Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Deeper Learning, Notes from Forward

A Teacher’s Self-Care Guide

10417498_10101256328544704_949313120554144220_n by Shannon Stone

Passionate teachers pour themselves into their work, often at the cost of their own families. They give up Sunday night dinners in order to create engaging lesson plans. They are digging through Pinterest and engaging in Twitter Chats outside of the school day. They have more professional development hours than they know what to do with. But, they keep plugging forward. They expend incredible energy to make a child’s life grand and wonderful. While sharing that passion with others builds a momentum and a power that feels unstoppable, even the passionate run out of steam. March and April feel like trudging in knee deep waters because everyone’s emotions are running high, spring fever is kicking in, and state testing is knocking at the door.  When we think that we can’t possibly do another lesson, or give another pencil, or talk about another fidget spinner, that last day quickly approaches. Then like that, those last busses roll, and sweet freedom sinks in. Sweet freedom to professionally develop on your schedule, to continue engaging with others who have the bug, to finally read that stack of professional books you have been waiting for.

The reminder of summer is to take that passionate flame and ensure it stays lit. Make a list of things that keep you moving. Here are a couple of suggestions to keep your flame fired up.

    1. Even a staycation is a vacation, if done right!  Sit down! Mindfulness comes from being aware of self and that can be difficult when you are consistently bombarded with the demands of deadlines, projects, and life. Summer gives us the opportunity to simply be. Find that space that allows you to let go of the stress. That space could be your couch, nature, or the beach. Try focusing on the moment, and the fact that you don’t have to grade a stack of papers, create lesson plans, or respond to email. You are officially off contract! You are the principal of your own time.
    2. Your superpower is teaching, but your body missed the memo!  For many, stress increases the cortisol levels in our bodies, resulting in unforeseen health issues. Cortisol weakens our bodies ability to fight the rough stuff that we encounter daily. In addition, to increased cortisol, we may not always make the best nutritional decisions. Luckily, summer is a great time to retune the whole system. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables will be amazing.  Blueberries and peas are great options at reducing cortisol levels in your body. Try an essential oil diffuser at home. Essential oils like lavender and tea tree oil are known to help in reducing cortisol in the body.
    3. MOVE!  Sure, you’re clocking 20,000 steps a day through the school year.  Teaching isn’t for the lazy, so continue to embody that goal setting for the summer. Take a walk around the neighborhood, the Big-Four bridge, or one of our many state parks in the area. We all have those fitness friends who are doing boot-camp and CrossFit! Catch up with them this summer, you may spark a new life-long habit. Plus, exercise also helps to squash the cortisol in your system.
    4. Grow your brain! Learn a new skill, engage in PD that you are interested in, meet-up with your tribe (others who share your passion), or read those books that you haven’t had time for. All of these things help to nurture yourself that you have neglected for months.

Hear my call to action: take care of yourself.  You absolutely can not pour from an empty cup!  For me, a beach trip with my tribe, perusing that quaint bookstore and losing myself both in fiction and self-development books will help to lower that cortisol. My exercise routine will be magnificent. I will have time with my family and friends. As July inches closer, that itch for routine will get stronger. The desire to get my space set up and organized will start to seep in. By then, though, my cups will be full. I will be energized and ready to tackle another school year. The passion flame keeps on firing. June, July, and August are time for rejuvenation, the self-care we often sacrifice through the school year. Make the most of the time, squash that cortisol, and love yourself!

Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Notes from Forward

Examining my “Why” as the Year Draws to a Close

“Every week I want to learn something new, and every week I want to teach someone something new.” -Chef Edward Lee, “The Mind of a Chef,” Season 3/ Episode4

Rachel Klein

by Rachel Klein

I made a mistake in front of my students, thinks the teacher. Oh, God, I made a mistake in front of my students. I am the mighty educator, hailing from the hallowed hallways of academia, and I made a mistake. That’s it. There goes my credibility. I may hail from these very hallways, but I come from a different school of thought, one that honors mistakes and moves on from them. It is in these moments, these uncomfortable, pride-squashing moments, that I expose the very core of what I’m trying to embody for my students — I am a lifelong learner, and it is from mistakes that I rise up and become even better. 

Throughout a school year, a teacher can usually count on being asked what drives their practice, what informs their pedagogy, and why they chose the teaching profession in the first place. I knew the answer to this long before I even knew I wanted to be a teacher- I never want a day to go by that I don’t learn something. I have always enjoyed school, but more importantly, I’ve always loved learning. Cliche or unoriginal, I’ll admit, but this is why I am drawn to teaching. It affords me an environment in which I can’t help but to learn something new every day.

