Thursday, May 18, 2023

A New, Unexpected, Path

How does that saying go??? 

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

Apparently God had quite the hysterical laughing session with us at Weber Haus. 

Cause we had plans. Those plans were made as we would begin to transition, for the first time in over 10 years, into the world without babies and toddlers. God was laughing. 


Yup. For those of you who have had children and can read a sonogram photo...that's showing two babies. TWINS! It's still as unbelievable for me to type it out as it probably is for you to read the words. But Weber Haus will become party of 8 by the end of September. For those of you who were wondering why I haven't been posting as much school-related content and haven't been as active on Twitter or other forms of social media, hopefully this news provides and explanation. I spent a good couple months not having an appetite for ANYTHING and feeling icky constantly. Thankfully that has subsided as my belly has started to grow...and I mean grow. I went from easily hiding it one week to full on baby bump the next!

With the unexpected news comes unexpected decisions. The thought of having to do, yet another set of maternity leave lesson plans is enough to send my anxiety through the roof (those who know what that get it). More importantly, to also try to find a daycare option that will have not one but two infant openings in January that ALSO doesn't cost more than my monthly take home. 

Spoiler Alert...there isn't one. 

Finally, the desire of this mama to get to focus on just being a mama...along with the amazing support and willingness of my husband (another post in the future about him and how awesome he has been through this entire experience) led us to determine that it is time for me to step away from the classroom and stay home. A time for me to be able to focus on the literal health and growth of Weber Haus and be fully present for them. I love teaching. And leaving the classroom is a difficult decision, but I do so peacefully. No ill-will for the profession, school, colleagues, or students. And that really is a good way to walk, because it leaves the door open to come in again when the time is right.

I plan to document our family's additions on my personal blog more often. Blogging has always been a sort of therapeutic outlet for me, and I look forward to writing more on our personal blog while I allow my teaching one to become more of an archive. As life balanced between school and home became more difficult, the writing got put on the back burner (or completely off the burner) and I'm excited to bring it back.

So...feel free to browse this blog for ideas in the classroom, but be aware. Many links may become inactive and there won't be updates for a good time. If you have pulled resources from here before, make sure you have your own copy. Anything that was created by me may be gone once my Google Drive is removed. 

Happy Teaching...and keep doing great things in the classroom for kids all over!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Student Voices, Reflection, and Making Changes

This school year in an effort to build more of a community classroom, I started having short, simple conversations with small groups on Fridays. We call this Community Circles. This post is not about Community Circles. This post is about reflecting on student voices...and how many times, they're right. 

SCENE: Last Friday, during our Community Circle discussion students were talking about this prompt.

I love it when a teacher...

I hate it when a teacher... 

I always participate in these conversations and I joined one team of boys. They were talking about how they hate it when teachers assign homework at the end of the hour, they love it when teachers have energy and they can feed off then energy. They love it when teachers share about their lives outside of school.

And then one student, looks me dead in the eyes, and says "I hate it when teachers make us do unnecessary worksheets." And to make sure I got the point (I already had...) he nods right at me, refusing to break eye contact. 

I get it. You think I do too many worksheets. 


I explained at that time, that everything I have them do in class has a purpose. Even the worksheets. While they may not see the purpose immediately...I do. 

Still. It sat with me. 

Do I really make sure each paper I give the class to complete has a distinct purpose or do I sometimes fall back on what's easy for me to do. 

Most of the time I am very intentional with what I have them do, but sometimes it is just easier to have them fill out the worksheet. 

Truth is. I can do better. 

Now I sit here, reworking my lesson for Monday. Probably one of my favorite lessons of the year, because that worksheet that goes with it isn't necessary. I can get students to pull the same information through different methods. I can assess their ability to pull all the pieces together and answer our big question through a Google Form at the conclusion of the lesson, and I can do it all without having to make copies in the morning.

Real-time reflection and action.

