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Reclaiming a Sense of Joy – Quick Strategies for Easing the Stress of Teaching by Shane Safir

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It’s the end of the school year and I’m sitting with a young principal I coach who has deep expertise, heart, and know-how. Suddenly, she breaks down sobbing. “I’m miserable in this job,” she says. “I want to stay the course, but I don’t know how to get my head above water. I just don’t feel any joy in this work.”

When we live in constant stress, our brains start to downshift. According to scholars Geoffrey Caine and Renate Nummela Caine, downshifting is a psychophysiological response to threat that results in a sense of helplessness or fatigue. A downshifted person has a nagging sense of fear or anxiety and begins to lose the ability to feel excitement or pleasure.

The good news is that we can upshift our brains by actively infusing joy into our work life. Joyful experiences—even brief ones—flood the brain with chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that overwhelm our primitive stress responses. So how can we find more joy?

8 Ways to Reclaim Joy

Since my conversation with the principal, I’ve been practicing and modeling the reclamation of joy. Here are eight ways you can join me.

1. Get outside during the school day. Hold a collaboration meeting, coaching session, or class outdoors to shift the group energy. So many of us spend our days locked inside the school building—stepping outside for a five-minute walk or simply to feel the breeze or sun on our face can change our perception and our brain chemistry. Even a small dose of movement can release endorphins and provide a much-needed brain break.

Recently, I met an Oakland principal and her leadership team at a nearby lake to open their back-to-school meeting. The principal led three rounds of a community circle: “Share your favorite summer moment,” “share something we don’t know about you,” and “share an artifact that tells a story about your journey as a leader.” Afterward she randomly assigned partners for a lakeside walk and talk, inviting everyone to reflect on the legacy they want to leave behind. It was simple, mobile, and powerful.

2. Bring music. If your classroom or staff room feels solemn, enliven it with your favorite music. Better yet, invite students or colleagues to share their favorite song or artist on a rotating basis. Music releases positive neurotransmitters, calms the brain’s high-alert settings, and can build cultural proficiency as community members share their musical interests.

3. Model micro-affirmations. Researcher Mary Rowe defines micro‐affirmations as “tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening.” Micro‐affirmations can take many forms, such as offering a hug to someone experiencing a setback, giving a colleague some positive feedback, or facilitating an appreciations ritual that invites people to publicly celebrate one another.

4. Start class or professional development with a guided visualization. If people seem stuck in a downshifted state, help them access joy by leading a guided visualization. Ask participants to close their eyes or focus on a soft gazing point—not letting their eyes wander—and settle comfortably in their chairs. Then lead them to slow their breathing down and imagine a moment or place that brought them joy. Invite them to explore the colors, thoughts, and feelings that come up when they think of this place. Afterward, ask people to share how the experience felt and how they can bring those feelings into the school day.

5. Cancel a staff meeting. This might be my favorite joy hack, and it was my first piece of advice to that sobbing principal. Everyone’s feeling burned out? Don’t let your task list trump the reclamation of joy. Cancel a staff meeting and give the time back to teachers.

You might plan an alternative, just-for-fun activity like a hike or happy hour, but make it optional for folks who really just need a break.

6. Write a card to someone who’s had your back. It feels great to appreciate others. Think about a colleague in any capacity at your school who holds you up in ways big or small. This could be another teacher, the custodian who cleans your room, or the person who ensures that you’re paid each month. Write that person a card and tell them what you appreciate about them.

7. Practice three to five minutes of mindfulness. Consider starting your day with a few minutes of mindfulness. Just close your eyes, slow down your breathing, and notice the rise and fall of your chest, the sounds that typically act as background noise, the sensation of your heartbeat, your meandering thoughts.

8. Keep a joy journal. I often ask my own children, who are 9 and 12, “What brought you joy today?” Ask yourself that question at the end of each day, taking time to jot down your reflections in a journal. Writing is a form of story editing, as explained in the wonderful book Redirect by psychologist Timothy Wilson. When we take time to write or rewrite the stories we carry about our work life, we can change negative narratives into hopeful ones, and reconnect with our sources of joy and energy.

As you prepare to go back to school, remember that learning should be a joyful enterprise. Look for opportunities to laugh, breathe, and smile as an educator, and you’ll find your energy is contagious.

 

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7 Personal Growth Questions Every Teacher Must Ask Themselves – Lee Watanabe-Crockett – Lee Watanabe Crockett

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Every teacher knows that consistently asking personal growth questions is part of the game in education. They exist in all shapes and sizes and are meant to challenge educators to meet and exceed professional goals. It’s for the good of themselves, their colleagues, and most of all their learners, that they devote themselves to this. You have enough to do already, so why make PD complicated?

