Monday, August 8, 2016

What Makes a Great Teacher?

Recently I've been spending a lot of time reflecting on what makes an outstanding teacher. A quick Google Search for the answer to this question results in countless hits. Within 5 minutes of exploration I had a list of over 50 key words connected with outstanding teachers. After some synthesis, I have boiled it down into 4 key components. Great teachers are knowledgeable leaders, engaging communicators, determined believers, and learners filled with love. Within these components, there's room for lots of diversity and methods of implementation, but these 4 components are essential.

What makes a great teacher? Great teachers are knowledgeable leaders, engaging communicators, determined believers and learners filled with love.

1. Knowledgeable Leaders

Teachers need to be knowledgeable about their content, best teaching practices, and human development. They need to be able to create a safe, orderly environment where learning can be optimized. Leaders need to be confident, passionate, and adaptable. Teachers must have the ability think flexibly and to respond to students in the moment. They need to be able to be creative problem solvers. Leaders bring out the best in others.

2. Determined Believers

Teachers need to believe in the value of what they are teaching and the power of education to empower all people to succeed. Teachers need to be firm in their belief that all students can learn. They must have high expectations. They need to persevere in the face of challenges.

3. Engaging Communicators

In order to effectively teach, we need to be able to hold students' attention, motivate them, and explain concepts clearly. We also need to be genuinely interested in our students as people. Teachers need to engage with students as listeners to determine how they can support students in achieving their goals.

4. Learners filled with Love

Most importantly, teachers need to be filled with love for learning and learners. Relationships are essential to good teaching. We establish relationships with students, parents, and colleagues by interacting with them in a respectful, caring way. Teachers need to model the life-long learning we hope to inspire in our students.

Am I missing anything? What do you think makes an outstanding teacher? 

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Not Very Fancy: Just Delicious (Potato Fry)

When I was a kid, my mom made this dish called potato fry. We loved it. Once my brother requested a "triple batch" of potato fry for his birthday because there was never enough! I'm not sure this qualifies as a recipe, more of just a delicious meal for breakfast lovers.

The ingredient list is pretty simple: potatoes, bacon, eggs, and onion. I will usually make 1.5 potatoes, 2 pieces of bacon, and 2-3 eggs per person. The more bacon, the more delicious, obviously.

The first step is to boil the potatoes. Since I remember being 21 and calling my mom to ask how to boil a put the potatoes in a pot of water and turn the heat to medium high. Once the water boils, it usually takes around 20 minutes to boil the potatoes. If you have large potatoes, cut them in half to make the process faster. You should be able to easily stab them with a fork when they are done. 

There are lots of ways to cook bacon, but for this dish, I like to fry it in a skillet. You can cut the bacon into bite size pieces for easy browning. I use this method because I want to use the bacon grease. 

Once the bacon is getting brown, add a diced onion. This is optional but recommended. Saute until the onion is translucent, then transfer to a bowl (paper towel lined if you want to cut a little grease).

Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces. When you are cutting the potatoes, some of the skin will come off in large pieces. I take that out. Put the potatoes into the skillet with the bacon grease. Depending on the amount of grease and bacon to potato ratio, you may need to add some oil. Frying potatoes takes a while. Let them sit for a while, then flip them around, then let them sit. Don't stir constantly because you'll mash them. 

As you can see in the picture, I made a very large amount, and my skillet is overflowing. I had to transfer the whole thing back to the giant pan which was far from ideal. Once the potatoes are pretty crispy, return the bacon and onion to the pan. 

Beat the eggs and pour them over the whole thing. Scramble everything together until the eggs are all cooked.

Much like with frittata, you can pretty really play around with this recipe. Put some cheese on top, throw in some tomatoes, spinach, or mushrooms. If you like it in an omelet, you'll like it here.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

10 Podcasts to Try This Summer

I've become a little obsessed with listening to podcasts. A few weeks ago I told you about some of the education podcasts I like to listen to. In this post, you'll learn about what I listen to when I want to get my mind off school. There's sure to be one for any mood. These are listed in the order I discovered them, not in order of preference. Here are my top 10 podcasts to check out this summer.


