“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” -Steve Jobs
Confession: I struggle to teach teamwork well.
Teamwork is one of those things that are essential for students to learn, especially in science. I could blame it on never having PD or solid instruction on how to teach teamwork, but I don’t think that’s it. I always hope someone else would teach it and my students would walk in being awesome team players. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.
In the last few years, I’ve worked on facilitating team building activities in class, and include the crucial debrief process after we’re done. Below, I share my favorite team building activity, which is great for both kids and adults!
Every year, I look forward to Saving Sam! It’s a collaborative challenge activity where participants have to work together to get a gummy worm into a gummy lifesaver, only using 1 paperclip per person.
Here are the Slides I use with my students–it’s all set up to push out via Pear Deck!I love using Pear Deck with my students, because it keeps my students engaged. Students who wouldn’t normally speak up in class are willing to participate on the interactive slides.
Students work in groups of 4. Each group needs 1 gummy lifesaver, 1 gummy worm, a small paper or plastic cup (dixie cup size), and 4 paper clips.
Gummy worms, gummy life savers, and paper cups can be reused for each class period, paper clips get bent and need to be replaced. No, you may not eat your gummy worms and lifesavers–refer to the lab safety rules!
Together, we start by discussing teamwork, watching short video clips, and analyzing how teamwork was used in each.
Then, students make a 3 column T chart (or is it a TT chart?), to list what good teamwork looks, sounds, and feels like. I usually have students make quick posters on 11×17 paper, though it can also be done digitally (template). It’s fun to watch students work in teams to make these, because they need teamwork to accomplish it!
Saving Sam: The story
First I need to captivate my students. As I tell the story, they’re imagining my human friend named Sam, and are quite shocked when I pull out a gummy worm. Here is my dramatic version of Sam’s story:
“Have I told y’all about my friend Sam? No? Ok, well, they are one awesome person. Sam loves spending their weekends out on the ocean in their boat. They loves hanging out with their friends, and they’re a big fan of boating safety.
“However, last weekend, they went out on their boat alone, and Sam wearing their life jacket when suddenly a large wave came up and capsized their boat! Sam hung onto the top, and their lifesaving device was trapped under their boat. They are still waiting for someone to come save them!
“This (holding up a gummy worm) is Sam. And you all need to figure out how to save Sam! (Pause for laughs and confused looks.) The thing you need to know is that Sam is highly allergic to humans, so we can’t touch them, their boat, or their lifesaver with our hands. Instead, we use these special tools (hold up a paper clip) to save them (some kids will ask how we can possibly setup the activity…they can touch to set it up!). And remember, my friend Sam has feelings, so please don’t drop them or skewer them! Good luck!”
Usually, it takes groups 5-10 minutes to Save Sam. If there is a group of 3, I’ll give one member 2 paper clips.
Remember the debrief!
After all groups have successfully saved Sam, we debrief by talking about how their teamwork looked, sounded, and felt like. Students also identify areas they want to work on. It’s an excellent reflective process, and an integral launching point for more discussions about teamwork, especially as it relates to science labs and activities.
I’m always looking for more team building activities. What are some of your favorite team building exercises?
Back to school is always an exciting time! I love preparing my classroom for my new students, thinking about how to best meet their needs, and anticipating the fun we’re going to have. I loosely plan out what skills I want to hit, but I don’t lesson plan until I actually meet my kids!
In my first year of teaching, I had the (mis)guidance of the teacher I was taking over for. They instructed me to talk about the syllabus on the first day of school, teach lab safety on the second day, then jump right into content on the third day. Even though I planned out fun first-two-weeks activities in my credential/masters program and talked extensively about building relationships, I assumed this strong-willed teacher knew what was best. So, I did what they told me.
Boy, was I wrong. While I did end up getting to know my students eventually, the class cohesiveness wasn’t there from the start and behavior was sometimes a struggle.
The one thing I did do well was a getting to know you survey (on paper). I used that information to learn about my students’ backgrounds, and incorporate their interests into some of our examples from class.
Fast forward to the present: My biggest strength and emphasis as a teacher are building relationships, and making sure each and every student feels welcome in our class. It’s not always easy, and there are plenty of ups, downs, and mistakes–and also many moments of joy!
