How To List Your Way to Better Teaching

What Lists to Keep to Move Your Instruction Forward

7 Reasons to Actually Start Using Google Keep | PCMag

I am a list keeper.

There is satisfacton in making a checklist and completing the list.

I keep lists in my paper planner and also in my Google Keep app. Keep is on my phone and also provides a checkbox option. I can also transfer any note to a Google Doc. New learning from the last two weeks is that I can share a note with another person. This means personal notes I can share with my teacher gmail account so I have access and edit ability for everything.

For teaching , I toggle back and forth between my planner and what I call the “Rose Binder”. The rose binder is the place I put all the important things. It is where I keep student data before it ends up in the spreadsheet, lists, papers I need to not lose in the abyss of my desk, etc. Why rose binder? The binder I use has a clear sleeve for the cover where I add pictures I like. Many years ago I found a picture of a bouquet of roses from Victoria Magazine which I placed in the front. Voila!

Lists calm my mind because I know important actions have been captured and I do not have to use brain power to repeat things to myself. Lists keep me sane.

For me, my teacher lists ensure I do not lose or forget anything. With as many decisions that need to be made moment to moment this simple tool keeps me focused and on track.

Where To Keep Your Lists

  1. In the back of your paper planner (I use the Passion Planner)
  2. Important Paper Binder (My Rose Binder)
  3. Post it notes (that you adhere to the paper planner or the binder)

Teacher Lists I Keep

  1. Favorite quotes
    1. For writing instruction
    2. Motivation
    3. For articles
  2. Education article ideas to write
  3. Things to Remember for the Next School year
    1. I add to this list all year – this is where the lightbulb moments for changes to a lesson get logged, the resources you want to add later to a unit, materials you need to make or find, systems to begin, things to let go of, etc.
  4. Things to Buy for my Classroom
  5. Picture Books I need
    1. I buy a lot from thrift stores and Goodwill
    2. Borrow from Library
  6. DMO for school
  7. Printing jobs
  8. Project Ideas to Do with Students
    1. Current ones for me: mini gardens using toilet paper rolls, Kindness project, Books for me to write for kids, and Books for the World

Other Lists I Keep

  1. Random notes
  2. To do for the day
  3. Topic lists to research
  4. Lists of 10 impressions I have noticed within the day
  5. Short Story ideas
  6. Delights
  7. Articles to read later
  8. Places to publish
  9. Funny phrases the kids say
  10. Anything I want to remember
  11. DMO (see below)

D.M.O

I keep a list called the DMO – Daily Method of Operation. This is the list you keep that is the minimum for you to have a successful day that comes from Tony Robbins. One thing I have learned recently is that success is subjective. I will also tell you I have been thinking a lot about fulfillment vs achievement.

What is my DMO list you ask?

  1. water
  2. walk
  3. mantra
  4. connection
  5. fasting

What are Your Lists?

What are the most important lists you keep? I would love to hear in the comments!

Can I Ask You A Question?

An Examination of Interrogatives

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Questions and ideas should be the ax that breaks open the frozen sea within us.  -Kafka

How much thought do you put into the questions that come out of your mouth? Do you write out questions to ask in your classroom? Your journal? Are you on automatic pilot?

I love great questions personally and professionally. As an introvert I like to have an ice breaker question ready when in a social situation. I do not mind silence, but I have noticed people around me do not. I am not a fan of the typical, “What do you do for a living?” question. One of my favorites comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron which is, “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I have found this question leads to all kinds of interesting conversations.

Another conversation question I like is: What is inspiring you lately?

In the classroom, I often plan out higher order questions I want to be sure to ask. The lower level questions come to mind more easily but lessons need to contain more than just surface level content. According to research, teacher questions should be varied and from several category types according to Bloom’s Taxonomy in order for them to be effective. These categories are familiar to every teacher I know: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.

I always love the questions that show how students make connections I would never think of. Connection to other subjects and the world in my experience yield the most interesting conversations. The more questions they students ask, especially the ones that the teacher cannot answer, show students how to research and inquire deeper about their curiosities.

