Friday, September 29, 2017

A Mindful Look at Classroom Management

As a new-ish teacher in the early fall of last year, I experienced a moment (well actually, more like an entire day) of helplessness. I fretted that my students weren’t learning to read quickly enough. More alarming, the presence of kindness in our bungalow (AKA my super duper fancy double-wide portable) had deteriorated significantly. If one of my adorable students poked, prodded or aimed another verbal insult at another student again (did I mention I teach Kindergarten?), that was going to be the end of my tenure as the CEO of my classroom! I was going to hand over my classroom keys and go right back to waiting on tables!

You know what I did instead? I complained, I mean I consulted, with my amazing team of coworkers and then I burned rubber to a yoga class. I promise, while tempting, I did not leave tire tracks in the school parking lot and I strictly abided by the 25 mile an hour school zone traffic rule.

While I tried to get my just-returned-from-summer-break and actually-had-time-to-go-to-yoga mind to focus, I couldn’t stop thinking that most of my at-risk students were not meeting the current trimester reading goal. And, man, did I have a few really mean kids this year! Some children were coming to school with negative energy that they just did not seem to know how to expel. I saw some students as restless and challenged to stay focused, mindful, and in the moment. And, then my mind stopped. Just like that, close to an hour had passed. Aha!

Cue fancy, overpriced University teacher credential program lesson number one: Reflect, reflect reflect.

I had wasted nearly an entire day being negative. As I became mindful I was able to reflect on my best teaching practices and my intentions (or desired outcomes). I was reminded of the mantra; find remedy, not fault. I had shifted my mindset. I had to find an alternative way to guide my students. I wanted them to discover healthy alternatives to training their tiny bodies and active minds to engage joyfully and successfully in the learning process. I wanted to become better at showing them how be kind. Children were not meant to sit still, conform, or naturally collaborate all of the time. I had to find a way to guide them into doing these things. The answer was focus.
I am going to get all researchy for a moment.

The United States Education Department recently allocated nearly $3 million to study mindfulness in 30 high-poverty Chicago schools (Deruy, 2016).

“Compassionate institutions are needed at every level so we can buffer, rather than cement, children's toxic stress.” (Erikson, 2016). And, boy are a lot of our children under unimaginable stress!
You see, this research and our government's willingness to make a financial investment into the idea of mindfulness reinforces the aha moment that I had as I reflected on my yoga mat that day. I began implementing the practice of mindfulness into my pedagogy each day following that epiphany.
Pump the breaks! What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness in the classroom is taking the time to create a sense of calm, community, and validation that teachers are allowing time for the curriculum of me despite what is happening in the students’ lives (Deruy, 2016). Mindfulness is simply taking a few minutes to be still and in the moment; a few moments to reflect and be grateful.

I noticed that as my students increased their skillset in the practice of mindfulness that they began to create their own set of expectations for classroom behavior. Using mantras, students began to remind unfocused to students to, “focus” and to use the, “focus muscle.” Children who were experiencing stress would sit cross-legged, close their eyes and re-focus themselves. The children seemed to like a few minutes each day that focused on their happiness, joy, and health. 

After implementing the mindfulness strategy for several weeks, I had noticed a marked increase in kindness. Daily student reading groups allowed me to analyze whether or not my students could read more fluently from the guided reading books following the use of the mindfulness strategy. Not only did their fluency increase, but their overall reading scores climbed! Those at-risk students I fretted about were reading at the benchmark! Some students increased their reading proficiency by two levels and a few by three levels! The practice of mindfulness in my classroom increased social emotional awareness and academic success. 
How did I find time to squeeze yet another strategy into our jam-packed world of common core curriculum?

All I did was show my entire class a mindfulness video each day and model, model, model (fancy college lesson two). I pointed out that the video was designed to help them be calm, focused, and happy. They were receptive immediately. In fact, the buy in was profound.

Who LOVES GoNoodle, raise your cyber hand?! GoNoodle is an online, interactive video tool that is FREE! They have three channels focused on mindfulness called Focus, Flow, and Think About It. They are appropriate for all ages. This is the platform that I used to deliver quick lessons in mindfulness. After a while, we did not require the videos as a guide. 

