Be REAL-Educate From the Heart-Thoughts on the New Book by Tara Martin

I wasn’t going to do it.  I wasn’t going to buy another book to inspire teachers. So many of them are starting to look the same. But then, something pulled me towards Tara Martin’s new book, Be REAL-Educate From the Heart.  I didn’t know much about it.  But I knew Tara.  Well, virtually at least.  I met her on Twitter, have followed her work, and there’s just something about that welcoming smile of hers.  So, before I knew it, I had clicked purchase on Amazon.  My book was instantly on my Kindle app and I was ready to read.  Immediately, I knew I had made the right choice.



E-Expose a little vulnerability


L-Learning through life

The book is set up in four main parts as listed above.  There’s so much to glean from this book that one post is just simply not enough to share what I’ve learned from and plan to do with this book. Tara has a writing style that pulls you in, makes you feel like she is talking to you over coffee or soda (I don’t like coffee, but do enjoy my pop!), and several times makes you want to reach over and give her a hug with all that she has experienced in her life.


“Being relatable means that we allow others to come as they are, even if they are deoxygenated–broken, frustrated, hurt, or simply in need of support–and then we listen to understand and show empathy.”-Tara Martin, Be REAL Educate From the Heart

From this first section so many things struck a chord with me.  There are simple things like greeting your students each day and greeting them by name.  This goes for fellow staff members as well.  There have been many times I and only one other staff member have been in the hall, and not once would she greet me.  It really bugged me.  So, I made the decision to be the one to greet her by name each time we crossed paths.  Over time, she not only reciprocated, but initiated the greeting.  It may seem small, but over time it’s made a difference in our relationship.

The value of being relatable really hit home three years ago.  At the end of the year I had received a wonderful gift from a parent, but it was the handwritten thank you note from the student that made my whole year.  I knew we had connected, but had no idea to what extent until that letter. I found out that he often didn’t want to come to school, but did because of the connection that we had made.

However, I need to learn more about my students, all my students. That’s where the Little Yellow Notebook strategy comes in.  It’s a strategy Tara’s own teacher, Mrs. Wright, used.  This year I will make a notebook, section it off where each students get a few pages, and record the small conferences I have with each student.  The conferences will focus on their dreams, how they are pursuing them, what interests them, how they are feeling.  It not only will help me connect, but stay connected and monitor how they grow throughout the year.  If paper is not your thing, Microsoft OneNote would be a great way to do it as well.  Also, don’t underestimate the power of the Morning Meeting. It’s a great way to get a pulse of the classroom and start the day off on the right foot.

Often relatability really comes out during a difficult time or discussion.  The word you choose, the questions you ask, can make all the difference in the world.  Tara provides you with a pathway during these times.  It’s REAL Talk Treasures.

REAL Talk Treasures

  1. Value Individuality
  2. Humble Inquiry
  3. Listen to Learn
  4. Empower
  5. Provide Accountability
  6. Open Exaltation

Value Individuality-This is something we all want.  We want to feel our ideas are valued. That we are valued.  Tara points out that just sitting next to the person, and not across from, shows that you value them, and are not putting yourself in a power position.  My current principal does this during our evaluation meetings.  It definitely makes you feel like you’re having more of a conversation than an evaluation meeting.  I also do this during conferences with both parents and students.  It just feels like we’re working together when we do this.

Humble Inquiry-As Tara puts it, “humble inquiry is a question that genuinely seeks to hear what the other person has to say.”  I love her example of asking “What’s on your mind?” or “What are you thinking about?”  This goes a long way in understanding why a student has done something.  It could even be useful in a meeting where no one is talking or sharing ideas.  It can really get to the root of the matter.

Listen to Learn-Pause before you speak. Focus on understanding the other person’s perspective.  Show empathy.  All of these are what you do when you first listen to learn.  Once you’ve listened, paraphrase back to the person what you’ve heard.  It’s a great way to be sure you understand the situation. Another great way if there are disagreements in the classroom to fully understand and help the situation.

Empower-What a great word.  So many possibilities stem from that one word.  This is the time to offer advice and work together on possible solutions or a course of action.  It’s where that colleague or student feels motivated to try something new.  Many times this is all I need.  The freedom to pursue the answer to the question, “What if?”

