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September 2, 2015 Previous day Next day

So this may be contrary to what many educators will be writing about in response to this question. I won't be filling up the space with curriculum ideas, work flow design, Canvas tips or even notes for collaborating with colleagues. My 5 Things will focus on Health: mental, physical and emotional. The beginning of the year for me has traditionally been when my family suddenly begins to live with the crazy lady who speaks rather vacantly while she looks at them because she is so distracted by all the "things" she's worried she needs to get done in order to start the year off strong. What I now know, is that stress rolls off on my students and creates an environment of unease and fear, so now I have new approach to ensuring a Healthy School Year.


1) Obviously, I take care of myself first: sleep, exercise and nutrition. I don't tell myself the lie that I can't get it in from Sept-Nov because the 1st quarter is so important. I meditate regularly and breathe--consciously and deeply. I use the great app, Insight Timer  that has guided mediations ranging from 1 minute to an hour. In my classroom, I use Aromatherapy Benefits - Mind, Body, Spirit so that the first thing kids notice when they walk in is a pleasant atmosphere--most don't even realize it's because my room smells delicious. I also use soft lighting rather than the bright glare of florescent lights. Ok, so maybe I am talking about design theory a bit, but I create this atmosphere because it keeps me relaxed and open which keeps the kids relaxed and open.


2) I talk a great deal about Mindfulness, Applying Mindfulness to Mundane Classroom Tasks | Edutopia , with my students, and we spend time practicing meta-observation (we observe our thinking). I share with the kids how our brains are like untrained puppies and the problem is the leash is also in the brain. We even do some visualizations of using a leash to grab that wandering brain and bring it back to focus, and then we ask questions, maybe using the Question Formulation Technique, see Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions, of ourselves in an attempt to understand when or why our brain wanders when it does. My students brainstorm their own ideas for bringing their brains back to the task. We also generate a discussion about the importance of internal motivation and curiosity, and we explore how we can trigger these feelings for our courses of study. If our students are interested in the course, they'll engage with the material and teach themselves about the topic; if they are completing work because that's what they have to do according to the some external factor, it's highly doubtful learning is occurring.


3) My first weeks of school are all about relationship-building. It's awful, I know, but I am terrible with names. I mean, I am the absolute worst. I am very upfront with the kids about this grave defect of mind; in fact, I often share quite vulnerably with my students. I have 1-minute introductions that we do everyday for long time: sometimes months. The tasks might be: Walk around the room until the music stops/Find a partner/ In 2 minutes you each must share the thing you like most about yourself and it can't be your hair or eyes (nothing physical) or that you are good at sports (no sports/athletic/hobby talk allowed). The kids are always alarmed at having to say something nice about themselves to their partner--it's a very intimate activity that works at building relationship while fostering positive self-concepts. When the time is up, the partner introduces his friend and talks about their favorite characteristic and what it reflects about them. Then the class gives snaps (rather than clapping). As the year progresses and my class becomes more connected, the statements may ask students to identify the scariest moment in their lives/ the worst feeling they've ever had/ their most joyous moment. These personal stories build relationships in my room among the students and me: nothing has benefitted my practice more than having good relationships with my students, New Teacher Academy: Building Relationships | Edutopia . If a student respects and likes you, they will try anything for you; it's a big responsibility.


4) Within the first week of school, I find out which of my students have digital devices at home or smart phones and which do not. I will notify my student's other teachers if they do not have access to a computer/internet/smart phone. I absolutely have the conversation about the computer access in the school library and the local library before and after school, but I am well-aware that it is often these very kids that are getting their younger siblings off to school in the morning and picking them up in the evenings. These kids may be fulfilling a large role at home that precludes them from having the time to run to the library to use their computers. I do what I can to provide the student with a loaner for the year, and barring that, I always let the student know my room is always available for computer use. For my students with smart phones, I verify they have downloaded the Canvas app and the school email in their phone, and they have their Google Calendar set up to keep track of assignments. I directly teach my students how to use the technology to stay ahead of their due dates and remain on track in their classes.


