I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Screencasting Feedback

I'd written about using Explain Everything to provide feedback back in 2016. I then started using Screencast-O-Matic for most of my feedback, as we are now a 1:1 Chromebook school. I had in my notes this year to try Loom, a Chrome extension. (Thank you to whomever suggested it!) I'm a large proponent of FREE tools, so I'm going to share today how Loom compares to Screencast-O-Matic.

First, here's what Loom video feedback looks like. The only difference in looks is that it's the entire tab, and my photo/video is in the corner.

And here's how I add the link to the document students are working on - it's just like how I added the Screencast-O-Matic YouTube links:

  • free (up to 15 min)
  • easy to find on my computer
  • can be used on both home and school MacBooks
  • can edit the name of the video
  • captures student writing and my mouse or highlights as I read it aloud and provide feedback
  • can share the video with a single link
  • can embed the video if you'd like
  • students can respond
Not the best: 
  • need to set the screen size
  • uploading to YouTube takes almost the same amount of time as recording the video
  • when I upload to YouTube, I need to make sure it says "unlisted," so only those with the link can view it (me, student, parent)
  • I need to go to and look up on YouTube who's viewed their feedback
Better than Loom:
  • can choose exactly what to screencast - can size it to where you want it
  • can see the timer

  • free trial of Pro, and there's also a free version (up to ?? min)
  • easy to find as a Chrome extension
  • can be used on both home and school MacBooks
  • can edit the name of the video
  • captures student writing and my mouse or highlights as I read it aloud and provide feedback
  • my picture is in the bottom left - I hear students take feedback more seriously when they can see you
  • captures student writing and my mouse or highlights as I read it aloud and provide feedback
  • can share the video with a single link
  • can embed the video if you'd like
  • students can respond (right in the video? I'm not sure yet)
Not the best: 
  • no embedded timer - I need to look at the clock or set a stopwatch
Better than Screencast-O-Matic:
  • no upload time - it's instantly ready
  • can simply hit "record current tab" instead of setting the screen size
  • I can be alerted when someone views it - if I choose to not be alerted by email, I can easily see in the extension who's viewed their video
  • fun reminders to smile pop up for a second when you open it (see examples here):


It wasn't until I'd completed my PRO trial, that I saw the limitations of the free version of Loom... Here are the full pricing details: www.loom.com/pricing

I currently have just under 70 students, so we need access to more than the last 25 videos.

The debate in my head was a quick one. I'm going for it. The time I save uploading the videos is worth the $96 in my opinion. Others will think differently, especially if they don't give video feedback on students' writing. Since my students value the video feedback (only four this year said they'd prefer the comments only on their documents), I'm going to stick with this for the long run. I think the personal touch and the instant uploading time is worth it.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ramifications from Saying "No"

I've said "No," and now I'm out of the loop...

These words actually escaped my mouth this morning as I sat with my Tweetdeck open.

I noticed that I had missed the TeachBetter Conference information - to perhaps present, and now to win a free registration.

I noticed tweets about the DBC conference in June that I've said "No" to, due to the cost of the flight, hotel, and yes - even registration that the authors don't get compensated for.

I noticed the myriad educators tweeting about their books, and I wondered if I should be doing more advertising.

I noticed I had still not cleared my column for direct messages, and it was to remind me to not feel bad for saying "No," as the last two things I said "No" to are helping me do better at my profession - TEACHING. Two things I've turned down this month are giving a one-hour virtual presentation about Genius Hour and hosting a chat after 8pm about Word Shift. This morning, I realized that saying "No" has kept me out of the loop. It was that realization that made me feel the need to write about it.

Yes, I'm out of the loop. And yes, I'm doing fine.

I could advertise Shift This and Word Shift more, for sure (like even right now when I hyperlink the titles). Then I go back to my reasons for writing them. I felt the need to write them and share them. I didn't feel the need to supplement my income (really - it's funny what money people think educator books bring in). I didn't feel the need to advertise it with contests, weekly mailers, or fun fancy GIFs. I tried it for a bit - it's not my style.

I could say "Yes" to presenting around the nation. Again, that's really not me. I love when I have a receptive group, for sure, yet the travel is nerve-wracking to me, and taking off a day from my job I love is a lot of stress I don't need to put myself through. I've written before about teachers as presenters, and I still feel the same.

Being out of the loop online - and on social media - I believe that is actually OKAY. I may even go so far as to believe that it's HEALTHY. One response I received after declining something was, "I love that you're being intentional and purposeful in your self-care." Yes. That's what I'm doing.

I am doing what I love, and I'm trying to do it well. With my husband, I talk about retiring - SOME day. Until then, I'm making the most of my teaching. I'm getting outside with my students, I'm laughing at my mistakes in front of them, and we're enjoying even more learning this year. I'm calmer with my students and my coworkers, and I think it's because I don't have so much on my plate. I think it's because I'm learning better how to make family and time for ME a priority.

Writing this reminds me of that FOMO saying - the "Fear of Missing Out." I've recently added "JOMO" to my vocabulary - the "Joy of Missing Out." It helps me focus on real-world relationships, or being truly present in as much of my day as I can. Check out this link and see how you can turn your FOMO into JOMO.

Twitter, and social media overall, has been helpful for me to becoming the educator I am today. I have jumped on many ideas, made them work for me when I could, and done further research when the bug to do so hit. I've read many excellent books, gotten inspired by a lot of excellent student work, and been supported by educators from various backgrounds on a regular basis.