Provide Accountability-This is the set a goal and check back phase.  It’s also the phase I need to devote more attention. I’m great at making a goal, but sometimes lack in the follow through department.  I’m a dreamer, but sometimes I don’t get past the idea stage.  Having an accountability piece would definitely help.  It’s the same for kids.

Open Exaltation-Be sincere and openly share your appreciation or gratitude, but be specific.  This is something that I have really worked hard on with my first graders and my own son. It’s easy to say tell someone they’re doing a good job, or that you are proud of them.  However, going the extra mile and telling them why means so much more. Building a person’s empowerment helps them see their own achievements.  So many of our teachers need to hear that what they do is appreciated, so that they believe more in themselves and what they are doing.

Tara has a quote from Gerard Trotman that in a way speaks to me as to why there are so many attacks on teachers and public education.  The quote is this:  “People who repeatedly attack your confidence and self-esteem are quite aware of your potential, even if you are not.”  It’s time we realize our potential and own it.  This is something I will be working on more this year.  I feel that I have a lot to share with my fellow teachers, but don’t relish speaking in front of them.  I need to get over it and believe in myself more.  It’s a work in progress.

The next part of the book focuses on exposing vulnerability and will be my next post.  Follow Tara at and on Twitter at @TaraMartinEDU.  Be part of the conversation on Twitter and follow #REALedu.  It’s a great way to connect with others and grow your personal learning network.  You never know the great people you will meet.



Building a Better Morning with Morning Tubs-An Update

Last summer, as I prepared to move from fifth grade to first grade, I began thinking about how I wanted my students to begin their day.  I knew I did not want to do worksheets.  So, I wrote a post about my plans for morning tubs.  The post includes pictures and links to the task cards in the tubs.  This post will cover how I implemented the tubs and how they’re working for us now.

Phase One

When I first implemented the tubs, I placed a different tub on each grouping of desks.  Students stayed at their desks and worked on the tub I chose for them.  That first month, my first graders were pretty quiet as they worked.  They also worked alone.  No real collaboration going on.

Phase Two

Once we were successful with Phase One, we moved  into Phase Two.  At this point I allowed the first person who sat at a particular grouping of desks to get a tub that they would like their group to work on that morning.  I did request that if the same person in the group was always in the classroom first, that they did not choose the same tub each day. This worked well, and as students got to know  each other better, they began to talk with each other more.  However, they were still building their own creations, which was fine, I was just happy they were talking to one another more.

Phase Three

The second phase was a success, so I decided to see what would happen if I allowed students to not only choose their tub, but also where they worked.  The only requirement was that the number of students had to equal the number of chairs at a desk or table, even if they planned on standing.  So, a student may end up not at their own desk for morning work tubs.  Students were told that they had to politely ask the child working at their desk to move for a moment so that they could put their binders in their desk.  Also, if you worked at someone else’s desk then you had to bring a chair to that desk for them.  This has worked well.  Students are definitely talking more and they are collaborating more.  During this phase we also introduced Seesaw to our morning tubs.  Students can take pictures of their work and even add audio recording and written captions.  This has been a great way to show their families what they are creating in school.

What I’ve Noticed and Learned

My kids are definitely happy when they start their day, and they are ready for the rest of the day.  They’ve had a chance to talk with their friends and play.  All they while they are learning how to share, settle any disagreements, help one another  out, and collaborate.  These are all skills that are necessary, and can’t be learned through a worksheet.

If a tub is not cared for or put away correctly, then it goes into retirement for a while.  It doesn’t happen too often, but makes the point very clear that they are responsible for taking care of classroom materials.

I will routinely retire some tubs, so that students try new tubs.  The goal is to get them to try out new tubs, and to stretch their creativity.  I don’t want them getting into a rut.

I do morning tubs even if there is a substitute.  All the feedback has been positive, and it’s one thing that day that is normal in their routine.

I’ve asked them if they want me to create different tubs that I’ve seen on Pinterest where the tubs change monthly, or change by them.  They said no.  They told me they weren’t bored, and liked what we had.  It’s their morning, so I listen to them.  The only thing I did add was the Osmo once we got it.  They love it, and care for it so well.

