What a time to live in! We have an entire online/offline organizational tool that is collaborative and easy to use!
It's called Google Drive! I'm sure you know about and whether you are an expert or beginner. Chances are your school has their own Google Drive and you have your own. It is a powerful tool and there are so many amazing features. I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to KonMari your Google Drive.
I find so many colleagues who use Google Drive, share and create but they can't find anything! I . have other colleagues who save everything on their computer or the very, very disorganized staff shared drive (it honestly scares me and no one can find anything). Vintage Google Drive I guess. Whether it's poorly named, not in a folder or just named "Copy of 2018 Final", this isn't efficient. Let's KonMari our Google Drives!
Take it one class at a time. Do not do it all at one time. I recommend first making folders for each class/subject/whatever you need. You may already have some but within them they are disorganized (we'll get to that later). Any floating documents or random folders to be organized and cleaned out no matter what. Nothing floats without a folder. You'll see below I have a variety of folders: all the courses I teach, clubs, recommendation letters and some "catch all" folders that are general for things like sub plans and evaluation documents.
Clear and Concise.
Within each folder, you should have units organized. Once again start small. Go subject by subject, unit by unit. This takes time and thoughtfulness. Below is my physics essentials class. You'll see it has all my units, projects, etc. I need. While means I can easily access any unit I need. I have a folder called "Science Review Materials". This is old things I don't use, however I keep them all in one place in case I need them. I also take them out of here and move to a different folder if needed. Use clear and concise titles so you know exactly what you are looking for.
You've already nested twice! At this point there may be many documents thrown into your unit folders. Time to nest deeper! I have talked to many teachers who have everything in one unit folder, however nothing is organized within it. It's hard for anyone (including yourself) to find what you need. There are many ways to do this. I like to do it by topic and then nest inside again based on the type of work in a unit (if needed).
You'll see within the Distance Displacement folder I have only have related content. This is way better than having it mixed in with motion, and graphing motion.
Ever stumble across a doc and go "WTF is that???". As I started to share classes with different teachers, I realized how essential it is to name a document logically. For example if I have a Distance Displacement Lab (shown above), even though it is nested in the Distance Displacement folder I still named it Distance Displacement Lab. Why? It is easier to find by searching and it's not confusing with other things in the subject folders.
Make Copies and Rename Them
I am constantly updating my curriculum. Instead of editing the old document (in case I need it again), I make a copy and rename it. I like to use the year I updated it as well. I once edited a whole old document and then realized I needed the old one... which was not fun! When you copy a document, make sure you don't live the "Copy of ...". Name Smarter.
Put things you don't use in the same place.
Folders can get bogged down with old stuff you don't use. Make a folder called "Old [Insert Unit/Topic Name]" and throw things in you haven't used in awhile or don't use anymore. This helps declutter your actual folder and make things more straight forward for those you share your folders with.
Delete the Old Junk.
An Untitled Doc with nothing in it? A random folder with a random doc in it? Something that you don't even know what it is? A random Word document you already converted? DELETE IT. You don't need it and you're being an online hoarder. Free some space and confusion. Worried you're going to need it? Look at your Trash folder on Google Drive. Old stuff is there!
Scan and Transfer.
Use Comments to Make Notes for Next Year.
After you finish a unit, project, test, etc. you have two options: don't open it up til next year or do something. First, if you need changes, edit it right then and there (spellings, wording, questions, etc.). If you're not sure what you want do, make comments. Then next year when you open it up BAM you know what you need to change. Awesome!
Back it Up.
I have talked to a few people who don't use Google Drive because they are worried about the backup. You can back it up. My personal drive owns all my documents for school and then certain folders are shared with my school drive. Second, I backup my whole Google Drive on my personal laptop and my school computer! If you are worried even more, back it up on an external hard drive every few weeks.
How do you organize your Google Drive? Drop a comment below or reach out @outoftheboxstem!
I'm about to finish up my 5th year teaching. I cannot believe it.