Teachers. When you're lucky enough to get a student who is willing to provide constructive criticism, to your face, in the right context and in a respectful way consider their words. And if possible show them you get it. Show them you hear it. Because, truth is, if they trust you enough to tell you, there's a level of respect there that deserves to be returned. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Daily Logs and Building Skills

I've been wanting to blog more regularly. However, the last few years have definitely provided an atmosphere that has made it difficult for consistency. Even when I do have an idea for a post many times I'm tired or I just can't bring myself to do it, and even when I do it takes a long time to actually get me to where I'm publishing it. So I decided to change things up a little bit and instead of waiting for the inspiration of a blog post or a big project to share, I decided to start sharing just simple activities and strategies that I use on a regular basis. I would love for this to be a weekly post focusing on something that I did that week. I feel like that might be a little ambitious so we'll shoot for once a month and if I get more than that it's bonus!

I'm cheating a little bit with this one, because this is a strategy that I used prior to Christmas break. But it's a good one so I feel like it's worth it. This a collaboration between my teacher, bestie, Becca Hawthorne, and myself. (PS...find yourself a good teacher friend who you can bounce idea off of. I can't tell you how many ideas have become awesome because of chatting with Becca).

We find ourselves doing a lot of projects, and trying to work in different employability skills. Incorporating those "soft skills" that students really need (and want) to learn to develop. One of the things our students constantly talk about wanting to improve is their time management and organization of many tasks over a series of days. We've played around with using daily logs before. But this final one that we came up with worked really well and had just a couple extra elements in it.

First off.. We start with a Got Done List. This term "got done list"  came to us from our amazing counselor. She uses it as a strategy at the end of the day rather than making a to-do for tomorrow she makes a got done list for the day. This way she can feel accomplished with things but she got done. (BRILLIANT!!! And definitely one for personal use as well as the classroom)

We figured this was a great strategy for students to use on project work days. So the first section of our daily log is the "Got Done List". What did you get done? They listed off in a bullet like format. Depending on what they worked on. It may be one thing. Or maybe they got three things done in a day. There's no specific requirement other than they have to be specific. They can't just say worked on research, they need to be specific on what they researched and where they researched it.

The next column is labeled "Goals" and asks students to make a list of what they like to try to work on tomorrow. This is that organization piece to the employability skills. They know they have a lot of tasks to complete, and trying to organize what needs to be done and when is an important life skill. This section is meant to help them develop that ability.

The final piece to this puzzle is the teacher signature. This was the brilliant addition by Miss Hawthorne! This allows the teacher to check in with each student on what they accomplished for the day. In order to get the signature they have to physically show what they claim to have accomplished. So if they worked on Google slides, they need to show me the specific slides they got done.  I won't sign off unless I can see proof of the work they accomplished. And then when I glance at their list for tomorrow. Gives me an opportunity to ask them if there's anything I can do to help or if there's anything they need from me to be successful. It's a great little check-in at the end of the class and gives me an opportunity to pick out anyone who may be struggling with time management and could use a little more guidance and attention from me. This might just be my favorite part of the entire log sheet! 

Now, I took this project log, that's meant for an individuals, and I adapted it for my class final group project. The log is essentially the same, except instead of my signature, they need a teammate to sign off on their log. This does two things. It helps with the time management organization piece that the individual log did, and it adds in an accountability piece as well. I make sure to take time at the beginning to explain the importance of their signature and verifying the work completed by their partners. They can't backtrack later and say, " well Janie really didn't do the work that she said she did, we were just being nice..."  That doesn't fly. This hopefully helps them to have conversations before there's conflict about work ethic. It's also allows me, as teacher, to facilitate having the difficult conversations if its needed. Typically I find if students know that the expectation is for them to log their progress each day, they tend to make more progress!

Want to copy of these logs? Just click below, make a copy and it's yours! Just don't actually claim that is yours... 😉

Also...follow my teacher bestie on Twitter! @MsHawthorne266  she's the best!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

REAL "Self" Care

If I have one more person tell me to take some time to "rest" and practice "self-care" by getting a massage and my nails done with a Starbucks coffee in the other hand, I may seriously lose it. (Although, I'll still take that Starbucks drink...). I am so tired of people thinking that all I need to do is ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO MY PLATE IN ORDER TO FEEL BETTER. 

Newsflash. My plate has been overflowing for the better part of 3 years!!!! 