This is the perfect first assignment on the Google Classroom set-up day. Students join the class, then immediately complete their first assignment.
The questions range from simple, such as birthday and interests, to more thought-provoking, such as “when I get mad, I …” I like having a mix, and seeing how my students choose to answer. For example, when I ask “What is something you are really good at?” not only am I asking for their strengths, but also I am checking for self confidence; when a student writes “nothing,” then I know I will need to intentionally search for areas of strength to share with them.
A hidden teacher agenda item in this activity: I can see who is able to focus on an independent and silent task for 10 minutes, and who needs constant refocusing.
After my students fill out the survey in class, I go through the response spreadsheet and highlight interesting and concerning responses. I make a note to follow up with students, bring up their interests in conversation, and share commonalities.
The getting to know you survey is one of the best parts of my first few weeks of school!
What types of questions do you ask in your getting to know you survey? Please share your favorites in the comments below!
I am so pleased to announce that Fueled by Coffee and Love: The Refill was published on Thursday, July 26, 2018! It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve learned so much in this process. This book is a true work of heart.
The journey started in February 2017, and Fueled by Coffee and Love was published in July 2017 (read more here). After publication, I heard from quite a few teachers who missed out on the first call for submissions, and that propelled me to start a volume 2.
Challenges and Successes
The biggest challenges with volume 2 was getting this project rolling. There was a lot of initial excitement for the project, however the follow-through was disappointingly slower than I anticipated. I opened the submissions in September 2017, but didn’t end up closing them until April 2018–I kept extending the deadline, hoping for more stories. Honestly, I was overly excited in getting rolling on the next book, and didn’t dedicate enough time to enjoying the success of the first publication.
With The Refill, I felt like I was a stronger leader. I understood the bigger picture of what needed to get done, and was able to better lead our authors and editors. In the editing process, I was more concise with expectations, including a formalized submissions template and more robust editing guidelines. This greatly helped when I compiled all the stories, and we (Aubrey, Marilyn, Cristy, and I) completed final edits.
We did three rounds of editing: primary editors (looked for writing conventions and story focus), secondary editors (clear focus), and me (all of the above). It helped to have many eyes on each story. Thank you editors!
Some people have asked me if I’m going to submit a story to the book. The short answer is, “I don’t know.” Deep down, I know this book IS my story. I struggle with feeling like I have something to share in the education world, with so many Big Names and Pontificators out there; when I dig deeper, I see that there are so many other teachers in the same boat who feel the same way, and I want to elevate their stories. Putting my heart and soul into this book feels like I am sharing a part of me.
Both books have been self-published through Create Space, Kindle Direct Publishing, and Smashwords. I have used Ray Charbonneau (www.y42k.com) to format the book and get it set up on the online publishing sites. That has been a huge help to me! Since it’s self-published, I know I don’t have nearly as large of a platform as other publishers, and I’m ok with that. I love our authors and I love being directly involved in every step of the process (except the parts Ray does, of course).
So much joy!
It is a huge honor create a platform for teachers to share their stories! My goal is to shine a positive light on the successes and challenges we face in education, each and every day–I can confidently say that I have achieved this goal. Anything I can to do spread their stories, I will pour my heart and soul into making it happen!
I do not keep any of the profits for myself. I donate all proceeds to classrooms and education, mainly through Donors Choose.
One of the best parts of this project has been seeing copies of the book in my friends’ hands! I’ve shared quite a few on the @FBCALbook on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Each time I see one posted, I do a little happy dance!
I can’t believe it’s already back to school! I’m starting my 7th year teaching–it’s really amazing to look back at how far I’ve come over the past 6 years of teaching + 2 years of pre-service teaching! Thank you Teacher2Teacher for this awesome #TeacherStats graphic! Make your own here!
My kids start on Monday, July 23rd, and I think I’m just about ready. We’re on a sorta year-round schedule, with a 6 week summer and longer breaks. I really do love it, even if it’s hard to go back when everyone else is still enjoying their summer.
The 2017-2018 school year was stressful for a number of reasons, and I am hoping to really focus on balance this school year. I need to do a better job taking care of myself, managing all the things that stress me out, but are not in my control, and not working nearly as much.
The following are my goals for each area of my responsibility. If you have expertise in any of these areas, I’d love to know and learn from you!
