Come Together: Building a Global Teacher

Being a child of the 80s and 90s (Can I get a what-what?!), rap was a big part of music and pop culture growing up (and it still is today). While the music was fresh and funky, one thing that first comes to mind about the early era of rap music was the constant feuding, tension, and “haters” associated with this music movement (R.I.P. Tupac and B.I.G). Then, finally, someone realized rappers needed to (in the ever wise words of the Beatles) “come together,” stop hating, and start collaborating.  My first recollection of this was a Jay Z collaboration that blew my mind. This collaboration model concept caught on, and not only did more and more rappers start joining forces to bring better beats than ever before, but their songs (endorsements, and other products) soared to the top.

What’s my point? (…other than having a bit of a “Throw back Thursday” moment)

I feel like we are seeing an awesome teacher-collaboration movement in the education community.  Our industry has and most likely will always have controversy, opposing sides, endless change, and even some haters that you will inevitably encounter.  Even in my twelve short years as an educator, I’m happy to say that I have seen and continue to witness a shifting culture of increased support and collaboration.  Let me be clear: I’m not saying teacher collaboration is a new trend.  Rather, I feel that technology, ease of travel, and sheer necessity to collaborate (due to ever increasing demands on we teachers) has forged a fantastic network of educators reaching beyond the four walls of their classroom, the buildings they work in, and even states and countries to hold hands together, share, support, inspire, and collaborate through the endlessly challenging task of being a teacher in today’s world.  As we are more closely scrutinized than ever by the outside world, media, and politics, we must “come together” with our colleagues and fellow educators.  Doing so is proving successful for teachers, just as it did in the rap world. Teacher blogs abound with countless followers, districts are tackling Common Core together, educators are trusting other teachers for classroom resources and making major bucks in the process thanks to sites like TeachersPayTeachers.  All in all, connection + collaboration = teacher success in numerous ways!

So, how can you create your own collaboration?

Blogging Besties: If you are already a teacher blogger, you have likely experienced the surprisingly wonderful friendships and professional bonds you have formed with fellow bloggers and your blog followers.  Last summer I began my blogging journey as a Scholastic Top Teaching blogger and instantly met two fabulous ladies (Kriscia Cabral and Erin Klein) who became fast life-long friends and excellent educational collaborators.  If I have a question about teaching or need some inspiration to get out of a curricular rut, I reach out to those ladies, even though they might be in Michigan and California.  Getting outside perspective from teachers cross-country is an amazing way to shake up your instruction and stay current on national education issues. If you are not already a teacher blogger, follow and comment on other teacher blogs for the same type of advice and connection, or start your own blog… why not?

Recently I attended a national teacher-blogger meetup and it was amazing! Not only was I able to reunite with blogging bestie Erin Klein, but I made new friends like these lovely ladies from GoNoodle, and connected with both new and veteran teacher bloggers from across the country, including Angela Watson from The Cornerstone (we had a blast together!).  I can’t wait to reach out to and collaborate with these inspiring educators!

Local Connections: Don’t overlook the importance of starting new local teacher connections and maintaining existing relationships.  We are all so busy as teachers, that sometimes it is difficult to tend to our collegial friendships. Make it a goal to do something special for your teammates, keep in touch teacher friends from past grade levels or schools taught at.  If you want to expand your local circle of teacher connections, challenge yourself to reach out to teachers beyond your team, grade level, school, or even district. Within your school and district, make a point to talk to new people at meetings or times provided to collaborate. Beyond your district, join local educational organizations or tap into social media to make those connections (see below).

Webinars, Blogs, Social Media, Oh My!: If I had to pinpoint a singular catalyst behind this web of teacher connectivity, I would credit technology. You have so many vehicles for collaboration without boundaries thanks to online webinars, teacher/educational organization blogs, and social media. Check them out and mix up the way you follow and connect with people. Don’t limit yourself to in-person teacher relationships. Below you will see how I utilize different social media tools to connect with teachers beyond local borders.

