Day 13: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?

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I am what many would consider a veteran teacher. I am in my 11th year of teaching. For ten years, I taught in a low-income, title-one, and sub-urban school. The racial make-up was about 50% African American, 40% Caucasian, and 10% two or more races. According to the website, www.schooldigger.com, 100% of students are recipients of free/reduced school lunches.

This year, I decided to apply somewhere closer to home. I was blessed with two interviews, and offered 3 teaching positions; one of which I accepted which is about a 10 minute drive from home!

The school I currently teach in is also a low-income and title-one, but urban school. The racial makeup is about 94% African American, 2% Caucasian, and 3% two or more races. Based on information also from www.schooldigger.com, about 53% of students are eligible for free/reduced school lunches. It is the largest elementary (K-5) school in the district, but smaller than and houses less students than the school from which I transferred from.

Leaving my former district, I felt I was at the top of my game (but still with room for improvement). I may have been overly praised and evaluated, and I may have been led to believe I was a better teacher than what I really was because this year, I feel like a novice. But then again maybe I really was a great teacher for those students, in that school, at that time. Nevertheless, the change in schools has been a rude awakening for me.

Change is never easy. In fact, it is unavoidable, can help us grow, is often scary, but often brings opportunities. Many times we fight change. I actually fought changing my approach to teaching in my new classroom this year. I thought my routines, procedures, and style of teaching would be just as effective in my new home school as they were in my previous one. Y’all, I was all the way wrong, but I did not want to change. I didn’t think I needed to change. I wanted to change the kids and make them fit into my box. What was I thinking? That sounds like a teacher with a fixed mindset, right?

Things are getting better in my new classroom. I am actually teaching and not always dealing with discipline issues. I can say that this change has a lot to do with me being willing to change and not forcing my students to fit my mold. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe each and every child in my class can and will succeed. I believe they will not only meet my level of expectation, but will rise above my expectations. However, I had to meet them where they were.

On this 13th day of the “What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R. Series,” I want to talk about the final E in T.E.A.C.H.E.R.

As a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R, we should always:

ENGAGE WITH STUDENTS AND EMBRACE CULTURE

Upon applying to my new school district, I knew that I would more than likely teach in a

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school that was considered high needs. A high-needs school according to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is defined as “within the top quartile of elementary and secondary schools statewide, as ranked by the number of unfilled, available teacher positions; or is located in an area where at least 30 percent of students come from families with incomes below the poverty line; or an area with a high percentage of out-of-field-teachers, high teacher turnover rate, or a high percentage of teachers who are not certified or licensed.” I was used to working in this kind of school with these statistics. Because I felt this way, I made a few assumptions. You know what they say about that…

It was then that I stopped assuming I knew best, and started over by asking questions. The beginning of my school year was more challenging than even my first year out of graduate school. In my blog post, “Caveats to Day 13: An Overwhelming and Under-Prepared Beginning” I describe in detail what made this year more challenging than I anticipated in addition to my asinine assumptions. Click here to read or listen to a short blog post about them.)

On Engaging with Students

Now that you have the facts, starting over was challenging. I had to let go of what was, and focus on what is. I had to commit to getting to know my colleagues, students and their families and stop comparing them to my former colleagues and students. I used the 2 by 10 Strategy attributed to Robert Wlodkowski. I spent 2 minutes (give or take a few seconds) each day for 10 days in a row talking to my students about anything they wanted to talk about. Most times it was an impromptu conversation in the morning after Harambe, at their lockers, in the hall during transitions, before or after lunch, during dismissal, or during our morning circle.

This strategy is recommended for teachers to use with at-risk students. It is really easy to use if you only have a few at risk students in your classroom, but when the entire class is at-risk, it takes a bit more elbow grease. Some students needed more than 10 days. I can tell that it is working because my students and I get along well. (They don’t always get along well with each other, so I still have some work to do there.) Additionally, another educator in the building brought to my attention that one young lady in my class this year is 100% better behaved now than she was last year. She said, “I don’t know what you did, but keep doing it. She’s a totally different person. 100% better.” After I heard a few things about this student and her behavior last year, I was committed to “Making her My Girl!” I’m so glad I chose to engage with her and the rest of my scholars.

The strategy is not a magic trick and it’s nothing miraculous. It simply helps teachers build better relationships and rapports with their students.

On Embracing Culture

Because nearly 100% of the students in my 4th and 5th grade classes are African American (this has never been true for me prior to this year), I feel that it is important to mention this next statement. As an African American teacher in the United States, who attended a public school district (before having a major goal to eliminate racial disparities in achievement levels of African-American students) and a predominantly white University (before it had the Center for Urban Education), I was taught using a curriculum that was primarily and essentially Eurocentric. Because this is the education system in which I was molded, I am sure the way I teach is also Eurocentric in nature.

What does this mean? It means I am unable to connect with my students culturally. You may think that it does not matter because I look like my students. We know that color matters. YES, WE DO. We may not want it to matter, but that’s the unfortunate basis of the United States of America. The fact is that the color of my skin DOES NOT ALWAYS afford me opportunities to better relate to students and families that look like me. Culture is more than skin deep. My historical education has limited my ability to truly understand who I am as an African American. Because of this, I am unable to fully understand who my students are and furthermore unable to help them fully understand who they are.

According to Afroetry of www.afroectic.com in an article titled, Education: Europe-Centered (Eurocentrism) vs. African-Centered, we were and “are typically taught that human civilization begins with Greece and Rome…[and]…further educated within the framework of Greek, Roman and European culture. The substance of what [is] learn[ed] is rooted in the western stories [we] learn to read from, the mathematical concepts [we] learn in school, and the science applications that are rooted in the observations of white males.” To read this article in its entirety, please click here. We all know that human civilization began well before Greece and Rome.

