The Differentiated Classroom: Effective Instruction for All Students

One size does not fit all.

 

Differentiation is an idea as old as effective teaching.”

 

It is a student-focused way of thinking about teaching and learning, and it is designed to address learning and affective needs that all students have. (Carol Ann Tomlinson, author of How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms.)  

 

Students in our diverse classrooms have different backgrounds, interests, and strengths. They learn in different ways and want to know how learning is relevant to their lives. Differentiation enhances learning for all students.

 

The first step in a differentiated classroom is knowing the skill level of the students. Certain students may require extra help, whereas others already understand and can apply the skill. Math instruction in a third grade differentiated classroom might include a pre-assessment referred to as “Most Difficult First.” In this practice, students do the most difficult problems first. Students who demonstrate understanding of a concept can skip the instruction and proceed to more challenging concepts.  

  • Some students could be investigating the sums of different sequences of addends, such as consecutive odd or even numbers, in a small group.
  • Other students could be independently exploring the same patterns on a deeper level, using algebraic expressions to explain their findings.
  • Others might be creating their own mental math challenges for others to solve.

Teachers who modify the content, process, or product of the curriculum are using differentiation to respond to students’ instructional readiness, interests, and skill levels. They serve as facilitators to meet students at their starting points and move each student forward based on individual needs

Teachers Can Differentiate

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According to Students'

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The content is the topics/concepts/skills the students must learn. Relevant content matters to students and makes what is taught and learned much easier. One way to differentiate content is through acceleration of instruction. Students can work ahead independently.

 

Process is how students learn the content. Differentiate the process by modifying the pace, the complexity, or the activities. For example, directions can be specific for some students and more open-ended for others. Students might visit a classroom center for an in-depth study of a topic of interest.

 

Differentiating the product means varying the complexity of the product – the end result of what the students learned and are able to apply. There are numerous sources of product ideas for teachers. It is motivating for students to be offered a product choice that is personally relevant.

 

Tomlinson also uses the learning environment as a fourth way to differentiate. This includes the classroom’s operation and tone, such as furniture arrangement, lighting, and procedures.

 

Modify the Pace, Complexity, or Activities with Differentiation

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 9.33.02 AM.png*You can check out some differentiated classroom resources by clicking these links: Book choice; Technology Integration.

 

Tomlinson further explains how, in a classroom without differentiation, student similarities seem to take center stage. “In a differentiated classroom, commonalities are acknowledged and built upon, and students’ differences also become important elements in teaching and learning.” (How to Differentiate Instruction, 2017)  

 

How are you using differentiation in your classroom?

 

Teacher Survival Kit: When a Student Says, “I’m Bored.”

Time goes by slowly when one is bored!

 

You have channeled the active energy of the new school year into a positive learning environment and worked hard to create meaningful learning experiences, while building a sense of community.

 

Classroom arrangement promotes optimum engagement. And yet, a parent tells you, “My child is bored in class.” You ponder solutions and/or your shortcomings. Never a good thing.  

 

What does it mean when a child says s/he is bored?  

 

It’s impossible for any teacher to keep boredom at bay for all students, all of the time. Despite relevant content and a positive learning environment, students have different interests, needs, and strengths. Engaging content for one student may be boring for another. Students learn in different ways, and what works for some students, may not work for others.

 

Todd Rose, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says the American education system treats boredom as a “character flaw. We say, ‘If you’re bored in school, there’s something wrong with you.’” He recommends adding more choice to the classroom by assigning more hands-on projects, in which students have control over their learning.  

 

The impact of choice and student interest is also highlighted in an Educational Leadership article that describes how “when 5th and 6th graders were asked to draw their typical learning experiences, they often put books and teachers and chalkboards in their pictures—but not themselves (Bishop & Pflaum, 2005). But when they depicted learning they liked, their own images were front and center.”

 

“I’m bored” can be a result of assigned work that is too difficult or too easy. Sometimes, hard work is boring. A National Association of Elementary School Principals report explains how learning multiplication facts requires time and work that may not be fun.  

  • A child may question, “Why bother learning that stuff when I have a calculator or a computer?” (Some children also learn that saying “I’m bored” is a way to get their parent’s attention.)
  • The report suggests helping children learn to take responsibility for boredom to increase independence and maturity.  
  • Much satisfaction comes from completing routine tasks well and on time. My sixth grade flute friend is thrilled she can perform a three octave chromatic scale. It’s routine now, but it took dedication and practice.  

Conversely, students who learn and retain information quickly may dislike the routine and drill of learning math facts. They have already mastered the facts and need to be challenged. These “fact masters” require learning experiences that have a higher degree of complexity such as:  

 

The product of the two numbers is 27. The quotient is 3.

What are the numbers?  

 

What do you think are the causes of classroom boredom? Learning choices and differentiation are two approaches to prevent it.

 

September at If Then Creativity

September’s resources offer a wide range of content to begin the new school year as an inspired teacher.

 

From tips to getting the school year off to a good start to ideas for back to school night, September’s resources offered a wide range of content to begin the school year inspired. 

 

Thank you readers of If Then Creativity for learning from and with us and for joining us in our mission to create quality educational services and products. If Then Creativity exists for you.  

 

The first weeks of school:  Support and Suggestions

3 Must Do’s On the First Day of School

5 Tips to Create a Positive Learning Environment the First Weeks of School

How Creating and Practicing Classroom Procedures Early in the School Year Can Save Your Sanity

Back to School Night Tips From Real Teachers

 

Teacher knowledge that supports student learning:

Advice on How to Handle Student’s Questions About Difficult Current Events

4 Ways to Build Excitement for Reading Nonfiction

Teacher Tips for Calling a Student's Parents

 

Are you looking for new ways to integrate the arts into your classroom?  

 

Download our image integration activity, A Picture to Ponder.  It is a wonderful way to jump-start students' critical and creative thinking.  Looking closely at art enables students to think and express themselves in new ways, while appreciating the perspectives of others.  They develop an awareness of historical context, conceptual learning, and creative possibilities.  

 

Vincent van Gogh, Farmhouse in Provence, 1888 Image Use:  open access

Vincent van Gogh, Farmhouse in Provence, 1888

Image Use:  open access

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Here are 8 great articles I read in September about teaching/learning/education.  

 

Newbery/Caldecott predictions.

 

 A simple question about what motivates her child, led to this parent’s response.  

 

 Some experts say learning styles do not exist.

 

 “Students making projects, around their passions, collaborating with peers, and maintaining a playful attitude.”

 

The 3-step lesson plan.

 

 There is a gap between student creative expression at home and at school.

 

 The many ways paper remains essential for productive learning.  

 

Administrators, teachers need your support. 

 

Teacher Tips for Calling a Student's Parents

Connecting with parents via telephone keeps parents in-the-know and prevents concerns from becoming larger problems.

 

Nowadays we can call anyone at anytime and anywhere, but who answers the phone?

 

Okay, so no one’s answering, and yet you need to discuss an important, time-sensitive issue about a student. If you leave a message, will the parent return your call? To ensure that phone call happens, keep the lines of communication open, and keep parents in-the-know with the following proactive recommendations.  

  • At the beginning of the year, inform parents how to reach you, and note your availability.  Many parents do not understand how difficult it is to respond to emails or phone calls during the school day. They may assume your planning time is your “free time” and expect a return call within hours. Help them understand that your first responsibility is to your students. At open house night, on your class website, or in your first newsletter home, share the time frames that parents can expect return emails and/or phone calls. 
  • Try to make the first telephone call or the first handwritten note home a positive one. Share how a child is a great listener or skilled at using technology. Developing a positive first connection makes it easier to call when there is a more pressing issue.  
  • Update parents with simple newsletters or website information that informs them about upcoming units of study and important dates. Highlight what your students have learned along with ways parents can extend the learning at home.  

