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3 Ways to Immediately Increase Student Engagement

One of my biggest passions as a teacher is continually increasing student engagement in my classroom. If my kids are engaged and the content is meaningful, they’re going to learn. As a side bonus, engaged students are also less likely to act out or become behavioral problems because they want to be there (gasp!) and they want to participate (double gasp!).

I’ve discovered over the years that it really doesn’t take much to immediately increase student engagement. So today I’ve got 3 of my easiest and best tips for increasing student engagement in your classroom (without a lot of prep!). Let’s dive right in!

1. Add opportunities for students to have mini discussions. This can be done with literally anything you’re doing in your classroom, but I especially think it’s needed when lecturing or giving directions. Because here’s the thing: their minds wander when you talk too long. It’s not because you’re boring, trust me. Everyone’s mind wanders. I lose focus after like 10 minutes of information in PD and I’m an adult! So every couple of slides, ask students a question or to repeat a definition or quiz them on the spot. This allows students to have a quick break AND process what you’ve said. The best news? These quick discussions can be planned ahead of time or created in the moment. I also have my kids summarize directions to a neighbor before starting on the task. This saves me so much frustration, it’s not even funny.

2. Utilize call and response. I like to have students fill in the blanks in my sentences when I’m teaching. For example I’ll say something like “this is because all natural resources are called…?” And students will say “land.” They get really used to finishing my sentences- and it makes sure they’re tracking with me. It also tells me if I’ve lost them and need to re-explain a concept!

3. Make it relevant. Friends, this is so, so important! To have an engaging classroom, we must add examples that apply to students’ lives. Or even connect historical concepts to the present, especially with big events happening in the news. If we can make it relevant, we can capture their attention and answer that nagging, age-old question: “why do we need to learn this stuff?” Economics is such an incredible subject in that it’s instantly applicable to students’ lives. For example, in January I taught the concept of incentives. What better way to teach it than ask students what incentives they have used or have been used on them? It’s frequently a pretty funny question to ask because the responses are hilarious. The point is this: make it interesting by making it relevant.

So there you have it, friends! My top tips for quickly increasing student engagement. See you next week!

With love,
Mrs. P

Blog

My Top Tips for End-of-the-Year Classroom Organizing

As we begin to wrap up the school year (finally), I love to strategically begin packing up and organizing my classroom. Notice that I say “packing up” mainly because I actually switch classrooms nearly every year. Often, I even have multiple classrooms in one year so my teaching equipment is sort of spread across campus.

However, I can joyfully announce that I have just ONE classroom next year (fingers crossed nothing changes) so I will be moving everything to that room. So, over time I’ve developed some strategies for effectively organizing and storing my materials as the year winds to a close and I’d love to share them with you all today!

1. Do it slowly. One of my top priorities each year is spending minimal time outside school hours working. Therefore, I do this process slowly over the month of May into June. I pack up one section or one element of my classroom at a time. For example, this week I took down some decor. Not all of it- just all of the items with gold fringe (think 1920s party, which we did a few months ago and left up for fun). Packing up slowly over time ensures that the end result of a clean, organized classroom will happen without making the process overwhelming.

2. Don’t take down the decorations all at once. If you do this, your students will begin to check out mentally. And with finals looming, we don’t want to contribute to that tendency. So I take down a few decorations here and there, but leave the main ones (like bulletin boards) for the last week of school. It helps to start organizing files, copies/binders for next year, and similar tasks first. Clean out the cupboards and unseen areas like your desk as a priority in the beginning to middle of May.

3. Use your TA. If you’re lucky enough to have have a TA or two (or student volunteers), ask for help. Create a system where they can organize for you. Teaching them up front is initially more work, but helps so much in the long term as your time is freed up to complete tasks only you can do.

4. Make a comprehensive list of tasks to complete so that you can calendar the tasks. Once you’ve got your list, pace them out slowly. This will also help you determine which tasks can be done by others. For example, I need to move everything in my classroom to another classroom. Sure, I could just do it myself over the summer, but why would I choose that when my TA can slowly move things over the course of the next few weeks. Use your resources and avoid feeling overwhelmed. You’ll thank yourself later 😉

Best of luck to you on your quest!

With love,
Mrs. P

Blog · Devotionals

For When You Feel Inadequate

I don’t know about you, but the end of this year feels like a continuous, somehow slow kick in the pants. I allowed grading to stack up and to-do lists to run a bit too long. My seniors checked out waaay earlier than usual and I’m trying every trick I know to keep them engaged. Content needs to be finished, grades need to be calculated, and it can all be… a lot.

Today I was frustrated when I got home. I snapped at my husband and worked out so hard my abs kind of hurt in a you-shouldn’t-have-done-that kind of way. (Confession: I’ve pulled my intercostal muscles more than once so I’m supposed to be “careful.”)

