Using Data to Drive your Instruction

Now that the holiday break is over with, its time to pull that curriculum map out and do some reflecting! Testing season is quickly approaching, so using data to drive your instruction for the rest of the year is a must! Looking at skills previously taught and the skills that need to be taught is a great place to start.

downloadOnce that has been established, you have to look at the skills you haven’t taught and come up with a game plan. Ask yourself, “How can I fit these new skills into my instruction, while spiraling the skills I have already taught?” Easy, minimize the skills you NEED to reteach. Let’s face it, every student doesn’t need to have EVERY skill retaught to them. Only certain students need certain skills to be retaught. There is no need to waste time reteaching something that half the class has already mastered. That is where your data comes in. Here are some ways to incorporate the data you’ve gathered to drive your instruction:

Identify your data source

The first step in preparing students for testing is to identify the tools you will use to collect data. There are several options available on the internet, such as general practice test and previous state exam practice problems. You may already have benchmark assessments included in your curriculum. Once you have gathered the materials, look through it and find what will fit best with your current students. Using a program such as CARS will help teachers identify specific skills they are lacking. Looking back on your own anecdotal records will also help you determine skills that need to be retaught. I keep a “Daily Learning Target” sheet on my clip board, which allows me to keep notes. Keeping a system in place that helps me track each skill using a check plus system has helped. Also, I use exit slips and quick assessments to determine what skills have been mastered.

downloadFinding time 

Updated data may need to be collected in order to make the best decisions. With this being the case, finding time to distribute these new materials to students is important. Educators know that children need to be in the best position to take extended periods of practice material test. The beginning of the day is typically the best time to distribute these resources to students. In the morning they have the most energy and are more likely to do their best, as opposed to after lunch hours or later on in the morning. Getting this task done right away will give you time to analyze the data later on that day and prepare for the next day.

Analyze the data

Once you have collected the data through a system that works for you, begin to analyze it. Looking at the data collected will give you an idea on the amount of reteach groups to create. If the majority of your class failed to gain proficiency on a particular skill, that indicates the whole class needs to be re-taught. Analyzing data is the driving force in our instructional planning. As educators we don’t have to guess or contemplate on what to do next. If we take the time to know each of our students strengths and weaknesses then it will save us time in the end.

You may look at this system, and think that it appears to be an extra step and will take up too much time. Yes, it is an extra step! It’s an extra step that will save you time in the long run. It is the extra step that you need to take in order to expand on your instructional practices and enhance your students learning. This step is necessary and worth it in the end.

Making Instructional Changes

The final step in the process to making changes that will drive your instruction in the right direction, is to plan. With a transparent understanding of the data  in mind, decide what direction to take. Develop a plan to move forward in this direction. For example, the data I gathered from my own classroom has revealed to me the skill sets that some of my students are still struggling with. I plan to use the bell ringer time in my classroom to pull three to four students to focus on those particular skills.

My focus will come from the results of the data I collected. I will use the small group time as an opportunity to hone in on these skills. This time spans anywhere between ten to fifteen minutes. Pulling a different group everyday to reinforce skills previously taught will ensure your students are making gains. Another suggestion is to use your guided reading time or math group time to focus on reteach groups a couple of days out of the week. While it is important to move forward with instruction at this time during the year, it is also important to fill in the gaps that are missing. We can only do that if we have a clear understanding of what those gaps are, and make changes so that we can fill them.

Making decisions based on data can make assessments useful as they become an integral part of the instructional process. Change is often a struggle and for teachers it may be challenging to change the way we teach. Using assessment tools such as quick dips, exit slips or benchmarks will help teachers in meeting this challenge. Once the area of change is identified it is the teachers responsibility to create high quality corrective instruction that will meet student needs. This does not always mean to reteach the lesson again, instead the teacher has to find ways to be creative in their approach. The goal is to come up with innovative ways to teach children and to engage them in learning. In order to ensure our students are successful, change is inevitable.

New Year! New Classroom?

downloadIt’s a New Year! Its time to celebrate. Not because it is the start of the school year, because it is the beginning of the rest of the school year. The Christmas break is a great time to relax, enjoy the holidays with family and worry less about work. Once New Year’s day rolls around and the celebration and fun is over, the reality of heading back to the classroom kicks in. This reality doesn’t have to be a dreading one. Yes, we’ve gotten used to waking up whenever we want and yes, we’ve gotten used to the idea of spending our days the way we want.

Now that we’ve had our fun and that time is over, we have to start thinking about the remainder of the school year. Use this time away from the classroom to reset and recharge. Here are some things you can do to prepare yourself for the rest of the amazing school year that awaits you:

Create space for change

The thought of heading back to work after the holidays could be difficult to think about. To beat these feelings think of the things that will excite you about your classroom. Ask yourself, “What can I change? What can I make better?” Establish new routines or tweak old ones that are already in place. Maybe you want to change your students morning routine by adding a bell-ringer to spiral skills already taught, or add 10 minutes of morning work to the schedule. Making a small change can get you excited and looking forward to something.

