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How Teachers Can Name What Matters to Survive the Mid Year Slump [episode 53]


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Overview of episode 53:

You’ve hit the time of year where the newness of teaching has worn off, your kids might be a little too comfortable with you and their peers, your classroom is cluttered from all that you’ve collected since the beginning, and the days are long and draining. So how do you break this feeling since the year isn’t over yet? You name what matters most. 

We’re borrowing this idea from Kendra Adachi, the Lazy Genius, who asks you to focus on things in your life that are most important to you. She says, “When we name what matters, we can focus on things that move the needle and then just let go of the rest.”

Since March can bring never-ending days and put you in a slump, name what matters to get you in the right mindset going forward. We share some ideas for your classroom, but also encourage you to take some time to make a list yourself. Because in the end, only you can name what matters to you.

Highlights from the episode:

[00:53] Today’s morning message: what small, inexpensive thing has made your teaching life easier, better, or more fun?

[9:46] Resource of the Week: Place Value Mega Bundle

[14:56] An explanation on how to W-I-N: What’s Important Now?

[17:00] Our list of things that might matter most in March

[19:02] Today’s teacher approved tip for not grading everything


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Read the transcript for episode 53, How Teachers Can Name What Matters to Survive the Mid Year Slump:

Hey there, thanks for joining us today. In today’s episode, we’re sharing an easy takeaway for helping you get through the third quarter slump in the classroom.

We start our episodes with the morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what small inexpensive thing has made your teaching life easier, better or more fun?

Emily, what would you add? Well, when we were teaching preschool, we had a Buddha board setup on a table. I love that it’s one of those boards it I think most people will know what it is. If you don’t, it’s a little hard to explain. But it’s a board that you can use water to paint on and then it quickly fades away as it dries.

It was so fun in our preschool, and most of the kiddos would stop by at least once a day. And I recently got my oldest a mini one. It’s so tiny. Has a little mini brash, while we use this in preschool, I think it could be fun in an older class too or the mini one might be nice just for you like in your own teacher space. You know, just for a little mindfulness moment while you do a little painting.

It really is surprisingly soothing. And everyday that thing got so much attention. I love it so much fun. What would you add Heidi?

Well, it’s not about my teaching life, but currently, audiobooks are making my work life so much more enjoyable. Yes, I’ve really just been in a slump lately with physical books. It’s just so hard to find the time. But audio books have been awesome.

Just since December I finished a bunch of holiday rom coms my fav Prince Harry’s book, Mike Renders book, The Office Ladies book, a book about politics. I restarted one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books. Oh, love her. And right now I am finally listening to Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garments, which I know you love. Yes, that was my extra credit months and months ago.

I’m finally getting there and I am loving it. So I told you. It’s just so nice to have like an engaging distraction when I’m doing a tedious task like making an answer key or the other day I spent hours drawing a lionfish, which is very boring. But I love that I could still be reading even if I wasn’t able to hold the book myself. So that’s very nice win.

And they’re so good in the car, too. Oh, definitely. I just was listening to one on the way.

We also have some awesome responses to this question from our community. And this time, we really did get excellent responses, it was hard to narrow it down. So Christy said a remote to click through slides without touching the computer and it controls volume too, so handy. I create daily slideshows with everything embedded and it makes it so easy to stay with the kids and keep them engaged when I’m not walking away every few minutes to change the slide. So smart. I don’t think I ever thought about this.

Shannon agreed with that. And she said her clicker has a laser pointer too, which I think is pretty snazzy. I’m gonna add my own thought to that because it makes such a difference if you’re using slides or technology just be able to control it from a distance of the if you’re with the kids, and you just push the button. Yeah, yeah, I couldn’t go back so good.

Melissa said I just love the Pentel Elite mechanical pencils. They work great for writing my lesson plans. I haven’t tried them Me neither. And Jennifer agreed with the need for a good writing utensil. She said mine would be good to Ticonderoga pencils and a good electric pencil sharpener. If I get donated any other pencils, I pass them along to others.

