Diving into Classroom Culture

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As the school year comes to a close, you and your students may be taking time to reflect on the year, especially the culture of your classroom. What went well? What would you change? Perhaps you feel like you and your students built the bond of a lifetime! Or, maybe things felt a little off.

Since the building of class culture starts the very first day of school, summer can be a great time to plan how you want to build your culture next year. Since every educator’s summer plans are different, Teaching Channel has a variety of learning options for how you can deepen your understanding of building class culture, including a brand new course. You may even be able to do some of these options poolside, lakeside, or wherever your summer vacation takes you.

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Tch Tips: How to Deal with a Chatty Classroom

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Your students just won’t stop talking. You feel like you’re constantly talking over people just to be heard. We’ve all been there!

If your classroom has become too chatty, start by figuring out if the talk is productive or not. Sometimes talking is actually a good thing. If students are talking about the task at hand, you may want to encourage them to continue (just at a quieter volume!). But if students are off task and chatty, this requires a different approach.

Use these tips to help your classroom become more peaceful:

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Five Worthwhile Risks for New Teachers

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The concept seems contradictory, right? You’ve been trained to keep your head down, do your work, and try not to get noticed. You’re a new teacher; tenure is two to four years away, and you’re just trying to survive. But these first few years are not only pivotal in creating your own teacher identity but also, and perhaps more importantly, to establishing your own happiness in the field.

Teacher retention is a huge issue in education today, and I’d argue that one reason (out of a litany of other reasons) newer teachers choose to leave the field is because of this very concept: self-imposed isolation until tenure.

There are a million books out there that provide tangible strategies for new teachers, offering suggestions on the importance of classroom management or connecting with kids and so much more, and all of that is great. But I’d like to present to you, the new(er) teacher, a paradigm shift: don’t wait to take risks. The time is now for you to be you, and here are five areas in education for you to begin taking risks as soon as yesterday.

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How Many Days Are Left? 10 Tips to End the Year with Positivity and Purpose

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Inevitably, when educators get to April or May, the question of “How many days are left?” is uttered frequently, and with so many different variations in tone.

There is the Freaked Out — pure panic because “I still have so much material left to cover,” or “My kids are not ready for the AP test.”

Or the Exhausted, when this question is quietly mumbled with a tone of “I cannot do it; I won’t make it that long.

Don’t forget about the Angered, whereby one basically screams the question, with the certainty that the answer will be an unreasonable number.

At times, you might even get the Practical. This one is probably heard the least, but typically involves the initial question asked in a reflective tone and followed by a concrete plan to make it through.

And if you’re lucky, you might just get the To Hell With It. A personal favorite, this educator might not even finish asking the question because he or she has just reached a point where they don’t even care anymore. It’s not that they don’t care about their job or their students, but they just don’t care, for better or worse, how many days are left.

The educational reality is that we’ve reached the time of year when you probably can see yourself in one (or more, depending on the day) of these responses. And if the weather where you are is at all like it is in Chicago this “spring,” there are probably days when you don’t even have the disposition to ask the question, because you’re so annoyed by it all.

While I’m no psychological expert and certainly don’t have all the answers, I’d like to present to you ten things you can do to help make it through the rest of the year, bad weather and all, with positivity and purpose.

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Integrate Social and Emotional Learning with Ease

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It’s finally spring! The end of the school year is getting closer, yet with high-stakes testing, final projects, and countless end-of-year activities on the horizon, you and your students may be feeling a little anxious or overwhelmed. You all might need to pause and take a deep breath. If social and emotional learning (SEL) is a seamless part of your classroom, now is probably a good time to practice those skills or even learn a few more. If SEL is not a part of your practice, it’s never too late to start!

Teaching Channel has plenty of resources to get you started, including a brand new, three-credit course created in partnership with the team at Ashford University.
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Combating the Chaos: 3 Cs for a Well-Managed Classroom

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Classroom management provides for us perhaps the greatest of juxtapositions between frustration and comedy. When we take the time to look back on some of our classroom management challenges, the stories come pouring out.

