Category Archives: Teacher Life

3 Ways to Prepare Your Classroom for Success in the 2nd Quarter

While the rest of the world celebrates the arrival of fall with flannel, scarves, and pumpkin-spiced everything, teachers know that the arrival of fall actually signifies a much bigger ending in their classrooms than just summer.  October typically wraps up the first quarter in classroom cadences and with that comes a variety of processes and tasks that only a classroom teacher truly understands.  Bulletin boards are changed with the weather, units of study are often brought to a close, and the dreaded report card hustle begins. There are parent phone calls wondering why their kid is failing even though they have done zero work all quarter and this is the first time you’ve had the parent respond to any type of contact.  We are sending failure reports to admin and student concerns to guidance.  We are re-arranging seating charts based on behavior and maybe even requesting scheduling changes for those students who just need a “fresh start” in a different classroom (bye Felicia…).

With all that chaos, don’t lose sight of these three really important ways that classrooms should be growing and shifting by the end of October:

  1. Your student performance should begin to show an upward trend.  True, Little Timmy still reads three grade levels below where he is supposed to be, but student performance should at least begin to track upwards in October, even for Little Timmy.  Take a look at the results of your first benchmark assessments (probably given in September or early October sometime), but don’t stop there.  Compare those benchmarks with your student progress, either in their grades and assessment scores or in your ClassMax data – or both, if you really want to rock your world.  Who is growing?  Who is not?  Who is (gulp) regressing?  For more information on how to use data to drive rigorous instruction in your classroom, read our article, “Teacher’s Guide: Using Data to Drive Instruction.”
  2. Regroup your students.  Most of us group our kids at the beginning of the school year based on standardized test scores from the previous school year.  In a pinch, that’s a good grouping qualification, but hopefully by the end of October, you are starting to see even a small impact from your own instruction.  Take some time at the end of the first quarter to re-evaluate your student groups.  Perhaps now that you have more data (thanks to ClassMax, wink, wink…), you should be able to group in multiple ways – by performance on standards, by overall grades, by learning types, etc.  Take a look at your data and begin forming meaningful groups for your second quarter of instruction.
  3. Send home behavior reports.  While report cards are a fine mode of parent contact, if you’ve been collecting behavior data on your students, why not attach those reports to report cards as well?  And for fun, go ahead and require the behavior report be brought back in for a completion grade in the 2nd quarter.  This way, you are making meaningful parent contact and covering yourself a bit by sharing what you have seen in your classroom with parents.  (TEACHER TIP: I used to print labels that said “Parent Signature” and “Date” on them and I put those on just about anything – tests, quizzes, behavior reports, etc.  It’s an easy way to make parent contact without… you know… making parent contact…)  Are you an overachieving, going-for-gold-stars teacher?  Go ahead and print a cumulative ClassMax student report and send home EVERYTHING you’ve collected on your students.  (If your school is a PBIS school, you might be interested in our ClassMax Schools platform that tracks behavior with MaxPoints™.)

As your second quarter kicks off, save yourself some time to focus on instruction – shocking, I know – by ending the first quarter successfully.  A little upfront work can make for a much smoother quarter and a much happier teacher.

Pumpkin spiced lattes help, too.

How to Use the Notes Feature of ClassMax

If you’re anything like me, you have 10,000 sticky notes stuck to your teacher desk in your classroom.  These are usually things that pop up in the course of my school day that I intend to put into my files or record-keeping after school has ended.  Join me in ditching those sticky notes and utilize the note-taking feature of ClassMax.  Watch the video tutorial below to learn how.

ClassMax: A Different Kind of Tool for a Different Kind of Teaching

One of the questions we get asked most often here at ClassMax is how to use it in a classroom.  I see teachers who set their accounts up but then aren’t sure where to go from there.  They want to use ClassMax as a tool for data collection instead of what it really is at its core: a tool for changing the way we teach.

In a ClassMax classroom, teachers are not merely collecting data.  The data is simply the byproduct of this new type of teaching.  In a ClassMax classroom, teachers are spending more of their time observing, facilitating, encouraging, and supporting learning and less time testing, assessing, talking, and doing.  And isn’t that really what our students need?  They need less of adults doing for them and more of the responsibility and ownership of their learning placed on them.  A student-centered classroom is less about putting the student in the center and more about not putting the teacher in the center.  So, where then is the place of the teacher, if not in front of our students?

It is among our students.