I mention this to say that no matter where you teach, no matter your race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or cultural background, it’s our responsibility to learn about who we teach, and intentionally take the time to do so. We do not have to act or dress or pretend to be something we are not to understand those that we teach. It’s unnecessary to appropriate. These things make us look as if we are trying too hard, being fake, and typically backfire. It’s always best to Keep it 100 by being Audaciously Authentic. But we do need to talk to our students and their families, listen to them, respect them, and value the differences and the similarities we share. We should read what they read, watch what they watch, and go where they go. We should read about their history with non-judgmental lenses on. This is no easy enterprise, but I believe it is worth it for us as educators and furthermore for the development of our students, schools, country, and world.

In conclusion, although I am African American, my mindset is Eurocentric at best. There is nothing wrong with that. However, as Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome say in the title of their book, the “Kids Deserve It.” Our scholars deserve renewed teachers that engage with them and are willing to and able to embrace their culture.

I learned a valuable lesson this year by changing school districts. I learned what worked before, may not work later, and in order to meet the needs of my students, I need to be a great teacher for these students, in this school, at this time, every time.

Until then, Happy Teaching
Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher
American and African American History Resources:
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson
Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James.

Caveats to Day 13: An Overwhelming and Under-Prepared Beginning

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20180107_011541.jpgIf you have been following my blog for the past couple of months, you will know that I am currently completing the “What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?” Series, where I share the essential elements to being a RenewED Teacher. This post is a caveat to Day 13. I felt the need to include this post for three reasons: 1) Day 13 was entirely too long; 2) The beginning of the year sets the stage for how the rest of the year will be; 3) I need you, my readers, to understand that despite stressful situations, a good teaching year can still be had. There were barriers and obstacles that my devilish mind felt were automatic set ups for failure. My angelic mind helped me to be patient and realistic about the situation. Things needed to get done regardless of how unfair I felt the conditions were. 

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GIF courtesy of www.tenor.com.

Let’s jump right in. The beginning of my school year was no where near what I expected. I was overwhelmed and under-prepared. This post is not meant to bash or throw shade on anyone or any organization. I am simply stating some facts that increased my level of anxiety at the beginning of the school year. Schools and districts have rules and policies that must be adhered to in order to be in compliance with the district and state. With that being said, if I were a new teacher, you know, my first year out of college, I would’ve probably quit, and I wonder if events like this are related to why there are high rates of teacher attrition. Check out the 10 reasons that were beyond my control that could have easily contributed to the beginning of burn-out and frustration for me this year.

Day 13 Caveats:

10 Reasons I Had An Overwhelming and Under-Prepared Beginning

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  1. I was not permitted to set up my room until I was cleared, which was about one week before students started. We started on a Tuesday, and the students started the following Monday. I know what you are thinking, I had six days to set up. No, I didn’t. Keep reading.

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    Image courtesy of Pixabay.

  2. I was not able to bring anything in the room until the former teacher’s materials were removed. Most were removed by the end of the day on Monday, and the rest were removed by Tuesday morning. (Between her new position, trainings, and the summer program, I understand the lack of time she had to clear the room out.)
  3. Most of my teaching supplies and materials were at home in my garage until the Wednesday before school started. (I packed my car and brought things in little by little beginning on Monday. On Wednesday, my husband brought everything else in.)

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    My guys are the best!

  4. On Wednesday, we had a big back to school celebration and District-Wide PD. I was out of the building for a great portion of the day. (It was pretty fun and exciting though!)

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    District-wide PD was packed and boomin’!

  5. Thursday, we had Math PD outside of the building. ALL DAY!!! I returned to the school later in the evening to continue getting my classroom to actually look like a classroom. (Slightly frustrated this day. I teach both 4th and 5th grade math. We were separated by grade level. I could not attend both sessions at the same time.)

  6. Friday, I made copies, lesson plans, organized Monday’s materials, etc. My friend and former colleague and I hosted a hugs and farewell party with our former co-workers, so I left the building around 5 pm. Although we both resigned around the same time, we did not plan this. We left for varying reasons, and she is in a different state. (I cried as I drove to the going away party. Not because I was sad I would miss them, but because my classroom was no where near ready for Monday. I was overwhelmed, felt under-prepared, and exhausted.)
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    I love these ladies. We were a dream team!.

    Each day, we had to exit the building by 5:30-6:00 pm.

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    He had to get his nap in.

  8. The building was open on Saturday from 9 am – 2 pm. My husband came to help. (Mr. Organization and Get Stuff Done, was amazing. I could not have finished the room without him.) Our son took his nap on the rug in my classroom with a bean bag as a pillow.
  9. I did not receive my class roster until the first day of school. (Yes, the day students arrived. No shade. Based on my knowledge, every teacher received their roster the same day. The only difference is that they knew most of the students because they were not new to the building.)
  10. The one thing I have done every year I have taught is mail letters (Yes, snail-mail) home to my students and their families. This gives them an opportunity to get to learn about me prior to the first day of school. I believe the letters set the tone. Additionally, I call the families after the letters are sent home to touch base with them. I also provide families with a means to communicate back with me about their child. I was not able to do any of this. I strongly believe this pro-active method of communication has benefited me and the relationships I have with my students and their families over the years. There is only one year I was not able to mail the letters, and that year was terrible! That was the year I wanted to quit teaching! This year was headed down the same line.

With that folks, look out for day 13 of the “What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?” series, where I share the next component and what the final E in T.E.A.C.H.E.R. represents.

As we continue to learn and grow together, how was your beginning of the school year? I hope not as stressful as mine. Share in the comments below. I look forward to reading them.

Until then, Happy Teaching!

The RenewED Teacher, Krystal L. Smith

P.S. Here is a video of my classroom on the first day of school! (I do not own the rights to the music in the video.)

If this video does not work, please try the one below (No music).

Day 9: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?

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“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.

