By Gina Kennedy

By Gina Kennedy

TASK CARDS, CREATING A FUN LEARNING TOOL FOR YOUR CLASSROOM!

Task cards are now available for every teaching concept, lesson and standard!  Whereas, many teachers still limit their use of task cards to centers in their classroom for additional practice; others are finding a multitude of ways to utilize these amazing cards in their daily routines.  Here are just a few ways to make task cards useful and fun in your classroom:

1. CLASS TEST REVIEW COMPETITION:  While preparing for an important exam last week in algebra, I used my set of "5th Grade Algebra Task Cards". 
I divided the class into teams of four students and  then I placed one card under the document camera at a time.  Each team was called on "one by one" to find the answer to a different task card. They had twenty seconds to find the answer and I had to accept the first answer that I heard from the group. We decided the winners that day would be the first team to get ten points.  The collaboration was amazing and by the time the game was finished, we were extremely prepared tor the exam the next day.

2. INDOOR CLASS TASK CARD BASEBALL:  We set up our indoor classroom as a miniature baseball field.  We determined home plate, first, second and third bases.  I divided the class into two teams.  When Team One was up to bat, the pitcher for the opposing team read a task card.  They had one shot to get the answer right, if they didn't; it was STRIKE ONE! If the batter did get the answer right, they moved on to first base.  If the second player on their team got on base, the player on first base was promoted to second base.  A team scored when a player from their team successfully reached home plate.  When a team received three strikes, the other team was up to bat.  
IMPORTANT:  It is important for everyone to hear all of the task cards as the "pitcher" reads them, so I have the rule that if any team member talks when they are not at bat;  their team automatically receives a strike.

3. TASK CARD SPEED DATING: At the beginning of the "Task Card Speed Dating" session, each student is given a task card to teach the others who visit their table or whose table they visit.  Each of the students have the job of introducing the standard their task card teaches, how they determined the answer to their task card and one thing they learned from the task card.  After three minutes, I say "SWITCH" and the moving students move on to the next student.   EVALUATION:  At the end, the students review the other "Speed Daters" performance based on their knowledge and positive attitudes with a class discussion.


4. TASK CARD JAR:  Instead of sponge activities, have a "Task Card Jar" in your classroom.  If you buy task cards online, make a copy that you can fold up and then place each task card individually in the "Task Card Jar".  Mix task cards together so that the students have no idea what topic they will draw.

5. "TASK CARD INFERENCE":  Have students use their expert inference skills with task cards.  Divide your class into pairs.  Each pair will be given a task card to analyze.  After 4-5 minutes, each pair will present their task card to the class.  They must share the card, the answer and one inference they concluded from the problem on the task card even though it wasn't directly stated on the task card itself.

6. TASK CARD OBSTACLE COURSE:  Divide your students into teams of four.  Place 6-10 task cards strategically around the room to set your course.  Provide an answer sheet for each team and determine a team leader.  Start the clock, say "GO!  The first team will go from "Task Card #1, #2 and so on until they finish the last task card on the course.  They cannot start a new task on the course until all of their team members are there or they will lose points.  When the entire team has completed the course, I record their time and check their answer sheet. 
TO ADD ADDITIONAL FUN:  By certain stations on the course, I set up additional physical indoor challenges such as desks they need to crawl under, knots they need to untie, Nerf balls they need to get in a trash can and so on.   I use members from other teams to monitor the indoor "physical" challenges on the course!

HERE ARE JUST A FEW EXAMPLES OF THE TASK CARDS I HAVE AVAILABLE IN MY STORE, CHECK OUT MY STORE FOR OTHER CHALLENGING TASK CARDS IN EVERY SUBJECT:













Even Santa Claus Has A Financial Planner! Personal Finance Holiday Math Activity

Now that personal finance math standards have been added to our math curriculum, I thought why not mix the holidays into our financial literacy fun!  My students have learned how to calculate net and gross income by subtracting deductions, create budgets with fixed and variable expenses and determine which investment plan is most suitable to them.