In a 21st century classroom, teachers should be among their students.  If you mentally divide the classroom into three parts, traditional instruction (and habit for most of us) dictates that the teacher spend most of their time in the front third of the classroom.  Our role is to instruct and to instruct means to be seen and to be seen means we stand in front of our students.  It’s where the action is – our whiteboard is up there, our projector is up there, our common board is up there, usually our desk is up there.  Up front is where the action is in a classroom.  Which is also why the back of the classroom is where the action is for our students… amiright?

When you have ClassMax open on your device as you stand in the front of the classroom, it might be difficult to figure out what to do next.  Because here is the thing: All this data we are talking about collecting can’t be done from the front of the classroom, teacher friends.  And try as we might, if we are continuing to teach as we normally do with this powerful tool in our hands, it isn’t going to do much for you.  Sure, it might help track your hall passes, but there is so much more it can and should do!  But for it to be the most effective, you might have to change your teaching style just a bit, because an tool is only as effective as the teacher who wields it.

So, what are some hallmarks of a ClassMax teacher?  I’m so glad you asked!  Let’s take a look at five:

1. ClassMax teachers are listeners.

I’m starting with this one because it is the both the hardest for me to accomplish and the biggest change I have noticed in myself since I have been using ClassMax in my classroom.  With so much of my data coming from me and not from assessments, I HAD to become a better listener in my classroom and from this, I have found that so much of learning comes not from my lessons or activities, but from the conversations and interactions happening among my students.  They ask each other questions and from those questions I can tell what they know and what they don’t – and I record that finding in ClassMax. They correct each other’s learning and from those clarifications I can see how much they are progressing or if they are stuck on something – and I record that finding in ClassMax.  They discuss how to word answers they are going to write down and I can understand where their gaps in understanding are based on what their answers include or don’t include – and I record that finding in ClassMax.  When I am actively listening to students working around me, I get much more of a complete picture of their learning than I do when they fill in a bubble sheet.  And so when I mark their progress in ClassMax based on those things I have heard in the classroom, that data is much more dependable and concentrated than that bubble sheet would have been.

2. ClassMax teachers are observers.

Listening is not the only skill that I improved on since I started using ClassMax.  My overall visual observations are becoming much more astute than they have been before.  When I am out among my students, moving through them to assess their learning in ClassMax, I am looking for a few specific things.

  • I’m looking for those faces of students who I just know are s-t-u-c-k.  You know those faces.  They are scrunched up or scowled down and anything but happy.
  • I’m looking for those students who are off-task and talking because most of the time, if they aren’t on task, it’s because the work is either above or below them.
  • I’m looking for groups of students who have their heads together, pouring over part of the activity for an extended period of time because if it takes that many kids to figure something out, I need to reteach.

The specifics of their learning aren’t even known yet from these observations, but from just watching them intently, I can begin to identify who needs more and who needs less.  And when I see these things, I mark them in ClassMax.  I turn those observations into something real – a number or a percentage or a note, something that can drive my instruction for each child individually.

3. ClassMax teachers are attentive.

One of the things teachers like most about the ClassMax dashboard is the ability to color-code students using the apple icons.  Personally, it’s one of my favorite features.  But color-coded apples aren’t just for looks.  They are designed to prompt action in a teacher.  I use the apples in the first 10 minutes of an activity and in the last 10 minutes of an activity.  While students are working, I go through each red apple (which indicates an ESE student for me) and I make sure I go over and talk to that student.  Every day.  Every activity.  Every red apple.  And before I walk over to them, I check their accommodations on their ClassMax profile so that I am sure I have used all the applicable accommodations in that lesson for them.  Walking around the classroom randomly monitoring students is how we usually facilitate learning in a classroom, right?  But we can use ClassMax to make those classroom rounds much more attentive and intentional, maximizing what we give our students and, in turn, what they learn. After I have visited a “red apple” student, I make a log of which accommodations I used with them while I was there and then make some notes in ClassMax about what I heard or observed while I was with them.  THAT is attentive instruction, friends.  It’s making sure we aren’t giving the majority of our time to the discipline kids or the loud kids or the disruptive kids, but to the students who really need us the most.

4. ClassMax teachers are communicative.

When you are collecting quality information in your classroom and when reporting is as easy as ClassMax makes it, why NOT be communicative?!  Information does not serve your students if it sits inside a computer program, so get it out of there!  Reporting is simple in ClassMax not because the data itself is simple, but because we believe student data should be easily accessible and understandable in order to be effective.  So, use those reports to communicate to students by having data chats with them about what you are seeing, hearing, and paying attention to in class (here is a great blog post on how to have data chats using ClassMax).  Send reports home for parent signatures.  Send reports for students you are concerned about to guidance, to the deans, to staffing specialists, to your admin teams.  If you don’t use the data, then it’s just a bunch of numbers on a page.

