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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

When is it Time to Quit Teaching?

A hard question we all must consider

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

When do I quit teaching?

Each year I seek clarity for my teaching career. There are no easy answers here. Know this. The question is serious,

“Should I teach another year?”

As I ponder my own path, let me take you on a journey of thoughts.

Dancing with Snakes.

The Indonesian pop star, Irma Bule died at age 29 of a cobra bite she got while performing. She performed with pythons. In April 2016, the conference organizers provided a cobra. She thought it was de-fanged. It wasn’t. After a full performance with it draped around her neck, she put it back in the bag. As she performed, it slipped out of the bag. She stepped on its tail. It bit her. Not thinking she was in any danger — she kept performing. Forty-five minutes after she received the bite, she stepped off stage and died.

I’m not sure why the snake handlers who knew the slithering performer was full of venom (and fangs) didn’t stop the show. Surely, they knew what was happening.

As teachers, we deal with difficult people. Sometimes we even deal with people dangerous to our health. There are several times sharp-fanged people have wounded me. Once, I wasn’t sure I could recover as a teacher. The venom of a hateful person poisoned me so much.

Thankfully, my family recognized the signs of my injury. They helped me heal and prepare to teach again.

Sometimes teachers are too wounded to perform. We help so many. But sometimes we’re the one who needs the help. Those who love us or work with us should help us get help before we kill our career. (or even worse, do permanent harm to our bodies or those precious children we teach.)

If you know someone who has been wounded by a situation, seriously consider what you can do to help. Don’t ignore it. Time definitely does not heal all wounds.

Injured in the game.

I’ll never forget the sight that had the whole sidelines gasping and gagging. The young man’s thumb dangled down to his wrist. With three minutes left in the state semi-finals, he begged to be taped up. He wanted to go back in.

“Give me a shot and tape it. I can play,” howled the quarterback.

He didn’t even look at his slick, white bones sticking out of the gaping wound. Or the blood. Or his pale face. He was in shock. He wasn’t thinking.

The doctor said,

“If you play, you will do permanent damage to your hand. You cannot go in. Your high school career is over.”

He cried. He begged. The doctor stood firm. With these injuries, he could not play.

Sometimes things can happen to us and we break. We cannot function. A death of a child. Or spouse. Or parent. A divorce. A hardship. A terrible loss. A traumatic accident.

Like the broken hand, things can damage us and our ability to teach. We can become unable to do the job for now or indefinitely.

As a teacher, we have to be sound in mind and able to hold our patience. We have to have healthy minds because our minds are attached to our hands. If we’re angry at the world, we cannot let ourselves inject our anger at our circumstances into an innocent child’s world. It is not the child’s fault.

We all need colleagues we trust. We need truth-tellers. When we are injured by life, someone who loves us should tell us we are not at our best right now.

Oh, places that understand the value of a sabbatical bless our profession so much! Sometimes teachers have burnt out or broken down. Sometimes a sabbatical can salvage a career. She needs time to heal. She has to stop dancing. Pull her out of the game.

Burnout or breakdown happens to many teachers who have a long and storied history of greatness. Sometimes principals and administrators have to play the role of the doctor in this example. If you can offer a sabbatical, consider it. A great teacher is hard to find. If you can help a teacher re-find their own greatness, you’re doing the person and your school a big favor. Sometimes great teachers don’t need to get out, they just need a break so they can rejoin the ranks. 

He retired too late.  

The glory days were glorious, but they were a decade ago. People shake their heads. He used to be great. He isn’t anymore.

I pray that I retire from working with kids when I can no longer give them my patience, love, and belief.

Children are children. They are difficult. Hard to handle. They need patience. Sometimes I’m so tired I put my head down on my desk after the students leave.

The things that make me examine my thinking and work as a teacher:

  • The moment I am starting every class period at the end of my rope. I need help.
  • When I can’t reach up and touch bottom. I need help.
  • When I say things in the teacher’s lounge starting with the words “kids today are so…” and I finish the sentence with some stereotype or blanket statement that is unworthy and untrue. I need to either adjust my attitude or remove myself from teaching.
  • When I refuse to believe in a student because some kid fifteen years ago that I poured my heart into let me down. When I start recycling yesterday’s faces without giving the kids today in front of me a chance – it is time to go.

