Why I am on pause and fast forward

This is the longest writing pause I have been on since I started the blog in 2005.

About 16 months ago, we had twin sons and all free mental and physical space went to them. If you read carefully, you will notice a spurt of blogs posts in the early days. They slept a lot back then, so I blogged.

Now I spend all waking hours away from school with them, and it has been the best learning of my life. I am watching the elegant and complex learning process every day by observing them. One son is covered in cuts and bruises as he learns to navigate the physical world safely. I am enamored by his refusal to stop trying. My other son is more careful, and I watch him imitate reading by turning pages, and using the same intonations as I do while he "reads."

Learning as a parent, learning as a teacher, learning as a student...at each turn in my life, I keep learning at the front, and it always pays more dearly than I could have imagined.

A teachers' guide to crushing the summer


Summer has landed. Let's get into what high-performing teachers do to crush the summer.

Follow their lead: 

image by Graham Cook via Creative Commons

image by Graham Cook via Creative Commons

  1. Rest
  2. Refresh
  3. Rejuvenate
  4. Plan for next year
  5. Rest up again before school starts

The biggest mistake teachers (myself included) make is to move planning to the top of the list. 

"...we’re designed to pulse. Our most basic survival need is to spend and renew energy. We’re hardwired to make waves— to be alert during the day and to sleep at night, but also to work at high intensity for limited periods of time and then rest and refuel." - Tony Schwartz in The Way We're Working Isn't Working (a favorite read of mine). 

Rest, and rest well, so that you can do the best planning of your life. That only comes when you are both mentally and physically restored. Take advantage of the wave of performance. After sustained rest comes the ability to reach a high level of excellence. 

Imagine a marathon runner deciding to wrap up a great race with another marathon! Don't be that person. 

Homework: leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to rest and rejuvenate in the summer. Do not get confused. This is critical work that great teachers do. 

Stay tuned for a summer series on how to use the summer to up your teaching game. This is going to be a fun summer.

Tech tip: Use freemium SumoMe to build traffic to your site

I started using the freemium (free for most stuff, paid for the high-end stuff) product SumoMe on this website a few weeks ago. I have already noticed increased traffic, increased social shares, and people signing up for my new e-mail newsletter that I am working on.

Examples: the share bar on the right and bottom of this page, the popup newsletter signup box. All powered by SumoMe, and I am only using the free tools.

It takes about 1 minute to install, so I have to say, quite the time-valuable website tool. You can give it a try here: http://sumome.com/

My takeaway: if I can connect with more teachers interested in improving their craft, I am on board!

If you have any questions about the tool, let me know, and I'll do my best to advise.

How to watch & learn from your peer teachers this week

image by: remixed by Darren Kuropatwa. Original image via WayneKLin. From TEDxNYED 2010, which I helped cofound.

image by: remixed by Darren Kuropatwa. Original image via WayneKLin. From TEDxNYED 2010, which I helped cofound.

I visit many classrooms at my school and other schools. I visit for formal observations, other times for drop-ins, or sometimes just as a guest. Each time, I leave with an idea for my own classroom. I expect that of myself.

To me, teaching is both an art and science. Methods and skills mixed with creative madness. When I am in someone else's classroom, I focus deeply on the science side - the methods they use to engage their class.

Some of the things I look out for:

  • how did they structure the lesson?
  • what are students doing?
  • how much is the teacher talking?
  • how to students demonstrate their understanding?
  • what pieces engage the students most?
  • what students are left out/seem not to understand?
  • what materials are the students using?

When I look out for these, I want to find the most powerful teaching moments and share them back with the teacher, so they can make sure to keep doing them and make more of them. 

Equally importantly, I also learn strategies for my own classes. I cannot tell you how much better a teacher my peers have made me by their example. 

If you want to be a great teacher, you need role models. Practice what they do. Make it your own, certainly, but great teachers are great for very, very good reasons. Do not overvalue the art in teaching. Know that it also requires very practical methods - methods that great teacher employ.

Your challenge: set up a visit to another teacher's class. Pick someone that you know is a strong teacher.

I will make it easy for you. Send them this e-mail:

subject: can I visit your class this week?

Dear [insert their name here],

I would love to come visit your class this (insert a few specific options of days/times here). 

I am trying to improve my classroom practice and feel like I could learn a lot about how you work with [insert grade number] graders by visiting you. 

I will stop by and see you later in case scheduling is just easier in person.

Thanks, in advance,
[insert your name]

Leave a comment if you are up for the challenge. I can't wait to hear from you.

 

Give your students half a sheet of paper, 10x your teaching quality

Did you ever have one of those classes where everything just went great? Your explanations were elegant and succinct. Students were volunteering left and right. Group work moved like a well-oiled machine? Those are the days I live for.

Sadly, those come along only once in a while. Often, I would feel good, but leave class somewhat unsure as to how a few students are doing. 

I love this simple method for avoiding that less-than-desirable feeling:

Hand each student a half-sheet of paper with the following questions on them:

1. Name (optional)

2. What is one idea from today's class that you feel like you really understood well?

3. What is one idea from today's class that you need more help with?

4. What is one question you would like me to explain next class?

Try it 5 full minutes before class ends. Student can leave after they complete this "exit ticket" and put it directly in your hand.

Try it every day, in every class, for one week. Let us know what happened in the comments below.

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