5. ClassMax teachers are proactive.

If you are using ClassMax effectively in your classroom, meaning you are out among your students listening, observing, being attentive, and communicating, it will become much easier for you to notice trends in student learning.  And when you can recognize trends, then you can proactively begin guiding students through the obstacle course of learning – steering them away from misconceptions, leading them around misunderstandings, and building bridges over their gaps in knowledge.  It’s hard to be a proactive teacher from a bubble sheet.  It’s hard to plan and execute effective lessons for ALL your students when you don’t know the progress of ALL your students intimately.  With ClassMax, as you chronicle their learning through data collection, you are simultaneously building pathways for their learning that are based not on generalized questions and answers in an assignment or assessment, but based on something substantial, like intentional listening and observing of your students.  Reactive teachers assess learning and move forward.  Proactive teachers understand learning and move forward.

Can ClassMax be a tool that simply supports what you are already doing in your classroom?  Sure.

Can ClassMax be a tool that makes your current teaching practices simpler?  You bet.

But can ClassMax also be the guide to help you become a better teacher?  ABSOLUTELY.  

Through listening, observing, and being attentive, communicative, and proactive, ClassMax can not only maximize your classroom success, but can maximize your teaching practices.  It can help focus you on individual students and then turn those meaningful interactions into quantifiable data.  As educators, if we truly believe that students are more than a test score, it’s time we started teaching them that way.

A Day With ClassMax

Ever wondered what it’s like to use ClassMax in your classroom?  Follow along as our co-founder, Katie Brown, takes you through a day in her classroom with ClassMax in hand.  Be sure to have something to write with as you watch.  You’re going to want to take notes!

A Teacher’s Guide to Surviving PD: Networking

“So, you’re a teacher, huh?  Must be fun to have your summer off.”

“Yeah, I really wouldn’t know.”

How many of us have had this conversation before?  It is literally the MOST OFFENSIVE conversation someone can have with me.  Yes, I get summers “off,” if by “off” you mean I don’t get a paycheck.  But other than that, I’m spending a good bit of my time continuing to work.  For most of us, summer is when we catch up on all our professional development that we don’t get to during the school year.  I don’t mind professional development, actually.  I like being with other teachers.  They are a wealth of information and knowledge.

In fact, I think most of us would agree that most of the time, it’s the connections to other teachers that really make the PD valuable to us.  Don’t miss a chance to take advantage of your colleagues by creating a networking opportunity at your summer PD sessions, using these three easy ideas:

1. Get Contact Information

When you inevitably break out into a PD small group session, start your group by collecting contact information from everyone who is in the group.  Even if it is just a name and email address, this is a great opportunity to expand your teaching network to teachers at other schools and even other counties and states, depending on the PD you are attending.  These contacts are really great to have during the middle of the school year when you are wondering what other teachers, schools, or districts are doing to handle a specific academic issue or challenge.

As simple as this sounds, it can be extremely awkward to say, “Hey there, strange teacher friend, can I have your name and email address for my creeper files?”  So, try something more casual and honest.  Something like, “I know this is weird, but would you guys mind if we shared email addresses in case we have questions or follow up later about our session?”  I promise you that at least one other teacher is wishing they had this information, too!

2. Add Your New Contacts as Facebook Friends (…you know, if they aren’t weird or anything)

This sounds strange.  I understand.  But if you aren’t using your Facebook account as a professional tool by now, you should really consider it.  Facebook is so much more than a social network anymore.  With the ability to create groups, pages, set privacy settings, etc., it is a wonderful place to network with your professional contacts, too.  (While you’re at it, check out our ClassMax Facebook page, too!)

Try creating a privacy setting for “Work” or “Professional,” which gives limited profile access to professional contacts.  This way, you are still connected with someone, but they aren’t all up in your personal life.  Seeing someone in your Facebook feed keeps them fresh in your mind and relevant in your professional network much longer than sitting in a three-day PD session with them.

(NOTE: In most professions, this is where LinkedIn would be valuable.  However, in my experience, not many teachers are registered for LinkedIn accounts and so Facebook has been a better networking tool for me.)

