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Teaching and Learning Summer 2017

Three articles: an interview with author Todd Parr about great teaching; how to incorporate technology in your teaching; getting your classroom ready for a new school year.
Published: 01/08/2017

Key Takeaways

  1. Thoughts from a veteran educator and his book about how teachers can change the world.
  2. Tips to make things easier for the reluctant tech user.
  3. How classroom setup is a key foundation for the rest of the school year.

Teachers Rock! A Conversation with Author Todd Parr About Great Teaching

With messages of acceptance, kindness and love, Todd Parr’s books—like It’s OK to Be Different and The I Love You Book—are timely and timeless and have long been the favorites of kids everywhere. NEA Today caught up with him to talk about one of our favorite books, Teachers Rock! It’s about all the ways teachers change the world. (Parr’s book also comes with a free Back-to-School poster!) 

What inspired you to write Teachers Rock!?

I wanted to celebrate teachers who I feel can be under-appreciated, but who have a lifelong impact on their students. For instance, my second-grade teacher Ms. Dona really helped me learn to read. I had reading problems and dyslexia and now, because of Ms. Dona, I’m writing children’s books. I wanted to celebrate teachers like her who don’t give up on kids. Over the years, I’ve been in schools all over the country and [I] see firsthand all that teachers do. I felt like not enough people were acknowledging the hard work they do every day, from cleaning up messes to helping kids handle issues at home to buying their own classroom supplies. It seemed like people expected that from teachers but weren’t talking about how wonderful—how life lasting—their efforts are. 

Who was your favorite teacher?

My second-grade teacher Ms. Dona, as strict as she was. But it was tough love and she helped me overcome so many challenges. Also, Mrs. Judson, my fourth-grade teacher, who allowed me to express myself. I had all kinds of crazy ideas and I wanted to put on my own play. I had no idea what I was doing. This was Wyoming—there was no such thing as theater! But I had a very vivid imagination and Mrs. Judson facilitated that. I thought she was just letting me have fun, but looking back I realize she was letting me explore my creativity. 

What do you want all teachers to know?

That you really are appreciated! I know that these days it’s even more challenging with budget cuts and administrative issues, but through it all you go to school every day and teach kindness and empathy and humanity. It is very much appreciated and all that you do does not go unnoticed! You not only teach kids to read and write, but also how to be better human beings. That challenge is greater today than it has ever been, but you create environments that are safe places for kids to have fun and learn.

Your books contain messages of tolerance and embracing differences. Why is that important for kids?

I was held back in second grade because I couldn’t read and the other kids made fun of me. On top of knowing I had a learning problem, I was being made fun of and I remember vividly how hard that was. When I got older, I realized there weren’t a lot of messages for kids about how it’s OK to be different. Not all of us are the same or good at everything. Some of us are slow learners or readers and some excel at it. And that’s OK. I felt different, I felt I didn’t fit in or belong, and that was OK. We spend so much of childhood trying to be like someone else or be like the cool person. But I want kids to know that if they’re not, it’s OK and to embrace their differences. The underlying premise of most of my work is empowering kids to be confident and to feel good about who they are, whether they’re in a wheelchair or wear glasses or have learning problems. 

A lot of kids today are bullied for their religion, or country of origin or immigration status. What’s your message to these kids? What books could be helpful for teachers to read to them?

In Be Who You Are, kids are encouraged to be proud of where they’re from and their family. The teacher has the harder part, acting as a springboard, but maybe the books can lead to discussions about differences and where people are from and the importance of realizing how things really are around the world. This hate is learned behavior and it comes from someplace. Educators can help kids learn new messages, like we are all important, we are all different, we all get sad, we all get mad, and we all matter. Let’s embrace that. I try to keep it simple. I use simple artwork, simple colors. The message can be heavy but the delivery is simple. 

You sign all your books “Love, Todd.” How did that become your signature sign off at the end of your books?

It’s a way to tie up a simple book without answers and say one final positive thing for readers to remember. In my books, I feel like I’m writing a letter to someone I care about. I’m writing and sharing my feelings and emotions and want to help you feel better and be confident. I embraced my struggles, and so can you. That’s the underlying message of everything I do, and I mean it. I want to help. 


