Right and Wrong

It seems like everyday is a screaming fest about right and wrong and everyone is convince they are right. As teachers we would like to say we empirically know what right and wrong is and can teach it but I’m not sure that is accurate.

The way things are going, 55% of us think A is right and 45% A is wrong. I’d like to think in schools we could at least hope for a 60-40 split but I don’t know anymore.

So wanting this to be a year where we confront the realities of this world I wanted a lesson that would set us up for unpacking systemic racism, issues of inequality and differences of opinions. I want kids to find a way to talk to express how they feel but listen to where the opinions come from.

I think I have come up with, or “acquired “a framework to have these conversation. The plan is to start with defining values, see how that shapes action and even conflict, and look at issues surrounding ethical behavior

So this is how I’d teach it:

To begin with I would have a discussion about value.

In the old universe this might mean raising hands or writing on stickers. This week I asked for an audible answer or a chat.

“What does it mean if something has value?”

For the most part the answers came in through the chat:

Next we pull up a handy dandy padlet to list individual items or ideas that the kids find important or valuable.

“ So if something is valuable it has v-a-l-u-e. BUT! Valuable things can BE a value. A Bentley is not a value, but it is valuable. So, if I ask you about 


Are these values? How do we decide “How” valuable that is?

Then I post a question for the chat:

How valuable is honesty in a best friend? Rate from 1-10. 1 not-10 an absolute must!

So for the most part you will get 8-10. And from there you can acknowledge that honesty is something people value. It’s a thing you can’t see, hear, or touch but it is as almost as valuable as the shiniest coin!

As I have said a thousand times, this blog is not about the skill of building new, as much as curating resources to deliver instruction. So: VIDEOS. (If you don’t have a YouTube channel of your own. You need to set one up. It doesn’t mean you will have to start reviewing beauty products or pranking your neighbors. It will be a place to save all your video and categorize them)

This video is out of Texas from Austin University, , McCombs School of Business. They have an entire channel devoted to a variety of topics. This video not only highlights the kinds of values people hold, but shows them as motivating forces. In other words, people make personal choices, or take actions based on what they hold important to them.

This point leads to video 2 from Brain Pop. Brain Pop is another one of those educorps that you have to pay for but occasionally you can find one of their great videos for free. This one takes the discussion of values and extends it into ethical decision making. For my grade, 7th, this video is right on the money. Older students may need a different bridge.

So now we have some working definitions


Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior.


Moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.

So let’s have a fun discussion that’s timely.

  I put this picture out:

 I ask the kids to answer in the chat:

Q: What’s going on here?

Possible A:



a football game for only white people. 

Next Q:

What year was this?

  1. 2018
  2. B.2019
  3. . 2020

Then I explained it was 2020. Here in Seattle. It was a Christian Rock concert. I ask them what they wonder about. (Do you see where I am going?)

We then have a conversation about what these people are valuing. Is it different from what you may value? Are their behaviors ethical? 

From here I asked my kids to write a reflection on the prompt:

Choose a position: Masks should always be worn, or Masks should be a choice. 

  1. Make a claim about mask use
  2. choose at least one value that motivates you to wear or not to wear a mask
  3. Describe what values motivate the opposite position. 

Another activity I did was have kids read this solid article from Scholastic on the death of George Floyd. 

I introduced my students to the Depth and Complexity Icons, and they analyzed the article based on the Icon of Ethics. If you don’t know about these, they are a great resource and most of the stuff you can get for free. 

Both of these activities have helped me set the table for the year. Everything that happens in literature, history, current events is tied back to actions, and the ethics behind them. 

I have very clear ideas about masks, the Death of George Floyd, Climate Change.  I want my kids to think about how they feel about this stuff too. I then want them to connect to values that drive their thoughts and actions.

I’m not sure these small activities will do that, but maybe its a start.

Lessons from the Chat Box

Distance learning and the tech surrounding it is new to all of the users. This week I explore some tips for making it better for all, and how to build those relationships with simple tech.

The first thing I had to learn in Microsoft TEAMS was how to shut the banners off that let fly in  front of the very F’ing chat box I was tasked with filling.

Now you may not use TEAMS and count yourself a little lucky if that is the case, ZOOM is more my speed, but I am guessing all of the video conferencing platforms have little zingers like this.

So, as you are beginning or even into the first couple weeks of your instruction, I seriously hope you are troubleshooting the things that are making this so frustrating for your students (and for you.)

This video should take care of the issue.