I imagine that my passion for learning ekes from my pores every day and floats out on sweet little feathers that land gracefully in my students’ laps. I imagine that my students are inspired by me to learn, to eagerly soak up knowledge as if it were dripping from the pages of a textbook. I imagine that they go home and ponder the deeper meaning of my words, that they sit at the kitchen table and go on and on about how much they learned in Mrs. Klein’s class that day. Not only does this make me delusional, but it also makes me unrealistic. I don’t care. If I don’t believe this about myself, if I can’t convince my students that I enjoy not just teaching, but also learning, then I’ve lost sight of why I chose to teach in the first place.

I know that not every student is going to seek knowledge as fervently as I do every day. I know not every student sees my classroom as a sacred place where they become enlightened. Furthermore, I know not every student even has a kitchen table at which to sit and talk about me. There is so much in a student’s life that is out of my control, but what I can control is who I am when they’re with me. I can show my students the value of a “not yet” mindset, that not all learning occurs perfectly right away.  I push them to always chase new learning and knowledge by modeling those behaviors in my daily practice. Even if the feather floats just above their reach, I can help them grow tall enough to grasp it.

To me, learning doesn’t always manifest as an academic pursuit. The lessons, skills, and concepts I’ve learned during my time as a teacher are rarely academic in nature. But opening my mind to lessons that come from the mundane, the day-to-day, and routine has brought me some of my greatest revelations. Allowing myself to be taught by students, by interactions with my colleagues, and by the systems within a school has opened my eyes to how I can be the best teacher possible.

Last week, my husband and I continued our binge-devotion to “The Mind of a Chef”, a series produced by chef and author Anthony Bourdain. We were delighted to watch the Louisville episode, which featured local chef Edward Lee. In discussing his own pursuit of happiness he said, “Every week I learn something new, and every week I want to teach someone something new.” This resonated with me, and in a way, validated my own devotion to learning (and inspiring others to love it as much as I do). This man is a chef, not a teacher, and he pursues knowledge as a habit. Plenty of other people constantly want to grow and learn. This means that plenty of the students who come to me are capable of this love of learning, no matter what they want to make of themselves.

Fostering a love for learning is the pinnacle of my pedagogy. This is why I’ll continue to be delusional and unrealistic about my work. I will continue to spread my wings wide and hope that a few feathers land in an unsuspecting student’s lap, and that they are inspired to absorb every little drop of knowledge put in front of them.

Rachel Klein is a 10th year ELA teacher at Meyzeek Middle School who has been nominated three times for Kentucky Teacher of the Year.  When she’s not molding minds in the classroom, she is at home dancing with her daughter and trying new recipes in the kitchen with her husband.

Posted in #ForwardBloggers, JCPSAmbassadors, Upcoming Events

Introducing the JCPSForward Blog Series!

Created in July 2015, JCPSForward has become a strategic, intentional teacher-led effort to identify and connect the educators in JCPS that are deeply impacting teaching and learning. In 2 years, JCPSForward has helped bring Twitter chats (#JCPSchat), the #ECET2Lou conference, and EdCampJCPS to the district in order to connect, engage and inspire educators in Louisville.

The newly created JCPSForward blog series is another step in the teacher-led movement to inspire, connect and spark conversation among our district’s educators. Over the next 6 months, there will be new posts added to the JCPSForward blog every 2-3 days by the 9 inaugural JCPSForward bloggers. They will be blogging about topics that are in the forefront of education and our district…anything from the new science standards, to teacher self-care, to cultural competency and everything in between.

The #ForwardBloggers are:

  • Rachel Klein--7th Grade ELA Teacher, Meyzeek Middle School
  • Donna Neary–ESL Teacher, Iroquois High School
  • Jazmine Anderson--9th/10th Grade ELA Teacher, Butler Traditional High School
  • Chelsea Haynes–6th Grade Science Teacher, Newburgh Middle School
  • Shannon Stone–Goal Clarity Coach, Johnsontown Road Elementary School
  • Jodi Meier–ECE Teacher, Breckinridge/Franklin Elementary School
  • Randi Skaggs–6th Grade ELA Teacher, Farnsley Middle School
  • Marcia Carmichael-Murphy–Resource Teacher, Fern Creek High School
  • Bryan Morrison–5th Grade Teacher, Watson Lane Elementary School

We hope that you’ll read, comment on, and share the JCPS Forward posts and get in on the conversation! Have a post of your own you’d like to submit? Fill out this form and someone from our team will be in touch!

Kelsey Hayes & Noah Klein

JCPSForward Blog Leads

Posted in Deeper Learning, ForwardCollab, Upcoming Events

#JCPSDeeperLearning Symposium 2017

The Deeper Learning Symposium is just around the corner!  We want to thank the JCPS School Board for their generous support in this super-amazing event!  

If you have registered and not quite sure what to do, please reach out and contact the Deeper Learning planning team or contact JCPSForward via Twitter.  You should have received email instructions, parking & shuttle details as well!