Many of my kiddos were having major behavioral issues that were distracting and hard to regulate. The practice of mindfulness increased their success and helped my tiny teachers to find calm and to focus and to give and receive positive affirmations. Mindfulness in the classroom improved self-regulation and confidence in all of my students. I encourage other teachers to strive to meet the academic and social emotional needs of their students by giving mindfulness a try! Your focus muscle will thank you for it.

ReferencesDeruy, E. (2016). Does Mindfulness Actually Work in Schools? Scholars want to know whether the practice helps young kids of color succeed academically. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Erikson. (2016). Amanda Moreno, Ph. D joins filmmaker James Redford to discuss toxic stress, learning. Erikson Institute. Retrieved from

Robin Dawson

Robin Dawson is a kindergarten teacher in the Santee School District. Robin is focused on fostering a love of learning through the building of relationships and by creating high interest learning activities that incorporate technology, accountability, kindness, and an emphasis on social emotional awareness and learning while striving to be tech-forward. You can reach Robin on Twitter @kindercollab or via email at

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Much Can One eBook Project Accomplish?

eBook cover page
The Story of Ishanga
Innovative teachers are always on the lookout for a great new idea, or a better way to do something we’ve always done. It can be easy to get excited about every new thing that comes our way. Before we know it, our students have long, unmanageable lists of usernames and passwords for a myriad of tools and sites. An alternative that allows us to innovate and simplify at the same time, is to dive deeply into something many of our districts already have--our Google Drives. Google Slides has powerful capabilities that many of us haven’t explored in depth. There are endless possibilities beyond the same old title, image, and bullet points that exhaust teachers and students alike.

I had the pleasure of working with Jamie Lora, a fifth grade teacher at Carrillo Elementary in the San Marcos Unified School District, to help her class create beautiful eBooks using Google Slides. Students had read about an elephant in Africa who was rescued after her mother was killed by poachers. The class then took on the task of writing narratives telling the story from the perspective of the baby elephant, named Ishanga by her rescuers. So far, this activity resembled what goes on in classrooms everywhere. Jamie Lora, however, is dedicated to innovation, and she asked me to come introduce her students to eBooks with Google Slides. By the end of the afternoon, classroom magic had occurred.  The students threw themselves into creating beautiful eBooks with incredible attention to detail. Even better, the volume of their writing increased by two and three-fold. Rather than just copying the narrative they had written into the eBook format, they added more rich content and beautiful images (which they properly searched and cited). Click here to scroll through a sample of one student’s work.  

I spent nearly three hours in her classroom, and many students were still planning to continue working on their eBooks from home, as they needed more time.  Even when the eBooks were complete, the students’ increased interest level in the topic persisted. They did more research on the plight of elephants and poaching, and they eventually launched a classroom service project to do what they could as a class to help save the lives of endangered elephants. Through their research and coin drive, Jamie’s class made contact with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and adopted their own baby elephant, Luggard. Storyworks, where Ishanga’s story was published, has even contacted Jamie to interview her class!

So. . . what can one eBook project accomplish? Big things! These fifth grade students created beautiful narratives from the perspective of Ishanga the baby elephant, produced fantastic eBooks with attention to style and detail, practiced searching for and using appropriate images and citing their sources, persisted and persisted and persisted, and grew to care about a cause. The technology was infused, not an add-on but an integral part of the process.  Finally, it doesn’t hurt that Jamie gets to read a class set of interesting and well-crafted narratives instead of a bunch of bullet points. eBooks can be used across the curriculum and in any grade level, and Google Slides is a free and available platform.

Laura Sugano

Laura Sugano is an Ed Tech TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) in the San Marcos Unified School District. Prior to becoming a resident of TOSAtown, Laura taught in 3rd and 5th grades. She is passionate about student use of technology, and committed to integrating technology into the ways we teach and learn. You can reach Laura on Twitter @LauraSugano or via email at

Monday, August 28, 2017

School Presence on Social Media

So, what’s your school’s social media presence like? Has your school just started to dip its toe into the social media landscape by starting a Facebook page? Or have you gone all in with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Zanzaboom?

You’re right, I made that last one up.