With that knowledge, my students were told that they would become financial planners for a holiday character.  I only allowed one student to become the financial planner for Santa Claus and we brainstormed a list of other holiday characters that would need financial planning as well. The list of holiday characters we brainstormed is included with the product.  

After they determined who their first client would be, they were assigned to develop a financial plan for their client which included determining their gross and net income by creating deductions on their paycheck.  We had to be creative on the gross salary; for example, Rudolph might make $30,000 a year as head reindeer, but once we created the gross salary; we were able to begin calculating the monthly net income from there.

The students were also asked to create a budget for their client that included their fixed and variable expenses that they might incur.  Last, I asked them to create an investment plan for their client's future.  Once they had planned and calculated all the numbers, they placed their data on poster board, added a decorative touch and prepared to present their plan to their client (or the class for that matter.)

This lesson is available free in my store for a limited time, I've included the link below:


Example of a Financial Plan for Santa Claus that one of my students completed:




Thanksgiving Lessons that Focus on the REAL History of Thanksgiving!

     I can still remember tracing my hand in elementary school and making the most marvelous colorful turkey.  I also have fond memories of the construction paper headbands we constructed and wore the day before Thanksgiving break.  I can remember my teachers talking about the story of Thanksgiving and how the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared an amazing meal and began a friendship that would last many years.
     But looking back, it was clear that we most likely didn't get the whole story and what we were taught was misleading and inaccurate.  
     Many educators today have chosen to sway away from the traditional teachings of the "Thanksgiving Story" and focus on the "being thankful" aspect of the holiday.  They lean more towards Thanksgiving is a time for family and being grateful for all that we have.
     In order to really understand the celebration of Thanksgiving, students would need to have a better understanding of the history of Native Americans in our country including the culture of Wampanoag people and the civilizations that lived in the Plymouth area before the colonists arrived.  
     Most teachers don't want to tread on water so they keep their Thanksgiving lessons simple. I've created one lesson that invites students to take an in depth look at how Native Americans view Thanksgiving in our country.  Students utilize higher level thinking skills as they read several editorials with different viewpoints from Native Americans and Americans from other cultural backgrounds.  Students are introduced to different viewpoints of the traditional Thanksgiving and are asked to answer thought provoking questions to analyze each response.
    With this activity, students will also be asked to determine the meaning of vocabulary words and what context clues were used to determine the meaning.  At the end of the lesson several opinions are given by different people stating their viewpoint as to whether or not the settlers were right or wrong to do what they did. The students respond to each opinion.
     I have used this activity for the past two years and my students have left this lesson with a new understanding of what the traditional Thanksgiving means to different cultures in our country.  Most of my students developed a new type of empathy for the treatment of Native Americans during the time of the original Thanksgiving.
     This resource is available in my store and I've included a link below if you'd like to purchase it:
     
                     


     In my store I also offer a differentiated menu of Native American research and writing projects that provide an opportunity for students to develop a deeper understanding of the Native American culture.
     This resource is available in my store and I've included a link below if you'd like to purchase it:



THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING AND ALL THROUGH THE SCHOOL, STUDENTS WERE HAPPY TO HAVE FUN LESSONS TO DO!

The week before Thanksgiving doesn't have to be all humdrum or even "humdrumsticks"! There are plenty of fun, creative Thanksgiving themed educational resources to engage your students in.

Here are a few Thanksgiving Educational Resources from my store:



Do Students Who Make the Most Noise, Receive the Most Attention?