I have found the most effective questions can come from students by having them write questions for each other. I have a space on my board where I pose interesting questions to my students. I love when they suggest one for the next day.

With the high stakes testing becoming the norm, DOK or Depth of Knowledge has been my go-to sentence stems for teaching and coaching. A simple overall breakdown looks like this: DOK 1 have only one answer. DOK 2 you must use information or a concept and usually there are two steps. DOK 3 requires reasoning and usually a more complete answer requiring steps DOK 4 requires synthesis and making a judgment -it requires investigation.

Another simpler method to help teachers if the DOK levels are overwhelming, is “thick and thin question stems” seen below. This is also a great way to teach students to write more robust questions.

Life is better when you ask better questions to others and yourself.

Let’s Talk About Cold Calling

If cold calling is done correctly, it is not a punishment. Many teachers and adults in workshops use it as a tactic to try to control the room by shaming someone who is not paying attention. Don’t do this. It does not motivate anyone to answer you moving forward.

The culture you create in your classroom feeds how your students ask and answer questions. If risk and curiosity is nurtured in the learning environment then they will ask and answer. If you have to shame students into answering your questions, I would examine the engagement and interest level of your lessons.

As a coach I have said many times: Sometimes it is a teacher problem, sometimes it is a student problem and sometimes it is both. Own the areas where you need to improve in order to reach your students.

Cold calling is designed to be a positive technique. You can read more here about it used effectively from Doug Lemov.

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What are your favorite questions to ask? What is inspiring you lately? I would love to hear in the comments!

Do You Know How to Rest?

What Does Rest Look Like to You?

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I am the type of person that thrives on action. I am always thinking and planning and using up all my energy by the end of the day is my goal. I use up the energy by pursuing things that light me up. This is my soul work. The question I ask myself is often, “How can I do this [insert action] at a level 10?” Level 10 is the best I can be at that moment.

But the last couple of days I have been mentally tired. I cannot focus. I cannot read for more than a couple of minutes. To leverage this feeling, I examined how I need to rest and rejuvenate. My rest doesn’t look like other people’s I have learned over the years. In the past, I also have not done this well.

I read the other day that if you have decided to rest yet you are worried about what you are not accomplishing then you are doing it wrong.

What does rest look like to you?

Sometimes rest or slowing down is the way to refuel your mind and creativity.

I love data and research so of course I used my Enneagram type to look up ways to rejuvenate. Some of the ways I listed in my Passion Planner:

  1. Enjoy morning routine and coffee ritual
  2. Laugh
  3. Run
  4. Fold towels (or some other mundane task)
  5. Read
  6. Help someone learn something
  7. Bask in the sun
  8. Listen to a podcast
  9. Be the gift fairy

I execute Level 10 well when I am thinking about my mission. I do not always do so well with the rest side of the coin.

For example, I am the type of woman who moves every day. I have been doing a daily walk/run depending on how I feel for over 70 days now. I know it doesn’t always have to be an intense walk. In order to rest, I need to walk at a slower pace and enjoy the scenery. I need to not be in a hurry to get to the next thing or to be done. I need to enjoy the moment. If I am compelled to run, I run. But if I am going to do rest at a Level 10 there is likely to just be walking.

Planning for the day or the week can be rejuvenating for me because I anticipate obstacles which then calms my mind. I can marinate on how I can show up at a level 10 for them all.

Writing is always rejuvenating for me.

What is your soul work? Where are you putting your energy?

Reading: I reread “Cuisine des Mémoires” by N.K. Jemisin just to enjoy it. It doesn’t mean that if I want to write down a favorite line it is not rest. I just have to pay attention to how I feel.

I know I need a rest day because I have been frustrated the last couple of days and cannot pinpoint why.

I have to pay attention.

I delight in the butterflies and the grasshoppers. the mama horse that takes the apple from me. The collage technique I play with.

Sometimes rest doesn’t look like laying around.

What what does rest look like during COVID? There are still many areas of the nation that are in lockdown. Many people I know do not leave their houses unless it is necessary. Zoom can be just as exhausting as a string of social obligations.

