Classroom Audio—A Student’s Perception

Studies about the effectiveness of classroom audio systems have been conducted for decades. Research demonstrating the benefits of classroom audio is abundant, accessible, and probably not new to many educators. But do classroom audio systems really make that much of a difference in real-world application? What effect can a system have on the way a student perceives their teacher?

Meet Lizzie

Let me introduce you to Lizzie, my daughter, who is now in seventh grade. Lizzie received an ADHD diagnosis when she was in second grade. She was diagnosed with a learning disability and a significant executive function delay in sixth. She has a hard time reading people and shows signs of anxiety. And school has always been a challenge for her.

Starting at the end of third grade, Lizzie often came home upset because her teacher “yelled at the class” that day. I was surprised by this as I had met her teacher, and she didn’t seem like the yelling type. I would ask clarifying questions, and she would assure me the teacher had yelled. I was concerned but not alarmed, as Lizzie’s understanding of events was not always accurate. This pattern continued through fourth grade.  

No More Yelling

I gained a new understanding of the situation Lizzie’s fifth grade year—that year she never complained about the teacher yelling at the class. Her teacher was nice, like the other teachers that she identified as “yellers,” but Lizzie never came home upset about the teacher yelling. A few months into the school year, I learned about classroom audio systems. Then the lightbulb went off, and I asked my daughter if her teacher wore a microphone.

“Yes, she does.”

Did Mrs. _______ wear a microphone?

“No, she didn’t.”

How about the teacher from the year before?

“No, she didn’t wear a microphone either.”

Lizzie’s Perception

In sixth grade, we were back to stories of the teacher yelling at the class. Once again, when I met the teacher, I couldn’t picture him yelling at the class. But I could picture him raising his voice to speak over a room full of excited students. In Lizzie’s eyes, he was yelling. In Lizzie’s eyes, all her teachers who didn’t wear microphones yelled at the class.

The teachers I know are kind and love their students. They wouldn’t yell at their class in anger, yet that is exactly how my daughter interpreted their “teacher voice.” To her, the class was getting yelled at most days, except for the year her teacher used her teacher microphone. For my daughter, who is sensitive to loud noises and has a hard time focusing, the use of classroom audio completely changed her perception of her teacher and what happened daily in class.

Top Ways to Use Cameras in the Classroom

Video Review for Video Reflective Practices

We live in a world where cameras are everywhere, and they have been making their way into the classroom. Students carry them in their pockets every day in the form of cell phones. Teachers have cell phones, tablets, or other devices with cameras. Some classrooms even include installed cameras. Since the cameras are a part of our lives, how can teachers leverage them to enhance learning in their classrooms?

Share lessons with students

Whether absent, studying at home, or working in a flipped classroom, students can be helped by accessing lessons outside of school. Students who miss class for extra-curricular activities, medical absences, or in-school-suspension can keep up with the class. When studying from home, students can review difficult concepts and have a parent or guardian review the lesson so they can understand what’s being taught. Teachers using a flipped or blended learning model can record any lesson they need to share with their students.

Professional Learning

Lifelong learning is important for everyone, including educators. When teachers record lessons, they can review what happened later to reflect on their strengths and areas where they’d like to grow. Video gives a clear, objective record of events. Video can improve self-reflection by clearly showing the “instructional reality.”

“When we record ourselves doing our work, we see that reality is very different from what we think.”

Jim Knight

Cameras open doors for capturing lessons and teaching moments to be shared with others—professional learning communities (PLCs), teaching teams, instructional coaches, and others. This increases options for feedback. It also expands options for collaboration within a school and even with other campuses. For small or rural schools where teachers may feel isolated, sharing video opens up their network and enhances opportunities for collaboration.

Student & Teacher Safety

Cameras can provide an accurate, unbiased record of classroom events. When teachers encounter bullying, fights, or conflicting reports of others’ actions, a video record can clarify what actually happened. If a student reports a classroom incident incorrectly or parents are concerned about how a student is being treated, a recording can ease concerns and give a clearer picture to all parties involved. Even knowing that events are or can be recorded can help everyone be mindful of their words and actions, creating a more thoughtful space for everyone.

When it comes to cameras in the classroom, there are a lot of mixed feelings from excitement to concern. How do you feel about classroom cameras? Is this a trend you embrace or want to avoid?

Growth Mindset—What is it and how is it beneficial?

