Using ClassDojo to reinforce 21st century skills in PBL

I haven’t used ClassDojo since the beginning of last year. I didn’t think that I would need to use it again, since I’m working at a selective school, and I naively believed that these young people would be 100% engaged 100% of the time. Oops. I was wrong. No one is going to be engaged all of the time, and that’s the same with kids at selective schools, Well, if I’m entirely honest they are super on task when doing something independent – but collaborative tasks seem to bring out the chatty in my year 10. For the first three projects this year I tried to encourage them along with shushing, and then a bit of serious bitch face mode, but mostly it had little effect. To give a bit of context, I don’t have my own classroom anymore, so I can’t really move the furniture around to suit our project work – no more matching the physical space to the learning for me. This means that group work is more side-by-side work, with students being very close to others not in their teams, and you know what that means – off task chatter. After a bit of a think, I decided to go back to ClassDojo.

Year 10 parent-teacher interviews are coming up at the beginning of next term, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to test out the report feature in ClassDojo too. I’ve promised my students that I will be printing out individual reports to show their parents their behaviour in class – both the good, and the bad. This certainly got their attention! If parents are happy with what they see, I can organise for them to set up their own ClassDojo account, so they can track their child’s performance – nice, huh?

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There are a few cool new features in ClassDojo that make it perfect for Project Based Learning. Here they are:

Flexible points for behaviours:

I can now change the point value for different behaviours – previously it was just one point per behaviour. Now I can make the 21st century skills we’re focused on worth more – for example, this project we’re assessing collaboration and creative and critical thinking, and these three skills I’ve made worth 5 points. Students have been given a BIE rubric for each skill, so they know what I am looking for. Other behaviours like being on task, or participating are worth 1 or 2 points.

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I use a timer a lot in my class, so having it built into ClassDojo is super convenient. I use the timer for things like changing the furniture (thanks Cameron Paterson), speed dating style activities and timed writing activities.

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This doesn’t replace my formal attendance check using Sentral, but it does mean that when I allocate points to the whole class, it doesn’t go to absent students. Winning!

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Random student selector:

This is my favourite new feature. Basically you click ‘random’ and it just brings up a randomly selected student’s name ready to receive, or lose points. So cool because it reminds me to look at those students who I might miss, plus also helps me ‘catch’ kids doing the right thing. Finally, it is a cool formative assessment tool like Dylan Wiliam uses his paddlepop sticks – if the student whose name got picked randomly is doing the right thing, the whole class gets a point, if not, no one gets one. The trick is to keep the student’s name anonymous, so there’s no finger-pointing if points aren’t awarded.

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The app:

OK, so this has been around for ages, but now it is seamless. Today I was outside of the class working with team representatives, and I could give points and the students in the classroom could see the points going up (or down) on the IWB. I even went to see a colleague in the staff room and was awarding points from there – needless to say, my students were pretty impressed. Haha. Having the app on my phone frees me up to walk around the room and work with students, and also to see what they’re up to, and award points accordingly. So cool.

I’m super happy with how ClassDojo has been helping year 10 stay focused, and feel that their 21st century skills are being developed and rewarded each lesson. Tech win!

Using Google Forms for formative assessment #GAFE

The other day I tweeted asking for suggestions for the best student response apps to use for formative assessment, assuming that Socrative would be the best. Aaron Davis asked why I wasn’t thinking about using Google Forms, given that DEC schools now have access to GAFE. Initially I was skeptical, thinking it wouldn’t give me immediate access to responses, but after a quick play I discovered that I was wrong.

I trialled my new toy today with year 12. I wanted to test they understood the requirements of our latest module which I had presented to them the day before through a PPT. I create a ten question quiz, created a short link and then posted it to Edmodo. It took students about 5 minutes to complete, and then I posted up the collective results from the class, and went through what were the right answers. They best thing is that it is totally anonymous (one of my students shouted out, ‘I hope it’s anonymous!’ just before I revealed the results, lol), so students didn’t need to feel embarrassed if they got a question wrong, however they knew themselves when they got one wrong, and why, through my discussion of the answers with the whole class.

Below is a super quick tutorial for how to make your own formative assessment quiz using Google Forms. 