Until you’ve had to manage like a dozen two dozen sharpened pencils every day. You could not understand that like not all brands are equal. Yep. And then that’s how you become a pencil snob like Jennifer and like us. Yes, understandable.

And Robin said FriXion erasable pen. Oh she said I use them for grading and note taking they erase cleanly and they’re refillable. She said they’re her new go to well that’s cool. I know.

And our friend Shareka she said her miniature Ladybug vacuum so on brand for Shareka and I love it now I want one I know she says it’s it’s still on my desk. It’s perfect for crumbs, eraser bits, pencil shavings, mostly I just like I love this.

Masha said my finger pointer stick which is so good. And I love that they make them in so many different things out there not just point. They’re not just finger pointers now, in preschool, we had the whole lot of them.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t confess this them that when I saw this recommendation, I was like, I wonder if they have some new releases that we don’t. And did you find I didn’t I didn’t do a comprehensive search, because I realized that maybe we needed to rein it in a little bit. They did have a pollen that we don’t have. We do have sample ones.

I know. I do remember the pods we have. But we did use them every day. But also we are not teaching preschool right now. So but they did have a set of like mini pointers. I don’t know what you would use them for maybe in like a guided reading center. Yes. But I was like, I kind of want those. Okay, but I did not buy. I did put restraint.

Kim said she’s loving her wireless doorbell, which we just talked about recently on classroom transitions. I think this is such a brilliant idea. She says it gets their attention and has different options for song. Oh, that’s fun. I love it.

Kristen said, this is going to sound weird. And I’m gonna be honest, it does sound a little weird, but I love it. And that’s why we included it. She said, A Cinderella’s castle backdrop. It literally changed my classroom and my feeling when I’m in it. It just makes me happy. I would love to know more about this.

But the point is to have something whimsical that makes you happy. And hey, this fits the bill. At first I’ve seen was on her computer, but I think she means like I like a cardboard backdrop or something. Go Kristen. I know maybe maybe she’ll send us a picture.

Jane said her drink holder clamp thing. So it sounds like it’s a clamp that you attach to your desk or your your table wherever you’re sitting that will keep your drink in it and off of your table. So she says my coffee no longer has a chance of being spilled by me or my students. Oh, that sounds important. I know it sounds clever.

Tessa said, this is another one that was a little bit wacky, but I’m here for it. She said, I bought a rubber chicken, a rubber chicken a couple years ago and use it when kids get 100 or show a lot of growth on a test. The kids live for this I can picture that they would. And she said I really don’t think I can ever teach without it now.

Well, of course everyone had a whole lot of questions when she posted this. So she came back to share some more about it. She said when they get out 100 or show big growth on their iReady tests like reach their goal or their stretch growth, or if they grow in some other way, they go to the front of the class and they squeeze the chicken.

When the chicken is squeezed, everyone has to freeze and clapping congratulate them. Oh no, I think we’ve lost Heidi. She said I had a fifth grader come back to tell me about her iReady score and I let her squeeze the chicken and my class went crazy. They were so excited to cheer for her. It’s a grandma chicken too. So keep that in mind. She said it looks ridiculous. But it’s seriously everyone’s favorite reward.

I am absolutely delighted by this. This is the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s so random. But this will be unforgettable to these students they will always remember this wild and wacky thing doesn’t make a noise. Doesn’t sound like it does. I mean why else would you squeeze it in must make a noise.

I’ve seen some worry like you squeeze it like the eyes pop out. But okay, I’m here for it. Yeah, I’m going to do a little investigating and see if I can find rubber grandma chicken to link for you. But maybe she made it a grandma herself. So you may have to adapt a regular rubber chicken. There are many roads.

I’m here for thank you for that idea, Tessa because it really it really made my day. We have a couple others, Rosie said smelly scented markers. My kids love them. And so do I.