Read the Virtual Room

But your kids are going to suffer if we can’t meet them where they are at technologically , so make sure you take the time to either do the lesson live or record videos for kids to use to help them disable, able, remove or add tech things.  This summer, I had wonderful presenters who had been trained in the use of whiteboards, break out rooms, and screen sharing charging forward without ever reading the virtual room to see if anyone knew how to us the tech. I was SP!

So just a reminder. As you endeavor to make these relationships everyone is talking about (they’re right) you also need to be sure students don’t shut down because they don’t know how to engage in the activities. You are now, #1 developing relationships, but #2 is being sure your kids can follow your lessons based on the tools you are using! Anything after that is gravy!

You are now, #1 developing relationships, but #2 is being sure your kids can follow your lessons based on the tools you are using! Anything after that is gravy!

If you yourself are needing help, instructional videos are the rage. My favorite (sarcasm) is Kevin from Microsoft. He is a millennial with great hair, an eating disorder, and six figure salary I could only dream of after my 30th year of teaching, and he makes instructional videos .

Turns out Kevin is actually leaving his Microsofty gig! But looks like he will still be around to say “HI, my name is KEVVV-UNNNN, on his own YTC!

Turns out KEVVV-UNNN is leaving MS but will still be around as a You Tuber!


The Power of a few letters…

Okay, that was harsh Kev, MB! J/K. LYLAS ,LOL, POV!

And those are just a few of the Acronyms you should start to get down.  If you are like me, a sausage fingered Gen Xer who misses his flip phone, you may need a primmer on the lingo of the children.

So find some lexicon for it and study it. Kids forget they are not on their phone or playing a video game and they will drop phrases and words that don’t belong in my room at least, and some in anyone’s.

So here are a few links to acronyms for Grandma, and here are some you hope not to see in your class.

Don’t be like Jean Luc. Always use appropriate texting abreviations!

Make it a part of a class discussion. There is all that net literacy stuff out there that millions of dollars have been spent on, but I’m pretty sure a teacher half worth their salt, could engage in coming up with a list of do’s and don’ts with the kids in about 5 muinutes. So take the taime and do that!

Use the tools at hand

WE all love a good EMOJI. Stay away from vegetables though!

I wrote about the tough time I had my first few days trying to integrate other programs like Padlet and others. I discovered quickly as I pivoted from my own fails that the chat was a rich center for connecting with kids (DUH!)

How are you today??

Ask kids how they are from a 1-10 scale?

Favorite emoji ?

Ask kids what theirs is, or have them use one that represents how they feel, or to review a video you just watched, or their understanding of the directions.

Thumbs up, Thumbs Down?

The brilliant lo-fi formative assessment is alive and well and you should use to CFU (Check for understanding. You can use that one!)

Also use it when kids are done with a task only they can see.

Commenting from another app

I had my kids intro themselves in Padlet and then I asked them to read and respond to two posts, but in the chat. That way I knew they were done and back with me in class.

My Mic doesn’t work !

My first few weeks in the spring I was aggravated with some kids who didn’t share cameras or make comments. But then I figured out 20% of my kids didn’t have that function.

But they chat when I’m talking.!!

Here’s an idea. Tell them not to. You can also disable and do other things but just tell them to knock it off. Say “I’ll wait till the chat stops.” It works in the room, it might work here.

Chating is the primary way kids talk. If you can get use to it, use it your advantage, you will be building those bonds we are used to having in person.

Som lessons from the chat box. Ways to tech the part of the curriculum that WILL lead to better relationships. Chating is the primary way kids talk. If you can get use to it, use it your advantage, you will be building those bonds we are used to having in person.  Happy Teaching!

First Week of School

What? You can’t see it? What about Now?….Now?….Now?…What if I do this?..

That would sum up most of my first week of online learning. Many of the tricks like Padlet and Microsoft TEAMS and CANVAS, were fraught with my user errors. I would get it halfway set up  only to discover something wasn’t published, or was saved in the wrong shell, or I hadn’t set up the channels correctly.

And then sometimes when I set permissions to limit unruliness, and I was doing it right, it made other things, like breakout groups not work. And please, let’s not discuss white board app, its just too soon…

This was all expected. And fortunately I was able to go back to the drawing board each time, with some trips yet to come. But there were other new experiences: attendance.  Not being able to see the kids while I see the application that takes attendance.  A third of my kids without working cameras or mics. Slow speeds making the words “here” take 2 solid minutes. And the quick fixes, like downloading an Excel file with the participants would show some kids in and then leaving class 6-10 times, but not showing kids I knew were there.