Teacher giving feedback to students

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset—are these familiar terms? The concepts and their effects on learning have been an object of discussion for many inside and outside the education community. A growth mindset has been shown to increase learning and success for students, so it’s important to understand what it is, the benefits, and how individuals can develop it.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset consists of believing that intelligence, skills, and abilities can be developed through work, practice, and consistent effort. People with a growth mindset welcome feedback and constructive criticism as a way to see where they can improve and grow. They value the learning process and welcome opportunities for increased development.

By contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset feel that everyone is born with certain traits and skills—people are either good or bad at things. Constructive criticism feels like a personal attack. Failures feel permanent because failing at something demonstrates a lack of ability. Living with a fixed mindset requires proving worth and value over and over again.

There are things that can be mistaken for a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not just applauding effort; progress needs to be made. It’s also not the same as being open-minded or flexible, and it’s not all-or-nothing where someone is either all growth mindset or all fixed mindset. Everyone experiences each at different times and in different areas of their lives.

What are the benefits of a growth mindset?

Developing a growth mindset opens opportunities for people to:

  • —Learn and achieve more
  • Rebound faster from setbacks, failures, and disappointments
  • —Avoid wasting energy worrying about approval from others
  • —Increase collaboration, innovation, and creative risk-taking
  • —Sustain personal motivation
  • —View difficult tasks as opportunities to expand abilities
  • —Perceive challenges as an exciting chance to grow

How to develop a growth mindset?

Since it is so beneficial to have a growth mindset, how is one developed? Here are some strategies we found:

  1. —Focus on the process that leads to learning, like hard work and trying different strategies
  2. —View challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles
  3. Prioritize learning over seeking approval
  4. —Reward and praise what people do and how hard they work, instead of individual traits
  5. —Practice receiving feedback as an opportunity to improve, not as a personal attack
  6. Reflect on learning every day
  7. —Always be working toward some kind of growth and learning goal
  8. —Give yourself time—learning and growth don’t happen overnight
  9. —Support others (and yourself) in developing any skill of interest
  10. —Celebrate the success of others and use it as motivation to work hard and succeed!

Developing a growth mindset is helpful for anyone, at any stage of life. Research shows that it helps people be more successful. What have you done to develop a growth mindset in yourself or others?

5 Tips for Maintaining Focus in a Busy World

Focus and Mindfulness through deep breathing

With so many differences between us, there is one commonality everyone shares—busy lives. There are numerous demands on our time and energy, countless activities and events we can be a part of. This can make it difficult to stay focused on the things we really want to accomplish. When our schedules become too full and leave us feeling like there’s too much on our plate, what can we do? We reviewed some ideas and compiled five tips that can help.

Establish Priorities and Values

An important first step in managing your focus is to determine what’s most important and what you value. Then align your values with your time. Determine your “why” and keep it in the forefront of your mind to stay on track.

Plan Ahead

Start every day making intentional choices and plan how to spend your time. One source recommended choosing the top three tasks to accomplish each day and remaining focused on those most important tasks. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to do and how you want your day to look, move forward with that vision in mind.

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if it’s because you’re on the edge of doing something awesome or is life showing you that something needs to be cut out?”

Shawn Blanc
Limit Distractions

Take inventory on what takes up space in your life, whether physical or mental, and decide what can be cleared out. Organizing your physical space and clearing out clutter is a great place to start. To tackle the mental space, limit notifications on cell phones, computers, and other devices; set boundaries for social media participation; and avoid getting caught in the trap of constantly checking email. Set aside a time for these and other tasks and commit to it.

Say No

This one can be particularly difficult, especially for people in a helping profession. There will always be invitations extended for additional work responsibilities, service opportunities, and social engagements. When they arise, remember the priorities and values you’ve already identified, and take some time to consider before responding. If the new invitation doesn’t fit within that framework, politely decline.

“You can’t serve from an empty vessel.”

Eleanor Brownn
Mind Your Health

Maintaining your health is critical. We need to be able to functional physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can help yourself physically by taking time to exercise, being careful to eat foods that leave you feeling your best, and leaving time for enough sleep. Your mental health can be supported by practicing mindfulness and meditation or even something as simple as taking a mental break when things get particularly taxing. In all of these areas, it’s important to support emotional health by celebrating progress made every day—don’t beat yourself up when you’re not perfect!

As busy as our lives are, it’s possible to maintain our focus with a little planning and care. What have you found effective in staying focused in a busy world?

Integrating Coding and Robotics in Schools

little robot

Educators are always looking for the best way to educate students and help them succeed. They innovate and look to the innovations of others. They review different trends to understand the benefits. Some trends grow as they’re adopted into teaching regimens while others are left behind. One of the teaching trends that’s persisting and continuing to grow is coding and robotics.

What gives coding and robotics staying power?