 By Gina Kennedy


      Last weekend I was at a local retailer and I heard someone say in a faint voice, "Ms. Kennedy".  I looked around and I heard the unsure voice repeat my name again.  As educators we know that hearing our name in "teacher form" during our personal time causes a bit of stress as we start to feel as though our cover as a real human being as just been blown and now we need to take on a new professional personality during our "off" hours.  As my mind started to wonder who might be calling my name I turned around and saw a beautiful young lady who had been in my fifth grade classroom eight years ago, Zakiya.  I couldn't remember her name for the life of me and before anything uncomforable blurted out of my mouth, I was extremely elated to hear her say, "It's me Zakiya."  
     Zakiya and I chit chatted about the classes she was taking in high school, her future plans and some of the classmates she had the same year she was in my fifth grade classroom.  For some reason I had no problem remembering the names of a few of her classmates, but as far as Zakiya's name, I had no recollection as all.  Zakiya's parents were born in Kenya and had settled into the New Orleans area when they first moved to the United States and then relocated to the Austin area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for a fresh start.  Zakiya was an extremely sweet girl who had a difficult time making friends because she was so reserved.  I remembered her as a good student who was always eager to please and rarely did anything wrong.   Her parents were amazingly strong individuals and it was apparent that she had inherited their strength.
     There have been a multitude of  times through the years that I've been out and about and experienced the same thing with students from previous years; however, remembering almost three decades of names has always been a challenge.  Some names I had no problem remembering and many I did. If the student was more needy and required day to day redirection, remembering their name over the years seemed quite easy; if the student was more charismatic and full of personality remembering their name didn't seem to be a problem.   However, the quieter students who went about their day to day business and required little intervention apparently didn't place a personal stamp in my memory.  As I thought about why I remember some names and not others; it saddened me to think that there are so many students out there that I taught who followed the rules; did everything they were supposed to do and years down the road I could only remember the names of their counterparts.  I began to think about all of the relationships that I might have missed out on.  I wondered if teachers would remember my child's name from year's past.
     In classrooms today many students go unnoticed for doing the right thing, making the right choices, and doing what is socially correct.  Teachers are told to develop relationships with all their students; but especially with those students who continue to make the wrong choices in order to turn those behaviors around.  How difficult it must be to be a student in today's world in over-sized classrooms full classmates who are on an endless mission to have the attention of others?
     While working next door to several different classroom teachers through the years it was quite apparent which students were receiving the most attention without stepping foot in their classroom.  I've read several articles lately where teachers report that they spend almost 25% of their day redirecting students who choose inappropriate behaviors.
     There will be instances in anyone's career in education in which something that was said by a coworker, administrator or student resonates for years on end.  Many years ago at a parent meeting I had a mother say this to me in regards to  her daughter, "I know that she is not going to be the best that you will have this year, but she is the best part of me, please treat her as if she is your best even if you don't think she is."  Words like that are not easily forgotten.
     Years ago, I set one standard for myself as an educator: treat every student as I'd like my child to be treated and do everything in my classroom just as I'd like to see things done in my child's classroom.  As a single mother in Dallas I worked long hours and had little time to be active in my son's school, I went on blind faith that his teachers would treat him with the respect and kindness that he deserved and they would see the beautiful unique qualities that I knew he possessed.
     Teachers need to remember that parents are trusting them to treat their child with the same daily compassion, attentiveness and diligence as they do all of the students in their classroom.  In an ideal world we wouldn't remember only those that spoke loudly in our classrooms; but also those who chose to "speak softly and carry big sticks".  
     Educators today should ask themselves the following questions:


  • Do I know at least one thing that is special and noteworthy about all of my students?
  • Have I reached out to all of my students today?
  • Can I remember something unique or special that every student in my classroom did today?
  • Has my management of inappropriate behaviors prevented me from allowing those students with good behaviors to shine?
  • Would I want my child to be a student in my classroom?



Can Real Academics Actually be "Cutesy"??