Parting Thoughts

If you’re even slightly considering implementing morning tubs, do it!  Begin with items you already have in your classroom.  Go to my original post for ideas, or look on Pinterest.  There’s lots of inexpensive ideas out there. There are also different schools of thought on what they should be.  Mine are centered more on building and creating.  I have task cards in there, but most students prefer to design freely, and that’s fine with me.  However, I have seen a lot of tubs focused on academics.  You really just need to decide what your philosophy or purpose for tubs are.

Wonder Wednesdays:  Teachers Leading Teachers


This past year I kicked an idea around where teachers would lead other teachers in learning about topics that interested them. I ran it past a couple of other teachers to test the waters. They liked it, and so we began. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly (well, maybe not ugly) of our first year.

I decided on the name Wonder Wednesdays because I liked the ring of it. We met on, you guessed it, Wednesdays. We met to discuss what we were wondering about and what we wanted to learn more about at our own pace. It was purely voluntary, topics were teacher driven, and we moved on when the group decided. Anyone could propose and lead a topic. And like EdCamps, no hurt feelings if you left because it wasn’t what you needed.   That was the good…

The bad part? Low attendance. We’re a Title One building and it seems like every day of the week there was a meeting to attend or a club that was meeting. Well, maybe not Mondays, but come on, no one wanted to meet about anything on a Monday morning at 8am. There seemed to be no good day.

What about the ugly? While not truly ugly,  it’s the comments or complaints you’d hear about how the district wasn’t training us on this or that (I’ve been guilty of this myself which is one of the reasons for starting Wonder Wednesdays). Or, people asking you how you learned something and wanting you to take your personal plan or other time to show them. Umm…that’s what we were doing on Wednesdays.  Really, I’m not mad or making judgments, but just don’t complain when you don’t or can’t take advantage of something when it’s offered. Please no hateful replies in the comment section. I get that meeting doesn’t always fit into everyone’s schedule. I’m just saying you can’t have it both ways.

So what do you do? Give up and chalk it up to experience? Nope. No one ever said leading was easy. While attendance was low, we learned a lot when even just a few of us were able to attend. Not just one teacher led. We had several teachers who brought something new for the group to investigate. At times, our administrators were also able to attend and learned right along with us.  Will I suggest changes for next year? You bet. Here’s what I’m thinking.

Moving Forward with Wonder Wednesdays 

  • Ask my administration what days are already planned for mandatory meetings and see if Wonder Wednesdays could be put on the schedule but still have it be voluntary. 
  • Together, choose a topic each quarter so that the group has longer to really explore the topic. 
  • Continue to have a basic agenda for the meetings and post it.  This helped us stay on track when we met.
  • Advertise our meetings better. 
  • Invite everyone at the beginning of the year to join our Wonder Wednesdays Google Classroom. This way they can be a part of the group virtually if unable to physically attend. 
  • Film the meetings and post to Google Classroom and possibly consider a YouTube channel. 
  • Don’t give up and keep extending the invitation.

Trying Wonder Wednesdays was a bit of risk for me.  I like helping people and learning from them, but I’m not the kind of person who usually organizes a group to start something new.  If I were in a comic book series, you’d see me cast as the trusty sidekick.  I usually play the supportive role.  I worried that no one would come.  This is where I had to check my ego at the door.  It’s not about number of attendees or if other people question your motives. You need to do what you believe in, no matter what.  Eventually, if it’s important enough to others, or they find value in what you have to offer, they will come.

If you are already doing something like this in your building, I’d love to hear about it and get ideas from you as well. 

Building a Better Morning with Morning Tubs

I’ve never really been happy with how I do morning work or you might call it bell ringers. From the moment my kids walked in they were immediately in school mode. Read this, solve that, get behind before your day has actually begun. So, I started changing my ways.

Last year, in my fifth grade class, my morning work consisted  of my kids logging into Google Classroom and responding to that day’s estimation activity from  They really did like it, and it didn’t feel like work.  Plus, their estimation skills did improve.  Then, they could choose from our Lego bins, read, or write.  With the Lego bins they could free build or try one of the challenge cards.  It worked pretty well.  Then, I decided to move to first grade.