Tammy suggested using recordable buttons. She said I record station directions. So no more, what does this say what do I do? Best thing I ever bought. Those buttons are so cool. And that is like brilliant so that you’re not answering the same questions over and over and over, so smart.

A lot of these ideas remind me of our episode about using surprise and delight to increase student engagement. So if you haven’t yet, definitely go back and check out episode 35 to hear all about that it’s so good. And we will link to it in our show notes, of course.

We’d love to have you join the conversation over in our Teacher Approved Facebook group or on Instagram at @2ndstorywindow. And that is with the two.

It’s time for the Resource of the Week. This week we’re highlighting our place value worksheet bundle. This is a relatively new math resource that we added to our shop about I don’t know a year ago. And the funny thing is it started as a little side project that Heidi did for fun, which maybe says a lot. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about it?

Well, this kind of just came out of the idea of what I would have wanted as a second grade teacher, I just, I felt so helpless when I would have these, you know, four or five kids who weren’t passing our place value assessments. And in second grade place value is everything right. And I just didn’t know how to fix it.

So I wanted to create a resource that would move kids along the continuum of understanding from like, very basic kindergarten all the way up through elementary, yeah, the advanced value. So that way, you can take a kid who is struggling with a topic, so if we’re doing second grade place value, I can slide them back to where I can find where they’re able to be successful, and move them up from there, and fill in the missing pieces along the way.

Or if you’ve got some advanced kids, you can slide them up a little bit so that they are stretching their understanding in new ways.

I love this idea of especially with math of thinking about a certain skill on a continuum like that, because it really opens up how you can meet your students needs. So our place value bundle currently has 17 levels. I say currently, why do I say currently Heidi?

Because we’re gonna make some more, because every time I think we’re done, I’m like, Oh, wait, but there’s this. And then they need to know how to multiply this by 10. And then like, decimals need to look this way. And it keeps growing.

So we already know for sure that there are some planned out that are going to be added in the future. So 17 for now, though, will be more. The bundle starts with building understanding of 10s and ones and it grows all the way up to composing decimals.

Each of the 17 sets has 20 Practice pages, the build conceptual understanding of specific skills, through practice with visuals first, before progressing to abstract representations. And I think that’s something unique we are bringing to the table with our place value practice.

Thank you for highlighting that because I put a lot of effort into really kind of building that understanding from more concrete to more abstract. So I hope it’s something that teachers can see a lot of value in.

I think it’s so good. And my third grader likes to do these for fun. Neil and I are beds on my first grader just the other day, I had bound all of these pages into a book for my third grader to do and she noticed it was looking through the beginning and was like, Oh, I can do these.

Why don’t I have this was just the other day. So I’m probably going to have to make her a place value, but to hers will probably not go all the way.

This is such an amazing bundle to have on hand because it really allows you to differentiate for your students and target them the exact skill they need to work on. The bundle has 340 practice pages currently across 17 levels, and also includes Google Slides and of course an answer key. You can find a link to the place value worksheets bundle at the link in our show notes.

Here we are in the mid year slog. March is a surprisingly tricky time to be a teacher. I always feel like March is such a long month to be a teacher.

No joke, everyone is just tired of winter, but spring will not show up. You’ve got a full 31 days on the calendar. But you might not have any breaks depending on where your spring break falls. There’s pressure to finish up as much content as you can. But then, like how much can you really do before testing starts?

But you don’t need us to tell you how hard March is. No, I am sure you are well aware. Until you’ve been through a few school years you don’t realize how seasonal teaching is. On a calendar it seems like all the days of the school year should be pretty much equal but they definitely are not.

So to help us make a plan to cope with the slog of a season. We are going to take a page out of the Lazy Genius’s book and name what matters.

The Lazy Genius we freaking love Kendra Adachi, she would want to be our best friend. Yeah, we should ask her. Yeah, she’s the best.

