This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the annual Computer-Using Educators (CUE) Conference in Palm Springs. While at the conference, I was able to present a short, 20-minute session on Google Forms and how school administrators can use them to increase their efficiency and productivity. I showed how these forms can be used for things like classroom walkthroughs, discipline reporting, student/teacher/parent feedback, and much more.
If you're interested in learning how to use Google forms, I've posted my presentation slides as well as a set of tutorial videos on how to use this amazingly simple yet powerful tool. I hope these resources are helpful to you!
Last week, I received an email from one of my website hosts reminding me that it was almost time to renew the domain name for my former classroom website (mrcoley.com). As I was going through the online checkout process, I noticed the date that I had first purchased the right to use mrcoley.com -- January 24, 2003. While I first published my classroom site back in 1999 as the culminating project for my master's degree, it didn't go by the name mrcoley.com until 2003 -- 10 years ago today.
I'll admit, I got a little emotional when I looked at that date. What began as a simple site containing only basic subject matter pages, student artwork, and an "About the Teacher" page became, over the course of the decade, so much more. It was my passion. As a youth, I wanted to be a computer programmer. In college, upon realizing I couldn't do calculus, I changed my major and studied to become a teacher. With my classroom website, I was able to combine two of my loves -- teaching and technology. I loved working on my website. People would often ask me, "Doesn't that take you a ton of time? Isn't it a lot of work?" The answer was yes. I did invest a lot of time and energy in my website. But to me it wasn't work. It was fun. In their free time, some people knit. Some garden. Some watch TV. I built my website. And I loved it.
If you are one who visited my website over the past 10 years, this post is my way of saying "Thank You." Thank you for taking the time to view the things my students and I were learning and wanted to share with the world. You don't know how much it meant to my students to know that their artwork, blog posts, and podcasts were being seen (and heard) by people around the world. Talk about authentic learning and a global audience! There was nothing better than showing my students a "website visitors" map showing them their work was being seen by people all over the world. My pupils always wanted to put forth their best effort on their artwork, writing, and ColeyCasts, because they knew I wasn't the only one who was going to see and hear their creations. And if you're one who took the time to email me regarding the site, I cannot adequately express the gratitude I have for your messages. Your words of encouragement and feedback were so appreciated, especially on those discouraging days when I asked myself if it was all worth the effort.
10 years. It's been a fun ride. And if you're wondering, even though I'm no longer updating it, I plan to continue keeping the site online. Thanks for following me on my journey!
Here's the second story in my new series "What I've Learned...Lessons from the Classroom (and Office)." In this video, I share an experience from my very first year of teaching. While it was definitely not one of my prouder moments (as you'll see in the video), I learned an extremely valuable lesson about the kind of teacher I want to be. I hope you find my story to be helpful.
If you haven't yet watched the first video in the series, you can do so by visiting the "What I've Learned..." page.
Sharing. It’s something we’ve all been taught to do from the earliest years of our lives. Share your toys with your friends. Share the crayons at preschool. Share the backseat of the car with your brother. But then we move into adulthood and things change. Too often we get tunnel vision, consumed with our own day-to-day tasks, forgetting the power of sharing.
Last March at the annual CUE conference, I attended an excellent session on LiveBinders. At the conclusion of the session, I felt compelled to do a better job of sharing resources with the educators with whom I work. So, when I returned to school the following Monday, I resolved to begin sending to my staff a series of emails I called Tuesday’s Tech Tips. Since March, I have been sending short emails to teachers containing brief technology tips or suggestions. The tips are typically basic in nature and have included things like keyboard shortcuts, how to take a screenshot, and app/resource suggestions like Jing, Dropbox, and Remind101. I realize many of those who receive these tips are already aware of what I’m sharing, but I also know that not every teacher possesses the same level of proficiency in the use of technology. Bottom line, just because I know how to do something with technology doesn’t mean everybody else does. The response from teachers has been very positive, and sending out these tips has given teachers an opportunity to share back some tips of they’re own. It hasn’t been a one-way street, as I’ve learned a bunch from my staff in the process of sending out my tips.
