Teacher Chat!

Teacher Chat - TealI’ve decided to start learning more from other teachers around me. I’m eager to start conversations with other teachers to learn from them. I’ll be sharing what I learn in a series called “Teacher Chat!”

Chat with Diane from the USA

What grade(s) do you teach/have you taught? 2nd & 3rd

What’s one thing you do to prepare for/get through parent-teacher conferences?

I have students write a fill-in-the-blank letter to their parents telling what they like about school, their hardest and easiest subjects, their friends. At the conference, that letter is the first item in their folders. I have the student read it to their parents which gives us a great starting point for talking about reading, or whatever their strengths and weaknesses that they wrote about.

What’s one of your favorite end-of-the-year activities to do with your class?

I love to give each student an award. (There is a great list on squareheadteachers.com.) This is the last thing we do before they leave on the last day. We put the chairs in a big circle and then I pass them out, telling a little about what the student did to earn the award. We let each person determine which cheer they want us to give them for their award. It’s a super positive way to end the year.

 What’s one thing you do to encourage good behavior in your class?

Tired of tattling, I made a “Caught InThe Act Doing Something Good” spiral notebook. When kids notice someone doing something good, they write it in the notebook. I read it once a week, kids loved it!

Tell us about one thing you wish you’d known when you first started teaching.

I will never be “caught up” or “finished” with the things I want to do for my class. So, don’t stress, do what you can, then go home and have an enjoyable life outside of teaching.

 What gets you through a hard day?

On hard days, I like to remember the small things that I am making a difference on with individual kids – especially the tough ones.

Online Teaching Conference 2015

I recently attended another conference, the Online Teaching Conference. Held at the San Diego Convention Center, it covered a wide variety of topics from increasing participation in online classes to free tech tools to group work in distance education classes. I’m assuming that most teachers in America (of the world, for that matter) don’t teach courses exclusively online. However, many of the ideas presented there are applicable to any teaching arena.

Online Teaching Conference

The topic I found the most interesting was the conversation about group work.  One of the suggestions was to encourage the group to not only do an “ice breaker” at the start of their team experience, but to also explore what roles each member would have in the group. After the students discuss roles, teachers can have the group decide on group rules and expectations.  This is especially important for a long-term project.

One of the teachers presenting talked about how they have their students turn in a “group expectations” page detailing what the group expected of its members. The presenter said that while they give the group a grade for turning in the page, they don’t necessarily grade the group on how closely they actually stick to their original expectations. This is often because the students set unrealistic expectations for the group. On a number of assignments, the presenter said he asks his students to revise their expectations document part-way through the project so they can make their guidelines more realistic. The presenter indicated that the times when he provides this kind of group support to his students, the groups usually do better, produce higher quality projects and get along better.

This idea makes so much sense! But, I had never thought of it! Learning how to function in a group (that you can’t always choose) is an essential skill in today’s world, and we as teachers can do a lot to help teach our students how to be a good group members.

What have you learned about working with groups (in your experience as a student or as a teacher)? Comment below!

#WhatIWishMyTeacherKnew (Learning About Your Students)

I recently learned about a project launched by a Colorado teacher, Kyle Schwartz, called #WhatIWishMyTeacherKnew. The main ideas is that this third grade teacher didn’t feel like she knew them very well or how to support them. She asked her students to finish the sentence “I wish my teacher knew…”. The students’ responses were honest and highlight the struggles in their lives and the importance of truly connecting with our students. Here are some articles about the project:

How #IWishMyTeacherKnew can help teachers support students – Christian Science Monitor

Students Share What They Wish Their Teacher Knew – Huffington Post

Colorado Teacher Shares Heartbreaking Notes From Third Graders – ABC News

I Wish My Teacher Knew’: Social movement sparked after teacher shares heartbreaking notes from third graders – FOX News

I think this is a great idea! It’s important to know what your students are struggling with so you can find ways/resources to help them. If you do this exercise with your class, and are comfortable sharing the results, join other teachers on Twitter by using the hashtag #whatiwishmyteacherknew. i wish my teacher knew STICKER Use this printable to collect your answers if you’d like: I wish my teacher knew

Student Self-Evaluation for Parent Teacher Conferences

Self Evaluation Preview

Parent teacher conferences are stressful. There are so many things that teachers want to show parents that  it’s hard to remember everything! Hand each of your students one of these pages and let them tell their parents about how they’ve done! One less thing for you to do! Also, I’ve found that giving students a self-reflection page before handing out grades, helps kids be less surprised by their grades.

Get the free PDF from my recent post over at We Are Teachers!

Blended Learning: The Classroom of the Future?

I recently read a fascinating NPR article called “Meet the Classroom of the Future.” It describes the experience of a sixth grade class in Brooklyn, NY as they implement blended learning in an effort to increase student scores. The article defines “blended learning” as “combination of human capital and technology” in a classroom.