Don’t believe me? Next time you have lunch with a group of colleagues, ask them to share their favorite classroom management stories; you’ll laugh for days. However, in the moment, the mismanaged classroom can easily ruin not just that specific class period, but the entire day and, potentially, an entire year or semester.

We’ve all had that one class that, by November, you dreaded going to because you knew every single minute would be a battle. Of course, there are countless strategies to help deal with classroom management issues, but at its core, combating the chaos rests in understanding and honoring humanity. As you consider some of your most challenging students or classes, think about your approach to classroom management through the lens of these three areas: connection, consistency, and compassion.

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The Adolescent Brain: A Big Gulp Of Executive Function

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I wrote the book Attack of the Teenage Brain! Understanding and Supporting the Weird and Wonderful Adolescent Learner, because of an advocacy bias: as a neuroscientist, I felt educators should have detailed knowledge about a cognitive gadget called executive function (EF). The reason? The Attack of the Teenage Brain Book Coverpower it holds over the academic lives of teenagers. It’s like cognitive Red Bull. What EF is, and how to boost it, is the fleshing-out of this bias and the subject of this blog post.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is defined in different ways by different researchers. It goes by many names, from attention-shifting to self-control. Most researchers agree on two defining components to the gadget: cognitive control, which really does involve attentional states, and emotional regulation, which include behaviors like impulse control.

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What does Executive Function Have To Do With Educating Teenagers?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that EF plays an outsize role in their academic performance. It’s also outsized in shaping socializing behavior — and EF dysfunction may mediate many adolescent psychopathologies. That’s the reason for my advocacy. Here’s how researcher Roy Baumeister describes the impact of EF (which he calls self-control) on student performance:

“When researchers compared students’ grades with nearly three dozen personality traits, self-control turned out to be the only trait that predicted a college student’s grade-point average better than chance. Self-control also proved to be a better predictor of college grades than the student’s IQ or SAT score.”

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That’s quite a thing to say. Given its academic effervescence, a logical question bubbles up: What activities improve Executive Function?
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All-School Read: Building Community & Promoting Understanding

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In the spring of 2017, our middle school experienced an eruption of racist slurs and hate speech, from swastikas drawn on the cheeks of unsuspecting students at lunch, to “KKK” mysteriously appearing on the Google image linked with our school’s website. And we were not the only ones. Newspaper headlines highlighting intolerance at schools were popping up all over the country.

Our school community felt broken, and we knew we needed to do something. One idea kept coming up: an all-school read, where every student, teacher, and staff member reads the same book at the same time. We already knew that stories help readers develop empathy. Having everyone read the same story at the same time seemed the perfect opportunity to build school community and promote understanding.

With only a couple months left in the school year, we set our sights on the fall of 2017.

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Five Assessment Myths and Misunderstandings

Tchers' Voice: Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

Walking around the classroom, clipboard in hand, I moved as quickly as possible, diligently checking for homework completion, assigning five points to those who had it done, two-and-a-half to those who had it partially done, and zero to those who didn’t do it. It was super scientific and truly measured learning… (he says sarcastically).

Luckily for my students, since then I’ve grown quite a bit in my understanding of assessment practices, and as I look back at them over the past 14 years, it’s not with disgust (although that would be justified at times), but with hope — and the knowledge that change is possible. I author this piece not to judge current practices, but in the hopes that some of the ideas below might shed new light on ways to take a fresh approach to assessment, and improve learning for all students.

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Recognize the Importance of Your Team

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I’m sure by now you’ve heard — a brilliant star went dark in the cosmos.

Dr. Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist who overcame ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14th at the age of 76.

On August 17, 2016, I was invited to meet with Dr. Hawking at Cambridge University’s Research Centre for Theoretical Cosmology to talk about community access and voice output machines. As I noted in an article for the Oregon Education Association’s quarterly magazine,

“Over the years as a special education teacher, I have had over a dozen students who use voice output devices. To inspire my students, I have shared videos of Dr. Stephen Hawking. ‘If he didn’t use his talker,’ I told one student, ‘nobody would know he was the smartest man in the world.’ Believe me when I say that Dr. Stephen Hawking is my hero.”

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Stephen Hawking, Para, and Brett Bigham

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