One of my favorites was when this one young man came in. He was the kind of kid who thinks you and he are alone in the room together. That everything that’s going on in his tech bubble should be reported. I spent time trying to find out why his chat wasn’t working. Why he wasn’t listed on my roll, only for him to come to the conclusion he was AT THE WRONG SCHOOL! This when during the whole meeting I am wearing a t-shirt with my school’s name on it.

Meanwhile in the twitterverse, teachers are floating on cloud nine with blessings, and showing “grace” all over the place, and “connecting with their students” and “establishing relationships. ”Meanwhile my connection is lagging, my Padlet won’t work, I have 3 kids wearing werewolf masks and one young person saying in the chat “No habla engles.”

But I smiled through all of it. It’s not how I thought I was going to teach it but I pivoted.  In most classes we did roses and thorns and kids told me a good thing and a bad thing that had happened. We all took turns putting up our favorite emojis (mine was a dancing chicken), listing how we felt so far on a scale of 1-10 and putting thumbs up when they could finish a task.

I made screencast videos using PwerPoint to train kids how to manage their new life online. I showed them how to bookmark all their new go virtual spots. We  learned how to use a reader app for long text and set up folders for all their classes in the cloud.

We read the syllabus, shared kittens, photos , and eventually I got the Padlet to work.  Out of class I texted with kids on my phone through the classroom app and they helped me troubleshoot when something wasn’t posted correctly. I got thank yous, and sorry to bother yous.  I asked a kid “Necisitas una copia en espanol?”

So even though I faced challenges. I bonded with Bryan over the seven times he fell off his new bike, and learned to say names correct. I would say as first days go it could have been so much worse. I am really hopeful about this whole thing. Especially since when I asked them on the padlet a goal or wish they all had for this year. Most just said “To come back to school in person.”

Connecting the Dots

So I think I am going to stick with exploring John Oliver’s Problems wit the way we teach American History, in a n effort to take the problems and turn them into theme’s, essential questions or concepts. As a reminder:

  1. We Don’t Fully Acknowledge White Supremacy
  2. We View History’s Progress as if it was constant and inevitable
  3. We don’t connect the dots to the present

I started to re-watch the episode again in preparation in writing this post. The last 4 minutes of the show (see transcript here) just set my head on fire. There was so much to unpack.

If education is guilty of propagating white supremacy, how am I, and my colleagues culpable? What are we doing or what do we believe that is keeping this going?

Let’s start with the power of language:


Urban District

Special Education

Students in need

Free and reduced lunch

Just let that sink in.   What were your associations as you read these things?

For me they demonstrate my own implicit and extrinsic bias. There is power in language and that power has been used overtly and covertly to propagate white supremacy. This power has been used since the very founding of our democracy and has continued with every generation.

Case in point. Oliver sums up the way Lee Atwater in the 1980’s carved out a continuation of this racist ideology for the Republican party by crassly demonstrating how to rewrite the play book for discussing it in public:

 You start out in 1954 by saying, “N-word, N-word, N-word.” By 1968, you can’t say “N-word” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, “forced busing,” “states’ rights,” and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. “We want to cut this” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N-word, N-word.”

Now most of you are so young that you don’t know who Lee was or what this quote is saying.

So, I will translate.

Up until probably the time your favorite cool Aunt was born conservatives were saying the N word with no real fear. Now they didn’t say it at political podiums. They said it while playing golf, or at church. They knew as Atwater notes that saying it in public “backfires.” (Means getting caught being racist.)

So you say stuff like, uh, “forced busing,” “states’ rights,” and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.

These abstractions were true in the 1980’s when Regan talked about “Yong Buck” buying steak with his food stamps…”, or the extravagant lives of “Welfare Queens” living high on government entitlements.

Now any other human being in the political world would not be caught dead saying the above unless of course you are the president. Trump  recently bragged :

“they (whites suburban women) want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge!”

Booker is one of two black members of the Senate.

So you may be wondering: Isn’t this Blog about how you would teach it? Where are you going with this rant?

Well yes, but part of teaching is telling the truth. I understand there are many many who would argue and say what I am offering is “opinion.” So :

If the problem is we don’t connect the racist attitudes and polices of the past to today (point 3)

And we teach kids that history is one of “American Progress” in attitude and action (point 2)

With a final flaw of not recognizing the inherent racism in systems we live and teach in,

Then this is how I’d teach it

I would start the class by asking how it is someone ends up in a history book?  Let them work in groups and come up with a brainstorm list. Maybe we wind up with answers like:

This activity is all about challenging who is in our history books, why they are there, and do we really understand who they were?

