Posts Tagged: Resources

In the Classroom
How Project-Based Learning Revolutionized My Teaching
October 6, 2017
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How Project-Based Learning Revolutionized My Teaching

Mary-Owen Holmes

Over the past few years, Tennessee has been committed to making bold changes to our educational landscape. We’ve seen shifts in what our students are learning, and are striving to ensure all students receive a high-quality education. Project-based learning (PBL) is a natural extension of our state’s focus on reform. A renewed emphasis on college and career readiness has encouraged teachers and schools to incorporate strategies such as problem-based learning and technology integration, while also providing more opportunities for early-work experience. Across Tennessee students are learning to broadcast news, lead research efforts, build websites, code programs, and analyze data, while embedding math and literacy into their work. PBL has allowed me to better connect the past to the present, as well as bring fun back into history class. When we connect our classroom learning to real-world examples, as well as necessary critical thinking and problem-solving skills, everyone wins.
In the Classroom
10 Things I Wish I Knew As a Beginning Teacher
October 4, 2017
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10 Things I Wish I Knew As a Beginning Teacher

Dr. Beth Gotcher

Candace Hines

10.Speak up: Your voice matters! In a room full of veterans, novice teachers often tend to take a back seat. New teachers may get overlooked due to their lack of experience in the classroom. As a beginning teacher, you may be hesitant to ask clarifying questions or contribute new ideas. However, when beginning teachers speak up, they can benefit the whole group by sharing new concepts. Mentors are also able to see their growth areas and refine their mentorship to allow new teachers to gain knowledge. So don’t be afraid to share your ideas!
January 26, 2017
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Amanda Arnold

Dear Mr.  President: As you begin this journey, please take to heart that education is critical to the success and future of this great nation. “Making America Great Again” is a goal rooted in the future, and that future lies within the students of this nation. Education is one of the most versatile and powerful tools that government possesses. History has relentlessly proven that nations can be built and destroyed by how a government educates its people. Appropriate and effective education empowers the people, but education without clearly defined purposes, ethics, and goals can destroy the same people. Please act upon a vision of education that recognizes the following:
  1. Education can break the cycle of poverty.
  2. Impoverished communities need equal access to quality education, resources, and opportunities.  
  3. Students deserve safe, clean, and well maintained schools.  Many of our impoverished communities have schools in a state of crisis.  
  4. Educational policy should be a problem-solving model based on demonstrated needs and research based results.  
  5. Every student is capable of growth, but all students do not academically grow at the same pace.
  6. All students do not reach proficiency at the same rate.  Some students need more than four years to achieve high school proficiency.  Some students need more challenges within that four years.  Schools should not be punished for meeting a student’s needs.
  7. College and career readiness has two parts.  Students need career and technical training.  Educational policy has abandoned training and educating students for blue collar jobs.  Our country needs blue and white collar jobs.
  8. College is not appropriate for every student, but every student who has a desire and the academic ability to pursue that route should have equitable preparedness and the opportunity to do so.
  9. Equitable does not mean equal education.  Different students have different needs.  Different school districts have different needs.  Want to make them great?  Meet their demonstrated needs.
  10. Parents want success for students.  No parent wants to see his or her student struggle or fail.  Strengthen the parents to empower the students.  
  11. Hold educators accountable, but give educators the proper support, resources, guidelines, and tools to meet the needs of the students.  

Education must prepare a  diverse group of talented, well-educated students. The nation needs electricians, business professionals, mechanics, blue and white collar workers. Diversity in talent and developing the skills to meet the needs of those talents can make students successful contributors to society. Successful contributors make a successful society.

Making any country great begins with expectations: the expectation that every student can be successful, the expectation that poverty does not have to be a cycle, the expectation that the right tools in the right hands can change lives. Greatness does not manifest itself the same in every person; it is unique—just like our students. If you want to make America great, make educational opportunity great.