     
"Cutesy", what is it and what place does it have in real academics?  I happened to randomly come across a few blogs yesterday pertaining to the use of "cutesy" activities in math, language arts and other curricular areas.  Soon after reading the last blog I noticed I had feedback from one of my customers about a math product saying that she loved the product but a couple of the projects were more art related than math, did she mean "cutesy"?  That wasn't the last ride on my "cutesy train" as today one of my colleagues sent out an email with a math idea stating that she was reluctant to send it because she usually doesn't like "cutesy" ideas to teach mathematical concepts.  
    "I couldn't seem to escape this idea of "cutesy!"   If I were to do a self diagnosis of myself, I would have to say I have a case of "bi-polar cutesy's".  I am the first to say that I cringe at staff meetings when we are forced to partake in cute warm up "get to know you" activities. 
     Really, I'm thinking; somewhere at Dell there is a board meeting and I know they are not sharing their "roses and thorns" with each other before they get down to business!  
     I literally dread cute staff baby and wedding showers and I will usually send expensive gifts just to make up for my absence, let me guarantee you; it is worth every cent!  
    But if I were to take an honest look at myself, "cutesy" kind of rules my world.  In fact "cutesy" should rule all of our worlds if we take an in depth look at what opportunities students really need to excel at school.  In fact, art integrated into the school curriculum—is increasingly accepted as an essential part of achieving success in school, work and life. Studies show children from low-income families are less likely to be consistently involved in arts activities or instruction than children from high-income families and many times art provides the missing link to their achievement. Students who participate in arts learning experiences often improve their achievement in other realms of learning and life. In a well-documented national study using a federal database of over 25,000 middle and high school students, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles found students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized achievement tests than students with low arts involvement. 
    My classroom has always been a gallery of math and language arts activities with an artistic expression. I can't get "cutesy" enough when it comes to my grandchildren. My home is a visual representation of my style, as well as the clothes I choose to wear.  I can't wait until Christmas so that I can decorate my home with boxes and boxes of cute ornaments and trinkets. I make cute homemade gifts for students and family every chance that I get.
    Essentially, students love "cutesy" activities and so do I.  Many of my students come from homes in which resources are not available for cute decorations or art supplies and parents are working long hours and don't have the time or resources to provide creative art opportunities at home.  For most of my students over the  years I provided the only opportunity they had to be creative and if I had to do it by creating cute integrated math and language arts activities, I did.  
    There, I said it; I love "cutesy" math and language arts activities and my students do too!  Why not allow our students to have a multitude of ways to express their depth of understanding a math concept and if the activity happens to be artistic and  "cutesy" and the students love it, I'm all in!  
     In January of 2014, 6000 mathematicians from all over the country met in Baltimore. A leader of the conference created this invitation for the mathematicians:

My first reaction of course was "how cutesy" of an activity for some of our most brilliant mathematicians to participate in and that surely someone can't expect math leaders with their capabilities to complete such an endearing activity as the one above. Just how wrong I was..... Read the article below to see their clever responses to this invitation


     As the author states in his article, "Math is a means and an ends.  It's a world-changing toolkit and a beautiful world in its own right.  Math belongs not just to mathematicians, but to scientists, engineers, financiers, actuaries, artists, even television writers.  It belongs to teachers and students and infants learning to count.  It belongs to the 6000 humans who gathered in Baltimore and the 7 billion who didn't." 
     If a "cutesy" activity such as this one is good enough for some of the most intelligent minds in our country, then "cutesy" activities are definitely appropriate for the classroom.

    Tomorrow, provide the same invitation as the one above to your math students, because regardless of how you represent math, it belongs to everyone.  Have a great week,
Gina
     



     
    

Prime and Composite Animals

    Every week I try and add a creative challenge to the lesson plans to not only add a bit of excitement and motivation; but also give them an opportunity to stretch their imaginations.  
    We have used marshmallows and toothpicks for other games in the past; but I changed it up last week and had the students make prime and composite number animals out of marshmallows and toothpicks.  One animal had to be made from a "prime" number of marshmallows and one animal had to be made from a "composite" number of marshmallows.
    Here are a few pictures of the results.



What Costume Would Your Principal Wear at Halloween?

     I love open ended writing invitations; but I couldn't resist assigning this Halloween prompt to my students this week:  "The Craziest Halloween Ever Was When My Principal Dressed Up As A....".
     Their stories were amazing as always; but with the thought of seeing their principal on Halloween night, they came up with absolutely wonderful tales. However, they were also equally involved in designing their illustrations for what he may look like dressed up in his costume.
     I made copies of our principals head, glued them onto 3 ft x 4 ft white butcher block paper and allowed the students to design his costume after they had completed their story.  
     I've included a link to the "Freebie" resource below if you'd like to try this in your classroom.








