What You Can Learn from Recording Yourself Teaching

By Andrew Hawk

What You Can Learn from Recording Yourself TeachingWhen I was earning my bachelor’s degree, we had to complete several assignments based on watching a video of ourselves teaching. Back then, cell phones didn’t have the capability to capture videos. I can remember attaching a camcorder to a tripod and putting it in the corner of my classroom. Sigh. To convert my initial teaching license to a professional license, I was required to complete a video reflection activity. My last year teaching at my first school, the principal required teachers to complete at least one video reflection activity.

The reason for the popularity of this idea is simple. The process of sitting down and watching yourself teach a lesson is enlightening. However, for most people, myself included, it is also excruciatingly uncomfortable. But because of all you can learn about yourself as a teacher, I hope you will give it a try, even if you’re not required to and even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Here are a few things you can watch for when viewing your video. I recommend focusing on one to three things at a time. Depending on what you are trying to learn, you may need to watch a video several times.

Teaching Voice

Are you altering your teaching voice at the appropriate times or droning on in a monotone? I spent years working to overcome my monotonous droning. If you lean toward this side of the spectrum, I can relate to you. There is truly nothing wrong with your voice. But altering your teaching voice does help you gain and maintain students’ attention.

Class Discussion Habits

It is really easy to get into the habit of always calling on the same students during classroom reviews and discussions. Watching a video of yourself teaching can help you ascertain if you have fallen into a rut when calling on students. In addition, pay close attention to the amount of wait time you allow between asking a question and calling on a student. The longer you wait, the more hands you usually get in the air. I used to count to five in my head before calling on a student, but the case could be made to wait even longer.

Class Behavior

No teacher can see everything. Even if your class knows you are recording a lesson, you still might see a few things that you missed while teaching. I am not suggesting that you go back and give students consequences after the fact, just that you can be made aware of behaviors you did not know about. You may be surprised with what you learn.

Student Engagement

Calculating student engagement is easy. When observing a teacher, every 10 minutes I count how many students are engaged in the lesson. I calculate a percentage, and that is really all there is to it. Maintaining 90 percent engagement or higher should be your goal. Anything below 75 percent is worrisome. If you find yourself regularly coming up with a lower number, reflect on the possible reasons and make a plan to improve your performance.

Classroom Climate

Regarding classroom climate, ask yourself two questions: What is the climate in my classroom? Is this climate helping me get the most out of my students? It is my belief as both a teacher and an administrator that students learn best in an environment that is relaxed and easygoing.

While all styles of teaching can produce positive results, a teacher must reflect on what makes the biggest impact. Is it when students attend class every day because attendance is required? These students complete everything that is assigned by their teacher because they know they must. On the other hand, is it better if students want to come to class because they feel comfortable with their teacher? In this case, will students take a genuine interest in content material in place of simply meeting requirements?

In both instances, the teacher is likely to get positive results, but I believe the first scenario limits students to doing what is required while the second motivates them to reach their full academic potential.

Evaluation Readiness

Refer to whatever rubric is used during your evaluation observations when you watch the video of your lesson. Reflect on the scores you deserve. It is important to be honest and objective. Try to view your lesson through the lens of your administrator. The goal of this exercise is to improve your teaching, and this is one of the best strategies. In addition, it may also help you increase your performance on your next evaluation.

Colleague’s Perspective

Ask a trusted colleague to review your video and provide you with honest feedback. It is important that you choose carefully when asking someone to do this for you. A close friend may be biased and not provide you with completely candid information. Some people do not like to offer criticism to others, even if it is constructive. The colleague you choose does not have to work at your school. You could even reach out to a former college professor.

Always send home a brief statement prior to recording yourself so parents have a chance to contact you with any questions or concerns. If someone outside your organization will be viewing the video, you should obtain written consent from parents.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.


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4 Ways to Grow Confidence in Struggling Learners

By Ezra Werb, M.Ed., author of Teach for Attention! A Tool Belt of Strategies for Engaging Students with Attention Challenges

4 Ways to Grow Confidence in Struggling LearnersAre you a confident person? Perhaps you’re confident in specific activities, but with others you feel you don’t have a chance.