Rest may look different now to you since the world is different. Sometimes it can be hard to rest when there are too many people in the house, especially if they are on a different schedule than you are.

What does your ideal rest look like to you today? How can you make at least one thing from that list happen?

I have been thinking about things I have done in the past that I enjoy but have been neglecting. One of which is playing with collages. I have been inspired by Austin Kleon and his tape collages on Instagram. I also have been missing letter writing. I have a few friends I snail mail occasionally but I have resubscribed to The Letter Exchange. It is a magazine and forwarding service for letter writers. You can read more about it here.

I challenge you to find a new way to rest today – even if it doesn’t look like anyone else’s.

Let me know what you come up with in the comments!

Life Experiments

How Trying Something New Can Help You Be A Better Teacher

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Someone who follows their curiosities is far more interesting than someone who does not. Life experiments are fun challenges that allow you to play with an idea.

I love to read life experiment memoirs. A.J. Jacobs has made a writing career out of this idea. He tried different skills or lifestyles and writes about it. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell is also one of these books. Another is The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders. I find these books inspiring to try something new.

Several years ago I went to a conference (will these even happen anymore in real life? Jury is still out…) and the speaker talked about an experiment with questions.

I love great questions. They lead to fantastic conversations and insights. Questions are great ice breakers and I have used ,”What music are you listening to in your car right now?” and “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I even did a question and answer experiment and wrote about it using the 36 questions that lead to deep connection.

Inspired by the conference, at the next workshop I taught I only asked questions. I made no statements at all. i answered all questions with a question. In theory, this seems like a simple task. Humans like validation I learned. I wanted to see how my teachers would react if I turned everything back on them. Part of my personality is to be the person who gives a direct answer and my teachers know this. It isn’t always the answer people want, but it is the honest one. Many teachers come to me as a coach wanting me to give them permission to do something. In this meeting, I answered every question with a question and it drove them a little nuts. There was some anger in spurts as well. Some questions I asked were simple, “Well, what do you think?” and “How would that look in your classroom?” Finally at the end I told them what I had done. They were relieved and then we discussed how much we rely on validation and feeling seen with answers in workshops and even conversation. They talked about how they felt during the meeting and couldn’t pinpoint what it was that was making them uncomfortable. The questions made them feel unsure about what they were contributing. It was exhausting and I haven’t tried it again. Some of the teachers turned the tables on their students and asked only questions within the next week. It allowed focus on asking great questions in the classroom too.

Following your own self imposed challenges can lead to some fun. I have done challenges like eating vegan for two weeks. I learned I love cheese on my pizza and don’t want to give that up. I also learned how much dairy is in processed food that shouldn’t be – like lentil soup. I read labels much more carefully now.

Summer break allows me to experiment with time. Every summer there is always a reading project. One year, I read books only in one genre and another a whole author’s backlist. I have written many times about my Bradbury Trio challenge. Ray Bradbury, the famous brilliant author, said to be a better writer a short story, a poem, and an essay before bed. This experiment has changed the way I write. The input of wonderful writing and structure has shaped my owns words on the page and I am grateful to all the writers who are my models.

Last summer I imposed “The Writer Schedule”. I imagined what my schedule would look like as a full-time writer and followed it. My first thoughts are about creation in the morning. I wrote short stories and submitted them. I revised my novel. I entered contests. I also observed the world, created experiences, wrote at the coffee shop, made trips to the library and used bookstore, read, listened to podcasts and wrote down these impressions. There was also time for writing conversation with other writers I know. I recorded my wild life as Mary Oliver would have wanted me to. There were also naps. Many details made it into stories and some were just for me in my notebooks.

What experiment will you try?

Ideas to Try to See What Happens

  1. Copy a poem every day in your notebook
  2. Declutter one item per day for 30 days
  3. Perform a random act of kindness for 30 days
  4. Journal every day
  5. No social media for a week
  6. No reading for a week
  7. Walk in the forest
  8. No coffee for a week
  9. A news fast
  10. Cold shower for 3 minutes to start your day
  11. Buy nothing new for a month
  12. Go ziplining
  13. Rent a canoe
  14. Try a weird fruit you never have (you may have to YouTube it to figure out how to eat it!)
  15. Compliment a stranger every day

Growing and sharing these stories with your students is fun. Seeing their reactions to something they didn’t expect you would do is a glorious feeling. Even if the experiment doesn’t go well, you will always get a great story out of it!

