addressing those who do not have consistent access to internet, both teachers and students. Students who became full time babysitters while parents continued to work or teachers who began working from home while also having children of their own at home with them. Or the millions of people who may be scared as they watched people around them struggling with COVID-19.

What teachers have been asked to do is unprecedented.

As I sat down at my computer to write I told my husband I did not know if I wanted to write about digital learning. Yes, that is what people are searching for right now, but a large part of me is desperately missing normalcy. He suggested I got and search for inspiration; looking for a way to find normalcy in my career and yet staying relevant with what people are needing. So, naturally, I got on social media and this is what I saw:

“Let them sleep in”

“No need to get dressed for the day”

“Use screen time so you can get your things done.”

“Children should do no more than 2 hours of school a day while at home.”

“I can’t believe my child had an assignment for EVERY CLASS!”

And then there are the jokes that gave me a good laugh:

“There are parents all over America that are just realizing the teacher is NOT the problem.”

“Day 1 of homeschooling- trying to figure out how to get this kid transferred out of my class.”

“All these kids learning Common Core math, bout to learn how to “carry the one” from their new homeschool teacher.”

This last week has been a whirlwind and it is not over.

Without knowing exactly how long we will be doing digital learning, teachers have to plan for the worst, the rest of the school year, and hope for the best. Not only do teachers have to figure out how to continue to deliver instruction digitally and meeting the needs of all students with a variety of different circumstances, we also have to provide adequate resources to working parents.

In my household, I have a 9 year old daughter and a 12 year old son who have the privilege of spending A LOT of the foreseeable future with me. We are also fortunate that my husband is a blog writer and has mastered the art of working from home.

After day 1 he told me I would not survive. I woke up and immediately started working in the clothes I had slept in, I took lunch around 2:00pm and finished working after 7:00 that night. I am an extroverted work-aholic and I needed help. He sat me down and we came up with a game plan for me while working at home.

From this conversations my blog post has changed to “How to Stay Organized While Teaching From Home”

Tip 1: Morning Routine

He suggested I treat my mornings like any other morning.

  1. 30 Minute Workout
  2. Shower
  3. Wake Kids Up
  4. Breakfast/Coffee
  5. Look Over Today’s Schedule
  6. Brush Teeth
  7. Dress
  8. Leave the House

So besides step 8, I should try and follow the same routine (I definitely do not spend the same amount of time on step 7 as I did before). I following my routine the rest of the week and I can tell you from personal experience, I felt so much better having my mornings back.

Tip 2: Transitions

Transitions are an essential part of planning your day. How will you transition from activity to the next? What protocols do you have in place to help transitioning from PE back to the classroom? But now we are asking “How will I transition from one lesson planning, digital tool learning, answering emails to the next task?”

Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.

I even did this for the children. Each day my children have 1 hour for Literacy and 1 hour for Math. If they finish their assignment for the day in 30 minutes then they have to continue that topic for the remainder of the time. If it is Literacy they can read or do IXL for the rest of the time. For Math I have practice sheets like multiplication they can do or Prodigy/IXL.

I am doing the same. If I had an hour to answer emails or contact parents and I finish up after 45 minutes, I will spend the next 15 minutes learning about new tools and resources to make communication more beneficial during this time.

**My ESL people- currently learning about Talking Points. As I learning more I will let everyone know!

Create a schedule for the family and follow it. This will keep everyone sane!

Tip 3: Food

Social media is lit up with funny memes about gaining weight during this time and I completely understand. I want to snack. All. Day. Long. Even though I know I do not need to.

Again, think about being at school/work . When do you normally eat in those settings? Make it a part of your schedule to only eat during those time. This will help everyone in the house keep with some normalcy during otherwise potential chaos.

Tip 4: Work Space

This one may be more difficult if your house is not set up with an office. My house is not, but we did make the desk in the living my personal working area.