Blended Learning STICKER


Here are three excerpts from the article I thought were interesting:

“Beneath all the human buzz, something other than humans is running the show: algorithms. The kind of complex computer calculations that drive our Google searches or select what we see on our Facebook pages. Algorithms choose which students sit together. Algorithms measure what the children know and how well they know it. They choose what problems the children should work on and provide teachers with the next lesson to teach. This combination of human capital and technology is called “blended learning.” And regardless of whether it makes you uneasy, the program, Teach to One, seems to be serving Boody Jr. High well. A recent study of the 15 schools using Teach to One, had mixed results, but showed they are outperforming their peers nationally on average.”

“When these sixth graders get to class, they either log onto their laptop or check a monitor at the front of the room. It tells each student where to go — the room is quasi-divided by book shelves and small dividers into 10 sections… The computer also tells them what kind of lesson they’ll do.”

“Whether [the students have understood the lesson] or not, the algorithm will ultimately find out. At the end of class the kids do a short quiz called an “exit slip,” which the algorithm uses to gauge what they’ve learned. In five questions, this exit slip gives the algorithm the information it uses to decide which students will be grouped together the next day, and what work each of them will do. In a sixth-grade class, in theory, students might be working on everything from 4th grade level math to 8th grade level math. Around 5 p.m. every day, teachers get an alert telling them how students will be grouped and what lessons they’ll need to teach.”

This concept of blended learning is very interesting. As the article indicates, there are many pros and cons. One of the main concerns is that these algorithms end up teaching to standardized tests. I haven’t researched the idea enough to have a solid opinion for or against. The article ends with this sentence: “What remains unclear is the point at which standardization begins to take away from those other educational hallmarks: creativity and critical thinking.”

What do you think of this idea? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

Where Should I Sit? (Student Spacing Trick)

Where Should I Sit Photo
There are times when students need to sit on the ground. It may sound like an easy task, but most teachers have heard “There’s not enough space here!”  or “Scoot over! You’re too close to me!” right after you give that direction. Here’s an easy solution:
 Cut out a bunch of small foam circles. Then as you’re giving directions, drop them on the ground in a spread out circle so students know where to sit. This is an idea that many PE teachers use (but they use those dinner plate sized rubber circles that are pretty pricey). This idea takes the genius of that concept and adapts it to an economical, storage-friendly solution.  Just be sure to have kids return the foam circles when you’re done with the activity (or maybe right after they sit down, so they don’t become a distraction).
Have a good idea to share? Send it to me (squareheadteachers at gmail dot com) so other teachers can benefit also! Thank ya much!


Minimize Distractions and Visual Clutter in Your Classroom

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Piles and clutter drive me crazy (in my classroom and my home)! And it’s not just physical clutter that I can’t stand. Visual clutter also bugs me. Here’s a super easy trick to hide stuff and minimize the visual clutter in your classroom.
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Use panel curtains and a tension rod to hide sections of a bookcase and other areas.  But more important than addressing my pet peeve, these curtains minimize the distractions in your classroom. If every inch of your classroom has multiple colors, shapes and patterns in view, your students will have a harder time concentrating on what you’re saying and showing them. I recommend choosing a solid color or light pattern for your fabric. It doesn’t have to be boring white, but it shouldn’t be super eye-catchy.  While it’s pretty trendy right now to pick a bright color scheme and use it in every pattern possible all over your room, think about what it does to your students who already have a harder time focusing. Kids only have so much focusing power in them, so help the focus on what’s really important (which probably isn’t your cute color scheme). 🙂
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How have you minimized the visual clutter in your classroom? Send me a picture (squareheadteachers at gmail dot com) and I’ll post it here to share with other teachers. Thank you!

Fun Halloween Ideas

It’s finally “Halloween season!” Bust out the spooky decor and let’s get scaring! Ok, fine… maybe you can’t do as much fun Halloween themed stuff as you could years ago, but here are some productive Halloween ideas for you. I found them on Pinterest.  (Oooh! Follow me on Pinterest!)…

paper chain ghostI think this paper chain ghost (source) could be a fun class craft… or adapted into a management tool!! It might work to build the ghost out of paper chains, and then tell the class if they can get rid of the ghost, they earn a prize (extra recess, no homework for a night, etc.). When the class does well, remove a paper loop and throw it away. The kids can see the ghost disappearing, so they can see their progress towards a prize. Or you could be really ambitious and do this in reverse, by earning paper chain links to build the ghost and earn the prize.


I’m musically challenged. It’s ironic, because my husband is very musically gifted (I guess opposites really do attract). Anyway, whenever I have a chance to bring a music activity that SOMEONE ELSE PLANNED into my classroom, I jump on it. Especially when it’s about a holiday (killing two birds with one stone)! Here’s a clever Halloween song and rhythm game. It’s not too difficult, and it involves some physical actions, so I’m all for it.

Click here for the directions and printable game cards.