Speaking of change, you may have found that something that seemed to be previously working in your classroom is no longer working. Brainstorm ways to improve it or replace it with something you’ve always wanted to try. This time of year is the time to improve on instruction and brainstorm ways to make it better. Try changing up the desk arrangements in your classroom, or create a new seating chart. Either way, thinking of a way to change-up your classroom or routines can help beat the end of the holiday blues.

downloadPlan or review your curriculum map

The beginning of a new school year or calendar typically requires reflection. With half the school year over this is a great time to pull out your curriculum map and analyze it. Go through the first half of the year and highlight your successes, then highlight areas of improvement. Maybe there are some skills that need to be spiraled into your instruction moving forward. Think of ways to incorporate previous taught skills while implementing new ones. For example, pulling 5 minute groups to do quick dips with students will help reinforce some of those previous skills. In math you might want to pull 2 to 3 students during bell-ringer to review multiplication facts with those that are still struggling. In literature, I like to pull a few students each day to complete 1 or 2 skill related task cards to ensure mastery.

Taking a look at what lies ahead can get you excited about planning instruction and coming up with ideas on how to implement new material.

Identify any resources that you may need

By reviewing your curriculum map you set yourself up for an open mind to success. You may start to get ideas that pop into your head, which drives you to do further research. Research sites such as TPT (teachers pay teachers) or to find new resources. If you don’t find what you need on those sites, then create use your teacher creativity skills and design your own! Let’s be honest, using the same materials each year can become exhausting, repetitive, and boring.

You may be teaching the same content, but finding new resources and ways to implementing the content can get you excited about teaching it. If you are a Literature teacher find new stories or passages to read in order to teach the skills. If you are a math teacher, come up with new games or strategies to teach fractions. Finding ways to spruce up your instruction sometimes involves changing your resources to make teaching more interesting.

imagesAdd something to your classroom

Excitement about the start of the year after a nice long Christmas break may take a little more than planning. Other than making changes to your desk arrangements, you may want to add something to your classroom. Something that will make if feel like home away from home. Maybe you want to change one of the bulletin boards in your room to reflect a new year, new attitude theme. Or, you may want to add some plants to your window seals to invite the spring into your room. Changing out your library seating or adding new books are also great ideas. Adding some accents around your walls or lights to your white board can make your room more inviting. Either way, change doesn’t have to involve spending money, there are several ways to make your classroom feel brand new again.

New Year! New Classroom?

The new year may not be the start to a new school year, but it can be a fresh start. By finding ways to spruce up your classroom, routines and resources it may become easier to head back to work after the holidays. A new year usually means change, so don’t be afraid to make those.changes. It doesn’t have to be a big change, the smallest changes can help get you excited about tackling the rest of the school year.

What are your plans before returning to the classroom? How do you plan to tackle the rest of the school year? Comment below, we would love to hear from you!


Healthy Routines for The Classroom

As an educator, it is important to create healthy routines in your classroom. Getting things done on your plan time or during hidden pockets during the day is essential to staying on track with all your grading, planning lessons and staying on top of your instructional practice. It is important to use your time wisely and effectively. Here are some tips to staying on task during your free time:

downloadMake a top three “to do list” /priority list

Set your intentions prior to your plan time. At the beginning of your school day or even the day before, make a list of the top three things you want to get done. I say three because plan time typically flies by and only a few things have gotten done anyway. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself, so starting small is the key. If you find that you finished all three items and you still have more time, then keep going down your list.

Becoming overwhelmed and stressed out is a part of being a teacher. This is a common theme that we like to tell ourselves, therefore we are accepting this as our truth. It doesn’t have to be, instead we can change this mindset to, “I can get everything done, I am relaxed.” Once we change the way we are thinking about all of our “to do’s,” we will start to feel better about ourselves. Once we have changed our feelings about our priority list we will then take our list and analyze it.

Decide what the three top priorities are, the non-negotiable for that day. These three items should be so dyer that your classroom cannot function without them. Maybe you need to make copies for the next day so you can teach your lesson, maybe you need to create or find practice work that aligns with the lesson, or you may need to make a few parent phone calls. Either way, identify the three things that need to be taken care of during that plan period. The goal is to minimize stress and the amount of time you spend doing task after school hours.

Set a timerimages

If you have three task to complete in a short amount of time, set a timer to keep yourself on track. Plan periods typically range from 40 minutes to even an hour at some schools. If your plan period is broken into two halves, choose what task you will complete during each plan period. If you have to make copies, allow time to gather your copies and then run them off. This may require 20 minutes of your plan period. I would suggest running copies before completing your other task. Let’s be honest, there is always something that gets in the way of copying, whether someone else is at the machine, it’s getting jammed or running slow. We could go on and on about the copy machine chronicles. To avoid this I suggest setting a whole plan period aside dedicated to copying. I will discuss more about this later.