When to call a student's parents often depends on the school’s overall philosophy, but if you have concerns about a student’s behavior or academics, it might be time to call. 

  • Be prepared to share strategies you have used to address the concern.
  • Listen well to the parent’s reactions and suggestions, even if they differ from your own.
  • Focus on solutions to help the child, and document the conversation for future reference.  

Prior to the call home, consider the parent’s situation. Is s/he at work? It’s difficult to talk openly about your child in front of others. Could a letter be sent home instead? Formal letters give parents time to respond more thoughtfully. Parents know their children best; their input and suggestions are vital to improving any situation. Through the context of the letter, you can suggest a follow-up telephone call and/or a parent/teacher conference.   

Respond to the following types of parental questions and concerns with emails:

  • Assignments
  • Progress on a project
  • Special programs or classroom events

Call parents (or mail a formal letter) about more serious confidential matters such as:

  • Grade/Test score requests
  • Social or emotional issues
  • Medical issues
  • Behavioral problems

Connecting with parents via telephone keeps parents in-the-know and prevents concerns from becoming larger problems. Keeping the lines of communication open brings an understanding of what works best for the child’s success.  

How do you converse with parents about a concern? Has technology made the telephone call obsolete?

Advice on How to Handle Students’ Questions About Difficult Current Events

 

Controversial subjects should be discussed in schools.  Controversial subjects should not be discussed in schools.  Where do you fall along the agree/disagree spectrum?

 

We want our students to express themselves through relevant learning activities that have connections to the “real world.”

 

We emphasize reading nonfiction materials to expand their knowledge. We want them to become responsible citizens who practice empathy and engage respectfully with others. We can’t teach these skills without honest discussions – discussions that are, on occasion, difficult.

 

Some teachers feel comfortable facilitating sensitive subjects (and emotional moments). Others resist hot-button issues due to the divisive nature of the topics – topics with countless questions and no easy answers.  

 

According to Dr. Thomas Hollihan, professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, “one of the most troublesome obstacles to effective classroom discussion is the reluctance to encourage students to discuss the truly complex and vexing public issues that divide us. Certain topics are literally walled-off and considered too controversial to risk discussing in a classroom for fear that they will make some participants uncomfortable.”

 

We often dismiss the impact local current events have on students.

I recall fourth graders very worried about racial hate graffiti they saw in the community. Another time, a third grade student was highly critical of a high school student volunteer with multiple piercings. “He’s not nice. He has piercings and tattoos.” Both were teachable moments. No matter the age of a student, it’s vital that we listen and acknowledge that s/he is concerned, worried or confused about something.

 

The National Association of School Psychologists offers advice for talking to your students about racial violence and other tragedies by reassuring students that they are safe at school.  

 

“Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.” Young students worried about images from the news lack the emotional development to understand certain events, which can lead to stress.

 

Talking about and respecting their concerns and opinions builds resilience.  

 

For older students, there is no shortage of issues for controversial discussion. After Charlottesville, Zoe Padron, a high school teacher, planned to listen more than speak in her classroom. “It’s my job to reflect back what I hear and help them name what they are feeling. When a student tells me he’s upset about what happened, chances are there is more than one emotion in there. It’s just fine to say, tell me more, what makes you upset? We’re not necessarily good at naming emotions, or we tend to name the wrong ones, use blanket emotions, or what I call the baby emotions – mad, happy, sad. What happened in Charlottesville is a good time to start working on those complex emotions.”  

 

For teachers looking for resources to assist with controversial subjects, Teaching Tolerance has numerous materials for all grade levels that emphasize social justice and anti-bias. Their lesson plans are relevant and easily incorporated into the curriculum. Their articles and webinars show teachers how to take action and facilitate sensitive subjects.  

 

Museums are another resource. Many offer practical ways for teachers to use their online collections as a basis for student research and exploration.

  • The Newseum has primary sources, lesson plans, and case studies on media literacy and our First Amendment freedoms.  
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture is currently highlighting signature objects and primary resources from the Museum's collection.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website has an online encyclopedia to search teaching materials and lesson plans for students in grades 6-12. Museum educators are often available to help you meet the individual needs of your classroom. Just give the museum a call.  

Have you taken on any controversial subjects in your classroom? Did you find it difficult? Should controversial topics be taught in elementary school? Tell us what you think. 

 

Back-to-School Night Tips From Real Teachers

Parent/Teacher Open House Tips

 

Back-to-School Night, Open House, Parent Meet and Greet, Meet the Teacher Night, whatever it’s called at your school, it’s an opportunity to connect with families.

 

Yes, it’s a nerve-racking event. We want to make a good impression. That’s why many teachers start building parent connections before school even starts. If possible, presenting with your grade-level colleagues takes some of the pressure off. Working as a team lessens the preparation and presentation time. After the team presentation, parents can visit individual classrooms, which helps parents who have more than one classroom to visit.  

 

When talking with parents, follow the first day “must-do’s by sharing a bit of your personality, building parent enthusiasm with highlights of the year ahead, and incorporating the following tips from experienced teachers:

  • “I use true/false questions to take parents through policy and curriculum issues and my expectations for home support. Some of the questions are designed to make them laugh and to keep the mood light, but focused. Students devise true/false questions about their favorite subjects, books, etc.”  
  • “Review only the essentials. It’s not a time for individual conferences. If a parent wants to discuss something in detail, arrange a conference time. Provide parent volunteer and contact forms that include the parent’s name, the child’s name, and a contact number.”  
  • “Keep it low key and informal. I display some of what we've been doing – math investigations and problems, current events articles, books, etc. and go from there. I don't do a formal presentation.”
  • “Practice what you’re going to say beforehand. Review your classroom’s policies and procedures. Don't tell them you may or may not do something.”
  • “Be a little flexible. Parents will respect authoritarians to an extent (especially if they’re super-competent), but they like to know the teacher isn't completely rigid.”
  • “Bring food.”
  • “Make a FAQ handout for parents to take home that includes the daily schedule, homework expectations, class rules, how they can reach you, and your grading policies.”
  • “Be sure to tell parents you work very hard to make sure each day counts.” 
  • “I send the link to my presentation after I give it. That way anyone can review again, or watch it for the first time if they weren't able to attend.”
  • “Send parents an open house invitation that informs them about what will occur during the open house. The open house will answer questions such as…. ‘How much time should be devoted to homework?’ ‘How can I support my child at home?’”
  • “Display students’ work around the room and at their desks, and don’t talk too long.”

How Creating and Practicing Classroom Procedures Early in the School Year Can Save Your Sanity

Positive behaviors teachers want students to exhibit.

 

I was 21 when I accepted my first teaching job. Sixth grade, all subjects.  I knew nothing. Fortunately, I had a supportive principal as a mentor, a good friend as a colleague, and students that taught me as much as I taught them.

 

Our principal provided practical advice and opportunities for professional development – especially how to manage the classroom. I still remember him saying, “You might want to consider having the students raise their hands.” (Accepting call-outs reinforces that behavior.) While much has changed in education since then, many things remain the same, like the importance of making your classroom a positive place for students.

 

Classroom “must do’s” include establishing procedures and a management plan. Everything from collecting papers to dismissing students requires a procedure with practice. For example, dismissal time can be the most chaotic time of the day. It’s important for students to learn an organized method that ensures their safety. Packing up for the end of the day, listening quietly for bus numbers, sharing a goodbye, and walking to the designated dismissal location are procedures that must be practiced to become routine. With practice, procedures become automatic.

 

Procedures to practice include:

  • Lining up
  • Entering the classroom/Beginning the day
  • Homework collection
  • Bathroom use
  • Pencil sharpening
  • Noise level expectations
  • Technology use
  • Asking questions
  • Locker use
  • Recess time
  • Working in groups
  • Independent work

Students in positive learning environments have clear expectations and are aware of how to behave in all settings, including the lunchroom, playground, media center, and emergency/fire drills. They also understand the consequences of not following the procedure.  