Happiness. Anxiety. Excitement. Dread. Stress. Relief. Laughter. Success. I've experienced it all. After 5 years teaching, I reflect on what I've learned and what I remember and will always remember about what it takes to be an amazing educator!
1. Break the Norm
Ask why your school do things a certain way. If the answer is "we've always done it that way", break the norm. Transform your classroom, do things you've always wanted to do and don't be afraid. I did SBG and Flipped Learning when people told me it wouldn't work. I started the Sunshine Club when I thought no one would come. Change happens when you step out of your comfort zone. Speak up and make it happen.
2. Classroom Management is Everything
It doesn't matter if you're the smartest person in the world and you know your subject the best or your have the most engaging lesson in the world. If you don't have classroom management, you have nothing in your room. I work on this every day and embrace it as my challenge as an educator. Every kid can be engaged and on task. My favorite resources are here, here and here.
3. Be Open to Feedback and Reflection
I find a lot of teachers are defensive of their practice. When other educators ask "Why do you do that?" or "What could you improve" many teachers get defensive. With a defensive attitude, you will never improve. Be okay with feedback, implement it and know it's always from a good place. Be reflective. Every day take a moment to think about one amazing thing that happened that day and one thing you could improve on. The best teachers are the most reflective teachers.
4. Find your Friends
Despite being around people all day, teaching is very isolating. I say this to non teachers and they don't believe me. You must find your friends in your school (and outside of school). Sometimes it won't happen immediately (it took me about a year at my current school) but you need to find people you vibe with. Get out of your department and meet more people.
5. It's a Selfless Job, But be Selfish
My first year teaching a teacher told me "If you don't stay late after school until 5 you aren't a good teacher". Hmmmm... I'm suspicious of this statement now. I was staying for no reason. I was staying because I felt like I had to stay. I left. I still leave as soon as I can. I also take all of my personal days. They don't roll over or pay out so I take them! The last few times I took them it was to relax, spend the day to myself doing me. I came back a better teacher.
6. Block Out the Negativity
We all know the negative teachers. They are always complaining and bringing the mood down. This fed into my anxiety for years. So I started to walk away. When that negative person sits down next to me, I leave. When people are gossiping and complaining in the hallway, I leave. It's not rude- it's looking out for yourself.
7. Lighten The Mood
Everyone is so serious. Maybe that is life in general but it's also like that in school. Lighten it up. Make some jokes. Make people laugh. I once set out an all school email on April Fool's claiming we were giving away a car. It was funny and made people laugh.
8. Leave Your Grade Level or Department
Well, don't break up with them but meet other people at your school. I met a lot of our special ed teachers and they are such fun and easy going people. I met some of the counselors who are so fun and make me laugh. I realized that yes, my department rocks, but you need to meet other people in your school. You never know you get along with, who you can share and collaborate with.
9. Find What Your Kids Love
I think it's weird to say "do things that your kids like". I used to work with a teacher who didn't do certain units or labs because "the kids don't like it". Instead of making excuses, find what kids are interested in. Maybe that is building something, going outside or exploring their passions more. It doesn't always have to be always relating content to a sport or social media, it can be about skills they are interested in.
10. Hold All Kids to a High Standard
When I read Teach Like a Champion, this is the part that stood out to me. It doesn't matter where your kids from, what they know, what they don't, what their behavior is, etc. All students can succeed and to do this we need to set expectations. I think this is the most important lesson I've learn. It's called collective efficacy. If we all believe that every child can succeed they will. If we give up and lower expectations, they can never reach their full potential.
11. Go to Every Conference and PD You Can
When approached about *free* PD experience, take the opportunity. "But I'll be out of the classroom!!!" What will make you a better teacher- being in the classroom every day or taking your practice to the next level? Your kids will survive without you. Take up the opportunity. Most importantly, go to conferences. Ask for money to go. Pay your way if needed (which sucks, but treat it as a vacation and pick cities where you can stay with someone). I have met 20-year educators who have never been to a conference. HOW? Do it for yourself and for your kids.
