About Blair Mishleau

Blair Mishleau came to Minneapolis by way of Chicago after earning a degree in digital journalism and American Sign Language at Columbia College Chicago. He teaches English Language Learners, and is still getting his sea legs as a 2012 Teach For America corps member. His educational passions include teaching conventional usage, media fluency, and grammatical symbols like the ampersand.

5 Ways To Introduce Technology To Your Classroom Without Enough Technology

(Photo Credit: Blair Mishleau)

As the technology specialist at a school, I’m constantly running into issues (our computers haven’t arrived yet, the tech staff doesn’t have time to install them, my lab is being used for NWEA testing, etc.).

But, never fear. There are a lot of ways to get nerdy with kids without needing a laptop for everyone. Here are my tips – I’d love to hear some more, if you have them, in the comments!

1.)   Code.org. Live it. Love it. Code it.
This site is getting really well-known, but there’s a nice little niche that not everyone might know about. There are loads of “paper” activities that can teach little kiddos how to make a “program” and much more. It’s especially great as a primer before letting students use computers.

(Pro-tip: If you have even intermittent access to 3-10 computers, do stations. Have students who have mastered the paper activities move onto computers!)

2.)   Paper Keyboards.
This concept blew my mind. I thought kids would be like “Bro. Paper keyboards?” But they were more like, “Bro!! My own paper keyboard!!” The secret? Sell it like a used car salesman. My pitch: “Guys. Today you are getting your very own keyboard! You get to use it every week for the next few months. You need to make it your own. Spend the next 10 minutes decorating it!”

This is particularly awesome as you can have them draw on it and color specific keys. For example: we circle “home row” so they know where it is. We can practice it to death so they are ready when they get real computers (see #1!)

3.)   Get friendly with your co-workers.
I mean, this is generally good advice. But you most-likely have some computers in your building. They may be somewhat sad and decrepit, but I betchya you have some. Can you ask the teacher across the hall to borrow her two classroom computers for a week if, in exchange, she can borrow yours the next? Heck, bake some cookies. Do breakfast duty. You can work wonders with team work.

4.)   Videos.
If you have a projector, you can educate kids a whole lot on technology with simple videos. Start with the very term technology. Do you even know what it means, really? There are loads and loads of videos that can build kids’ wonder and excitement about tech, and built up their technical vocabulary. All of this matters, and is so often overlooked by “Oooooh, Shiny iPad!”

5.)  Donors. Choose.
See back to tip #1. You really only need 3-10 comptuers to get started with station work. Get 5 super-cheap ChromeBooks (or netbooks, if you must) through DonorsChoose. Yes, they have limited functionality. But they can word process, run lots of apps, and easily run typing programs and other such awesome stuff.

Institute Tips: Get SOM Love!

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

The blessing and the curse of Institute is the sheer number of human beings whose job it is to help you in some way, shape, or form. It’s like acronym city and everyone has something to offer!

That being said, you’ve been around for a few weeks (which, in Institute time, is a few months) and it’s high time you get friendly with an awesome person: your SOM (School Operations Manager). (Note: If you’re not at a National/Centralized Institute, your SOM may have a variety of creative and unique terms, but this person essentially helps run operations at one or more school sites.)

Your SOM. Words cannot describe how awesome he or she is. I don’t say this because I was a SOM last summer, of course.

Institute Tips: Lesson-Planning Breakdown

(Photo credit: Hugh Gallagher)

They say he’s in the details. (Photo credit: Hugh Gallagher)

So, you’re lesson-planning. Maybe you feel like you’re about to have a breakdown. Your Corps Member Advisor is there to help, of course, but if you want another way to have it explained or just need some sass in your life, read on!

First, some perspective on who the heck I am:

Hi, I’m Blair! I’m a Corps Member Advisor at the Tulsa Institute (woot!), and I finished up TFA in the Twin Cities region about a week ago (yup, I’m a newly minted alum… yikes!).

Now, let’s break down lesson-planning in three quick-and-dirty concepts:

1) Start your lesson plan by thinking about WHAT kiddos can DO and HOW they will explain your objective after you’ve taught them. If you’re teaching multiplication, what will it look like for your kiddos to DO the math, show their work, and explain their answer? This is why your exemplar response is so important. Side note: If YOU don’t know the skill, you’ll have the darndest time teaching it. Make sure you can explain the skill backwards and forwards. Try explaining it to your beau, your mom, or a friend via phone—if you can do it there, you can teach it!

Institute: Don’t Be Freaked Out

(Photo credit: Nate Steiner)

(Photo credit: Nate Steiner)

It was the first day of teaching for all Tulsa Institute corps members. This day had been coming for many months, since the moment they were first accepted into the corps.