And then I broke down, took an extra long shower, apologized to my husband, and finally ate some food.

And you know what? When I finally broke down and acknowledged how I was feeling, I started to feel better. I allowed myself to embrace the frustration and then seek out its source. Turns out I’ve been juggling all the things- and I’m hard on myself when something falls through the cracks.

It might be Teachers’ Appreciation Week, but in high school world, this week is called “AP week” and students are carrying that stress in their shoulders, faces, and spirits. Maybe they don’t have time to work on my “regular” class. Maybe it seems less important compared to the other stressors in their lives. I allow their attitudes and motivation (mostly lack thereof) to determine my success as a teacher.

As I dug a bit deeper, I realized that at the root of my frustration was a deep rooted feeling of inadequacy. I’m not enough. I’m not good enough or smart enough or engaging enough. These whispers slowly poison my mind until I’m undone.

But my worth is not determined by teenagers. It’s not determined by test scores. Or programs. Or meeting outcomes.

My worth is determined by God. Just God. I’ve been designed by Him, crafted by Him, made perfect by His Son.

Lucky for me- God is constant. When things around me change or I feel as though I’m drowning, God is the same. So my value is the same. I am not less.

The simplicity and truth of this nourishes my soul. I am enough. Because He is enough. And that will always be… enough.

Breathe in God, exhale the lies.

 

Blog

Two Easy Ways to Honor Other Teachers for Teachers’ Appreciation Week

National Teachers’ Appreciation Week is right around the corner and to celebrate I wanted to share two super simple ways to honor other teachers at your school. I’ve used both methods in the past and they won’t take more than an hour of your time (if that!). And I’ve done it so regularly that when teachers see me walking around campus with post-its on my clipboard, they smile and get excited, knowing some much-needed encouragement is coming their way.

Method One: Post-It Compliments

My students and I have a tradition that we do every Friday. It’s called “Friday Compliments” and they love it. I actually got the idea from my Mentor Teacher during the student teaching days. Basically every student gets a post-it and they write two compliments to other students in the class. I read them out loud at the end of class. They’re anonymous and don’t worry, I read them ahead of time to make sure they’re kind and appropriate. Kids don’t usually abuse the system because if they’re rude, we won’t have Friday Compliments anymore and even the “cool” kids love ’em too much to lose ’em.

Anyways, during Teachers’ Appreciation Week, I give each student TWO post-its and they write thank you notes or compliments to two different teachers. I tell them they can sign the post-it or remain anonymous. Of course, I proofread these too and throw away the “bad” ones but honestly, my high schoolers get really into it and often write pretty heartfelt notes. At the end of the day, I have my TA sort all the post-its by teacher name and deliver them to the teachers. It’s best if the kids deliver them. You can also sort them into teacher boxes if your campus is spread out.

Such a simple yet meaningful way to spread some love on campus. Many teachers at my school have a section of their walls near their desk filled with these words of encouragement from over the years. Great stuff.

Method Two: Teacher Cards

This method is also really easy for me since I only have 30ish teachers at my school. I get a colored piece of card stock and have my TA write each teacher’s name in the middle of a different card. Then I have 10 minutes at the end of each of my classes for my students to write notes to teachers on the front and back of the cards. I encourage them to write on as many as possible. Then I make an announcement to the student body through Powerschool to come sign the cards during lunch that week. By the end of the week, the cards are full of lovely notes. Again, my TA, students, or I deliver them to the teachers.

It doesn’t take much effort to encourage someone. So let’s take some time to lift others up as Teachers’ Appreciation approaches. 🙂

With love,

Mrs. P

Blog

The Life-Changing Power of Gratitude in Your Life & Classroom

During our travels through Portland, my husband and I stopped (as is our custom) by Powell’s City of Books. They’re not joking when they call it a “city” of books. Three stories of books line the walls and shelves. Used books alongside brand new copies. For a book nerd like me, it’s a dream. My husband and I took home about 7 books which is not bad for us. After all, one day I want to have a library in my home. Think Beauty and the Beast and you’ll capture my vision.

One of the books I grabbed is one I’ve been eyeing for a few years now: Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. It’s not the just the cover featuring baby blue robin’s eggs that’s lovely- her words are poetry disguised as prose. They’re gripping, honest, and engaging.

And they’re focused on gratitude. Living a life of thanksgiving, joy, and grace. How to pursue a live of gratitude and connecting with the Creator.

And as you live in gratitude, your life changes. Oh, not the circumstances. Never the circumstances. We never get control over those, try as we might. No, our lives change in that we connect with what’s good, what’s right with the world. It’s not about seeing the glass as half full. It’s about being thankful for the glass in the first place.

It’s opening your heart, slowing down, and paying attention.

It’s noticing the beauty of the world around you.

It’s seeing your students as precious gifts whose lives you get to touch, if only for a short time.