And because of her, we know that when we are tired or running on fumes and every option seems like an overwhelming choice, the thing to do is to name what matters. When we name what matters, we can focus on things that move the needle and then just let go of the rest. I love that advice. But how do we actually do that?

Well, I know that you are a fan of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. Yes, I love Essentialism. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And in that book, Greg relates the story of Larry Gelwix. Yes. Oh, yeah, that’s a good story.

So and this might be the only time that sports is referenced on this podcast. That would probably be a safe bet.

So we have the story of 36 years that Larry coached high school rugby. And over that time his team won 418 games and they lost only 10. Oh, that’s crazy. And I am sure there are a lot of things that count for that kind of record. But Larry says it’s because his team always wins.

In this case, he doesn’t mean his team wins the games. Although they do that. He means they ask themselves W I N. What’s important now? Oh, I love an acronym. It’s what we do here.

Let me read the quote that you bookmarked. It’s from page 215 of Essentialism. “The players apply the question constantly throughout the game, instead of getting caught up rehashing the last play that went wrong, or spending their mental energy worrying about whether they’re going to lose the game, neither of which is helpful or constructive. Larry encourages them to focus only on the play they are in right now.”

Greg goes on to add, “When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can’t figure out which to tackle first stop, take a breath, get present in the moment and ask yourself, what is most important this very second? Not what’s most important tomorrow, or even an hour from now, if you’re not sure, make a list of everything vying for your attention, and cross off anything that is not important right now.”

That would definitely be a long list to write out, I’m sure. But sometimes it’s so helpful to get it all out of your head and onto paper. And then it’s easier to cross off those things that you realize don’t really need to happen right now.

And once you’ve gotten your thoughts written down, you can prioritize all the competing demands. Then you have a sense of what’s important, so you can name what matters most.

This is so important when everything feels urgent, but you can’t clone yourself to manage all the things which is something I fantasize about all the time. I just need to make me if only you need to make sure you’re putting your time and energy into the right things.

Now only you can name what matters for you. But here are some things that we imagined might matter most in March.

Maybe what matters is giving a bunch of assessments. Yay, fun. But if the end of third term is looming, maybe you need to invest a large effort in assessing your kids so you not only have scores for report cards, but you know which topics need attention before testing starts.

And you know, I haven’t lived that at all, ever, every single March I ever taught. Or maybe what matters is finding a way to enjoy teaching again, maybe you are so worn down by the day to day grind that you’ve forgotten why you wanted this job in the first place.

And we hear from a lot of you, I think a lot of you are in that place and we see you. In that case, maybe you need to find a way to say no to the demands that are draining you, which is easier said than done. I recognize that. But yeah, do what you can.

Or maybe you need to find a way to work in some surprise and delight. Seeing your students light up over something exciting is a great way to find your own excitement about your job. I love the tool of surprise and delight. It really is a game changer.

Maybe six months of classroom clutter has accumulated to the point that you feel like you’re drowning. I haven’t been here, definitely not. Maybe you have the kids pitch in on a classroom reset to help with this. Everyone cleans out their desks and cleans out the bins of dry glue sticks and broken markers. And then you show a movie for the rest of the afternoon so you can clear your countertops. That’s what you got to do, do it.

So ask yourself what’s important now? Name what matters right now, and use that to guide what you do next.

We often leave you with long checklists on this show. But this week, we just want to keep it simple and invite you to take a few minutes to help decide what matters right now in your teaching life. We’d love to hear your thoughts on naming what matters come join the conversation in our Teacher Approved Facebook group.

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is don’t grade everything.

Heidi, tell us about this. So if you are feeling overwhelmed or buried under your to do list, one area where you might be able to let stuff go is with grading. Grade what you need to inform your instruction. That’s absolutely important. But beyond that only grades what has to go on a report card the rest you can just let go.