1. Open Google Drive and select ‘new’.

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2. Move your cursor to the bottom to where it says ‘more’ and then click on ‘Google Forms’.

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3. Add a title to your form – this will be the name of the quiz your students see.

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4. Type in your first question – it automatically defaults to multiple-choice, you need it to be multiple-choice for this formative assessment style quiz.

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5. Add in possible answers then click ‘required question’ and then click ‘done’.

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6. Repeat until you’ve added all of your questions.

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7. Scroll back to the top and unselect ‘Require NSW Dept of Education and Communities login to view this form’ – this will take too long, and slow down your students’ responses. Check ‘Show progress bar at the bottom of form pages’ and check ‘shuffle question order’.

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If you want to check their your quiz looks awesome, you can do that by clicking ‘view’ in the toolbar, and then click on ‘live form’.

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It will open a new tab, and look pretty neat, like my one:

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8. Back on your original Google Form, scroll back to the bottom and click ‘send form’.

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9. Click ‘short url’ and copy the URL. Share this with your class via your preferred method – I use Edmodo because it’s super quick and easy.

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10. Once your students all tell you they are all done, go to the back to the top of the Google Forms doc and click ‘responses’ on the top tool bar.

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11. Click ‘summary of responses’ and you a new document will open pie chart responses for all questions, and a little summary of how many people picked each response. Now you can go through the correct answers and discuss why they were right, as a class.

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That’s it – so easy, huh? I’m making one now for my year 12 class to test their understanding of the plot of Henry IV, because we went through it in class today (we read a Shmoop summary that I ‘enhanced’ by using cut-outs of characters blutacked to the whiteboard, moving them around to follow the action of the play). I can’t wait to see if they remember the plot as well as I hoped they did, but if they didn’t that’s OK, because I’ll make sure I plug the gaps in their learning – that’s my job after all, right? :)

Evidenced Based Teaching Practices Self-Assessment – Standards Aligned

This is a document that can be used by teachers or leaders to assess teaching practice. It’s designed using a Solutions Focused Approach technique called scaling, which allows you to identify where you’re at with your current teaching practice, and where you’d like to be. I’ve added the relevant proficient professional standards to help those of you who are working towards your accreditation. Of course, you could easily just jump up to the next level of the same number if you’re working towards HAT or Lead. I hope it comes in useful for some of you! :)

Moving forward with our professional learning community :)

My last blog post was kinda ages ago, and I feel guilty not devoting more time to reflecting on my practice, but the reality is that I’ve been so busy that there’s not been much time. When I’m not focused on professional learning, or preparing learning resources for my classes, I’m trying to get a mental break by watching One Born Every Minute – there’s something disturbingly addictive about that show, lol. Anyway, back to my last blog post: I wrote about the framework for professional learning that is being introduced at my school to support the range of policy reforms being introduced by the DEC. Since that post, I have developed the Collective Commitments scaling document, and completed a list of teaching strategies and tools aligned to each Collective Commitment. (If you’ll remember, Collective Commitment is term we are using for the evidenced based quality teaching and learning practices that the teachers have identified as essential for the success of learners at our school.) Since the post, I have also presented on the Collective Commitments, and related PLC action research to each faculty in the school – I’ve been completely stoked with how the staff have responded to the plan, considering this was the first time that had heard about it. All of the new reforms can be quite overwhelming, but hopefully our whole school PL plan will make it less confronting for everyone.

Below is the PPT that I used to introduce my colleagues to the PLC whole school PL plan. In it I focus on the interconnections between the new reforms, as well as how these will impact teachers through the Performance and Development Framework. I tried really hard to clearly outline the relationship between the school plan, the PDF and our professional learning community (PLC) action research approach to PL. It was quite nice reading through the DEC PL policy and seeing that a lot of what we are trying to achieve at MSC reflects the expectations of the policy – you can see that in the latter slides in the PPT. It felt great seeing that action research, teachers as co-researchers and professional learning communities were explicitly identified as ideal PL strategies. Yay us!