Personal development goes hand in hand with professional development. It enhances it by ensuring we look deep within ourselves to discover the true motivations for why we do what we do, and what’s most important to us as teachers. Ultimately, these realizations drive us to excel for the benefit of our learners, and for the future of education.

By no means are we advocating that the 7 personal growth questions we’ve provided below are the be-all-end-all of what you can reflect on during your journey. What they will do is provide you with a baseline for developing your craft in your own way.

7 Personal Growth Questions for All Teachers

These personal growth questions are ones that are simple enough to ask yourself every day, while also complex enough to ponder deeply and critically whenever you have time. And no matter how busy you are, there is always time.

1. What is most important to me as a teacher?

This is the key to determining your professional development direction right here. What matters to you most about being a teacher? What kind of teacher do you want to be, and why? What are the biggest reasons you have for your choice?

Don’t fall into the trap of making this one about policy and educational doctrine. This is an introspective and emotional inquiry—perhaps even spiritual for many of you. Consider it carefully and, above all else, listen to your heart.

2. What takes me out of my comfort zone?

Progress happens in the face of overcoming challenges. But how do we constructively challenge ourselves if we can’t step away from feeling safe in our vocations? Do something that you’ve never done before—in your practice, in a relationship with a colleague, or what have you.

Think “what if …” and then act on it. If it makes you uncomfortable to consider or even scares you a little, you might be on to something.

3. How can I make sure I am learning every day?

Modeling lifelong learning is something every teacher must do for their learners. It comes through curiosity and a willingness to explore the unknown. Our learners benefit from our passion as educators when we display the same love for learning we want them to have when they leave us. How can you best do this every day?

4. What is the most amazing thing about me and how can I use it in my teaching?

Stop being modest—you’re awesome and you know it. So it’s time to let your learners know it too. Think about what you can do that no one else can. Recall a time when someone pointed out something remarkable about you that you’ve always taken for granted. “Wow, you really know how to _______.”

Are you good with humour? Are you highly creative with design and visuals? Are you able to use wisdom and compassion to turn any negative experience into a positive one? Are you an entertaining storyteller? What’s your special talent? And for crying out loud, why aren’t you making it part of your teaching?

5. What is the most important thing my learners need from me?

There is a simple and highly effective way to figure this one out: ask them. It also happens to be the only way. You don’t have to let yourself be afraid of the answers you get either, especially when you come from a place of heartfelt concern for your kids. So ask them what the need; they’ll surprise you and delight you, and they might even make you cry. Isn’t meaningful connection amazing?

6. How can I connect and communicate better with parents and colleagues?

Nothing changes you like perspective. As young and experienced teachers, we often do many things wrong. As parents, we also do things wrong. These moments present prime opportunities for teachers and parents to support each other and consistently bridge the communication gap.

In the end, nothing beats how parents and teachers can unite to solve problems and tackle issues together. The same is true for teachers who come together in the same way. What are the most proactive ways you can improve rapport with parents and colleagues to sustain a culture of support?

7. What am I going to start doing today to become a better teacher than I was yesterday?

You’ll find there is never a bad time to ponder this question. This doesn’t mean you’re not a fantastic teacher already; quite the opposite, in fact. It’s the idea that you are constantly looking for ways to improve that make you as incredible as you are. Everyone that’s a part of your life experience benefits from this.

Ask it as a personal reflection at the end of your day. Ask it at the beginning of your morning as a mediation. Ask it as you write in your daily journal. Ask it multiple times a day, even. Just make sure you ask it.

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7 Ways to Differentiate Instruction Through Assessment – Vicki Davis

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We need to differentiate instruction. Derived from the word “different,” differentiation points to the fact that different ways of teaching can help you reach more children with the knowledge they need to master something. You’ve heard good teachers say it this way when a child is struggling: “Well, let’s try this a different way.”

But with technology, I think we’re forgetting that sometimes assessment can be a form of instruction that is delivered differently. We have ways to teach through assessment, whether or not we take a grade.

Differentiating instruction doesn’t always depend on the face-to-face instructor. We can also merge it with assessment tools in powerful ways that help kids learn on the spot. Remember that you don’t have to take a grade on every assessment. You can assess students as they learn by using formative assessment, which is often a valuable addition to summative assessment that takes place at the conclusion of a unit.

1. Harnessing Artificial Intelligence on Writing

We all know what it’s like to get back that paper we struggled to write and find it covered with comments written in red ink. The red-ink method of assessment has two flaws.

First, when you mark a mistake, marks don’t explain to the writer why it is incorrect. As a teacher, I won’t grade a written document if it hasn’t been spell checked. Many people are notoriously inconsistent about checking grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Additionally, when teachers just mark an error, students may not understand how to correct it and will continue making the same mistake. They need to know why a particular sentence needs a comma in a particular place.