Simplifying Creative Writing Journals By Spicing them Up With A Little Vocabulary!

Through the years I have modified the way I use journals for free writing over a dozen of times.  This year I wanted to develop an easier way for my 5th grade students to transition into writing as soon as they walk in the room each morning.  I wanted to create an authentic invitation for my students to write about their thoughts and feelings; but also expand their vocabulary.

I decided to integrate my "Word of the Day" program with their daily writing journal.  As soon as the students arrive, I announce the "Word of the Day" and we discuss the meaning of the word and create synonyms for better understanding.  At that time the students are to write anything they'd like; but integrate the "Word of the Day" into their writing at least twice by thinking about how the word pertains to them.   For each day I created a journal template in which they write the date, "Word of the Day" and their entry.

By the end of the year, we will have a journal with over 160 entries and an expanded vocabulary.  I use higher-level words to enhance their writing vocabulary; but you could also use this strategy with their science, math and reading vocabulary words.

Here are some photos of our "Word of the Day" journals:





If you'd like to use this journal strategy in your classroom, I've included the link below to this FREE product in my store that includes everything you need:

Differentiation Doesn't Have to be on Your "To Do" list; Easy Strategies to Move it to Your "Do" List!

   I hear many teachers say they would like to add differentiation to their curriculum; but it is too difficult to find the resources to do it correctly as well as being too time consuming to put it into place. Implementing differentiation into your classroom does not have to be difficult,  there are easy ways to start offering multiple opportunities for students to learn even if it means incorporating a few enrichment activities with each unit of study.  
    The benefits from offering even a few extended learning opportunities for your students will open up a world of exploration and inquiry that transform your classroom from a place of tiresome routine to a place of engaging discovery.  I'm going to share some of the ways that I have already differentiated the curriculum in my classroom this year with simple teacher friendly strategies.


     "What's the Question?"  On Tuesdays and Thursdays I change the answer.  The students work with partners and develop a set of at least four expressions equivalent to the answer.  I set simple guidelines.  In each expression you must use three different operations and have one set of parenthesis.  They place their "sticky answer" on the answer board and we share a few responses together.




    "Quick and Easy Weekly Enrichment Research Projects":  I developed this research enrichment program last year and it has proven to be the easiest and simplest way to add enrichment, rigor and research opportunities to my classroom routine.
     This program is easy to manage and extremely rewarding for my students.   When my students finish their work at any given point during the week they are responsible for completing their math weekly research project and posting their response on a large sticky note.
     On Mondays I introduce the research projects for the week ahead. The research projects are math related and correlated to grade appropriate standards.  On Fridays we share their responses to their projects.  At the end of the year each student creates a scrapbook with all of the research that they have completed throughout the year by compiling their sticky notes.
    I use the larger post-it notes as some of the responses are quite lengthy.  The students love these projects and they have something to look forward to when they have completed their work.

   I have created this "Weekly Math Enrichment Research" program for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade and it may be purchased using the links below:




"Spice Up Your Non-Fiction Reading Routine: Wacky Science Wednesday":  Every Wednesday my 5th graders read non-fiction informational text trade books with science topics, historical topics or other topics of their choice.  I've been purchasing these non-fiction books for years at bookstores, online or other venues.  I place the books in a basket and they choose which book and topic they'd like to read about that week
     I have developed three types of non-fiction book report templates that include enrichment projects or differentiated choices.  I rotate the templates each week.  The students love this time and decided to call it "Knowledge Wednesday".   
     I have bundled the book report templates and projects into one product so that you can start having "Knowledge Wednesday's" in your classroom as well.  I've included the link below if you'd like to purchase this product.
This is one of the projects my students completed using one of the non-fiction book report templates we use on "Wacky Science Wednesday



"What Does....?  Enrichment Writing"  Each week I post a higher level question on the board that starts with "what does".  The question can pertain to any topic from current events to a celebrity to one of the concepts we are learning about in class.  When the students are finished with all of their work, they compose their answer and attach it to the wall.  We share their short compositions on Fridays.  I've included a link to print off sample "What Does" questions for your classroom.

