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Savvy Tech Tools #2: Wakelet

Utilizing the tech tool Wakelet to curate products of learning

During the uncertain times of teaching during a pandemic, effective online tools are important. Wakelet is an online curation tool for teachers and students. It allows users to collect websites, videos, texts, etc and organize them in an effective way. Users create the “look” and feel of each of their collections. Users can also collaborate using the group collection feature. One of the best things about this tool is that any teacher for any content area can find different ways to use this tool to benefit their students. It is the ultimate tech tool for differentiation.

How Did I Use the Tool

I used this tool in many different ways. I wanted to explore using this tool as an alternative to the traditional annotated bibliography or works cited page. Students would link their articles to their Wakelets along with their annotations of the sources. This made their annotated bibliographies more “hands on” and also made it easier for me to check their sources. 

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Another way that I used this tool was to organize students’ products of learning. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, I implement Project Based Learning (PBL) in my classes. This is a lengthy process of learning, and I wanted to use Wakelet to help organize their learning throughout the process. For my STEM English III Honors class, we used this tool to organize their final project about The Crucible. Students had to choose and research a scientific theory that explained why the hysteria occurred in Salem. The students then had to “prove” why their theory was correct. There were many components to the unit that students organized on their Wakelet. The students had an argumentative essay, a personal persuasive essay, their annotated bibliography, and other elements to include on their pages. Wakelet made the curation process easy.

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 In my English IV class, I used this tool for our “Social Issues” unit. We were exploring literature on famous British nature sites, like the White Cliffs of Dover,  and the overarching essential question of the unit was “What nature sites should we preserve and why?” The students had to write an argumentative essay about their chosen nature site and explain why it should be protected. Using Wakelet, the students placed all of their components of their learning on their site. These components included their annotated bibliography, essay, infographics, and final products.

Benefits/Drawbacks

One of the best things about this tool is that students of all levels and abilities can use it effectively. I had STEM Honors students and College Prep students that were able to use this tool. It is easy enough to navigate and use this tool that it does not create digital barriers for students. Teachers can easily differentiate activities for the levels of their students to create more rigorous uses of the tool to accommodate the learning needs of students. Also, this tool allows teachers to create assignments using this tool for different content areas. I was able to successfully create lessons using this tool in STEM English III Honors (American Literature), English II (World Literature), and English IV (British Literature). 

Another benefit of using Wakelet is that it easily connects to Google Tools. My school encourages the use of Google Tools. In my own classroom, students use Google Drive and Docs for almost everything. This was perfect for using Wakelet because students could upload documents from their Google Drive easily to their Wakelet creations. 

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There are not too many drawbacks to using Wakelet. For some of my students that are easily distracted by the design aspect of the tool, it is best to give them more guidance. Students could spend a long time making their design (images, etc) their own, which is great, but it can also become more important than the assignment if some kids don’t have guidance. Another issue that has been fixed was when my students were working on this last year, they would have to save before leaving their pages. This caused issues with many of my students. However, this has been fixed, and your progress is automatically saved. 

In order to stay organized with the amount of links to their Wakelets that I was getting from my students, I used Google Docs. I created a Google Doc for each class with a table for their names and links to their Wakelets. I shared this document with students, and they included their links. This enabled me to easily keep track of their sites. 

How Will I Use This Tool in the Future?

Now that I am more comfortable with using this tool, I plan on implementing this more into my classes. I want to use it in similar ways as I did last year, but refining the process. Also, because my district is going to a hybrid model of learning (a combination of F2F and distance learning), this tool will be more important than ever. I am thinking of experimenting with using this tool as more of a portfolio of learning. Students will be able to submit a unique Wakelet to show their learning for the semester or year.

 

For more information about Wakelet, tech tools, and units mentioned in this blog, visit the contact page and reach out to me!

Adventures in STEM #1: Using Maps to Emphasize Romantic Elements

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This school year, I was new to the world of STEM. When I was initially asked to be a part of the program, I was nervous. At my school, we have a nationally ranked STEM program, so the pressure was on to be great.  I didn’t think I would be successful because I am not a STEM-minded person. Like I always do when preparing for a class, I buried myself in research about STEM programs and curriculum. Throughout my research, I felt more confident about my own abilities to teach and challenge these learners. STEM students should be educated to prepare for jobs that don’t even exist. They are not standardized learners, so I couldn’t give them a standardized curriculum. I implement Project Based Learning (PBL) in my classroom and try to have my students create products of their learning. I realized I may be perfect for these kids–I would challenge them to create their own answers to their own questions and create their own exploration of learning.