Tools like GrammarlyPro Writing Aid, and the Hemingway App are veritable Swiss army knives to improve written language. In addition to suggested changes, writers can see with a click of a button why something is incorrect and learn from mistakes. As a blogger, I can attest that these tools have improved grammar mistakes that my high school English teacher honestly tried to remove. I guess I never really understood why they were mistakes.

The problem with artificial intelligence is that it only works for humans who acknowledge they need help. For example, my dyslexic son or spelling-challenged husband know that they need the help, and they write better for it. While these AI tools should be easily accessible to improve our own work, we should also be using them as a new way to stop mistakes at the source by teaching students about grammar, punctuation and spelling. In the future, perhaps videos and other tools will partner with AI writing tools to further improve differentiating instruction for writers.

2. Verbal Feedback on Written Work

The second problem with those red-ink corrections is that struggling writers are often struggling readers. These writers are further disadvantaged because the written word has none of the face-and-voice body language that is an essential part of communication. Teacher feedback on content or writing is best delivered verbally in-person or via digital voice/video. Tools like the Read/Write Toolbar from Texthelp or Kaizena let teachers quickly leave voice comments on documents so that students hear feedback as they work. Voice feedback has additional benefits: It’s often much faster for the teacher than handwritten comments, and it can be instantly delivered if you’re using a tool that links with Google Docs. This means that while a teacher might be assessing a paper, he or she can also be differentiating instruction.

3. Providing Opportunities for Rework

However, this mode of adding instruction to assessment only works if students are engaged with the assessment-embedded instruction. This is why I require my students to rework papers and documents where I’ve given verbal instructions.

4. Instant Feedback on Answers

If a teacher has to use fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice assessments, there is no reason to make students wait to find out if their answers are correct. Fast, accurate feedback is a hallmark of great teaching. Again, we can use an AI tool to speed up grading and feedback with apps like GradeCam and QuickKey, which scan assessments and show students corrections immediately. Instant feedback helps kids learn and remember while content is fresh in their minds. They are being reminded and instructed in a different, immediate way that will help them remember in the future.

5. Embedding Learning, Feedback, and Assessment Into Instruction

Whether a teacher is using video or in-class instruction, the established method of teaching for 30 minutes and stopping for a quiz doesn’t fit with how this generation learns. Rather than wasting valuable instruction time with a handwritten quiz, tools like Edpuzzle will pause videos and ask questions inside the video. Multiple-choice can be graded instantly while still leaving time to ask discussion questions. (You can turn off fast forwarding to ensure that students are getting video content in their viewing time.) Tools like Nearpod and PearDeck allow teachers to embed questions in the instruction. Teachers can instantly bring up a question that requires students to draw a picture. For example, when I was teaching form-factors of computers, I had students draw an example so that we could discuss and reinforce their learning. Students benefit from opportunities to draw and type their answers.

6. Facilitating Inclusive Student Conversations

Using Flipgrid, students can carry on conversations via video, offering another option for student participation by allowing them to have interactions that teachers can easily monitor and responded to. Students are learning differently because they are hearing their classmates respond, and outside guests such as book authors or other resources can participate with a quick answer. Instead of having students pair up for in-class work (where the teacher can’t monitor whether they’re sharing correct information), Flipgrid can involve the whole class or a subset of the class as you discuss and learn things differently.

7. Merging the Real and Online Worlds in Powerful Learning

Using a tool like Metaverse, teachers and students can merge the real world and the virtual world. For example, a teacher can add a QR code (a digital barcode) to questions. When students are struggling, they can scan the barcode. A virtual “helper” will appear on the students’ device to ask questions, show relevant videos or websites, or guide students through other resources to help them understand the content. While this can seem like artificial intelligence, students or teachers must program or create the augmented reality characters. This past year, I had my eighth- and ninth-graders programming in Metaverse. I’ve also seen elementary kids use the tool.

However, some tools like the Merge Cube come with built-in apps that can help kids learn. For example, hold the Merge Cube in your hand and launch Galactic Explorer. You’ll now have a complete solar system to explore. There’s also AnatomyAR+, an app about the human body, and many others that students can manipulate in virtual reality or by looking through their phone screen in augmented reality.

As teachers, differentiating instruction with today’s technology is often a melding of instruction, assessment, and feedback. We can reach more students as we design instruction to more rapidly reach all of our learners and provide feedback in ways that help students learn.

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The Question Game: A Playful Way To Teach Critical Thinking – Sophie Wrobel

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Big idea: Teaching kids to ask smart questions on their own

A four-year-old asks on average about 400 questions per day, and an adult hardly asks any. Our school system is structured around rewards for regurgitating the right answer, and not asking smart questions – in fact, it discourages asking questions. With the result that as we grow older, we stop asking questions.

Yet asking good questions is essential to find and develop solutions, and an important skill in innovation, strategy, and leadership. So why do we stop asking questions – and more importantly, why don’t we train each other, and our future leaders, to ask the right questions starting from early on?