The School Year is Up and Running, How Do You Minimize Stress and Continue Staying Optimistic?



  Most teachers are very optimistic about education, it's keeping that optimism that is challenging.   
  I'm not sure about you, but heading into the fifth week of school I'm already starting to feel as if my "to do" list is growing faster than the amount of waking hours I have in a week's time.  
    Four weeks ago I saw teachers who were happily preparing their rooms and enjoying the comradery of their teammates while students were anxiously waiting for the school year to begin.  The teachers were preparing cute "back to school" lesson plans and discussing how extremely optimistic they were about the school year ahead.  
    A few weeks later the stress levels have begun to rise and tensions are building.  The student work in the "to correct" pile is stacking up, staff meeting demands are exhausting and parents are starting to communicate on a regular basis. Opening email is like playing a slot machine, "Pull the lever, JACKPOT, no new demands for paperwork, meetings or assessments!"  Unfortunately, there are very few JACKPOT winners on this machine.  The demands on teachers stream along at a steady rate throughout the year.
   How do teachers maintain optimism without getting burned out?  Over the years I have developed guidelines that I stick to vehemently that allow me to narrowly focus on what I'm here to do and what I need to accomplish.  

Prioritize: Organize yourself by deadlines.  When you are given a new task; write down the date it is expected to be turned in by and prioritize from there.  When you receive an email, as painful as it may be; answer it immediately.  This is a hard undertaking for many, but in the end; it will save you many headaches and you'll feel instant gratitude for completing yet another endless task.

Don't Be A Hero:  I have fought off the urge for years to get overly involved.  I've had to change jobs and move to different campuses because I had my  hand in so many clubs, organizations, grants, and programs.  Eventually I felt depleted and completely burned out. You were hired to teach, that is your first priority and the students in your classroom deserve the "entire" you and nothing less.  
    I'm not saying don't be a team player, get involved and volunteer from time to time; but don't be a hero, just be a superhero to the students in your classroom.  Everyone has a comfort level of what they can handle, never feel guilty for saying no!  Never forget that you were hired to teach and if being a great teacher is all you can handle, then be a great teacher!  You don't have to be a great teacher/ social committee director/ after school club organizer/ science fair coordinator and etc!  When I learned to stick to this simple rule, I became a better educator and sometimes when I'm full of myself, I say a "great teacher".    

Minimize Your Socialize:  As harsh as this may sound, you are not at work to build friendships, you are at work to build a repertoire of respect for what you do.  You are building a career and you are educating students.  Be respectful, helpful, polite and encouraging to your co-workers, but don't rely on your co-workers to provide you with a social life.  Build real friendships outside of your employment.
   All friendships eventually experience turmoil, disappointment and conflict.  This can cause a great deal of stress and if you're experiencing conflict with a co-worker; you are doubling your stress by being forced to maintain a professional stature until the situation is resolved or worse yet, never resolved.  You may also isolate other co-workers as they feel they are not part of the "clique".  I remember a few years back I was sitting in on a team meeting with fourth grade teachers and three of the teachers were laughing at situations they experienced at a get-together the previous weekend.  There were two other teachers at the table that had no idea what they were talking about and it provided for a very awkward moment; even though the three teachers were oblivious to the uncomfortable feeling they had evoked.  It is perfectly normal to attend campus wide functions with co-workers, but don't rely on these functions to provide you with a fulfilling social life.
   For educators, this is a tough pill to swallow. By following this rule, you may appear somewhat standoffish, or even somewhat of a loner; but others will view your abilities on your performance and not your personality.  In the end, co-workers will respect you for your professionalism.  You will go to work every day knowing that the only conflict you might experience will be professional and not personal.