In my “Adventures in STEM” posts, I will be detailing successes and challenges from my STEM experiences. These assignments were implemented in an Honors English III STEM class. These students were mainly sophomores, and the content of the class was American Literature. While the assignments in this series of blog posts were created for STEM students, they can easily be adapted to fit any level of students.

Mapping Out the Sublime

This lesson occurred in the middle of our unit on Romantic literature. Before this assignment, I introduced Romanticism/Transcendentalism through varying texts. We focused on elements of this type literature like an emphasis on emotions and imagination, the importance of self-expression and individual feeling, and being outcasts of society. Our main focus was on the sublime in nature–the religious response to nature.

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For this assignment, students were to choose a spot in nature that they could argue as sublime. This could be a place that they had been themselves or a place they discovered through research. The students were tasked to create either a digital or paper map that exemplified the idea of the sublime in nature.

Their map had to be realistic in measurements that they would calculate and must also contain traditional elements of a map. They were required to find at least two informational sources about their nature site. With these texts, the students had to provide a connection between their chosen spot and at least one of the 5 themes of geography.  They also had to include a “fun” text about their site. The “fun” text could be a creative piece of their own, like a song or diary entry, or a song or poem that already exists about their site–it just had to be a separate text from their informational literature. 

I used the following “I can…” statements for this assignment:

I can… synthesize information from multiple sources, find and evaluate sources, and analyze Romantic elements like the “sublime” and nature

 

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Successes and Challenges

This assignment added a social studies element to the STEM curriculum. The students were focusing on elements of STEM, but were really utilizing their knowledge from AP Human Geography for the construction of their products. I collaborated with an AP Human Geography teacher when constructing this assignment, because honestly, I didn’t even know Geography had 5 themes! He was helpful in enabling me to create a cross-curricular assignment that was relevant to what they had learned in his class. One advantage of my situation that a lot of teachers may not have is that all of my students in that class had taken AP  Human Geography. This can easily be adapted for students if this is not applicable to your situation. 

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Another interesting thing about this assignment was the places that were chosen. Many students chose historical sites like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Some students chose places they had visited, like a mountain in China and a glacier park. Another student chose his own neighborhood. When letting students have choice in their learning, the students become more invested in their learning. I always find that I am pleasantly surprised with the products of students when they are given a choice in their learning. 

This assignment required a lot of synthesis of information. The students not only had to read and synthesize from different informational texts but also had to connect to the overarching themes of the literature we had previously discussed. This was difficult for a lot of students because they wanted to just copy and paste information onto their maps. This was a good way to introduce my students to the challenges of synthesizing information.

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This assignment served as a great tool to assess the understanding of Romantic themes before we started our Gothic Literature unit. While this assignment was used for Romanticism and English III, teachers can adapt this lesson to any class they teach to teach synthesis and evaluation of sources.

For more information about STEM and curriculum in general,  visit the contact page and reach out to me!

Love in the Time of a Pandemic: Keeping the Love of Education through COVID-19

It has been awhile since my last blog post. For educators, and really anyone paying attention, our lives have been turned upside down. Traditional school is out, for now. Educators, students, and their families have been forced to adapt quickly to online learning environments. Restaurants have closed their dining rooms, parks are closed, and everyone is being encouraged to socially distance themselves in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. Educators have gone from being surrounded by coworkers and students to being isolated and possibly alone. 

Our dystopian-like reality is tough. I miss my students. I miss seeing them practice Tik-Tok dances and hearing about their prom dresses. I miss my coworkers. I miss coming out in the hall and chatting with my friends while my students chaotically come into my room. There seems to be no hope in sight–the news and press conferences are dismal. I keep waiting every day to hear some “good news” or some bright spot in all this gloominess. 

 When I sat down to write today,  I realized that there already is a bright spot:  My son Liam. Even though I adore my son, this isn’t a post about a mother’s love for her son. This is a post about discovery and the beauty of learning. The bright spot that I have found in this time is Liam’s acts of discovery throughout the day. 