  • Facebook gives me quick peeks at updates on blog posts, products released, reviews, and tips from teachers around the world.
  • Pinterest is one of my biggest obsessions. I search Pinterest for classroom ideas, resources, decor/bulletin board ideas, and organizational tips.  I’m super visual, so purusing through pics is a winning approach for me.  I could Pin away hours of my life and have gleaned some of my best teaching ideas from this source!
  • Instagram is my newest social media love, as it plays to my visual nature much like Pinterest.  I love Instagram because it allows me to often see more personal glimpses of the life and classroom happenings of teacher bloggers and fellow colleagues.
  • Twitter is the perfect forum for me to soak up top educational trends and tidbits, and then further explore via links provided if I so choose. I don’t have time to read every educational organization website, journal, or news report.  The people I have chosen to follow on Twitter provide short blurbs that keep me up-to-date and lead to further exploration of topics most relevant to my professional growth. Also, watch for and engage in top weekly educational Twitter chats that will provide a more personal interaction with Tweeting teachers.

Take a moment and choose even just one of these suggested ways to further connect and collaborate with other educators. If you do so, you’ll see that everyone wins…and most importantly, your students will benefit from the wealth of “good things” that emerge when we as teachers “come together.”

Don’t know where to start?

Connect with ME! I’d love to collaborate together.

Hang in there — teaching can be tough!

I love someecards no matter what the topic of their hilarity is, but when it comes to their teacher quotes, I roll on the floor laughing. The reason? Because they are so true. This profession is incredibly tough, demanding, tiring, unappreciated, and we often have a love-hate relationship with it. Things as simple as using the restroom become a luxury for us.  It can be a lot to handle, and I’ve had times in my career where I really let the annoyances cloud my viewpoint. Take these tips to keep your chin up, a smile on your face or perhaps a sentimental tear on your cheek, and reflect on the passion and purpose of educating our most important resource: our children.

Laugh

In the spirit of someecards, never forget to laugh.  If you don’t laugh in this profession, you’ll cry… and I don’t mean a gentle tear falling type of cry, I mean a punching bag face, really ugly cry (#beentheredonethat). Hilarious things happen every single day in the classroom. Often we are too overwhelmed with new mandates, Johnny wetting his pants in the corner, or Susan throwing a tantrum at her seat, to stop and appreciate the funny little moments in our days. Whether it’s something a colleague says that makes you chuckle, a funny retort from a student, or searching out a source of humor online like someecards, relish in the moment and have a giggle. Check out the entire collection of teacher-themed someecards and save this link for a rainy (or should I say tear-filled) day in the future!

 

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Inspire

Sometimes we need a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking reality check to remind us about why we entered this crazy profession to begin with and the difference we are truly making each and every day.  Whether we realize it or not, we are inspiring people every day. Sometimes we need the same in return. Personally, I’m a sucker for inspirational quotes. Reading the words of great figures seems to erase any irritating comments from parents, frustrating moments with students, or exhausting district red tape that I have dealt with on any given day. Check out the 50 Most Inspirational Quotes for Teachers. You are certain to find one, or ten, or 50 that bring a smile to a face and a tear to your eye!

Watch videos

My friend and fellow blogger, Erin Klein, wrote a fantastically uplifting Scholastic Top Teaching blog post on 9 Videos to Make Teachers Laugh, Cry, and Feel Inspired! Any time I can refer to something that’s teacher-tested-and-approved I go for it. If you need uplifted, check out her post and the videos within. Edutopia also put out a great list of 20 Movies Every Educator Should See. Some of my favorites are on that list and I want to curl up on my couch with a blanket and waste a few hours watching them right now!

What’s MY favorite inspirational teacher video? Kid President’s Pep Talk to Teachers and Students! I adore this kid, and his video pep talk both made me laugh and cry.