Anger, impatience, frustration can rule our days. So much is wrong with education, our schools, the world. Yet dwelling on these things day in and day out is unhelpful at best and likely unhealthy in the long run.

So what’s right, pure, lovely, sacred today? Right now? In this moment?

I’m going to take up Ann’s challenge to live in gratitude. To make a list and add to it daily. One thousand gifts. It’ll take awhile (or will it?) yet in the process I hope to learn, grow, change. I want my heart to be more open.

Only then can my classroom, my school, the world change. When I come from a place of grace, joy, and gratitude. Anger gains us little. It feels righteous, but it makes us weary, tired, and drained.

So I will choose another path. Will you join me?

With love,

Mrs. P

Blog

For All You First Year Teachers Drowning in Work

I have a confession to make: I had no idea what I was doing my first year of teaching. For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, this comes as absolutely no surprise to you. But my first year, I was at my first school teaching World History & Econ for the first time, and I was drowning in grading and other paperwork (like BTSA for all you California teachers).

Drowning is an understatement. One time I was so behind on grading that a student came up to me and asked for some feedback on the Personal Finance Project we’d been working on. He’d turned in 4 of the assignments so far and I had not graded even one. To give you some insight, I collect one of these assignments about every other week which means… I was about 2 months behind on grading. Yikes. So I went home, graded all weekend, and gave him the feedback. Then I stayed up late Sunday night because, you know, lesson plans. Someone has to write them. I had no systems. I had no methods. I had chaos. I read the textbooks and scoured the internet for information to make sure I was teaching Econ and World History correctly. It was time consuming and hard.

The hardest part was that I didn’t just want any old lessons. No- I wanted amazing, engaging lessons. I wanted to come in every day with little butterflies in my stomach about my lessons. I wanted to be a little scared to teach them and take risks by handing the classroom over to my students sometimes with awesome projects, simulations, and activities. So I stayed up late. And I had no social life. And I spent my days off grading, grading, grading. That was my reality my first two years of teaching.

Until I got sick. At 23 years old I had blood clots and needed not one, but three procedures and one major surgery to fix the issue. I was so behind on grading and lesson planning that I would just cry, cry, cry. Thankfully, my community group was full of teachers. They came alongside me in love. They wanted to help. They taught me balance. They taught me systems. They taught me to stop taking work home. So my third year of teaching was all about establishing and implementing systems that worked. And over time, I’ve not only created incredible lessons that I love sharing with other teachers, but I love teaching teachers about how I’ve gotten to the point where I almost never take work home.

I grade at school. I am productive during my preps. It’s life changing. Not sure where to start? Check out my free video. Ask for help from those more experienced than you. Find resources online, free and paid. Work smarter, not harder. I know it’ll bless your life.

With love,
Mrs. P

PS Here are some blog posts to get you started! 
Planning Your Social Studies Unit 
Teaching Personal Finance 
Classroom Management
Organizational Solutions for Your Classroom

Blog

The Power of Simulations in Your Social Studies Classroom

One of my regular teaching practices is including short (or sometimes longer) simulations. After all, simulations are incredibly powerful in the secondary classroom. I was reminded of how important simulations are the other day. It’s the regular practice of my school to have teachers observe one another in “Learning Walks” so we can learn from other brilliant teachers and improve our own teaching practice. It’s non-judgmental and it’s so normal for us to share classrooms and have others observing that it’s not really a problem for anyone.

Anyways, a new teacher happened to observe during my rent control simulation. It’s one of my favorites. Students are split into renters and landlords and given a certain amount of money they can afford or charge. Of course there are far more renters than landlords and the simulation is not only hilarious as kids scramble to get landlords to choose them, but it illustrates the issues created by rent control. Then we debrief and tease out the lessons before I show them graphically how the housing shortage is created. It’s incredibly low prep, it takes about 5 minutes, and it illustrates my point better than any lecture alone could accomplish. Afterwards, the teacher came up to me really excited. She asked more about how to integrate simulations in her classroom.

So here’s my advice: start small. Do quick simulations. Look at your lessons and think of interesting ways to teach the concept that incorporate movement, student choice, etc. I’ve found some simulations for free online. For example, google the “dot game” for the Cold War. It’s low prep and hilarious. Students start accusing each other of being “dots” and it beautifully illustrates the ridiculous hysteria surrounding communism in the 1950s. The power of these simulations is that students remember the concepts much better throughout the year and into the rest of their schooling. They’ll come up to me later and say “remember when we…” or during review for a test I’ll say “remember when we…” and it jogs their memory.

Because simulations are so powerful!

Need a little inspo to get started? Check out two of my simulation resources below.

Stock Market Simulation Economics Project

Rise to Power Simulation for Introducing Hitler, Dictators, & WWII
With love,
Mrs. P