I would love to hear which experiments resonate with you. Do you have one I haven’t thought of? Let me know in the comments.

August Weekend Coffee Share

A Cup of Coffee and a Conversation

Welcome to the first weekend of August! Summer is officially halfway completed. Have you signed up for my newsletter?

I am having black coffee today as usual. What would you like today? I think we should take a walk after we have a cup or two. The weather has been less humid here this week.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am in a course hosted by Caroline Donahue called “Write Free”. It is about coming back to your creativity and getting through blocks. She uses the Mighty Network which works well for this project in my opinion. There is a great community and the content has been stellar in week one. I was able to persuade three writing friends to join so that has been a fun thing to share as well.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I hosted Workshop Wednesday this past week. I prefer interactive classes and it was small enough in order for lots of conversation. The conversation centered around personality types and communication. Many people shared and we laughed a lot.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you my kids tease me about doing Zoom calls in the closet. When I have to record anything audio or video it is a good spot with less noise. For workshops I go in there as well of course. A few people made comments afterwards about me teaching from the closet. Sounds like a title of a podcast. The new life we live!!

Do you need a refill? I always drink the first cup so fast!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you my Back to Zero plan is still on track with fasting, hydration, and exercise. I ran/walked every day this past week. There were lots of interactions with animals this week. There are horses I pet on my way every day. There is also an attack mama turkey.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I learned about DMO this past Monday. It stands for Daily Method of Operation. It is the 3-5 things that if you do them means a successful day to you. I made a Keep note and have done my three every day. It is a nice tracking piece for me until it becomes engrained.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I had a wonderful conversation with a friend on Tuesday and it lit my brain on fire. She made a comment to me that brought me back to what is, not what my perspective is. I have been thinking more and more about going back to coaching. I enjoy it so much. The Workshop Wednesday allowed me to use some of these skills as well as some other conversations this week. The lists have begun in the notebook!

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am following the Ninja Writers BYOB (Blog Your Own Book) program this month. Last month was planning and this month is writing. I like the format that Shaunta talks about for articles and so far the community has been wonderful as well.

I would love to hear what delighted you this week!

I will see you in the comments or next week!

Six Ways To Be A Better Writing Teacher

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I have been able to attend several writing conferences through my work over the years. One that had profound impact on me was the writers at work hosted by Ruth Culham in Sun Valley Idaho. I did not know the landscape could be so beautiful in a place I associate with potatoes. This education celebrity met with her small circle of authors every year to plan workshops for the year. Then she opened it up to other educators. The travel there had been adventurous for me with a small plane flying through a thunderstorm. It reminded me of the first time I was on a plane when I was 6 years old.

One of the speakers was Ralph Fletcher. He talked about how all teacher needed to be a writer with a lowercase w. The only difference between a writer with a capital and lowercase w is that capital w writers get paid. If you write, you are a writer.

As teachers, we need our students to learn to write in order to express themselves. I have found through my coaching and my own education experience that writing scares the hell out of most people. There is not a lot of instruction in writing in teacher prep courses. Why would you expect your students to do something that you are unwilling to do?

My Action List:

  1. Bradbury Challenge
  2. Unpack the Text
  3. Learn Through Your Ears
  4. Write in the Edges
  5. Challenges
  6. Join a group of creatives or writers

Bradbury Challenge

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Ray Bradbury said read one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.

This is his formula for an MFA. It works.

It is impossible to not be a better writer if you follow this formula. Read what you like from authors you like. It does not have to be any way connected to the grade level you teach.

recommendations:

Essays: Natalie Goldberg, Ray Bradbury, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Roxane Gay

Short stories: Nancy Stohlman, Kathy Fish, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link

Poems: Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye

Unpack The Text

When you read a piece you particularly write then study it. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What works in this piece and how does it make me feel?
  2. How did the author achieve this feeling in me?
  3. What are my favorite lines?
  4. What can I try in my own writing that the author does?

