Mindful Moments

I have historically seen a rise in behavioral issues and lack of motivation in my own classroom around this time of year.  My students have been dealing with the usual academic pressures, as well as unease in their lives outside of school.  Negativity and defeatism can spread like wildfire, and it is important to be proactive and consistent in keeping our students and schools positive and motivated.

I introduced something called “Mindful Moments” with my classes.  Essentially, the process goes something like this:

  1. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, and back straight.  Hands can be in your lap or on the table, clasped or unclasped, but they should be empty.  
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Think about your day so far, or how you would like your day to look.  Set a positive intention for the day, or decide on a positive goal you would like to accomplish.  Your goal could be something personal, small, large, or something that could affect our greater community.  
  4. When you are ready, open your eyes.

Mindful Moments take about 30 seconds to 1 minute out of your instructional time.  They help build upon students’ social-emotional education by having them set goals, take much-needed brain breaks, and have a time to reset their ways of thinking into more positive outlooks.  They can be done anytime; usually I do them at the start of each class, but I have also introduced the process as something to do whenever you are feeling stressed or anxious, or whenever you need a mental break.  

Mindful Moments don’t have to stop in your classroom – they work for teachers just as well!

How do you introduce mindfulness in your classroom?  How do you support your students’ social and emotional needs?

How Your Hallways Can Educate

As an art educator, part of my responsibilities is to display a continuously rotating exhibition of student artwork.  It takes a lot of time to make everything look nice, fit well within the bulletin board space, and really showcase each student’s hard work.  And yes, it is disheartening when many people don’t stop and take a look.

That’s why I like to create interactive displays.  They may take a little more time to put together, but the benefits reaped are worth it.

Interactive displays engage the viewer to actively participate.  The displays may include anything from “please touch” sections, QR codes to scan with your smart phone, flip-able questions and answers, and even spaces to write responses and encouragement.  Each interactive display is able to educate other students, teachers, parents, and the community about the topics or skills that students have learned in your classroom.  As a result, (and because they are just so darn fun!), more visitors tend to stop, look at, and play around with your displays, and people become excited to see what you’ll do for the next one!

Interactive displays are not just limited to student art displays.  Showcasing a math project?  Put a few of the equations up for viewers to solve.  Student reports on ancient civilizations going up on the cork strip?  Have students create a visual mural for the wall setting the scene, complete with QR codes that link to more information about the culture.  A world language class studying restaurant vocabulary could have a mini cafe set up with labels on items in French or Spanish!

What are some interactive displays that have been created at your school?  What feedback have you gotten about interactive displays?



The Power of Peer Observation

Sometimes the best way teachers can learn and improve is by observing each other.  So why aren’t we doing it more often?

When someone enters a classroom for an observation, even the most veteran teachers can get nervous.  No one wants to feel scrutinized or appear less than at our best, especially in front of our colleagues.  To ameliorate this reluctance towards peer observation, the first step is to make the practice commonplace.  We must foster a community of open-doors and low-risk observation to truly create a positive and productive learning experience for both observer and observee.  (The bonus of this practice is that it makes those higher-stakes evaluative observations seem a little less nerve-wracking too!)

To begin this transformation, try recruiting a few teachers who are willing to invite others into their classroom hold “open houses” where other teachers can come and observe.  Hold professional development sessions to create observation protocols so that teachers know what to expect, look for, and reflect upon throughout the observation process.  Teachers can take the first steps by asking trusted peers to observe specific lessons for certain objectives – classroom management, student engagement, learning group dynamics, etc.

Does your school foster peer observations?  What can you do to help create this within your school community?



How can we utilize passing time for SEL?

Working as a middle school teacher has certainly shown me the need for social-emotional education in schools.  It’s more than just students’ yearning for acceptance and belonging at a confusing and changing time in their lives.   Add to that technology becoming even more ever-present, and we as a people begin to have a disconnect with each other.

Social and emotional learning develops empathy, positive relationships, responsibility and citizenship, and positive emotional expression.

While there are many lessons and programs that focus on SEL, we can support the SEL of our students in small, easy ways every day.