With my science kids, I have two different areas I’m working on. First, as I continue to improve with mastery-based grading, one big thing I’d like to work on is helping my students to be more self-reflective and self-evaluative. Part of that will be teaching them how to provide effective feedback to their peers and themselves, then use that feedback to improve their work.
Second, I’m going to continue to transition my class social media over to my students. I’ve had them post regularly in the past, and I’d love to make it a class job, where we are regularly sharing what we are learning!
I love teaching AVID, and my 0 period AVID 8 kids are a special bunch. I had many of them in 7th grade science or knew them from popping into their AVID 7 classes, and I always look forward to continuing to build these relationships for a second year.
AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, and my focus this year is to guide my students in the “individual determination” piece by making the class portfolio-based, and potentially eliminating grades. I’d love to help my students find their own intrinsic motivation, and build their own external accountability, if they feel they need it. At the grading periods, students will self-assess and assign themselves a grade. This will prepare them for both college and adult life, where they are responsible for their own educational path. I have no idea how this will turn out, and I’m a little nervous, but isn’t that how we truly learn?
Blended Learning Specialist
As my school’s Blended Learning Specialist, I have 1 class period dedicated to technology resource and integration. Last year, we became the first Common Sense Media Certified School in our district, and I my goal is to double the amount of lessons taught, and provide a good foundation for our student, not only in digital citizenship, but also in effective searching and internet safety.
Furthermore, my goal is to encourage our teachers to share out the great things they’re doing on Twitter, using #VikingsLearn, our school hashtag. As of now, we have 22 teachers and admin on Twitter, and I’d love to get that number up to 30. I’d added a “Twitter Challenge” section to our monthly Virtual Vikings #PottyPD newsletter with specific things to share, such as “try a new tech tool” or “show off how you engage your students in reading.”
Teaching, in General
One thing I love doing is observing my colleagues! I’m in their rooms quite often, admittedly to say hi, see what’s up, or sometimes goof around (when appropriate, of course…we have SO much fun!). I want to spend more time intentionally observing, leaving feedback, and asking questions to make us all better teachers. We have a paper peer observation template; I don’t mind that it’s analog, it’s easy to grab my clipboard, then snap a picture of my observation before leaving the paper with the teacher. Plus, I can tweet out a shoutout when I visit.
I’m also hoping for more observations this year. When my colleagues walk in, I love handing them my clipboard and asking for feedback. This year, I’m going to add a sticky note or half-sheet of paper with my current goals for them to focus on.
Who wants to come observe? I’d love to have you!
Very limited work at home. I know no-work may not be possible, but I’m hoping that’s the case 93% of the time (meaning, once every two weeks or less!). I learned how to leave work at work through my “April No-Work Challenge,” and I expect to keep up these habits.
Please keep me accountable and check in with me over the next weeks and months. You have full permission to ask me how these goals are going, nudge me to share evidence of growth, and guide me in a positive direction! Thank you PLN, I love being on this adventure with you all!
When was the last time you were a total beginner at something?
This past week, I tried something completely new to me: Geocaching! I’ve heard about this for years, but I was never curious enough to actually try it. It wasn’t until ISTE this past June that my friend Wanda Terral, a super geocacher, gave me a little spark. I downloaded the app, and made a mental note to try it over the summer.
I tried Geocaching!
According to the Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”
Finally, last week, I got up the courage to go out and try it. I did a little bit of basic research first (here’s a good place to start), like, what am I supposed to do when I find it? (Answer: open it, sign the logbook, then put it back. Easy enough, right?) Then, I played around with the app for a few minutes before I left home. There was one located about a 10 minute walk from my house, at a local park!
Ollie wanted to come too, so we walked (insert doggie head-tilt at the word walk) to the park together. I oriented myself to the park layout, and figured out where-ish the geocache would be located. Then I searched. And I searched. And I searched. And, I sat down and stared at my phone. What do these things look like? How hidden will it be?
And it was a lot harder than I expected
I almost gave up and walked home. I felt ridiculous, slowly walking at the edge of the park and staring into the bushes. There were other people at the park, surely they all thought I looked strange, walking near the back edge of the park with my dog. In fact, I walked halfway back to the street, before turning around. I felt defeated.