Action: Write something inspired by the text you studied.

Learn Through Your Ears

One of the ways I take advantage of extra time is to listen to podcasts. I love writing podcasts in particular. I listen to podcasts mostly in the car and during workouts. There is a rotation but I always learn something.

Favorite Podcasts:

  1. Why is This Good? Naples Writers’ Workshop
  2. How Do You Write? Rachael Herron
  3. The Writers Well Podcast J Thorn and Rachael Herron
  4. How Writers Write
  5. Stop Writing Alone Nicole Rivera
  6. Qwerty Marion Roach Smith
  7. Fierce Womxn Writing
  8. Good Life Project
  9. Any podcast with Karissa Kouchis as a guest.

I also like audio courses. I have been listening to Tony Robbins and his Personal Power 30 day program and his Beautiful State training.

Listen to what fuels you and write down the memories and stories that come to mind as you listen. Write about those ideas.

Write in the Edges

I learned a long time ago that if I want to make sure I do something, I have to schedule it.

Write now, open your planner/schedule and plan a 10 minute writing time for the next 7 days.

During that time write:

  1. A memory
  2. Whatever comes to mind
  3. The story about one of your notes
  4. A reflection of a favorite line from something you read
  5. A new story based on a title of something you have read
  6. Morning Pages
  7. Anything in response to a journal prompt
  8. How you are feeling in that moment

My advice is also to carry a notebook and write down ideas that strike you, an overhead conversation, an interesting detail, a 5 senses description of where you are throughout the day. I strive for at least 10 snippets a day.

If you don’t like the notebook use a note taking app on your phone. I am partial to Google Keep. It backs itself up (I lost a whole note app full of gems I can never get back – a whole other story.) You can share notes and also easily make it a Google Doc. You can also use voice to text in this app which works for me when walking or driving. If you run and try to talk there are weird connections of words the device will pick up!

Challenges

Challenges give me a structure and a schedule. There are small challenges and large ones but I gravitate to 30 day or 100 challenges. Some examples are: Storyaday May and September, NANOWRIMO, #the100dayproject, Five Minute Friday (FMF), and Two Writing Teachers blogging.

Storyaday: This challenge is hosted by Julie Duffy and it is just what it sounds like: one story a day for the month of May and/or September. I have challneged my middle school students to do this challenge as well.

NANOWRIMO: National Novel Writing month. This challenge is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.

#the100dayproject: A creative challenge that starts at the beginning of April. The artist creates something every day. In 2020, I wrote a random sentence every day and am creating a short story based on these sentences. Some people do post it note drawings, or doodles, or paintings, or 100 word essays, or poems. It is up to you!

FMF: Hosted by Kate Motaung Kate posts a word on Friday with a great visual. You write with this word for five minutes.

Two Writing Teachers Blog: Every Tuesday, teacher writers post on their own blogs and link up on the TWT blog. In March there is a daily blog challenge where there is support and lots of comments.

Join A Group

There are lots of groups to choose from. Lots of time if you take a class or workshop you can find people you want to continue to talk to after the course is over. There are many writing groups online that are more public like Twitter and Instagram.

There are communities you can join such as Storyaday Superstars, Ninja Writers, Sarah Selecky Writing School, Teachwrite, and Jackie Aston. Almost every author you follow has a connection to a community somewhere. I found Storyaday by Googling several years ago. Find your people!

The point is you want to find a group that is nourishing to you. Some are paid, some are free but you may have to try a few before you find the one where you fit.

Connection

After you try one or all six of these ideas, your brain will start to make connections to how this translates to your classroom. It can even be one of the things you write about during your scheduled 10 minutes.

If you write, you are a writer.

Your students will listen to you more as a model of being a writer rather than being someone who just talks about writing. There must be action.

Next Right Step

Make a change in your writing life today. Write something. Buy a notebook and a pen you like.

Your students will thank you.

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