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I am a high school teacher, and I have absolutely no experience teaching younger children. I have never experienced the milestones of learning at the primary age. Now that I am digitally teaching, I am able to stay home with my son. I have the privilege to watch him learn. A few days ago, we were sitting at his craft table and were beginning to color. He picked up his marker and began banging it on the table. As I reached to remove the top of the marker for him, I decided we could use this as a teachable moment to practice taking off the marker cap and putting it back on. I showed him how to do it, putting an emphasis on the “click” when the cap was in place, much to his delight. After a few tries (a few hundred, it seemed), Liam successfully did it on his own. His response: “Whoa!”

Whoa, indeed. This was such a simple phrase during a simple moment. However, when thinking back on this experience, I realized that this simple moment leads to an important conclusion.  Liam’s moment of learning resulted in a “whoa” because he discovered something new. Reflecting upon the experience of watching my son learn during this time at home has contributed to this understanding:

True education is based on discovery–the whoa moment.

How many times have my students said “whoa” in my classroom? Am I encouraging discovery in my classroom so students can truly learn? Many teachers say this is what draws them to the teaching profession–the “light bulb” moment when a student just gets a concept. But–are we actually doing it? Are we giving students the instruction needed to create the “whoa” moments? 

This time at home watching my son learn has emphasized the importance of these moments for my students. Students need moments of discovery to deepen their learning. Without these moments, learning is not taking place in a meaningful way. By being provided with opportunities for discovery, students can become more engaged in instruction and will construct knowledge by themselves that will last a lifetime. 

So what have I discovered during this challenging time? What have I learned? I have learned that I do not like uncertainty. I don’t like not knowing if I will see my students again this school year. I don’t like the uncertainty of whether or not I will be able to go to the park with Liam again this month. I have discovered that I love teaching and school. I don’t like online teaching because I miss the face-to-face instruction time with my students. I love seeing my son learn that when you hit a balloon into the air, it will fall to the ground. I love his “whoa” moments.

What does this mean for my teaching in the future? I need to foster discovery in my curriculum and instruction. How am I going to encourage discovery and exploration next year? I want to take the idea of inquiry based learning to the next level in my class. I need to encourage more moments of “whoa” for my students with stimulating instructional practices. Also, I need to focus on how I can foster discovery for myself, either professionally or personally. Am I allowing myself moments of discovery in my own teaching and learning?

For educators looking for something beautiful right now, think about the beauty of discovery. What are you discovering about yourself throughout this difficult time? How are you going to use this discovery to improve your teaching practice?

For now, I will continue to emphasize this love of discovery with my son with the precious time we have together. I look forward to exploring this idea in the future when there is a return to normalcy.

To share your experiences during this time or for teaching strategies, visit the contact page and reach out to LovED!

Savvy Tech Tools #1: Kialo-Edu

This is the first of hopefully many posts of my experiences using different tech tools in my classroom. The tool I chose for this blog is Kialo-Edu. I first learned about Kialo-Edu while browsing my feed on Twitter. Many of my students always ask to “debate” in class. Debates make me nervous because they can easily get out of control. When I started researching this tool, I found that this would be an organized way to facilitate a debate in my classroom.
Kialo-Edu is an educational discussion platform. It enables teachers and students to post discussion questions or prompts. Participants can digitally collaborate and participate in a discussion. Teachers can choose a prompt or question to pose to their classes. Then, the teacher can differentiate the level of responses required from their students. The teacher can then view the responses of the students and evaluate as necessary for the assignment.

How Did I Use the Tool

I used this tool for a bell ringer in my Honors English III STEM class. We are at the end of writing essays on the social and economic impact of diseases. I posted the link to our discussion thread on a link in a Google Classroom announcement. The students created an account on Kialo-Edu and started the discussion.

I chose the following prompt for our debate: Should animals and humans be used for disease testing for potential vaccines?

Students posted their initial responses to the prompt on either the pro or con side. After the students submitted their initial responses, they were instructed to comment on someones’ opinion on both the pro and con side. The last step of the bell ringer was for students to vote on the statement on each side of the discussion that had the biggest impact on them. When they finished their digital discussions, I asked for students to volunteer sharing some of their commentary out loud.