Retiring from teaching is not bad when it is time to retire.

Support and appreciate retiring educators. Some are made to feel like failures when they know it is time to move on. See retiring teachers as a success and celebrate their awesomeness. Perhaps someone will do the same for you one day when you know it is time to retire. 

Considering Quitting

Teachers are wonderful, and I appreciate every single one of you.

Please listen…

  • Sometimes we should stop dancing and get the antidote for our injury.
  • Sometimes we should come out of the game and have our wounds tended.
  • And sometimes we should retire from the sport we love because we can no longer play the game.

Your break from teaching might not be permanent. You might need to retire. Or, you might need to coach others in the profession you love! (Anyone know a 50-year-old football players? I know coaches, though.)

Quitting sounds so negative. If we stop teaching for the right reasons, WE ARE NOT QUITTING. We are being called to a new area of service. We are doing the right thing for ourselves and our students. Great teachers are usually motivated by love.

4 Things to Remember As We Consider Whether We Should Teach

1. We all get broken sometimes.

We all have hard things happen that make us unable to dance. While I need a job, a suffering child is too high a price to pay for me to draw a salary.

2. Some teachers have had a great run.

Time has run out because they no longer love the kids. The kindness is gone. The spark of genius and love that ignited their greatness is extinguished. A different phase of life beckons. Or they are broken and need healing.

3. Seasons are part of life.

You can’t stop them. We must learn to enjoy each of the seasons for their beauty. The tragedy of life is that we can make more money, but we can never make more time.

4. There are no easy answers.  

Nothing easy to say. No formula exists saying ‘this’ plus ‘that’ equals retire. Or ‘that’ plus ‘this’ equals a return to teaching.

I can tell you this: teaching is serious business. Lives are at stake. Futures. Generations.

I know you love it. I do too. But I pray that when I either become broken or have a new calling that I will have the guts to move on.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is to keep on putting ourselves out there and teach and teach and teach. Sometimes taking ourselves out of the equation is the best thing for everyone. Knowing the difference is the key to living with our choice. Two of the most miserable kinds of teachers are the teacher who quit too soon or the one who quit too late.

The Lies We Must Not Tell Ourselves

Some will hate these words. They think no one should ever retire. We should act like everyone stays a great teacher forever. We should pretend that some wounds aren’t game ending and that snake bites never happen. And we would be lying.

I love you too much to feed you lies. Lies can poison a profession. And to think that everyone is physically and emotionally capable of teaching for fifty or sixty years — that is enough of a lie to make Pinocchio’s nose grow by 10 feet.

Some of the worst teachers I’ve ever seen were once the best. Some  great teachers let bitterness, anger, and dissatisfaction take root. Then, the used-to-be-a-blessing teacher becomes a curse. These formerly-amazing professionals hurt kids because they didn’t deal with their own hurt.

(Let me add, one of the best educators I know is 86, teaching full time and still going strong — so don’t say this is an age thing. I hate seeing great teachers retire too soon! It isn’t the age of the sage, but the patience of the pedagog at issue here.)

Don’t get out of teaching because it is hard — it will always be hard.

Don’t get out of teaching because you’re tired — it is a tiring job for all of us.

In this time and season may you decide whether you need a sabbatical, to retire, or if you’re healthy enough to keep on teaching those precious children.

Teacher, You are Needed

Your profession needs you, teachers. It needs you to be healthy. It needs you to be of sound mind. The kids need you to love them. And when you aren’t those things, it needs you to take a break, so you don’t break. Or even worse, so you don’t break them.

It is the nature of the human condition that things happen to us that wound us deeply. Like a car in a wreck, sometimes we need repair.

Kids are too important. You are too. So is this question.

“To teach or not to teach?”

Do not suffer the slings and arrows of our outrageous profession without considering the heartache and a thousand natural shocks our career is heir to.