That’s when I realized, THIS is how it feels to be a total beginner at something! It feels awkward, embarrassing, and distressing. I took a deep breath, did a bit more how-to research, pulled up the app again, and used the GPS tracker to get within about 5 feet of where the geocache was supposed to be hidden.
But, I persevered, and I was successful!
Then, I peeked into the bushes, and dug around a little…and found it! It was hooked to the fence, hidden by some leaves, but obvious once I saw it.
I couldn’t stop smiling! I did it! That feeling of exhilaration–I haven’t felt that in SO long. It’s like the first time you are successful in an escape room or Breakout EDU; you know you worked hard, and now you have a great pictures to capture that moment. Plus, the journey felt way more important than what was inside the box/can/container.
I was so caught up on that feeling, I only took a few pictures–all of them Ollie + the geocache!
Then, I reflected on my experience
On the walk home, between meeting new doggie friends, I asked myself a few questions:
Would this have been less scary if I had someone like Wanda with me to guide/coach me through my first geocaching experience?
Would this have been more fun (and less awkward) if I brought along a friend, even if they’d never tried it before?
Was the seemingly endless discomfort erased once I was successful?
What needs to happen for me to try this again?
How often do I ask my students and colleagues to “just try it,” but then leave them without support?
Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s good to be a beginner every once in a while. This experience helped to remind me that we all have to start somewhere.
I didn’t go out geocaching to intentionally experience being a beginner, or have all these feelings, or write a blog post about it. I thought it would be something cool to try, and I also expected it to be easy, like walking up to a PokeStop in Pokemon Go–as in, it would just be there, and I’d say “yay!” and move along.
I’m sold, and I’m definitely going to try it again. Who wants to go with me? There are lots in San Diego. Or, if we’re traveling at a conference/summit/workshop together, let’s go on a little adventure.
Ok, and seriously, if I’m not already happily nerding on this experience, I also learned that the term for a non-geocacher is a…muggle! Yes, as in, Harry Potter.
It’s crazy to think I took the Google for Education Level 1 and Level 2 tests in summer 2015. 3 years ago! These tests had just been re-released after a complete overhaul; I intended to take them in late 2014, but they were taken down to get their makeover. Since they expire every 3 years, so retaking them was on my summer to do list.
I ended up taking Level 1 again in February 2017, after hosting an EdTechTeam Level 1 bootcamp at my school. A bunch of my friends were meeting to take the test, so I joined in and took it under my school email. Yes, we took it in the corner at a bar (arranged with the manager ahead of time, especially to make sure wifi was stable.)! And yes, we brought our own power strips. And yes, it was a lot of fun!
Going into the tests this summer, this biggest difference for me was confidence. Since taking Level 1 & and Level 2, I’ve gone on to become a Google for Education Certified Trainer (November 2015) and Innovator (June 2016, #COL16!!). I also facilitate bootcamps for EdTechTeam. Sure, I was a little nervous, because after all, it is a test! However, I also have lots of experience to draw on, which I used to remind myself it would all be ok! This time around it took me about 55 minutes for Level 1, and 75 minutes for Level 2. It took much less time because I knew what to expect and didn’t second-guess myself, not because my skills are that much better.
My advice for taking Level 1 and Level 2
Prepare with other people: I highly recommend the EdTechTeam bootcamps. Either attend one in your area, or fill this out to bring one to your school/district (you can even request me to come to you!). I wish I had this opportunity when I was preparing the first time to get a feel for the test, receive helpful advice, and build my confidence. — And no, I’m not getting paid to say this.
Find a happy place to take the test: I’ve taken the test solo at home in a quiet room and at a loud bar. Both times, I had minimal outside distractions. Yes, the bar was loud, but it was just background noise, not someone talking directly to me. Phone went on “do not disturb” and I closed all the other tabs.
Set up your space: Get something to drink, have a snack handy, use the bathroom before you begin, connect to power, stretch, etc before you sit down to take the test. Your webcam is on the entire time for security, so you don’t want
to have to run to get something in the middle of the test.
Take wiggle breaks: I stand up every 30 minutes or so to wiggle around. I angle my laptop to keep my face in view, because test security. A mini dance party keeps my brain from getting too tired.
Smile!: Remind yourself to smile before, during, and after the test. You’re a hard worker, and these test are kinda fun! No matter what, pass or fail, remember to smile!