  1. Greet each student by name at the door when they enter your classroom.
  2. Smile and say “good morning” when you see students and staff in the hallway, even if you don’t know them.
  3. Monkey see, monkey do!  Always model positive interactions and relationships with adults and students in the building – kids will tend to emulate what they see from you!

How do you support SEL in your school?


Quick and Easy Professional Development

One way I participate in professional development from the comfort of my own home is through education twitter chats.  I love twitter chats because they connect you with other education professionals, local and globally, to share ideas, problem solve together, and offer different perspectives on the things going on in our schools and classrooms.

Twitter chats usually occur weekly, and last about an hour.  A facilitator poses questions to the group, who tweet their responses.  If someone tweets a response that you find particularly helpful or interesting, you can “like” it or “retweet” it.  You can even “follow” that person to expand your professional learning network!

Here are just a few of the chats that I regularly participate in:

#k12artchat – Thursdays at 9:30pm, EST

#leadupchat – Saturdays at 9:30am, EST

#TEDEdChat – Tuesdays at 6:00pm, EST

If you are brand new to twitter, Mashable has a good introduction to its lingo and features.

Some things you should know before your first twitter chat:

1. Most chats follow a Q1/A1 format.  This means that the facilitator will post questions with Q and a number, and your response should start with A and the number of the question you are referring to.

Q1: What are your ideas on….

A1: My ideas are….

2. “Lurking” means you are watching the chat and reading everyone’s tweets about the topic, but not actively participating in the Q&A.

3. Make sure to include the hashtag of the chat you are participating at the end of each of your tweets so that users can easily follow your posts.

What are some of your favorite twitter chats?  How might you use twitter chats with your students?



Winter Break Wrap Ups

We are one week away from Winter Break in our district, and the excitement is in the air!  And while I have definitely been catching up on my Christmas movie traditions at home, one place you won’t see these DVDs playing is in my classroom!

No matter how tempting it is sometimes to just stick on a movie when the kids are a little stir-crazy, our school has a policy that any movie played must have some type of connection to our curriculum.  I’ve seen some neat ways teachers have addressed this – especially on team days.  During Halloween, most of the school had team days during the core class periods, where kids participated in different team building activities.  One of the grade levels played “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” for one of the class periods.  Afterwards, students discussed instances where the characters showed good and poor character, and how each situation could have been handled differently.  It created great discussion, fostered social-emotional learning, and aligned with our school’s character education goals.

When teachers show videos directly aligned with their own subject’s curriculum, there is usually a follow-up worksheet or activity that applies what they have learned to show understanding.  Sometimes these videos show real-life applications of what they are learning; for instance, one science class shows a video about what happens to the world when ecosystems are out of balance.  I’ve also seen language arts classes show the video version of whatever book they are reading, and have students compare and contrast.

I don’t usually play videos during my art classes.  Many of the movies that align with the art curriculum are surprisingly boring, or just not quite developmentally appropriate.

This past week, I started a ceramics project with my classes.  With the novelty of clay plus the approaching break, students were… let’s say having a little bit of difficulty focusing on directions.  I ended up addressing this by doing a sort of modified flipped classroom.  I found YouTube videos that demonstrated the ceramics techniques that we would be using, and the students watched them prior to creating their project.

What is your district or school policy on showing videos or movies to your classes?  How do you use movies and videos to supplement your students’ learning?


Three Easy Ways to Reduce Stress

Today was one of those days.  You know what I’m talking about…one of those days that starts out by spilling your coffee down the front of your white shirt and goes downhill from there.  One of those days where every single copier you use jams in twenty different places, everybody seems grumpy with you, and that great tool called technology just keeps crashing when you need it most.

It also doesn’t help that the holiday season is now upon us, and that alone can cause pounds of its own weight on our already stressed out shoulders.  This is a time of year when both professional life and personal life seem to be closing in, and we are trying to beat the clock to finish our to-do lists.  How can we possibly avoid burnout, especially at times like these?

Here are three easy things you can do to relive some of this stress, now or any time you are feeling overwhelmed.

1. Stretch

You don’t have to do an all-out yoga routine (although, if you are interested, there are a lot of great websites that have free resources and videos I can share…), but taking a few minutes to stretch out your muscles, especially in your shoulders, neck, and back, will get rid of some of the physical tension you may not realize you are carrying around.  You can even do some stretches right from the comfort of your chair!  Bonus: It will also help you correct your posture.  If you are anything like me, you start slouching when you feel overloaded.