This is one of my favorite quotes. I remember as a first year teacher, I said this quote day-in and day-out to my students. My goal was for them to realize that struggle was part of the process of growing and learning over time. I often allowed them time to write about and discuss what they thought it meant. To add my two cents, I often used analogies to help them understand. I talked about babies learning to walk and talk, and how that process takes a about a year for most babies, but can take longer! They often laughed at this realizing the truth of the statement. I even used sports’ analogies, sharing how athletes get better over time with consistent and persistent effort. Often times, my students ate this up, and were motivated to work harder. Some of them were transformed, and continued to work harder over massive periods of time as if they were completely different students! Over the years, I have come to refer to or even use this quote less, but I have recently began using it again because I still believe in the words spoken by Frederick Douglass so long ago. Can you relate to this quote?

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

When I think about every opportunity I have had in my life, and every time I have failed or excelled at something, the road has never been easy. Even getting my new teaching position this year was not easy. I missed plenty of Zzz, completing applications, gathering reliable people to write letters of recommendations and to use as references, updating and creating a new resume and portfolio (I went digital! Post about this coming soon!), planning and preparing for potential interviews, while still ensuring I dotted and crossed every i and t, at my current place of employment. Burn out could have set in, but I remembered my goal and how this short-term sacrifice could help me reach a longer-term goal. One that I had set out to achieve only 10 years earlier, and was politely denied with an offer I knew was not for me. Even still, throughout the process of teaching and learning there are many opportunities that allow for our struggles to lead to progress.

As educators, our daily tasks are not always, and sometimes never simple. We all know

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the struggle is real, and we know it all too well. We have to deal with 20+ little people’s personalities who may or may not want to learn, or are unable to focus on learning due to some basic need not being met or extenuating circumstances. We also have to read or create Individualized Education Plans (IEPs); create lesson plans; adapt activities; purchase materials using our own funds; attend staff and PLC meetings; participate in Professional Development (PD); align curriculum to standards; teach culturally relevant content; grade papers; display student work; contact families; keep clearances up-to-date; make copies on a copy machine that is like Bob Marley: Always Jammin’!; hold our bladders for hours; and stay positive knowing we have to come early, stay late, or take work home with us when we simply don’t want to. Do you feel me?

Because of our many responsibilities as teachers, it is vital that we always have on the hat of a learner. As a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R., we should always be willing to:

EXPERIENCE A LEVEL OF DISCOMFORT

NOTHING GROWS IN THE COMFORT ZONE

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Image Courtesy of Google.

As the image above states, being comfortable is cool, but you’re not getting better. I mean, I love being at home in my cozy sweats, wrapped in a blanket, eating popcorn and watching TV with my family. However, if my goal is to have a six-pack with quads, hamstrings, biceps, and triceps to match, I am not going to develop that body in my comfort zone. As educators, how can we expect our students to push through their level of discomfort or frustration to learn, if we are unable to put ourselves in similar situations to teach and reach all learners? We should never expect from our students what we are unable or unwilling to do ourselves. #lifelonglearner So as my father always asked me before I left for school, I ask you, “Do you have your thinking cap on?”

BEYOND DIVERSITY HAD ME UNCOMFORTABLE IN MY TRUTH

Recently, I attended a two day seminar titled, “Beyond Diversity: Introduction to Courageous Conversations and a Foundation for Deinstitutionalizing Racism and Eliminating Racial Achievement Disparities.” Because talking about race seems to be taboo for many people, the conversations we had were sometimes quite uncomfortable. But I went wanting to learn and was ready for the uncomfortable conversations that were bound to surface.

One woman asked, “As a white woman, how do I get over the guilt?” It took

Image courtesy of Google Images.

me sometime, but as I considered her question, in my mind I thought, “First, remember, it’s not your fault. Never give up on eliminating racial disparities; be intentional in learning about your students; don’t assume, but rather ask questions; and continue to educate yourself by reading and becoming familiar with culturally relevant teaching.” Since I began teaching in a new school district, this year, these were all things I had to do to get my mind right before stepping into unfamiliar teaching territory. I have never taught in a predominantly African American school. I later shared my thoughts and experiences with her.

Another participant shared that he and his siblings had never seen his father shirtless. Not even when they went swimming, or when he went to bathe. About three years before he died, he took his shirt off at a family reunion to show why he never removed it in front of his children. He had decades worth of pain hidden on his back. As a former Indentured Servant in Alabama, in the 20th century, he received lashings that not only scarred him, but could have scarred his children much more had he shown them during their childhood. This blew my mind!

The stories of my bi-racial classmates added another level of discomfort. I never knew lighter toned African Americans desired to have a darker complexion because they were tired of everyone saying they thought they were better because of their light, close to white skin. When we talked about White Privilege and what that meant by completing a survey and comparing scores, none of us were surprised by the results due to the nature of the questions. However, the look of the room was pitiful. You could clearly see the haves and the have nots. (Teaching Tolerance offers some PD on racism and white privilege here.)

Mary Jane Burke’s Tweet.

While the two days were enlightening, I was wrapped up in my feelings and thoughts. IN MY UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH, I couldn’t help but think that because I have assimilated into white culture, I am sometimes unable to relate to my students of color. I’m so uncomfortable that I want to backspace this entire sentence. These thoughts get me wrapped up in my feelings because it makes me angry that I can’t always understand or relate to people that look like me. Race is not everything, but it is the first objective characteristic most people notice when a person enters a space. Nevertheless, all of this made me extremely uncomfortable. I pride myself in connecting with my students and their families by building strong relationships, and I still feel that I have the gift of doing so, but at times I struggle. I gather that this is normal…you know? To struggle sometimes. But when you struggle with the same type of student over time and you begin to notice it, or realize that something is not quite right, it’s time to get out of your feelings and thoughts, and take action. In the words of Shinora Grayson Johnson, personal finance guru and money manager at Disciplined Dollars, “You have to get to a healthy level of disgust if you really want to change.”