Yes. And if you are using our morning work, we get this question a lot from people use our morning work. This is us giving you permission not to grade it. We corrected each page as a class so the kids could see how well they understood and you could correct any misconceptions. But we never ever ever graded it. No one has got time for that.

So look for things that you can opt out of grading There’s probably more things than you realize that you could stop taking your grade on.

To wrap up the show, we are sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Emily, what gets you extra credit this week? I am giving extra credit to the TV show Shrinking on Apple TV. If you know me in real life, you probably have heard me talk about this in the last couple weeks because I’m kind of obsessed with it.

It’s so hard to describe this show and do it justice. So let me just read the synopsis from Apple. “Shrinking follows a grieving therapist who starts to break the rules and tell his clients exactly what he thinks. Ignoring his training and ethics he finds himself making huge tumultuous changes to people’s lives, including his own.”

That sounds a little heavy. It actually does not feel heavy at all. I’ve seen the interviews and I’d heard the synopsis and like that, I’m not sure that’s for me, but you you may be swaying me.

I do not think it feels heavy at all it. It is such a great cast. For starters, it has Harrison Ford and Jason Segel, but the whole cast is excellent together. It’s only 30 minutes. It’s just so refreshing. And it is genuinely witty. I find myself laughing out loud almost every episode.

In fact, one of the recent episodes ended in this most hilarious moment where I probably laughed for a full minute out loud in my house. I never do that. That’s how clever I think it is. If you’d like Ted Lasso, I feel pretty confident that this would be right up your alley. So you’ll have to give it a try, Heidi. I will, I’ll have to restart my Apple TV subscription.

Heidi, what’s your extra credit this week? Can I give a detention instead of extra credit? Oh, I guess oh, do I feel a rant? Absolutely buckle up. This is gonna be a ride.

So I was brushing my teeth before bed the other night as you do. And flossing, of course. And I was just getting so irate about back to school. And that’s not normally something that happens when I brush my teeth. But I was thinking about how hard it is to teach at this point of the year when time simultaneously feels so short, and also so impossibly long. That is the perfect description of March.

And I was reminded of all of the years of big welcome to the new school year kickoff extravaganza as I was forced to attend, those things are the worst. If we were lucky, we were given three days of time to prep before the kids arrived. And then an entire afternoon those three precious days was eaten up by a mandatory motivational meeting.

So that the district people felt like they were doing something I mean, really, that’s the only justification come up with or they thought we weren’t busy enough. There was usually a big speaker that the district flew in for the day. But no matter how talented the speaker, I just resented it so much.

Yep, not just the loss of time, but also the idea that I needed any motivation two days before school started. Right at that point, if I got any more motivated, there would be literal smoke coming out of my brain.

But you know, late February or early March, sometime when report cards aren’t looming, that’s when I could have really used an afternoon of motivational speaking.

I would have loved to hear someone say, Hey, you are so caught up in the thick of things right now, it is hard to remember how far you’ve come. But think back to September. Think about how hard it was to get your class up and running. But look where they are now. No, it’s not perfect. But they have done some great things. And that is because of you.

You have been there every day guiding, loving and nudging when necessary. And what can we do to make the most of these last few months? We’ve still got time to make a real difference here. So let’s figure out how we can finish strong. So there you go. And your district didn’t even have to pay me 1000s of dollars for that.

That extra credit really took us on a long journey there. And in the end, I think you ended up giving the extra credit to teachers for how hard they work and all the ways that they have improved their class since September. So I guess extra credit to you guys. Extra credit everyday for teachers. Absolutely.

That’s it for today’s episode. Take time to name what matters in this very season. And don’t forget our teacher approved tip and our permission to not grade things.

If you enjoyed this episode, we would love if you shared it with a teacher friend who might enjoy it as well. It’s the best way to help our show reach new listeners. And be sure to check out our show notes for links to anything we mentioned in this episode, maybe even a grandma chicken.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever

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