Something needs to be done. The rate I'm going (and many other teachers) isn't sustainable. I need change, and I have some ideas. Yesterday I posted about my 2022 word of the year being "ok" and working on learning how to be "ok with ok". Now I'm going to tell you why I really chose that word. Yes, what I said in the post is true...but it's also necessary to help me on the path to REAL self-care.

You see...REAL self-care to me isn't just a mani-pedi and a girls night out. REAL self-care is making small changes to my daily routine that can help relieve some of the stress that has been balling itself up at the top of my shoulders for the better part of 3 years. 

In order to do this. I need some reflection. Some real, honest reflection on what is the most stressful things right now and how can I work on those areas to help relieve it. I thought I'd highlight two areas of growth in the classroom and two areas of growth outside of school where I'm going to focus my energy. Taking stress off my plate at growing at the same time. Win-Win


1. Being OK with OK - - I am very good at what I do. This is not me "bragging," this is my truth. I am very good at what I do (one of my resolutions a couple years ago was to own it and stop denying it because I was afraid of people judging me for being too cocky). I work incredibly hard, I am creative, I am a whiz with document formatting and creating engaging lessons. I can whip out a new activity in lightning speed (just ask my team...) My classroom just works. It works because I WORK. I collaborate with some of the BEST teachers on Twitter, I learn new strategies, I read, I talk with our curriculum specialists, I brainstorm with my all has made a HUGE difference in the quality of my teaching. The downside to this is that I am constantly creating new activities, lessons, and projects. I love it, I truly do. A lesson that went well would go even better if I did "this". I need to stop. I need to have a semester, or year, or couple of years, where I just deliver good lessons without adding to it. (Being "ok with ok") Everything that I did last semester was good work. Students had essential questions, quality activities, engaging projects, rigorous topics and participated in discussions. I can do all of that again, without making big changes that end up taking time away from other areas in my life. I will be the first to admit, this will be hard for me to do. I LOVE creating new lessons. I LOVE brainstorming new activities, and I LOVE the joy of seeing it all come together. But I need to hold off It's time to take a little step back from that so I can relieve some of my stress. PLUS...I need to model to new teachers a healthier way of teaching.

2. Keeping up with Absent Student Work - - This (and attendance) my be my weakest area as a teacher. I get so bogged down with who missed which day, what work they need to do to make it up, when that work needs to be in and how to get it graded without losing track of who did it, what they did, and when they turned it in. Sheesh! I'm stressing just typing all of this. I have a plan of attack. In the time I'm going to save by not redoing perfectly good lessons, I'm going to work on organizing my absent daily lesson plans. Here's a picture of what my "unit plans" look like... 

Here's a picture of what I'm going to start adding to it. An email template that has the daily to-do list, with links copied, and instructions videoed. This way I can copy the text and send the email to my absent students each day.  This really isn't that much work...I already have the big stuff done. It's a matter of copy/paste and changing the page to landscape. 


1. Working out twice a week with a personal trainer. - -  I actually started this in mid-November and I LOVE it. I knew that exercise was listed as the #1 stress reliever, but trying to figure out how to add it to my plate, decide what to do, and then stick with it for longer than a week was just not happening. So I decided to take the money I was spending on getting my nails done twice a month and put that towards working with a personal trainer at my local YMCA. I decided on twice a week. And let me tell you...I LOVE IT SO MUCH! The stress of the day (week) just seems to melt away. But let me tell you why I really love it. I don't have to make ANY DECISIONS. Once I show up my trainer tells me what to do. I don't have have to think about anything other than my form (and how hard I'm breathing). He even counts for me! For 30 minutes, twice a week, I literally get to let go of all the pressure. And since I'm paying for it, I don't find a million and one excuses not to go. I have to be there. Even better...I WANT to be there! 

2. Laundry. - - This is my nemesis. I never can seem to get a handle on it, and when I do have time, I will literally make up another "to-do" list of things to keep me from it. I'm not trying to be unrealistic with my desire to get better at washing, drying, folding, and putting away laundry...remember, small changes that can have a big impact. I hate doing laundry...and I hate devoting my entire Saturday to trying to catch up on 12 loads. My small change? Trying to complete two loads of laundry through the week. That may not seem like much, but it's a start. A small change that can help relieve some of what I have to do on the weekend. PLUS...if I'm successful at my "ok with ok" initiative for school, I'm hoping to get home sooner in the afternoons that would hopefully free up a little time to complete a load. 

