Tag Archives: teacher life

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: 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!

Summer Like a Teacher: RELAX

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 begin with everyone’s favorite – relaxing. 

I don’t know about you, but the first week of summer vacation is always hard for me as a teacher.  I’m still used to the rush and gush of the end of the school year, so my mind and body doesn’t really know what to do when it all of a sudden hits a wall of relaxation.  I usually hit several emotional stages when I try to relax on summer vacation: 

  1. Guilt – I should be doing something.  I could be doing something.  I need to be doing something.  Anyone else have those thoughts on repeat when they try to relax?  
  2. Laziness – When I finally get over the guilt, I do a complete 180 and become the laziest creature on the face of the planet.  I sit in my pajamas for days, binging on Netflix, and letting my own kids have way too much screen time so that I can continue MY binge of too much screen time.  
  3. Redemption – After a few days of laziness, I wake up one morning completely angry at myself for wasting my summer away.  This is usually the point when I commit to exercising until I can’t breathe, eating only kale, and cleaning out the closet in my guest room that hasn’t been cleaned out since this time LAST summer.  
  4. Laziness #2 – After a binge of redemption, I go back to laziness because I have used up all my energy for the foreseeable future. 
  5. Guilt #2 – This laziness leads to guilt again.

And so the cycle continues.  Is this just me?  Tell me I am not alone in this!  But this summer, I am committing to a better, healthier cycle of relaxation.  One that doesn’t burn me out and make me feel terrible.  In case I am not the only one out there with this issue, I thought I would share a few tips I am using myself to make my summer more relaxing:  

Schedule a Vacation

Now, we all live on teacher’s salaries, so don’t panic that I’m encouraging us to all take extreme European vacations here.  But in summers past, I have found that the earlier in the summer I take a vacation away, the quicker I am able to relax into my summer.  It’s like a buffer between my working days and my home days.  It’s much easier for me to relax when I am away from home than when I am just shuffling around my house, looking for stuff to do.  And vacations don’t have to be elaborate.  A visit to my sister’s in Atlanta is a seven hour car ride and a free stay!  Even a staycation in my own city of Orlando can be nice.  It’s easy to find summer deals for residents at a lot of major hotel chains, and a two night stay with a pool and someone to make my bed can do wonders for me.

Read a Book

And the book better have NOTHING TO DO WITH SCHOOL, teacher friend.  No PD books to get ahead of the school year, no YA books to stay connected to your students, and no teacher themed novels that make you feel all “Dangerous Minds”-y.  Get yourself some real, adult fiction and get lost for a while.  I tend to lean towards easier, predictable plot lines in the summers from authors like Emily Giffin or Nicholas Sparks.  Although, sometimes I still have a hard time relaxing when the plots are a little too simple and then I switch over to thriller and spy novels from Tom Clancy and John le Carre.  Whatever your genre of choice, dig in to something NON-academic and lose yourself for a while.


While it is tempting to stay up late binging out on Netflix just because you can (I just discovered Suits and I’m slightly obsessed!), keeping a fairly routine sleep schedule can help you unwinder faster and more completely.  And if you do decide to burn the midnight oil in a completely unproductive, restful way, don’t underestimate the importance of a good 3pm nap.  During the school year, and especially towards the end, we run our bodies ragged.  Use the beginning of summer to allow your body time to catch up on that much-needed rest you missed in May.

Treat Yourself

Whether it’s a summertime pedicure or a lunch on a random weekday with a girlfriend, find ways to treat yourself.  Not necessarily to anything extravagant, but to those little things that teachers miss out on during the school year.  Sleep in, have a two-hour lunch, lay in the sunshine in the middle of the afternoon, or even listen to that playlist that doesn’t have anything to do with pirates, animal friends, or KidzBop.  Stop for an ice cream cone in a drive thru, just because.  Take a bubble bath in the middle of the afternoon.  Go without make up.  Ditch the cardigans.  LIVE IT UP, TEACHER FRIENDS!

We work hard during the school year and it is easy to feel sometimes like we should be productive ALL the time. But the truth is that giving yourself permission to relax will make you a better teacher in August.  You will go back to school feeling relaxed, fresh faced, and ready for another year!

Join us later this week as we tackle the next key part of a teacher’s summer… refreshing!