It’s true that when we struggle with something, this usually results in our lowered confidence. But the reverse can also be true––our confidence in our abilities actually affects our performance. In other words, if we don’t feel we’re capable, we act hesitant, maybe don’t put forth our full effort, and just end up confirming our own self-doubts.

Why Is Confidence So Important in the Classroom?

Let’s turn to our students with learning and developmental challenges. In a 2003 study, researchers found after three years that students’ achievement in reading and math may have been more dependent on self-perception than on their willingness to learn.1

Wow. So students who are already confident tend to keep achieving at a higher level than those with less confidence. The rich get richer. And in my 15 years of experience working with students with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning challenges, I have seen how anxiety and low self-esteem may prevent students from engaging with new material and tasks.

So what can we do––as educators, parents, support staff, etc.––to help give our struggling students the confidence that they can learn like everyone else?

Here are four strategies.

1. Foster Incremental Growth

We generally hope and expect that our students will make substantial academic improvements at a rapid pace. But for students with learning challenges, this may add pressure and stress that results in lowered confidence. For struggling students, we can set attainable goals that they can reach so that they feel successful and see that improvement is possible for them.

I once worked with a sixth-grade student with dysgraphia and dyslexia whose class was already working on five-paragraph essays. This student could barely squeeze out a couple sentences and showed little understanding of writing organization. Rather than push him toward that ultimate goal of five paragraphs, I set one paragraph as a first goal. I knew this was a task he could handle––a target he could hit. After some time working on this, he was able to independently write a paragraph, which boosted his confidence and made him feel comfortable in proceeding to tackle multiple paragraphs.

2. Let Them Be Experts or Use Their Interests

When students are an expert at something or have a strong interest, they feel confident. Whether it’s their favorite TV show, a sport they play, a hobby, or a particular skill they have, we can incorporate student interests into lessons and/or allow students to integrate their interests into their work. Sounds difficult, right? How can we possibly bring Pokémon into a math lesson? What does NBA basketball have to do with writing essays?

Here’s an example:

You’re teaching multi-digit multiplication—a very challenging task for students with learning disabilities—and one of your struggling students appears to get particularly distracted during math. Well, he knows he’s not yet good at the procedures, so he figures he might as well check out mentally. Pokémon, on the other hand . . . with that he’s an expert. Try this: ask him if there are any important double-digit numbers on the back of his favorite Pokémon card. He’ll probably tell you, “There’s the HP number, and also the character’s weight.” Perfect, how about trying to multiply the HP by the weight?

To be clear, this doesn’t help him get better at the actual procedures. What this sort of strategy does––and I’ve seen this happen many times––is reduce students’ stress so that they can approach the task with a modicum of confidence. And with that confidence, they are better equipped to fight through the challenge.

For students who need to improve their writing (at any level), create opportunities for them to compose sentences, paragraphs, and essays about topics of their choice. When a student gets to write a treatise on why LeBron James (her favorite player) is the best NBA player of all time, she will approach writing with an entirely different mindset: focused, motivated, and confident in knowing all those stats and facts about LeBron!

4 Ways to Grow Confidence in Struggling Learners3. Highlight Their Strengths

Another way to use the affinities and interests mentioned above is to give students opportunities to show off their knowledge or talents to the rest of the class. Struggling students may feel inferior to their classmates who seem to have little trouble with work. They may feel like they don’t even belong in the same classroom.

But all students have strengths. It may be difficult to see, at times, considering the
academic struggles they’ve endured. This makes it extra important for us to acknowledge the things students do well and recognize opportunities for them to display their strengths or knowledge, allowing them to feel accomplished in the classroom.

If a student has a drawing talent, for example, find chances during the day where they can draw something on the board to help classmates visualize a new concept or piece of information. If a student enjoys playing chess, perhaps he can show the class how this relates to multiplication or geometry. If a student is a great actor or likes performing, maybe she can act out a scene from the book you’re reading as a class.

4. Give Verbal Praise

We shouldn’t underestimate how verbal praise can affect students with learning challenges. Of course, we need to be deliberate in how we give it out. If we’re just saying “Good job” or “Nice work,” it won’t serve to increase students’ confidence because compliments like these are too vague for students to internalize. We can recognize when students make improvements, show growth, or show effort, and then praise them for these specific qualities: “It’s great how you put your energy into editing your writing.” “The way you kept working at that difficult math problem showed great effort.” “That was a really creative way to answer that question.”