I've previously written about the importance of collaboration (see my post "Paying It Forward"), but I believe this is a topic worthy of repeated discussion. My challenge to readers is this – if you’re not already doing so, start sharing with your staff. No matter who you are or what your position, you have something to share. It may be a lesson plan with a grade-level colleague. It may be an instructional strategy you’ve found to be particularly effective. It may be a tech tip of your own. Whatever you’ve found to work well for you, share it, for as a poster in my classroom used to read, "TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More."
Just about everyone loves a good story. Storytelling is a powerful way to illustrate a point or convey an idea. Not convinced? Jesus Christ, in my opinion the greatest teacher ever to walk the earth, frequently chose to teach through parables. Because I believe storytelling can be an inspiring and effective way to teach, I’ve put together a presentation I’ve titled "What I’ve Learned...Lessons from the Classroom (and Office)." After 17 years as an educator (15 as classroom teacher and two as an assistant principal), I have many of stories to tell. And what’s better than a good story? A story with a message. My hope is that I can inspire other educators by transparently sharing some of my experiences (both successes and failures) in the classroom and front office, along with the invaluable lessons I’ve learned from these experiences.
Here’s one of my stories, and because most would rather watch and listen, I’ve told it on video. In this story, I share an experience that took place during my school's Literature Appreciation Day. As you'll see and hear, this story reminds us of how, as teachers, we're always being watched by our students, and therefore need to be careful of the example we're setting. Enjoy!
Ever felt like you're the only one or one of only a few trying to enforce a rule? You've been told students need to behave a certain way, you do your best to be consistent in holding them accountable, but those around you seem to "let things go?" It's frustrating. That feeling of "I can't do this alone" sets in. You think it’s impossible, like standing knee-deep in the ocean, hands stretched toward the horizon, trying to stop the tide.
I've asked myself why this happens. Why do teachers "let things go?" Why is there often a lack of consistency in enforcing rules? I think there are several reasons, but one can be summed up in the comment I've often heard -- "It's not worth the fight. I'm not going to die on that hill."
Here's my take on that mindset. First of all, it is worth the fight. Anything in the best interest of the kids we serve is always worth the effort.
Secondly, who said you have to die? If you're the only soldier fighting on the hill, yeah, chances are, you're going to die. But if everyone fights on the hill, no one has to die. If you're the only one trying to enforce a rule, the only one trying to change the culture of your work place, you're in for a tough fight. But what if others came alongside and fought with you? What if you had an army? Imagine what you could accomplish by working together.
Finally, some things are worth fighting for, and if necessary, metaphorically dying for. There are times in life, in your career, when you may feel like you're the only one who is fighting. There may be times when you feel alone, like you're the only one enforcing the rule. If this is the case, I encourage you -- don't give up! When my students had a difficult time following directions, being responsible, or behaving appropriately, and I had to constantly remind and redirect them, I would often say, "Class, it would be much easier for me to stop holding you accountable. But that wouldn't be what's best for you."
Sometimes you have to fight, because that fight is what's best for kids. But you don't have to fight alone.
Consistent communication between teachers, students, and parents is essential in order to maximize learning. In the Age of Technology in which we now live, the traditional hard-copy classroom newsletter, by itself, doesn't cut it anymore. Like it or not, technology is a part of students' and parents' lives. A perfect example of this is found in the prevalence of cell phones. I work at the middle school level, and nearly every student has a cell phone. Students often forget their pencils, textbooks, and homework, but forget their cell phone? Never. I've long held the philosophy that educators must utilize technology like cell phones for educational purposes, because students and their parents are already using the technology. Don't fight it, leverage it. Well, here's a cool tool that will help teachers leverage cell phones - Remind101.
Remind101 is a free service that allows teachers to use text messaging to communicate with students and their parents. It is a simple yet powerful tool, and I can't think of an easier way to put digital reminders about important classroom information into the hands (literally) of students and parents.
Here's how it works...