With so many education trends coming and going, what keeps robotics and coding moving forward, growing from a trend to a regular teaching strategy? As technology advances, so do the number of technology careers available. When students get to experience STEM subjects and their practical application, those students are better prepared to fill technology jobs. In addition to subject-specific skills students learn, they also gain experience in thinking critically and solving problems.

What are the benefits of coding and robotics?

Coding and robotics programs offer many benefits for students, including increasing engagement, developing high-level thinking, and fostering empathy and creativity.

As students experience learning through coding and robotics, engagement rates may rise. Robots are interesting. Learning about them and making them work can be a lot of fun. Some students even find a new passion and discover a new learning pathway for their themselves.

Working with coding leads to high-level thinking. Students get to see how their decisions affect the design and function of the program or robot. The coding process helps them think a few steps ahead, a skill that can be used often in life.

Working with robots and coding is a great time for students to work in a group and develop teamwork skills. As they plan and troubleshoot, they practice collaboration and build communication. Working in a group also gives students an opportunity to emerge as leaders—both the type that will speak out and help direct the work to the quiet, behind-the-scenes leaders who keep the group on task and perform technical jobs.

Another benefit of coding and robotics work is the opportunity to develop creativity and empathy. As students work toward solving a problem, they have to come up with new ideas and think outside the box to find a solution. They also use their creativity to design and create their own product when they’re coding games or apps. Empathy is strengthened as students consider the end-user’s needs. Thinking about what would create the best experience for someone else moves the focus from the student to another person.

How do you effectively integrate robotics and coding?

Starting to integrate coding and robotics into a classroom can be intimidating, especially for educators who don’t have a lot of expertise on the subject. Fortunately, there are people and resources readily available to help.

A good place to start is with other people. You may find people in your school who have experience with coding, and online groups can also guide you through the process. There may even be experts in your community who would be happy to share their knowledge.

In addition to seeking help from other people, there are websites and apps dedicated to helping students learn to code. Code.org is a well-known one to start with, but there are many others, as well. Kits and games can be purchased, too.

One of the best overall tips we saw is to keep it fun. Encourage exploration, play, and discovery.

With all of the interest in and benefits of coding and robotics programs, it appears this trend is going to stick around for a while. Have you tried it in your school or classroom?

The Many Ways Teachers Fund Classrooms

classroom funding and grants can provide classroom supplies

There are so many things competing for today’s education budgets that it can seem impossible to stretch funds far enough. School supplies are in short supply, technology becomes outdated, and new ideas like flexible seating and makerspaces could create positive changes in classrooms. Small budgets can make it seem impossible to purchase everything needed, so what are educators to do?

Fortunately, options are available beyond going without or paying for things out of pocket. Philanthropic organizations set money aside to help organizations like schools in the form of grants. Other groups provide a platform to raise funds to satisfy unmet budget requirements. Sometimes you can even find the resources you want and need for free!

Grants

Many organizations offer grants to individuals and organizations that need additional funds. This money doesn’t have to be repaid, but the grantor may ask for a report of how the grant was used and how it benefitted the intended audience. A simple web search can start the process of searching for a grant to meet a particular need, and some websites compile lists of grants, like The NEA Foundation, GetEdFunding.com, and Teach.com. Where a need exists, there is probably a grant designated to fill it .

Crowdfunding

Some teachers turn to websites like DonorsChoose.org or AdoptAClassroom.org to reach private parties who want to help. Educators spell out their request and how it will benefit students. Private parties find an open giving opportunity and donate the amount they feel comfortable with. This gives anyone the opportunity to help any project, classroom, or school they choose.

Donations

With the prevalence of online retailers, private citizens can now purchase what educators need through online stores. Teachers make a shopping list or wish list and share it with the public, allowing charitable givers to help purchase what is needed. These lists can be shared on social media so virtually anyone can support any teacher, classroom, or school.

Sometimes teachers don’t have to look any further than the school’s PTA. Since PTA budgets are separate from the school or district, PTA leaders can make decisions regarding where they spend funds. Talking to the PTA can open doors for additional donations.

Whether a teacher, principal, or community member, it’s easy to see the evidence of funding struggles in education. Fortunately, there are options to help fill unmet needs. Between grants, crowdfunding, and donations, options exist to fill the gap between what is provided and what is needed to provide a good education.

Teacher Collaboration—Why is it so helpful?

Teachers Collaborating

Collaboration is not new in the world of education. Discussions on student collaboration happen regularly, and many sources offer tips and guides for facilitating it. People generally accept that effective student collaboration plays an important role in classroom learning and preparation for future careers. Teacher collaboration is just as important and can greatly affect classroom learning for students.