Other tasks that you may need to complete can be timed. Use the timer to break down the allocated time you spend on a task. Using 10 to 15 minute increments will help you stay on track, so you don’t get bored. Once the timer goes off drop what you were doing and switch your focus to the next task. If you do not finish the task in the amount of time, then next time you need to plan more time for that particular task. If you have time left on the next task, then you can always go back to the first task. The point is to manage your time by using a timer to keep you on task with the things you need to achieve.

Eliminate all distractions

Planning period is the time for you to focus on the things you need to get done in your classroom. It’s a reflective time, organization time and time to use wisely to enhance your instruction. It is not the time to socialize with co-workers or to scroll social media. When we do these mundane task then it take away from the things that really matter. It is your responsibility to eliminate all distractions during your plan period.

Maybe, close your door so you can be alone and focused. Turn off your phone so you are not picking it up every time it buzzes. If you have co-workers that like to talk during plan, maybe you could let them know ahead of time that you have some work to get done so you cannot be disturbed. If they are true friends of yours then they will understand, if they don’t then you don’t need them in your life. The point is to do everything necessary to keep yourself focused on what really matters. When you do that then you will find that getting things done eliminates stress and we all can use some of that!

Set a focus for each day of the week

Setting a focus for each day during the week will help ensure that you complete all of your weekly task. Aside from writing down your top three “to do” list, it is ideal to identify a theme for the day. For example, the theme of my Thursday is getting prepared, which entails making my copies for the next week. Wednesdays are my planning days so I already have my plans made out which makes it easier to identify the items I need to copy. Thursday is the day I like to gather all of my copy paper into my copy folder and make all my copies for the following week. I do have meetings throughout the week during one of my plan periods.  I will know my meeting times in  advance, therefore, I make it a priority to get the bulk of my task done on the days I do not have meetings, which are Tuesday and Thursday.

downloadWhat about grading?

Aside from the drama of the copy machine, grading can be one of the most daunting task as a teacher. I do not suggest setting a day aside for grading, like I suggest with copying. I think it is important to plan time each day for grading. Letting your papers pile up will only result to you having to take them home in the evenings to grade.

I am here to tell you that you do not have to do that! Grade a little bit each day, find pockets during your day that you can set aside for grading. During instructional time your focus is to work with your students, I do not suggest you reduce that precious time by grading a bunch of papers. What I’m saying is that you can find time during transition periods to quickly grade. If you give students a bell-ringer or an exit slip, this is only 1 to 3 questions and doesn’t take up a lot of time. These type of items will help you get immediate feedback. Grade these items as students move to the next task. This will give you an idea on what to teach next, or your next focus area.

Some suggestions…

If students have a writing assignment and you want to meet with them one-on-one to conference, you can grade the writing at that time. I like to read through my students’ work in front of them and talk them through my process of thinking. You can do this with math as well, pretty much any subject. It is our jobs as educators to teach students good habits, they learn them through our own process of thinking. You can also make grading one of your top three task each day on your “to do list.” This will ensure that you are on top of grading your papers. The point is that you do not have to fall behind on grading papers or any other important item on your “to do” list. If you set a focus or theme to follow each day, it is possible to get it all done!

imagesGetting it all done!

I’m here to tell you that it is possible to be an amazing teacher and leave work at the end of your work hours each day. It is the educators’ mindset, which is a limiting belief, that great teachers come in early and leave late. This is far from the truth! You can find time in your planning period to get everything you need to get done. It just takes a little bit of planning and a whole lot of discipline. Follow these tips that I laid out above and I promise you, you will find that your job as an educator becomes easier.

What things do you like to do on a weekly basis to prepare yourself for the week ahead? Let’s share below. I would love to hear from you!


Raising Awareness through Public Speaking

imagesYesterday I did something that scared me, I spoke out. We often have so much knowledge about a particular topic and want to share the things we know, but are too scared. It is easier for me to sit down in front of my computer and write about it, and then post it to my website. I am able to hide behind this screen, most of the people who read my material don’t know me personally. When I make the decision to verbally share my knowledge in a pursuit to educate others I become face to face with an audience. They are right in front of me and everything I say will have an impact on them.

A few weeks ago my district asked for presenters for our upcoming workshop. Knowing that this was something that I had been wanting to do, I filled out an application. About a week went by and I didn’t hear anything. Then one day, in the midst of heating up my lunch, running around to prepare for my next class with only 7 minutes left and knowing I had to scarf down my food, my principal walked into my room. She told me that the district was interested in my workshop on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. I was thrilled that I had been picked, I had been chosen to spread my knowledge. First there was excitement, then the next thing that hit me was fear. I had to speak in front of my peers!

Public Speaking!!!

Public speaking is most people’s biggest fear. To be able to stand in front of a room full of your peers and speak to them is overwhelming to think about. It is important to discuss this topic and ways to overcome this fear. Here are some things I did to prepare myself for my workshop and to ensure I had a successful session with my audience, pushing through the fear.