The post When is it Time to Quit Teaching? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

2 Simple Ways Improve a Lesson Plan

Practical Tips for Rigor, Fun, and Retention

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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2 Ways to Make Any Lesson Plan Better

Sometimes small changes can take a lesson plan from “OK” to “Yeah!” By improving the rigor and fun in each lesson, you can improve student learning and make your classroom more exciting. Learn practical tips from super-teacher Laura Candler that will help you make your lessons more engaging and memorable. This is a must-listen for elementary teachers.

Learn about the JTouch Interactive whiteboard

Click to listen to this show on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes | Stitcher

Thank you JTouch by InFocus, Today’s Sponsor


My Interactive White Board (IWB) is gone, and I’m never going back. In today’s show, I’ll tell you how I’m using the Jtouch Interactive Display Board in my classroom. It is much more than an interactive whiteboard. (In some ways it is like a massive touch screen computer.) But with Airplay and also a cool tool called LightCast, every single device in my BYOD classroom can broadcast to the Jtouch display at the front of my classroom. When I’m not teaching, I even show huge moving scenes from nature on the board. I love it. Listen to this show to learn more about how I’m using the Jtouch from Infocus or click here to see it in action. Thank you Jtouch for sponsoring today’s show.

Learn about JTouch

Who is Laura Candler?

Laura Candler is the owner of Teaching Resources and a former 5th-grade teacher from Fayetteville, NC. She has presented educational workshops to teachers around the country for over 20 years. She’s the author of 10 books for teachers as well as over 100 digital resources. She can be found at http://ift.tt/1MPiX4o.

The post 2 Simple Ways Improve a Lesson Plan appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

10 Cool Ways Teachers Use Social Media to Enhance Learning

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Ways teachers use social media

Doing work that matters. All students should be able to be part of that. No longer working for the teacher’s wastebasket, students across the world are connecting and sharing like never before. They are led by teachers unafraid of the world but who escort their kids out to meet the future.

While a recent poll showed 9 out of 10 teachers do not use social media in the classroom, there are teachers who are. Social doesn’t have to be a distraction and kids can be safe. Let’s dive into ten ways teachers have used social media in the classroom to enhance learning. These are some of my personal favorites among many. Please share yours in the comments.

This question is part of CM Rubin World’s question of the month, “What are the best examples you have seen of teachers using social media to enhance learning?” Check out her blog for all the answers. 

1. Jacques du Toit and the Tweeting Aztecs

Aussie teacher Jacques du Toit has his students create Twitter accounts as many of the well known Aztecs. They tweet events as if they are happening. This creative use of Twitter is allowed because Twitter permits the use of pseudonyms. He told me that his students became so engaged into what various characters would be saying and doing. How did they link together? A hashtag.

2. Karen Lirenman and her Tweeting First Graders

Using a Twitter account, @MrsLsClass, Karen Lirenman and her class share their work with the world. When I interviewed her, she has a system and way to keep them safe and share their best work. Worth a follow!


3. Kathy Cassidy’s Blogging Six Year Olds

Kathy Cassidy’s classroom blog is an endearing example of when students are allowed to blog and share their work. When I interviewed Kathy, she said,

I really want our classroom blog to be a digital portfolio of their developing skills.

4. Julie Hembree’s Global Poetry Unites Project

Global Poetry Unites is all over Twitter right now for National Poetry Month. It may be a US month, but classrooms are participating from everywhere! Just look at the hashtag #ClrPoem on Twitter and you’ll see lots of kids involved in the current challenge to write a poem using the color red. The challenges change but follow along in Julie’s Online Notebook about the project.


5. Michael Hayes’ 9 o’clock Science Challenge on Facebook

So, Michael Hayes is a science teacher. He has a YouTube channel but the world becomes his classroom at 9 pm each night when he posts his 9 o’clock challenge on Facebook. He gets prizes and sends them to people all over the place. Many people compete although he started this for his students. What a blast!


6. PS22 Chorus on YouTube and Facebook

If you’ve never heard the PS22 Chorus voices or seen what their teacher, Gregg Breinberg, has done, then grab your headphones and a hanky and take a listen on YouTube or Facebook. They sang to one of their teachers who had recently been diagnosed with cancer– I’m Going to Love You Through It. Wow. They’ve had Pop Stars, Rock Stars and done so much. Social media has transformed the program and the school.