Did something good

Were famous

Did something bad

Did something important

Helped someone

Hurt someone

Invented something

Changed something for the better, for the worse

Was a good person

Next, I give the kids a list of people:

Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, , Dwight D Eisenhower, Shirley Chism, Ronald Regan, Robert E Lee, John Lewis, Jane Adams, Delores Huerta, Benjamin Franklin, George Wallace, (Governor not awesome comedian!)

Students are to look them up. They should be able to come up with an answer: Why are they in a history book? Let the kids chat their answers or maybe put on a whiteboard.

After this I would throw up a survey. Students tell me if the people from history are remembered as

  1. Notable for the good they did for people?
  2. Notable for what good they didn’t do for people?

Next, I put up this graphic.  There are blanks. These indicate a “Fill in the” action. I ask kids which of the historic figures they think some of these statements are matched to?

Students are challenged to place names with quotes in this activity.

After we come to some consensus on who said what I fill in the blanks with the actual speakers.

Ok. Finally its time to reflect.

We have considered why people are written into history.

WE have determined if the people we read about have done good or not done good for people.

So my question to the class is what do these quotes and who said them show?

And here’s the thing. I don’t know what the kids are going to say . I think they are going to be surprised that people in history who we associate as being “good” are clearly saying some really bad things. That important historic figures have said explicitly racist things and veiled racist things throughout our history.

That people we revere, maybe we must think about what we really think about them Even if they have done some good things, should we spend our time on them? Build statues of them?

That overtime, people in power, people in our history books, have supported a system of oppression and racism.

So, we had a conversation. So what? What was the instructional objective, deliverable, or what did I evaluate? I’ll let you in on a little secret: I often have my students participate in meaningful conversations to consider the very nature of the society they live in to create thinking critical citizens. I couldn’t give two flips about my Learning Target.

If anything, this is the kind of meaning we need to be making with our students. I would extend here by asking them to write about what are two take aways and one question they have after doing this. This allows me to connect with their personal thinking and development of ideas

But, if that target was to understand that we don’t connect the dots of racism and systematic oppression to the present, I think we have created a sphere where the conversation can happen.  Students are exposed to American icons who may have done good things but for who and why? This is an activity where we are shaping the puzzle pieces of what American History is.

Happy Teaching!


American Progress?

This week(ish) I am continuing to unpack John Oliver’s August 1st television program regarding the three problems he sees (and is painfully correct about) the teaching of American history:

  • We Don’t Fully Acknowledge White Supremacy
  • We View History’s Progress as if it was constant and inevitable
  • We don’t connect the dots to the present

Last week I tackled the first point in activities that were designed to explore the existence and roots of white supremacy and power. Both activities can be used as a launching pad, or a lens to move through the study of history and society, and taking Oliver’s three “problems” and turning them into teaching objectives.

This week we will look at point, objective or lens two:

We view progress as if its constant and inevitable.

Oliver: Too often, u.s. History is reduced down to, “there was slavery, then there was a civil war, then there wasn’t slavery anymore, then there was a civil rights movement, then there wasn’t racism anymore.” 


John is spot on!  History books almost inevitably start with a chapter on geology and geography. While it is understandable that we would set the context for learning the entirety of the human racist’s history by establishing the concept of place. After all cultural geography speaks to cultural development and leads to “civilizations, cities, mammoth human created monuments to their own egos, armies, governments and then we have a renaissance fair.

Or, maybe you teach American History: Columbus discovers America, Pilgrims make friends with the Indians,  we overcome the British with the best ideas ever, oops slavery, then we fix that after the Civil War, oops the Klan, but then Rosa Parks. Dr. King and Obama. We are always moving forward and when something bad happens, we fix it and move on.

Clearly this is not the reality we live in, and I am hoping our students are understanding that right now more than ever. So this is How I would teach it:

Gallery of History
Oliver tell’s us all too often history is presented as: Just a smooth, steady upward arc. But the moments on either side of those landmark eras complicate the hell out of that arc, because they were filled with white hostility and ugly backsliding.” Try diving in to this idea with this handout. 


It’s a simple handout with iconic images from American history in a table.In column A , students  try and put a series of images in chronological order. This isn’t really the point, but they are likely to create a narrative in this way that even if in the wrong order, will support the activity (and support a larger concept in the process). Then, have them take notes on each of the images (see the questions on the handout over the second column in the table.)

In a non-Covid world, I would then  put them in small groups, and have them share their  answers, possibly even assigning one particular image to a particular group who become the experts on it and report back their findings to the class.  You can still pull this off with break out groups in ZOOM, TEAMS or whatever, and I recommend it.