After the PPT, all teachers were given a copy of the Collective Commitments Scaling document, which they were asked to complete confidentially, and then use their results to identify three Collective Commitments that would like to further develop. Why three? Well, whilst teachers only need one Collective Commitment PDP goal, I needed them to pick their top three just in case I couldn’t form a complete PLC team around their first choice of CC goal. I aim to get goals from all teachers by the end of this week – I already have quite a few (Science got ALL their goals in first – yay Science!!). I’m collating all of these goals in a Google Sheet, with all three goals listed, and then their team (once I create them – that’s next week’s job!). Below is the Collective Commitments Scaling document – you might want to use it just for your own self-assessment. Remember that 1 = not so awesome, and 10 = super awesome.

So where to from here? Well, this afternoon I had a meeting with Tony Loughland who is my go-to guy for all things action research. He is helping me create some proformas to support our PLC teams as they design their own action research projects, and he is also coming to our Term 3 staff development day to give a presentation on action research, and then support PLC teams as they create their action research project plans – big stuff, and very exciting! I loved what Tony said today about team work – that you commit to the team only by taking individual responsibility. I think he said it’s a Dylan Wiliam quote. I love it. Each teacher will have their own personal action research project (because they will be introducing an intervention in their own classes), however they will be working towards the same overarching Collective Commitment goal as their PLC team members. I’ll be providing each team with a range of resources to support the planning stage of their action research – which I learnt today has three cycles, all with an associated epic verb (God, I love action verbs!) plan, act, reflect. Tony and I are well chuffed that these align beautifully with my PBL cycles – discover, create, share – and it was rad to have him reassure me throughout our meeting that I already do action research informally (hello, I’m writing this blog, erm ‘reflect’, lol) and that everything I know about running great PBL projects is applicable to supporting teachers implementing action research, so yeah – rad. The first resource I’ve designed to help teachers is the document which lists teaching strategies and tools that align to each Collective Commitment goal. Phew, that’s a mouthful! Here it is for you…

Anyway, I’m off now to create an Edmodo group for the power team of two – Tony and I – so he can share a bunch of resources with me about action research. I’m such a nerd that I’m actually excited, and Tony thinks I’m a little bit mad, lol. I hope these three resources help you, or your school, to reflect on their teaching practice… and maybe even inspire you to think about introducing a similar style of whole school PL plan. Let me know if you do, I’d love to share ideas!

Hammering the acronyms into unity: PLC + PBL + PDF = PL awesomeness! 

Yeats is one of the first poets I ever truly fell for, and I think my fondness comes from his youthful motto, ‘Hammer your thoughts into unity.‘ Perhaps my affection for this quote stems from my own disorganistion, but I like to think that it derives from a desire to find connections between seemingly disparate ideas. I like to learn things, and when I learn them I like to see how they come to shed light on, shape, or further develop what I already know.

When I first found out about the new Performance and Development Framework (PDF) mandated by BOSTES, I was not worried, rather I was excited. Having started a new position where I’m responsible for the professional learning of a school full of teachers, I found the prospect of a new PL framework quite liberating – it meant that existing structures would need reshaping, and new elements introduced. It meant that PL was being foregrounded, which is awesome for teachers and students, but if I’m honest I was excited for myself because it gave me a purpose.

Something else has been happening in Department schools that is new – the school plan. We’ve always had school plans, but this new one is much more rigorous and ensures consistency between schools. I came into my new school when the plan was half-written, so basically the skeleton was there after teachers had been consulted, and I could see the three strategic directions of the school – learning, communication, wellbeing. Staff had all contributed to these foci, and listed a range of things they would like to see develop at the school over the next three years. Having this vision was really great for me, and this combined with the PDF meant I had a mission – to help realise the vision!

Now, just a super quick summary of what the PDF means for teachers. Essentially teachers are required to identify three to five learning goals per year – these form the basis of individual Performance and Development Plans. In order to work towards achieving their self-identified goals, teachers will use a three-phase cycle – plan, implement, review. (Hmm… sounds a bit like my three-phase project cycle (discover, create, share), huh? More on this in a minute!) During this cycle of learning, teachers will self-assess, be observed by a peer and then finally discuss their learning outcomes with their supervisor. The model adopts the very best approach to learning and assessment – they occur side by side, with assessment being formative, wholistic and cumulative. One thing to note, which is essential, is that PDP goals need to reflect the strategic directions of the school. Of course, teachers will be able to set personal goals relating to accreditation, or other career aspirations, as well as subject-specific goals such as implementing a new syllabus. My focus, of course, is more on pedagogy and practice. Why? That’s my job.