12. Challenge Yourself to Be Better Everyday
Even if you have the most "perfect" day in the classroom, ask yourself how it can be better? What could I change? How can I reach all kids. How can you change a project or lesson for next year. If you don't challenge your thinking you will never improve. Some of the best educators I met changed what they did every year. I always am looking for better and more creative ways to do things. The best part about teaching is that tomorrow is a new day.
13. Be Mindful of Your Emotions
The worst part about teaching is you have to hide what is going on in your personal life. I think there is a line about what we tell our classes. Perhaps you tell them "I'm have an off day, my dog died", but if it's a conflict with admin, teacher or another class hour keep that to yourself. First, this is showing that you let things get to you. Second, it paints a horrible picture of the other party. When I have a hard class hour I treat the next hour as a fresh slate.
14. Advocate for Yourself, Kids and School
There are so many people who will stereotype your school, your kids, the teachers, the admin and basically everything else. You have to be the biggest cheerleader and advocate. When someone says something negative about my district, I turn the script back on them. "Did you know our school is one the most diverse in the county? Did you know we have the best CTE program in the county, awesome theater and leadership? AND two teachers won county teacher of the year back to back." Word of mouth is the best way to advocate. Even when things aren't the best, you have to advocate for what you believe in.
15. Say "%$&! It" to the Bad Days
There is a reason I go to OrangeTheory Fitness almost every day after school, I watch reality tv and that I take naps. Everyone has bad days. Leave it in the staff parking lot. You can't bring it home. And you shouldn't. Go into the next day fresh and ready to kick butt.
16. Present at PD and Conferences
Your first five years of teaching are the most important and impactful. A good friend told me "I can't present! I only have three years of experience!" You have three years of fresh ideas and new ways to teach. People want to hear about that. People don't care how many years you've been teaching, they care about what you care about. Apply and make it happen!
17. Get a Hobby that has Nothing to do with School
Or a significant other and friends if you can. My husband works in the corporate world as a buyer and is my biggest supporter. However, we don't really talk about teaching. That makes it awesome. I love to go to OTF, try new restaurants, travel, organize my house and watch movies. I don't think about teaching then. Teaching is my career, but it is not my life.
18. Leave School at School
Stop answering emails and Remind after 4pm. Just stop it. The world will keep turning and nothing is that urgent that you can't answer it til morning. I turned off my notifications for my school email and don't have a screen pop-up for Remind. I also have "office hours" on Remind. Work-life balance is everything.
19. Pay Attention to Politics and VOTE!
I have talked to several teachers who don't stay updated on local and state politics or even vote. School funding comes from the state level. You must me informed. Vote in every election. Read about what is going on. I can't emphasize how important this in. Be informed for you school, kids and district. You owe it to yourself and others. PS you can't complain if you don't vote.
20. Get on Social Media
For awhile, social media was a no-no for teachers. Over the years this just isn't true anymore. A positive social media is essential for any professional. You should not be friends with parents or friends however it is great to have a professional twitter and instagram. This is a great place to collaborate and learn new things!
21. The Kids Are Not Your Friends
This was the best advice I got from a colleague. No matter what, these kids aren't your friends. Don't involve yourself with their gossip, confide in them or interact with them on social media. You are an adult and a trusted mentor. Never be alone in a room with a student without the door open. Be mindful of what you do and say (especially if you are young).
22. Behind Every Behavior Problem is a Story
When I started teaching, I thought kids were bad just to be bad. That's not true. When a kid is acting out or disengaged, distracted or off task, defiant or non-responsive... something else is going on. After realizing this, I began to approach behavior problems differently. For instance, the kid who's sleeping in class- what is happening outside of school? Turns out the student doesn't always have access to his medicine. Problem solved! Just thinking about our behavior problems as stories that need to be told will change you.