“If our ultimate destination as educators is student achievement, think of teacher collaboration as the journey.”

–Lauren Davis, Schoology

What does it look like?

Teacher collaboration happens when teachers work together, possibly planning for their particular grade level or subject. It might look like a teacher submitting a video lesson with her PLC to get feedback or share best practices. It could be a teacher team reviewing student work so they can select targets for instructional improvement. Collaboration happens when teacher teams work together to plan professional development.

How does it help?

Effective teacher collaboration takes additional time and effort, but we found many examples of its worth. It has been associated with increased student achievement. Research has also indicated teacher collaboration can lower turnover rates among new teachers. Sustained teacher collaboration is a primary vehicle for continuous improvement of teacher practice and encourages shared accountability and collective responsibility for student achievement.

Schools and students receive a lot of benefits when teachers collaborate. When educators share the same vision, they create an environment for more effective student learning. Sharing ideas for presenting content can result in more creative lesson plans. Teachers, especially beginning teachers, more easily avoid isolation and feel more supported when given the opportunity to collaborate with others. It also gives teachers a great opportunity to test out new instructional methods and receive feedback on their effectiveness.

Tips on making it happen

So how do you make teacher collaboration a reality? Time, trust, and respect are three key ways that we found. Teachers already have a lot of requirements on their schedule, so time has to be set aside specifically for it. Some schools even adjust their schedules to create common planning time, allowing teachers to designate a specific day and time to meet. Open collaboration requires trust, and a safe place to learn. Ideas and perspectives of all involved need to be respected.

“The more people invested in a student’s education the better the chance that student has to be successful.”

Lauren Davis, Schoology

Collaboration is a valuable tool in education, whether between students or between teachers. When teachers are given the opportunity to collaborate effectively, we can see a great impact on classroom learning and student achievement.

What experiences have you had with collaboration?

5 Tips for Creating a Positive School Culture

Positive School Admin

Positive school culture—it’s talked about a lot, but why is it important? According to ASCD, “A positive school climate, many argue, is directly correlated to school success.” The National School Climate tells us “Empirical research… shows that when school members feel safe, valued, cared for, engaged and respected, learning measurably increases.”

Since a positive school culture increases learning and improves school success, we decided we wanted to learn more. We searched articles and blogs for tips to build that kind of culture in schools and found some recurring themes. Below are the ideas we saw repeated in most, if not all, of the sources we found.

How to do it?

  1. Build strong relationships. This idea wove itself through most of the other ideas. To build a positive school culture, relationships are key. This includes relationships between faculty and staff members, between the principal and the teachers, between teachers and students, and between students and the principal.
  2. Celebrate, recognize, and praise the awesome. Show people that the great things they do get noticed. Focus on the positive and appreciate when good things happen.
  3. Be a role model. If we ask people to behave in a certain manner, we have to exhibit that behavior ourselves. Set the example with your attitude, words, and actions.
  4. Mindfully manage the physical environment. Is your school clean and orderly? Is it a comfortable place for all to be? Ensuring the school is well-maintained and displays are inviting and inclusive to all of your school community can help everyone feel safe and welcome.
  5. Develop a shared vision. It’s easier to move forward in the direction you want if everyone clearly understands the goals and objectives. Communicate and be straightforward about expectations, policies, and rules.

Establishing a positive school culture takes intentionality and work, but it’s worth the effort if it increases learning and improves success.

Want to read more? Check out these sources:

Steps to Creating

11 Real Ways to Build

8 Ways Principals Can Build

8 Ways to Build

Building a Positive School Culture

Twitter Survey—What demonstrates positivity in a school’s culture?

Teacher Self-Care

Teacher taking time for herself

Teachers are some of the busiest professionals we meet. We watch them juggle the needs of students, administrators, team members, and family members. They have to manage classroom behavior, be mindful of curriculum requirements, and prep students for testing. With this myriad of responsibilities on their shoulders, it’s not surprising that many teachers suffer from long-term illness and burnout.

“Too often, we do not make time for sufficient self care because we’re too busy taking care of others.”

Eleanor Brownn

Classroom technology can help ease some of the burden, but that’s a small part of the puzzle that makes up a healthy environment for teachers. A recent study showed that “workload and a better work/life balance are the main reasons teachers leave or consider leaving the profession within 10 years.” Without active preventative measures, teachers can end up on long-term sick leave. Some teachers decide to leave the field forever.

“By making time for self care, you prepare yourself to be your best so you can share your gifts with the world.”