 

In addition to learning numerous routines, classroom management specialists recommend three to five core classroom rules. In most of my classroom experiences, the students and I created these rules together. Involving students in the process allows them to understand how the rules are in place for them, so they have a positive place to learn. We discussed each rule, and we role-played both positive and negative examples of acceptable behavior.   

 

Many schools implement school-wide expectations. One effective school-wide intervention encouraged students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral success by following the motivational acronym ROAR.  

  • Respect
  • On-Task
  • Attitude
  • Responsibility 

These four expectations covered the positive behaviors teachers wanted students to exhibit.  

Maximize procedural structure in your classroom by showing/telling students want you want them to do rather than telling them what you don’t want them to do. Actively involve students in the process and practice, practice, practice! Teaching them how to be responsible for their learning aligns their excitement for the new school year with your instructional goals.

 

5 Tips to Create a Positive Learning Environment the First Weeks of School

Students start the school year at differing levels of excitement. Some are ready for the year to begin; others are reluctant to return.

 

It’s important to encourage all excitement levels by creating a welcoming, flexible classroom environment that supports consistency and active learning. Channel the active energy of the new school year into a positive learning environment with the following tips:

  1. Promote positivity. After the first week of school, do you continue to greet students in the morning? Are you upbeat about the day ahead? The mindset you model contributes to the overall atmosphere. Respect each student, listen to them, and take time to learn and incorporate their interests. These actions create a community of students who can grow both academically and personally.  
  1. Teach students how to carry out classroom procedures and routines, such as attendance, lunch count, office notes/messages, and supply collection/return. Introduce, practice, and role play each procedure step-by-step so students are well-prepared. Learning and completing these tasks teaches responsibility and leadership and comes in handy when you’re absent. Effective classroom organization (labels, file folders, storage bins, mail stations, etc.) enables students to easily follow through with their tasks.   
  1. Arrange the classroom for optimum student engagement. Every student has his/her preferred way to learn. Some can easily work in groups or pairs; others thrive independently. Set up classroom areas where students have options to work alone or in groups. Allow them voice and choice in selecting what works best. Active student engagement and participation can take many forms. Author Susan Cain explains, “If you think more broadly about it, a student who’s a good listener or who gives one really great, reflective comment is just as valued as the one who’s always raising their hand.”
  1. Focus on progress, not perfection. Mistakes are good! Help students learn self-direction by providing feedback that helps them reflect on what they have learned. Recent research notes how effective feedback should link to learning objectives and be specific in nature. The best feedback is not a letter or a numerical grade but clear directions on how to improve. Feedback specialist, Susan Brookhart, suggests “that teachers think very carefully about the learning target and the success criteria for a specific activity and only give feedback on that target. Students want to learn and they want feedback that will help them improve, but they also want to know why it matters. When a teacher can connect the feedback to an important future skill, students have a reason to incorporate it and can see the transfer process more clearly.”
  1. Add some procedural fun. Get and keep their attention with fun cues and signals. I had a variety of procedures/signals/choral chants to call the students to attention or to call on them for a response. A paper plate spinner with all the students names on it prevented me from calling on the same students. My oversized “magic” pen, which had a bell attached to it, signaled when to stop working and look at me. As an anonymous teacher once said, “A class that plays together obeys together.”

A positive learning environment is a productive learning environment. What strategies do you use to create a positive learning environment?

 

August at If Then Creativity

Teacher preparations for the new school year

 

Here’s hoping everyone had plenty of time for rest and relaxation this summer to help you transition into  back-to-school mode. Thank you for joining us in August as we focused on preparations for the new school year.

 

We invite you to continue to learn and enjoy everything we have to offer. From teaching advice to improving student engagement, our resources help you move through the school year inspired and ready to educate. Best wishes for a wonderful school year!

 

Cultivate a growth mindset with the following posts: 

 

 

Gather teaching strategies, inspiration, and ideas you can put into immediate action with these posts:

 

 

Here are 9 great articles about teaching/education/learning I read in August: 

 

  • Questions to ask your students on the first day of school.
  • These are the best shoes to make it through the school day.
  • Children who start school at an older age do better than their younger classmates.
  • Congratulations to the National Teachers Hall of Fame inductees!

 

Do you want to find a way to be more positive, try new things, and have a better work-life balance this school year? Perhaps you want to build your repertoire of teaching strategies or make some personal changes such as getting more sleep or spending more time with family. Whatever your goals may be, make sure you make them happen by downloading our New School Year Goals Worksheet and Action Plan.

 

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Edtech: How to Leverage Instructional Technology in the Classroom and Beyond

Integrate the best edtech tools that match your students’ needs

 

A one-size-fits-all approach to instruction does not work in today’s classrooms. Students learn in different ways and what works for some students does not work for others. It’s the same with technology.  There are countless instructional gadgets, apps, and online programs. It takes time to learn and integrate the best edtech tools that match your students’ needs along with your teaching style.  

 

The easiest way to implement new technology is by experimenting with one resource at a time. Select a tool that meets your instructional/professional development goals. Get inspiration and ideas from colleagues, and encourage a friend to experiment with you. If the learning curve seems steep, allow yourself as much time as you need to feel comfortable. Practice and playful exploration are part of the process. Your motivation and willingness to learn something new will lead to new experiences for you and your students.  

 

Looking for ideas? Explore one of the following edtech tools.  Enjoy!

 

Contraption Maker

My creative colleagues once designed a fabulous Rube Goldberg contraption for a class project. At the time, they did not have access to this fun, wacky contraption maker app. Common Sense Education suggests using the app to augment lessons on cause-and-effect, sequences of action, problem-solving, or systems thinking. You can also use it as part of a creative thinking/problem-solving center for students in grades 3-8.  

 

Kapsul

Collaboratively create with your colleagues via Kapsul. This platform allows users to organize and share images, videos, and text and can be used for classroom and professional development presentations. Art teachers can use it to gather images for a unit and to curate an exhibition of student artwork.  

 

MuseScore

My 17-year-old flute duet friend introduced me to this music notation program which allowed me to edit and create scores for our performances at the public library. It’s free and easy to use for upper level students who want to compose music to enhance classroom projects. Music teachers can use it to create arrangements and teaching materials for their classrooms.  

 

OSnap

I had plenty of fun making “Creativity in Motion” with OSnap, an easy to use app that features time-lapse and stop motion photography. Using an iPad and lots of buttons, I created my first animated film! (To improve my skills, I reminded myself that smaller movements are better.) With OSnap, students of all ages can immediately start snapping photographs, experimenting, and learning! Integrate it with any subject. It’s so motivating, students will want to learn more.  Share their final projects on your school or class website.   

 

Pocket

I still save articles, videos, and blog posts with Evernote, but Pocket is another service to save content. Use the explore page to search and discover information about a specific topic. As you explore, a list of related topics appears at the top to advance your search. Here’s what popped up after I searched growth mindset.  

 

Whether you use Google for collaboration or Plickers for assessment, there are countless edtech tools to enhance every teacher toolkit. 

Teaching Advice and Content Resources for the Upcoming School Year

A fresh start:  Back to School

 

All sorts of things come up when teachers think about the first day of school and the start of another year:  a fresh start, school policies, colleagues, preparations, etc. Many of us dream about being unprepared on the first day. I still dream about “forgetting” to meet with my reading groups.

 

It doesn’t matter how many years we have taught, stress is always present. As another school year approaches, think about the big picture:  work-life balance.  

  • Stay focused on the students and their learning, but turn to colleagues for help and support.
  • Know when to take a break and when to let go of things you can’t control.
  • Continue to learn. Resilient teachers try new things and adapt to change.
  • Take time to care for yourself. Rest, exercise, and eat right.  When it comes to health, these factors are essential.
  • Make time for friends and family – social time is equally important for health and well-being.  