Use what you know

As teachers we are constantly on stage, demanding our students attention and drawing them into what we have to say. A part of our job is public speaking to an audience with seats filled with children. While this is quite different, I can say that it was a great way to prepare myself to speak to my peers. I am on stage everyday with my students, therefore, I have developed tactics to get them to listen and pay attention. I have systems in place when it is time for students to have discussions or transition from one activity to the next. These simple tactics are what helped me during my workshop.

downloadI was able to incorporate the things I use in my classroom on a daily basis with my audience. For example, at the beginning of my workshop I went over some expectations that would ensure we had a smooth session and open forum to hearing others’ ideas. Instead of creating a new anchor chart with new rules I directed everyone to the G.R.O.U.P.S poster I use in my room with my students. I explained that we were sitting in groups and would be working in groups, so these were the expectations. Also, to cue discussions in groups I used the count down system. When I counted down to zero they began talking, while this put smiles on some of their faces it ensured that the room was on task.

Using what I already know allowed more time to prep for my presentation and prepare meaningful material participants. Coming up with new material is unnecessary. If we do some reflection on what works with our students and in our daily classrooms, we will find that those same things will also work on adults. 

Allow others to encourage you

We often shy away from people giving us compliments. It’s true, most people are uncomfortable when someone gives them a compliment. Instead of saying, “thank you” or smiling back the person who complimented us we like to respond with something negative such as, “No I didn’t” or “I really wasn’t that great” or “I actually look a little fat in this.” This is no way to treat ourselves!

Let others compliment and encourage us to be great. Have conversations with your love ones about your fears or feelings about presenting to an audience. Find someone you trust and value their opinion to share some of your material with. Getting feedback from others will help strengthen your presentation or give you new ideas. Allow those same people to lift you up and give you the encouragement you deserve. Inviting encouragement and praise into our lives is something that we all can work on, because we are typically our own worst critics. Its time to invite this positive energy into our lives, rather than turn our backs on it. In the end you will find that this energy, positivity and encouragement is what will get your through your presentation. 

downloadLet it go

The night before my workshop I took time for myself. I spent time with my family, read a book and did a little self-care routine. Rather than stay up all night practicing my speech and creating note cards, I let it all go and focused on myself. I found that this really helped me once I woke up the next morning. I was well rested and a few hours removed from my workshop materials. Now, I was ready to focus on my presentation and do some last minute finalizing. If I had done this the night before, I would have been exhausted and worn out the next morning. Instead of feeling fresh and renewed, I would have felt drained from overthinking thoughts. Using this tactic helped me to focus on other things that mattered and letting the presentation go. 

When we let things go we create space to invite other things in. Letting go of expectations and worry the night before a presentation will allow you to rest your brain and focus on the present moment.  

I can say that doing these three simple things are what helped me get through my first workshop -a presentation that I created from scratch, that I designed through my own research and knowledge. In the end I received something far greater than I could have imagined; praise, thoughtful words, celebration for my session and a feeling that I had never experienced. Maybe the thing you want to take a leap on isn’t public speaking or presenting something. Maybe it is something else. Regardless, you should do it and never look back. Its time to learn how to face our fear and do the things that scare us the most. Only then we will begin to change.

The Purpose of Testing

The word, “Test” has a negative connotation in the school environment. Students cringe when the word is mentioned and teachers stress. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that because there is a purpose behind it all. A purpose that will help you become a better teacher and children to become better students.

imagesWhat is a Test?

Testing is a key component in the education field. Test mandated by federal and state legislators measure students based on their overall knowledge. These test have provided administration with data that helps them make decisions about the districts next steps. While state testing can help districts make decisions on a district level, ongoing classroom assessments can help teachers determine their next steps in instruction. These assessments are given in the form of quizzes, tests, writing assignments, homework or classwork. Assessments given on an ongoing basis in the classroom can be formative or summative, while mandated test are only considered summative. Either way, these assessments serve a purpose inside and outside of the classroom. 

The Reason behind Assessments

Classroom assessments given by the teacher are the focus of this article. Let’s look at the reason behind assessing in the classroom daily. Knowing our students’ ability level is a staple for making change in the classroom. The results educators received from assessments (whether they are required by the federal government, state or on a classroom level provide) us with relevant information. Here are 3 key components to the importance of assessing student knowledge:

  1. Making changes to instructional practices 

    Data trends from assessments over time provide teachers with information pertaining to their own instruction. For example, data could shows that over the course of three years students struggle with author’s point of view. Then this information is vital to instructional changes. Content area teachers will then collaborate to identify ways to make changes to the way they are presenting the material to students.

  2. Making decisions

    Once the information is received and analyzed teachers are able to make decisions on curriculum and formative assessments. Educators are able to identify which curricular aims are effective in the classroom. If something isn’t working for a group of students then the teacher is able to modify or differentiate materials for those students. Making decisions on the type of curriculum used in the classroom and formative assessments given can only improve student learning.