Amanda has taught English at Dobyns­ Bennett High School for the past five years. In that time, Amanda has served as the English 9 Co­Taught Team Leader, English 10 Co­Taught Team Leader, Co­President of the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa International Honor Society for Women Educators and on the Tennessee Digital Learning Team. Throughout her career she has served as a school­-wide Title I coordinator, school-­level testing coordinator and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant coordinator. She holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from East Tennessee State University. In 2010, she earned an Educational Specialist degree in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from Lincoln Memorial University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Policy
Room for the Human Element
January 11, 2017
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Room for the Human Element

Kimberly Pringle

The great struggle of educational change is not lack of initiative, or innovation, or standards, or motivation. It is a diversity of resources and cultures. What works in one environment is doomed to fail in another. There is no one-size–fits-all anything when it comes to the very human act of educating the children of a community.

There are many different types of schools. Some are productive and innovative and some crush the spirit of innovation before it can grow and flourish. Some are tech-centered and engineering-minded, while others are pitifully technology poor. Some embrace best practices and collaboration, while others are seemingly stuck in the past with doors and minds closed to one another.

If I could communicate one thing to educational policy-makers, it would be to find room for the human element. So often it seems that educational policy only focuses on data and test scores. I believe this human element is the thing which teachers see so intimately and bemoan as the un-testable variables. It comes in the form of heartbreaking stories:

Mom and dad were fighting last night...again.

       The electricity was turned off three days ago. I hate cold showers.

                   My baby sister screamed all night. Will she ever stop?

We've been living out of a tent, but we lost our campsite today.

       I wanted to come to school, but mom didn't wake up.

                  My dad died last week, but no one will talk about it.

My shoes don't fit, but I don't want to tell my mom, because we don't have any money.

And the day-to-day speedbumps in the road of the educator:

We're a sub short today, so we had to divide Mr. Allen's class. You're getting 5 extra kids.

         Fire drill today at 9:30 am!

                Cookie-dough sale kick-off celebration in the gym at 2:30 pm.

                          Pep-rally on Friday!

                                   We're experiencing problems with the WiFi again.

We want the best for our kids. We move mountains for them—of fundraiser cookie dough and wrapping paper and coupon books. And we do all of this to get the funds we need to have the right technology in their hands or to have books for them to read. But it isn't equal. Not all communities have the same luxury of time and disposable income to make those sorts of things happen. Title I funds are supposed to reduce the inequity but still fall short. In addition, many schools who do not qualify for Title I funds struggle to provide for their students when the population does not quite reach the poverty threshold for Title I, yet cannot afford to self-fund.

Critics of public education often depict educators as inadequate for the job or unmotivated to teach students properly. I would argue that we are very motivated for our students. Motivation isn't the issue. It likely comes down to resources and culture. Have we enabled the resources needed for change? Have we dealt with the human needs and cultural needs creating barriers to academic gains?

So, though I appreciate the information that assessment data provides, I plead—look beyond the statistics and into the numbers and see the children they represent. Look beyond the school and see the community it serves. Educating our children is a beautiful, human act. Let's keep the humanity in the process.

Kimberly has served at the Big Ridge Elementary School for the last seven years. She has worked as a music teacher and a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). Kimberly has served as Department Chair, RTI Coordinator, Next in Line for the Principal, Technical Contact and Chair for the School­ Wide Positive Behavior Support Cadre and she has been a Public Education Foundation’s Leadership Fellow. A recipient of the ETS Recognition of Excellence award for Principles of Learning and Teaching, she received her Bachelor of Music and Master of music degrees in music education from Middle Tennessee State University and from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, respectively, and a Master of Education degree in school leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom
Classroom Library Beginner’s Guide
December 22, 2016
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Classroom Library Beginner’s Guide

Natalie Coleman

Cardboard Library   As a brand new teacher, fresh out of college and trying to build a classroom before even receiving my first paycheck, the only library I had to offer my students within my classroom walls was a cardboard box of all the age-appropriate books I owned. My entire collection consisted of a dozen or so books I’d accumulated during my adolescent literature class in college and a small handful of my own books I had read as a middle schooler years ago, many bearing my own juvenile signature—complete with a heart to dot the i—scrawled in the front cover.