Socrates once wrote, "I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think."

Remember these words and other inspirations as you head into the new school year. Framing what you do as a teacher in a new way can sometimes free you from stress and empower you to try new approaches to your craft.

 

Best wishes for a successful and well-balanced school year.

6 Classroom Design Ideas for Improving Student Engagement

Classroom design affects students in countless ways

 

Arranging classrooms for optimum student engagement is like preparing successful meals. It involves having a plan (yes, I have a weekly meal plan – I can’t wing anything), choosing meals that work well for you and your family, and trying new recipes to expand your repertoire.  

 

Here are 6 classroom design ideas for teachers to plan and build a classroom environment that enhances student learning.  

  1. What features of the classroom do you use most? Technology? An interactive whiteboard? A chalkboard, etc. Set up the classroom to support your instructional practices. Small group discussion lends itself to a u-shaped seating formation where everyone can see each other. Groups of desks or large tables work well for projects and collaboration. A combination of the two formations is ideal with opportunities for students to visit other spaces such as the class library, reading nook, computer stations, creativity center, etc.  
  1. Standing desks are helpful options for both teachers and students, but simply letting students move around within workstations improves engagement.  
  1. Natural lighting is important. I’ve taught in many less than ideal settings (closets, hallways, stairwell nooks, mobile “classrooms” on a cart). One thing I valued most was the presence of natural light. Harsh fluorescent lighting is difficult for many students – and teachers. Green landscape views through a classroom window are a breath of fresh air and restore both teachers’ and students’ mental energy.  
  1. The best bulletin boards display student work or assist students with what they’re learning. In fact, heavily decorated classrooms may affect children’s ability to focus and learn. Researchers Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman of Carnegie Mellon University found that “children were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.”
  1. Add a few therapy or yoga balls. This simple strategy can have a large impact in improving focus. Let students try different types of seating options to see what works best for them.  
  1. In their book, The Growth Mindset, authors Annie Brock and Heather Hundley share many ideas for how to convey a growth-mindset through classroom arrangement. Three of their suggestions follow:  

“Students are situated collaboratively in groups or in an arrangement from which groups can easily be assembled. Wheeled furniture can be a great classroom addition.”

“Teacher’s desk is up front and easily accessible; better yet, there’s no desk and the teacher moves throughout the classroom during the lesson to physically invite questions and demonstrate availability; teacher work is done in designated landing spaces.”

There are “extra whiteboard space or lapboards so students can collaborate and work out ideas, or a ‘quiet area’ where students can use noise-canceling headphones to focus on individual task.”

 

Classroom design affects students in countless ways. How do you make the most of your classroom space?

July at If Then Creativity

Hello everyone. Whether you’re reading If Then Creativity to augment your teacher toolbox or to cultivate self-care routines, thank you for joining us this past month.

 

July’s messages explored ways to assess and analyze our teaching approaches, while taking care to avoid burnout. Experimenting with new teaching tools and techniques helps us grow as teachers, as does finding positive ways to handle challenges and stress. Staying motivated and challenged isn’t about following someone else’s advice, it’s about finding what works best for you. With the right “tools”, we are better equipped to inspire and teach others.  

 

Assess your teaching practices and outlook with the following posts:  

Improve, organize and prepare with these posts:

 

If you're looking for new ways to develop professionally and connect with colleagues, download our Book Study Tool Kit. Professional development does not have to be a formal, dry exercise- it can be a lot of fun and our Book Study Tool Kit provides a great framework to both have fun and learn new teaching approaches at the same time.  A collaborative book discussion is an important way to engage in critical conversation, enhance classroom repertoire, and increase student learning. 

 

Download our Reading Guide and Bookmarks for Thinking, Discussion, and Reflection.

 

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Here are 6 articles about teaching/education/learning I read in July.  

If Then Creativity: Our Mission, Helping Teachers and Students Thrive

 Intellectual curiosity and personal development among young students.

Thank you readers of If Then Creativity for learning from and with us.  

 

If Then Creativity exists for you – teachers and parents.  We work hard to understand your needs with customized educational resources and personalized consultative services that nurture the gifts inherent in every child.

 

We hold fast to a child-centered learning approach that embraces the unique abilities of teachers to generate success beyond test results.  

 

Our programs inspire deeper intellectual curiosity and personal development among young students.  

We are:

  • Creative – with lesson plans and online resources that deliver pragmatism with an openness to creativity and individuality
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  • Experienced – with a unique approach that tailors learning content to diverse learning styles and abilities
  • Accessible – available to interact on a personal level
  • Thoughtful – with meticulously and thoughtfully crafted resources
  • Efficient – building educational products that empower educators to identify and elicit the diverse, inherent gifts of young students, inspiring growth, intellectual curiosity and the development of the whole child

Thank you for joining us in our mission to create quality educational services and products. We look forward to continuing our work with you.

Teacher Survival Kit: 8 Ways to Avoid School Year Preparation Procrastination

Overcome last minute preparation with the following strategies

 

Do you put off getting ready for the school year until the last minute?  People vary in how and when they procrastinate, but it’s a common behavior with complex reasons such as fatigue, distractibility, perfectionism, boredom, hatred of the task, and a heavy workload.

 

According to author Caroline Webb, “we all tend to struggle with tasks that promise future upside in return for efforts we take now.” Our brains are programmed to procrastinate because it’s easier to process concrete (immediate tangibles) rather than abstract things (unknowable, uncertain future benefits).  

 

Avoid the back-to-school procrastination struggles. The upside of preparation is a more relaxed atmosphere to welcome students. Overcome last minute preparation with the following strategies.  

  1.  According to lifelong procrastinator Tim Urban, making progress on a task produces positive feelings of accomplishment and raises self-esteem. “Once you get 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through a task, especially if it’s going well, you start to feel great about things and suddenly, the end is in sight.” To get through the task, avoiding distractions is a must. That’s really difficult so. . .
  1.  Reward yourself after working for a set length of time. To avoid distractions, set a timer for 30 minutes of focused work. When the timer goes off, feel free to go on a short walk, check your phone, eat ice cream or whatever reward system works. Increase the time as needed, but don’t forget to reward yourself.
  1.  Break big tasks into smaller tasks:  For example, don’t build an entire lesson plan calendar, or reorganize all your files. That’s overwhelming. Tackle one section of the calendar or organize one drawer. Refer to the previous year’s calendar and only prepare for the first few days.   It’s summertime – don’t overdo it! Start with easy goals to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Unpacking your bookbag is a good start.  
  1. Calm a whirling brain by writing a list of everything that needs to be accomplished. The simple act of writing things down calms an overwhelmed mind. Next, cross off all the less-than-urgent items.
  1.  Do one thing at a time, one small step at a time, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. 
  1.  Team up with someone. The process of working together fuels task completion.
  1.  Sometimes creative minds must take a break from productivity to daydream. If you need lots of daydreaming time, so be it. That’s how new teaching ideas and techniques emerge. Psychologist Daniel Goleman says “the time a distracted brain spends tackling tough challenges makes up for diminished productivity.” Benefits of mind wandering include, “generating future scenarios, self-reflection, navigating complex social situations, and incubating new ideas, to say nothing of giving your brain a rejuvenating vacation.” All are valuable benefits every teacher needs.  
  1.  Make a list of all the ways you procrastinate. Are some activities healthy ways to decompress?  If yes, keep up the good work.  

How do you avoid back-to-school procrastination? It’s almost August, so share your tips with us soon.

 

Teacher House Cleaning: Determining What Lessons to Keep and Which to Toss

Clear out what is no longer useful in your classroom

Most veteran teachers have accumulated years of curriculum materials, books, and lesson plans. Old materials sit on shelves, in cupboards, or in “digital folders” just waiting to be used.

 

Is it time to clear out what is no longer useful?

 

I understand it’s difficult to toss what we’ve worked hard to create. If you’re in a quandary about whether to keep or toss, continue reading.