Moving to a new grade is really making me take a closer to look at my morning work routine.  I want my kids excited to get to school, to build something, and to talk and collaborate with their friends.  I did not want worksheets.  So, I began looking at Pinterest, talking and sharing with other teachers at nErdCampKS and EdCampKs.  Many of those teachers then told me I needed to join the Facebook Group Primary Morning Tubs.  With all of those resources I began gathering supplies.

Before I share the actual tubs I do want to mention my overall philosophy about the tubs.  This isn’t graded work.  It won’t require a worksheet to be filled out.  There must be choice within the tubs.  Talk, collaboration, and fun are the goals!


Lego Tubs-I already had Legos so that was an easy tub to begin with, and I had the challenge cards.  There are great STEM ones you can purchase if you search on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I found free ones here and here. If you just search Lego Challenge Cards on the internet, you’ll find even more.

Geoboards-Found out I had these as well.  Kids will have fun creating all sorts of designs.  I found the task cards here and they also have a recording sheet if you wanted to go that route.  Again, just do a Google or Pinterest search and you’ll find tons.

Tangrams-I think I have sets of these in my classroom or at least in my building.  However, this website had printable cards and printable tangrams.  Click here for more cards that have the alphabet, and I think numbers as well.  I’ll probably add to my cards as I go. Again, just do a Google or Pinterest search and you’ll find tons.

Pattern Blocks-So excited when I found out I had a tub of these.  I found various activities for this one.  Kids can create composite shapes, numbers, alphabet, patterns and more.  If you don’t have pattern blocks, click here for a printable set.


Brain Flakes-I was so excited to win these at EdCampKS in Andover, Kansas last month.  I do not have task cards for these.  I’m thinking about making some, just not sure what to do just yet.  Click here to order.  I’m not affiliated with them, so the link is just to help you find them quicker.  Of course, you could also find them on Amazon.

Play Dough-Ok, there are just so many things you can do with Playdough.  Kids can shape it, stamp it, cut it, make models and more.  Click here for the shape cards in the picture and then here for activity mats I found.  I haven’t printed them yet as I seem to be going through a lot of ink lately.  Need to get a new printer that has the insta ink program.

Unifix Cubes-Yes! Another great find in my new classroom.  Unifix Cubes are just plain fun to build with and make your own patterns or designs.  I did find two great task cards here and here to offer the child who just wants a little more structure or  direction.

So how do these tubs work and how  will I manage them?  Good questions I’d say.  Now remember, it’s the summer and I’ve never taught first grade.  So, this is really how I think I will do things and hope to post a follow up in August or September.

Setting Up Morning Tubs

  • Begin with the manipulatives and supplies you already have.  There’s really no need to go buy anything fancy.
  • Find free task cards on  Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers. Click here for my Pinterest board.  I’d suggest laminating as many hands will be touching them and you can clean them easily if laminated.
  • Join the Facebook Group Primary Morning Tubs where teachers are sharing their ideas and resources
  • Repurpose your existing containers or if you really have to have things look the same, invest in containers.  Just be sure the kids can easily open them.
  • Decide how you will store the containers.

Morning Tub Routine

  1. My kids have desks arranged in groups. Each group will get one bin to share.  This is where collaboration and talk come into play.  Also, it’s a great opportunity to work on social skills.
  2. I will set the bins out on their desk groups before I go home.  While it would be easier to let them help me, I want them wondering and anticipating which bin they will get the next day. How often they get a certain tub will depend on how many tubs I have to offer.
  3. Once they have checked in for the day (lunch count and attendance), they are free to work on tubs until Morning Announcements and the start of our first subject.  This may only be twenty minutes at most.
  4. Within most tubs there are challenge or task cards.  These are used by students only if  they choose to do so.  Some kids love to just freely explore.  Others really do want structure and challenges to meet.
  5. Have students record what they made.  I’ll discuss this in another section.
  6. Students will be responsible for returning all materials to the bin and returning  to where bins are kept. (Remember you must teach your expectations and reinforce for this to run smoothly.)

Sharing What Students Have Created

Once students have created something with the Morning Tubs, they’ll want to share it.  You can use this as a way to show parents and administrators what the kids are doing, as well as teach digital citizenship.  I’m planning to use these apps to have my kids post what they’ve created, explain what they’ve created, and provide constructive feedback to peers.  Of course we won’t use them all at once, or even right away.  This will help with speaking and listening skills, as well as how to use social media responsibly. Below are a few of the apps I’m thinking of using right now.