In A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger suggests that there are three main questions which help in problem solving: Why questions, What If questions, and How questions.

Regardless of the question, the question needs to be phrased openly and positively in order to achieve positive results – a closed or negative question only raises bad feelings against each other.

  • Why questions help to find the root of a problem
  • What If questions open up the floor for creative solutions
  • How questions focus on developing practical solutions

So, perhaps, this lesson can be adapted to help trigger young children to start solve problems early too and stop accepting whatever the kindergarten teacher says to be fact? And perhaps, continue to keep up these inquiring and probing abilities later on in life?

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The Question Game focuses on teaching children a kind of thinking which is particularly useful in creative problem-solving–a focused approach to get from a problem to the most effective solution. It is most effective when combined with regular repetition, which solidifies the thought pattern, and with groups, which encourages contributory exploration of alternative responses and creativity.

Thinking strategy is just one of many qualities that are necessary for imparting charisma and leadership skills to the next generation. Many of us would claim that we don’t have the ‘natural gift’ that charismatic leaders like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi had. However, charisma and leadership are qualities that, to a large extent, can be cultivated and trained.

With soft skills becoming more important in today’s job market, cultivating these skills early on can provide children with an additional edge in becoming effective, active citizens in our society. These skills can be broadly grouped into four logical skills and four emotional skills:

  • Logical skills: risk-taking, thinking strategy, creativity, and negotiation.
  • Emotional skills: persuasion, emotional connection, body language, and dealing with vulnerability.

Of these eight skills, the Question Game focuses on thinking strategy and creativity, and aims to solidify the critical thinking thought pattern from an early age onwards.

Introducing The Question Game

Preparation: print out the figure in the illustration, cut it out and glue the tabs together to form a cube.

  1. One simple idea is to pick up your favorite illustrated fairy tale book–the kind of book you’d read a two-year-old for bedtime stories. (This also works with most fictional works; the natural ‘break point‘ for questions is at the end of a plot development or paragraph for older audiences.)
  2. On each page, roll the cube and answer the question together. I’ll bet you’d be surprised by what turns Little Red Riding Hood can take. And more importantly after a while you and your child will both start asking these questions reflexively.

Evaluating Learning Progress

My personal experience introducing the game to my two children (aged Pre-K) is a gradual acceptance of the game and associated learning goals:

  1. Initial excitement: Rolling the cube puts the child in control and made a fun addition to reading their picture books; they couldn’t wait for their turn to roll the cube.
  2. Distress: The questions are hard, especially when they aren’t used to this sort of thinking pattern and are accustomed to the ’teacher knows everything’ thinking pattern. Here, my children often asked if we could read ‚without the cube‘, or ‚I don’t want to roll, but ___ can roll and answer the question.’
  3. Acceptance: As they start to recognize that there isn’t a single correct answer, and they begin to understand what each question is trying to achieve, they begin to enjoy the game and insist that we read ‘with the cube‘.
  4. Application: During more abstract conversations, discussions, or observing how the children go about solving day-to-day problems during play. Example: a particular lego construction doesn’t quite work, even though it was‚ built according to instructions‘–and the child goes about investigating what is wrong and fixing it himself. Another example: When they ask me questions and I give them answers that obviously don’t make sense, I get more pointed questions than just ‘why?‘ as a response.

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3 Ways to Help Learners Find Their Own Answers Before Asking You

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Teachers strive to help learners find their own answers by doing one thing—giving them the skills to do so. Although this seems like a tall order, in reality it’s simpler than you think. Part of it resides in ensuring students know they have options for this.

Exploring these options is the essence of philosophy of 3B4ME. If you haven’t heard of it, we discovered it on Adam Schoenbart’s blog. It’s an ingenious way to help learners find their own answers using simple paths to discovery. Using this strategy, learners can seek answers on their own—and usually find them—before needing to resort to asking a teacher.

We encourage our learners to think critically and act independently to solve problems every day. The Essential Fluencies help with this, but so do simple tools like 3B4ME. The graphic below from Pinterest offers a great visual sample of how it works. From Adam’s blog article:

“Sometimes, a student has a question that is ready for the teacher and truly needs the expert response. More often, though, students need a push to revisit notes, rethink the issue, and consider the problem from a new angle.”

3B4ME works to help learners find their own answers before asking a teacher with suggestions like:

  • Ask three friends
  • Explore there different resources
  • Take 3 different tutorials
  • Formulate three exploratory questions
  • Visit three websites

These are some possible avenues that can be taken that can help learners find their own answers. Additionally, the possibilities expand when you use these suggestions and others in different combinations.

Enjoy the graphic, and keep on encouraging learners to explore and discover answers and solutions.

by | May 4, 2018

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