Once a teacher signs up for a free account, he/she can create different "classes" (groups of students/parents). Teachers at the middle and high school school level can create a different class for each period of the day, as well as a separate class for parents. This enables the teacher to send class-specific messages to students (e.g. "Don't forget -- your project is due Friday) or messages to parents (e.g. "Parent conferences are October 17-19"). Since cell phones are not as common at the lower grades, elementary teachers may choose to set up a class solely for parents. Teachers can currently create up to 10 classes.
Once classes are set up, students and parents can "sign up" to receive notifications by sending a text message with the teacher's class code (e.g. text @code to 555-555-5555). Sign-up can also be done through email. If you're concerned about students seeing your personal cell phone number, don't worry. Teachers are assigned a unique Remind101 phone number that students/parents use when they sign up -- they will never see your number, and you'll never see theirs. Pretty slick!
Once students/parents are signed up, the teacher simply has to go to www.remind101.com, sign in, choose a class, and type in the desired message. Messages can even be scheduled to be sent at a later day or time. Can't get to your computer to send a message? No problem. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can download and use the free Remind101 app. For more information, here's the service's FAQ page.
Students and their parents are already using cell phones to text. Let's make some of those texts educational.
Those who know me personally know that I am a rule follower. Always have been, always will be. I think rules are important. Very important. Heck, when I text, I spell out all words, use proper punctuation, and capitalize appropriately. Why? Because those are the grammatical rules I was taught. I've been teased for my firm stance on adhering to rules. I've been told, "Lighten up, Brent. Don't be such a stickler." Here are my thoughts on the subject...
Rules must be followed. When rules aren't enforced, they're not rules -- they're suggestions. If there is no consequence for not following a rule, then it's not a rule, because rules must be followed. Suggestions, on the other hand, are things we'd like people to do, not expect them to do. If you're not going to enforce a rule, get rid of it.
A good rule is not arbitrary. Rather, it is put in place for a specific reason. From the time we were small children, we've had safety rules guiding our behavior. Don't run with scissors. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don't stick objects in an electrical outlet. All common rules there for our protection.
Rules must be enforced by everyone in the organization. Inconsistent rule enforcement sends the wrong message. For example, fighting is prohibited in all schools, and I think it's pretty safe to say this is a rule that is consistently enforced. But what about, say, a "no gum" rule? If Teacher A enforces the school's "no gum" policy but Teacher B allows students to chew gum, what is the result? First, Teacher A is going to be perceived as the "bad guy" for not allowing students to chew gum. Second, students are sent the message that some rules are important (no fighting) and some aren't (no gum), and that they get to choose when and where they follow certain rules. Yes, there are major and minor categories of rules, but all rules should be important. That's why they're rules.
Beware of the danger in suspending rules. When a rule is suspended ("Today you don't have to follow the rule"), it compromises the integrity of the rule. Again, it sends the message to students that on every other day, the rule is important, but not today. This is why I never used homework passes. I didn't want to send my students the message that homework is important and must be completed unless you have a pass. I felt that suspending the rule on homework would undermine the importance of the activity.
The Three C's: Clarity, Consistency, and Consequences. Without these three things, students can't be sure of what to expect. Regardless of whether or not they'll admit it, students want (and need) rules. They want the structure and security rules provide. Clarity, consistency, and consequences are imperative, because without them, a fourth C is produced -- confusion.
So now I must ask myself this question -- "Are all of my rules, both at school and at home, good rules?" Something to think about.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve previously written about the importance of classroom management (you can read my post “If They Aren’t Listening” here). I firmly believe it’s one of the foundations of effective instruction, and in this post, I want to share one of my favorite and most frequently used techniques in my classroom management toolbox.
Teachers frequently give multi-step directions. For example, while in the classroom, I might have given my students this directive to transition from one subject to another – “Please put away your math book, take out your science book, and open it to page 85.”
Now, in a situation like this, some students will hear the first part of the directions (“Put away your math book”), immediately put the math book away, and not hear the other two instructions. While the rest of the class would then have its science books out, these few students would be sitting at their cleared desks, wondering what to do next (much to the chagrin of the teacher). The teacher would then have to repeat the directions to ensure that everyone is ready to move on. If you’re a teacher, this situation probably sounds familiar.