Some closing thoughts.  I’m finding more ideas than I have space or tubs for right now.  Click the links to see ideas on using rocks, cardboard tubes, and making patterns. I’m thinking of  changing out the types of tubs I offer by the quarter so that each quarter there is something new.  I just don’t want this to become boring. I do have a marble run that I will introduce later in the year once they are used to the routine.  Just not sure if I want to begin with that one.  What are your thoughts on that?

Ready to ditch the worksheet or computer program in the morning?  Do it! Take the plunge with morning tubs.  Hopefully you’ve found some ideas here, but don’t forget that Pinterest and the Internet are great places to find free resources and ideas.  And hey, while your’e at it, head on over to Facebook and join the Primary Morning Tubs group.  You’ll meet a lot of great teachers willing to share ideas and learn from one another.  Please post a comment on how you use or plan to use Morning Tubs.

Connecting Within Your School 

All over Twitter and Facebook you’ll find reasons to connect your classroom globally and opportunities to do so. While I believe these are important, and my classroom is participating in several, I’d say connecting should begin and be maintained within your own school. How better to create a positive school climate than to provide students and teachers with the opportunity to work across grade levels and really get to know one another?

Years ago, when I first began teaching, I did book buddies. This usually meant we read together or made a craft. That was all well and good.  But it wasn’t enough, or often enough, to foster real relationships. Then, a few years ago my friend and I decided to partner our classrooms to form STEM buddies. We found a great resource on TPT to integrate fairy tales with STEM projects. It’s been an amazing experience.

This isn’t a traditional buddy situation. We read fairy tales and our students build STEM projects to go along with them.  It’s truly a win-win for us all.  I get to teach with my friend.  We get to infuse reading content in a fun way.  We get to build.  I love trying the projects out as my students are doing them.  But more importantly, what we’re really building are relationships.  These are between teachers, between students, and between teachers and students.  Coleen (second grade teacher) and I compliment each other’s teaching styles and bring our own unique strengths to the projects.  Plus, how cool is it that I get to work with my best friend?  Her students become mine, and mine become hers. Each of our classes loves seeing the other teacher in the hallways.  Often hugs are quickly exchanged as classes pass in the hallways.  Our kids love seeing their buddies.  They will wave at each other in the hall, applaud loudly for them at assemblies, and if my class isn’t with me, they’ll ask me to tell them hi. With these relationships our students don’t see differences in ability or language barriers.  They only see a friend.  These relationships aren’t built by meeting once a month, we try to meet weekly.  There are of course, those instances when we can’t meet weekly.  And boy do we hear about it from our kids.  They can’t believe anything would prevent us from meeting with our buddies.  We try not to let that happen too often.  It’s hard to face a room full of kids giving you the look.

Just recently I was approached about a second buddy opportunity.  It would be one that centered on writing and would be an authentic way for third graders and fifth graders to work on writing.  My teammate from last year moved to third grade.  Emily has been reading through the writing series by Lucy Calkins that we are to be fully implementing this year and had an idea.  What if our students had writing buddies?  They would write something that meant something to them.  Maybe they’d exchange notebooks. They would have a real audience.  We’re just getting started with the planning and thinking of what we can do.  Maybe this could be a safe place to practice cursive writing. Maybe it’s a way to practice a new style of writing.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a place to develop a love of writing.  Where feedback is craved in order to grow.  Where telling a story, or sharing what you’ve learned, is more important than any grade.  I can’t wait to get started with this new buddy relationship.

Both of these buddy relationships allow me to continue working with teachers I admire even when our teaching assignments have changed.  So now it’s time for action. Is there a teacher you admire or want to get to know better in your building? Is there a new teacher who needs a mentor? Are you unsatisfied with the climate or culture in your building?  Then do something about it.  Approach that teacher about being a buddy classroom.  There’s no one right way to be buddies.  That’s the beauty of it.  It can be whatever you want it to be.  While academics might bring you together, it’s the relationships that will make it meaningful and keep you together.





Bringing Back The Teacher T-Shirt

I love teaching apparel. You have to understand that when I first began teaching it was the early 90’s. Everybody was doing it. But I really liked the clothing, I even had socks. Alright, yes.  I had earrings and bracelets as well.