So, what are some ways are you being like Frederick Douglass today? How are you embracing your teaching struggles in order to help you grow and to help your students grow?

As we continue to learn and grow together through discomfort, please share your teaching struggles, and how you have been able to overcome them or not. I cannot wait to hear how the struggle is real for you. While this post was not meant to focus on race, it kind of took that turn, but please feel free to share any of your struggles.

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith

Day 8: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?

This post right here describes my life (and probably yours) at the current moment. LOL! Can you relate?

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Courtesy of Facebook.

Nevertheless, work must be done, if we plan to continue growing and learning together.

Therefore, let’s continue with DAY EIGHT and the SECOND HALF of the “What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?” Series. To access the first 7-posts on the essential elements to being a RenewED Teacher, feel free to click here.

As a quick review, R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.S consciously and intentionally choose to:

Remember Their Why

Exercise Their Minds, Bodies, and Souls

Never Give Up

Educate Themselves

Work With Families

Entertain Their Students to Entertain Themselves, and

Dare to Be Intentional

The T in T.E.A.C.H.E.R. is an important component to anything we do in life.

As a RenewED Teacher, we ALWAYS:

TRY NEW THINGS

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Have you ever been bored in your classroom teaching the same old lessons that you have taught year after year? Do your students seem bored and disengaged as well? Is this starting to frustrate you? Are you losing hope in yourself and perhaps your students? Have you become complacent and seem to just be going to work for the paycheck (especially if you have reached that top step)? Are you just going through the motions? Are you burned out?

Listen, don’t feel bad if you have answered yes to any of these questions. I once answered yes to them all.

If you have answered yes to any of these questions though, trying something new may be just the thing you need to shake things up a bit. But this cannot be a one-stop-shop. We must be committed to being consistent with this new thing.

Why Try New Things

Trying new things can be daunting, but they can also be fun! In the classroom, trying new things is rarely about us as the educator though. Trying new things is about making an impact on the education and lives of the children in our classrooms by motivating, encouraging, inspiring, and even transforming them to learn and put forth the consistent effort to do so. We want to help them use their efforts and abilities to achieve the greatest academic success possible. If we want our students to try new things (new math concepts, science experiments, reading strategies, historical concepts, etc.), we need to be willing to share with them the new things we are trying.

Where To Begin?

I personally love attending conferences, but I have not been to any in a few years. However, in the past, if I learned something new there, I tried it in my class immediately, and most times I have been pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I also enjoy professional development workshops. I am currently enrolled in a math course at our local intermediate unit, and the ideas and strategies that I have learned there over the past two years, have really helped me to value and appreciate the CRA model (Concrete-Representation-Abstract Model for teaching math. Click here to see a short video on CRA.). Wait for it… At one point in time, I did not think it necessary for 5th grade students to use manipulatives to study and solve math problems. 😮 (CRA article and examples).

Social Media has given me a whole new world of ideas. Between Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you can probably find a new idea for every lesson that you currently teach! It can be overwhelming seeing what all these other teachers are doing, but you cannot compare your Monday with someone else’s Friday, so pick and choose wisely by focusing on your time, creative genius, hobbies, and personality.

When?

RIGHT NOW, if you answered yes to the questions above. LOL! But seriously, why wait? Try something new as soon as possible.

New Things I Have Tried

Did you know I was trying something new when I created this blog? Yep! I was considering quitting teaching. I was burned out, frustrated, unsupported (in my opinion by my administrator), my students did not behave the way I expected them to, the families were not as involved as other families had been in previous years, and nothing I did seemed to work. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was not good enough. I was ready to leave this profession.

With this blog, one of my personal goals was to renew my passion for teaching!

YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED!!!

OMG, it actually worked!

Let me put it to you this way. Had I not started this blog, and took the time to develop and practice what it means to be a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R., I would probably quit teaching right now. YES,  I said it! Right now!

This year, is just as challenging as the year I considered quitting during my 4th year of service. The difference now, is that I do have a supportive administrator, BUT, yes there is a big ol’ BUT, I have also learned to prevent and react to burn-out and frustration in effective ways. I have a set of skills that have helped me become a stronger teacher and to overcome adversity. Trying new things is one of those essential elements.

Something else new I tried is attempting to become a National Board Certified Teacher. I began in Fall of 2014 when I was 6 months pregnant! I still do not know what I was thinking! I completed the final component in May 2017. I will learn if I am certified come December 2017. Whether I earn it or not, I do believe that my teaching practice has been enhanced immensely. However, I welcome any and all prayers and words of encouragement as the certification season nears.

One thing I have always wanted to do in my classroom is write songs. In particularly, remixes to popular songs my students know or their families may know. As a child, my sister and I did this all the time, and we got it from our father. He taught us our zip-code by singing it to the tune of “Beauty and the Beast.” LOL! I still remember it. My dad would have been a great teacher.

Music, is the great equalizer, and has proven time and time again to be effective in helping students to learn and remember things.  Greg Coleman, the author of Mr. Elementary Math, has a really cool post titled The Power of Teaching with Math Songs, where he talks about why this is important, some tips on how to implement songs, and he even provides some great resources. I created a Division Remix to Whatever You Need by rapper Meek Mill featuring Chris Brown and Ty Dolla Sign. My students learned what a quotient was from the song, and my two year old knows the chorus! LOL! Click here to view.

Keep in mind that many of us learned the 26 letters of the alphabet with a song, right!? Many advertisements use music and lyrics to persuade us to buy whatever it is they are selling. Listen, whether you use Nationwide Insurance or not, almost everyone knows the slogan that is hummed or sang by Peyton Manning, “Nationwide is on your side!” (Did you sing it or say it? LOL! Share in the comments.)