 

The lesson no longer works.

Often, when I’m performing music at a nursing home, certain songs don’t work. No one is singing along, foot tapping, or even smiling. The song does not work for the audience, so I start over with a different song. If it happens again with a different audience, I know the song doesn’t work.

 

It’s the same with lessons. Sometimes a lesson might not work, but it can be tweaked with new activities and/or simplified instructions. Other times, an activity doesn’t resonate with students no matter how much you tweak it. Toss it.

 

Going through the motions is blah. When you dislike a lesson, ask yourself why.

  • Are the students learning from the experience?  If they are learning and engaged, keep it.
  • You may be going through the motions because you’ve taught the lesson too many times.
  • Is it because you’re starting something new? If it’s new curriculum, keep it. It may be the case of too much new material too soon, which is always overwhelming.
  • If it’s a lesson that never quite works, but you forget how much it doesn’t work until you take it out each year, toss it.
  • If the information and resources are outdated, toss them. Do the same with books that contain obsolete information.
  • In-service lesson materials and anything else that you haven’t used in over five years, give them the old heave-ho!
  • If you have changed grade levels or subjects within the past five years and still have materials from the previous grade, keep what enhances your current grade level for centers, independent projects, etc.  

If someone shares a resource that works better than your own, let the new process in, add personal touches, and toss the old one. If it does not work for you, share it with someone else, or toss it.  

 

Never-ending lesson plans you strive to make better are a waste of time.  

 

Let go of perfection.

 

Again, if the students are engaged and learning, keep the activity, but toss trying to make it perfect. There’s too much else to do!

 

Do you believe less is more? For some teachers, keeping old lessons is essential. These “keepers” are fine saving that which might come in handy.   

 

And, that’s perfectly fine too.

6 Ways to Reignite Your Fire for Teaching

Reignite your passion for teaching

Teachers inspire, instruct, and go, go, go – sometimes without stopping to refuel and rest. Unfortunately, this constant burning flame can lead to a loss of motivation and energy. In addition to rest and relaxation, add some of the following to reignite your fire for teaching.  

  1. A good friend at school makes all the difference, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. She will help you plan, assist you when you’re sick, lift you up when you’re down, and lessen the workload. For example, one good friend and I presented monthly professional development sessions that focused on differentiation and creativity. We planned these sessions during our lunchtime “food for thought” meetings which were held every other week. We learned a great deal about effective teaching from our lunchtime collaboration and built professional relationships with other teachers in our school. And, we laughed a lot.  
  1. It’s hard not to feel revitalized when laughing. It brings people together, feels good, and even improves our health. Students appreciate a great sense of humor. Humor helps both students and teachers relax and pay attention, and it can lighten a tense classroom situation. When we laugh at ourselves as teachers, we send a powerful message to our students about putting their own mistakes in perspective.  
  1. Attend a conference. There’s nothing like learning in a new setting to recharge a passion for teaching. Being away from school with other like-minded learners is energizing. There’s time for brains to stretch and to absorb new ideas and concepts. To prevent information overload, the best way to implement new ideas is to jot down one takeaway from each presenter to share with others at your school.  
  1. Sometimes the best way to refuel is to say no. Workshops, committees, emails, after school clubs – there’s always an extra “must do” or someone who needs something “ASAP.” Saying no is difficult, but it is necessary to remain organized and prepared for your students. Effective teachers delegate tasks and work with others to get things done. When planning a unit of study, divide up responsibilities among team members and share resources.  
  1. Switch grade levels. Teaching the same grade level for years works well for many teachers, but others need a change from the predictable grade level instruction. They desire something new and a move to a new grade brings fresh challenges and renewed enthusiasm. Others renew their enthusiasm by pursuing advanced degrees to become educational specialists with a renewed sense of purpose.
  1. Recognize your accomplishments. Don’t focus on your shortcomings. Instead, pat yourself on the back. Think about the difference you make in students’ lives and the numerous tasks you accomplish in a single day. Acknowledge your accomplishments outside of teaching too. Caring for family members, being a good friend, exercising etc. 

A few minutes at the end of the day for reflection can have a big impact. Jot down notes and begin to implement small changes based on patterns or trends within the reflections.

Our 20-Day Self-Reflection Plan provides a simple way to incorporate reflection to end each day with a more proactive mindset.  

 

Signs You Might Be At Risk for Teacher Burnout

Knowing the risk factors that cause burnout in teachers can help prevent it.

Teaching is a worthwhile profession. Guiding students, learning new subjects, and collaborating with other teachers are just a few of the many positives.  It is also a demanding profession filled with endless tasks, new initiatives, and emotional exhaustion.

 

A high work commitment, combined with a high workload, make teachers especially vulnerable to burnout.  

 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 51 percent of public school teachers who left teaching in 2012–13 reported that the manageability of their work load was better in their current position than in teaching. Additionally, 53 percent of public school “leavers” reported that their general work conditions were better in their current position than in teaching.   

 

Teachers describe the symptoms of burnout differently. One definition describes burnout as “a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in some capacity.” (Maslach, C. Jackson, S. E. & Leiter M.P. 1996, The Maslach Burnout Inventory Manual).  

 

For teachers, there are school specific factors that may contribute to burnout such as a negative school climate, too much time at school (and too little time for oneself), a lack of available teaching resources, and negative interactions with students and parents.  

 

Knowing the risk factors that cause burnout in teachers can help prevent it.  Check yourself for signs of teacher burnout.

 

Quick Teacher Burnout Test (adapted from MBI-GS; Maslach et al., 1996)

 

Source:  The Burnout Intervention Training for Managers and Team Leaders

 

How often do you have the following experiences? Please rate the statements on a 6-point scale ranging from 0=never to 6=every day

  • I feel emotionally drained from my work.
  • I feel tired when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job.
  • I have become less interested in my work since I started this job.
  • I have become less enthusiastic about my job.
  • I have become more cynical about whether my work contributes anything.  
  • I doubt the significance of my work.

The higher the sum of the ratings, the more prone you are for experiencing teaching burnout.  

 

Teacher burnout can happen at any time in a teacher’s career, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. There are strategies to reduce and/or prevent the development of burnout such as relaxation techniques and exercise.  

 

Take time to care for yourself.

 

Relaxation techniques

Forms of relaxation include deep breathing, yoga, listening to music, and meditation.  Explore and use the techniques that work for you.

 

Social support   

Limit your exposure to the negative Nellies – those who complain about the schedule, the students, the administrators, etc.  Collaborate with other teachers who share resources, ideas, and who revitalize your teaching.  

 

Exercise

Pick a few exercises you like to do, and establish a daily habit to reap the benefits. No time? Hate exercising? Start with 5 or 10 minutes and build from there. Try a brisk walk around the school during lunchtime.  

 

Leave school at school  

Do other things you are good at and enjoy. Laugh. Get outside. Get a good night’s sleep, and let it go.  

 

By being aware of teacher burnout risk factors, you can take action to prevent the damage unchecked stress and fatigue can render.

What Teachers Can Learn from In-class Supervisor Observations

Observe these takeaways to make the most of teacher observations and evaluations

Everyone wants in on education reform–especially with regard to performance evaluation. Advocacy groups, philanthropists, and policymakers all have interests in boosting teacher effectiveness through teacher evaluations.

 

Amid these teacher evaluation reforms is one constant: The teachers who care about their evaluations. They want meaningful teaching feedback that recognizes their efforts, not just the results of student test score data. They want support of their personal/professional goals and the guidance to realize them. They want encouragement to try new things and recognition for teaching’s top milestones such as National Board Certification.   

 

Whether you’re a novice or veteran teacher, there are many things you can learn from observations and supervisor evaluations. Here are four takeaways to make the most of them.  