If you don’t pass the first time, don’t get discouraged! Make a note of the topics or tools that gave you the most difficulty, find a buddy, and work on them. Challenge yourself to use that tool at least 3 times before retaking the test.
Have tips for Level 1 and Level 2 first-timers? Leave a comment with your best advice!
I am currently in Post-ISTE Recovery Mode, and finally have enough energy to reflect on the past 5 days. When I think back to my ISTE 2016 and ISTE 2017 experiences, I realize just how crazy these adventures are.
One of the coolest parts of ISTE this year was being a Young Educator Network Scholarship Mentor. Each year, ISTE awards 10 conference registration scholarships to local teachers. Mentors are paired with these scholarship winners, and we spend Sunday morning getting to know each other, orienting our mentees to the overwhelmingness of ISTE, and pass along some advice. I emailed with Martha before ISTE, and loved finally meeting her! For those of you attended ISTE or followed along with #notatiste18, please take a minute to fill out this form–I’d love to collect your advice and takeaways for ISTE 2019 newbies!
When I attended ISTE 2016 in Denver, that was my first time meeting many of my friends. Reflecting back, I’ve come so far both personally and professionally. It’s hard to attend these conferences, and not feel many new feels–some of which are uncomfortable. Since my past 2 years’ reflections have covered a lot of the ISTE basics, I’m going to take a different spin this year. Below are some of my growth areas over the last 3 ISTE conferences.
Be in the Moment
There is always so much going on at ISTE! When we say “yes” to one session or social, we’re saying “no” to at least one other thing we really really want to attend. Remove FOMO (fear of missing out) from your vocabulary, and enjoy where you are, and who you’re sharing this experience with. If you’re #notatiste, celebrate that social media allows you to learn along with us at the conference.
A big shift for me this year was I didn’t worry about finding all the people, only to run off to find someone else minutes later. I enjoyed some smaller group adventures and even some one-on-one adventures! I loved this quality time with great friends!
I’ve learned not to stress about what I’m missing, and instead focus on hugging the people I’m with! And, I’m so grateful I did. I have fewer pictures from this trip, and more happy memories.
It’s Ok to Feel Impostor Syndrome
Every single person presenting at the conference is a human, just like me. Some get gigantic stages, and some are attendees. We all bring value and expertise in our own ways. And, we all had to start our learning process somewhere. As I have shifted my classroom to mastery-based grading, I have also shifted my outlook on my own learning to mastery-based.
I had the opportunity to present at the EdTechTeam booth for 20 minutes on #PottyPD. Even though I’ve presented and keynoted around the US, this made me super nervous. The night before, I had a dream that I had to go up completely unprepared. Typical teacher, right? I’m grateful for a few people who offered words of encouragement and hugs before I took the stage.
I have to remember that when someone has The Microphone, they have put hours and hours of work into learning and preparing to get themselves where they are today. I can’t compare the start of my learning journey to the middle of someone else’s! In the past (ok, honestly, happens all the time now, but I’m better at identifying it!), I my inside narrative would tell me that I’m not good enough. With a shift in my mindset, I realize it’s all about putting in the hard work.
Tired and Happy
One cool part about joining a bunch of friends in a different city is spontaneous adventures! A highlight of ISTE sightseeing was visiting the Willis (Sears) Tower and taking fun pictures in the glass boxes. The wait to get up was long, and thankfully I had some great friends to chat with.
With all the fun and adventure comes balance. I packed a healthy lunch for myself each day, plus extra food to give to friends. It brings me so much joy to keep my friends fueled. I didn’t do a great job of staying hydrated, but got better as the week went on.
Now, I’m home and excited to enjoy my 3 weeks of unscheduled summer!!
A few weeks back, there was some Twitter buzz on what good teachers should or should not do with their summer break. Should we be learning as much as we can, preparing for our new students, and collaborating with our PLN? Should we be 100% unplugged, relax with our family, and not think about school until the night before we go back? Last summer, I wrote about Navigating the Sea of Shoulds, and pushing back against all the things we should do.
We all have our own summer priorities and ways we want to spend this time off. The key here is to find what works best for each of us to ensure we reach the first day of school with our whole and rested selves!