5) And of course, I have my curriculum plan in place. I'm not one to teach the same thing year after year, so my plan, as an English teacher, revolves around the text I choose and the standards I'm focusing on. Having the plan is also a great stress-reducer. I always know where I'm headed, which isn't to say I don't take side trips, or change direction entirely. One of the healthiest teaching practices I've developed is learning to trust my instincts in the classroom, and being willing to follow that instinct and nudge wherever it may go.


Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie, who's not ready holler I. Even though we are never really "ready" starting the school year, in a healthy way, is easier than multiplying by five. Speaking of five here are five ways you can make your school more fun than a childhood game of hide and seek.


Jump Your Bike:


Do you remember jumping your bike off of the curb? Do you remember building a jump with a board and some bricks. Taking risks is a key component of a healthy childhood and a healthy classroom. It is important to remember that when you stop being scared of what is happening at the beginning of the year, you are playing it too safe. This year I fully embraced my fear and used it to create an opening activity for my students to learn how to face their own fears. Even if you are delivering professional development, you must embrace your fear. My good friend Chris Long says that "if you are sure of how everything will go, you didn't stack those bricks high enough."


I Spy:


The fun part of playing I Spy was that the participant got to ask all the questions. Instead of teachers giving lists or study guides full of questions, turn the table. Use a question focus as that "I spy with my eyes" object and have the students use a strategy like the Question Formulation Technique to create their own essential questions to the topic that you are sharing with the class.


When students are in charge of asking their own questions, engagement and a feeling of connection with the topic go way up.


Let's Play House:


Every house, every class, should have places to play. Notice I said a place to play, not a certain item to play with. Stop worrying if you have the right chairs, tables, markers, whiteboards, tablets etc... creativity doesn't require freedom, it craves constraint. In my childhood home in Huntington Beach we had two drawers filled with old clothes and hats. We never complained about what clothes were in the drawers, we just mixed and matched and finally dressed my brother in my mother's old dress. We had so much fun we almost choked on our laughter. Create spaces to play, but don't worry about the items in those spaces.


Let Your Students Build A Cootie Catcher (Paper Fortune Teller)


Remember these?


My students couldn't wait to show this to me after class.


I love videos. I love videos that show students being alone can be a good thing. I love videos that share how life itself is inspiring. But my favorite video is the one I haven't seen yet. What made cootie catchers so fun is that everyone made them differently and you couldn't wait to see what they had written underneath the final flaps. There should be a space in your Canvas classroom where students can share videos and websites that inspire them, that made them think differently, that made them laugh, that put them in a mood. Use this space to "catch" new learning material that students can enjoy for years to come.


Hide And Seek:


Ah yes, the most classic of games, whether you played Hide and Seek or Kick The Can, the magic always lay in finding a great hiding spot, where no one could find out and then popping out at just the right time. Where are there spaces in your Canvas classroom where it seems like you have disappeared. I love leaving the chat option active and then rarely visiting it. Students think they have found a secret hiding spot and share some pretty fun stuff. But this important concept is best seen in your approach to teaching and learning. How can you remove yourself from the the traditional role of direct instruction and give your students agency in their own learning and creation. You should be considering that every summer as you get ready to PLAY with your learners.


Canvas Community, thanks for encouraging me to think about the beginning of the school year. Here is my list of things I did in the last few weeks to ensure a positive start to the academic year. -KL


1. Take the time to reflect/daydream about curriculum. The end of the school year is always busy. Each year I tell myself that I will take the time to journal about my curriculum, I don’t. When I come back to school in August, the first thing I do is look back at my curriculum maps and Canvas courses and evaluate the successes and the areas that need improvement. I also take the time to identify what I want my curriculum to be and what I want my students to experience.


2. Make realistic goals and map out curriculum. After completing my thinking phase, I enter active planning. I’m very visual, and I love seeing progress. Honestly - a map of the curriculum color coded by main learning objectives and activity options makes me giddy. I truly enjoy seeing the potential for student growth outlined on paper and then in modules for my students to explore. When beginning the school year, the possibilities are endless. Sometimes goal-setting can be scary, but most of the time I find it invigorating.