Finally give the class, or the groups, a scenario. This could be an exit ticket, a writing prompt or just a continuation of the classroom conversation. Here’s the prompt:

You are an Alien from a far-off galaxy who was supposed to collect a history of the United states. You decided to spend most of your time in Asia, because the food was better. So before you left you downloaded a few images from the internet. Now you have to write a report for your Robot Overlords but all you have to go on are these images.

I For One Welcome Our New Robot Overlords – Alhambra Investments


What do these images tell you about American History?

What kind of place is it?

What are the people like?

What is important to the people of the United States?

Is it an advanced society?

Now students should complete their reports in a manner that suits you. If I was doing this in person, I think I might make a Big Report with a giant post it note and then have kids respond on stickies and put them under the appropriate question. At the time of writing this , I don’t have the distance learning equivalent of this. It must exist. ( If it does please leave a comment or email with links!)

Now lets put a bow on this. After groups have shared out their reports and conclusions you now must pose a final question:

What is the problem with judging a country’s history in this way?

Hopefully your students will say that it is limiting. That the images are similar, that perhaps they only tell part of the story. That they miss the stories of other races, genders, places.

This is an introductory activity .It helps kids do some heavy historical thinking and unpacking. It points out that there is, and can be problems with the writing of history in the first place.

Extend this activity with other images that are not so happy. Japanese incarceration, Indian Boarding Schools, Whites Only Signs. Better yet, contrast political speeches. Look at Warren G Harding’s 1921 address to the city of Birmingham Alabama, and say our current presidents attempt at oratory on Twitter.  Or share this article about the roll back of much of the civil rights implemented in the South post Civil War, cementing white supremacy in the south.

Oliver’s second criticism is more than the issue of history as progress. It is that history is one thing, for one group. As we wrestle with the changing nature of what we value or revere, we have to be able to look at people and events from many different angles to understand it.

Happy Teaching!

Here are the images I used to create my handout.

Westward the course of destiny 


Iwo Jima


Signing the Declaration


I have a dream


Apollo 11 summary (I didn’t use this but this is a great example of documents you could use)


Washington crossing


Barack Wins


But How Do We Build Community? Ideas for Virtual and Hybrid Learning

Pernille Ripp

While my district has yet to release its plan for the fall here in Wisconsin, things are not looking so good. The last two days we have set new records in my county for positive test results for Covid-19, as a family we went through our own wait-time to get results this week so we have continued to stay at home with very limited movement. And while there is a lot of uncertainty that are furiously being discussed and planned for as best we can, one thing is practically certain; our year will not start in the normal sense.

And it shouldn’t, we have changed. Our world has changed.

Community lies at the heart of everything we do, the threads that bind us together create a learning space that will hopefully work for all of the children in our care. I know most of the learning success I had in…

View original post 1,625 more words

John Oliver unwittingly provides the only professional development you will need this year!

John Oliver has been (for me) a delight to watch for years now. He looks at issues in our world that make me feel safe in my bubble but I truly believe his reporting is based on facts. Facts he uses to push a very specific agenda, but still he uses science, history, quotes from important figures, and images to build his show each week. Kind of the way historians are supposed to when writing history, or any student writing a decent argumentative paper. In this way he is so much more than an entertainment based journalist or satirist.

His latest episode of Last Week Tonight takes a hard look at the American education system, specifically the way we “teach” history and in so doing may  propose the most important professional development tools for teachers to come along in decades.

I am not going to recount the show play by play. You can find it here to really get  the power of what he is laying down. But like any sensible plan it has a three pronged approach to rectifying the perspectives we hold and the ways that history is taught and written. His premise:


  • We don’t fully acknowledge white supremacy

  • We view history’s progress as if it was constant and inevitable

  • We don’t connect the dots to the present

So thinking about these three claims,  This is how I would teach it…

Oliver delivers a structured approach teachers can take to explore and expose issues of White Supremacy, bias and omission, and even a way to actively design activities and lessons  that can meet the first two

We Don’t Fully Acknowledge White Supremacy

Brown University  has an amazing   lesson that  can start teachers on the road to answer questions such as : “What is white supremacy and how it is that our larger society has and currently suffers from an endemic systems of racism.”

The objective of the lesson are:

  • Understand the idea of historical memory.
  • Contextualize recent events in Charlottesville within a larger historical controversy.
  • Apply the concept of historical memory to the controversy over Confederate monuments.
  • Appraise media sources that express a range of views on Confederate monuments.