Being connected on Twitter often makes me feel like I want to do everything everyone else is doing. I don't want it to be that way. I know I can't do everything. I've tried that. When I try to do everything, everything falls apart (or is simply not done well), and it's ugly. I want to do what I AM doing, and I want to do it WELL. For that, I need to step back from the excitement on social media and enjoy what I am already doing.

What am I doing today for myself? 1) Writing this - it helps me to get my thoughts down and try to organize them. I make more sense of them that way.  2) I've already swept out the shed and picked up sticks for a fire tonight while my love waxed my car (I know - I'm spoiled).  3) Reading some young adult literature and some nonfiction to feed my brain. 4) Looking through student photos on my school-issued iPad so I can print some out at Walgreen's (at 34 cents each) for parent conferences coming up soon. I enjoy all of these tasks. What are YOU doing today that you enjoy doing and helps you jump on the JOMO train? I'm not asking for responses in the comments this time - I'm encouraging you to stop reading this and get out and DO what brings you joy.
Fall has arrived at the Kirr household... Heading back outside now!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Independent Reading During Class Time

Is reading in class a novelty?
Or was it because we went outside?
My head is spinning as to why this spontaneous tweet I made on 9/19 has had so many "likes" and retweets...

Lots of the comments or retweets suggested congratulations, such as "Good for you!" and others sounded as if they've never taken their kids outside during the school day or even thought about it - ever.

Some responses asked about our reflection process. We use lots of plus/delta charts at the start of the year. Many are for the end of the week. What did we do well? = plus, and Where can we improve? = delta. I'll bring up our "delta" answers the next Monday, and we'll choose one on which to focus. If we fill in a plus/delta chart after reading independently outside, I'll bring up the "delta" part before we head out again the next time. Here is a good explanation of it. It's not a new idea, yet it may be new to some. When it was introduced to me, I embraced it wholeheartedly.

Other responses asked about the yard - why it's enclosed, why there aren't trees, etc. Personally, I think the video makes it seem like a prison yard - sterile with high walls (although I've never seen a prison yard up close). It's artificial grass. The area here was our school's vegetable garden before we had a renovation / gym addition the last two years. We have another courtyard (in the middle of the school) that has trees, grass, plants, dirt, rocks, painted artwork from students, benches, and picnic tables. We tried to go there once this year. I have a student who is highly allergic to the outdoors, and she sneezed so much that she asked to read in the library. She doesn't sneeze in the new yard, and the kids love laying on the fake grass. I haven't heard them say anything about it looking like a prison yard. They see it as a way to get some sun, a breeze, and fresh air. And sometimes a moth or cicada find their way in to join us.

This response from Matt Parker was one I wanted to "like" a hundred times. THAT is what I wanted the focus of this post to be. It's the fact that we have developed some amount of trust, respect has been given from me and from my students, and we've made the time to practice and reflect on the journey so we can continue to get better at our reading stamina:

We all (?) have students who aren't yet in love with reading. Getting them outside may or may not help them enjoy reading... It most likely depends on the individual (like so much). I struggle many days we head out because someone is distracted by a cicada or a moth... just the fact that we're on artificial turf seems to be so darn interesting... The reflection is what gets us back on track so we can continue to work on building our reading stamina. 

And then, of course, there had to be a negative reply (I've learned that my ideas shared are not really seen until someone rejects them) from a teacher with public tweets who (when I reached out) wanted to remain anonymous:

Instead of getting into what could become a public argument via 280 characters each, I decided I should write about it, much as others before me have done.

I am not "teaching" in this moment. That, I believe, is correct. And I believe that's okay. (So there's no need to feel "sorry.") One thing educators do in class is model. Another thing we do is confer with students about what they are reading. Sometimes this is done during independent reading; most often for me it's in passing. No matter what I'm doing (modeling or conferring), students should be reading. I'm providing them time to read in class, without distractions. Many of my students are still not reading at home, and it's been proven time and again that reading - frequent, voluminous reading - is the only way to become a better reader. (Much respect goes to Dr. Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. If you don't have time to read the book, simply search for him and you'll find the research.) This is much like keyboarding, learning how to use a computer program, writing, or playing an instrument... Practice is needed. Reflection afterwards helps us move forward with plans for next time to help us improve.

I'm so glad that a parent of a former student emailed this photo (from Facebook) to me:
Yes, yes, yes. It takes a lot of practice and reflection to build this type of community, and I'm sure we'll be revisiting that reflection piece again - and often.

I'm glad the video of this one class went a bit viral last week. If educators think it's valuable to change the scenery a bit, I'm glad they will consider getting their kids outside more than once if (when!) it doesn't work out the first time. Let's (students and teachers) reflect on what we're doing, all so we can continue to improve.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


Because I know I want to get rid of them in my own life, I wrote about complaints in Word Shift...

and gossip...

When I hosted a #tlap chat about Word Shift, I mentioned my desire to stop complaining.

I don't know if Will Boden had the original idea to use a bracelet as a reminder, but it was so very good that it's taken off like wildfire!

I decided to give it a try. Here's the premise: Try to not complain for 21 days in a row. Put the bracelet or rubberband on one wrist. If you complain, put it on the other wrist, and you're back to Day One (and Will Boden shares there's no shame in being on Day One).

Here's what happened when I started...