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Benefits/Drawbacks

One of the benefits of this tool is that I had digital access to comments and analysis given by the students. I could easily assess not only their own ideas but their analysis of other people’s ideas as well. My students were able to articulate their opinions without having to actually speak. This accomodated a lot of students that may not be as comfortable sharing their thoughts out loud. With the comments being digital, I was able to have a typed record of their thinking, which enabled me to go back and provide in-depth feedback. During a spoken discussion, teachers have to assess their comments in real-time, which may get difficult. There is also a graph-like feature that enables participants to easily follow the flow of the discussion. The comments with the most threads become bigger on the graph.

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Another benefit of this tool is that it makes classroom management easier. The class that I chose for implementation does not require classroom management. This tool could be useful if a teacher did struggle with allowing kids to have discussions in a respectful way. I have had many classes that have a lot of valuable opinions, but they can often get carried away because of maturity or just the behavior makeup of the class. By allowing kids to debate digitally, behaviors can be managed while still allowing students to share ideas.
I also really liked the voting aspect of the tool. Participants in the discussion can vote on the level of impact of each comment. For teachers, this is an easy way to either formally or informally assess the commentary from students. Students can utilize this tool to evaluate the opinion of others.
A few of the students told me that it was difficult for them to see the comments on certain posts. This may be a drawback of using the tool. Another thing that may be considered a drawback is that visually, there is a lot going on. There are many places to click and view information, which I like, but may get confusing for some. Also, if students do not have access to technology, this would obviously not be a helpful tool.

How Will I Use This Tool in the Future?

I definitely plan on exploring the use of this tool more in the future. I am curious to see how my CP-level students respond to using this tool. I am planning on using Kialo-Edu in the near future with my English IV students. I am going to choose a prompt about Hamlet and have them digitally analyze the text. This will be more of an extended use of the tool and not just as a bell ringer.

For more information about Kialo-Edu and other tech tools, visit the contact page and reach out to me!

Vocabulary Love: Tips for Creating Engaging Vocabulary Assessments

With the growth in technology and ease of access to information, teaching vocabulary is more difficult than ever. When we don’t know a word, it is easy to look up information about the word. Tools like spell check have made spelling easier when typing. Rote memorization and “fill in the blank” vocabulary assessments do not challenge our students to use new vocabulary in a digital age. So how do we assess and present vocabulary to our students that is challenging, rigorous, and useful to students in the 21st century? This post will provide teachers will helpful strategies for teaching vocabulary that have been successful in my classroom. 

Making Vocabulary Connect

Vocabulary is most relevant when taught in context. Students are able to form a connection to the words, thus making them more engaged in their learning. At my current school, we use a preset list of vocabulary words from the Vocabulary Workshop books. Because of this, I often use our other texts as inspiration for forming connection to the words. At one of my former schools, I created a cross curriculum instructional plan with a US History teacher. I was teaching English III at the time, so it was the perfect union for collaboration. We came up with a vocabulary list of words that were commonly found on the SC US History EOC. I used those words in my English III class for our vocabulary assessments. The students saw the words in my class, but also in their History class. This helped provide the connection of relevancy for my students.

 Less is More

Another success I have found when teaching vocabulary is less is more. During my first few years of teaching, I would assess kids on twenty words in each unit. In recent years, I have cut my lists to only ten words per assessment. By cutting the amount of words that I am teaching to students, I am able to spend more quality time teaching the words. Also, students won’t get overwhelmed with a smaller list of words.

Vocabulary and Writing

One particularly useful strategy with teaching vocabulary has been using writing with assessments. Typically for my vocabulary assessments, the students produce writing to show their knowledge of the word. For example, instead of doing a fill in the blank assessment with pre-made sentences, students create their own sentences using the words. Students can create simple sentences, stories, or any other type of writing correctly using their vocabulary. 

Using writing for vocabulary assessments has been more effective for assessment than traditional standardized assessments for many reasons. One reason is that they are actually using the words in a realistic way. Students are authentically constructing meaning with learned vocabulary. Also, the length of the writing samples from my students has increased. By using words that the students know, they have more confidence in their writing and will write more content in their samples. The most important benefit of this assessment is that it is gauging their knowledge of words but also writing. Students are asked to think critically about their diction but also to write cohesively. This adds a level of rigor to vocabulary assessments that are not present in multiple choice tests. 