We look forward to seeing everyone there!

You will need to register for the sessions!


Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Notes from Forward

Bring Who You Are to Your Classroom…And Know When to Change Your Game

12308541_10153295110860885_1775568096804738743_n.jpgby Randi Skaggs

I’ll be honest: I like to be liked. Popularity was a goal of mine from the time I was very young – a goal I rarely achieved as a shy, nerdy goody-two-shoes, but a major goal nonetheless.

A few years ago, toward the end of my first year of teaching middle school after transitioning from elementary school, we were trained in Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). We sat down in the library, exhausted from a day of teaching, and watched a video of a woman telling a kid to put his skateboard away. In the first scene, she was shrill and angry, and the young man retaliated. In the second scene, she was respectful, calm, even a bit jokey with him, and he complied with the rule. “This is ridiculous,” a coworker whispered to me. “Being nice isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

But I found the video compelling. I’d had a good rapport with my elementary kids, but found that I was constantly at odds with my middle schoolers. If I changed my approach, could things be a bit easier?

I’m not like a regular teacher; I’m a “cool teacher.”  Or so I thought.

I found that it worked wonders for me. My classroom management became one of my biggest assets, according to my evaluations, and getting the students to do what I wanted them took far less effort and frustration from me. And, bonus – I was the popular teacher! The kids loved me! They piled letters of admiration on my desk and drew flattering pictures of me. When people would tell me I was a saint for teaching middle school, I’d smugly reply, “When you treat them with kindness and respect, they’re the most wonderful people on the planet.”

I should have known.

I’m not going to lie; I’ve always prided myself on being the teacher with tons of pictures and admiration notes.

I’ve been a parent for nine years, and it’s one of Murphy’s lesser known laws that the minute you feel like you’ve mastered a parenting skill, your child will show you just how little you know. As it turns out, this rule applies to teaching, as well.

This past year started out like all my previous years teaching middle school. I very clearly and positively explained the school and classroom rules and expectations. I repeated the rules when the class didn’t comply, praised them to no end when they got it right, and gave individual students the benefit of the doubt when they did something incorrectly. For example, if I asked the class to line up according to rows and a student stood up whose row hadn’t been called, I’d calmly and kindly say something like, “Hey Bob – just a reminder. You’re in the red row, and I haven’t called them yet. Please have a seat until you hear me say ‘red row.’”

But it didn’t work. Students would look me right in the eye, smirk, and line up anyway. It’s OK, I reminded myself. Their brains are wired to resist and test all the world’s rules and expectations at this age. You just need to find a way to harness that.

And try, I did. Since I’m a language arts teacher, I’d find articles about others who’ve broke with convention – Colin Kaepernick, for example – and had the students learn vital reading skills this way. But they didn’t quite make the correlation. They had varying opinions on Kaepernick’s decision to protest the national anthem, but many of them had very little interest in the actual article, and they didn’t get my subtle hint that they could use their instinct to break tradition to stand up for bigger issues, rather than constantly testing my rule that I expect you to sharpen your pencil in the transition time before class starts, not right smack in the middle of my mini-lesson.

I’ve always been the kind of teacher that uses humor to both keep students in line and teach my standards. And it’s always, always worked before. Not this year. They got the jokes, and they’d laugh, but then I couldn’t rein them back in again. In fact, this just inspired them to tell their own jokes to other kids, who, in turn, told more jokes. When I’d try to get them to settle down so we could get back to the lesson, they’d reply, “But you told a joke. Why can’t I?”

Which was a solid point. It was unfair of me to expect them to switch gears so quickly, I see now. But at the time, I stubbornly clung onto my style. “This is how I teach,” I’d think. “It’s worked every other year, and any moment now we’re going to turn a corner and it’ll work with this crew.”

But it never did. Don’t get me wrong – if you had walked into my classroom this year, you’d find most students engaged and working. I moved students along academically, and I expect their KPREP scores to reflect that. There were individual triumphs, like the student who refused to read aloud at the beginning of the year and was failing my class who ended the year with a B average and performed a monologue in front of everyone. But every single moment of this took tremendous effort from me, and it wasn’t the smooth, easy, enjoyable flow that I’ve had for several years now.

And I wasn’t always the favorite. I was especially stern and sometimes shrill with one particular class, and there were several students who simply tested every single classroom expectation over and over on a daily basis, and definitely saw the gruff side of Ms. Skaggs. It made me sad when I could see that some students were relieved to leave my class and go elsewhere.