This lesson puts a face on what white supremacy is. It does so by letting us understand the idea of “historical memory.” In the lesson students will come to see where attitudes and ideas have been formed in the past. They will also be exposed to how individuals and governments can lead to codifying these ideas in the form of identity through the execution of power. By starting with a relatively recent event you can also link it to the robust social action and clear divisiveness we are being faced with everyday in our communities, in our media, and by so doing acknowledging that white supremacy is not just about translucent sycophants with tiki torches, but about the social, economic, and political systems which surround us.

In tandem with this activity I think it is essential that students be exposed to an AMAZING video!


Eric Liu has a great video on six types of power. If your not using TEDEd your going to want to check out the lesson for this video.


This video by  Edic Liu goes far beyond the cliche of power corrupts. It looks at the nature and types of power: money,  and physical force while also acknowledging the power of civic action and social pressure. I think students creating anchor charts , illustrations, or talking points around the  lesson Liu provides is a great frame from which to consider the existence of white supremacy, and what to do to combat it.

To follow the first tenant  Oliver sets out,  try these activities to frame your lessons and discussions for the year. Before I discuss founding documents, 1619, Tulsa, or Columbus, kids will need to understand power, before we can open the discussion of its abuse.

Stay tuned for part two where we will explore the other two talking points, and I will outline some activities that show how it can be part of your instruction!!

You can quit being a teacher?

Over the years I have start and stopped this Blog . Always thinking: this is the year! I always tire as I get into the school year and the job in front of me becomes more than I can do.

It always amazes me as I watch and read those doers with their glamor shots and soft-focus pictures tweeting out their latest for sale tips and tricks while still maintaining a classroom. I can’t keep a twitter feed going and take attendance, let alone a weekly blog!

But as some teachers are already heading blindly into the fray of a post Covid 19 reality classroom, some are tweeting news of their retirements or resignations. I felt a need to jump back in and try and put some ideas out in the world other than ranting to my sisters on Facebook. I have some opinions on the teachers I have seen soaking up the love and re-tweeets after announcing their departure from teaching.There is a certain amount of bravery in these acts. Many are just not going to be told to march in and face a dragon without any input or empathy.

For ever we as teachers have accepted a narrative that on some level, we are expendable. So many of us have a bit of the martyr in us. Not saying that is ok or healthy, but why would anyone in their right mind do our jobs? You have to, on some level, be ok with relaxing standards of salary, recognition, safety and dignity to be a teacher in America. It’s a given. So not a surprise some faced with mandatory orders to return to the classroom are deciding to say “Enough is enough. I’m done!”

I would ask if you are one of these folks just don’t come back to the teaching community in the following ways:


A full time creator of $5 worksheets on  TeacherspayTeachers.  I hate this site. It should be called Teacherswhoreoutthemselvestoother teachers. If your stuff is so precious that you need me to pay pal you, then don’t follow my advice and fall into this next category:

Go teach pre-service teachers. If you are bowing out when faced with the pandemic, please don’t teach the next generation of teachers. The inspiration and insights they need absolutely include self care, and standing up for what is right but just not from someone who gave up on their students.

Go into administration. I don’t have any great quips here. I have had at least one good principal in my lifetime and maybe you’re the next one? Oh wait, you already quit on kids and your friends, so no.

Become a salesperson for education products. Actually, you can do this. I never like these people anyway, unless they are also currently working as classroom teachers.

So, here are some acceptable jobs for you:

Museum Educator

Online Teacher

Youth Pastor

HR director

Real Estate Agent



I realize this is not a nice post. I’m not feeling nice. I’m pissed at every suit who puts their stupid fat faces on tv, telling us what to believe, how to think, and lighting everything good and right on fire in this country. I hate that teacher’s, people who can count their selflessness next to Mother Theresa and members of a bomb squad, are having to quit their jobs.

I’m pissed that my instruction will be reduced to a You Tube video and an online survey and that politicians will use the lack of efficacy in this instruction to further dismantle public c education.

I’m pissed that I am part of the problem but expected to also be the solution.

I’m pissed that people are going to jockey for page views and try to make money off the backs of a crisis.

So, sorry. I know if you know what a cassette tape is you are at high risk. I know you have spouses with Cancer, or that you live in Florida and after five years you are paid less than a barista in Seattle.

But if you quit now, make sure you have little or no options. Make sure you are doing it because it’s the last resort. And if you find its because maybe you weren’t cut out for teaching, there’s always HR.