I have wanted to create songs this since my first year teaching, but I was too worried about and afraid of what my colleagues would think. I mean none of them were doing it. I was afraid of being different. (Don’t let fear get in your way.) I never thought to ask if any of my colleagues wanted to create a song until about 2-3 years ago when my fifth grade team and I created a remix to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars titled Fifth Grade Funk! It was so much fun! Something we and our students will always remember.

With that in mind, I created three new songs this year, and shared them with my students. (A future goal is to create one with them). I took a huge risk this year with my new students. I was so nervous for the first day of school, that I decided to do the Bodak Yellow Challenge Teacher Version, and create a welcome back to school song for my students. Click here to listen. The other song is a transition song sang to Bruno Mars’ What I Like and is sang to the chorus of the song:

“It’s time for us to focus,

So Mrs. Smith can teach us.

I’m here in school so I can learn,

so I can learn!

I’m gonna go and zip my lips

to learn some tips!” (2x) 

Now granted I love music, and I am somewhat musically inclined. I sang in my church choir, played a lead and semi-lead role in some musicals back in the day, so I can hit a note or two, but I am no Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, or fill in the blank. I can even bust a move here and there.

Guess what? I use this to my advantage in my classroom when it is effective for my students. Not only am I entertaining my students, I am entertaining myself (Day 6). Everyone is having fun! Teaching is much easier when we are all having fun, and learning at the same time.

As RenewED Teachers, we need to think about all the things we love to do. With so much teacher autonomy being taken away from us, we have to fit it in somehow to keep teaching fun for us so that we can make learning fun for our students. We need to base what we try new on the students in our room, at this time, based on what they need, and their interests while also considering how our strengths, passions, and hobbies can be merged into our classrooms to engage our students.

As we continue to learn and grow together, please share what you will try or have tried new in your classroom this year. Share your hobbies and perhaps how you can merge them with your students’ interests. Leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments! I cannot wait to hear your ideas!

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith

 

 

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3 – Cultivating Grit – A Guest Post by Jillian Smart, M.Ed.

The Value in Cultivating Grit

In January, I returned from hiatus with a blog post on confidence-building strategies. The take-home points are that we (1) value mistakes and model healthy responses to failure, (2) encourage learners to focus on what they can do, and (3) maximize critically thinking opportunities.

Since we’re in the thick of it, I’d be remiss if I did not also recap student strategies for less stressful testing. Testing season is an intense time for educators, learners, and parents. There’re a number of ways to decrease stress and enter testing season with greater confidence. One of our guest bloggers, Jillian Smart, M.Ed., shares four strategies

  1. Review information daily
  2. Clarify gaps in learning
  3. Change daily habits
  4. Build endurance

 

There’s a connection.

Confidence-building strategies and strategies for less stressful testing are linked by grit. When we cultivate grit, we learn (and teach others) to persevere over long periods of time. For instance, one confidence-building strategy is that we model healthy responses to failure. It’s not likely that modeling a healthy response once is going to cut it. Dealing with failure in healthy ways requires a lot of personal growth initially.

Learner perceptions about failure can be deep-rooted. The more deeply rooted our behaviors and thoughts, the more exposure to new behaviors and thoughts we require before change happens. This is not only true of our response to failure; it’s true of our response to challenge. Habits are hard to break if we aren’t gritty about making the change.

Students with low confidence and poor test performance behave and think in ways that are not self serving. We don’t want to overlook environmental factors that obliterate a child’s confidence in himself or leaves her ill-prepared to compete academically. We also don’t want to nurture narcissism. For a moment, we want to highlight something that learners can do for themselves: cultivate grit.

Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence explores character development: grit, growth mindset, and motivation. I draw on personal and professional experiences as well as current research to share do-it-yourself confidence-building strategies with educators and parents. Cultivating Grit takes readers and listeners on a journey through an eight-part discussion with five reflection activities to be completed individually or as a group. The premise is that by helping learners increase confidence, performance improves in class and at home.

It’s a journey.

Those who experience failure are erroneously viewed as lacking grit. Grit skeptics seem to think that persevering over time means that we never miss the mark, that we always get the “thing” we’re passionate about… if we work hard enough. Though some focus on one goal, execute the plan, and live happily ever after, many more of us will have to work very hard at a number of our passions.

Sectors of society are afflicted with the “this is how we’ve always done it” approach to education and training, which is much too rigid for us to reap the benefits of all our talents. I encourage you to have a closer look at the opportunities we uncover by understanding and cultivating grit in our lives.

We’ve found that character development is the secret to student growth. Cultivating grit is an important piece of character education for educators and parents. Request your free download of Cultivating Grit today.

Jillian Smart, M.Ed. is an author, coach, and educator. She partners with educators and families around the world to facilitate development of more independent learners. Jillian launched Jackson Education Support as the vehicle for this work. The program she has developed is a breakthrough that has garnered much support and applause since the launch. The 96% success rate among exam preparation and tutoring clients evidences program efficacy.

Her approach is unique in that she leverages character development to affect cognitive development. Character development experiences with clients and professional development training serve as the foundation for this book.

As we continue to learn and grow together, please fill free to connect with and reach out to Jillian by visiting her site at Jackson Education Support or follow her on Facebook. In addition, please share your ideas on how you prepare your scholars to build confidence and overcome testing anxiety.

Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and following!

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

Day 14: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.? A Reflection

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It was Saturday, December 16, 2017. The day my National Board Teaching Scores would be released. The day I learned whether I could shout, “I AM A NATIONAL BOARD CERTIFIED TEACHER!” Or the day, I tucked my tail, crawled back in bed, and complained about having to pay and redo all of the hard work I assumed was my best. Hmmm… I sat at my computer eating some grapes and drinking a nice glass of cold coffee. (Yes, we prefer iced coffee in this home. LOL!) I was excited! My husband was at work, and our son was still asleep. I was thankful for some quiet and alone time.