Eleanor Brownn

One way to combat this trend is with teacher self-care. Whether big or small, self-care habits can be impactful and help teachers manage a stressful environment. We searched a collection of articles and gathered a list of ideas below:

Start the day right.

The way we start our day sets the tone. Taking time for yourself in the morning can ease stress and create more peaceful feelings before heading to a high-pressure day of teaching. These activities can take as little as 5–10 minutes, but they make a big difference in how you start your day:

  • Meditation—Take a few minutes to focus your mind.
  • Mindful breathing—if meditation isn’t your thing, just a few minutes of mindful breathing has been “linked to improved heart, brain, digestive and immune system function, as well as overall stress reduction.”
  • Exercise—Make time for exercise that you enjoy, like stretching, walking, running, yoga, playing sports, or a trip to the gym. Exercise is a great way to wake up our minds and bodies, and it relieves stress too!

Keep it up at school.

A good start to the day is important, but it can be challenging to maintain the focus and peace of a morning routine when faced with the pressures of school. Here are some ideas to maintain some focus on your own needs as you care for others:

  • Avoid trivial classroom conflicts; if your students can work it out with themselves, let them.
  • Prioritize and eliminate—decide what is the best use of your time and eliminate the extras that aren’t necessary and detract from that.
  • Keep a small pick-me-up at your desk, like tea, chocolate, nuts, a stress ball.
  • Accept that you’re a “teacher in progress”—you don’t have to be perfect. We should all continue growing and learning, and we all make mistakes.
  • Learn to say no. This may be one of the hardest, but focusing on priorities and saying no to things that don’t fit those priorities can relieve huge amounts of stress.

End the day on a positive note.

There are a lot of important things that we can try to cram into the end of the day—it’s the last chance to cross items off our to-do list. Make sure some of those to-dos are taking care of you!

We’re not saying this is a checklist of items that you need to tackle—we all know another list of things to do is NOT what teachers need. The important thing is to find self-care options that will make a difference for you.

“Don’t just pick whatever sounds easiest, or whatever sounds fun. You want it to be something that’s going to take a weight off your shoulders and give you this real sense of satisfaction.”

Angela Watson

Makerspaces 101

building blocks

Students today face a future with new challenges and opportunities that are hard to predict and anticipate. As they look at future jobs, they find employers requiring a broader range of skills. To prepare today’s students, innovative educators have explored new teaching strategies. Among these we find teachers giving students the opportunity to explore problem-solving in new, creative ways with makerspaces.

What is a Makerspace?

Makerspaces are collaborative workspaces designed for hands-on creativity. In them, students create a digital or physical product that they share with their class, school, or even community. Makerspaces are dedicated to creating, learning, and exploring. They may include high-tech tools and equipment, like 3D printers, sewing machines, or robotics equipment. They might just use supplies as simple as cardboard, duct tape and art supplies. They provide a space for student-centered and student-directed learning and inquiry.

Why are makerspaces beneficial in education?

As students head into a drastically different workforce than what their parents and grandparents experienced, they need to know how to collaborate with others. Students also need deepened creativity and critical thinking skills to solve unique and constantly shifting challenges. Makerspaces are a prime opportunity to gain this experience by giving learners the opportunity to collaborate while they “explore, experiment and discover.” The opportunity to try, fail, and try again in a safe environment can help students develop persistence and a determination to stick with a challenge until they find a solution.

How to get started?

Getting started can feel overwhelming. Whether you’re looking for ideas on how to set up a makerspace or how to provide equipment and supplies on a tight budget, there’s help. Here are some ideas we found:

  1. Learn from others. The internet and social media are full of guides and tips for getting started and making a makerspace work for you and your students. A little online research can provide a lot of information. You might also be able to visit and experience a makerspace in your area.
  2. Ask the community. Communities can help stock simple supplies like cardboard boxes, paper, popsicle sticks, office supplies, glass jars, etc. Give a wish list to businesses, parents, and post it on social media. Your community can provide experts with specific, technical skills who could assist with a project.
  3. Start small. You can find amazing makerspaces with incredible supplies and equipment, but a simple space can serve the same purpose. It’s even an option to start with one project to introduce the concept and build as you move forward.
  4. Establish expectations. Ask students to help construct guidelines and procedures before getting started so everyone is on the same page.
  5. Make connections. Incorporate maker projects into everyday lessons to “cement the association between real-world curiosity and experimentation to more structured and measured classroom instruction.”

Makerspaces are growing in popularity because they are helping students develop the 21st century skills that employers are looking for. Collaborative, problem-solving opportunities prepare learners for their futures and the challenges they will face when they leave school.

Have you given makerspaces a try? We’d love to hear your experience.