And while I felt like a victim while this was happening, I realize now it was my fault. After a decade and a half of teaching, I would never expect my curriculum to remain static. I attend professional development sessions every year, and I implement what I learn. I read the latest research and adapt my practice to meet the needs of my students. Oh, I have a lot of introverted students this year! More individual work. I have a lot of artistic students! More art-based projects. Immigration is all over the news and on everyone’s minds! Let me develop a lesson around that. I pride myself on never, ever laminating my posters, because I don’t expect that I’ll teach a concept the same way – year after year.

But I expected that my classroom management was so perfect, so flawless, that it didn’t need to change. What I never did this entire year was truly evaluate what I was doing to see how I could adapt it to these students’ individual needs.

This crew of kids had a hard time joking with me while respecting me. And I had a hard time letting go of the “cool teacher” personae that I’d enjoyed in previous years. Had I just adapted my style to be more stern and distant, while still remaining positive and respectful, could this year have gone differently? I’ll never know, but I suspect that it would.

So, when next year begins, I’ll continue with the pillars of PBIS – clearly stating expectations and using as much positive reinforcement as possible to help them comply with the rules. I’ll get to know my students individually, and adapt my curriculum to meet their needs. I’ll treat them with dignity and respect, and I won’t get frustrated when they test expectations, seeing as that’s what their brains are wired to do.

But I’m also going to study them as a group, and determine which type of teacher they need to learn. The goofy one who cracks jokes and makes up musical-theater-style songs about expectations, or the more traditional one who acts like the grown-up she actually is. Because it is my job to meet their needs, after all.  And I’ll try not to take it too personally if I’m not the most loved teacher, as long as I’m the most effective one.  

To begin, I intend to start with the following resources this summer:

Moving forward in this series, I plan to speak about the importance of building relationships in the classroom and start conversations around the challenges, triumphs, and new approaches pertaining to that. Please join me in creating a culture around growth and adaptation because our students need the very best of us, not the “us” we necessarily want to be.

Posted in #ForwardBloggers, Notes from Forward

Summer of Learning and Summer of Fun


by Jodi Meier

Almost all school employees, whether they are teachers, instructional assistants or administrators, begin to make plans for the summer break before spring break even arrives! We plan for trips, birthdays, conferences, summer school, and household projects.  Most educators are planners: calendars and ExCel spreadsheets are our friends!  But when you planned for June, July and August, did you plan what to READ?  I mean, besides the top 10 “Oprah” best sellers?  Many of us look forward to having the time to read for pleasure, maybe lying on a beach with the latest John Grisham novel, but do you have any professional reading planned? As an educational and professional book junkie, I have some suggestions for some great professional books to make your summer relaxing AND productive:

  1. Kids Deserve It! Pushing Boundaries and Challenging Conventional Thinking by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome.  This book will fire you up and excite you. It will reinvigorate your thinking and your outlook on teaching.  The authors encourage you to think big and make learning fun and meaningful for students. I absolutely loved it!  Reading this book will make you happy to be a teacher! You can also follow the authors on Twitter and there is a monthly #kidsdeserveit Twitter chat.  
  2. The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon. This book doesn’t just apply to education, it applies to life!  This allegory is the story of George and his ride on a city bus with a helpful bus driver named Joy.  She and the other passengers teach him the 10 rules for dealing with problems with his work and his family. Interestingly, there is also The Energy Bus for Kids with online support materials.
  3. Teach Like A Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess. According to Dave Burgess, pirates are “daring and adventurous.  They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence.” One of the bonuses of this book is that it includes 30 hooks and 170 brainstorming questions.  A related book on my “to read” list is Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess, Dave’s wife. There is also a thriving #TLAP Twitter group and monthly discussions.
  4. The Growth Mindset Coach: A Teacher’s Month-by-Month Handbook for Empowering Students to Achieve by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley.  This is the book that got me interested in teaching growth mindset and how the brain works to my primary special education students.  Not only do the authors explain brain research in very understandable terms, but they provide month-by-month lesson plans and activity ideas.   Each chapter also supplies songs, videos, and books to go along with each month’s theme.
  5. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…..and the Rest of Y’all Too by Christopher Emdin.  I haven’t read this book yet.  It just came in the mail from Amazon.  The subtitle is “Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education” and I don’t see how any educator working with children of color would not need to read this book.  I can’t wait to dive into it!

BONUS:  You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.  This book is not for everyone, but I found it inspiring.  It is NOT a professional book for educators, but there are so many kernels of practical life knowledge in it.  Give it a shot.

There are so many to read and there is so little time.  The honorable mentions on my to-read list include:   

I would like to add this all of these books were either recommended to me by teacher leaders/authors/educators I have connected with on Twitter or by educators I have met through JCPSForward, at ECET2LOU, or at the Jefferson County Public Schools Deeper Learning Symposium. I want to know which book(s) you choose to read and what you learned from it.  I welcome your book recommendations!  Have a great summer of fun AND learning.  Happy reading!