Building your school’s social media presence in today’s social media landscape might seem a little intimidating, maybe even a little risky. But I’d argue it’s worth the effort. Effective social media use isn’t something reserved for celebrities and multinational companies. I invite you to consider a few points on why your school should think about building a more robust social media presence.

Get the Word Out, Cheaply
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are excellent ways to get information about your school out to a large portion of your school’s community. Social media doesn’t reach every single person out there, but there are probably quite a few students, parents, and teachers at your school who use social media apps each day. And, so far, social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are free to use. Free in that we are giving those companies our attention (and advertisers love our attention) in exchange for the ability to easily connect to content that matters to us. Still--it’s mostly free.

Control the Narrative
I remember requesting and getting permission from my vice principal back in 2011 to start a Facebook page for my high school. Now, the fact is that there was already a Facebook page about my school. But it was a parody page. If you Googled my school back in 2011, looking for our Facebook page, you would probably find the parody page instead.

What’s the problem with having inaccurate or incomplete information about your school online? It’s about having honest, fair representation for your school in the online world.

I’ve been working at El Cajon Valley High School since 2007. I love our students, and I love how hard the educators at my school work to help our students. I’m proud to work in such a supportive, creative, intelligent learning community. But back in 2011, our web presence didn’t reflect the amazing things that I knew were happening at my school. Building our social media presence has helped my school’s character get more accurately portrayed online. We have heart. We care for our community. We celebrate our diversity. It’s tough to get to know what we are about by driving past the front of our school or reviewing our test scores. Our social media use helps us share who we really are.

High school students holding flags from around the world.
Each year ECVHS celebrates Multicultural Week.
A week in which we express our Unity Through Diversity!

Tables filled with donations to refugees: clothing, diapers, etc.
Mr. Trammell sent ECVHS a call to action when he heard about the living conditions of
some refugees in our community. The ECVHS community responded with amazing generosity.

Share Ideas
A couple of years ago I was preparing part of a presentation on using Google Hangouts in the classroom. As luck would have it, I happened to be scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this post by Franz Ruiz, who was teaching science at ECVHS at the time. He was having his students Skype with a classroom on the other side of the planet, and I had no idea. We worked at the same school, but we were in different departments. We didn’t get to talk shop much. Many of you know it can be challenging to find time to collaborate with fellow educators. But after seeing Franz’ post, I made sure to ask him about his project and how he got connected to educators in other countries. What other cool educational experiments are our fellow educators conducting just a few doors down the hall from us? Sharing those ideas on social media can help to cultivate innovation and collaboration.

Screenshot of a Twitter post showing students seated in desks with their laptops open, facing a video screen.
Mr. Ruiz was having his students Skype with students from another country,
and I probably wouldn't have found out about his cool educational
experiment if he wasn't sharing his ideas on Twitter.

Acknowledge the Hard Work of Colleagues
Some of my favorite posts are those that I get to make when I peek into a classroom and see students engaged in a fantastic learning activity. I don’t plan most of these classroom visits--I just happen to be walking by. And, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to visit all the classrooms on campus during classroom time (librarians lose their librarian powers if they spend too much time outside of the library--away from their books). It’s rewarding to be in a position where I get to notice more of what goes on in my school. I don’t get to see everything cool on campus, but I love sharing the cool things I do see with a wider audience.

 Screenshot of a Tweet that shows high school students working together on a poster project.
I walked into Mrs. Ward's class to help her with a Google Slides question,
and I couldn't help but notice her students deeply engaged in a collaborative poster project. 

Imagine the power of someone who does get to visit each class getting to share the positive things they see on social media. Perhaps an administrator. They visit each class, right? As a teacher, would you be okay with your administrator making a brief post online about what she saw in your classroom? I know my district has rules and procedures around official evaluations from administrators, but there has to be a way to make such posts. It would go a long way to acknowledge the great work of a school’s staff for administrators to share the positive things they see happening.

So, what’s your school’s social media presence like? Can it be better?

Anthony Devine

Anthony is the Teacher Librarian at El Cajon Valley High School (@ECVHS). You can find him on Twitter at @anthonyrdevine and @ecvhslibrary.