  1.  Be Open to Constructive Feedback

Criticism can be a good thing. My most helpful supervisors left notes with positive feedback, visited often, and acknowledged strengths. They provided a culture that supports teachers' growth and worked with me on setting goals for improvement. Their constructive criticism led to new professional development opportunities. Yes, it can be difficult to hear criticism of any sort, but the best administrators took the time to establish a relationship of trust and professional growth to help me become a better teacher.  

  1.  Cultivate Growth and Improvement

Your perception of yourself may differ from how others view you. Even when we think we understand how others see us, we can be wrong. In her fascinating book, Insight, psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich explains how it’s rare to get candid, objective data on what we’re doing well and where we can improve. She elaborates on the numerous barriers to self-awareness and details how “outside eyes” can help us succeed at work and in life.   

  1.  Engage in Self-Analysis

Not your year for a formal evaluation? Reflect on your teaching. Reflecting for five or ten minutes at the end of each day builds new teaching skills. Jot down notes and begin to implement small changes based on patterns or trends within these reflections. Analyzing your daily accomplishments leads to creative ideas and/or actions that can reframe issues and perspectives. Like any new endeavor, the reflective process takes practice to become a permanent fixture, but daily practice yields a more proactive mindset.   

  1.  Be Your Own Observer

Being a student of those around us is an alternate form of observation. Learning from other teachers is a valuable practice.  Colleagues taught me the best teaching practices through example by:

  • Engaging in conversations about lesson activities that “worked” or didn’t work.  
  • Sharing suggestions to motivate challenging students.
  • Observing and modeling effective teaching behavior.
  • Welcoming me into their classrooms.  

Does the observation/evaluation process help you think differently about your teaching? How have you approached observations?

 

Teacher Self-Assessment: A Checklist For Assessing Your Teaching Practices

A checklist for assessing your own teaching practices and/or professional developmen

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what makes a teacher great. According to students, the best teachers should engage their learners while being caring and dedicated.  

 

Administrators look for student growth and implementation of professional practices. Parents want accessible teachers who recognize and develop each child’s cognitive talents.  

 

It is a complex question with many answers because every teacher is different and has her/his own strengths. Among the excellent teachers I have worked with, one quality stands out – a willingness to try new things to improve. I have heard countless great teachers say, “If this will benefit the kids, I’ll try it.” In addition to being responsible for their students’ learning, they take responsibility for their own learning too.  

 

Classroom differences between effective and less effective teachers also vary. One study examined this difference by exploring the practices of effective versus underperforming teachers (Stronge, Ward, Grant, 2011) and focused on identifying teachers who were successful “in the product of teaching, namely, student achievement.” The results indicated that “top-quartile teachers had fewer classroom disruptions, better classroom management skills, and better relationships with their students than did bottom-quartile teachers.”  

 

Listed below are some of the effective teaching practices measured in the study. These components can serve as a checklist for assessing your own teaching practices and/or professional development.

 

Instructional Delivery

 

Effective teachers. . .

  • Differentiate:  Use many instructional strategies such as individualized and hands-on learning.
  • Have high expectations:  Communicate high expectations to all students.  
  • Use technology:  Provide access to technology and use it to encourage higher-level thinking.
  • Deliver clarity and complexity:  Provide clear directions and focus on conceptualization of knowledge rather than isolated facts.

Student Assessment

 

Effective teachers. . .

  • Give Feedback:  Offer feedback, check for understanding throughout the lesson, and adjust instruction based on feedback.  

Learning Environment

 

Effective teachers . . .

  • Embrace productive learning:  Encourage students to take ownership of their learning.
  • Create a positive climate:  Nurture a positive climate with clear expectations.  Consider students' academic, social, and personal needs.

Personal Qualities

 

Effective teachers. . .

  • Have affective skills:  Convey that they care about their students and establish connections with students.
  • Reflect:  Are reflective practitioners dedicated to both students and their professional practice.

How did you measure up against some of these research findings? No teacher is perfect, as we all know; the only perfection we can hope to find is in our constant efforts to get better at our craft.

 

If Then Creativity: June Newsletter Educational Content Roundup

 

Summer is officially underway!  I hope everyone is enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation.

 

  • Congratulations on your accomplishments, hard work and the difference you made in the lives of many students.  Hopefully, our tips, ideas, and techniques for thriving during the end of year rush came in handy.  A special thank you to the teachers who shared stories and memories from their last days of school for our Last Day of School Diary.  

 

As you relax, enhance the post school year decompression process with the following posts:

 

5 Reasons Why Teachers Need Their Summers Off

Why Students Need Their Summers Off

You Made It!  6 Great Ways for Teachers to Decompress After a Demanding Year

 

Those of you who feel summer is the perfect time to earn extra money should read,

 

5 Great Ways to Have Fun, Learn and Earn During the Summer

 

If you find yourself reflecting on the past year, pat yourself on the back and remember the countless ways you changed lives for the better.  

 

If positive reflection is a practice you want to continue in your classroom this fall, download my 20 Day Self-Reflection Plan. The twenty daily reflections are grouped into four teaching domains (planning & preparation, classroom environment, instruction, professional responsibilities) and focus on the positive actions and strategies teachers perform in their classrooms.  Thinking about these positive accomplishments will lead to creative ideas and/or actions that help reframe issues and perspectives.

 

Download
20 Day Self-Reflection Plan
The 20 Day Self-Reflection provides teachers with a simple way to incorporate reflection.
20 Day Self-Reflection Plan.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 192.8 KB

 

Here are 7 great articles about teaching/education/learning I read in June.  

5 Great Ways for Teachers to Earn Extra Money During the Summer

Taking a summer job doesn’t have to be drudgery. If you’re a teacher looking for fun ways to earn extra money this summer, consider the following summer job ideas for teachers. 

While doing something you enjoy probably won’t make you rich overnight, it might put a little extra cash in your pocket. Here are 5 great ways for teachers to earn extra money during the summer:

  1.  Monetize Your Talents

Turn your extracurricular hobbies into earning opportunities. If you play an instrument, locate a few venues that book your type of music. Artists, create and sell your own art. Athletes, earn extra money with summer camps. Whatever your talent may be, you might be surprised at the opportunities available to you.  

  1.  Educate Outdoors

If you love the outdoors and have an interest and/or training in environmental education, many environmental/nature centers need seasonal educators to lead guided tours and to teach nature programs. An added perk is the stress reduction you will experience from walking in nature and inhaling the fresh air.  

  1.  Boost SAT and ACT Scores

If you enjoy tutoring and mentoring, many learning centers and education companies need teachers to assist high school students in one or more of the following subject areas. A helpful place for potential tutors to learn about the tests is at The College Board website where you can take practice tests.  

  • ACT English
  • ACT Math
  • ACT Reading
  • ACT Science
  • SAT Math
  • SAT Writing
  • SAT Critical Reading
  1.  Land a Seasonal Job

Part-time seasonal work can be a great way to earn extra income and try something different. Positions in demand in the summer months include: lifeguard, outdoor theatre/festival/sporting event assistant, garden center coordinator, retail, farmer’s market vendor, museum tour guide etc.

  1. Invest in Yourself

Pursuing an advanced degree may not earn you money this summer, but it will pay off down the road because teachers with advanced degrees earn more money. Become an educational specialist in instructional technology, media, reading, science, special education, gifted & talented, math or an ESOL teacher who teaches English to students who grew up speaking a different language. Perhaps you possess leadership skills and are looking for more responsibility through educational  administration.

 

Investing in yourself brings new skills, ideas, and pursuits.  And, as any good teacher knows, lifelong learning is the key to success. Incorporate what you love into your summer job and earn some extra cash while doing it.

Student Voices: Why Students Need Their Summers Off

Why Students Need Their Summers Off

The end of the school year has come and gone in a flash. In a previous post, we discussed why teachers need their summers off. In today’s post, we focus on student voices, as fourth graders share why students need their summers off too.