  3. Measures comprehension and growth

    The purpose of any assessment is to help educators determine what they need to do next; to ask themselves, how can I help my students learn what they need to know? Assessments provide teachers with information that leads to teacher reflection. For example, the results from an exit slip may show that 90% of the students didn’t comprehend the lesson. This evidence is a clear measure of how much students are processing the lesson being taught. In this case the teacher will then reflect on their own teaching and determine what changes they will need to make in their instruction to ensure students understand.

Assessments come in the form of exit slips, homework, class work, quizzes or tests. Once one of these type of assessments is give to students it is important that the teacher analyzes the results and reflects on the lesson. If information from assessments are used properly they can help educators make sound decisions that will enhance the quality of education being provided.

downloadUsing Assessments to our Advantage

Testing students is key to a teachers instructional practice. An effective teacher understands that multiple forms of testing need to take place in the classroom in order to make sound decisions. The results of these test will then lead us to drawing inferences about student understanding. Teachers will identify curricular aims that will need to be addressed in the future or retaught. Results from testing will force teachers to ask themselves questions about their instruction and direction.

Using these results to our advantage will require educators to make instructional decisions. These decisions could lead to adjusting current activities in the classroom if students are performing. Or, the results could present evidence that shows the curriculum, assessments and instruction are aligning to improve student understanding. Another advantage of assessing is using the information to reflect and evaluate on our own teaching style. Assessments provide us with pertinent information on what is working and what isn’t working.

Overall, assessing students on a daily basis is vital. An effective teacher uses this information to adapt instruction to their learners. This insight is valuable, because it provides educators with a sense of direction by giving us a clear path to walk down. 

What assessments are most effective in your classrooms? Comment below. We would love to hear from you!



3 Quick Ways to Distress from the Busy School Day

A typical school day for a teacher consist of constant noise throughout the day, papers everywhere, children who expectations are for you to serve their every need, and time that flies without you even knowing it. A day like this will cause anyone to be a little stressed out. As a teacher it is vital that we take the time to unwind from the day and distress. Here are 3 things that you can incorporate into your everyday routine to ensure the stress from the day sheds away:

downloadTake a moment to pause

With the fast pace of the school day and the ongoing demands from teachers throughout the day, it is important to take a pause. When you get home from work take a moment to sit down and just breathe. You don’t have to do a full meditation session (you can if you choose) all you have to do is be still for a few moments and listen to your breathe. Taking this moment to yourself will help calm your body and your mind. The gas in the car eventually runs out if it is not refueled, so does our bodies. By taking this moment to stop, pause and breath you are recharging your body and your mind.

downloadDrink Tea

Another thing you can do to unwind from the busy school day is sit down and enjoy a cup of tea. Tea has been known to help calm the body and mind. Tea hydrates the body and reduces stress levels. There are many benefits to drinking tea, such as;

  • Tea reduces the cortisol (stress hormones that age the skin and increase the midsection) levels in your body.
  • Tea can increase exercise endurance. After a cup you may feel like your ready to move your body through a series of exercises.
  • Tea can reduce free radicals in the body.
  •  Tea can improve your overall health. It supports your skin and body composition with 2-3 glasses a day.

There are several other benefits to drinking tea, these are just a few to help you start incorporating it into your daily routines. Tea is a great way to distress from the day as you sit down to take a moment to yourself as you sip on your beverage. Let’s not forget the endless amount of mugs that you can choose from to make it even more fun!

downloadLeave it behind

Leave the work behind, do not bring anything home! I know this may be challenging to do for most teachers because we often bring our work home, such as grading and lesson planning. However, you have to find time to do those things at work before school or after school. I would suggest that you choose one day a week to stay after school for an hour or so to get everything done, such as, copies, grading, admin things etc.

Bringing your classroom home with you does not disconnect you from the day and can add more stress to your plate. It is OK to learn how to leave the work that has to be done for the next day. If you feel like you have to end the day with nothing left to do, then you are sadly mistaken because “A teachers job is never done.” Leaving everything behind will guaranteed that you can come home and truly unwind from the day.

It is important for us teachers to take some time each day to unwind from our day. As crazy and fun as the school day is at times we have to find a way to come down from that. Take these three quick tips and incorporate them into your life today! I promise you will feel much better as you recharge your mind and body. This will only make you a better teacher because you were better to yourself.

What are some things you like to do to distress from the day? Share you ideas below. We would love to hear from you!



Programs Designed to Forgive Student Loan Debt

downloadAre you letting money hold you back from going back to school? Do you have a large amount of student loan debt? Is there a passion you want to pursue in the education field but your district won’t pay for it? Well, you don’t have to let those things hold you back any longer because there are programs out there ready to help you take that next step!