I reflected on my school year in last week’s blog post, and mentioned that it was a stressful and emotionally draining year. I didn’t quite realize the full extent until now, as I am struggling to come out of the fog. As much as I have relaxed at home and traveled to present at conferences (all of which help me decompress), I still feel the weight of the year.
As educators, we worry about kids and the “summer slide” where they lose some content knowledge during their time off. My district has only 6 weeks off for summer–a decision made before I entered the district 7 years ago, and presumably to help mitigate the summer slide.
What we don’t talk about is teachers and the summer slide! I know my audience is mostly friends on Twitter, so maybe this doesn’t entirely apply to this crowd, since we all embrace a growth mindset and are seeking opportunities (via Twitter) to grow as teachers and leaders. Nonetheless, how can we make sure we are intentional with our time, even during our summer break?
My take? I’m going to take the same advice/summer assignment I give to my students!
Read a Book
This one is easy. You don’t need to tell me twice to go read a book! I’m hoping to read a mix of YA lit, education books, and nonfiction this summer. Plus, I’ll sprinkle in a few audiobooks during my plane flights. Even with all my travel so far this year, I’ve only finished 2 books.
And, I admit, I’ve been watching more TV than I usually do–with new seasons of Masterchef and Food Network Star (really, the only two shows I regularly watch!), lots of baseball games, and the World Cup.
I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on some of my summer books on my book blog!
I want to return to school with a few more recommendations for my students. And I hope they have some for me too.
Give Someone a Hug
When I give this homework assignment to my students, I’m met with some incredulous looks. Yes, yes, I am asking you to go hug someone! Yes, it can be me!
This assignment is less about the hug, and more about seeking out people who we value, trust, and enjoy being around.
I’ll be at ISTE next week. Come find me, give me a hug, then let’s take a selfie!
It’s so easy for me to spend an entire day sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling Twitter, eating ice cream, and reading books. I know there are plenty of people out there that “go outside” is second nature. It’s like, third nature for me (if that wasn’t a thing, now it is). I have a hard time getting myself there, but once outside, I’m happy!
One of my favorite places in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo. With my membership pass, I can always bring in a guest for free. When I think about ways to get myself outside longer than walking my dog, hanging with the animals at the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and learning about endangered species sounds like an excellent idea! And, this leads me to my next point…
Summer is a great time for learning something that interests us! I don’t assign my students summer reading or experiments for science. Instead, I want them to spend this time learning something new on their own. We are surrounded by so many sources of knowledge, from videos, to the internet, to local museums, to family members.
One great thing about San Diego is that different museums in Balboa Park are open to San Diego residents on Tuesdays (see the schedule here). I’ll be around for a few Tuesdays, and I look forward to visiting some museums.
I know I owe it to myself and my future students to take care of me. It feels 100% selfish at times, but I know ultimately this investment will pay off down the road.
I did a better job of incorporating social media into my classroom, both through interacting with students and by allowing students to take over posting responsibilities. There is still more I’d like to do next year, but for now, I’m happy with how our classroom accounts are going.
Common Sense Media Certified School
This year, we worked hard and became a Common Sense Media Certified School! I used the Common Sense Media curriculum, recreated the lessons using Pear Deck, then shared them with staff (read more here). Each department and grade level was responsible for teaching one 45 minute lesson. My teachers appreciated that there was little prep work they needed to do, since everything was included in the Pear Deck slides. Even some who are hesitant with technology dove in! This also produced fantastic conversations, both with staff and with students. By no means have we solved our cyberbullying problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Next year, we will recertify during the fall semester. And, I am revising the curriculum to push out district-wide so our district can become a Common Sense Media Certified District!
Hosting a student teacher
I blogged about my experiences having a student teacher back in January. I didn’t get placed with one for the spring semester–HR does the placements, not the SDSU cohort leads. I loved being able to reflect on my own teaching, and help someone else build their strong foundation. In spring, we had 2 student teachers down the hall from me, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Together we reflected, talked about successes and challenges of teaching, and continued to build strong skills. Even if I wasn’t their guide teacher, I appreciated our reflective conversations!
But, this year was really stressful…
Honestly, this felt like my worst year teaching. Not the teacher skills part, but my stress level was above and beyond any of the past years. I had a lot going on, both at work and outside of work, that made it difficult to stay focused on the big picture. There were plenty of moments where I was in survival-mode, and I know my lessons were just so-so.