These sorts of praise statements let students know that you recognize their effort, helping them acknowledge what improvements they’re making.

Final Thoughts

Confidence and achievement have a reciprocal relationship. The more you have of one, the more the other grows. For our students currently low on both, we can find ways to create opportunities for them to experience success so that their confidence starts to grow, to get that confidence-success cycle going.

In other words . . . play the Confidence Game!

Reference
1. Bouffard, Thérèse, et al. “Changes in Self-Perceptions of Competence and Intrinsic Motivation Among Elementary Schoolchildren.” British Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 73, no. 2, 2003, pp. 171–186, doi:10.1348/00070990360626921.

Ezra WerbEzra Werb, M.Ed., formerly a behavior interventionist and resource specialist teacher and currently an educational therapist, has been working with students with attention deficits, learning challenges, and spectrum disorders in typical classroom settings, resource rooms, and one-on-one academic support scenarios for more than a dozen years. Ezra earned his master’s in special education with a concentration in educational therapy from Cal-State Northridge and is a member of the Association of Educational Therapists. He lives in Los Angeles, California, where he works in private practice with students with ADHD, spectrum disorders, dyslexia, anxiety, and other learning challenges.

Teach For AttentionEzra is the author of Teach for Attention! A Tool Belt of Strategies for Engaging Students with Attention Challenges


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No Name-Calling Week: Highlighting Pronouns

By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way

No Name-Calling Week: Highlighting PronounsIt’s No Name-Calling Week, time for adults to pay special attention to the names kids are calling one another and the different forms bullying can take. Specifically, let’s consider pronouns and how they can be used as name-calling.

Pronouns are simple words we use all the time to talk about people. (She went to school. He will do homework when he gets home. They are playing outside.) They are both generic and personal to each of us, and are tied to our internal sense of being female, male, both, or neither. When misused, they can become a weapon to demean and degrade a person.

When a girl is called he, for example, the intention is to make the child feel bad. But why is it effective?

When someone intentionally calls a girl he, that person is denying who the girl is. A whole set of other traits are being placed on the girl, and she is meant to feel bad about who she is, what she is interested in, or how she looks. Perhaps the girl prefers sports, or some other hobby typically considered to be for boys, over activities that are typically considered to be for girls.

When she is called he, the girl has our ideas of boys and masculinity placed on her, making her feel that she is not really a girl. She is not who she is supposed to be, which means there must be something wrong with her.

Similarly, when a boy is called she, he is being told that who he is does not fit what is considered to be masculine. Calling a boy she can also be used to imply that the boy is gay. The boy is being told that there is something wrong with being a girl and/or with being gay, and that, by extension, there is something wrong with him.

Beyond the gender binary, there are many children who don’t identify as a boy or a girl, and their pronouns need to be included in this discussion. Yet many adults in kids’ lives—at school or even around the Thanksgiving dinner table—refuse to call kids by the singular they when told that they is what the child goes by.

No Name-Calling Week: Highlighting PronounsAs adults, when we don’t use the singular they (or whatever gender-neutral pronoun the child goes by) for a child who does not identify as a boy or a girl, we deny that child their right to be themselves. We also teach the children around us that they don’t have to respect or accept the child by using the correct pronouns. The same is true of adults who refuse to use a transgender child’s chosen name and pronouns rather than the child’s given name and assigned pronouns.

Using the incorrect pronouns can absolutely affect a child’s self-esteem and sense of identity and self-worth. Intentionally calling someone by the wrong pronouns, or refusing to use the singular they, is a form of harassment and bullying and teaches other kids that it’s okay to use pronouns for cruelty.

Misusing pronouns as an insult is deeply rooted in how we gender our children and the list of traits and interests we assign people based on gender. In order to teach inclusion, respect, and acceptance to the children in our lives, we need to be on the lookout for students using pronouns as a way to be mean to others.

To promote kindness, we must break down our definitions of gender and provide space for kids to just be who they are.