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Read

I’m going to be honest, I’m so busy that I often don’t have time to read as much as I would like to. If I can get a book (leisure or professional) on audio, it’s a huge bonus (since I commute 45 minutes each way daily). When I am selecting a book to read, I’m extremely persnickety. I want it to be worth my time and be something that makes a true impact. Thanks to Hope King’s posts about working at the infamous Ron Clark Academy (RCA) and Cara Carroll’s (#teachercrushes) recommendation, I think I’ve found my inspirational book pick for right now: Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me, by Kim Bearden. I have major teacher crushes on both of these educators/bloggers and respect their talents. If they recommend something, I know it’s going to be great.

What Hope has documented about her time at RCA has been amazingly innovative and inspirational, and makes me long to go visit this incredible educational institution. Cara says the book is “heartfelt, inspiring, and amazing.” She states very personally that this book found her at a time when she was questioning everything about her profession, and couldn’t have showed up at a better moment. I am going to order this book and keep it on hand for the moment I am doing my own teacher-sole-searching. I know Kim’s words will comfort, inspire, and even challenge me…and we all need that every now and again as teachers!

Be grateful

Last, but certainly not least, when you’re frustrated with a lesson you’ve taught, losing your mind because it’s the 6th week in a row without outdoor recess due to extreme snow, or downtrodden after an upsetting parental encounter, take a moment to be thankful. Say what?! Yes, be thankful. Even when things seem their worst, there’s always someone or something to be grateful for. Doing so clears your head, brings about positive thoughts, and helps you rise above the daily drudge that can often creep up. Even on the worst day, if you are thankful to have the privilege and pleasure to teach our nation’s youth and make a difference, you will rise above and remember why education is your true calling!

PBIS and ClassDojo go together like PB and J :)

Does your school use PBIS to build positive behavior and school wide community? PBIS has made a meaningful impact on my classroom and school, and ClassDojo has been a major tool to that success! Whether you’re a PBIS newbie or a veteran implementor, integrating ClassDojo into your school-wide PBIS will be a management miracle that will make you smile. Read below and check out the helpdesk for information on best practices for marrying PBIS and ClassDojo in your school.

What are best practices for using ClassDojo as a teacher in a PBIS school?

  • ClassDojo is the perfect tool to supplement implementation of SWPBIS (School Wide PBIS). In most schools, PBIS expectations are boiled down to a small quantity (typically around 3) of foundational expectations and then applied to all areas of school and aspects of students’ daily routines. Since ClassDojo gives teachers the freedom to assign specific titles to both positive and negative behaviors for points given or taken away, you may customize your Dojo points to match the specifics of your school’s PBIS plan.
  • In my opinion, impactful best practices of using ClassDojo and PBIS in general include: explicit expectations, consistency, communication, and praise/reward (even if it’s just through Dojo points) to reinforce positive behavior.
  • Perhaps most importantly, one must monitor, evaluate, and respond to the incredibly useful and automatically generated DATA that Dojo provides for each student. Praise and prevention rewarded with a point system is great, but not truly effective if not student driven.  Utilize the data to help you make adjustments to your PBIS plan, implementation strategies, and classroom practices using ClassDojo as a tool.
  • The possibilities are endless!  My recommendation is to make it work for you by incorporating your PBIS expectations in a way that meets the needs of you, your students, their parents, and your school-wide plan.
  • A few examples of points/categories/classes information could be:
  • To keep things super simple, you could create only PBIS-specific categories for behavioral points titles. For example, if your school focuses on safety, respect, and responsibility as three primary behavior goals for all aspects of student life, then you could have only those three titles listed for your points.  You could leave the points system as simple as that, or if you wanted to, you could add notes to student reports if you feel the need to specify how/when/where they earned a point in that category.
  • Each teacher could create his/her own general behavior titles based loosely on the language and categories of your PBIS plan. For example, one could add be safe, respectful, and responsible to their points menu as three positive behaviors if those were the foundational categories of PBIS for their school.  Additionally, the teacher could then add other classroom-specific behavior titles of his/her choice to supplement the core PBIS points categories (i.e.- clean desks, genius thought, creativity, etc.).
  • If you want more expansive and specific data, you could create a “class” for each category of your PBIS plan.  For example, you could have one class for each setting (hallway, classroom, assemblies, specials classes, etc.) with specific behaviors mapped out in your PBIS plan listed as behavior titles within each of those settings categories (Hallway: Safe walking feet, quiet mouths, hands to self).  Another option is to have “classes” for each major category of behavior (i.e.- be safe, respectful, responsible), with specific behaviors for each setting listed within those categories (safety indicators for hallway, assemblies, classrooms, etc. all listed).