3. Get to Know Your Administrators and School Leaders

Often during summer PD, there is a mixed bag of attendees from your school.  This is a great time to get to know teachers from other departments and grade levels from your school and administrators or teacher leaders.  But here’s the real tip:  Don’t badger them!  Try to refrain from begging for tools and things you need for your classroom and don’t try to wiggle information out of them.  This is not the time to be a teacher weasel, my friends.  This is the time to get to know them and to let them get to know you.  It’s also the time to step up and help them out.

For example, if it comes out during your PD session that the school is short on a staff person to oversee an extra curricular or something similar, volunteer to help out.  Make an impression as a problem solver and a helper.  This is your chance to shine Building strong relationships with other peers and admin from your school during the summer can help make your school year so much smoother.

Professional Development is a great place to learn more about aspects of your profession, but it is an even better place to build and grow your professional network.  Don’t waste the opportunity to meet other teachers, grow your social media network, and to shine for your own administration.  Make the most of your summer development while you’re there!

Join us tomorrow as we explore how to use your summer PD as a time to set up and personalize your ClassMax account.  Also, be sure to take advantage of our summer sale going on right now!

ClassMax is social!  Follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram!


Summer Like a Teacher: RENEW

This week, ClassMax will be sharing a series called, “Summer Like a Teacher,” where we cover the three key parts of a teacher’s summer:  Relaxing, Refreshing, and Renewing.  Today, we continue with the step that separates the good teachers from the really great teachers:  Renew.

Once you are relaxed after another long school year and have taken time to refresh yourself with reminders of why you love teaching, then comes the hard work of renewal.  We all know that the teaching profession can be one of the most physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing careers out there.  We put our heart, mind, and body into our work and that can yield wonderful consequences… but it can also burn teachers out.

We have all heard the statistics about teachers who don’t return after their first, third, or fifth year teaching.  But more than statistics, we’ve all probably experienced that burn out for ourselves.  While we chose to stick it out, it is easy to understand those who decided this profession was too demanding to be worth it.  Burn out is no joke, and it’s also not something that a lazy summer is going to fix.  To fight teacher burn out – and to make ourselves better teachers – takes intentional time of renewal in our profession.  It takes time to hone our craft, to make changes to our teaching, and to refine ourselves as professionals.  And that is why we need a period of renewal during the summer.

Here are a few tips to help you renew your commitment to teaching this summer:

Never Stop Learning

Like our students, we should be constant learners.  My mentor teacher throughout the beginning of my teaching career was a seasoned teacher who was twenty years into her career.  She taught me so much about lesson planning, unit cohesion, classroom management, and rigorous instruction.  But the one that I that I learned the most from her was that no matter how long you have been teaching, keep trying new things.  She was the first to sit down with a list of instructions for some new website or program and teach herself how to use it.  She watched tutorial videos when she didn’t understand, she contacted the help center when she had questions, and she NEVER GAVE UP.  No matter what new shiny tool came across her desk, Tammy continued to give everything a try.  It is this passion for always being open to learn new things about teaching that I took away the most from her and it’s one of the best lessons we can all learn as we renew ourselves for another year.

Try Something New

There’s always some new crazy fad in teaching, isn’t there?  From the ol’ faithful close reading and think-pair-share, to the flashier Socratic seminars and escape room challenges, teaching strategies continue to evolve as quickly as our students.  But so often, teachers get stuck in their favorite tried-and-true methods of teaching, not because they are opposed to trying something new, but because WHO HAS TIME to try something new?  Well, teacher friends… summer is that time.  Write a few lesson plans that include some new teaching strategies.  Maybe there were some things you found during your refreshing stage of your summer that peaked our interest?  Go ahead and plan out a lesson or two… or even an whole unit!  If you stick with your same content-based scope and sequence every year, then plan a generic lesson that you can use for any standard or skill you are teaching.  At some point in the year when you and your students are feeling the fatigue that comes with the same routine every day (usually around January, for me), pull out that awesome lesson your planned over the summer, drop your content into it, and see what happens!

Critically Assess Your Teaching

This one is the hardest step for me and one I often like to do with a teaching friend.  My former PLC and I used to do this over the summer and it was always so helpful.  We went through our previous teaching year unit by unit and we gave a thumbs up or thumbs down to just about every lesson or activity that we taught.  We based our assessments on how effective we felt our students learned the material AND on how engaged the students were during instruction.  If an activity lacked in either of these two areas, we dropped it.  This left us with a solid foundation of activities that were tested and fine-tuned over the years and it gave us holes in our instruction that we could fill with new, stronger, more dynamic, engaging lessons.  The result was that every year, our content improved.  Every year, our teaching improved.  This is such a critical part of teaching, but it is one that teachers seldom have time or energy for once the school year has begun.  Summer is a perfect time to sit down with a friend and your lesson plans and begin that critical process of assessing your instructional practices.