Dusk

Image Courtesy of Windows 10 Spotlight Images: Escape from Reality, Mangroves at sunset, Darwin, Australia

I clicked the black button on my mouse and waited for my computer to load. This beautiful background with a mangrove tree, and an amazing glow of dusk appeared before I logged-in. I took this glow as a sign of success. I keyed in my password.

 

I had the National Board Website bookmarked for easy access. I logged into my National Board account! I began to bite my nails. I felt butterflies in my belly, and my left leg shook rapidly as I waited for my scorecard to open! I was turnt-up! My excitement, nerves, and anxiety were wrapped together like a burrito. This is what I read:

“Dear Krystal Reid,
Your performance on this attempt did not meet the threshold established by our Board of Directors for achieving National Board Certification.”

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Image Courtesy of Pixabay.

That quickly, my heart dropped. I could not immediately read the rest of the letter. My eyes teemed with tears. I knew that there would be some positive jargon to follow, and I simply wasn’t ready for it. All I would think was,

“I have failed to become a National Board Certified Teacher.”

There! I said it.

I was heartbroken, angry, and frustrated. Quite candidly, I was pissed. I typically keep feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness to myself. But it is important for me to deal with these emotions so that I can move forward and reflect to continue to grow and achieve the goal of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher. I still want it!

However, sharing this information brings another level of emotion I often conceal as well:

Fear

Image Courtesy of Flickr.

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                          This video terrified me as a child!                        Giphy Courtesy of Giphy.com.

I don’t want you to see me as a failure.

I don’t want you to judge me because I failed.

I don’t want you to think I am an incompetent educator.

While I shouldn’t worry about what people think, my feelings about my failure are real. If you are up-to-date with this 14 day series on what it means to be a RenewED Teacher, I am glad that I waited to share this final day because this failure is the perfect opportunity to share what the final “R” in R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R. means.

As a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R, it is important that we always strive to:

REFLECT OFTEN TO SUSTAIN GROWTH

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As we are still roughly at the beginning of 2018, this is the perfect time to reflect on the past year, and create changes to make this year the best year ever! One of my major goals this year is to become a National Board Certified Teacher.

In my effort to be more reflective as an educator, sustain growth within the profession, and to help achieve my goal of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher, I am focusing on 5 questions:

  1. What can I learn from this?
  2. What could I have done differently?
  3. Do I need to inquiry or improve some skill?
  4. Who can I learn from?
  5. What will I do next?

Since I am not certified, YET, it is time to begin planning and preparing to retake certain components. I am still frustrated because I don’t want to have to put in the astronomical amount of time again, or spend the money it costs to retake the components. But I want to be the best teacher I can possibly be, in order to help my students reach their fullest potential and to achieve their grandest dreams. I have already learned so much about myself through this journey, that I want to learn more for the sake of my students. I also have regained my passion for teaching through this process, and I don’t want to lose momentum. Additionally, this quote by T.D. Jakes, gives me so much life:

“A setback is a setup for a comeback.”

Courtesy of Power of Positivity on Facebook.

I am ready for my comeback. Professional and personal development are powerful. I have been reading a plethora of books, listening to several podcasts, and implementing many of the strategies I am learning, and many quotes resonate with me. Darren Hardy said, “The key to success is massive failure.” John Dewey said, “Failure is instructive.” My all time favorite, and I have mentioned this before, is what Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” If I think of failure in terms of these quotes, I am going to use it as a means to an end and a massive opportunity to learn from what I didn’t do and don’t know; what I could have done differently; continue to learn and grow; find someone that can teach me what I do not know; and set goals to achieve National Board Certification.

This failure shows I am human and not perfect. I am “Purposed not Perfect.” As a RenewED Teacher, I have room for growth. My deadline is December 2019.

As we continue to learn and grow together, I would love to start a conversation about reflection and productive failure, and how we can use our failures and our reflection of them, to motivate our students when they fail. Most of us, as adults, do not give up, but many of our students unfortunately do. What steps do you take to overcome your failure? How can we use reflection of our failures as a tool for growth to help our students learn and grow?

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing!

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

Day 12: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?

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Over the summer, I listened to an audio-book titled, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol Dweck. Have you heard of it? If not, I highly recommend it to anyone even if you are not an educator. It’s transformative! One’s mindset impacts every aspect of his or her life including, but not limited to relationships, business, parenting, and yep, you guessed it, schools.

According to mindsetonline, “Mindsets are beliefs—beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities.” It is not an attribute of a person. It is a way of thinking about particular things. According to Dweck, and her decades of research on success and achievement, there are two type of mindsets: Fixed and Growth. People with fixed mindsets believe the way things are, and feel they can never change regardless of what they do or not. They believe their success, or lack there of, is innate.  On the other hand, people with growth mindsets believe that hard work, effort, and dedication can improve any circumstances. They believe their individual qualities can be improved and developed upon over time. 

I am sure you can guess which mindset I support and try to embrace, and which mindset a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R. should embrace.

Of course, a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R. should ALWAYS:

HABITUALLY EMBRACE A GROWTH MINDSET (or at least try to)

 

 

20171229_020022WHY WE SHOULD

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In many of my posts, I ask a variation of this question, “How can you expect something from your students that you do not practice yourself?” This is the main reason why we should make embracing a growth mindset a habit. We all want our scholars to work hard, stay committed to tasks, persevere and overcome academic and social barriers, and we also want them to grow in these areas. Additionally, we want them to believe in themselves enough to feel they can be successful at whatever it is they choose to do. If you don’t want any of this for ALL of your students, you may be in the wrong profession. But if you do want this for ALL of your students, we need to make a pact.