At first, I accidentally complained, and then regretted it.
Then, I found out that once I broke the complaining rule, I'd complain a bunch all at one time.
Next, I learned how to complain without "complaining." It went like this... I'd say, "Here's a fact..." or "I noticed something today..." or even "so-and-so said this today..." and then I would say something that sounded like a complaint to me.

It was time to step up my game.

Here are the rules I'm currently living by:
  1. No complaints / gripes / "facts" that are negative.
  2. No talking about others if it's negative.
  3. If I have a solution to a complaint, I will bring the solution to someone who can help implement it.
  4. One-on-one with my husband, I allow myself to complain a bit (although my complaints have definitely decreased). He says I'm not complaining; I'm simply sharing about my day. Of course, he loves me, so he can say that. ;)
That's it.

Nope. Actually, here's the reason for one more of my "rules" for myself: I had my second migraine of the week yesterday, and as I was driving in to school, I wondered how I would answer peers and friends when they asked me, "How are you?" I was torn, because I'd want to know if they were suffering so I could help a bit or be understanding, yet I didn't want to complain. Turns out no one asked me how I was (that's unusual). I hid it well, too. Until... I was driving home with the top down (I love my car). A taxi driver next to me started a conversation (a common occurrence with a convertible), got me to laugh, and then said, "Laughter is a good therapy." He saw my pain. Either I was holding my head or grimacing or sitting there with a mad face on... I don't know. I do know he saw my pain and wanted to help. So... Rule #5 for myself is...

  • It's okay to let others know I'm not up to par when something is wrong. I'm deciding to not go into detail about what's ailing me unless it's going to be chronic or something I'll feel I might need support for in the future.

Here's how it's working for me so far:
  • I'm listening more than I'm talking.
  • I'm asking questions more than providing opinions.
  • I'm learning A LOT. I'm learning more about people than ever before. I'm learning that I don't have to share everything that pops up in my head. I'm learning that it's easier to be quiet and listen than it is to talk (and maybe put my foot in my mouth or hurt someone's feelings or...).
  • I'm noticing others' complaints more often. I'm not quite at the point where I try to turn the direction of the conversation, as I am loving this listening gig. ;)
  • I notice that with good friends, I'm fine with them complaining to me because I can simply listen and be there for them.
  • I'm sticking up a bit more for those who don't always have their voices heard. If someone is cut off during a discussion, I am able to bring the discussion back to their point.
  • I'm not caring as much what others think of me. It may be because I'm not thinking of those people I might complain about, so there's no need to think of what they think of me.
  • I'm not giving thinking space to complaints, so I'm happier than normal.
Just this week, I received an official "complaint-free world" bracelet from our district superintendent. That day, I went back to Day One. Today is Day Five, and it's the first time I'm counting. I don't really want to keep track. I used to be a numbers girl when I ran - dates, times, distances, miles per min, etc. - and I've even stopped keeping track of mileage on my bikes.  I don't need to know what number I am on during a streak. [Streaks kick me in the butt and stress me out. I learned that when my Duolingo streak was reset somehow. Sadly (due to pride?) I'm still keeping track of that one on my own.]  I simply want to stop complaining. I simply want to stay away from gossip. I don't need a streak to tell me that I'm doing well. I'll mess up again and again, and yet it counts that I'm focusing on this every day. I want steering away from complaints and gossip to become a habit. It requires conditioning, just like with the other words I suggested we consider in Word Shift.

It's the implementation that counts.

What my lips say, my mind thinks.

I'm training my mind to think differently.

It's a process I'm enjoying quite a bit.
Thanks, Dr. Bein, for the fabulous bracelet!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Minimum Effective Dose in Action

I make lists.

I used to make LOTS of them, and then lose some in the process. I now use an online list called Toodledo. I can't get it to work on my phone, but it's handy for my laptop. I'm not using all the features I could, and I don't need them. I simply need to be able to put things on my list for a specific date, and I can then prioritize the items into "top," "high," "medium," "low," or even "negative."

Here's my list for the rest of today (I've already been able to check many items off):

Notice I'm writing before I "start collecting photos for Parent Night" ...  yet the iPad is right next to me. ;)  I can also take notes inside these notes. The blue text boxes to the right show that I have notes on each of those. I put items down as "negative" if I want to do them (or be reminded of them) before I leave for school the next day. Tomorrow morning, for example, I'll move the Staff Meeting to tomorrow's date, and mark it "medium," so I remember to go to it before I leave school. The "low" items will be done after school at home during the school week.

I brought up my Toodledo today to prove that I am an over-planner. I have things on this list for two years from now. I like things to be perfect. As I get older, I realize I can't have everything perfect. During the last two years, I've heard the term "minimum effective dose" (MED) at least five times. It's finally starting to sink in, so it's time for me to share it with you, in case you've never heard of it.

I believe the first time I heard of it was when educator/consultant Matt Miller mentioned it. He, at that point, referred to the book called The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss. This photo describing the MED is directly from this blog post excerpt from the book back in 2010:

Every time I hear about it (most often from Matt Miller), I think of time and energy. How much more time and energy will I have if I can actually take advantage of the MED?

Listed below are four ways I've been putting the MED to good use this school year.