For that first year, I lent books out of that cardboard box haphazardly, not even keeping track of who borrowed them, and the next year I started with an even smaller box of books to share. While our students are fortunate to have a hard-working librarian who provides them with access to great books, I still wanted to have books to share with them in our own room. My cardboard “library” just didn’t send the message I wanted to send in my classroom about how important and enjoyable reading is, so each year, I have worked toward the goal of building my library and refining how it’s organized and operated.

I still have a long way to go to have the classroom library I dream of sharing with my students, but I’ve come a long way from that original cardboard box and want to share some of what’s helped me most with other teachers building their own libraries.

Getting More Books

  • McKay’s—As Tennessee teachers, we are so lucky to have McKay’s in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. (West Tennesseans, I’m sorry you’re left out. Believe me, this store is worth a road trip to Nashville!) At McKay’s you can buy used books at amazing prices. I’ve snagged multiple books for my classroom for nickels apiece, and $1-3 is a typical range for what I spend on individual books from the large selection of  young adult novels. You can also trade books for credit, and over the years, I’ve turned many old college textbooks and books I’ve finished reading into new-to-us books for our classroom. I’ve also had people occasionally donate books that I appreciated but that weren’t right for my students; taking those books to McKay’s has made those donations into books my students love reading.
  •—I discovered this website just this year, and I’ve already bought dozens of books for our class from the site for not much money at all. This website is a treasure of used books, with many popular young adult titles for under $4. Shipping is free for orders over $10, and you earn rewards as you spend. Hardcover books are often the same price as paperback copies, so I usually order the hardcover so they’ll last longer.
  • Scholastic—When I buy new books, I buy them from Scholastic. I can order them online with my Reading Club account and earn points for free books and can even earn more points when students and parents purchase books through Scholastic using our class code. I also love to go to Scholastic Warehouse sales and stock up on books at huge discounts. My favorite purchase from a warehouse sale is our class set of the entire Harry Potter series for only $35!

Keeping Books

  • Contact Paper—My favorite summer and winter break “school work” (that gives me an excuse to watch movies in my pajamas) is covering any newly purchased paperback books with contact paper. I’ve been doing this for several years now, and the few hours that it takes a couple times a year pays off by keeping the books nice. Many of the books in my original cardboard box library fell apart completely within the first few years, but since I’ve started using contact paper, even books that were a bit worn when I bought them used have lasted for years and are still holding up great.
  • Organization—Right now, my library is still small enough to organize by the basic genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and I have a fourth category of “challenge” fiction books, which includes classics and higher-level books. I use different color stickers to indicate the genres and also write the first letter of the author’s name on the sticker so that I can keep the books in alphabetical order by author on the bookshelf. I learned after a few years that this method works best if I put the sticker on the book before I add the contact paper because the contact paper prevents both the sticker and the written letter from wearing off. Teachers with more extensive libraries than mine have more sophisticated organization systems with more genre categories, but this seems to work well for a smaller collection.
  • Documentation—There are all kinds of brilliant ideas out there for effective and efficient classroom library checkout, and I have tried a few, but I admit, I am horrible at being a classroom librarian. The best strategy for me has been creating a notebook for students to use to sign books in and out themselves. Here are the Classroom Library Info Sheet and Classroom Library Book Check Out Log I use. This system keeps me from having to oversee everything while still keeping documentation of who has each book. Periodically, I check my inventory (or have students help me) by checking off what’s on the shelf compared to the master list of books I keep. Using the letter stickers to keep the books in alphabetical order helps speed up this process. Now, I just use a spreadsheet to keep a master list of books that we have in our library, but I also recommend the Booksource app for teachers who are better at being classroom librarian than I am. Its barcode reader makes adding books to the class inventory as easy as snapping a picture, and it can be used for electronic check-out and check-in too.

An Always Growing Library

It may seem small to more seasoned teachers and book collectors, but I’m proud that our classroom books finally overflowed my two school-issued bookshelves this year and am excited for the challenge of figuring out what to do with all of the new books we get. What seems like a small start or a small addition will make a big difference over time, and the important thing is making our students’ lives more rich with literature, even just a few books at a time.