I'll say it again. To me REAL self-care is something that will help me improve my weak areas in order to relieve some of the stress and pressure of being a full-time working teacher-mom. I am a server. I love to help others, watch them learn and grow, and see them succeed. I know that in order to help my family and my students I need to help myself. Like all of us, I am a work in progress. I hope to see a new kind of progress in 2022. 

PS...want a link to the Lesson Plan Template for 2022? Click here and make a copy! 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

My "One Word" of 2022

I just love a fresh start. A new tube of toothpaste, fresh bottle of shampoo, dipping a clean knife into a smooth top of freshly opened peanut butter. All provide me with a strange sense of satisfaction. So it's no real surprise to anyone that I love New Year. I love the opportunity to start over, set new goals to achieve and make changes for the better. 

As a teacher, I technically get two "New Years" to celebrate. January and August. 

In January, the last few years, I have chosen a "one-word" to focus on my growth and goals. Words in the past have been "Consistency" and "Balance". Both good, solid words that can be applied in both my personal and professional life. 

This year I've had a hard time coming up with a word. It's not because I'm tired, burnt out, or just "don't care" it's more that I know what I'm wanting to improve on, but summing it all up in on word that's meaningful and powerful has been difficult. I just keep coming back to this one word. It's not fancy, powerful, or strong. But it just keeps popping up. 

Ready for the word. 


That's it. Two little letters that sum up my entire focus for the year. OK. 

I find myself constantly having to remind myself "It's ok." 

It's ok if I leave my desk cluttered at the end of the day in order to get home in time to see my son get off the bus from preschool.

It's ok that I don't volunteer for a committee, even if it's something I would enjoy.

It's ok if I don't have the essays graded in two days (or a week).

It's ok if I don't meticulously adjust an activity until it's perfect. 

It's ok if my lesson ended 10 minutes early and I let the kids just "chill" for the last bit of class. 

It's ok if I don't grade something and put it in as "participation" 

It's ok if I am not at school 30 minutes earlier than my contracted time.

It's ok if I don't email that parent back at 8:00 PM 

It's ok if I use exactly the same lesson plan that I used last semester, even if I know there are some places that need some tweaking. It's still going to be a kick-ass lesson. Because I'm a kick-ass teacher. 

It's ok for me to say that. 

It's ok. 

I'm trying to learn to take some of the pressure off of myself to be perfect. This is hard for me, not because I want to be perfect, but because the creation of new lessons, making small tweaks to improve the efficiency of an activity, and designing a new project are FUN for me. I love doing it. It fills my cup and gives me a "high" that I can't explain. 

But...on the other end of the "cup filling" creation is where I tend to find my stress. The piles of papers that need to be graded, the absent students who need instruction, the guilt for not providing timely feedback. You see...there's no real way for teachers to BOTH provide creative, engaging lessons AND provide timely effective feedback to help students grow. There's just not time to do both. order to improve I need to be ok with things being OK for a little while. 

And 2022 seems like a good time. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Day 2: Skills and Thinking Historically

Today's post is the second in a series of posts on how I train my students in historical thinking at the start of the school year. A "Boot Camp" so to say. A way to prepare them for the skills I'm going to ask of them all year. Here is a list of the series of posts. (Click the link to read the other days)

  1. Day 1: Discussion Expectations - Employability Skills - Historical Thinking
  2. Day 2: Skills for Thinking Historically 
  3. Day 3: Stations - Sourcing Strengths and Limitations
  4. Day 4: Follow-up, Reflection and Modifications

I'm going to be honest from the start here. I wasn't originally planning on this being a 3-day thing. It was only going to be two. But then (as happens often) I had to adjust because of things outside of my control. The 2nd day of school was picture day, and picture day at a large high school means interruptions during class for students to leave for pictures. 

I could get mad and frustrated with every "please excuse the interruption" that comes over the intercom or I can be smart about what I plan for picture day so we're not bothered. That means I need something that is pretty relaxed and easy for students to pick up where they left off as they come and go. 