Late last year as I was preparing myself mentally for my new job, I wrote a blog post asking people for suggested education-related books to read. Someone suggested DuFour’s Learning By Doing. Thank you! Whilst, I’ll admit, I haven’t read the whole book – I’m more of a fiction grrrl – I have read the important bits, and quickly discovered the overlaps between my PBL approach with students and the PLC approach to PL. Essentially the PLC idea is about shared goals for improving student outcomes, and then working collaboratively to achieve them. The structure itself is very much like action research and the PDP cycles – agree on a goal, plan ways to achieve that goal (PDP: Plan), develop strategies and resources to support the achievement of that goal (PDP: Implement), reflect on outcomes and celebrate learning (PDP: Review). Hey, that cycle sounds like PBL, right? It totally is PBL for teachers, and yes, I was giddy when I saw that connection! So how does this all look now that it’s come together in my head? Well, here’s a flow chart that I hope makes sense:

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I was very excited to present this to the senior executive yesterday afternoon, and to receive really positive feedback. Are you wondering about the nitty gritty of this approach? Well, in the spirit of sharing, here’s a bit of an overview of how our PLC Teams will work.

1. The first stage was to create a list of ‘Collective Commitments’ (this is an expression taken from the PLC book, it’s basically what it says – the collective commitments made by the whole school, including students and parents, regarding the future direction of the school). I generated our CC list from our school plan, the Schools Excellent Framework, the Standards and the Quality Teaching Framework – essentially we have ‘agreed’ to all of these policies by the mere fact that we are employed teachers.

2. Teachers will ‘scale’ themselves on each of the ‘Collective Commitments’ using a scale from 1-10, where both 1 and 10 are given a description to guide teacher self-assessment. For example, if the ‘Collective Commitment’ is ‘Differentiation’ 1 might be ‘All students work on the same tasks, all of the time’ whereas a 10 might be ‘Learning activities offer a variety of entry points for students who differ in abilities, knowledge and skills’ (this latter point is taken from the DEC GATS policy). All of our staff were trained on how to use scaling as part of our recent Staff Development Day on the ‘Solutions Focused Approach’.

3. Teachers look over their self-assessment using the list of ‘Collective Commitments’, and identify one that they wish to work on this year. This will become their PLC PDP goal for 2015 (we only need one in 2015, as it’s the first year for the PDF). Teachers will either email me their PLC PDP goal, or give it to their head teacher who will then pass them on to me.

4. PLC Teams will be created around shared PDP goals – for example, four different teachers have all identified ‘differentiation’ as an area of their teaching they’d like to improve, and they become a PDP Team. These teams will be cross-faculty, based on self-identified learning goals.

5. Staff Development Day for term three will introduce the idea of the PLC Teams to our staff. The day will loosely be based on the following structure: in the morning session I will give a 20 minute presentation on the PLC framework, using the flowchart above as a reference point and explain how the teams will work. An invited guest (hopefully Tony Loughland) will present on action research, because essentially all teachers will be engaged in action research as part of their PLC team (action research is the fancy term for teacher PBL, lol). He will especially be focused on three areas: accessing current research literature to support the ‘plan’ or ‘inquiry’ phase of the project; collecting evidence/data using a range of methods during the ‘implement’ or ‘create’ phase; and analysing the data to discover the impact their intervention (this is a fancy word for ‘strategy’) has had on student learning – this occurs at the ‘review’ stage. The middle session will see teachers moving off into their teams to plan their action research project – they will be provided with some quality resources to support this task, as it is really, really hard. Tony, myself and the senior executive will be supporting a few PLC Teams each. The last session will see each PLC Team briefly present their PLC Team action research project (is that too much of a mouthful? Haha!) to the rest of the staff.

