Finding HAPPY: Efficiency, Productivity, and Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Dusting off the old blog. How is it possible that I haven't blogged since October?! I've missed you!
Lately I've been thinking a lot about how to help with a common phrase I hear in education: "One more thing." As in, "this new (initiative/idea/curriculum/app) is just one more thing I have to worry about in my classroom."
And I get it! With the rate of new initiatives/ideas/curriculums/apps coming across my desk, it's a dizzying pace of new and change. But I also like a lot of these new ideas. I often present to teachers about these ideas! So, in my role of instructional coach, how can I help teachers embrace them too without feeling overwhelmed or burning out.

First, I think we need to look at the ideas of happiness and success. In this Ted Talk by Shawn Achor, he looks into the idea that being happy makes us more productive. Often, we might think that success will lead to happiness, but this is backwards. And, in fact, thinking you need success for h…

Rethinking Professional Development

As a coach, one aspect of my job is thinking about developing professional development for teachers. I actually really love this. It's a unique opportunity to really dig into what adult learners need and want.

Last year school year, I was thinking about how I could have an impact on professional development in my district. There were a few things I was thinking about:

1.) I really wanted to have a chance to go deeper with some teachers and was thinking about a cohort model. In my own teaching journey, I have been impacted greatly by a few experiences, many of them when I felt connected to a community of learners.

2.) As an instructional coach in a 1:1 district, helping teachers be innovative with technology and integrate purposeful ed tech is part of my job.

3.) My district has high turn-over. I began researching some of the aspects that go into people being satisfied with their jobs. While I couldn't impact their pay, I could work on some of the other ideas such as a "w…

Adjust Your Zoom

There are times in education when we need to "zoom in," look at the details and the fine points. There are other times that a more global view is appropriate. We need to "zoom out" and look at the big picture. In my coaching conversations, I have noticed that many times when teachers or teams are frustrated, we need to adjust our zoom.

ZOOM OUT Scenario 1
A team is working on common plans for math. I walk in and teachers are talking about the number talk for the second lesson, then jump to the stations planning for next week, another teacher mentions that they need to make a formative assessment to use, too. Then they all look at me, "this is hard and overwhelming!" they say, "how can we make this planning easier?"

This is a situation where we need to zoom out. Focusing on the details of lesson plans before the big picture is mapped out results in frustration and lack of focus. There are so many tiny details of a unit plan. While it is easy to ge…

Post-It Geometry Challenge

This activity is a fun investigation into symmetry. However, you don't have to wait until you are explicitly teaching geometry or symmetry. It encourages students to be precise and persevere in problem solving. Use it to help address those Standards for Mathematical Practice!

I think 4th grade and up would enjoy a few of these challenges. I've tried it with middle schoolers (6-8) as well as adults. I love the fact that this is an opportunity for all learners to engage in math at the same time. It might even be an opportunity for students that don't find as much success in math class to excel.

Here's how it works:
1. Put the picture of the post it notes with holes in it.
2. Students are challenged to take a post-it note and try to fold it so that with 1 single punch with a hole punch it will create this when opened back up.

I suggest showing this image first:

This one requires a simple fold of the post-it in half. 

Walk through how this one works and let everyone have tha…

60 Minute Math Block Planning

Recently I wrote a post about planning an 90-minute middle school block. Since then, I've been asked to think about ideas for teaching a 60-minute block in elementary school.

I came up with 5 ideas for ways to structure 60-minutes of time with 1st-5th grade students. Think of these as recipes. A starting point. Something you can try as is, and then, as you get more comfortable, move around and adapt to your needs and the needs of your students. I don't know if you like to cook, but it is one of my favorite hobbies.

I love trying new recipes. For me, I try the recipe as suggested for the first few times. Once I get comfortable, I might substitute in some herbs. Maybe I change out other ingredients or move things around. It's the same idea for these structures!

Option 1: This first idea is based on the 5 E's model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate. I love this model for encouraging exploration and being true to the constructivist philosophy that I love.


Desmos in Elementary!

If you are an elementary teacher, the tool Desmos Activity Builder might be new to you. While I see most current activities for middle and high school, don't let this deter you from giving it a try! There are some interesting and powerful ways to leverage this digital activity builder for you classroom. I've started making a few activities myself!

Some of the best things about Desmos is that you can use it on any device, it's free, the teacher dashboard/controls are awesome, and the activities you can build let you see student thinking in the moment! (Check out my blog post about 9 criteria to see how I judge formative assessment tech tools.)

I made a few screencast videos to help you get started and get some ideas of how you might use this in your K-5 classroom:

Getting started and adding card sorts to your activity options:

Adding a card sort to your activity:

Teacher Dashboard and Controls:

The power of sketch and sketch overlay:

Criteria for Choosing Tech Tools


Let me be clear that I don't like using tech just for tech's sake. Instruction first. Always. Also, focus on the learning. I heard someone say "there is no app for good pedagogy." So true.

So, with all those disclaimers, why do I love using technology? Well, it's important, relevant, and honestly can redefine your classroom and the learning for students. I love this quote from NCTM's Principles to Actions:

The word essential really stands out to me in this quote. Technology isn't something you can ignore or deny. It's an essential part of our students' world and we need to embrace that.
But we all know that there is amazing tech tools and some not-so-great stuff out there. How can you decide what to use? When it comes to using technology in the math classroom, I find using it for students to do practice/formative assessment is most powerful. If I can see their thinking, in the moment, and give feedback it can really put yo…