23. Know Your Biases & Educate Yourself about Social Justice
I've heard teachers say "I treat all kids the same." or "I love diversity!", but I hear little discussion on our actual biases and what our students of color and low income kids are challenged with. Many people (not just teachers) are scared of confronting these biases. However this is part of living in our society. We must look at ourselves, examine our identity and biases and take action. We need to call out and have conversations with the people around us. And read some books... here, here, here, here and here. Read, educate yourself and have the tough conversations. It's better for your kids.
24. Do Nice Things for No Reason
I like this one because during a rough day there's nothing better than doing nice things. It's why I started our school's Sunshine Club. I wanted to do nice things for no reason other than to make people smile. Nice things are easy: make a shout out board in the teachers' lounge, grab someone's copies, write a thank you note, bake cookies for a friend or ask if a teacher needs any help. Want to do even more? Plan a potluck, happy hour or outing with your staff!
25. Relationships are Everything
I can't emphasize this enough. You can know all your content, all the pedagogy but if you don't know your kids- that doesn't mean anything. Get to know your kids and who they are. This goes to adults in the building too. Say hi and get to know the staff: teachers, paras, custodians, secretaries, your principals. If you don't like someone, maybe it's time to get to know them.
What else have you learned over the years teaching? Drop a comment below or reach out @outoftheboxstem?
Why do we grade students?
I've always wondered... why do we have grades? To see students' knowledge? To hold students' "accountable"? To get into college? To be valedictorian? I saw kids who teachers would describe as "they're smart but they don't care" with Cs and Ds and other kids who played the game so well they knew nothing but had A's but didn't always know the content and skills. I was think kid in high school A's and some B's in AP classes. However in college, going to liberal arts school I realize that my skills and experiences outweighed my grades. I still got decent grades but I did care less.
So to write this blog post I did a little digging. According to Wikipedia, grading began in in 1785 at Yale and the quantitative scale was first implemented at The University of Cambridge. GPA is from a 1.0 to 4.0 scale and turns out doesn't show a correlation between grades and job performances (shocking). And grade inflation is so bad at universities grades are becoming useless.
It seems like grading is a practice that was made such a long time ago, we just do it because it's what we've always done.
Why "Traditional" Grading Is Just BAD
What a controversially statement! But it's true. Here are some reasons I believe traditional grading systems aren't a good idea:
Standards Based Grading 101
Standards Based Grading is a lifestyle. It is not a fad. It is a pedagogy shift. Before I begin, if your school is district is doing an entire shift in all classes... please stop them. SBG must be teacher led and teacher invested. If a district does this, it is a recipe for disaster. Many districts have backed out of whole school SBG initiatives because of parent and student backlash. It was done wrong.
Here is an example of a traditional gradebook. It may look similar to yours! You'll see that tests, homework and classwork are weighted differently. Classwork and homework are completion only. Let's explore some of the situations here.
Leah: She does all her work! Look at that! Since it's completion only, so she does well. But on her tests Leah is not doing well. So what is going on in class? Is she copying? Just writing down random things?
Jose: Does his homework and does well at tests! What an amazing student! For this student, SBG will help him solidify and understand his learning.
Brent: Brent doesn't do much of his homework, but does awesome on assessments! However, his grade is low because he's not playing the game of school
Alicia: She generally does some of her work and performs with a D average on tests. For a teacher, do we really know how she's doing? She doesn't even turn in work either
"Does this count as points?"
Let's see this same gradebook in SBG and analyze how the students are doing. In this scoring 1 is emerging discovery with assistance, 2 is attempt with some understanding and assistance, 3 is overall understanding with errors or misunderstandings and 4 is consistent understanding and mastery.
Take a minute to really examine this. There is no homework score, just content mastery (this could also be skills!). I only used for one standard, C1. First is the initial assessment, done by the student. The most important part (and often forgotten) of SBG is student self assessment. They can grade better than you can. They know themselves and their strengths better.
Next step, each attempt. These can be student self assessment, a discussion with a student and score, an in class mini quiz, exit ticket, etc. You may be like "OMG MORE GRADING". Never work harder than your students. Get them to do it! Do it while you walk around!