Can we all agree that it is necessary for us as educators to also work hard, stay committed to tasks, persevere and overcome our students’ academic and social barriers, and continue to learn and grow within our profession? Furthermore, can we also agree that it is important for us to consistently believe in ourselves enough to know we are 100% capable of teaching, reaching, loving, supporting, and growing each student in our classroom in order to help bring their hopes and dreams of success to fruition? I’m sure you agree, friends.

But whether you agree or not, I still must wonder how we can expect our students to embrace something if we do not do it ourselves, first?

HOW WE CAN

how-2730752_1280.pngMaybe you buy-in to the theory of the growth mindset, maybe you don’t. Let’s just say you’re interested in learning how to incorporate the idea into your classroom. I first and foremost believe that you cannot influence change and transform people, let alone children, without being a model of it yourself. My mindset is fixed in this regard. LOL! Therefore, you need to discover what mindset you embrace first, and work from there. If you have growth mindset, there are plenty of resources to use to begin the journey of helping all of your students embrace growth mindsets. If you lean more towards fixed ideas and embrace a fixed mindset, you are going to have to do some personal and perhaps professional development in this area, especially if you plan to guide your scholars towards believing in growth mindsets. And you know what? That’s okay.

According to Dweck, most people may not be consciously aware of their mindset. “Individuals may not necessarily be aware of their own mindset, but their mindset can still be discerned based on their behavior. It is especially evident in their reaction to failure. Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don’t mind or fear failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved and learning comes from failure.” (University of Hull).

If you are interested in learning what your mindset is, click here to complete this online assessment from MindsetOnline.com. While you complete the assessment, remember Day 10 and to “Keep it one hunnit” by being “Audaciously Authentic” with your answers.

I’ve Discovered The Mindset I Embrace, Now What?…

WHAT WE CAN DO

what-2730753_1280Whether you habitually embrace a fixed mindset or growth mindset, congratulations! You have taken the first step to helping your students embrace this idea of mindsets! Now is the best time to decide if what you currently do in your classroom aligns with either of these mindsets, and to decide if you want it to stay the same or change.

If you decide to remain consistent in what you currently do or change because things are not working how you like regarding your mindset, I would highly recommend reading or listening to Dweck’s book as soon as possible to help you really understand what Dweck’s research means. What you don’t want to do is introduce the idea in haphazard ways and risk not making an impact in your classroom.

Once you are comfortable with her research, introduce the idea to your students. Talk to them about what they think it means. Depending on their age, have them complete a mindset assessment to discover what your students think about themselves, and use this information when planning lessons and activities. I have done these surveys in my classrooms, and I have learned a plethora of information about my students including what they believe about themselves and what they think is possible to achieve or not. I kid you not, when things get challenging, I am able to intervene many times before a meltdown or a “walk-out-of-the-room-and-slam-the-door-with-frustration-act” occurs with certain students simply based on what I remember from their mindset assessments.

Here are five additional resources to get you started. Simply click the links.

Prof. Crole Dweck: Video-Growth Mindset Vs Fixed Mindset

Mindset Assessment Profile

How Can You Change From a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset?

As we continue to learn and grow together, I CAUTION you not to fall into the trap of the fake growth mindset, the overzealous and the overpopularized use of growth mindset as I almost did before watching these videos and reading an article from Edweek.org titled, “Misinterpreting the Growth Mindset: Why We’re Doing Students a Disservice.” AND I CHALLENGE you to keep learning about mindsets and be willing to make a habit of embracing a growth mindset. As teacher Christina Gil said, “Pushing our students to adopt a growth mindset is an easy call. Adopting one ourselves is harder,” (Edutopia.org – “Teachers Need a Growth Mindset Too”).

Before you click away, share your thoughts about this idea of mindsets or your assessment results in the comments. I can’t wait to read your responses. Now get out there form a new habit.

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

Day 11: What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D T.E.A.C.H.E.R.?

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As we come closer to the end of the, “What is a R.E.N.E.W.E.D. T.E.A.C.H.E.R.? Series” we focus on the letter C.

As a RenewED Teacher, we should ALWAYS prioritize…

“CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT”

20171228_115718As defined by edglossary.org, content knowledge, “refers to the body of knowledge and information that teachers teach and that students are expected to learn in a given subject or content area, such as English language arts, mathematics, science, or social studies. Content knowledge generally refers to the facts, concepts, theories, and principles that are taught and learned in specific academic courses, rather than to related skills—such as reading, writing, or researching—that students also learn in school.”

Based on this definition, content seems to be the core of teaching and learning. It is the “WHAT” of the puzzle. We can build the best relationships with students, have the most well behaved class in

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

the school, show up early and stay late everyday, love kids with the greatest amount of compassion and logic, be the neatest, most organized and creative teacher in the building, but without a deep level of content knowledge and strategies to present that content in meaningful ways, we are still ineffective. I don’t want to swallow this pill anymore than any of you, but as Bill Gates said, “Content is King.” If you’re a lady, go ahead and say, “Content is Queen!”

Content is important for three reasons including behavior, communication, and making sense of and connecting to the world.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Content Often Drives Our Behavior 

As a student and as an adult, I can recall being disengaged and bored in school or during a course when I did not have the background knowledge or experience to relate to a topic of discussion. Our students behave in similar ways, by talking, being off task, or many times by acting out to avoid learning or looking ignorant all together.

Having knowledge or lack their of in a particular subject can drive our behaviors positively or negatively. I have heard teachers say they are glad their grade level is departmentalized, and that they only have to teach reading or math because they did not “like reading” or, “sucked at math!” It seems students and teachers alike get anxious about the subjects they are less comfortable with. But as I wrote on Day 9, we have to experience a level of discomfort in order to grow, and on Day 4, it is important to take initiative and educate ourselves on those things we don’t know or else we fail ourselves and our students. If we don’t take initiative to gain knowledge about things we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with, how can we expect our scholars to do so? This is their life almost everyday at school. Let’s show them how to navigate the world by making good choices when content knowledge is the only way to thrive and survive.