The idea of student loan debt has haunted so many people to the point that they don’t make anything happen. Several school districts are moving away from their tuition reimbursement programs or financially supporting their employees to further their education. As upsetting as this may be, do not let it stop you from making a decision. Several federal programs exist for public service workers and most importantly teachers. I have done the research for you and have listed some of these programs below:

downloadPublic Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Teachers can apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness if they have qualifying direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, dire PLUS loans and direct consolidation loans. To determine the type of loans you have, visit the Department of Education Federal Student Aid to find out. You have the option to consolidate all of your loans into one huge payment or keep them separate. If you have already started making payments under this program consolidation is not suggested because it will start the clock to loan forgiveness all over. Therefore, decide before you make your first payment under this program whether or not you want to consolidate. Once you have identified the loans that fall under this play for forgiveness you are read to apply. Here are the steps you need to take every year to ensure your loan payments are being count under this payment:

  1. Complete the Employment Certification Form every year:

    Your loans will become managed by Fed Loan Servicing and you will receive a confirmation letter each year of your qualifying payments.

  2. Complete paperwork for the Income Driven Repayment Program:

    Each year you have to submit proof of income to Fed Loan Servicing, who will then calculate your monthly payments based on your income under one of the following programs:

    • IBR (Income-Based Repayment)
    • ICR (Income-Contingent Repayment)
    • PAYE (Pay As You Earn)
    • REPAYE (Revised Pay as You Earn)

After 120 qualifying payments have been made under this program the remaining balance of your loans will be forgiven. Please keep in mind your payments have to be made on time and in full each month under this program. This program is a great opportunity to get ride of your student loan debt and swipe the slate clean. To ensure that this happens it is imperative that you keep track of every payment that is made, yearly deadlines and all paperwork that you receive.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

Teachers that have direct consolidation loans or federal consolidation loans may be eligible for loan forgiveness. The loans have to be Stafford loans and subsidized or unsubsidized loans in order to qualify. Requirements for this loan are:

  • Outstanding balances that qualify are loans distributed after October 1, 1998.
  • You must be a full-time highly qualified teacher for five consecutive academic years, at least one of those year has to be after 1997-1998.
  • Employment must be at an educational service agency, elementary school or secondary school that is a considered low-income school. Click on the link to check the data base to see if your school qualifies.
  • Loans must have been distributed before the end of five academic years.

$5,000 or $17,500 will be forgiven based on the subject that is taught under this program. Teachers that teach math, science or special education can received up to $17,500 of loan forgiveness. While teachers who teach all other subject matters can receive up to $5,000 forgiven.

It is always important to read the fine print, or to understand everything about these programs. One stipulation that you need to understand is the role that the public service loan forgiveness plays in this situation. You cannot have both of these services working with you simultaneously. If you are currently having loans forgiven under this program and apply for the teacher loan forgiveness program then the payments you have made for the last 5 years will be disregarded towards your 120 payments. Therefore, it would be ideal to wait until you have made your 120 payments under the public service loan forgiveness program and then apply for the teach loan forgiveness in order to maximize the benefits of both these services.


Federal Perkins Loan Forgiveness

Cancellation for the Federal Perkins loans may qualify up to 100% of the loan disbursed. Those that qualify are:

  • Teachers who serve full-time in a public or non-profit elementary or secondary school system.
  • Teachers who serve students from low-income families.
  • Special education teachers.
  • Teachers that teach math, science, foreign languages or bilingual education.

To apply for eligibility you have to submit an official position description of your duties to support that you provide direct services to students. To qualify for this loan you do not need to have a certifications or licenses. Although, you have to work with children full-time.

Aside from reading this post I do encourage you to choose a program that interest you and do some further digging. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask questions. This is your future you’re talking about, don’t shy away from it!

How has this article helped you in making the decision to go back to school? Do any of these programs interest you? Let’s start a conversation. We would love to hear from you!


Implementing Cultural Responsive Teaching into the Classroom

In my previous post I discussed an important topic in the educational world, culturally responsive teaching. Being responsive to our students is imperative as a classroom teacher, administrator and staff member of the school. The students are the reason we do this job, it is up to us to guide them down the right path. We can’t just throw lessons and work on children and hope that it sticks. Instead, we have to learn how to develop meaningful relationships with our students. We have to learn how to use who they are to create engaging lessons that they can learn from. Understanding the different faces in our classrooms will help in setting our students up for success. Being aware of the differences among our students and their culture will help educators implement strategies and lessons that are meaningful.

downloadBecoming Culturally Responsive

Raising awareness in the classroom on culturally responsive teaching is the first step. It is not enough to just know what it means. It is the educator’s responsibility to take action on the issue. We constantly talk about knowing our student behaviors in the classroom in order to meet their needs; knowing who they truly are outside of the classroom is important as well. Taking the information learned in a professional development, discussion or collaboration among team members and implementing it into daily instruction will enhance student success. Educators have to be culturally aware and sensitive to the students in their classrooms. Some of the things teachers can start doing today include:

  • Treating each student as an individual and respect each student for who they are.
  • Be mindful of the language patterns used among students.
  • Be sensitive to terminology.
  • Discuss differences among students, how they feel about the cultural  climate and discuss ways to make everyone feel included.
  • Develop lessons that are inclusive.