Help for Reluctant Tech Users: Tips to Earn Your Geek Cred

By Gwyneth Jones, contributor

In technology (and in life!) sometimes you’re the teacher and sometimes you’re the student—and it’s completely normal to always be a bit of both. One day, you help a colleague learn the joys of the copy and paste keyboard shortcuts. The next, you’re learning how to create and edit a YouTube video. So, whether you’re teaching or learning, or a bit of both, here are a few practical tips to make things a little easier for the reluctant tech user.

1. Make it personal

Teaching technology in isolation never works. But teaching tech with a personal twist works most every time. When a reluctant tech user learns how to do something with technology centered around a subject or topic about which they’re personally passionate, they’re going to be instantly inclined to work harder at it, and feel exultant when they’re successful. For example, when I teach anything related to digital photos, I have the teachers bring in five to 10 pictures of their friends, family, vacations, hobbies, or pets. Using their own photos, I show them how to import, edit, crop, resize, enhance, adjust, and then export those photos. As a final product, we bring some of those photos into a Google or Word Doc to make a captioned collage sheet for the refrigerator. All of a sudden, these teachers are motivated to try on their own! The purpose and the passion may vary, but the skills are the same and easily transferable.

2. Show and tell

Hold a digital Petting Zoo and invite your teachers to drop in and visit. Set up each table with a different tech gadget, software, tablet with a cool app, or super-handy website loaded. No pressure, step aside, hand it over, and let the teachers explore, touch, play, and try the tech devices themselves without any agenda. Familiarity breeds fearlessness!

3. Small steps 

Instead of long professional development sessions before or after school, consider holding a Tech Tuesday, Espresso Tech10 (a fast-paced, coffee-friendly, 10-minute tip session), or a Tech-Fueled Drive By: where you teach one tip in two to three minutes. Show how it works, and then let the teachers try it right away on their own. 

Keep it short and sweet! Teachers, staff, and administrators will respond better when you show them one tip at a time instead of everything you might know about technology. Follow up either situation with a short email with links to more information, examples, and a comic, plus a quick survey to help target the topic of the next Tech Tip session.

4. Think, pair, and share

Once you identify those reluctant, but willing, teachers who are baby steppin’ it to a new tech future, pair them up with an in-school tech buddy to learn together. Tech buddies should check in regularly with each other to share recent successes or challenges. 

5. Make house calls

Some teachers don’t want to come to the library or computer lab to learn with a group of others. They might be shy, intimidated, or just reluctant to do it. Make a house call and go to them. Bring your laptop to their room during their planning period and have a quick one-on-one session. How do you snag them? Go low tech: put tech appointment slips in the staff bathroom and in all the mailboxes. Keep the appointment and follow up! 

6. Let the kids lead

Challenge students to learn the tech skills. Let them practice in class, on their own at home, the local library, or at a friend’s house. Then let them teach the teachers. Tell teachers it’s not just okay, but it’s great to say things like, “Hey, this is new to me, too...let’s learn together!” or, “Wow...Cool! Show me how you did that!” I’m never too proud to say to my kids, “Gee, I don’t know how to do that. Can you please teach me?” And really? They love to! It’s a good thing. 

7. Praise them!

Employ random acts of awesome! Every time you see a baby step forward, recognize it and praise them! It sounds obvious, but it goes a long way. We all like kudos. Show off and share with your school Twitter or Instagram. Maybe create a series of badges for your school learning hub or webpage to show achievements. I know, stinkin’ badges aren’t everything, but people enjoy earning prizes, badges, and geek street cred!

8. One thing

The last important tip is to encourage and challenge your staff (and yourself) to choose just one thing this week, month, or year to focus on and learn. The time limit or duration doesn’t matter. The tech tool or app also doesn’t matter. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your teachers with the million gajillion new tech resources that are out there. That would intimidate anyone. Dare to try and learn one new thing. As a bonus ninja upgrade, challenge them or yourself to record the journey, the epic successes and occasional fails in a blog, journal, Instagram, or Twitter. Be a transparent life-long learner and a daring change agent. We can sometimes inspire others more with our failures and lessons learned than our triumphs. It’s good to share, celebrate, and to remember for next year. 