Encouraging Student Voice


School starts in about a week. I have spent the past five days in professional development sessions. Hardware, web based,  students in trauma, students in poverty (in this session the speaker suggested we teach them the rules of the upper classes so they can be successful. This guy was a bag of some sort) the gifted learner, the reluctant or under performing learner Class Flow, Promethean Boards, Depth and Complexity, student polling, Flipgrid, social justice with picture books, preaching equity prophets ( good stuff there!),Safe Spaces, just to mention a few.  While almost all the sessions offered good stuff, the thing I really want to encourage this year is class discussion but mostly authentic student voice. So its the top of my syllabus. 

Image result for professional development meme

Class discussions

We are going to talk a lot! Sometimes it will be pairing and sharing. Sometimes it will be table groups.Sometimes we will do circle discussions. We will learn how to talk, and listen to others. Sometimes they will be about history, current events, and sometimes you will decide. (from my 2019-2020 syllabus)

Developing Student Voice

  Last year I tried Restorative Justice, and other types of reflective circles. What I found was, kids who liked to talk, talked. Classes that were already good listeners, participated well. 

But what really flummoxed me, so many of my students were  reluctant to speak or listen. Some voices were loud and off topic. Some drowned out others. Few could sit still long enough for the 30 plus kids to take their turn with the talking piece. Large groups of kids would pass with Cheshire cat grins allowing the process to fall flat. This would oft quiet others.


My big take away from last year is I need to start with small discussions and help kids develop skills and comfort levels at the same time.

My big take away from last year is I need to start with small discussions and help kids develop skills and comfort levels at the same time.  First  I am going to do ice breakers that allow kids to list the three things they want people to know about them, then the three things they want to know about others. These will be compiled and used in concentric circle discussions in a speed dating situation. Students will take turns asking and answering the questions we used the day before.

We will also do BigPaper Discussions to give kids a chance to talk in situations that are not so socially charged.

From here we are going to try Discussion Wheels. Over a period of weeks kids will have an entry task of coming in, sitting with a specific discussion partner (determined by the day of the week) and have a 3 minute conversation. 

Student A will ask B the days question:

  • If you had $200 and you had to spend it in 4 equal parts, what do you think you would buy/do with it?
  • What is the best meal/food you ever had in your life, and talk about where you were and why you were eating it?
  • What was something fun you did in school that was related to learning? ( Can someone reword this for me to get an answer?)
  • If you could spend the day with any fictional character, ( cartoon, super hero, tv, movies, books) who would you hang out with and what are three things you would like to do?

Discussion Wheels and Slant

Partner A is to use active listening techniques like SLANT and record the main points from the speakers answer using a document we are calling a discussion wheel.  Part of the exercise will be like Save the Last Word for Me activity. The questioner will have to listen during the timed response of speaker. They won’t get to ask questions unless the speaker is very stuck. They may ask a follow up after the speaker is finished, As the activity moves forward over the weeks, a follow up will be a required part of the exercise. The process then flips to partner B.

Finally I need a bit of a crutch to keep me honest. The Discussion Wheel acticty is a great idea from a fellow teacher. We will be instituting it in both our classes. I also came across an online challenge that peaked my interest. Its important to find some support with instructional strategies. This way you hit the wall, you have someone to talk to, or help you to decide what to do next. 

Slaying the Mic

I discovered Jan Gamble, Slayer of the Mic  on Twitter. She is offering a challenge to engage kids in discussion and encourage student voice. The idea behind the challenge is to have a weekly activity to encourage student voice in the month of September. At the end we are to reflect on the differences that may come about from a month of sustained activities.

One of the best parts is her use of video responses to share instructions and encouragement. She shared with me she will have videos that are for teachers AND students. Her energy is contagious and having another voice in the room (one that is much more fun than mine!) to cheer lead and inspire is awesome! So I will be taking tips from her challenge and sharing results in my next post.

So to recap, this is How I Would Teach It…

  1. Have kids determine questions to discuss that are meaningful to them.
  2. Use a quick informal strategy like concentric circles to help kids to get to know each other and talk.
  3. Use a strategy like Big Paper o have students communicate non verbally in a quiet environment(Getting comfortable with considering other students comments and getting comfortable with quiet
  4. Learning the S.L.A.N.T technique and then starting the Discussion Wheel Practice on a consistent basis. 
  5. Help keep yourself engaged in the face of setbacks. Find a teacher who is trying the same strategy. Sign up for the #STMJR challenge in September,

Looking forward to making this a successful year of student voices. I’ll share at the end of September where we are at. Happy Teaching!

Sign me up….

I think having too many signs in a classroom is a mistake. Having said that, this year I am going to put up a bunch of signs. As teachers, we sometimes do the things we can find redundant or distasteful. I think a bunch of signs with Dos and Don’ts looks like Jail. Stay behind the yellow line! No touching! Pick up your visitation paperwork at window C.

