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.

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

Failure- It’s a Good Thing?

I recently reflected and blogged on my first few weeks as an administrator and one of my key points was the fact that I will make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but each person has the choice to let the mistake/failure define who they are or to learn and grow from the experience.

I had the opportunity to participate in a breakout session at the AAEA summer conference and Dr. Gotcher asked the audience to share what failure meant to them. One person shared “Failure is only the next opportunity to succeed.”

This really hit home for me. As we go through this school year, trying to navigate COVID-19, I know there will be moments of failure. I want to choose to view each of those moments as just creating opportunities for success.

Now, saying that you will take your failures and turn them into opportunities is easier said that done. At least that is my personal experience. For this school year I am going to do these follow steps to try and make failures opportunities for success.

Community

Going at this career alone is never a good idea. Find your person that you can process through hard times and help keep perspective on the bigger picture.

Student Focused Vision

When you experience a failure, determine if what you were trying to do would be best for students. If it failed because it ultimately wasn’t what was best for students then walk away. If you still believe it is what is best for students then keep trying and reach out to those around you that can support your vision. As long as we keep our focus on what is best for students we can always turn opportunities into success.

Grace

I have to be willing to give myself grace. I have heard over and over the phrase “Grace before Grades”, but I think we can just say “Grace first”. Everyone will be going through a challenging time whether it is a student juggling school, with remote learning with siblings, while working a full time job to support their family; or parents who are staying up late at night after working all day to try and help their students with homework because their child is having a hard time adjusting to school again; or teachers who are so excited to see and love on their students but are also scared about their health and the health of their families. Grace must come into play for all parts of education this year.

I believe if I filter all of my experiences and reflections through these three steps then I will be able to take my failures and turn them into successes.


Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 4: Documenting

Educator’s Lifesaving Tip 4: Documenting

 

Document, document, document.

Oh, and document some more.

Has anyone else felt like they are documenting more than teaching? This is part of the new territory that comes with digital learning. I do not think I am alone in saying that it has been overwhelming. As I have gotten into a routine of things I wanted to share my process for documenting that works in the building and remotely.  

Data

Data

When documenting for any reason it is best to have some form of data that goes along with it. Anecdotal records are a great resource, but numbers can speak volumes when working on a team. Try to find a way to quantify your data before sharing. 

Concise

concise

Details are good, but too many can make it hard to read. Bullet points on a shared document or lists on Google Sheets/Excel spreadsheet can help create a nice system for getting the important details communicated. Now, if the details are important then definitely include. Just make sure it adds to the overall purpose of the documentation and does not take away from it. 

Share

people creative and brainstorm idea for business

I have always said that no students belongs to one teacher- when a student steps foot in a build that I work, then that child’s academic, emotional, physical, and mental well-being are the responsibility of every person there. When documenting it does no good if you are the only person who sees it. Find a system that works for your school in sharing data so that everyone can benefit from it. I have used Google Doc or Google Sheets to share with people and within my Google Drive I have created Priority Workspaces to keep all of my documentation organized. I do not know how I would be surviving working from home without these tools! 

CC’ed

cc

If you are documenting a situation that has happened and it includes another teacher’s name then it is best to include that teacher if possible. There may be scenarios where it is better to not include everyone involved and to allow another person to handle that conversation. If that is not the case, then give every person included in your documentation a heads up or carbon copy them to the email thread. 

Time

time

Right now documenting can feel like it is all you are doing. Find a process that works best for you. I have heard people who like to document everything at the end of their work day and that is how they wrap up. That does not work for me, I forget things too quickly. I currently spend the last 10 minutes of every hour documenting what I have done for the previous 50 minutes. This makes it so that I do not spend too much time just writing about my day and I do not forget any details I would want to include. Having a set time will help you never miss anything important. 

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!

A Student Guide to Learning From Home Series

A Student Guide to Learning From Home Series

2020 is unlike any year that I have experienced so far as an educator. I started a new role as an ESL Coordinator for a large school district in Northwest Arkansas. Learning a new role comes with its ups and downs and continual learning from typically more errors and than successes.

Then came March of 2020- COVID 19

Nothing could have prepared me or educators across the country for what was going to happen next. Schools shut down nationwide, even across the globe. School districts shifted overnight to distance learning with not time to prepare students- Kindergarten through 12th grade. Senior experience cut short; no spring sports, no prom, no graduation, no farewells to teachers and classmates… My heart still breaks for those students and their families.

Some schools are 1 to 1 and have the capability of sending devices home with students, others are not. Some students have WiFi access, other do not. There are several children who have IEPs, 504s, and LPACs and educators had to figure out how to meet those accommodations and modifications.

What I can say through everything is I have never been more proud of my career field, my coworkers, and my community. Teachers have come together globally to answer the question of how to best reach the needs of all students; not just academically, but physically and emotionally as well. District put together meal distribution plans so that no child would go hungry during school closures. Businesses ensured that every child would have what they needed- food, supplies, internet access, online resources…

I have been thinking about what I can do to contribute and decided to do a series for students and teachers called “A Student Guide to Learning from Home” with special edition graphics and videos throughout the next few weeks. I have been fortunate in this time of uncertainty because my husband is an independent contractor and has worked from home for the last 5 years. He helped me and our children create systems to help us while working and learning from home. So I have decided to take that information and share it with my fellow educators, parents, and children in hopes it can help each of you out as well.

This first graphic is an overview for learning from home. I will post more, so stay tuned! Enjoy 🙂

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.