Okay so the question is after all these attempts and assessment (which can be a project, test, etc.) what do they get? Does Leah get a 2 or 1.4 (average all scores)? She gets a 2. Why are we penalizing her for trying? That does not promote growth mindset. Jose would get a 4, Brent a 4 and Alicia a 2 or 2.5
Here's what it looks like in real life! You can see for students they mainly self assess throughout the unit and then I assess at the end for the summative. That is their "final" standard grade. However, students are always welcome to re-assess. This is the highlight of standards based grading. Students take their time to re-learn, sit with me and re-assess. There are no "re-takes", it is all on the student's time and my time. Yes, it is time consuming but worth it!
What sucks about SBG is that we don't live in the SBG world. Colleges actually do like SBG however there is no way (unless your district does it... I hear a lot of elementary schools do this) to put this into a "grade". Ideally, we would just list the standards and report that. Still, not the world we live in. I have to turn in a letter grade for my kids. So we need to equate standards to "percent" or "traditional" grades... ugh. I use the Marzano scale which is above. There are other types of scales and you are free to research them!
Here's my real world gradebook. We use a system called "Mi-Star" which is similar to PowerSchool but for our county. I set all scores of 4/4 and then under "Scored As" I put in the standard score. This "tricks" my gradebook into using SBG, because a 2/4 does not mean a 50%, it is 70%. If you want more information on this, please reach out via email, contact form or social media.
The Bad and The Good
Obviously to every awesome practice there are pitfalls.
How to Implement?
What I Love about SBG and What I Need to Work On
I am an extremely reflective person. After anything happens in my school day, relationship, workout, etc. I always think about how I can get better and do better. Here's what I've loved about this year.
I have a lot I want to improve on for next year. I always want to do better, I always want to do what's best for kids. Here's my plans for next year.
Where to look now
I am a huge proponent of education books. Don't even buy them... get them from your library. If your library does a consortium with other libraries in area they probably have it somewhere!
So what do you think of SBG? What questions do you still have? Drop a comment, email or reach out at @outoftheboxstem on Instagram or Twitter.!
When I first arrived my current school a few years ago I kept to myself. I interacted with people in my department and tried my best to do my own thing. I rarely ventured out my department and didn't realize how many cool people there were in my school.
The next year I began to meet new people. I ventured out of my department, finally. I realized how much I had in common with other new teachers in the building and how progressive and like minded a lot of other teachers were throughout the school. I met a Spanish teacher Ann, who was new to the school, when we went to a randomly organized potluck on a Friday. We were talking about how maybe we should organize Secret Santa. Ann was used to a lot of social events at her past schools in Las Vegas.
Well, Secret Santa was a hit! We had about half the staff participate and it was awesome to watch teachers and support staff get to know each other (even our principals participated)! I watched lots of staff members get to know each other even though they work on other sides of the school from each other. We had fun the week before finals sending kids across the school with gifts, surprising people with a Starbucks coffee and starting off each day with a smile. So Ann and I decided it was time to (re)create Sunshine Club at our school. Sunshine Club is a better term for a social or morale club at a school.
Here's How We Create Our Little Sunshine
Tips on Creating your own Sunshine Club
I hope you find a way to bring your own Sunshine into your school! Feel free to comment below with questions!
One of the easiest ways to make your classroom more fun is with music! I let students wear headphones during independent work, but it's great to give students some music to listen to when they are working in groups or by themselves. Music is also a great way to build in transitions. For instance, students usually have music playing when they come into the classroom. When it's time for me to get started I stop the music and the classroom instantly calms down.
Here's six of my favorite Spotify playlists for the classroom! P.S. I generally pick playlists that have a minimal of explicit songs however I teach high school and a little swearing doesn't really bother me.
What are your favorite Spotify playlists to play in the classroom? Share below or connect with me on IG!
I am constantly working in to improve myself as an educator and promote a student-centered classroom with a focus on mindfulness, flipped learning, standards-based grading and NGSS practices. I also work with flexible seating in the high school level and focus on positive collaboration with other teachers.