We all look forward to summer break.  It is a much needed break from a profession that has a high burn out rate.  But with a few intentional steps, you can use that time away from the classroom to make yourself a better teacher.

  1. RELAX – Give yourself permission to relax into the summer.  You’ve already put away your classroom for the summer physically, now mentally put it away.
  2. REFRESH – Once you have truly relaxed for a while this summer, start to slowly refresh your teaching career.  Take time to research other teachers, to explore new ideas, and even treat yourself to a few things you don’t normally get during the school year.
  3. RENEW – The final piece that truly makes a difference in summer break is to renew your commitment to instruction.  Keep learning about ways to improve your teaching, be open to new ideas in your classroom, and take time to assess your instructional practice.

With these three steps, you will be amazed at how ready you are when the school year begins again.  You will feel rested, excited, and confident in your abilities as a teacher.  And that, teacher friends, is how you set your students up for success.

(…you can also set them up for success using ClassMax… cough, cough… sales pitch… cough, cough…)

Summer Like a Teacher: REFRESH

This week, ClassMax will be sharing a series called, “Summer Like a Teacher,” where we cover the three key parts of a teacher’s summer:  Relaxing, Refreshing, and Renewing.  Today, we continue with my personal favorite…REFRESHING!

I think sometimes the words relax, refresh, and renew can be tossed around interchangeably, but they are actually very distinct in their differences and each has an important place in the summer of a teacher.  When we relax, we allow our bodies and minds time to unwind and let go of the stresses of the last few months of the school year.  Once we are relaxed, we are able to move into the next phase of refreshing.  

According to Merriam-Webster, to refresh means to restore animation or to freshen up.  Doesn’t that sound great?  To be animated or fresh for our school year?  But how often we let our summer break trickle by without much intentional thought given to animating and freshening up our teaching practices.  Well, let’s change that this summer.  Take a look at these simple ways to refresh yourself this summer:

See Others Teach in Action

One of my favorite things to do as a teacher is to watch others teach.  It is inspiring to me, and even in classrooms where the teaching might leave something to be desired (hey, it happens to all of us sometimes…), there is always, ALWAYS something I can take away from another teacher.  During the school year, I don’t get the time to see others teach often because I’m teaching myself.  And obviously, during the summer, we don’t have classrooms to observe, so I rely on videos.  I can get lost for HOURS in the Teaching Channel videos.  I pin them to my Pinterest board for later use, which we will get to in the Renewal phase of our Summer Like a Teacher series.  Seeing other teachers gives me fresh ideas for my classroom and inspires me to become a better teacher, which is really what the refresh stage of summer should do.

Buy Fun School Supplies

I’m sure I’m not alone in the teacher world when I say that school supplies are one of my favorite parts of being a teacher.  Seriously.  There’s nothing more fun to me than a pack of new pens (these are my favorites).  During the school year, all my money goes towards supplies for my students as it should.  But during the summer, I can refresh my own supplies guilt free!  Some of my favorite little teacher splurges include a new pack of Mr. Sketch markers all to myself for my anchor charts, this super cute striped desk caddy, and these fun polka dot clipboards which are a steal for a set of six.

Read an Inspiring Teaching Book

In the “relax” stage of our Summer Like a Teacher series, I stressed the importance of NOT reading anything related to teaching as a way to let your mind go.  But as we move into the renewal stage of summer, go ahead and dive into a book that inspires you to be a better teacher.  Soak up inspiration from successful teachers in all areas of education.  Every summer, I re-read two books that changed and continue to shape my teaching in the classroom:  The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and (don’t laugh) The First Days of School by Harry Wong. “The Book Whisperer” inspires me to try hard and push more in my classroom and The First Days of School remind me that the basics of teaching are consistent from year to year, no matter how long I have been in the classroom.

The objective during the refreshing part of a teacher’s summer is to surround yourself with what inspires you most about teaching.  Get back to what you love about teaching. Fill your inspiration tank now because we all know that once the school year begins, it is easy to lose sight of what we love about our jobs. Soak up all the goodness of teaching and refresh your teacher heart this summer!

Join us later this week as we tackle the final part of a teacher’s summer… renewal!