Focus on Three Things (or less) Today

tumblr_m8z4yltfxY1qiph2fo1_500If you are a high achiever who has 110 things on her/his to-do list today, this post may not be for you.  If you want to be a high achiever but get overwhelmed at times, this might be more suited to you. I was talking to a new friend, Justin, the other day through emails about how we can get over indulgent in work and actually be less effective.  That conversation made me think up a challenge post to my readers:  I want to tell you to focus on only three things today. You decide what they should be.  You’ll be tempted to focus on more, but limit yourself.

As a teacher, I tend to get bogged down in all the demands from the district and parents.  Sometimes, it can sap my energies.  The professional solution is to focus my energies with an almost tunnel vision on no more than 3 things.  I can still do other things, but my success for the day will be determined on whether I got those three things accomplished.  For example, tomorrow my 3 are: 1) Multiple meaning words, 2) Finalize my parent conferences calendar, and 3) Teach the final 2 math concepts we’ll be testing next week.  There are many other things I could/should be worried about, but these three are the most important.  I will name the day a success when these three things are done.

It is the regular attention to goals that makes me feel like a great teacher.  I wasn’t born great and I do not remain great just because of what I have done.  My puritan upbringing cringes at calling myself “great,” but I am simply referring to the data that says: I set goals and achieve them.  To me, for any occupation or endeavor in life, that is success.

Breaks Produce Innovation and Creativity

Workaholic teachers and “civilians” sometimes question the effort teachers put forth. They think we enjoy time off only to return complacent and unable to affect change in the educational world. While it may be true for some, I know it is not true for the majority of teachers I come in contact with. My perspective is that teachers are very hard working professionals who deserve a break when they can get it.

I also find it troubling when people refer to teacher’s days off as “vacation.” We are not paid for these days. They are contractual days off that are negotiated and they figure in to our annual salary. College loans do not get forgiven (though I understand there are programs now Obama has created for new teachers) and the expense of time in college learning how to be a great teacher remain forever. We deal with bloody noses, kids that have special learning needs, unruly kids who do not respect us, administrative demands, and so forth. When you hear a teacher is taking time off, wish them rest and renewal. We most certainly need it when we return “to front” teaching the future citizens of the world. Teachers should learn to relax to do their optimal job with kids. To my colleagues out there still working or on breaks I say …

Let your inner hippie come out teachers! You deserve a break.

Using Google Calendar as a Lesson Plan Tool and Syncing With Work

This is not meant to be a tutorial but rather a heads up to a tool I am using to assist my productivity. I usually write my lesson plans in a book each week and that becomes the basis of what I pull to teach. Sometimes I leave the book at work and can’t get to it to prepare my week. I have really found a lot of value in learning to use Google Calendar and specifically the extra calendar adding function. I even added the ical address to my work email “Outlook Web App” and I can bring up whatever I add at home there at my work computer. I can read it without ever leaving the schools native Outlook application. The Gcal lesson plan tool with the Outlook web sync at work is a really cool thing so I’m sharing. Below is a screenshot of how a given week might look on Gcal. Below that is a screenshot of the sync’d version at work. It’s automatic:
-Below is the Outlook Web App sync at work-

Student-Tracked WPM in Reading Passages

126_0558There are many things we can do with a passage of text. The “cold read” can be used as a time for the kids to read and measure their words per minute (WPM). This helps motivate and improves fluency.

The process is fairly simple. You just have the kids run their finger along the text and you time them for one minute. When they stop, they go back and count the number of words they read. If you have an AVID folder or other organized area dedicated to keeping track, they write the date and their WPM for that day.

After doing this a few days, the kids can set realistic goals to improve their fluency. I was shown how to do this by my Assistant Principal and it went very well. I will report in after a few weeks whether it worked and anything I learn about using ths method.

What do you think about teaching kids to measure their own WPM? 

My Comment on Today’s Senseless School Shootings

I was completely and utterly broken when I heard the news about the school shooting today. This is what I wrote on Facebook:
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I elaborate  here. My heart is with the families that lost their babies today, especially the dads. To you I say be strong.

A Flight Simulator, a Briar Patch to get our Kids Ready

brerrabit3The fear and reverence of Common Core is all around. It permeates education. Kids who are gifted and self-starters will likely welcome the opportunity to answer high level thinking questions on a computer screen. They also will not mind the copying, pasting, bulleting, and other technical aspects of the tests. But for the rest, it’s going to come as a shock. Some kids will just give up and type nonsense into the answer boxes. Others will flutter the screens as they learn to select text and not much more. What can we do for these students? I have a suggestion.