6. This brings us to the final part of the ‘plan’ stage of the cycle – research. Each teacher will spend time researching an intervention (teaching strategy) that they have chosen to implement. This might involve: broadening their professional learning network – think Twitter, blogs – to connect with others who have use the strategy before; finding resources online; reading academic articles; attending conferences or participating in online workshops; reading books about their PDP goal (e.g. ‘differentiation’). As HT T&L, I will be supporting teachers at this stage through directing relevant resources to each team and teacher – I get A LOT of flyers, emails and phone calls about all sorts of PL opportunities, and this framework means that I know exactly who these opportunities are most suited to. Using this new information, teachers then design a series of lessons that incorporate this new strategy – this may be one week, or the length of a unit.

7. Implementation: this is where each teacher acts on their plans, using the resources they accessed or created during the ‘plan’ phase. Each teacher will collect a range of evidence to help them identify whether learning is being positively affected by the intervention – this might be a pre and post test, observation of student behaviour in class, a brief interview with one student, or a focus group, samples of student work, as well as the mandatory peer-observation (one of the PLC Team observes another to see how they are implementing their chosen strategy, with a short debrief afterwards).

8. Review: After each PLC Team member has implemented their intervention, and collected their data, the team will meet again to review their findings. This will be both formal and informal – I foresee it as being a structured conversation, where each teacher shares their ‘findings’, backed up by evidence/data. I will be providing teams with resources to support this process to ensure that the conversation is solutions-focused and forward-looking, rather than focusing solely on problems. A lot of the resources and strategies used for PBL teamwork will be super useful here.

9. Celebration of learning: This stage is integral to the PLC model, and that’s probably why I love it so much. The end of the PLC Team action research projects will see them potentially celebrate their learning in three different ways. Firstly, all teams will share their learning (not their success or failure, remember, because we’re only focused on learning here) through a Pecha Kucha presentation at a whole school staff meeting. This means that we are learning from each other – if I see a team has seen improved learning outcomes after using a formative assessment strategy, perhaps I’ll try that with my students. Secondly, teams will be invited to present at conferences – if calls for papers/presentations happen to come across my desk, and seem relevant to specific teams, I’ll encourage that team to apply to present at the conference. Finally, teams will be given the opportunity to present their findings at a TeachMeet to be held at MSC in Term 4, as well as any other local TeachMeets they are keen to attend.

10. The final stage in all of this is for teachers to reflect on their own learning. This means going to the PDP document and filling in the required 200 word reflection statement, and having a meeting with their supervisor. Following this is the establishing of PDP goals for 2015. Note, not all PDP goals will be targeted using the PLC Team model. Teachers will have 3-5 PDP goals each year, however one of those goals will be drawn from the Collective Commitments which, in turn, are drawn from the school plan. Teacher will, as mentioned previously, have other goals related to their specific content area, as well as their career aspirations. The PLC PDP Goals, are specifically about improving pedagogy and practice in line with the school’s agreed vision for student learning (also known as strategic directions).

Just a final word about why I think this style of whole school professional learning plan might work. My last school didn’t have a whole school professional learning plan – well, if there was one, I didn’t know what it was. That’s a bad thing. Why? Because if the teachers don’t know why they’re doing something, why will they do it? Learning needs to be goal-oriented, otherwise learners are disempowered and feel that the learning is ‘happening to them’, and that’s not a good thing. I want the teachers at my school to work together to LEARN BY DOING. We need to be active learners, and model that for our students. The introduction of the Performance and Development Framework, the School Excellent Framework and the new School Plan structure, provides us with an exciting opportunity to change the way schools work. I know that sounds like I read it from a BOSTES policy document, but I truly do believe it. There are bound to be hiccups – finding time and resources, supporting our casual staff, establishing expectations and systems to support the documentation process are some that come to mind – but the benefits to student learning, and having a shared vision for our school’s direction, is surely worth it.

This, of course, is still just an idea, and a draft of an idea. It wont’ become reality until I’m sure that all of the staff at school have contributed to it, shaped it and feel happy to go ahead. The success of a PL plan like this depends entirely on the buy-in of staff – if they feel it’s just another ‘thing’ they have to do, well, it’s just not going to be a community, is it?

PS: Here’s another flow chart that might be handy for your staff to understand the relationship between all of the policies that impact what we do in the classroom and why… much credit to my inspiring head teacher of English, Marisa Carolan who helped design it.