Outcome I want: An Animoto movie of my students so parents can see our room and their children. 
How I used to go about this: Take a photo each morning of the date. Take 5-6 photos of each class period each day. After two weeks, download the photos that Friday after school, put them in the Animoto, upload the embedded video into our two-week update blog post (kept here), then email all the parents the update.
How I've realized the MED: No need for a photo of the date. No need for it to be 5-6 photos of each class each day. No need to take photos every day! Now, I take photos on certain days, and then I'm fully present the other days. This way, I can be more sure I'm catching each child and activity, yet I don't need a gazillion photos to prove anything to parents. I also don't need to wrap it all up nicely on a Friday afternoon. Who says every two weeks has to be Monday through Friday? I had put those parameters on myself; I'm now taking them off.

Outcome I want: Easy-to-follow directions for students projected through a slideshow. 
How I used to go about this: Make sure every single direction was visible on the slideshow. Put a cute photo with it. Use circles and arrows for clarity.
How I've realized the MED: No need for exact directions. I can raise the screen and write on the board if I have to clarify something. No need to find a photo if I don't have the time.

Outcome I want: Check and answer school emails so my email inbox has nothing (hah!) in it. 
How I used to go about this: Look at my emails every day after dinner, and on the weekends.
How I've realized the MED: I only look at my emails when I arrive at school in the morning, again right before school begins, at team time third period, during my plan period, and before I head home. This chunking of time is very valuable. (I learned this from Angela Watson, and use it in the next tip, as well.) If I want to clear out an email yet don't yet know how to respond, I put it in an email file marked "to do." On my Toodledo list, I have "check to do file" for team time each day. Side note: I also only check my home emails once a day - first thing each morning.

Outcome I want: Stay up-to-date on social media. 
How I used to go about this: Check every account every day, multiple times a day. (I try to use Twitter for teachers, Facebook for friends and family, and Instagram for former students.)
How I've realized the MED: Check Twitter every morning. Check Instagram every other evening. Check Facebook every Saturday or Sunday. If I miss checking Facebook or Instagram, I'm fine. I know I don't have to see everything. Even though I still check my phone more than I should, I'm getting better.

Trying to use the MED has helped my mind and body. I'm not as strung out from doing "too much," and I'm calmer when something isn't perfect. Let me know if and when you try this, and how it's helped you!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

My Hopes for Word Shift

My hopes... dreams... impact for Word Shift?

What's the big deal about this dictionary of sorts?

It happens. It's happened to me. It happens to teachers I greatly admire and respect, and it will happen again. A word will come out of an educator's mouth to describe a student or a coworker, and this word (Is it a label? An adjective?) is now attached to the person being described. If it's a negative word, it's usually due to stress, and these stressors are not going away any time soon. Our minds tuck the word away. We head to our next task, and the next time this person's name comes up, that word wraps its way around our thoughts, etching itself deeper into our subconscious. We may even become irritated by the person who said it and caused this word to stick in our minds. Negative labels fester in our minds, infecting us and those around us. What will bring about positive shifts in school culture? Choosing different words will change our thoughts and our actions. I believe it could be as simple as that.

Could it be as simple as that when it comes to our mental wellbeing? With directives coming at us (educators and administrators) from all directions, the teaching field is more stressful than ever. Some words we use seem to stop progress in its tracks. So many teachers shrug their shoulders and put up their arms and say, "I'm just a teacher. It's not in my control." I disagree. I believe we are readers, researchers, writers, contributors, explorers, collaborators, hypothesizers, experimenters, adventurers, risk takers, learners, visionaries, coaches, guides, amplifiers, leaders, and change makers! We are trying to do what we believe is right and good for the young learners in front of us every day.

I shared this message in my first keynote session in Boston last year, after I'd written that part of Word Shift. (I'll be sharing it again at IETC in November - come join us!) I then dug into the tough stuff... how educators speak at school when there are no children around, and how this affects our students.

My goal of writing Word Shift was three-fold.
1. For ME to note, recognize, and stop using words that make me think negatively (subtly or overtly) - about myself, peers, and students.
2. Help others recognize and reconsider some words we use with children and peers.
3. Keep the conversations going - and focus on what will bring about much-needed positive shifts in school culture.

If more positive words would be planted and take root in our minds so they can bloom, we can share their positivity and effectiveness. Hopefully this awareness will extend to our families and online presence - so we can speak up with more focused intent...

I told a friend "I've thrown a lot of teachers under the bus - myself included" - in this book. If you recognize yourself and are uncomfortable with it, what will you do? Will you complain to me? Will you look inside yourself and reflect? Will you choose to change your language and share that with us?

This book is not based on research - it's based on 24 years of observing classrooms and teacher interactions. I'm still an educator in the American school system, striving to do better. Striving to learn, to grow, and to help my students succeed and be the best people they can. As you read - and long after you read - Word Shift, please share what words you feel we could omit, shift, or add to our language in the educational system and beyond.

Let's get this conversation started.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Not the Perfect Start

Well, it was not the perfect start to the school year I was hoping for…

Last week was our first week of the 2019-2020 school year. The first three days were with teachers, figuring out our rooms, and figuring out which students needed which accommodations, which had allergies, birthday planning, etc.

The very first day that students came, Thursday, was hectic to say the least. I went through that day with sore shoulders and neck and the start of a headache. Some classes on Thursday were 15 min. long, and a few were 90 minutes long, depending on which classes we had. It was a go-go-go day. Waking up Friday morning, I believe I was as tired as I have ever been. I’ve never felt “teacher tired“ like that before. Before I even ate my breakfast, I threw up (I couldn't find a way to put this nicer). I figured it must be the start of a migraine, and it had been my plan to not have a migraine this entire year ahead.

