8 Lessons for Teacher Growth

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1. Humility

You’re probably very good at what you do–at least parts of it. You’re also probably very bright, compassionate, and driven, or you wouldn’t have made it to whatever place you’re currently in as an educator.

But change requires self-awareness and a humble approach to your craft. The ability to see yourself and the need for change–within or around you–is the most critical step in any process of growth and change.

2. Balance

As often as possible, strive for a balance of thinking, tools, strategies, and related resources. The most popular, clicked, shared, and curated content on the internet is probably lists. Top 10 Strategies for _____, 25 Apps _____, 8 Tips for _____, etc. This is probably because they’re easy to skim, extract takeaways from, and save–and then move on with your life.

Earth Day: You’re Just Getting Started

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Each year on Earth Day, many of us commit to environmental acts of kindness. From water conservation to composting, from climate change to changing light bulbs, each of us can do our part to tackle the eco-issues facing our planet. But where do you start, and how do you make this something for your whole school to rally around? And while we’re at it, why stop on April 23?

This year, the Center for Green Schools challenges you to think about what you can do not just on Earth Day, but throughout the year. Our third annual Green Apple Day of Service is September 27, 2014, and the buzz around Earth Day gives you the perfect opportunity to begin planning activities at your school.

To get you thinking about green projects, we’ve lined up a few ideas that will transform your schools into healthier, safer, more efficient places.

  • Give the campus a facelift. Teachers at Oceanside High School in San Diego, CA spent last year’s Green Apple Day of Service with volunteers inside and out of their school. They planted beautiful flowers and repainted exterior walls long plagued by graffiti, making the school and neighborhood a more welcoming place. Materials were donated by local partners, and volunteers from the U.S. Green Building Council – San Diego and Balfour Beatty Construction lent a hand to get the work done.

4 Poems for Addressing Identity

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April is National Poetry Month, and TeacherPop is celebrating every Friday by featuring four poetry selections from teachers who have participated in Teach For America’s Poet Warriors Project. Interested in getting your class involved? Email for details!

1. “Biracial Hair,” by Zora Howard

This is the first poem I teach in the Poet Warriors unit developed by TFA alum Emily Southerton. Listening to Howard perform this poem is powerful and the message is accessible, relevant, and thought-provoking. Howard began writing poetry at age 13, became a well-known poet, and attended Yale University. Her story teaches students that they can become successful leaders and change-makers through writing.

Students’ favorite line:

“I’m not a f*cking cookie.”

Tracking My Time #2: This Time, a Positive Reminder

clock-150x150Back to my self-experiment. You read about my big confession here. But I won’t be too hard on myself because I also noticed I’ve still done a decent job of managing both my energy and cognitive bandwidth.

Positive Reminder: Here’s what worked for me: I tried to do the hard work in the morning when I had the most energy and when I was not cyberloafing. Then, at night on my train rides back to DC (when I’ve noticed I get energy from speaking with other people), I scheduled phone calls with people who wanted my advice. I also remembered in advance that I’m useless after delivering workshops, and I had two last week. So, after my teacher trainings, I literally just opened a book and read for 30 minutes. So much better than scrambling to answer email on my smartphone in a taxi racing to my next location!

4 Things Teachers Can Do to Improve Their School’s Culture

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Schools are most successful when everyone is on the same page, moving toward a common goal and motivated by a compelling vision, but sometimes goals get fractured and the vision gets blurry. It’s in those moments when you, as an individual, have the opportunity to make the greatest impact. Here are four ways to make it a positive one.

#1: Make room for social and emotional learning. 

In a positive school culture there is an expectation of social and emotional safety, which is something that you, as a teacher, can create from the ground up, starting with your classroom, your colleagues, and yourself.

Here are a few suggestions to promote the kind of positivity that keeps people not just comfortable in their school environment, but also enthusiastic and engaged:

Pinterest Pick: Earth Day Activities

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4 Poems for Hesitant High School Students

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April is National Poetry Month, and TeacherPop is celebrating every Friday by featuring four poetry selections from teachers who have participated in Teach For America’s Poet Warriors Project. Interested in getting your class involved? Email for details!

I had the privilege of teaching poetry to a wide range of high school students this year, from those who had scribbled poems all over their binders to others who vehemently denied having ever written a single line of poetry. Here are the four poems that engaged my students, no matter what their comfort level with the form:

1. Anything by Sandra Cisneros

So many of my students could access Cisneros’ informal, playful, and deeply personal language. I had students write about how they got their own names after a close reading of her vignette “My Name,” which turned out to be a wonderful assignment to start the year and introduce themselves to the class. More often than not, the assignment sparked good conversations at home, and the students end up learning something they didn’t know about their names (I know I did!).

Tracking My Time #1: Confession

Comprehensive-Calendar1-300x226Thus begins a three-part series of guilty admissions, ahem, lessons learned, March 10, 2014, when I actually took a look at what I was doing and when.

A while back, I decided to track my time in 30-minute increments over the course of a week, as recommended by Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. I did it, painfully and mostly accurately. As most of you know, I’m a reasonably busy lady with a full-time job, heavy travel, two kids under the age of three, a lovely husband, and friends and family I like to hang out with. And I really want to finish Downton Abbey!

The week I chose to track was an interesting one as it involved travel, workshops for teachers, train rides, pediatrician appointments, a book proposal deadline, and a hair appointment. I like to think I’m good at juggling and managing my time well, but I was proven wrong when staring at my hard data.