Finally, give yourself permission to quit. I gave up on Facebook and Snapchat. I didn’t like either and I’m not going to try anymore. I’m a lot happier because of it. I know the saying is “never give up, and never surrender,” but sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to wave a white flag, retreat, regroup, and bide your time for another opportunity to share, teach, learn, and grow.

@GwynethJones, a.k.a. The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a Tweeter, an International Ed Tech keynote speaker, Google Certified Innovator, PBS Graduate Champion of Change, and the author of the award-winning Daring Librarian blog. Gwyneth also is a career-long NEA member and the teacher librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Howard County, Md. And, of course, it goes without saying, she’s ridiculously humble. 


Is Your Classroom Ready? A Good Structure is the Foundation for a Good Year

By Hilary Richardson, NEA member

The posters are hung. The rosters are printed. The lessons are made. The classroom is ready for the school year. Are you? 

Teachers—new and veteran—spend hours poring over lesson plans to perfect them, choosing the perfect décor for their classroom, and setting up the best learning space for their students. Most of us consider these responsibilities the fun part of preparing for the school year and we enjoy time spent on them. But don’t forget the less fun, but extremely valuable, work of creating structures for your classroom. 

Having good, consistent structures in place in your classroom will ensure that the lessons are more successful, the décor is appreciated, and your students learn. Ultimately, spending time to plan and implement good structures for the class will improve the classroom management, and improve the classroom experience for you and your students. 

Start with envisioning your perfect class. Do you imagine neat rows of students, quietly working independently? Or, do you imagine collaborative groupings of students, with tables or desks together, chatting and moving about the room to solve problems? Or, maybe your ideal is some combination of whatever you visualize as your perfect class, use that to assist you in your development of structures. You will want structures that reflect the desired outcome. 

If you want neat rows, orderly activities, and independent work, you will want to consider how to maintain this order throughout the day. You can’t just set up desks in rows and expect order. Consider everything you want students to do in your class: Get out books and supplies, turn in completed work, ask for assistance, and visit the restroom. You need to develop systems for these actions that maintain order. 

After choosing the structures you will use, plan to teach them to your students. Every teacher organizes their room slightly different. As a result, students learn a new system every year. If you teach upper grade levels, students may be learning up to eight or nine new systems each semester. Be patient, that’s a lot of systems to keep straight. If you are consistent and clear with your expectations, they will catch on quickly. Speed this learning by placing posters and notes on the walls and on the board to help them remember the systems. 

The payoff for taking time to teach systems early is immense. Once your students know how to behave and learn in your classroom, the actual learning easily follows, which means the management of learning will be much easier for you.

Hilary Richardson, a Jefferson County Education Association member, has taught American government and history at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County, Colo., since 2004.


Welcome to the School! Year Strategies for Starting the Year Off Right

Pop Quiz: Learn About Your Teacher

By Terri La Masa, Fourth-Grade Teacher Grants Pass, Oregon

On the first day of school, I pass out a teacher test. I ask them questions such as:

  • How long has Mrs. La Masa been teaching?
  • How many children does she have?
  • What is her favorite pet?
  • Where does she like to go for a vacation?
  • What subject does she like to teach the most?

The kids write their guesses, then I orally provide the answers and the class learns a lot about me.

Decorate Your High School Classroom

High School English Teacher

There is a serious lack of tasteful educational posters and decorations for high school students, so I buy plants, fresh flowers, and artwork. Plants not only clean the air in the room, but they provide a caring environment. I always have fresh cut flowers on my desk, and it is amazing how sometimes the most agitated student will calm down after gazing at the flowers. I go to garage sales and buy all kinds of art work to display in the classroom. I also make my own posters and put up a lot of the students’ work.

Get the Parents Up to Speed

By Kathy Nearny, Second-Grade Teacher Chichester, Pennsylvania

After years of trying to give parents all the information they need via back-to-school night and periodic notes, I created a parent handbook that includes: a brief bio of me; my classroom management philosophy and practices; my homework policy; tips on study habits, age appropriate books, good TV programs; and information about the PTO, snow closings, etc.

This has saved me from repeating myself to parents asking the same question. It takes time to do the first edition, but just needs updates in subsequent years.

National Education Association

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