Lesson Design

Teachers need to design lessons that are meaningful with a clear purpose. Creating lessons that are culturally relevant with the intention to accelerate learning can increase student engagement. Now this does not necessarily mean you have to tie each of your lessons to a famous person of color in order to spark an interest. It just simply means you may have to become a little more creative with how you get the information to stick. Culturally responsive teaching is about mimicking their culture to create a learning style they can understand while giving them tools they can use. These students process information orally and actively through movement. Using a form of dancing or song in your lessons can enhance student understanding. The key is to design lessons where students can make real world connections and relate it to their own lives.

Some of the ways to do this are to make the lesson into a game, social activity, song or story.

  • Games: This is a great strategy to use to get students to memorize content or solve a problem. Games are vital because they get the brain’s attention as students actively process the information. 
  • Social: Making your lessons social where students have to rely on their classmates to learn will increase engagement. Organize collaboration among students that will promote student growth and healthy communication among diverse groups.
  • Song: Using lyrics to teach a lesson can improve your lessons. The language being used in the classroom has a direct impact on student engagement. Using words or phrases that students use in their culture and outside of school will help them relate to the content.
  • Story: Every culture has creation stories and folktales that have been passed down. Through history many cultures have used stories to communicate important information. Using stories in your lessons or having students create their own will help the brain better obtain the content.

downloadThe next step

Once students have learned some of the content through these examples the teacher can then begin to build. Educators will begin to see the confidence level of their students increase because students are comfortable with the material. Using these strategies in the classroom will force teachers to think outside the box and foster their creativity. Eventually the teacher will become comfortable with designing lessons with their student needs in mind and it will become easier to implement on a consistent basis.

What is your process in creating lessons that are culturally responsive? Share your ideas below. We would love to hear from you!


Culturally Responsive Teaching

downloadCulturally responsive teaching is a new buzz word in the education industry but has been around for years. Culturally Responsive Teaching is a simple awareness of including student culture in daily instruction. One of the first vocabulary words we learn in social studies at a young age is culture. “Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a group of people” (Zimmerman, K.A. 2017). We may do a few activities and take a vocabulary test then push the word aside to learn some more. The word culture has so many aspects to it that it can’t be pushed to the side. It should be acknowledged in everything we do and the way we connect with people. Understanding how to respond and interact with others needs to begin in our education system; in the classroom at an early age.

Why Does this Matter?

The increasing diversity of our school system range from socioeconomic status to language barriers. “Research determined that 47 percent of children younger than five belong to a racial or ethnic minority group. Significantly, the report discovered that nearly 20 percent of the students aged five and older speak a language other than English at home” (Brierton, Graham, Tomal and Wilhite 2016). Although this research is fact and it is being widely communicated through the internet, books and professional development most school districts aren’t talking about it. Race and ethnicity is a sensitive topic for most people and may cause discomfort or unease for some educators. The truth of the matter is that the faces in the everyday classroom are changing. These children may fall through the cracks if educators do not adapt to this change. 

Becoming Aware

In order for an educator to make a change among their staff or in their own classroom, they have to be aware of their own stereotypes and bias. Having stereotypes and bias does not make you a bad person; it makes you human. Accepting this truth and becoming aware of the way we are thinking will help us become better teachers if not human beings. Developing an understanding of personal views and beliefs about groups of people will lead to cultural competence. Cultural competence is having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference towards other cultures. This awareness should lead us to build on the community norms of our students and their parents. Being cultural competent means that you understand the differences within your students and the things that make them unique.  

The truth of the matter is that American classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse. Becoming aware of your own stereotypes towards others will help you construct lessons that are meaningful to your students. Simply because you would have created an awareness that you can now recognize. This will in fact make you become a better teacher, if not a better person.


Effects on Student Learning

Student engagement and motivation is directly correlated to student performance. Therefore, the teacher has to guide students and engage them in the instruction being taught. Knowing your students strengths and weaknesses isn’t enough anymore; you have to get to know your student as a whole. The first place to start is their culture. So, to build an environment that is aware of diversity and cultural differences school leaders need to follow these ethical practices:

  • Professional development-training on a consistent basis is vital. In order to meet the needs of all students staff members have to develop an understand of cultural differences. They will learn how to work with children from different backgrounds and find ways to relate to them.
  • Collaboration and team building-discussion among staff members will help strengthen relationships needed in order to share ideas and strategies ways to meet the needs of each student.
  • Building consensus-It is essential that all stakeholders have empathy towards these students as the they work with them closely. 
  • Parent support-teachers should invest their time in getting to know the parents of their students. Developing a healthy relationship will foster the success of the child and enhance the learning environment.

With the increasing requirements of state and federal standards it is imperative that districts gain an understanding of cultural effects on student learning. It is the school leaders responsibility to create a school environment that will foster student achievement and success.