Determine Importance:  Every decision you make as an educator should be driven by the overall effect it will have on providing a quality education for your students.  Cutting out strips of paper for three hours to build a word chain will not have a huge overall effect on the educational progress of your students; it will however take away three hours of your time that you could have been writing a creative lesson, hiking at the park or simply reading a book for fun.  You may have to give up your dream of being on the cover of "Classroom Beautiful" but you will have additional hours in your day to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  I have always found that student work is the most visually appealing and motivating decor in any classroom.  
    There is no need to correct every paper that your students turn in.  Just as you are not provided feedback on every task you do at work or every task you do at home (nor do you want that much feedback), your students do not need to be provided feedback on every task they do at school.  As a quality educator you should be providing enough formative and informative assessments to recognize your students strengths and weaknesses.  It is perfectly understandable that you would want to create an accountability system for homework; but the highest performing teachers are not sitting at their desks correcting papers endlessly night after night.  They are writing invigorating lesson plans that will challenge and motivate their students to adapt to this changing world.
    The bottom line for this rule is "stick to what counts".   Before you begin any task, determine what value it will have for your students.

Militarize Your Time: The entire work force could learn a multitude of lessons from the military on time management.   In the military, time management is extremely important as most jobs require employees to be accountable for the productivity of every minute of their day.
    Many teachers have a tendency to be overwhelmed with unfinished tasks; but they tend to have several spaces of time that eat into their productivity.   For example, I have not eaten my lunch in a teacher's lounge for over a decade; instead I use that time to eat my lunch at my desk, organize for my afternoon tasks, answer emails and look over portfolios and journals. This doesn't sound very glamorous or much less fun; but I've been doing this for so long that I wouldn't know any other way to spend lunchtime at work. What I do know is that I feel organized when my first afternoon group or assignment is ready to begin and I feel as though I have accomplished something important.  As soon as the students leave for the day I am laying out materials for the next day and preparing a list of what needs to be done before the next day begins.  At my desk I have a sticky note with major tasks that need to be completed before the week's end.   I arrive at work about 30-45 minutes before the "rush hour" crowd of teachers and therefore; I have this time to use the copy machine, check email and prepare for the day without stressing out.  Those are ways that I have learned to heighten my productivity and manage my time more productively through the years.
  I would not recommend my habits to anyone unless they are suitable to their work style; but I would suggest that all teachers take an in depth look at how they spend their time throughout the day and what they could be doing to create a more workable and productive schedule that will make them feel more accomplished at the end of the work day. 

Don't Give Up Being You:  I love to decorate, travel, educate myself on current events and write.  I wholeheartedly enjoy spending time with my husband and family, trying new restaurants, and checking out new movies on weekends. I obsess over my time exercising on my elliptical machine at night while I watch senseless reality TV.  This is who I am, I will not give up who I am because if I do; I will not be happy. If I am not happy, I will not be able to service my students with the love and support that they need.
   Teachers need to remember who they are, what motivates them and what makes them passionate.  If being a teacher forces you to maintain a lifestyle in which you give up all aspects of who you are and the real things in life that you enjoy; this is not the profession for you. Just as we are providing an education for our students, we are also providing for them the skills necessary to become a whole person with drive and passion.  
   In order to be good for those that you teach, you must be a whole person that comes to work with a fulfilled life full of passion and drive.  My students love hearing about my travels and weekend journeys or about current events that I am excited about.  They get to experience the whole me. Make sure your students are experiencing the whole you!
     
    
By Gina Kennedy-Brown



A NEW YEAR, A NEW BEGINNING!