The students I have this year seem to be happy to be there and ready to learn (for the most part). I was supposed to be happy and ready to teach. I had read myriad articles, listen to myriad podcasts, read inspirational quotes, and was ready to be well this year. Teacher wellness has been on my mind since the ‘17-’18 school year when I had five migraines to contend with. During the ‘18-’19 school year it was down to three. This past Friday, I was not happy to teach. I was hurting, exhausted, and was skeptical of how this school year was going to go.

What had happened to my plans for being well? Here’s what I’ve been doing:
  • Vitamin B-complex (supposed to help prevent migraines)
  • DanActive once a day (this kept me healthy when my mom was going through chemo)
  • Water every day
  • Eat relatively healthy
  • Walking outside whenever I can
  • Getting outside every day (my relaxation)
  • Learn / practice something new for 30 min/day (the banjo)
  • Read & Write
  • Plenty of sleep (to bed at 9pm)
What was good about the first two days was the students, and my attitude in front of the students. I was calm. I was patient. I was enjoying their ideas, suggestions, and comments. I feel as if this will be my best year yet (as the last few have been)! I am doing more upfront in regards to sharing WHY we’re doing certain things in the classroom, and I’m less reactive to things said or done. I’m listening more, and things are going smoothly.

Another good note - some teachers were chatting about asking administration to change the first day schedule, as well - that should help exhaustion levels of both teachers and students next year. 

I pushed myself this summer. I thoroughly enjoyed each day, yet I didn’t stop to relax as much as I normally would during the summer. I often do “too much” or “too many things at one time,” and this summer was no exception. It’s time I slowed down my HOMEwork, so I can handle the schoolwork.

My plan moving into week two is very similar to my summer plans:
  • Vitamin B-complex
  • DanActive once a day
  • Water every day
  • Eat relatively healthy
  • Walking outside whenever I can
  • Getting outside every day
  • Practice the banjo for 15 min/day
  • Read (& Write if time)
  • Only look at social media in the mornings on weekdays
  • Plenty of sleep (to bed at 9pm or before)

I was fortunate to get outside THREE times on the first day of school (with homeroom and my second and third classes), and then again for lunch and my last class on Friday. I’m excited to keep this up, as I believe it’s healthy for us - for our bodies, souls, and the culture of a class. 

As I reflected today by writing, I notice my teacher wellness took a nose dive Friday. I guess that’s what happens when your body has taken a toll. I’m all better today, and I’m relaxing for the week ahead. I’ve gotten outside with the top down on the convertible to go for a walk at the arboretum with Hubby (see the photos below), had my water, finished my banjo practice (20 min outside), and am going to read a bit. I only spent 30 min on schoolwork yesterday, and will only spend 30 min on it again today - just not right now. This writing has helped me see that I simply had a set back in my health. I’ll probably catch a bad cold or get sick at some point this school year, as well, and that’s to be expected, no matter how much DanActive I have. ;) 

--> I’m going to remember the advice of Dan Tricarico in The Zen Teacher
Do something for YOURSELF every day. (For me, this means getting outside.)
--> I’m going to remember the science Lisa Bush shared in Teaching Well:
We cannot run on fumes. It’s unhealthy for our body and our mind.
When we’ve got the MOST WORK to do, that’s when we need to take
time (30-60 min.) for ourselves.
--> I’m going to remember David Irvine’s quote in Lisa’s book (above):
“Self-care is more than a luxury. Self-care is a responsibility.”
--> I’m going to remember what Matt Miller keeps sharing -
When you’re a teacher, the work never ends.
I don’t need to make everything perfect.
I only need to make it work well for me and our students.

What are YOU doing this school year to stay happy and healthy?

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Master List

I love to have an organized (as much as possible) Google Drive.

One file (spreadsheet) I have in my drive each year is a "Master" list.
I've made a copy YOU can copy and make work for you HERE.

Click the hyperlink above, open the spreadsheet, click "File," then "Make a copy" so you can have your own!

Each tab is explained here:
*NOTE - The "2/4" on any tab is simply my first class (it's a block of two periods - period 2 and 4). I make a copy of these tabs labeled "2/4" for my 5/6 and 8/9 classes. It's not in this master form, because I have no clue how many classes you have. 😉

ALL - This tab is where I keep everything vital that is kept on our online PowerSchool system. I like it all in one place. It's easier to find for me here, and I can add IEP information, parent notes, or whatever. I can also organize them by class, last name, homeroom, etc.

HABIT TRACKER 2/4 - The habit tracker is what I use to track habits - positive and negative. It's kept on a clipboard in the room, and I add to it daily, depending on what students are standing out. Keep track of behaviors week to week help me communicate with students and parents with concrete data. I've modified this page MANY times, and I explained it more in this post from 2015. It's very useful, and that's why it's the second tab on this spreadsheet.

Positive Comm - Yup. I keep track of who I email home for positive notes. I don't want to leave anyone out, and I don't want to "bug" parents "too many" times... I mark it green when a parent responds, so I know who is connected and who I may need to reach through different means (phone call, different language, paper note home...).

Email Long Lists - Because I have a hard time making new groups each year in my GMail, I simply copy the emails from the first tab here - one for my classes, and one for homeroom. When I email, I simply have to copy and paste into the "BCC" section (to keep the email addresses confidential). I need these lists for our two-week updates, at the very least.