I think this is called burnout. I don’t dislike teaching or my kids, however the stress overshadowed a lot of joy this year. I realized I needed to take some drastic actions to preserve my mental/emotional health, so I did an April no-work challenge. I didn’t know how much I needed some non-teaching hobbies! I spent more time crocheting, playing with my dog, reading, and doing nothing.
Additionally, student behavior tanked. I’m not sure what exactly was going on–there was way more drama, fights, and kids getting referrals than any year I can remember. While I won’t speak to our front-office discipline, I do know that I found classroom management challenging at times. Classroom management is one of my strengths, and overall my kids were great at our routines and following lab procedures. The biggest roadblock in classroom management was the more emotionally draining part of knowing that my kids are dealing with all kinds of home and school issues. There were dozens of moments where I had to help a student calm down or process something before we could get into our science. Even if this was incredibly stressful (and definitely not sustainable), I appreciate that I have the relationship with my students where they know they can be real people.
Finding the positives
As I scroll through my Google Photos, there are so many fun moments this year. It’s a good reminder that despite the stress, I had a great time!
More so than any other year, I got way more hugs from my kids! I had a few that regularly hugged me, and others who surprisingly wanted hugs. I’m a hugger, so this makes my teacher heart happy. And, with all the emotional challenges for my kids, I ended many of our conversations with, “would you like a hug?” They almost always said yes! With that, there were also many incredibly genuine “I love you” moments. I am confident that my students left my class knowing they are loved and appreciated for who they are, no matter their identity, the decisions they make, or their circumstances.
Lastly, I wouldn’t survive teaching without my incredible colleagues. My work friends are seriously the best. They’ve hugged me through a lot of challenging moments, and cheered for me when things go well. And, I’ve been able to do the same for them. It seemed like every period someone would drop by my classroom, either to grab something from the printer, informally observe, or grab a Diet Coke from my fridge.
With the informal observations, I started keeping our school’s reflection form on a clipboard, and I’d hand it to someone as they dropped by. I won’t dwell too much on this, but I didn’t have a single walkthrough observation from an administrator this year (with the exception of a 10 minute observation for my formal evaluation); even if I’m a “good teacher” I still have areas where I can improve. I crave feedback, and I’m grateful our school encourages teachers to observe each other! Of course, I returned the favor as I dropped in during my prep period.
Another set of colleagues I greatly appreciate is our science PLC. They are awesome, supportive, and think critically through all kinds of problems; it has taken a long time to get to this point, and it all comes down to building relationships!
Of course, I couldn’t do any of this without my PLN! I love connecting with you all on Twitter, incredible conversations and support over DMs, and traveling and working with friends from all over the world at summits and custom workshops.
Rest. Relax. Recover.
I’m not ready to set goals for next year, and that’s ok. I need to give myself time and permission to take care of me!
The blog post below is co-written by many members of the 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy, and cross-posted to Amy I’s blog!
A brief note from Mari: I am grateful to Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth for providing us this experience! For my blog, I have put my own contributions in italics.
What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)
The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR. We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.
Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate. Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.
We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.
What made teachers want to join?
I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)
I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)
I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)
Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal. Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)
I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles. My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator. The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)
I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)
Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience
I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)
I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)
I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging. After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities. I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us. I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)
Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership
The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)
I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)
Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)
I appreciated the candid conversations shared that reinforced how each of our journeys are normal because of the challenges we have. The themes explored made me feel more capable in the struggle and gave me tools to gracefully handle situations that may arise. My biggest takeaway though, has been the power to say ‘NO, I do not have the bandwidth for that!’ Realizing that the prosperity of my department does not rest on me; I cannot, nor should I, be the one to keep things afloat. If something is broken, let us shine some light on it and resolve things together!These realizations have shaped the way I interact with my PLC and we are stronger for it! Sincerest gratitude to Amy I. and Amy H., for broaching the tough subjects! (Melody)
I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)
This has been a gift- if there is an opportunity for TLA YR2, I am there!! Whether there is something structured or not, I will continue to develop myself as an individual and as a teacher leader, reach out to those who feel like I have, and to always continue learning, as Amy I. says. Every year gets better! (Melody)