All of this time boiled down to their first hour in the classroom. It’s a lot of pressure.

As a School Operations Manager, I was doing my rounds (most likely re-taping signage or putting up a bulletin board) when I saw him. Ross. Sitting outside of his classroom, on the floor. He wasn’t crying, but the look on his face communicated his utter inner turmoil.

I sat down next to him and asked what was up. He candidly told me how absolutely awful his first lesson had gone.

How to Quickly and Authentically Build Relationships with Students

(Photo credit: Alice Combes)

(Photo credit: Alice Combes)

“This is really important, so I want to be sure everyone is remaining engaged. I know we’re tired, but you’ll need this through your two years of teaching!”

During Institute (and Professional Saturdays), this phrase was invoked time and time again. Often, it cued a silent ugh in my head as I struggled to stay awake. The thing is, I didn’t think the session I was sitting through was unimportant, but I just struggled with the fact that everything was given A-level status. As hard as I wanted to be a great teacher, I couldn’t make all of the advice and strategies I got a priority.

But two years later, while reflecting on my time at Institute, there’s one thing that I do wish I had given A-level status. Interestingly enough, it was one thing that wasn’t given very much exposure during my two years as a CM:

Building relationships with students.

Building relationships with kids is SO important, especially when you’re working with Institute students for just a few short weeks. When I was going through Institute, we had the one-off anecdotes about contacting parents, or ideas for team-building activities, but that was about it.

I’m here to tell you that to get kids to work their butts off for you during their summer, there HAS to be a relationship. Think about it: if some random person came to you and demanded hard work during your summer, how would you feel? Probably weirded out. If students know you as a human being, and know that you care about them, they’re way more likely to put in said hard work.

Institute Staff Members: We’re Not Magical Robots of Awesome

(Photo credit: Robin Zebrowski)

(Photo credit: Robin Zebrowski)

Two years ago, when I was starting Institute as a brand-new corps member, I had many questions and loose assumptions about what the experience would be like. I was curious about housing, my students, the training, and just how exactly I would master the art of lesson planning and behavior management in a few short weeks.

Most of all, though, I had questions and assumptions about who worked at Institute. In a nutshell, I assumed that everyone on staff—from the School Director to the School Operations Manger to my Corps Member Advisor—was a Magical Robot of Awesome.

Sure, they weren’t necessarily perfect, but I just assumed (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) that they were really, really good at everything education-wise, and that’s why they were there to drop knowledge on me.

Because of this, I often internalized my Corps Member Advisor’s actions, which I thought were the actions of a really, really good teacher. Remember being in, say, sixth grade and analyzing your teacher’s every action? Why’d she dress up today? Why did he create a new seating chart? What does she do on the weekend?

Yeah, I was sort of like that with my CMA.

Think There’s Nothing We Can Do About Name-Calling? Think Again.

It’s no secret that bullying (be it at school, on the playground, or online) is a huge barrier to kids’ wellness and achievement. The data is grim, particularly for LGBT students of color or from low-income backgrounds.

The problem is clear, but the solution is murky. One big step in the right direction, however, is talking about it—more than once, and in a way that’s accessible and engaging to students. I know, I know, small task, right?

As a teacher, I’ve observed too many examples of bullying without having the tools needed to discuss and unpack this behavior with students. As my kiddos’ teacher, nothing hurts more than to be at a loss when one student causes hurt to another.

The GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and its national partners are helping remedy this with No Name-Calling Week, running Jan. 20-24.

Why Co-Teaching Is Twice the Work

(Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

(Photo credit: Hash Milhan)

For the start of Year Two, I found out I’d be co-teaching. After preening for a few minutes at my good fortune, I thought of all the time I’d be saving by having another person to shoulder the work. After all, I thought, having a second person by me every moment of teaching would cut my work in half.



If anything, having a co-teacher has made me work much harder than I did most days during Year One, and definitely not because my co-teacher is lazy. If anything, it’s because she is so much the opposite of that.

We’re doing a lot more with our kids, going above and beyond what would be possible with just one person. But from the typical measures of time and effort spent, having a co-teacher hasn’t really helped, because we feed off of each other’s desire to be excellent teachers.

Am I doing it wrong? Not necessarily. I think my co-teacher and I are leveraging each others’ crazy work ethic and devotion to kiddos, which is great. Nonetheless, I feel like I would have benefitted quite a bit from a good heart-to-heart from a veteran co-teacher before diving into this year.

So I’m going to save you a few dozen hundred hours of work, should you ever happen to co-teach (and heck, a lot of these are good for co-worker relationships in general).