7. Lake Brantley High School and To Be Kind

I recently learned about Lake Brantley’s movement when seeing some kindness bulletin boards posted by Stacy Eck. I interviewed them about their junior high school’s program to encourage kindness. #tbk is becoming a movement of sorts with many schools seeing it as a way to stamp out bullying by teaching kids to be kind. They are on Instagram and many places.

tobekind instagram

8. Yollis’ 366 Project

While Linda Yollis has a fantastic classroom blog, her 366 Project is incredible. She has clear instructions for how students from around the world can submit their photos to be shared. These photos make great writing prompts, conversation starters, and can spur on so many ideas in the classroom.

Linda Yollis 366 project

9. Kevin Jarrett’s STEM Lab Projects and Capstones

Kevin Jarrett is one of the leaders in STEM / STEAM lab creation. His students are sharing their 2016 capstone projects on their blog. They are using design thinking and combining it with empathy. What a powerful, unique way to use science and math and socioemotional learning!


10. Making Apps that Matter

I’m partial to this group of students. My classroom is one of the five  classrooms programming apps that matter in MAD about Mattering. We are doing it right now. As I write this post, students are firing up their social media posting and creating the web pages for the apps that they have programmed meeting the heartbreaks they have. The first week of May 2016, they’ll be sharing their creations with the world and using social media to share the message, encourage people to test their apps, and ask for support for their projects. Susan Bearden has made a list of their handles and is adding them as they are created. Here are some sample tweets:






There are many more stories to tell. Please tell yours in the comments or tweet me @coolcatteacher.

The post 10 Cool Ways Teachers Use Social Media to Enhance Learning appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Building a Dynasty in Debate (or Any Competition)

from a Montana teacher with 32 straight titles in a row!

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Build a Dynasty in Debate or Any Competition

Matt Stergios has been coaching a debate team that has won their state championship in Montana since 1984. We why debate is important. He also shares one of his big secrets: how he convinces key students to join the team. You’ll learn strategies that coaches can apply to any team.

Click to listen to this show on: BAM Radio NetworkStitcher 

Matt shares how participation on the debate team has opened doors for his students in college and life. He also talks about the pressure of having so many wins and how he talks to his students when they are worried about being able to win again. Debate coaches and coaches seeking to build a winning tradition will learn a lot from this episode.

Who is Matt Stergios?

Matthew Stergios has been teaching the last 35 at Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula Montana. He teaches History and has coached Track, Cross Country and most notably Speech and Debate. Since the beginning of his coaching of the Loyola Speech and Debate team in 1981, he led the team to its first state title in 1984, and the team has gone on to win 32 total state titles in a row.

If you’re reading this post somewhere else, I have a form on coolcatteacher.com giving away my introduction to debate lesson plan. The educators on my mailing list will get this automatically. To prevent bots from scraping and taking content, I prefer to give lesson plans to the educators in my newsletter. You can sign up on the form below and receive your introduction to debate lesson plan


The post Building a Dynasty in Debate (or Any Competition) appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Where the Masterpiece of Learning Really Starts

The art and craft of great teaching

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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the craft of teaching

Paganini was here to play his great work “Napoleon.” His violin glistened. As he broke every string. But one. He looked to his shocked audience and held up his violin.

He yelled,

“Paganini and one string!”

Paganini proceeded to wow them with the entire piece played on just one string.

While his audience marveled, no one left the theater and redesigned the violin with one string. The violin is still a violin although Paganini could play a masterpiece on one string. That is because Paganini is a master. Everyone in the audience knew that one string was not dripping with talent. Nor was that one string possessed. That one string was played. Played by a master. And so it sung.

There are master teachers. They can teach with just their voice. Or a stick. Or a book. Or a computer. Hand them one string and they’ll make learning sing. These craftsman teachers — they teach. Anyplace. Anytime. With anything.

And yet, we worship the string.

Certainly some strings are better than others. They are stronger. More resonant. Better tools. That is great. I’m all for great tools.

But we should not forget that the master is the one who plays the strings. People in the audience watching the teaching should know that one app or tool or feature is not dripping with talent. That one app is not possessed. That one tool was played. Played by a master. And so it unleashed the music of great learning.