Convinced that ClassDojo will be your PBIS best friend?  If so, run on over to the ClassDojo resources page to spread the news to colleagues, print decorations, and download informative handouts, presentations and more. With these resources, kicking off ClassDojo use, sharing this great resource, and connecting with parents will be a snap that will ultimately benefit your PBIS!

See PBIS in action in my classroom!  Check out my class website page, Rules of the Road, to learn more about PBIS, see it implemented with my students, and read up on tools I use to achieve PBIS success.

Motivation + monitoring + movement = Management miracle!

Isn’t it funny how some days you feel like your students are perfect angels and then all of the sudden everything seems to fall apart? A million factors contribute to the classroom atmosphere — from a full moon to spring break starting the following day. It is one of the most important elements of a successful learning environment.

I have found that combining motivation, constant monitoring, and time for movement breaks can result in a managed classroom that can stand up to pretty much anything… even the last week of school! ClassDojo has been my motivational and monitoring savior for the past several years. Several elements of ClassDojo worked wonders to motivate and monitor my students:

1. Motivation: Motivating students can be frustrating, but somehow ClassDojo found the perfect way to instantly encourage students with both impactful feedback and points. Engaging students with ClassDojo was largely due to these factors:

  • SOUND EFFECTS: My students squeal with excitement every time they hear the delightful “ding”, resulting when someone receives a positive behavior point. I love that something so simple has such an effect on my students.
  • AVATARS: Could the ClassDojo monsters get any cuter? Students love choosing their avatars. You can also create your own for a customized effect. My colleague sets point goals for her students (10, 20, 50, etc) and when they reach their goal they get to change their avatars. You should see the excitement over such a simple reward.
  • CLASSROOM ECONOMY: In our class, we use ClassDojo as a component of our larger classroom economy system. Students earn (or lose) Dojo points, which are equivalent to “dollars”. They receive paychecks for total points/dollars monthly or bimonthly. Students can cash them in and use them to purchase items at our classroom store.  

2. Manage and monitor: When I began teaching, tracking and communicating student behavior was laborious, time consuming, and often far from accurate. Then came ClassDojo! ClassDojo has such an amazing, built-in data management and monitoring system. In my opinion, this is perhaps the best aspect of ClassDojo.

  • PARENT PORTAL: With easy parent sign-up, ClassDojo becomes an automatic and effortless parent portal into student behavior within the classroom. Parents can see in real-time how their students are doing, so that nothing is a surprise at parent-teacher night! Also, teachers can instantly message them exciting moments from school or to just clarify a Dojo point that was given.
  • TEACHER TRACKING: Best of all, I have instant and accurate access to student behavior data for any period of time I wish to choose. Thanks to ClassDojo this extremely important portion of our job is made so simple!
  • STUDENT SUCCESS: It is quite powerful to see students check their points and view their reports. The ownership they feel over monitoring their own personal progress and achieving personal behavior goals is empowering, impressive, and effective.

3. Make Time for Movement: No matter how great your classroom management system is, students need time to give their brains a break and get in some movement. Try some yoga or dance moves in your classroom!

I hope these tips come in handy for you this school year!