Confidential - Any behavior plans or health issues guest teachers (formerly called "substitute" teachers) may need goes here. I print it out and put it in the guest teacher binder for days I'm out.

Birthdays - I organize this one by date instead of by name. I delete them once we recognize it in some fashion.

Homeroom First - Just a spot to put my homeroom kids here - first names first. I print one out for the first day of school, so when students tell me their names, I can write down how to say them. I use this list throughout the year to check in permission slips, etc.

2/4 First - Same as above, just for my class (and I'll add 5/6 and 8/9, too).

Convos - First names only here - I put them all in, and when I pass them out to students, they cross out their own name. This is for various discussions we'll have with others in class. I hope it promotes getting to know EVERYone. When you chat with someone, put the date in the box next to their name. You don't chat with them again, then (for whatever activities we'll be using these for), until that first column is full. There are two on a page so I have half sheets for each child. I don't remember the teacher (on Twitter) who called it a conversation carousel - sorry!!

Fishbowl - First names here, too. I use this when we're practicing fishbowl discussions, so I can share the results with students - as a whole class or individually - as we reflect.

Summer Reading - At the start of the year, I'll pass this around to the kids to see who read which books off our list. This information will help me when we chat about them, or put them in groups for book talks about these books the first few days.

MAP - We use NWEA's Measures of Academic Progress as one test, and I like to give students goals for the next time they take the test, so I keep the info here, and only share with students when they ask or when we're setting goals.

Notes - Just a note-taking sheet of sorts.

Choice Topic - Once we're in choice mode, this helps me keep track of who chose to do what - whether it's what type of feedback to receive (video or written comments), what they'll share for "Teach Me Your Talent," or what they'll choose to research, etc.

*Another NOTE - My own tabs will be in triplicate, as I have three core classes, so I'll have three Fishbowl pages and three Summer Reading pages, etc.

Please let me know in the comments if this helps you this year, or let me know what you would add to this master spreadsheet!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Choosing the "Right" Words...

...was so difficult for this writing-on-all-the-Ticonderoga-pencils gig to prepare for school to begin!

After I started writing one set (I eventually made three sets of 30), I thought more about the words I chose, and how one slight shift can make a huge difference.

For instance, if I wrote "be kind," it sounded like a demand, or at least a request. By changing it to "thank you for being kind," I'm making an assumption (usually a no-no) that they already ARE kind, and I'm still encouraging kindness. I modified it even more - "thank you for choosing to be kind," as then students can see it as a choice they have. They often think they have no choices. This is one they can make on their own, every chance they get.

I found many of my words meant the same idea, and were said in many different ways.
"You matter" is now written as "you are important," "your perspective is worth sharing," "we need your ideas," etc. Words strike people differently, and I didn't want to leave any messages unclear.

Here is one set:

The words I used this time around:
     Smiles & laughter:
     People smile when they see your smile!
     Your smile lights up our days!
     Smiling makes you happier.
     Your laugh is infectious.
     Keep smiling!
     Life is good.
     Regarding tough times:
     Dream big!
     You can do this!
     You've got this!
     You will persevere.
     Keep on keepin' on...
     Embrace the struggle. (Added thanks to @innovatenlearn.)
     Reach out if you need anything.
     Thank you for being caring.
     Thank you for your positive attitude.
     Thank you for being you.
     Thank you for being a friend to others.
     Thank you for choosing to be kind.
     What are you grateful for? (The grammarian in me wants to say "For what are you grateful," and then I think... these are for 7th graders. Would they relate?)
     You matter.
     You are important.
     You inspire others.
     You are loved.
     You have a contribution to  make in this world.
     Your perspective is worth sharing.
     We need your voice to be used for good.
     We need your ideas.
     This world needs you.
     We're happy you're here.
     Our lives are better with YOU in it.
     Be the change you wish to see. (Thanks to @blocht574.)

Then... My husband came in from the garage to show me his progress on his newest whirligig that he's making for a friend of ours. I saw that Ticonderoga tucked behind his ear - it looked naked! I asked him if I could write on it. I wrote, "Your creativity makes others smile." I know I'll be doing this once I run out of these pencils... For each student that needs one, I'll look at them and find a personal message meant just for them, and then find that ultra fine point Sharpie!

I'm thinking of pre-sharpening them when I get to my good pencil sharpener at school... Too much??

Please comment below any messages that you might share with your own students!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Wall

It was a beautiful day to be at the beach. Sure, the water was only 54 degrees, but the niece and nephew were in it, playing for hours. Bob and I were sitting, soaking up the sun, watching the kids squeal and splash, when a family came by with their chairs and supplies. They began to set up a line of chairs in front of us. It was no big deal, really. We could still see the kids over their chairs - most of the time. I stood to see the kids at one point, and one man in the group said, "Oh, we're not in your way, are we?"

What do you say to that? Bob quickly replied, "Hey, whatever. Don't worry about it." He's my polite man.

I sat back down, and then ... it happened. We saw their chairs more clearly. Maybe I should say we saw ALL of each chair more clearly. They were the kind that have a hood of sorts on top. After a very quickly orchestrated maneuver by one of the women in the group, all five hoods were up, and then a towel was put over each one, to make the wall complete - and solid.
Our new view.