Fast forward to 2001 and I found myself slowly not wearing them as much. Then came the day I wore the sweater. It was a killer sweater with apples, numbers, and math symbols. I rocked that sweater. Or so I thought until one of my fellow teachers openly mocked my apparel on several occasions. Then I started noticing no one else in my new school really wore that kind of thing on a regular basis. I gave in.  Packed my sweaters and shirts away. But no more. I’m bringing back my teacher shirts.

Now I hadn’t gone completely cold turkey. We had our staff shirts we wore each year. But that was different. I didn’t get to choose what was on the shirt. The closest I came to choosing was the PTA spirit wear. Well, that’s all been changing. I’m bringing back my teaching personality.

Why the shirts? They let me express either a view or my pride in being a teacher. For too long teachers have come under attack or have become political sound bites. No more. I’m proud to be a teacher and I’m going to show it.

Below are my current favorites. I have several more on my shopping list. What teacher shirts are in your closet?

I wore this on vacation a few years back. While at a McDonald’s several senior citizens raised their hands as I was walking by and thanked me for being a teacher.

My first EdCamp ever and then my first EdCamp in the great state of Kansas.

Love EdCamps! This year I’m attending virtual EdCamp.

This year I became a Front Row Ambassador. It’s a great Math and ELA program. Check them out at

Best book I’ve read all year. Very inspiring. Check out their website and join the conversation at

Kids Deserve It! And…So Do Teachers


Have you ever read a professional book and found that you just couldn’t put it down until you finished reading it?  Or, once finished you just had to share with all your friends, especially those on social media.  Well, you will once you get your hands on Kids Deserve It! you’ll see what I mean.

The book is written by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome.  What’s great about these gentleman is that you feel like you already know them as you read through the book.  LIke you could be sitting out on the deck after school discussing your crazy ideas and how to make them happen.  I’m particularly impressed in that these are practicing educators.  I find myself trusting these kinds of writers much more.  After all, they still know what’s it’s like to be educating kids today.

This book is an inspiration for teachers who are in all phases of their career. I find it particularly inspiring for those of who have been in education long enough to have experienced the pendulum swinging back and forth a couple of times already.  Kids Deserve It! will remind you of the teacher you started out to be, once were, but may have gotten side-tracked along the way.  It’s a book that will speak to you, but not in an excessively preachy way.  Rather in a way that you wish you were in your classroom right now, ready to set the world on fire.  Yes, it’s that good.

The premise of the book is to create an atmosphere and experiences that kids deserve to learn in each and every day.  However, I’d like to go further and say it’s what teachers deserve as well.  The book will not tell you exactly what to do to in order to achieve certain results.  Rather they offer you suggestions, examples from their experiences, and fill the book full of personal anecdotes.  In addition, after each chapter they include things to consider and Tweet about.  I mean, come on, they’ve already included a ready made book study and Twitter chat.  Now those are principals who are taking care of their staff, whether their personal staff or those of us who have now adopted them as our virtual principal.

Here are just a few of my favorite ideas/quotes from the book and my thoughts about them.

Worse than loneliness is the negativity that comes when we’re in an environment where, even if you want to innovate and push boundaries, you feel isolated by people who aren’t willing to do anything but push back.

I’ve often referred to this as being on an island.  Todd and Adam often talk about that alien look.  You know, the one where  you are talking about something you are doing or want to try, and some of those around you look at you like you’re an alien. We have to learn to not let it bother us so much, or we have find a way to get them on board.  Regardless, your kids deserve a teacher who is willing to go it alone if necessary.

The good news is that you can choose whom to connect and collaborate with–and they don’t have to be within the walls of your building.

Collaboration does not mean everyone on the grade level team is doing the same thing, the same way, sharing the same planbook.  To me, it means sharing ideas, helping a teacher who may not even be in your grade level, being a sounding board when needed.  It’s great when this happens in your own building, but why stop there?  I have learned so much by being on Twitter.  Not just reading the feed, but by interacting in chats.  When I’m asked how I heard about a new piece of technology, found a new book to read, or how I knew what was happening at the state level with education, my answer is often that someone in my Twitter PLN told me about it.  Don’t  limit yourself to someone else’s idea of collaboration, or even the walls of your building. Get out there and connect with people who will support your desire to grow.  After all, kids deserve it.