Vocabulary with Graphics 

Another strategy I use when teaching vocabulary is using graphics. Like using writing with vocabulary, when graphics are used with teaching vocabulary, students are not only building on knowledge of words but working on analyzing different genres of text as well. During my English III/US History collaboration, we used political cartoons on vocabulary quizzes. The students would write an analysis of the cartoon and then write how each of the words connected to the pictures. Students were assessed on their ability to use the words correctly, their ability to analyze a graphic, and make connections.

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You can also use pictures as story starters. Many times, I will give students a picture for their vocabulary quiz and the students are tasked with creating a story based on that picture. This is a chance for students to practice using vocabulary but also to write creatively. 

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Response to Prompts 

One recent strategy I used with my class is using a writing prompt based on our current text for the vocabulary quiz. This assessment occurred after we read and analyzed “The Tell Tale Heart.” Students were given these directions for the quiz:

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We had been focusing on how to write an effective paragraph. Using the structure we had discussed, the students were to write a response to the prompt using our vocabulary words from that unit. This is another way that I enabled students to connect our words to something “bigger” and provide authenticity to our assessment.

Creating a Product/Research

A creative way to assess students on their understanding of new vocabulary is to have them create a product that showcases their learning. For example, I recently had my students create review games for their vocabulary words. They could choose any format for their games. We spent a day in class constructing and then playing the games. Students could also create visuals for specific words that require assessments. These visuals can be works of art, infographics, etc. When the students create their own interpretation of words, their learning takes on a deeper meaning.

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Celebrate Words

Finally, simply celebrating the importance of words is an effective way to assess learning. My English IV students recently read the poem “Jabberwocky.” In order to celebrate the uniqueness of language, I printed the text of the poem. I purposely deleted certain words in the text and challenged students to either create their own words or use other words they felt matched the poem. 

You can also encourage students to “find” their words in their daily lives. I have one student that reports to me every time she hears one of our vocabulary words–so far, the teen sensation Riverdale frequently utilizes our vocabulary words. By encouraging this discovery, you provide a realness and relevancy to vocabulary. 

 

If you are interested in learning more strategies about making vocabulary relevant, reach out to LovED using the contact page.

Time Management: A Race Against the Clock

Are you doing more work than your students?

This is one of the hardest questions that I’ve had to ask myself as an educator. Am I actually doing more work than my students? Throughout my years of teaching, time management has been something I have continuously tried to improve. Even at the beginning of my teaching career, the workload associated with teaching was enough to make me question my career choice. Now, I’m a wife, mother, writer, and a competitive cheer coach, and time management is more important than ever. 

All teachers struggle with managing their workload. Along with planning lessons and grading assessments, we also have outside time commitments like meetings, duty, and professional development. How do we do it? How do we manage all of the requirements of being an effective teacher? This post will provide helpful tips and strategies to help you attempt to conquer your daunting workload. 

Find a System that Works 

My student teacher told me to include this idea in this post. She said, “Everyone tells you to find a system that works for you, but no one tells you a system!” In reality, systems are personal. What works for me may not work for someone else. By detailing a few ways that I manage my time, hopefully you can create your own system of managing time. 

I rarely take work home.

-I try to grade everything at school. By not taking work home, my mind can separate itself from work (most of the time).

I allow myself no more than an hour of planning at home. 

-I plan for the week on Saturday or Sunday for only an hour. I have trained myself to stay focused on what I am doing in order to get my work completed. 

I utilize my planning (most of the time)

-I try to use my planning block wisely. This doesn’t always happen, but in order for me to not take work home, I try to do most of my work during my planning. 

I make lists! 

-These lists appear all over my desk on sticky notes at school. Every Monday, I make a list of things to do. This helps keep me on track.

I plan lessons effectively.

-I plan lessons in large chunks in order to get ahead. I teach three preps, and so I try to plan lessons that don’t make too much work for me at the same time. For example, if my STEM English III has an essay, I won’t give my other classes an essay.

I don’t stay late. 

-I can’t really stay late. With cheerleading, I almost always have an after school obligation. This has helped to train me to use my time more wisely when I am at school. If you stay late at school, you have no time to take a break and recalibrate. 