Here are some ways to expand children’s definitions of gender:

  • Make sure there are gender-neutral games and activities in play spaces and classrooms.
  • Read children books that have characters behaving in ways that challenge gender stereotypes.
  • Show children examples of people of different genders and backgrounds participating in all forms of art: dance, music, painting, fashion, and so on.
  • Invite people from the community whose occupations defy gender stereotypes (for example, female doctors and firefighters, male nurses and makeup artists) to visit and speak to kids about their work.
  • Using images, show children famous people who have blurred gender lines (for example, David Bowie, Billy Porter, Grace Jones, K.D. Lang, RuPaul).
  • Encourage children to try different forms of art and to express their creativity in a variety of ways.
  • Look for ways to validate children’s creativity and individuality.

This week, the emphasis is on acts of kindness and thinking about the power of our words. Let’s help expand definitions of what it means to go by she or he, let’s include the singular they and teach children how to use it, and let’s respect who children are and what they want to be called.

Afsaneh MoradianAfsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.

Jamie Is JamieAfsaneh is the author of Jamie Is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way


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Enter to Win an SEL Coloring Book!

Coloring Book GiveawayThis month we are giving away a copy of Coloring Book and Reflections for Social Emotional Learning (in English or Spanish) to five lucky readers. Kids can reflect, relax, and focus with 36 mindful coloring activities.

To Enter: Leave a comment below with your best tip for integrating social and emotional learning in the classroom.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry. Entries must be received by midnight, January 24, 2020.

The winners will be contacted via email on or around January 27, 2020, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Winners must be US residents, 18 years of age or older.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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When We Lose a Fellow Teacher

By Stephanie Filio

When We Lose a Fellow TeacherWhen someone in a school has something to celebrate, the whole school celebrates together. Marriages, graduations, babies—no matter what it is, the staff is less weighty, the kids catch the spirit, and everyone moves through the day with a little extra pep in their step. In the same manner, when something unfortunate occurs to one of us, there is a unified sadness in the school. When a school community grieves, staff and students sit vigil together. To watch a school ache as one is both fiercely heartbreaking and extremely heartwarming at the same time.

Sometimes tragedy hits very close to home and we lose one of our own.

A school might go years without losing an educator, or it might experience a dark time when tragedies occur in a chain rather than experiencing an isolated incident. This year has been one of those tough years for many of my current and former colleagues and students. At my school, we started the year with a loss, and then lost a second wonderful teacher. Not much later, a lovely teacher passed at the school where I previously worked.

Lessons Learned

We come to be so familiar with our jobs, schools, and students that we are rarely surprised. Being able to anticipate student needs is comforting, allowing us to feel in control in the midst of the preadolescent chaos. But there is always something unexpected on the horizon, and in those moments we can learn a great deal. I am learning so much from my colleagues this year as we navigate these sad losses in our hallways.

We speak without words.

Many staff members expressed feeling anxious about returning to school, wondering what it would “feel like” to walk through the school hallways for the first time after the news that a teacher had passed away. We nodded and waved at each other, giving silent condolences and assurance of solidarity. My colleagues appeared trapped by their thinking and found themselves at a loss for words.

Having time to process things is immeasurably important for adults and students alike. It is okay to let our feelings take time.

Even in our more solitary states, we still need social interactions. These interactions can be quiet, or leadership can be tasked with the talking. Either way, the goal is to allow everyone to lean on one another. When one of our school family members dies, we need reassurance that we still have each other.

We can feel close to someone even if we don’t know them well.

Educating students is emotionally intimate, and it leads to relationships that go much deeper than surface feelings.

Some teachers remarked that they still felt deeply moved by the loss of a fellow teacher, even though they had hardly crossed paths with the departed colleague. In our schools, our spirits fill spaces larger than our immediate bodies. We share our thoughts and feelings with a friend, and they carry us to their corridor. We educate students, and they carry us past that year. We are all so connected; there is no one way to care for someone or grieve for someone—a reassurance that some of us need to hear.

There are things we can never be prepared for.

The shock of a death is always difficult. When it happens in our schools, we are given reminders all day that the person is gone. We may have been co-teachers on the same team, passed by each other every morning, or had neighboring mailboxes. Our emotions are tripped each time we go through the same motion with that missing piece.

When our daily pattern is abruptly altered, we might feel anxious until a new habit is established. Changes caused by tragedy obviously create complex emotional responses. By grief counseling standards, we know that the human heart and mind fight the “new normal,” causing tension and behavior within an individual. Sharing feelings such as sadness about the loss, guilt for surviving, or fear of the future does not always take a clinical professional—sometimes it just takes a friend.