While you think we may be talking about being “techie,” what we’re actually talking about is being relevant for your kids.

In some education circles it seems that in order to be considered an innovative teacher you need to be using technology in everything you do. Yet, like everything else, you need balance in your approach. Some of my best projects have been those that involved roles of various types of tape, paper, and cardboard.  I do love technology.  I just want to be able to offer my kids the best approach for the task at hand.  My kids deserve it.

When leaders don’t lead, no one grows, and superstars leave.  Without strong leadership, exceptional team members will leave in search of a campus where they are challenged to grow.

Sadly,  I’ve seen this happen all too often. Teachers feel their ideas aren’t being listened to, or there’s no real support. Or, I’ve seen teachers who demonstrate innovation and leadership only to be accused of showboating or bragging.  Sometimes, they just don’t feel like they belong because their ways are so different than their team or building. Sometimes a lack of vision and culture of growth can drive teachers straight into the arms of a school that will.  Teachers deserve to work in a school where growth mindset is not just for kids, where our ideas and research are respected.  We deserve the respect we are due.

I got lost in the scores and judged my entire year by one day of testing-forgetting the ways we’d touched and changed lives.

While I am great at letting my kids know that they are more than a test score, I have a hard time telling myself the same thing.  That I am more than twenty-four test scores.  When scores roll in, I find myself wondering what more I could have done.  For the past few years I have felt that all I do is test kids.  Yes, I know I do way more than that and provide my kids with numerous learning opportunities, but it feels that I am just a testing machine. I tend to overlook all the growth and excitement in learning when scores don’t always meet my expectations. My goal for next year is to actually believe that I am more than a test score.  I’m not a test giving machine, I am the person who helps kids realize their dreams.

When you relinquish some of the control, stop making excuses, and trust kids just a little, they’ll always surprise you.

I started doing that more this year.  Not just with kids helping me learn new apps or other technology, but in the classroom itself.  Why can’t they be given more responsibility?  My goal this year is to give my students more opportunities in which they can do this.  One thing I’ve learned over the years is to go into anything new with the attitude that it will succeed.  Kids can’t be responsible and make the right choices if they are never put in the position to do so.

Now, go out and buy this book.  But more importantly, join the movement and the conversation using #KidsDeserveIt.  Get on Twitter and follow Adam (@awelcome), Todd (@techninjatodd), and the book (@KidsDeserveIt).  They also have a website,, as well as being on Facebook.  Our kids  deserve the very best that we can give them.  And teachers, you deserve to be the best teacher that you can be.


3 Ways to Attend a Professional Conferences When Money and Location Are a Factor

Ok, so you can’t attend the conferences for your dreams due to money, time, or the location. Don’t let that stop you. Here are a few ways to attend conferences for free without leaving home.

One way to attend a conference is to see if your conference has a virtual component.  Blackboard World is a conference I attended last year. And by attend, I mean from my couch. You can sign up to watch their sessions live.  They even make it possible to send in your questions.  With it being in real time, it’s like you are there.  If you area BlackBoard user, or interested in blended learning, consider “attending” this conference.

Another is to follow the conference hashtag.  Last year I stumbled upon #notatiste.  This is where all of us who couldn’t attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology  in Education) conference could learn from those who were there.  The conference has an official hashtag where many of the speakers/presenters will share their material or conference attendees will share what they are learning.  Follow along on Twitter @isteconnects and #iste2017.

Are you on Periscope?  Periscope is another great way to attend a conference virtually.  Last year I really did feel as if I were at ISTE2016.  I follow @TonyVincent on both Twitter and by using the Periscope app.  Last year he went through the poster sessions and interviewed those presenting.  He even zoomed in on their name tags so that we at home could get their name, school district, and Twitter contact information.  Even better, the app allows you to post questions to the person broadcasting, they read them, and then answer you verbally in the broadcast.  It really was amazing and I learned about so many new technologies and the amazing things that schools around the world were doing.

These are just a few of the ways I have found to be able to attend conferences.  How do you do it?