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How do you stay organised?

I am a terribly disorganised person. I’m not a messy person; my home is tidy, my desk at work is tidy. Despite this, I somehow manage to be completely disorganised – I forget to reply to emails, or return phone calls, and I am usually rushing from one meeting to the next with only a few minutes to mentally prepare for them. The problem is that I can get by this way. I’m good a skim-reading, and I can survive in meetings because I pick up cues from people pretty quickly. The problem is that my disorganisation affects others. My students don’t get work returned on time, or I fail to respond to their questions via Edmodo. My colleagues are impacted because I forget to reply to emails, or plan important meetings, and I lose important bits of paper like student work, or really any bit of paperwork given to me. (Just tonight I missed the faculty dinner because I’d double-booked.) My disorganisation also affects my family – we don’t have a routine for homework, or regular bedtimes, and rules set are often forgotten as quickly as they are set. My new job means that I need to be better organised, as there are many more goals to achieve.

I know I have a problem. That’s the first stage of being fixed, right? I’ve moaned about my stress and forgetfulness on Facebook a lot, and my mates on there (pretty much my edu PLN) are super helpful, providing me with tips from tech tools to keep me organised, to quick and easy dinner solutions. They really do rock. Over the last week, I’ve tried to start using a couple of the tips suggested by my mates, and I’ve noticed small differences in my stress levels (for the better), but still feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of things on my ‘to-do’ list. Here they are:

1. Allocated ‘cooking’ days to the whole family.

Typically I always cook dinner. I’m not a very good cook, so I just make the same meals regularly. I am a bit of a stickler for cooking fresh, from scratch meals most nights – we’re all vegetarians, so if we don’t eat fresh food, we’ll be stuck eating a diet of mostly carbs. Cooking tends to be an escapist activity – I use it to avoid catching up on pressing work. To avoid this, we’ve decided to set ‘cook days’ for everyone. We’ve negotiated days around the after-work activities we each have. Both my boys are old enough to cook dinner now – they have a couple of meals they can manage to do well, so that’s a start. Lee and I cook twice a week, and the boys cook once, leaving one night free for take away. It’s been really great so far this week.

2. Allocate ‘dog’ days.

We have two dogs. They take a bit of care. Typically we just tell the boys to feed them and clean up after them, which leads to a whole bunch of complaining and finger pointing. This week we established days that the boys were responsible for the dogs – Keenan does Mon, Wed and Thurs, Balin does Sun, Tues and Fri, leaving me to do Saturday. There’s been NO fights about the dogs this week. Gold. You might not have dogs, but some similar task your kids do in a haphazard way, or maybe it’s just me and I’m slow to put in these types of routines, haha.

3. The ‘hour of power’ work session.

This idea is stolen from one of my new colleagues, Fiona. She is year 7 advisor, and has encouraged the year 7 students to set aside one hour each day after school (always the same time) during which they do nothing but school work. I tweaked this idea slightly, based on a tip from the Gifted Children facebook page – basically the hour isn’t just for school work, it’s for studying. This means that your kids can’t say ‘I don’t have any homework’ and then go back to gaming. If they have no homework, they need to work on an upcoming assignment, or they do some revision work for a subject that might be causing some trouble. My ten year old does his homework really quickly, so we’ve been using the time for him to do some extra maths online using the IXL site. How does it look? At 4.15 each afternoon, my boys and I sit at the kitchen table with our laptops, or workbooks, and some afternoon tea. We then work for a solid straight hour. It’s been super successful this week – great for me to focus and not rush around the house cleaning or getting dinner ready. I’ve been able to help both boys with their work, and get my own emails and stuff done. Awesome.