 

According to a group of fourth grade students, June, July, and August are the best months of all.  It is beautiful outside. There is unscheduled time for kids to just be kids and play.  And, there is no homework for three months. Here is what summertime is all about.

 

“Students need the summer off because during the summer they have freedom.  They can go swimming or go to the beach and relax.  Kids don’t want to be cooped up for 7 hours of the day, they want adventure.”

 

“Our brains should be able to rest because sometimes my head hurts after school.”

 

“We need to go outside and play or run and be so so crazy.”

 

“Without the summer off, students would overheat at recess.”

 

“In the summer, we don’t get stressed or have anxiety because of tests.”

 

“I think 4th graders need to have the summer off because they are probably tired. Your body needs rest. If you don’t give your body rest, you can get rude and cranky.  Also, they are going into a bigger and harder grade. They need a break so when they go back to school, they can do good and not fail class.”  

 

“Students can be more social with their parents because we’re not at school 7 ½ hours. They will also be more social to other kids because on summer break there is no homework, and homework is the reason kids can’t go over to other kid’s houses that often.”

 

“We have more time for chores and learn to work for things. This means students can also learn to save their money.”

 

“Students should have the summer off because we will learn how important math and the subjects you learn in school are out of school.”

 

“Students need summer off because we work hard all year trying to do our best on classwork. In summer you get to relax and not worry about getting an A, and people spend summer with their families. A lot of kids put a lot of focus on school. During summer, they can put their focus on having fun.  Plus, we deserve it.”

 

“Kids need summer off because apparently we need a break from doing work. Even though we already get lots of breaks on weekends, morning and nights. I have no clue why.”  

 

“So they can be wild!”

 

“To go on vacation to the beach or the desert.”

 

“They work hard for 180 days, they shouldn’t have to work more days.”

 

“If kids went to school every day, they would not try hard in school because they would just be bored all the time, and you want kids to be smart, right?”

 

“They need a break to get outside and have some fun and sleep in and play with friends and be active.”

 

“If you have school all year, you can’t do anything fun. Kids will be bored all year until they are 18 or something.  And if they are in school for all that time, they probably won’t want to go to college, so they won’t get a good job.”  

 

“Without summer off, when you see the Party City ads, then you may just start crying because they are so happy because school is out, but nope, not your school!!!

5 Reasons Why Teachers Need Their Summers Off

Read these 5 reasons why teachers need their summers off

As a teacher, how many times have you heard, "Yeah, teachers have it easy. What other job do you know where you get the ENTIRE summer off?" 

 

We all know that perception is incorrect. Teaching is intense, stressful and though the job is not 12-months, it might as well be with the number of additional hours after 3pm logged, time put in for extra curricular activities and other essential tasks.

 

If you teach and you're really doing your job, you've already put in a full year's work during the school year. Summer break is not a luxury- it is pure necessity. And it has been thoroughly earned.

 

Good teachers have high expectations not only for their students but for themselves too. They work hard and go way beyond the three Rs. While their schedule may look good on paper, much work is done after hours and in the summer. Here are 5 reasons why teachers need their summers off:

  1. Exemplary teachers believe they make a difference in their students’ lives. They make learning meaningful and relevant to the future. They have passion for their students, teaching, and for their content. Summer offers extended time for researching new ideas and strategies to keep next year’s students engaged.
  1. Many educators enhance their skills with professional development and graduate classes. According to the Department of Education, in year 2011–12, there were over 1.7 million teachers (about 45 percent of the teaching force) with 10 or fewer years of experience. Teachers with fewer years experience often take summer graduate courses in order to gain and/or maintain certification.  
  1. People who pursue careers they view as “callings” may have higher rates of burnout. Many teachers view their career as a “calling.”  Summers provide a reprieve from mental fatigue and help to maintain a devotion for teaching.
  1.  Teachers realize their students need time off too. Children need extended time for play – to explore, experiment, imagine, and dream. Play is a child’s “job.” As Susan Daniels and Daniel Peters note in their book Raising Creative Kids, “No matter what form it takes, and no matter whether it produces a tangible product or not, the act of playing stimulates significant growth within a child’s brain. Elaborate mental processes and mental development often result from play. These include cognitive growth, growth of the child’s imagination, social development, and even physical development.  As adults, our greatest gift to them is to provide them with time and space to explore their world with uninterrupted periods of complete immersion and with opportunities to expand their understanding through their own experiments, inventions, and creations.”   
  1.  In the summer, teachers can spend more time with colleagues. The best instructional resources for one another, educators connect to talk about children’s books, plan projects, share ideas, and take classes together.  Interacting in a relaxed environment, free from time constraints, they inspire each other.  

The idea that teachers work "short" days and have it easy because they don't have to work in the summer is one of the most common misconceptions about teachers out there. 

 

As colleagues, we know the truth: summers are critical for teachers and students to recharge and reset so that the coming school year is even better than the last.

End of the Year Teaching Inspiration

Teaching inspiration for the summer months

Teachers are never just teachers.  

 

Eager to help others, often at the expense of their own health, teachers take on many responsibilities. Zipping from one responsibility to another, they are student advocates, counselors, problem solvers, organizers, managers, mediators, role-models, and mentors. Teacher challenges are many-only those in the trenches can really relate.

 

Teachers go way beyond the three Rs. Working in a demanding environment with students for many hours a day is both tiring and stressful.  No one else can understand what it’s like. It’s no wonder many teachers burn-out.  

 

Teachers also tend to focus on their perceived shortcomings  – unfinished projects, situations/lessons that did not go well, difficulties with certain students, etc. They want to make a difference and have high expectations, but when those experiences fall short, it’s upsetting.  

 

As the school year comes to an end, it’s vital to banish those negative thoughts. Reflect on the good. Acknowledge and appreciate accomplishments and hard work.  Here are some areas for teaching inspiration for you to consider as you move from the end of the school year and ease into the summer months:

 

Think about . . .

  • The countless ways students showed progress.  
  • How you changed students’ lives for the better.  
  • Everything you did to maintain student interest and engagement.  
  • Ways you improved the classroom culture.
  • The colleagues you helped.
  • The risks you took.  
  • How you fostered communication and collaboration with parents and the community.
  • The new ideas and teaching methods you incorporated.
  • The countless ways you showed you care.

View the summer as an opportunity to reflect and rejuvenate.  

 

Take time for rest and well-being. Read for pleasure, enjoy the outside, sleep in, do something you enjoy.

 

When you find yourself reflecting on the year you just finished, recognize your accomplishments, and use these inspirational thoughts as fuel to keep going this fall.

Last Day of School Stories

Last Day of School Stories

A teacher I knew said to me once, when trying to encapsulate the end of the school year: “Students that presented the most challenges throughout the year were often the ones that made me cry when they left."

 

Doesn't that say it all about teacher challenges faced every school year?

 

The last day of school is definitely a day of competing emotions.  Everyone is ready for the summer break. Feelings of celebration and joy overflow, but it is also a day of bittersweet goodbyes.

Another year is in the books, a year filled with all the emotional energy good teaching demands. The following quotes, shared by real teachers, portray the joy, pain, and laughter of the last day of school. 