2. Breathe

Sounds silly, but deep breathing exercises help center us, bring us back to the present moment, and calm our minds.  Start by taking a deep, down-to-your-belly breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly, slowly release it.  I use an app on my phone that sets your breath intake, hold, and release to music.  I have a hard time meditating because my brain usually wanders, but deep breathing helps me get into a more meditative focus.  Try doing this for five minutes a day, everyday, no matter how jam-packed your schedule seems to be.

3. Smile

No matter how bad it gets, no matter how frazzled you feel, slap a smile on your face.  Do something goofy.  Do a nice deed for someone else.  That saying “fake it ’til you make it” holds true…eventually you’ll find that your outlook has a much more positive spin, and that smile doesn’t feel fake anymore.

What are some of your stress-busting tactics?  What do you do with your students to help them relieve stress?


Let me introduce myself…

Well hello there, Blogosphere!  (Blogonet?  Blogoweb?  Bologna?)

This is my first blog as an aspiring educational administrator.  And while I may not even have any readers yet, I wanted to take some time to introduce myself.  I just can’t stand looking at that default welcome page, and, let’s face it, you gotta start somewhere!

Who am I, you ask?

I started my career with a BA in Arts Education and as the head elementary art teacher between two elementary schools in New Jersey.  Three years (and tenure!) later, and I transferred over to my district’s middle school, where I am now in my 9th year of teaching young visual artists.  I have a BA in Art Education from The College of New Jersey, a MAEd in General Education with an emphasis in Special Education from Gratz College, and a MA in Educational Leadership from Rider University.  I have background in film, digital arts, visual arts, animation, and interests ranging from playing music (I can play five intruments!) to running with my dog (a boxer pup named Brody).

Why blog?

I wanted to have a space for reflection.  About being an educator.  About trying to become an administrator.  About teacher empowerment and inspiring new leaders.

Why would an art teacher want to go into administration?

My first year teaching was exhilarating.  And, if I’m honest, a little overwhelming.  When I was initially hired, I did not fully realize all the work that was going to be needed to run the arts program at two different schools.   My first year was all about getting to know two different schools, about 500 students and staff, and really developing my teaching style.  Our district was working without a contract that year, and as a result our new teacher mentor program did not officially exist (although I had a great unofficial go-to music teacher helping me out!).  I’ll never forget the end of the year when my principal told me I needed to make more relationships among staff members.

My first thought was… but I’m friendly with everyone in my department.  My second was… you mean I have to do even MORE?  And then I realized what he meant was forming those meaningful and collaborative relationships with teachers, building my support system and working together on new and creative ideas.

I came back into my second year of teaching ready to form these new relationships.  I realized that ALL teachers are crazy busy throughout their day, and you can’t expect people to come to you first.  So I spent as much time as I could in other classrooms, finding out what each grade was learning about in science, social studies, language arts… And it drove my instruction.  My lessons had always included art history, art creation, reflection, and student interest, but now I was able to start tying the projects I was doing with students in my class to the information they were learning about in other classes.  I was fascinated by how my arts classroom could support and reinforce learning across all classrooms, and enthusiastic about having these collaborative conversations with teachers.

When I was transferred up to our middle school, I threw myself even more into what other teachers were doing in their classrooms.  Sometimes because I wanted to plan lessons together, but sometimes because I was just plain curious.  I started seeking out building-based committees and behind-the-scenes activities to get more involved school-wide.  This led to joining more district-based and leadership opportunities, as well as my decision to pursue my second masters in Educational Leadership leading to my principal’s certification.


While my background training may be in arts education, I have always had a strong interest in math, science, and technology.  I like to joke that I am a left-brained artist – I usually tend to approach art more logically, thinking of it as a problem to creatively solve rather than a holistic process.  As I learned more about different educational methodologies throughout my career, I gravitated towards STEM (STEAM!!) education, PBL (project-based learning), inquiry, and tech integration.  I enjoyed teaching other teachers, learning all I could, and embracing more leadership responsibilities.  Put simply, I wanted to be able to reach more students and do more things.