My room is really horrible. I mean REALLY horrible. It has those 1970s moveable walls that no teacher has ever utilized. They are tan except for the dirt marks. My carpet. Yes carpet. Is horrifyingly grey and it took me about five seconds to dump a Venti coffee on it, never to remove the stain.

Kids are used to ugly institutional walls with informative signs. DMVs, Social Security Offices, Social Services, just a few of the places my kids see signs and drab walls. This year I need to dress things up, add visual interest and have visual information I can use as the bedrock of establishing my class as a semi orderly polite place to learn. 

Taking all this into consideration I have designed a few posters that I will use as my Anchor Charts for the school year. From my last post you can see I have many goals about building relationships but with my kids boundaries are important. I know from day one of undergrad you have your kids help you come up with rules for the classroom and set up expectations.


 I am down with this but what I discovered with my kids is that they show up with  established ideas about school.

 On many levels, they come to me with an idea that every class is an opportunity to push the limits. Students often arrive in my room with a negative view of school and have learned a pattern of behaviors designed to derail the class or teacher and in the end entertain themselves and others. It is often not even a conscious decision. My kids have come from ineffectual social situations, whether that is at home or school. They know what should be done but often live in situations where boundaries are not clear or enforced. They also have generally low expectations about what they should accomplish to be proficient or achieve mastery.

So now you’re thinking I am a bad teacher or bad at classroom management or racist, classist  or whatever. I will tell you I’m through the veil. I see my kids at face value. They are wonderful, lovable people in a broken system. So I am going to start with a sign. It outlines the class schedule. It tells them what part of the day they are in. It covers the acceptable actions and behaviors, and gives them a reference for what they should be doing.

This sign will be used in conjunction with a variety of strategies. Group behavior roles will be introduced the second day. These are not the class “rules” but they are established procedures for working together. Working together is another skill sorely lacking with my kiddos. 

 So this is how I built it. 

I tried Word. I looked at instructional videos, but quickly found my version didn’t match their version and any hack I tried wound up with error messages. Good ol Microsoft.

I went to Google Docs next. I created the whole thing using a combination of tables, clip art, bullet text, google drawings, and shapes. This was also a bust. You can’t really achieve a poster in this app.

I should have started with Google Drawings. Go to Drive, then click NEW, then select Drawing. 

I went to my district print shop page and found some of their established printing sizes. In Drawing, under File, find page set up and set your size. I did 24 x 36. Having accidentally done in it a doc format I actually had all the text and images I wanted. If you are ever doing ANYTHING multimedia, write the text, and gather images all in one place. A folder or a doc. 

Now drop text elements into individual text boxes. Drop all your images in randomly. It will end up being like an old school collage. From here you just drag and drop and move your elements around like you would cut outs from a magazine. It lets you overlap, place wherever want, bullet, center, change fonts, text sizes- all in the drawing program. 

So what’s in my sign?

Image result for PISCES

I fret over the first day. How much structure do they need? If i don’t lay down some rules, will I lose them right away? So I decided on the first day (among all the other get to know you stuff) I will show them the sign. It tells us what the intro task portion of class looks like, what instruction, independent work, and class wrap up look like. It will allude to other yet to be discussed procedures (That will have a sign!) 

The sign will also peek interest when they read about “class bloggers and photographers.” They will see a “PayDay” listed, and see that they will be able to have a place to get supplies in case they need it.


The sign is funny. I’m funny. Please don’t make me tell you again.

I’m very proud of my sign. It has problems, but then again, so do I…

Its middle school so bad funny is good funny. I chose Deadpool because it’s middle school. If there was ever a super hero for middle school it’s the Pool.

Be sure to check out the Educators Guide to Fair Use to make sure you are a comfortable with any images you may have used. I found that I can use fewer than 5 rom the same artist without getting in hot water.

He is obscene, narcissistic, sarcastic, hormonal and the banality of his character speaks to the larger absurdity that is public school. He fights even when he gets his hands chopped off. He comes back for more after every beating. What better metaphor for teaching? Plus I use the Chibi version because, again, Irony +Sarcasm +Cuteness +  Grown Up= Middle School Kid.

So this is just one of many signs that will go up. This one provides procedures I can pattern everyday after. It will hold me to routines I desperately need, and provide a road map for other elements of classroom organization. Kids are also wicked rule followers. I don’t have to tell you how they like to bust us when we forget a rule or procedure. 🙂

Happy Teaching!