3. Attend (or Lead!) Professional Development. While teacher workshop week can quickly become teacher meeting week, I try to go into it with an open mind. Even when I think I’ve heard it all, somebody can share something and explain it in a slightly new way. That’s when lightbulb moments happen. When leading technology-focused professional development, I actually enjoy the Q&A sections best. They’re hard to plan for, but I like being a part of others’ lightbulb moments. ...and while I’m thinking about professional development, it always is fun to remember that Twitter counts as professional development -- at least I think it does! Every time I log-in, I seem to learn something about #edtech or #studentcenteredlearning.


4. Collaborate - Interdepartmentally. I intentionally make time to visit with colleagues in different departments. I like talking about grading and late policies, best practices, etc. in order to gain some new perspectives. It’s always fun to find a “missing link”...or two...or three...just because I had casual conversations with colleagues and asked them about their classrooms! These conversations may lead to natural collaboration between courses as well. I like starting these genuine conversations early in the school year!


5. Create a stash of snacks that make you happy. While Teddy Grahams, frosted animal crackers, and Goldfish aren’t the healthiest options, how can you frown when you eat them? Happiness leads to healthier mindsets, and in my office, that increases productivity!

#1 Remember Murphy’s Law

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Well, Murphy’s Law was confirmed at Mendez Fundamental today. Bottom line, the network was down. When teachers see that the trusted network is down, they venture out into the unknown. We landed on a guest network, which meant teachers could not access their own Canvas accounts. It was awesome, and by awesome, I mean miserable. We just adopted Canvas as a district, and we are not off to the best of starts. In a situation such as mine, remind those early adopters, it’s not a Canvas issue, it’s just a network issue. Most likely, we will be up and running tomorrow.


#2 Most teachers use gasoline on fires, but you need to use water.

If your district is new to Canvas, inevitably you will deal with frustrated teachers. It’s very important that you empower others to use water, rather than gasoline when frustrated teachers express their frustrations. You do have the power to calm the storm. Rather than joining them in their frustration, choose to seek a solution for them. If you believe in Canvas and are passionate about it, you can find a way to fight fires.


#3 Absolutely do not let teachers import students manually!

More often than not, Canvas has an easier solution that you do. Don’t waste hours importing students manually. Trust me, there is a more efficient way to add students to your courses. If you are willing to invest those hours, you would be better served by using that time to find those easier solutions. Your district set-up and Canvas have that five minute solution; be determined to find it, so you can help other teachers see the simplicity of Canvas. Also, let the Canvas community be your guide! This community is extremely helpful in finding those easier solutions.


#4 Don’t force the issue

Let’s be honest, Canvas does not do everything. Most teachers ask me, “How is this different than Google Classroom?” I say, it’s very different, but Google Classroom is extremely valuable, you should use both. Canvas is not the solution; it’s just a really good one. Continue to use whatever works best in your classroom. Bill Murray took “baby steps,” and everything turned out okay. Likewise, encourage teachers to take baby steps with Canvas, and all will be just fine.


#5 “Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes.”

Okay, I just wanted a fifth point, but I’ll try to make it work. These words from Bill and Ted have revolutionized my life. To me, this just reminds me to relax and to encourage others to do the same. Our colleagues need to struggle; let them know this is okay. They need experience with tech; don’t compromise by giving step-by-step directions (which will be outdated in a little under two months). Rather, empower them to be determined enough to solve issues (tell them to consider Murphy’s Law and roll with it). I’m convinced tech issues can be resolved by persistence in the application of potentially logical solutions. Encourage this! Then, be willing to help with open arms after they have not succeeded. Reward them in their efforts by mentoring them. If you mentor someone through an issue, empower them by letting them know that they are now equipped to help someone else.


5 Things To Consider for a Healthy Start with Canvas - Forever Focus

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