Just like flight students work in a simulator to decrease the affect of flying, so we should put kids in a simulated session of the Common Core test. For us here in California it is called the “Smarter Balanced” or SBAC Practice Test. It’s totally free and akin to the released questions the cde used to offer on their site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too bad there is no way to download it in case they ever upgrade or otherwise choose to take it down. I still have all my material the cde put out for the “1997 standards,” or so they are now called. It comes in handy sometimes. But this is more valuable than any of that. It gives the child a chance to click around within the framework and interface of the common core test that will shine before all students’ faces in April/May. If you don’t use this, make sure your test prep includes something like the interface they will be in. Remember Brer Rabbit when he got caught? He cried and cried for them not to throw him into a briar patch. When he escaped, he yelled “I was born in a briar patch!” laughing his way out of sight. We need to get our kids exposed to the common core test. Of course, daily instruction in the standards is the most crucial thing but after that, we need a flight simulator, a briar patch to get our kids ready for success.

Teachers Can Change the Culture

Common sense tells us what a plumber’s job is. This is also true for an auto mechanic, a bank teller, a baker, and even a butcher. Do you think our culture agrees on the job of a teacher? I say “no” and it may never be so. Teaching is not as respected as a profession as it used to be. I am not sure why this perception exists. I’ve read the numbers in teaching colleges have fallen drastically. So how should the teachers who are doing it now it know if they are successful? Coming up with a common sense definition of teaching would be a good start. One person says a teacher’s job is “simply” to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Another says teachers are to be sources of inspiration. Others still might call teachers strict or even mean people. Teachers are often vilified in the news or in movies. For the life of me I cannot understand this trend. But we as teachers have to accept that we are not as respected as we once were. We can illuminate the profession of teaching little by little. I think it would help for every teacher to define her/his job description. This can be the lighthouse when stormy seas encroach. You might even put it on a frame above your mantle. As pay cuts and administrative crack-downs will inevitably continue, it’s going to take a strong sense of purpose to make a difference.

My definition of a teacher’s job:

  1. To teach
  2. To inspire

No matter what happens in politics or culture’s perception of teaching, I will continue to seek out ways to teach and inspire students. I am directed though my culture is not. I can help improve my culture by doing my job. I can help kids learn skills that get jobs. I can teach kids language skills to create art and passion for life. There is so much I have to offer. (Put yourself in that sentence) Technology that helps me do that more effectively I will use. I will never see my job as just “a  job.” I was inspired by teachers as a child and this is my chance to be on the giving end of that inspiration. Have I missed anything? Like a said, simple definitions are the best. Having said that, our job is anything but simple. We owe it to our culture however to remain focused and to do our job well.

Ideas for Better Teaching 2011-2012

This is my 13th year teaching public school. Like most things that matter it has taken time to achieve what feels like some level of mastery. This past year I found it helpful to keep a small section of my whiteboard for writing down ideas and solutions.This is important because many times I forget about “light bulb” solutions that take things like a trip to Staples or laminating to make happen. Here are some teaching strategies and tools I plan to use in the 2011-2012 school year.

  • Teach higher volume in answering voice – Teaches all and reduces class boredom.
  • Fruit: Our school gives each class a basket of fruit every day that is provided by a private grant. My rule: must eat all 10 minutes prior to recess or no recess.
  • Random Non Volunteer Cards. Begin use on day 1. #’s work better than name cards.
  • #’s on desk a priority that requires maintenance make a dedicated spot where you can maintain the numbers when kids pick them off etc. Make replacing damage they do an easy task I am prepared for.
  • Plastic “glass” overlay for desk to show observation papers etc. Helps with focus and anxiety over the unknown.
  • Homework is Focus Reading Comp etc. packets. Also Scott Foresman Math. CFU first thing in am with questions. They must be ready to answer my question of “why.”
  • Have a central location to file report cards etc. Organization takes effort but saves mental and physical energy in the long haul.
  • Desks rows and “away” areas for troubled students. Protect the rest.
  • Pick days to stay after school and do copies. This will avoid traffic jams there and hence discouragement. Take the let downs away before they happen.

These are just a few things I plan to implement to make my year better. Have you taken the time to reflect upon your year last year? What worked and what didn’t?