Support for Students Through Teachers

After we learned that a teacher had passed away at my school, my fellow school counselors and I offered teachers a shoulder to lean on if they needed it. I reached out to teachers at my previous school as well when I heard that a staff member there had passed away. In both places, and over and over again, the offer was appreciated but declined. What I found was that for many school staff members, the need was in the classroom and with the students.

Teachers turned to us to gain an understanding of how these situations were interpreted by students. They needed help establishing their role with students and figuring out the best way to approach young people who were grieving. The number one support my colleagues and I gave them was an invitation to send our way students who were struggling to maintain their emotions.

Some opportunities that we can provide students also serve a purpose for teachers. Activities and conversations can become a powerful rapport-building experience in the classroom. The goal is not to explain death, dying, or suffering to students, because that is best decided by students’ families and their norms. We can, however, remain focused on positivity and help students learn to cope with hardship. Here are some activities you might use with your school community:

  • A remembrance or mindfulness activity can help students who feel the urge to contribute in some way. They might be grappling with feelings of helplessness, and making cards for the family, creating remembrance rocks to decorate the school, or fundraising can help these students and staff feel like they are doing their part.
  • Social activities can give students and staff the opportunity to share their feelings and also feel renewed by camaraderie with one another. The activities can be optional, but might include sharing positive stories for the family, celebrating the deceased person’s favorite hobbies or teams, or wearing something representative of that teacher to celebrate their legacy.
  • Mindfulness activities are helpful for everyone and are particularly loved by students who are not ready to talk, but need to keep their minds busy without effort. Coloring Zentangles, practicing breathing techniques, or listening to soothing music while completing quiet work might be ideal activities for the days that follow a death in the school. These give students a brain break, and they also give teachers a chance to catch their breath.
  • Completing a worksheet about positive community qualities or emotion identification, discussing positive personal qualities, and writing about great qualities in a friend or family member are helpful ways to keep students and staff focused on the positive things in life.

Don’t underestimate how tricky it can be for teachers to show up to their classrooms during an emotionally charged situation while still having to lead, teach, and engage students. Though emotional exhaustion would cause anyone to need to pause and have a quiet day of reflection, teachers are awarded no such luxury. The students still come, the clock still ticks, and the pressure to deliver content still hovers and stalks. Giving teachers specific responses and phrases offers them a script to draw from so that quick thinking in the moment can be eased, even if only a bit.

Teachers might like a little crash course in sensitive communication. They can use direct language that only repeats the message of administration in terms of how much is revealed about the circumstances of the loss. For example, if a student asks, “What happened?” the teacher can say, “It is sad that Mrs. T—— passed away. What do you remember most about her?” When students break down, your responses can be short, such as, “I am glad we have each other to remember her by. What was your favorite thing about her?” All answers can be steered toward positive living and personality traits of the deceased person to help students focus on climbing out of the hole instead of falling down it.

Family First

We all know that it is not the exorbitant pay or lavish locales that keep us coming back to education every year. The feeling we get from serving our community and students is only the tip of the iceberg. The relationships we foster and the family we create within our schools and school divisions are what truly make our service possible. Our inside jokes, our memes, our disdain for a full moon make us the kindest (and smartest) mafia one can ever encounter. When we lose one of our school family members, we grieve in a way that is just as unparalleled as the rest of our world.

As I often say, counselors are in a unique position of being able to aid both students and staff. We can perform CPR when the heart of the school needs to keep beating, and we can support multiple functions of the larger system by collaborating with the smaller parts and uniting their needs. Part of this is sharing information with teachers to spread throughout the student body or reassuring them that they are amazing educators who will do no harm if they lead student interactions with their hearts.

Counseling in middle school in particular is a long game. What we teach students won’t really hit home until they are older and mature enough to really understand and process the information. Every one of our students will encounter suffering, such as death and dying, in their lifetime. I truly believe that by guiding students through moments of loss that occur in school, we might make immeasurable differences in their lives, especially as they grow and experience personal grief.

This post is dedicated to our lovely sisters in arms: Wendy, Jackie, and Stacy.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.


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