Some people buy and sell strings. They talk about the music played on the string as if the string possesses the music. They hawk the masterpiece as if it lives in the string and can be played at will.

It would be like walking on stage after Paganini finished his piece. Pushing him off the stage. Grabbing his one-stringed violin. Holding it up high above our heads. And asking the audience to kneel to the one string. In homage of its greatness. That string was just a string. The master had left the stage.

There is a method of the master. A way to play the string that produces great music.

There is a method of the master teacher. A way to play any teaching device that allows exquisite learning to happen. Pedagogy. Craftsmanship.

As for me, I shall not worship the string.

I shall pay homage to the master teachers. For they are the great ones who orchestrate a symphony of learning.

Those who worship strings will find themselves in quiet company. Sitting around surrounded by quiet Chromebooks, iPads, and bills for downloaded apps. In boxes. Unused. Or broken. Misused. But not played for masterful learning.

The advancement of the art requires an honoring of the master craftsmen who know the trade. It requires instruction of the novices. A transfer of the craft from one generation to the next. Perhaps even new ways to play on new types of strings. But the art of playing must be celebrated.

Here’s to you great teachers. Those of us who play the tune of learning know where the masterpiece starts.

The masterpiece of learning starts with you — the teacher. Play on.

The post Where the Masterpiece of Learning Really Starts appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.

Monday, April 11, 2016

All Project-Based Learning is Not Created Equal: What Works?

Best Practices in Project-Based Learning with Suzie Boss

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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what works -not all project-based learning is created alike

Project-based learning (PBL) works, but not all project-based learning is alike. PBL Expert Suzie Boss takes us into assessment, project design, and teacher PD for more effective, meaningful projects that improve learning.

Click to listen to this show on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes | Stitcher 

Project-based learning should not be memorization and regurgitation. It shouldn’t be something you can Google with a simple answer. It should require deep digging, application, creativity and more. We also talk about the power of audience and student learning. We discuss the challenge of fair, consistent assessment of projects across schools and districts.

See a list of Every Classroom Matters’ 200+ shows with many of the thought leaders in education.

Who is Suzie Boss?

Suzie Boss@suzieboss, education writer and consultant, is the author of several books, including Reinventing Project-Based Learning and Bringing Innovation to School. She is a regular contributor to Edutopia and the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and a member of the Buck Institute for Education National Faculty.


The post All Project-Based Learning is Not Created Equal: What Works? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

How Innovative Educators Observe, Reflect, and Share

The Innovator's Mindset with George Couros

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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8-Characteristics-of-the-Innovators-Mindset (1)

Many teachers say they don’t have time to connect. I live and breathe that feeling. However, when I’m down, sometimes an idea on Twitter or a suggestion on Facebook turns my day around. I get tons of ideas from the many education superstars I write about and interview on my show and blog. If I could give you one thing that will make you completely irreplaceable as a teacher, it would be your network.

Your network is your inspiration. Your network is also your safety net if the unthinkable happens. They’ll help you get better results in the classroom. Your network will also encourage you when you’re struggling. If it is hard to network, you’re probably not learning the easy ways to network.

Today, George Couros talks about the fifth aspect of the Innovator’s Mindset: Networking.

It doesn’t have to be hard. Any teacher can make time to network. Listen as we discuss the struggles and excitement of becoming a networked educator.

George Couros is joining us for a series of shows on Every Classroom Matters where we talk about the eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (George’s new book.) This is part 5 of the series. See the full series here

You can connect and learn. Check out my tips for connecting your classroom with Social Media in Schools and tips for following and getting followed on Twitter. Right now I have six classes and (if I’m lucky) three planning periods a week. But I always check Twitter and Facebook at least once a day just for ideas and inspiration. I’m too stressed and busy NOT to check them. Network! You’ll be glad you did.

Listen on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes | Stitcher 

The post How Innovative Educators Observe, Reflect, and Share appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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via Vicki Davis at coolcatteacher.com. Please also check out my show for busy teachers, Every Classroom Matters and my Free teaching tutorials on YouTube.
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