I decided to really make good on my comment from the first day... 

This class is NOT sit and GET,  in here you have to SHOW UP and DO. 

So I made them "show up and do." 

I reminded my classes of the last activity we did as we left yesterday. The "Orphans of the Abyss" and how they were already practicing the techniques of historical thinking. I also compared it to the Scientific Method and that this is just the way historians are going to attempt to answer questions about the past. Today we're going to explore that method.

I display the instruction sheet on the wall and go through the requirements. Today they're going to work with their team in order to research and create a poster over the major components of Historical Thinking

  • Primary Sources and examples
  • Secondary Sources and examples
  • Sourcing a document
  • Contextualization
  • Corroboration
  • Close Reading 
  • The Importance of History

One thing I've learned over time, if you're going to have students research new information and then make something with it...make them do the research first and have it checked by you BEFORE starting on the poster. There's nothing worse than telling a student that the information on their entire poster is wrong. That check-in allows for you to elaborate, clarify, simplify, or correct as they go. Real-time feedback is so much more powerful! 

Of course that means you won't be sitting at your desk much... 

Step 1 is research. I give them the handouts from SHEG (Stanford History Education Group) which can be found on their website (here) or in my folder linked at the bottom of this post. Students are instructed to use both the handouts and Google to help them fill out the research chart posted here. (They save the "Self Reflection" part for the very end). 

Here's what is awesome about this simple assignment. They learn really fast what "contextualize" means. If they just Google "what is the definition of source" (and they will Google that exact phrase) Google doesn't give them the correct definition for this particular setting! I explain that they have to give Google some more key words in order to get the correct meaning of the word in CONTEXT with historical thinking skills. The Google results PLUS the handouts from SHEG make it easier for them to piece together a description. 

We also work on simplifying definitions. The definition "to identify the origins of a source" is nice and short so kids like it. But have them try to actually EXPLAIN what that means... they struggle. So we talk about breaking it down and really understanding what that means. Usually they come up with something similar to this

Looking at a source and where it came from by asking who wrote it and why.

Usually once I help a group one time, they figure out the process pretty quickly and move through the research at a quicker pace. I sign-off on their chart (remember...they have to check in with me before starting their poster) and then the work on the poster can begin. 

Here's the secret. I could care less about the poster. It's mostly for them. They LOVE working on the poster. Especially on the second day of class. They break it up, share responsibility (mostly...sometimes I need to help groups delegate tasks), and get rolling. Students are interacting with the words, definitions, finding pictures, and getting to know each other. While I'm walking around passing out compliments to those doing a good job, asking kids about their summer, and just building relationships. It's like one big collaborative work session that's low pressure and relaxed. We help troubleshoot printing issues, locate supplies, and dish out design tips. All the while kids are coming and going for school pictures without missing a beat. I really don't care about the poster, how it ends up looking, or if they even finish (I don't tell them that outright). There's so much more that is happening on this day than historical thinking. It really is a preview because I know tomorrow we're going to apply what they learned and dig a little deeper.

What started out as a pull-it-outta-my-ass assignment to make picture day go more smoothly ended up as a very meaningful and productive lesson. I think I'll keep it around! 

For the full resources on all 3 days of my Historical Thinking Boot Camp click HERE 

Feel free to use all materials by making a copy. Please don't claim them as your own or put them up on TPT. Thank you for that professional curtesy. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Day 1: Historical Thinking Boot Camp - High School Edition

I taught for 13 years at the middle school level. One of the best things I ended up adding to the start of my year was a "Historical Thinking Boot Camp" which spent some dedicated time with my 7th graders going through all the skills needed to think historically. I wrote a blog post that can be see HERE detailing it. And to this day it is one of my most popular blogs. 

But like all good needs an update. This update really was for me. 3 years ago I made the jump to high school.  It only took 4 semesters and teaching in a pandemic for me to finally work out a version of the boot camp for my US History classes to try out. 

I am dividing this into 4 different blog posts in order to be able to go into details for each day and then provide a reflection and any modifications I may do the next time in the final post. 