On Being is the first podcast I began listening to regularly. Krista Tippett interviews incredible guests about their spiritual lives. I listen to these when I need to restore my sense of hope in the world. 

Like many teachers, I'm a bit of a word-nerd. I think discovered Grammar Girl when I was trying to prove myself to be correct in some linguistic debate with one of my colleagues. If you're interested in words, language, or the nuances of grammar, you'll enjoy Grammar Girl. Grammar Girl is the original podcast in the Quick and Dirty Tips family of podcasts. If grammar isn't your thing, check out their homepage. There's sure to be something you'll like.

The Savvy Psychologist is my other favorite from the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast family. Ellen Hendrickson provides in depth information and practical advice for lots of mental health topics. As a mom and a teacher, I was particularly interested in her episode on Sensory Processing Disorder. And as a "not-very-fancy" person, I was surprised to realize that I am actually a perfectionist. Interesting.

I can't remember exactly what led me to the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast, but it's fascinating! Cristen and Caroline are the brilliant hosts of this podcast dedicated to exploring the world through the lens of gender. An episode that might interest you in particular is How Teaching Became Women's Work. Two others that were very enlightening were Domestic Violence 101, and Stalking 101. There's also a recent episode that really digs into the life of Hillary Clinton

I was wanting something a little lighter to listen to when I saw John Hodgman on the Late Show. Judge John goes into unimaginable depth trying to resolve disputes between friends and family over topics like fashion faux pas and whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. The shows are hilarious, but safe to listen to with your kids or parents around. It turned out that Judge John Hodgman is part of another podcast family--Maximum Fun. That's how I discovered the next show on my list.

At first I wasn't sure about this one because the title didn't appeal to me, but Biz and Teresa guest hosted an episode of Judge John Hodgman in one of the brilliant marketing plans for Maximum Fun, then I was hooked. Biz and Teresa offer weekly doses of humor and encouragement for mom, dads, and parent-sympathizers. One of my favorite parts of the show is the genius/fail. Recently they did a Genius/Fail Spectacular.  I find that thinking of the good and bad moments I create as genius and fail moments gives me a good perspective on life. Finally, they've introduced me to interesting blogs, books, and of course, other podcasts.

One thing you'll find about podcasts is that they promote each other. Once you get interested in one or two, you'll find yourself in a podcast wormhole. One Bad Mother introduced me to Can I Pet Your Dog (which didn't make the list, sorry) which led me to Brains On! This one is an informative science podcast for kids. I promise that grown-ups will learn things, too! My kids love it. It's ideal for kids ages 7-12. We especially love the mystery sound feature.  I promise this is entertaining for the whole family. 

Tumble is another science podcast for kids with tons of interesting information for kids. 

One week Brains On! introduced me to Story Pirates. As a teacher, I LOVE THIS. Story Pirates get kids to engage in creative writing, then they "steal the treasures" (Get it? They are pirates and the treasures are the stories.) and give them to professional actors who perform dramatic interpretations of the stories. They follow up with author interviews. It's amazing. Seems like a great way to motivate kids to write. The performances are always amazing.

Since my kids have been excited about listening to different podcasts in the car, I went looking and found Classics for Kids. I was a bit embarrassed that I didn't know about this one since I discovered their website and used it in my classroom years ago. Classics for Kids has tons of material! These are short episodes consisting of classical music clips and narration. My son has just declared it to be his favorite. If you are an advocate for the fine arts, you need to know about this website and podcast!

So there you have my ten suggestions for podcasts to check out this summer when your mowing the lawn, taking the dog for a walk, running errands, folding laundry---you get the idea. If you're looking for some free professional development, be sure to read about my top 5 Podcasts for Educators

Are you a podcast listener? Let me know your favorites in the comments!

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photo credit: iPod and headphones via photopin (license)