This system works for me because I have a lot of tools in my teacher toolbox. I am not creating completely new things all the time because of my years of experience. Also, I have been working on this system for a long time. This did not happen overnight. Be patient with your time management when first starting as a teacher. 

Plan Ahead-Don’t Procrastinate

Part of our struggles with teaching is that we procrastinate. We may wait until the last minute to either grade or plan for our classes. The major issue with procrastinating is that we work in an unpredictable field. You could wait to work on something during your planning and then someone pulls the life alarm or you get pulled into an unexpected meeting. Unfortunately, we can’t always depend on our planning block to get our work done. This is why planning ahead and not procrastinating is important. Try to get ahead of the workload instead of putting it off. As detailed above, most of my planning is done within an hour’s time on the weekend. While I have been guilty of procrastinating on grading, I try to stay on top of grading by evaluating assessments right when the students turn it in. By setting aside this time and staying on top of grading, I am rarely encumbered by a massive workload.

Be Smart- Don’t Grade Everything

Much of our teacher workload is associated with grading. Teachers need to be smart about grading. You don’t have to grade everything–this is a lesson that took me years to learn. Many of the assignments you give can be informally assessed and not assigned a number.  Be mindful of your own time when assigning assessments. Think about your personal schedule and the school schedule when planning assignments. If you don’t have enough time, don’t assign a massive project. Make the assignment worth your time and the time of your students. Visit my blog on assessments to learn more about authentic assessments.

Pace yourself when grading. Many teachers complain about grading essays. If you grade an essay piece by piece, then the final should be more manageable. I use digital writing conferences using Google Docs to manage the workload when assigning essays. I grade  essays in pieces and provide digital feedback for revisions during class time. By the time students submit a final, the grading is swift because I’ve reviewed it before. 

Learn to Say No

I learned this lesson the hard way. When I first started teaching, I was newly married and excited about teaching. I didn’t have any outside factors that would impede on my time. I said “yes” to everything–committees, clubs, anything. I had to learn that in order to enjoy teaching and managed my workload, I had to start saying no. Saying no is okay. Many people are hesitant to say no because they don’t want to seem like they aren’t a “team player.” If you aren’t passionate about the request and you are overloaded, say no. 

Asking for Help

Asking for help is hard. It is hard for me because I don’t like to burden others. I feel like by asking for help I am adding to their workload. It also may be difficult because you may not work in a place where people are open to helping. Luckily for me, my current school is not that place. However, I have worked at schools where that is the case. Asking for help is crucial to managing your workload. If you feel like you are struggling, find someone to help. You are surrounded with several teachers with varying levels of experience in teaching. You can learn a lot from the experiences of your coworkers. 

Shut the Door

Shutting the door to your classroom can be very beneficial to managing your time. If your door is open, people will come in. People love to come in and socialize, and I do too. We need that camaraderie. It is very rare for me to shut my door because I love my coworkers. However, if I am trying to get work done, I will shut my door. This way, people can respect your privacy and time for work. 

Taking Time for You

As a new-ish mom, this is probably the most aggravating piece of advice someone could give me. It’s hard to take time for yourself when you teach all day, coach, then go home to a toddler and husband When am I supposed to have time for myself? Even though this is a constant personal battle for myself, it is crucial for managing a workload. If you are exhausted, you won’t be able to work and teach effectively. Of course there are traditional ways to take care of yourself. I like to go to the gym and do yoga in my “free time.” I also found other ways to take time for myself. I have a lunch crew at school that gives me life. I surround myself with people that make me laugh during our 26 minute lunch break–it keeps me going throughout the day. I also make time for conversations with my students. I genuinely enjoy hearing about their weekends and personal lives. When our lives are packed with things that have to get done, find any time you can to do things you want to get done. 

Remember Your Why

Teachers are givers. We give an enormous amount of time and love to our students every day. It can be draining, no matter how good you are at managing your time. In order to stay passionate and not burn out, always remember your why. Why are you a teacher? I am a teacher because I love forming relationships with students, and I love seeing what they create from their learning. My students amaze me every day with their antics and insights. This keeps me going. Also, surround yourself with positive people that remind you of your why. I am lucky to have a beautiful teaching community at my current school that always pushes me to be my best. If you remember your why, you’ll keep your passion.

 

If you are interested in learning more about time management or asking for personalized advice, reach out to LovED using the contact page.