Content Helps Us to Communicate Ideas about Varying Subjects

For the teachers that teach in isolation, we do our students a huge disservice. I am sometimes guilty of that myself, so no judgement here. As a National Board Teaching Candidate (No, I am not certified…YET.), I am aware and learning more about how

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How could we use this image to help us create lessons that could forge a path for students to learn math, reading, science, history, technology, engineering, and                             art simultaneously?                             Image courtesy of Pixabay.

“accomplished teachers value the relationships among subject areas, using those relationships to forge multiple paths to knowledge…[and to] recogniz[e] how knowledge is established within and across subject areas [as something] crucial to the instruction of logical reasoning.” (National Board, Proposition 2).

Many people assume content knowledge is just about facts, and that we should not teach facts because it does not teach students how to become critical thinkers. Many people think facts are things that need to be memorized and used only for standardized testing. But my question is if you don’t know anything about the basic facts regarding content in a particular subject, how can you formulate a critical thought to help build understanding, and later communicate it to someone else effectively? Content including some basic facts (and some need to be memorized), is the basis of teaching and learning.

I personally have a difficult time teaching concepts and skills I am unable to help students relate to the real world. I always ask myself why do students need to know this? If I cannot find a logical answer, I will do research and ask around before I teach it. Otherwise, I may not do my best teaching it because in my mind, I will believe it’s not important for them to know, and I could be wrong.

Last year, I struggled with teaching the powers of 10 in math. The concept itself is easy. The hard part was finding something relevant and meaningful to teach and reach my students. As I was planning a science lesson on Astronomical Units and how far each planet was from the sun, I finally found a way for my students to practice and understand why we may need to know and use powers of 10. The distance from Earth to the Sun is

Planets

Image courtesy of Google Images.

referred to as the Astronomical Unit (AU) and is 150,000,000 km. Why write 7 zeros if we can write 15×107? They saw this as a short-cut for writing large numbers, and they were right! Thank goodness for that astronomy course I dropped in college after 2 weeks. I learned something! This, some research, and reaching out to others allowed me to teach a cross-curricular lesson and help my students discover how math and science are interrelated.

Content Helps Us to Make Sense of and Connect to The World 

Connect

Throughout my years of teaching, I have often wondered how and why the content knowledge of my lowest performing student was so much different than my highest performing student, and why there was such a huge difference in how they demonstrated what they learned or did not learn, as well as major differences in their behaviors. I don’t have all if any of the exact answers to these wonderings, but through some research, content, context, and being able to connect play huge roles.

As a college sophomore and junior, I was an Americorps member of Jumpstart. Jumpstart’s mission is to provide “language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promotes quality early learning for all.” I start here because language, literacy, and social-emotional development (connected to behavior) is a child’s first experience with how they learn and comprehend content within given contexts.

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                                     This is where Jumpstart began.                                       Image courtesy of Pixabay. Edited by PowerPoint.

Read it again… Let it sink in… Got it? 30 million fewer words by age 3!? This quote is from a landmark study done by the late University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, and can be found in the book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children. There is even more telling in addition to this famous quote, and can be found here. “The researchers found that, on average, children from professional families heard more than 2,150 words an hour. Those in working-class families heard about 1,250 words. Children in families on welfare heard little more than 600 words an hour.” This is not just a word gap, it’s a content gap. When students are not hearing words or communicating with others, they are not learning content or gaining experience with people and the world. “Dale Walker, an associate research professor in early language and communication” who worked with Hart and Risley did a follow-up study, and learned that “vocabulary gaps in preschool predicted 3rd grade gaps in language-test performance.” In her words, “What I found in visiting those children from kindergarten to 3rd grade was, those who had heard the least were still at a disadvantage years later.[…]I always knew where to find them; frequently, they were in the hallways, for behavior problems.”

Making sense of the world begins prior to students entering school. We know this, right!? Therefore we know that many of our students from low income communities enter our classrooms with word, vocabulary, and experiential gaps. In essence, we know that they are unable to make more sense of the world than many of their peers because they are lacking some specific content. As educators, we cannot afford to contribute to these gaps because we know it then changes from a content gap to an achievement gap. It is our duty to learn who our students are and what they know or do not know and can and cannot do. It is further more our responsibility to continue to learn and study what they are supposed to know, and then work with families and community organizations to insure they learn it. This is what we do daily, teachers, and we know the mission is not easy. It’s important that we never give up though.

In closing, I feel that teacher Daisy Christodoulou, and the author of “Seven Myths of Education,” which was adapted by the American Educator as “Minding the Knowledge Gap: The Importance of Content in Student Learning” summarizes why content knowledge is so important in these three quotes:

Minding the Knowledge Gap 1.PNG   Minding the Knowledge Gap 2.PNG     Minding the Knowledge Gap 3.PNG

As RenewED Teachers, we have to keep content at the forefront of what we learn so that our scholars learn to manage their behaviors, communicate effectively, and make sense of and connect to the world.

As we continue to learn and grow together, I am interested in your thoughts and ideas regarding content as well. Feel free to respond to these three questions. On a scale of 1-10:

  1. How well do you think you know the content you teach?
  2. How well do you think you are able to connect one content area to another?
  3. How important is content to you?

Leave your digits and thoughts in the comments! I cannot wait to hear from you!

(Here are my digits: 6, 6, 10!)

Until then, Happy Teaching!

Krystal L. Smith, The RenewED Teacher

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Sources:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/Karin-Chenoweth/the-importance-of-teachin_b_5610951.html

https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Christodoulou.pdf

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/04/22/key-to-vocabulary-gap-is-quality-of.html

https://blog.learningbird.com/roxanne-desforges-meets-larry-edutalk-radio/