They knew what they were doing from the start. It was obvious they'd done this before. I started laughing. I took a video. I took this photo. I thought it must be a joke they have going - How many days this summer can we make a wall in front of people and get away with it?

Now what to do? How do we react in this situation? What do we say, if anything?

Bob got up, and said, "Let's move." He found a place not too far away, and started moving our (smaller) chairs and bags. I started fuming then. I do not like confrontations, but... but... nope. I do not like confrontations. So... I decided to - nonchalantly - stand in front of the person who did not go in the water. I stood about ten feet in front of him, hands on hips, watching my niece and nephew. For maybe one full minute. Well, at least until he got up to get something from one of their coolers they'd brought. It didn't make me feel any better.

I did it again, later, in front of one of the women. I counted seconds this time, because I wanted to stay there for at least three minutes. I didn't feel any better.


I think of this wall and wonder how I'll respond to negativity at school, to things I know are not right, to words that are rude. Will I simply walk away and find another spot? Will I ask them a question back? Will I make a stink of some sort?

Afterwards, will I "could've / would've / should've" until I'm dizzy from my thoughts? Will I forgive myself for my new mistakes I'm sure to make? Will I be able to let go of guilt and move on with my day / week / month?

I worry about the start of the school year.
I worry about making the right decisions - reacting the right way.
I worry about not thinking things through before I respond.
I worry that my responses won't make me - or the person I'm responding to - feel any better.
I worry that I won't say the right things.
I worry that I'll ask leading questions (such as "We're not in your way, are we?").

I have these worries, and I need to push them to the back of my thoughts - not front and center. No matter the mental, emotional, or physical walls / obstacles / problems put up this school year, I am not going in blindly - I do have a plan.

My plan for this school year (and every school year):
     Keep myself mentally and physically healthy.
     Be the best person I can be every day.
     Remember that each moment is a chance to start again.

Does every teacher go through these worries at the start of every school year? What do YOU do when these feelings strike? How do you mentally prepare for a new school year? As always, I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Using TweetDeck to Manage My Twitter Time - Round TWO

I follow over 9,000 educators on Twitter. When I started following 300 or so, I was still looking at my feed every morning, trying to "catch up" (HAH!), and Karen Liernman from British Columbia, Canada, helped me out. I still remember the story of seeing her tweet with a photo of the Chicago River - she was only the second person from Twitter I'd met face to face - and during the dinner where my husband and I pieked her up (she willingly got in our car!) she said, "You're still following your feed? Oh, no. You need to watch hashtags." (More to this organization in this post here.)

Then I created LISTS. (Detailed in the same blog post as above.) This helped some more. I now have tons of lists...

Over the past few years, I've learned how to mute a conversation, how to block spammers, how to stay with my WHY as I created my own Twitter rules for myself, that it's not about the numbers (here and here), how to be grateful in a more genuine way, and of course, I learned a long time ago that it's not about TWITTER. It's about the PEOPLE.

Over the last year or so, I've lost touch with some educators I used to "chat" with all the time. Those people that I used to connect with on a regular basis. I've added new ones, for sure, and I think that may be what this tool does for you - provides the people you need when you need them... I'm not sure. What I DO know is that I'd like to keep being connected. I've learned that when I'm more connected with one person, the relationship develops, and I can reach out more, feel more supported, and truly care about the person behind the photo. I don't want to lose those relationships.

So... I decided to create MORE lists!

Here is a video explaining what I'm writing:

My NEW (added) lists go something like this:

Sunday Tuesday Thursday - those educators who are so very kind, share their messages in kind and caring ways, and those educators who I like calling "friend" - I've broken bread or had a beverage or two with them, and I truly enjoy their company.

Monday - those educators who I believe are "sensible." They'd start my work week off on the right foot.

Wednesday - those educators who are always supporting me. How do they do it? How do THEY organize their myriad connections? I want to provide support back to them.

Friday - those educators who I probably SHOULD keep up with, but normally don't. Fridays are my busy mornings, so I don't spend as much time on Twitter as I normally do this day.

Saturday - those educators who are constantly sharing useful resources (that I often miss). This way I can share them out on a day I can actually take time to LOOK at what those resources are, and maybe even play with those resources.

**Note - Many of the educators on these lists overlap these categories. AND they are on other lists of mine, as well (met f2f, geniushour, my district friends...). I only put them down for one of these new lists, so I'm still catching up with them, even if it's not every day.

I know this won't solve all my issues with managing Twitter. That's okay. I guess we let some connections go when we make other connections stronger. There's only so much we can do - along with teaching!

Do you have a way to organize your Twitter life? I'd love to know what it is!! Please use the comment section below so that future readers can learn from YOU, too!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Word Shift!

Here's the inside story...

If you read this post, you may feel a tad bit uncomfortable.
The same goes for when you read Word Shift...

Shift This had been out for a few months, and readers had been connecting with me about the resistance they had felt, and how, after reading the last chapter (on resistance!), they felt less alone. They felt less "crazy." We are not alone. There are a TON of educators who want to shift what's happening in their classrooms.

And we are not crazy - we are readers, researchers, writers, contributors, explorers, collaborators, hypothesizers, experimenters, adventurers, risk takers, learners, visionaries, coaches, guides, amplifiers, leaders, and change makers! We are trying to do what we believe is right and good for the young learners in front of us every day.
I shared this message in my first keynote session in Boston last year, after I'd written that part of the book. (I'm sharing it again at IETC in November.) I then dug into the tough stuff... how educators speak at school when there are no children around, and how this affects our students.