Natalie has taught seventh grade language arts at Shafer Middle School for six years and was named Shafer Teacher of the Year for 2013-14. She sponsors the school literature and arts magazine, was a TNCore Learning Leader for 2014-15, and has served on district planning committees and as part of the Mid-Cumberland CORE Region Teacher Roundtable Discussion. Natalie graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2009 and was awarded Peabody College’s Kevin Longinetti Award for Outstanding Secondary-Level Teaching. Outside of school, she tutors for Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee, where she has volunteered for seven years. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Leadership
Breaking Down Global Barriers
December 12, 2016
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Breaking Down Global Barriers

Hayley Cloud

When I think of a globe, I think of the dusty sphere that sat on a cabinet in my elementary classrooms when I was a child. I always saw this sphere from afar. I barely knew what it was comprised of. I didn’t know why it was mounted at an angle or why parts of it were bumpy. I only knew that it was a representation of the world in which I live. I would have loved to fix my hands around the spherical object and for my teacher to guide me in the exploration of its contents. My curiosity about that dusty globe is what I see in children today.

A global society is a connection among humans around the world. It is a sense of community.  It is a system of networks and worldly relations.  Too often, we are unsure of the boundaries that exist between societies and are discouraged or unwilling to cross them.  Educators can help eliminate the uncertainty, encourage global awareness, and satisfy students’ curiosity.  Obtaining the proper content knowledge, fostering creativity, and providing structure and support for learners can help guide them through the learning process.

With rural west Tennessee being my home, the Gulf of Mexico being as far south as I have traveled, Chicago being as far north, and having never stepped foot out west, I find it a bit unimaginable and extremely ambitious to attempt teaching students about the world as a whole.  I feel confident in my ability, as a leader, to teach students everything they need to know about an individual society, such as the country, state, or community in which they live.  How to form a global society remains a question to some, and I often search for the answer myself.  While many practices, such as travel programs, allow opportunities for students to reach out in a global society, they are not all tailored to fit elementary grade levels. There are many resources and practices available to help teachers build awareness in their classroom.

Teaching students about our global community through a curriculum is one practice that I can identify with as a leader in my own elementary classroom.  States within the United States, such as Tennessee, have revamped their previous standards into standards that provide rigorous instruction, critical thinking, and more complex text that increase student global awareness.  The third grade Tennessee social studies standards cover the geography of the world.  They include analyzing the globe, locating major countries, continents, and oceans, and identifying physical features of the world.  I have been able to teach in themes, such as global poverty, global advocacy, and global citizenship.  The standards themselves have added to my level of confidence in my ability to be a teacher leader in a global society.

There are many websites available with a plethora of lesson plans, videos, activities, and online text.  The two sites, World's Largest Lesson and Newsela, help me build global awareness in my classroom.  I use these resources to teach students about classrooms around the world, problems our world faces, and all sorts of news events from across the globe.  A global collaboration website called iEARN allows students to learn through global projects and learning circles with participants in 140 countries.  This year, the students in my class participated in a project that required them to research and discuss the causes of hunger in the world and brainstorm ways to solve the global issue.  Each of these sites help me supplement the curriculum which I teach and meet a number of the state standards.

With technology growing rapidly, teachers are always hunting for ways to make it part of their daily practice.  Skype can be used to connect classrooms with other classrooms, authors, and experts from around the world.  It is a free service that allows classrooms to interact with others through video chat.  Another way to connect classrooms is by assigning students to e-pals at other schools.  Epals is a platform where students can make meaningful connections with other learners.  Teachers can even assign students to online projects to work on with their e-pals.  Merging these two forms of 21st-century communication can open up doors in our global society and break down global barriers in education, as well as address the standards that many United States classrooms teach.

Students have the world at their fingertips, and yet seem so detached from it.  Barriers must be broken, and teacher leaders must be more transparent so that fellow teachers and students are active members of a global society.  This begins with teachers removing the globe from the shelf and wiping away the dust that lies upon the surface.

Hayley teaches 3rd grade at West Chester Elementary School. She has been teaching with the Chester County School System for 4 years. Hayley is presently serving as a teacher leader/data coach in her school. She is also a member of the district writing team. She has led PLCs within her district and has attended focus groups concentrating on supporting Tennessee educators. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Memphis. She is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.