 

As you move, and perhaps struggle, to make it to the end of another year of teaching experience, think about these last day of school stories from real teachers: 

  • “On the last day, everyone is happy.  After the whirlwind of the testing crunch, progress reports, assemblies, packing up shelves and boxes, like the students, I’m glad it’s done.”  
  • “My students have a safety net at school, a structured routine, a meal.  Leaving for the summer means going to some place they may not have a meal.  They may be frightened, apprehensive.” 
  • “I find that teaching comes full circle. It's incredibly difficult as a new teacher, and then incredibly difficult again as an 'aging' teacher. I feel older, slower, and less patient...But already, I find myself missing my little ones. Every year, I'm not sure it's possible to lose more of my heart to my kids, yet every year it seems hearts regenerate and there's more to give again...I'm tired. I feel old. I'm cranky. And I miss them already.”
  • “After the last day, at first, I have trouble settling into not working – used to the fast pace. There was so much to do, and now I think, What do I do?”  
  • “You think back on all the good days and the bad days – days you stayed awake all night because of something you said to a student. . .”
  • “After the last day, I experience a slight state of “funk” that lasts about one week – recognizing the passage of time, nostalgia/sadness. . . Partly, I’ve been in ‘Go Mode’ so long, it’s hard to step off the stage. Then I realize it’s time to enjoy summer – get the party started!” 
  • “Fifth graders move on to another school, so some are sad because they can’t see their teachers or school again. They are transitioning to another stage of life.”
  • “Some of my fifth grade students arrived at the beginning of the year from another country.  As they graduate to middle school, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come in one year learning English.”
  • “My summer shifts to pursuing personal projects. I’m just as busy but in a more self-actualizing way.”
  • “I have a last day of school ritual that doesn’t involve being at school.  After the last day, I go to my favorite cafe by myself, eat a BLT, and reflect upon the past year.  I am removed from school, so I’m not interrupted by the things at school.”  
  • “Students recognize that all I demanded of them was for a purpose, and they recognize how it’s bettered them.  They thank me for it which is validation of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.”
  • “One student showed little emotion all year, no reactions.  On the last day he blurted out, ‘You made everything fun.’ I had no idea that kid thought that.”  
  • “I was excited the last day and worried I wouldn’t make it.”

Teacher Tips for the End of the School Year: Trash It or Stash It?

Teacher Tips:  Trash It or Stash It?

 

Is there too much clutter in your classroom?  Are your classroom closets/cupboards crammed? Are you searching for extra boxes to pack materials?  Do you hoarde materials you haven’t used for years “just in case” you might need them?  If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it may be time to declutter.

 

It's the end of the school year, the perfect time for teachers to get organized and ask that all important question: stash it or trash it? Here are some important teacher tips for the end of the school year that can help answer this critical end of year conundrum.

  1.  Teachers often save everything, instead of saving what will be used. We are afraid to throw something out because our students might need it. If you have junk drawers and containers of unused or unusable basic supplies (dried out markers, partially used notebooks, brad fasteners, broken crayons, ripped/faded construction paper, and those extra big binders), pass them along, recycle them, or discard them. 
  1.  Books and magazines are central to every classroom, but some are outdated, boring, and/or worn-out. If you or the students no longer read certain books or magazines, pass them along or recycle them. Do the same with books that contain outdated or obsolete information and in-service training materials that you haven’t used in over five years.
  1.  Too many bulletin board displays and cute inspirational posters are overwhelming. In fact, heavily decorated classrooms may affect children’s ability to focus and learn.  Researchers Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman of Carnegie Mellon University found that “children were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.” 

The best bulletin boards display student work or assist students with what they’re learning. If you have countless themed borders and seasonal displays, share some with colleagues. Recycle faded posters or those that don't resonate with students.   

  1.  Information clutter can be burdensome too. At the end of the year, you probably don’t feel like creating online storage, but it can be a good practice to start. Paper “must saves” can be scanned and organized into folders. Outdated paper worksheets that don’t engage students should be recycled as well as multiple copies of the same worksheets. If you haven’t used something in the last two years and don’t plan to use it in the next year, perhaps it should go.

It's the end of the school year. Time to take out the trash and get ready to start fresh on the first day of school.

5 Tips for Surviving the End of the School Year

Survive the End of the School Year

The end of the school year can present many teacher challenges. To counteract the stress and potential chaos of the last few weeks of school, we present 5 tips for surviving the end of the school year:

  1. Maintain the classroom routine 

By spring, the classroom routine is second nature.  Students thrive because of these procedures – the morning warm-ups, paper distribution, lunch lineup, etc.  Strive to maintain these well-established routines. Yes, everyone is restless, excited, and tired – and the school schedule keeps changing – but these procedures (along with your management plan) keep the peace in your classroom.  

  1.  Maintain high expectations

It’s so easy to let things go this time of year. There is too much to do in too little time. Unfortunately, students instantly recognize when you have checked out, and they do the same. Don’t give up! It’s a challenge to maintain high expectations in June.  Emphasize collaborative group work/interest projects, and discussions.  Facilitate the groups and encourage students to support each other.  

  1.  Reframe Stress

According to social scientist Kelly McGonigal how you think about stress and how you respond to it both determine how it affects you. Embracing stress and focusing on the upside of stress changes how you cope with challenges. In her book, The Upside of Stress, McGonigal discusses how a meaningful life is a stressful life.

“Although most people predict they would be happier if they were less busy, the opposite turns out to be true.  People are happier when they are busier, even when forced to take on more than they would choose.”  

Most teachers place high values on helping others, learning, and being a positive influence. Reflecting on these values in times of stress can transform the stress from something outside your control to something that honors your values. One helpful strategy McGonigal shares is to create a physical reminder of your most important value.

“Maybe it’s not a bracelet or keychain, but a Post-it attached to your computer monitor or a sticker you put on your phone. Then, when stress hits, remember your value and ask yourself how it can guide you in this moment.”

  1.  Don’t React

As I mentioned previously, it seems everyone is restless, excited, and tired. Impatience looms. Nerves are rattled. Tiny issues can spiral out of control. It’s easy to take things too personally. Don’t get caught up in petty issues that create more brain drain. Hold back that sarcastic comment. I often ate lunch alone during the last weeks of school. It was an opportunity to clear my brain, refocus, and prepare for the second half of the day.

  1.  Take time for yourself

I’m not the best morning person. I remember students gathering around my desk at 7:30am with amazing amounts of energy, and I was the outlet. One school, a late starting school, started at 9:00, but it still took willpower to be in the moment. When the night owl dislikes the early bird, a good pillow and an earlier bedtime may not fix the problem. Health matters. Take time for yourself.  

Go for a walk. Get more rest. Forgive yourself for mistakes. With the pressure of everything that must get done in the last days of school, the winningest tip is to take good care of yourself.

 

Research in Brief:  Rethinking Stress

Rethinking Stress to Help Young People Excel

Life is filled with stressors big and small.  For example, today I am stressed about my refrigerator.  It has been making strange sounds.  We cannot always predict how life is going to unfold, and incidents beyond our control change our daily lives.  (The fridge just made that strange sound again!) 


Like adults, young people experience stress too.  Making friends, doing well in school, and wearing the “right” clothes are just a few of the pressures young people face. 

Fortunately, new research shows that changing our minds about stress can make us healthier and happier.  In her engaging book, The Upside of Stress:  Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, Kelly McGonigal, shares information about why our beliefs about stress matter along with strategies to change the way we think about stress.

Many of the studies she shares are from the new field of mindset science.  (Mindsets are beliefs that shape your reality.)  She highlights successful mindset interventions, including one conducted at a low-income high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Researcher, David Yeager, wanted to teach freshman a growth mindset – the belief that people can change in significant ways.  He had students read an article that introduced the following ideas: 

“Who you are now is not necessarily who you will be later in life; how people treat you or see you now is not necessarily a sign of who you really are or who you will be in the future; people’s personalities can change meaningfully over time.”

Students also read upperclassmen’s accounts of change and wrote about their own experiences of how people could change. 

This thirty-minute intervention resulted in “students who were more optimistic and less overwhelmed by the problems in their lives. They had fewer health problems and were less likely to become depressed than students who had been randomly assigned to a control group.  A full 81 percent of the students who received the intervention passed their ninth-grade algebra class, compared with only 58 percent of students in the control group.” 

Learning how mindsets can affect student performance helps both parents and teachers provide ways for young people to excel. The Upside of Stress shows how rethinking our beliefs can change aspects of our lives – for the better.  

 

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Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity

debra@ifthencreativity.com

 

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