Having this specific space helps me feel like walking into my office. I have left my personal life at the door and I have stepped into my educator role. As I stated earlier, transitions are big and we have to have a way to distinguish when we are working and when we are home. When I am sitting at the desk everyone in this house knows I am working. When it is time for me to “leave work” I closed up my work station, put my books and computer away, and leave my desk. I am now home for the evening.

Tip 5: Personal Care

This last one may be the most important. As always, an educator can only be their best for students if we are taking care of ourselves. This still applies. Organize and establish times to take care of yourself. Here are a list of ways you can do this.

  • Coffee To-Go
  • Go on a Walk
  • Order Food To-Go
  • Online Therapy Sessions
  • Get a Good Night of Sleep
  • Read a Book- not for work
  • Do a Puzzle
  • Follow the Above Recommendations
    • Workspace
    • Normal Eating Time
    • Schedule- you and children
    • Routine
  • Be Easy on Yourself- we are all learning and we will all make mistakes. Guess what, it’s okay.

The one take away I want anyone who is reading this is- the more organized you are will not only make the transition to digital learning easier, but it will help establish positive habits that will carry over into every day work life. Schedules and routines are your best friends. Use them wisely.


Active Recovery for Educators

Active Recovery for Educators

I noticed something during this past Winter Break. Any time that I checked Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform I saw all sorts of memes about teachers relaxing. One of my personal favorites said that we have earned the right to be lazy the entire break. I couldn’t agree more.

As the break progressed I had to stop myself from working or reading my latest find about standards based grading. My husband would see me sneak away and find me sitting and working on my iPad… typing away on a new blog. Don’t get me wrong, I also discovered the joys of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisal while on break. I had plenty of lazy mornings and time spent doing absolutely nothing. Everyone needs time when they are not 100% put together. When I am at work I have to be completely there for my students. They need me to show up and be ready for them. Always.

During my down time I also got the chance to read several blogs I had been meaning to catch up on. Pretty much every single one I read leading up to the new year was about self care. I am so excited that self care is such a hot topic today among educators. Teachers have to make time for themselves.

When it comes to “self-care”; here is a reflection of mine over the past year.

Last summer I had several great opportunities come up. I got to go to Montana with a coworker for a sustainability conference, Fort Collins, CO with my family on vacation, and Chicago for Pre-AP training with college board. Since I had so many trips planned I felt like the rest of my time should be spent doing nothing. To me, all of this “doing nothing” between trips and my son’s baseballs tournaments was my self-care and relaxation.

During my winter break I took a different approach. Instead of approaching my self-care with “doing nothing”; I made plans. I visited family, I read books, I painted again, and I did so many activities with my kids. I very rarely spent time laying in bed and binging on Netflix.

With complete sincerity, when it was time to go back to work on January 3, I felt ready. I felt re-energized. I could attribute it to one thing: I did active recovery over the break.

Now, for some background. I was an athlete growing up. I played competitive soccer, softball, and basketball. I finished high school playing volleyball as well. Since graduating high school I have tried to stay active. I have done CrossFit, Barre, and various other workouts and have loved each of them. One term you may hear regularly in the athletic world is “active recovery”. To keep it simple this means on your days off, you still go do something like a walk or light jog. Don’t completely take off, but just make it light. This keeps the athlete from going from one extreme to another, they are always staying active. Just at different levels.

This philosophy can also be applied with teachers. The extreme highs and extreme lows can be difficult for a person to handle. When someone has been working 60+ hours a week and working with difficult students it can be hard to completely shut down and do nothing.  On the same line of thought, if a person has completely checked out then when it is time to go back to work it can be equally if not more difficult to adjust back to work life.

This is why I suggest active recovery for teachers. Spring Break is right around the corner (hard to believe). So for the break instead of “doing nothing” why don’t you plan for a few activities or projects you want to complete. Now this does not mean go overboard. It is active RECOVERY. It is all about finding that balance. Before each break plan a few active things to do and a few pure recovery things to do. This will help the break truly prepare you for your next leg of work.