  1. Day 1: Discussion Expectations - Employability Skills - Historical Thinking
  2. Day 2: Skills for Thinking Historically 
  3. Day 3: Stations - Sourcing Strengths and Limitations
  4. Day 4: Follow-up, Reflection and Modifications

***I provide resources to my lessons and activities for free at the conclusion of this post, all I ask is that if you use it you don't claim it as your own and it doesn't end up on TPT*** 

For reference we run a 4x4 block schedule (85ish minute class periods). I see my classes each day for a semester and then start over with a new group of kids in January. While my middle school version of the boot camp took 5-7 days, I don't have the luxury of that much time at the HS level with our schedule. So this is designed to be completed in 3ish days, which includes the first day of school "stuff". 

Day 1: (First day of the semester)

I try to come out like a freight train full of energy and do my best to get kids engaged at the "get-go". One of my favorite phrases I say to my classes is... 

And I mean it. Almost as soon as I say that we talk about what good discussions look like. I explain (and model) my expectations for good quality discussions. What I, as the teacher walking around the room, expect to SEE and HEAR. We talk about body language and how that can convey a persons attitude and level of participation. My basic expectations for discussions in class...

I make it clear that these are the expectations whenever we have a discussion, and I go through those expectations EVERY TIME for the first two weeks. After that I simply have to say "remember our discussion expectations of what I should SEE and HEAR".

Now we practice. 4 short discussion questions to demonstrate those expectations. This also gives me a chance to walk around become a part of the conversations. I get to know what they wish teachers did in class, what they hate that teachers do, and the skills they wish school would teach them. These are great and powerful conversations. On day one. 

Now Jill, what does this have to do with Historical Thinking? 
Everything we do to start the year is training my students to "take it to the next level." This lesson is providing students the training they need with questions that are low-pressure and tend to be of interest to many kids (and rarely are they asked about it). This sets the tone so that when we have discussion topics that are more controversial and/or difficult topics, we have already established the norms for civil discourse. I find that when I am crystal clear about my expectations, they tend to be met.

The discussion (specifically that last two slides) leads perfectly into Activity #2: Employability skills. 

I went into detail on this activity with a blog post you can check out by clicking here. To summarize students identify employability skills that THEY want to leave high school having practiced and get better at. Students work together in the class to select 5 skills they want me to incorporate in the daily lessons, activities, and projects. I post them in the classroom as a daily reminder to us all. 

Activity #3: An Introduction to Historical Thinking
I have been a part of a professional learning community for 10 years or so made up of amazing Kansas Social Studies teachers around our state. A couple of years ago there was a presenter to talked about "untold stories" of history. This was the first time I was introduced to the photo of the "Orphans of the Abyss."

 I explain that when studying the past, historians ask a series of questions in order to examine the evidence they have. So we're going to practice. I tell them to discuss what they see in the photo on the next slide. 

And let me tell you...the conversation is amazing. The details students pull out from the photo, their reasoning...they are thinking like historians and they don't even realize it. They THINK they're just pointing out details in a photo. I love this moment so much. I walk around and nudge them for more information "What does that tell you?" or "Why do you think that is?"

We discuss their observations as a class and I go on to explain that historians are limited to the evidence they have. The more evidence that they can corroborate the more accurate their inferences are. Every now and then new evidence from past events comes up, and provides a more clear picture of what really happened. 

Then I show the next slide (which has a slight addition to the photo). 

Ohhhs and Ahhhhs fill the room. It sounds corny but I'm serious. We talk about what inferences they made that were correct and which ones were wrong.

And then I tell the story of the "Orphans of the Abyss" (Click here for the amazing story

There are always mouths open with surprise, and this moment always hits within the last 5 minutes of class. I end with this... 

History is MORE than dates and events in a textbook or vocabulary presented in a lecture. History is the story or REAL people who lived and experienced events of a nation and a world. History is ever changing and history is found in the stories. In my class we will study the stories from the people who lived during extraordinary times. We will compare their stories from multiple perspectives and ask questions in order to gain larger answers. 

And tomorrow we will find out just how we're going to "think like historians." 

Day 2 and Day 3 posts are coming soon!