What experiences do you have with learning about Cultural Responsive Teaching? Comment below. We would love to hear from you!



References for this article:
Brierton, Graham, Tomal &Withite 2016). Ethics and politics in school leadership.  Laham. MD: Rowman and Littlefield
Zimmerman, K.A.. “What Is Culture?” Live Science Contributor. July 12, 2017.

First Day Jitters!


This weeks post is a series of questions I found online about the first day of school. Students are not the only ones who are excited and nervous about the first day, the teachers are too! Answering these questions inspired me to reflect on my own first day of teaching which is in a few weeks. I am a 6th grade literature teacher and this is my 8th year teaching but my 3rd year in middle school. I am very excited about this year because I feel as though I am ready to conquer middle school. Below I have answered the questions to the tag so that I can share my experience for the first day of school. Enjoy!

1) Did you pick out your first day of school outfit?

I did not have to pick out an outfit because the staff always begins the school year in uniform with a school-wide t-shirt. This year we will wear a charcoal brownish tan color with purple letters with our school name on it along with black bottoms. I will wear some black dress pants and some purple Sketchers. 

2) What are you looking forward to the most in regards to the upcoming school year?

This year I am teaching gifted classes and I am very excited to embark on this new journey. My district is starting a new gifted program with self-contained classrooms instead of pull out. Teachers had to interview for the position and I was chosen at the end of last school year. After a four-day training over the summer and certification standards met I feel like I am highly qualified to teach these students. I am ready to intrigue these future Einsteins. 

3) What are you most nervous about in regards of the upcoming school year?

I guess what I am most excited about, teaching a gifted class, is also what I am most nervous about as well. Although I feel like I am prepared it is still going to be a challenge. The students that I will be working with have tested into this program through an assessment, teacher recommendation and GPA. Therefore, they have high expectations and so do their parents. I have no doubt in my mind that I can exceed these standards; I just need to work extra hard to make sure they are learning and most importantly growing. Every teacher knows that the students that are at the top of the data charts are typically the ones that are harder to grow. I have always been successful with making sure my students were proficient and meeting growth targets. This year is a new challenge I am looking forward to!

4) What is one area or thing you would like to improve upon this year?

One area I would like to improve upon is time management. In the past I have overwhelmed myself into thinking I needed to get everything on my “To Do” list done that day! This only led me to stress and feeling defeated. After six years of teaching I now know that it is impossible to finish everything in a day! A teacher’s job is never done so it is fine to leave things for the next day. This year I plan on writing down my top three goals each day and other tasks beneath it. The three goals will be the things that I NEED to complete before I leave that day and the other tasks are things that can wait if I don’t get to them. This strategy will minimize stress and will make my to do list attainable. 

5) Do you feel prepared for the first day of school?

Yes, I am prepared. We stay with our home rooms the first day of school. So, we will mostly go over school-wide procedures and expectations. I will also do several getting to know you activities with my students.

6) What will you miss most about the summer?

I will miss the flexibility I have during the day to be productive in the mornings and then by noon creating time to play. This typically included doing something fun with my kids. 

7) How do you plan to improve your work/life balance this year?

One of the ways I will improve work/life balance is the top three goals for the day at work, which I mentioned above. By doing this it will also guarantee that I don’t bring any work home. When I am at home that is the time for me to unwind and focus on my family. This year I plan on focusing on home at home and focusing on work at work! That way there will always be a balance. 

8) What is the biggest challenge that comes with the start of the school year?

The biggest challenge to me, next to memorizing 100 students names, is teaching the routines of the classroom. I do not like this part of teaching but I know that it is necessary. I am so excited about teaching and doing that I just want to dive right into the content, rotations and strategy groups but I can’t. There is a process and I have to teach it to each of my classes.

I learned that jumping into things without teaching students the proper way to do it will only set myself up for failure later on. So, taking the time to reiterate classroom expectations daily for the first month of school takes energy, teaching students how to work in groups and switch rotations takes time. I am prepared to do this just knowing that it will pay off in a couple of months when my classroom will run itself because I took the time to teach my students how to do that. 

9) Did you work hard or play hard this summer?

To be honest, outside of the four professional development days for the gifted certification and assignments, I didn’t do any work. There were a few days where I got inspired to create a map of my classroom and schedule out my reading workshop model this year. Other than that I watched YouTube videos, edited my novel, organized several fun days with my kids, went to yoga, swim lessons and relaxed. I saved all my energy for the school year and I think I am more motivated because I did take the time for myself. 

10) Are you a new teacher or an experienced teacher?

I would consider myself a new teacher to middle school but overall an experienced teacher to the profession. Either way I am a lifelong learner. The education field is continually changing. Therefore, I will adapt along with it so I will always be learning something new and growing. 

I hope you enjoyed this fun post! If you found it interesting please comment below. If you are a teacher yourself then feel free to answer some the questions below. We would love to hear from you!