Flipping The Back-To-School Night Experience 


Don’t let the title fool you. Flipping the Back-to-School Night or Parent Information Night doesn’t mean you won’t be meeting with parents and students.  Think about it, though. You are often required to share things from your school that eat up precious time, and that could have easily been shared differently. Or, you have your own agenda items that don’t really  require a face-to-face meeting. Here’s what I propose.  Flip these events.

First, think about all those things you share that are more procedural in nature and create videos for them. A couple of years ago, as a project for a class I was taking, I created a video showing the components of, and how to use the homework folder. Parents loved it!

Video Ideas

  1. Homework Folder 
  2. Planner or agenda
  3. Explaining class website/learning management system
  4. Reading/math calendar
  5. How to order books on
  6. Modeling how to send in money
  7. Picking up kids in the car loop
  8. Walk parents through how your newsletter is set up and what information they will find
  9. Tour of the classroom 

What video ideas would you include?

The car loop and homework folders would be actual video creations. The car loop would be more of an iMovie.  Wouldn’t it be fun to get staff and students involved in this one?  For the homework folder I used the Explain Everything app and then uploaded to YouTube. The rest could be made using a screen capturing tool. I’ve used Screencastify in the past. My current favorite is the Chrome extension, Snag It.  You could still upload all these to YouTube to make them easily accessible to everyone.  IF you really wan to go all out, embed a quiz for their understanding using the Zaption or Edupuzzle apps. The key is to use what you like, or maybe use this as a way to try out a new program or app.

Now, once the videos are made, you need to think about how you will share them. I already use SMORE as my newsletter, so I plan to use it to send home the links they may need to refer to over the year. This would be my back-to-school edition. In addition, I’d post on my website or LMS as well. Now if I need to remind parents or students of a procedure, I can easily send out the video.

Go a step further by creating QR codes and print them on card stock. I actually put the QR code for the homework folder video on the folder itself.  Again, I had lots of positive feedback from doing this.  If you print them on  cards they are then available to scan for home use. You can even have a page of QR codes or have each on a ring for families to take home that night.

You may still be asking how this is really flipping these events at all.  Well, what if you send these links or QR codes out at your Back-to-School or Meet Your Teacher Night?   If parents are unable to attend, send them out in your first few newsletters. Then, ask parents to look at them before returning to school for your formal information night.  This way, parents can view and digest the information leaving more time for them to ask the specific questions they may have.  Too often parents are given so much information in one night that they really don’t know what questions they have until they’ve left.  By asking them to view the videos and come armed with questions, the night can be so much more productive.  Parents can actually get the information they are really wanting.  It may even set the stage for a more collaborative relationship.  And, yes, not all parents will view the videos or even attend information night.  Don’t let that stop you.  If you want to do this, just go for it.  This will be my first year to try this.  I’m going to make mistakes.  I’ll learn from them and make it better for the next time.  I just want to provide my families with as much information as I can in a format that works for them.

I’ll be posting my resources as I make them in order to provide you with some examples and even get some constructive feedback.  I’d love to hear from you if you’ve already tried this or after you try it yourself.  Technology is all around us.  Let’s use it to improve communication and connections with our school families.

Are You a Teaching Champion?

front row logo and title

Roughly two years ago I began using an amazing website,  It is a website that will help you meet the diverse math and ELA needs of your students.  In upcoming posts I will be guiding you through the website and all of the amazing features.  However, the focus of this post is on the Teaching Champions section of the website.  I wish I had known about this feature earlier. I found it by poking around the site.  I’m glad I did.  It is a way the creators reward you for using their site.  Oh, and did I mention, I have recently become a Front Row Ambassador?  Through this program I will help spread the word about a resource I believe in and to share what I have learned about the program by using it with my own students and the new features that are constantly being added.

Front Row Teaching Champion

As I said, this is the section of the website where they reward you for using the program and sharing your successes as well.  Click here to view a video that I made to walk you through how to access the Teaching Champion section, what you will find there, and how to use it for your benefit.
Once you sign up for, and log-in to the website, you will find the Teaching Champions tab on the upper left side.  Click on it and you will find a variety of ways to earn points that will move you through the bronze, silver, and gold levels.  Each level brings benefits for you.

I look forward to posting more about this wonderful resource.  Future posts will focus on explaining the different parts or sections of and how I am using them with my students.