While in the classroom, here’s what I did to try and prevent situations like this from happening. Before practically every direction I gave, I first said these magic words – When I say, “Go.” For example, with the instructions previously mentioned, here’s what I would have said:
“When I say, ‘Go’……Please put away your math book, take out your science book, and open it to page 85.”
Beginning on the first day of school, I trained my students to wait for that “Go” before doing anything. Did it take a while for them to learn the routine? Yep. Did students still sometimes miss a direction? Yes. But by using this classroom management technique, I was able to dramatically reduce wasted time involved in having to repeat directions. It only took a second or two to preface my directions with these four simple words, but the time saved was measured in minutes (and over the course of a school year, hours). I used this technique for so long that it became second nature to me. On a couple occasions I remember giving my students a direction, only to have them just sit there and do nothing. I recall staring back at them thinking What are they waiting for? Then one of the students told me, “You forgot to say, ‘Go’.”
If you’re looking for an easy way to save time in your classroom, give this technique a try. Just don’t forget to say, “Go.”
How are students in our classrooms like a glass of iced tea? Kind of an odd question, but read on to find out.
Before becoming a teacher, I, like many other college students, paid my bills with money earned waiting tables in a restaurant. For over five years, I served up turkey pot pies, Caesar salads, and apple pie a la mode to hungry customers at Marie Callender’s. Though I didn’t know it at the time, some of the training I received during those five years would serve as an excellent illustration of effective teaching. Restaurant training leading to good teaching? Let me explain.
When I first got my job as a server, I was taught that each server in the restaurant was responsible for a particular number of tables and customers seated at those tables. Nothing unique there. This is standard practice at all restaurants. But one thing the managers of Marie Callender’s emphasized was that servers should work as a team. Yes, each server was supposed to pay particular attention to his/her assigned tables, but I was taught (and reminded of time and time again) that when walking the floor of the restaurant, I was to keep an eye open for customers in need of assistance, regardless of whether or not they were seated in my section. For example, if I had a free moment and walked by a table where a customer needed her iced tea refilled, I should refill it. Makes sense. Not the most novel idea in the world, but stop and think about it for a moment. How often does this happen to you when you dine out? In my experience, not very often. You don’t have to have waited tables to know what I’m talking about. How many times have you been in a restaurant, needed a refill or something from the kitchen, but your server was nowhere to be found? We’ve all been there. Frustrating, huh? And how many times have you, while waiting for your server to return to your table, seen other servers pass by or stand idle against a wall, completely ignoring your empty glass that’s begging for a refill? If you’re like me, this happens all the time. Why? Because most of these servers have tunnel vision, focusing only on their assigned tables. Unfortunately, the servers who pass us by in the restaurant probably are thinking If iced tea needs refilled on Table 21, that’s not my problem, because I’m only responsible for Tables 16-20.
So here’s the question – Are we treating students like empty iced tea glasses? Are we passing them by, thinking That’s not my student, the same way servers pass by customers thinking That’s not my table? It’s easy for teachers to focus solely on the students in their classroom and on the subjects they teach, just as servers focus solely on their assigned tables. But is this what’s best for students and their learning? I think we’d all agree that restaurants offer better service to their customers when their employees serve not only their tables but are open and willing to assist anyone in need, regardless of where they’re seated. What if educators adopted this mindset?
I’m an administrator at a middle school, so I’ll use that educational setting as an example. What if science teachers stopped looking at their students as strictly science students, but as reading students as well? After all, there’s plenty of reading involved in science. What if a social studies teacher, while delivering content about the American Revolution, worked individually with a student who struggles with comprehension? What if a PE teacher came alongside a student and said, “Hey, I hear you’ve been working really hard in Language Arts class and did well on your last test. Keep up the great work!” Nurturing the affective domain of students is just as important as delivering the ABC’s and 123’s. How much more would students learn, and since we live in a world of high-stakes testing, how much better would they perform on the English Language Arts section of the state test if they had six teachers helping them with reading rather than just one?
The bottom line is this – they’re all our students. Returning to the restaurant analogy, if the glass needs refilled, fill it. Remember, the important thing is not who fills the glass (teaching), but that the glass gets filled (learning).
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for over 20 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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