4. OneNote for lesson planning

This is something that was suggested to me quite a while ago (thanks Paula Madigan), but finally I bit the bullet and gave it a go. Essentially I have created a ‘school’ OneNote notebook, and then sections for each of my classes. Each section is broken into pages and subpages. Each page is a ‘week’ in the term, and its subpages are lessons. The reason I’ve chosen to use OneNote is because you can embed all types of files into your page, so all my resources for a lesson can be held in the one space. I’ve been identifying learning objectives, tasks and homework for each lesson. Obviously not all lessons are massively detailed, because sometimes I’m not sure what students will focus on in my project based classroom. Also, some lessons are recorded after the fact, but that just means that I’m tracking what I’ve done and will help me next time I teach the same topic. Here are some images of what it looks like for me so far:

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I’m planning on using the Wunderlist app also, as recommended by Alice Leung. I’m a big fan of pen and paper lists, but they get lost and I need to keep them in one place, with reminders and stuff. I’ll be sure to write about it if it keeps me organised. Finally, I need a good diary, and my mate Megan Townes is going to give me some tips on how to use Outlook synced to my Mac calendar. I’m constantly on my phone, so I think that’ll be a real game changer.

So, do you have any tips for how to keep organised as a teacher? I came across this wicked list of what the schedules of successful people look like, I think I will steal some of these ideas… you might want to as well?

Words about a teacher I never knew

I’m not sure why I wanna write this post, or what good it’s going to do for anyone once it’s written. I guess I’ve just always seen this space as a place where I can reflect on things, share my confusion, or just say stuff that I’m feeling, or I’ve experienced. These things are nearly always related to my job – being an English teacher – and I think this post is too. Just, it’s different.

I feel the need to write something about Stephanie Scott. I’ve typed that name into Google about 15 times in the last few days. Her death feels like it’s personal to me, in a way that goes far beyond the usual voyeurism of media drenched tragedy. I tell myself it’s because she was a teacher, and we teachers are like a secret society who sometimes have falling outs, but who always band together. I tell myself it’s because she taught the same subjects as me – English and Drama (although admittedly I haven’t taught Drama since I was 26… the age she was when she was killed) – and that makes me feel even closer to her, even though (of course), I didn’t know her. We English teachers in NSW – yes, the state matters – are a tight crew with some magical, intangible connectedness… is it Belonging that did that to us? I don’t know, it seems silly to say it but it kinda makes sense. The ETA Facebook page has had a number of tribute posts for Stephanie, with so many responses… a Dickinson poem that just really was beautiful. And then there’s the fact that she was a young woman… and it feels like that’s the biggest reason I’m feeling this cos it holds the other two reasons together in my experience.

This post has no direction, as my grief for a woman I didn’t know has no direction. I feel false to use the word grief because it’s too personal, too intimate, but I don’t know how else to describe this constant like, erm, bleakness that I’ve been carrying with me since news of her death broke. I remember being 26 and being a newish teacher (at 26 she had more teaching experience than me, as I only started teaching at 25) and just finding it exhilarating and overwhelming and always being ‘on’ – never not thinking about my classes and stuff. She was like that too, because you have to be when you’re a young female English teacher. It’s all consuming and so emotional that you can’t explain it to anyone – maybe only other young female English teachers. It’s that commitment to her craft that saw her at work on a Sunday. It just crushes me to think beyond that. So, yeah.

I don’t know how I can help Stephanie’s colleagues cope with their loss. I’ve heard about the put a dress out idea which is beautiful, and the books idea too. I think I’ll send some books. I thought maybe I could send copies of the books I’ve written, or offer some professional learning to the staff – how fucking lame is that? I just feel completely useless. So instead, I wrote this. It’s not for her colleagues – cos just like with Stephanie, I don’t know them, but my god I feel helpless for them and their deep grief and shock – it’s for my messy brain, and perhaps just to say to any teacher reading this that we need to stick together, and just acknowledge that we’re all here and working and it’s OK to be overwhelmed and sad and scared when shit is shit. I’m especially concerned for the female teachers who, like me, might be feeling less confident, less safe and just a bit lost. I keep thinking about how trusting I’ve been, (and why shouldn’t I?) with strangers or casual acquaintances within my workplace and begin to doubt myself and my choices. And I get angry. Very. Angry. So anyway. We shouldn’t need to be and I just feel pissed that a young educator has been taken from us. One of us – an English teacher. She was one of us… and it’s shit and I just wanted to say that because it’s affected me. My thoughts continue to be with her family, friends, colleagues, and students but they’re also with my fellow teachers. Stand together and strong. Please.