One student who had issues at home was an angry child. He was angry with his parents for their divorce, I'd heard he was not a fan of his step-dad, and I'm not sure he was getting the attention he desired at home, as much of it was being directed to his younger sister for various reasons. This is how I saw him in our class. I saw him as someone needing my attention and caring. He wasn't the best behaved, for sure, and it was pretty rough on me. So... I did what I could. I learned about him slowly over the first few months. We developed a pretty good relationship, as we figured out a plan that worked for him, and we even shared a couple of jokes (the ones that didn't distract the class too much). He knew how to make me sing, even - he would hum the first five notes of "Try Everything" by Shakira, and I was hooked!

Then my mind was spun in circles one day. Frustrations can run high in school settings, and educators (I'm no exception) don't always say the perfect words. One coworker of mine, while talking amongst other teachers, called this child an a-----. I tried to help steer my own thoughts by saying even though he may ACT like an a-----, he's still a child. That day, the next day, and the day after that, my brain was tainted with this label for this child. NO. Nonononono. I did NOT want to think of this child as an a-----, and yet the seed had been planted. I worked my butt off the rest of that year trying to get that word out of my head. Trying to get this LABEL out of my head.

We use so many labels. It makes my stomach turn. I started writing down all the labels I've heard used and have used myself. I then began to listen better and hear more words I've used that may be better left unsaid.

What pushed me over the edge was the last day of the 2017-2018 school year. My coworker Yvette and I asked students for further feedback. The question that day was, "What did we do well, and where can we improve for next year?" One sweet seventh grader said, "Thank you for not saying you're going to chop off my knee caps," and another piped in with "...or light us on fire!"

Nonononono. Some twelve year olds do not do well with sarcasm. These words were the ones that encouraged me to write with the full intent to ask the DBCI group to help me publish it. The ideas in this book came from many educators' words from around the world, not solely from my experiences at my current school, obviously.

I've said some harsh things to students - and teachers - in my past. For sure I won't be perfect moving forward. (Oh, goodness, how I have to learn how to listen more than I speak!!) I want to be better. I want to communicate precisely what I mean, without attaching any negative labels to students or peers. There are also all those words we leave unsaid, that really need to be said - to students and to peers. Consider when we close our mouths in class, and yet we could use that instance to teach about grief, mental health, racial inequalities, or any of the myriad other relevant topics that our students know more and more about due to their access to information.

Writing this book has helped me consider words we use in a new light. As we read Word Shift (yes, I'll be reading bits and pieces again), I hope we evaluate words we, our peers, and our students use, and share others that work more effectively and can be used more often in our schools. How will we find our voice and use it when we hear negative language in schools? How will we elevate and amplify positive messages so they reach more students and colleagues?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Blog Challenge Lessons

This post is week 8 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators. 

It's list-making time...

1. Any educator (or any person, for that matter) can make a blogging challenge. Penny Christensen shows us how here!
2. I can be accountable to a challenge I didn't even expect to do.
3. I can appreciate Penny creating a blog challenge - it must be a bit difficult! Thank you, Penny!
4. I don't like to be told what to write. I kept looking at my lists of things I'd wanted to write about, and I tried to match them to the question I was supposed to be answering (even kind of for this one).

To answer the prompt for this week: What will I keep from this blog challenge moving forward?
     I know I don't like to be told (or suggested) what to write, and will continue to keep this in mind when I'm asking my own students to write as I have in previous years. It's pretty engrained now! I feel I write better when it's something I NEED to write.

Have you started blogging yet? Do you need a nudge? The "resistance" chapter (9) in Shift This has reasons WHY educators should blog (at least as a personal reflection tool), and LOTS of help is here for you on this page of the Weebly. If you need a reminder, tweet to me @JoyKirr and let me know how often you'd like to write. I currently remind two other educators, and can easily add you to the list!

Please keep writing - and share YOUR thoughts and ideas. You never know who you'll impact, and how far it will reach. 💕

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

One reason I click "block..."

"Who are those men on your phone?" Hubby asks.

A bunch of men... who can't (or don't) read - and this is just for the month of June.

We've got military men (I was already married to a Marine in my former life),

some who are just "cool"

or "humble..."

"simple and friendly" men who speak french,

"single" dads (some who have typos)...

"doctor" who happens to be sapiosexual (which I had to look up)...

some are already suspended because they violated a Twitter rule...

one who thinks my life should be "easy and soft..."

some who like to take selfies...

one who's from Italy and has got a son in the US...

one who must know me, as he can promise me that my "stomach may hurt from laughing much..."

guys who want me to love them more...

competing with this one with the "strength of a unicorn..."

This one is searching for a "truth and caring partner..." 
oh, and he must also love his job... 
um... and have two different names...

and "simple and honest" men looking for a "good soul mate."

I was going to post them all here, but 45 is quite a lot for one month. I started to, but it was taking too much time out of my summer to format them right, and I don't think these people (or are they bots??) are worth that time and energy. THIS is when I click "block" on Twitter, and these are the followers I think about when my students get so excited about the number of followers I have... I haven't seen them all to be able to block them all.

I wish they'd take the time to read Twitter bios as they're furiously clicking away - I specifically changed mine to say "enjoying my marriage to the fullest." Either way, they kind of make me chuckle, and they make for a different kind of blog post for me!