     With the start of a new school year, it is always a good time to reflect upon the reason that I initially became an educator and the reasons I continue to stay in this exhilarating profession!  
     Unlike many of my colleagues who knew that they wanted to become teachers at a young age and played school endlessly as a child, I was quite unsure what my future held for me up until my 2nd year in college.  I had eliminated my first inclination of majoring in business after a few accounting and economic classes that failed to peak my interest.  I always wanted to be a journalist and had enough English credits in two years of college to move forward in that direction; but I was persuaded by many that journalism jobs were a rarity and I would be working for minimum wage in retail for the rest of my life.  A degree in political science or sociology also peaked my interest, but once again; it was communicated strongly that life after college with either of those desired degrees would be a life of unemployment or I would need to marry a very rich husband.  Because I had failed life's course of how to marry well, I knew I needed to figure things out quickly.
    With the worry that I may never determine what lifelong occupation I wanted to partake in for the next 40 years of my life (which is really a lot to ask of any 19-year-old),  I scheduled an appointment with a career counselor during my second year of college.  When she forced me to pinpoint the things in  my life that I loved the most; athletics, spending time with my family, working with others, leadership, helping people, and even spending time with my nieces and nephews; it seemed eminent that a degree in education was the direction to go. 
    From the first education course to the last, I knew without a doubt I wanted to teach children and coach young athletes.  My journey to become a teacher was just as exciting as the years I have spent in the classroom. In all actuality, the road to becoming an educator is different for every teacher, principal and superintendent.  A career in education is like an interchanging highway of paths; some possessing more difficult turns and exits; others emulating a smooth weekend road trip through green hills and pastures.
     My first teaching position was at a Catholic school in Carroll, Iowa in which I taught 5th grade and coached basketball and volleyball.  The next leg of my journey led me west to Geneva, Nebraska where I taught 3rd and 6th grade and once again assumed the coaching duties of basketball and volleyball.  My teaching journey was about to take a path far south to Dallas, Texas.  I loved teaching in small Midwestern communities similar to the ones I grew up in; but I was in search of more and I knew I had a calling.
      I simply needed more of a challenge than what I already knew and therefore; I became an inner city teacher for Dallas ISD for the next 14 years of my life in which I taught 4th Grade ESL ,5th grade, and 6th grade ESL as well as spending several years as a Talented and Gifted teacher and two years as a Gifted Coordinator for the district.  Midway through those years I moved drastically north to a suburb of Dallas which forced me to take a different position in McKinney, Texas.   It simply wasn't geographically possible to continue to work in south Dallas.  I called it my "year's sabbatical from the inner city" where I taught in a 5th grade gifted cluster classroom.  Within one year of teaching in the suburbs, I knew that my heart belonged back in the inner city where students needed me as much as I needed them and and I headed back to north Dallas to work with students once again who were from struggling socioeconomic areas; but still full of high aspirations and dreams.         
     After fifteen years in the large metropolis of Dallas I found my way further south to Austin, Texas.  My first position was with Pflugerville ISD in a 5th grade gifted cluster classroom before I eventually moved on to Round Rock ISD and became a Talented and Gifted Specialist.  
    I reflect on of my journey in education with pride and esteem. I'm sure I have touched the lives of thousands of children, I have developed relationships of respect and admiration of young individuals from many backgrounds who have taught me more about myself than I ever could have acquired from a career in economics or accounting.   There have been bumps in the road as the financial rewards were minimal which many times led to a certain amount of stress in life that forced me to question my career choice.  I've dealt with a number of parents over the years who have caused a negligible amount of headaches as well as administrators for that matter; but I wouldn't change any direction in the path I chose. Had I started my career in one position and continued in that same assignment for decades I highly doubt that I would have the knowledge base I have today to teach children and guide adults.        
     Teaching has provided an outlet for my creativity, a way to fulfill my desire to write by developing an abundance of creative lesson plans that have touched the lives of many; but more importantly because of my career I have built relationships.  My career in education has followed me through raising a child as a single parent, divorce, marriage and the deaths of loved ones.  No matter the stress or tribulation I was dealing with at the time, the one steady thing that I could rely on the most was that I could walk in a school building and children's eyes would light up when they saw me; no expectations, just because they loved me and they knew that I Ioved them.  What more could anyone ask for? 
    As I begin blogging this year my goal is that I will be able to add inspiration and ideas that will add ease to your school year.  I hope that this year your education journey is challenging and invigorating and when you walk in that door every morning you will feel as blessed as I do that your students are waiting for you with the excitement and anticipation of a new day.

Gina