Category: All.

Better Teachers

One thing that is scarce in today’s global economy is quality labor with unique skills. As any college graduate can tell you, it’s hard to get a job right now because the people that are hiring want candidates with previous paid experience.

The teaching profession is no different. Teachers can get their license without ever stepping foot into a classroom and be forced to learn on the job. We need to change this because it’s one whole year where students are going through their educational career and not getting the best possible experience.

Elizabeth Green wrote on this topic in her upcoming book “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone).”

“You don’t need to be a genius,” Green said to New York Times’ Joe Nocera. “You have to manage a discussion. You have to know which problems are the ones most likely to get the lessons across. You have to understand how students make mistakes – how they think – so you can respond to that.”

Yes, experience is the best teacher, but at what cost?

For the last 10 years, schools have been trying to figure out how to handle the situation with students and their cellphones.

At first, students were not allowed to use their devices during school hours. Then, schools started to allow usage before school, at lunch, and after school.

Now, administrators can’t ignore the potential of combining their curriculum and mobile devices.

SmartBrief recently did a poll on the topic, asking users whether students should be allowed to use cellphones in class, out of class, or in the school in general.

63.30% believed that students can bring them and use devices as a learning resource in class. 26.22% feels that cellphones can be brought to school but not be used in the classroom. 10.49% think that electronics should be allowed in school at all. The numbers may have been flipped a decade earlier.

On speculation alone, eventually schools will find a middle ground and a productive way for both students and teachers to be happy.

Chess and Education

Editor’s note: Our Marketing Coordinator Shafiq wants to tell you a story about why he loves teaching through his experiences coaching chess.

Three years ago, I was a sophomore in college. I had just gotten back to Alabama from Maryland to go back to school, ready to spend another semester commuting from my mom’s house.

This time, I was a little bit more motivated. My brother had just gotten married, I had a girlfriend, and I was offered a job as a chess teacher*. Life was great.

*While being a chess teacher sounds silly, I taught a 36-week curriculum for three years. It was interesting. I learned so much from my boss who had taught world history for over 20 years.

I’ll never forget my first class. It was at St. Francis Xavier in Mountain Brook, also known as the affluent area in Birmingham. (Do you remember that story recently about the surgeon who walked eight miles in the snowstorm to save a person’s life? Dr. Hrynkiw lives there and his home is beautiful.)

I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I got to the school with a lot of time to spare. I walked in, set up my projector, laptop and chess board and nervously awaited the students.

Only one showed up. He was a 2nd grader and his name was Danny.

Danny was your typical southern boy. You could tell that he had a bright future ahead of him and his life would be filled with love from his family and friends. He also happened to be interested in chess. He wasn’t the best but his enthusiasm made it fun to be around him. He was the kind of kid that if you ever saw him sad, you knew something had gone horribly wrong.

I’ll always remember him because he made it easy for me to become a great teacher. Danny was also the first person I saw when my girlfriend broke up with me a week before my 20th birthday. It’s strange how these things work.

I trembled as I ran through my lesson on the basics of chess. I was a nervous wreck worrying about a student not learning something because I could potentially fail at doing my job.

Danny was okay with this. It was almost like he understood my fears and went with what I was saying.

I finished the lesson after about 50 minutes, we played a 10-minute game of chess, and his mom was in front of the school ready to pick him up.

I took a deep breath. It was over. That wasn’t so bad.

The first week was tough. Five different schools and five different groups of students. It was a challenge that I readily accepted. As the weeks went on, I got more and more comfortable being in front of the students.

I remember beating my boss in a game for the first time. I had to play him in front of a class at Our Lady of Sorrows in Homewood (also known as a “toast game”). I couldn’t even explain to you the confidence I had to go teach the class after that. I just beat someone who’s been playing chess longer than I’ve been alive!

I remember the faces of every student I lost to. I learned more from them than they learned from me in my opinion. Among others, there’s one student who I’ll always talk about. His name was Samson, he was in the 3rd grade, and he was from Cherokee Bend.

Samson was one of those students who was way beyond his years in maturity. His mom would trust him with responsibilities and know she didn’t have to worry because it was Samson. Samson went to the national tournament for chess amateurs in Dallas for players that had a ranking under 1200 (typically for people that hadn’t played in a tournament before). Samson only placed second because the person in first had more points than he did, and they didn’t even play each other.

I was flattered when these same students would tell me that they enjoyed playing me because I never played with the same strategy. Yes, you can be flattered by someone who is 8 years old.

Over three years I taught at over 20 different schools. I saw different kinds of communities. I saw rich areas and other places that weren’t as organized. No matter what the situation was, I did my best to make sure the kids enjoyed the lessons*. Have you ever had a school tell you that you’re a fun teacher? Have you ever smiled so hard it almost made you cry? You feel a sense of meaning in your job and life.

*I feel like colleagues would usually be jealous, but the other teachers were also college students around my age and they enjoyed my candor and passion. I loved them equally, enough to where we all collaborated at the end of our first year and arranged a date night (dinner and a movie) for our boss and his wife. The boss’s exact words, “No one has ever done anything this nice for me in my life.”

That’s the thing. I was in the front of a classroom five days a week. For that hour, we all took a trip away from everything else we were worried about and just played a game of chess. It was beautiful. I may have had a very small taste of the profession, but I’m forever grateful for those moments.

Last month the White House released a study on big data and privacy. You can read the whole report here or check out the summary here.

The first survey covered and pictured in the review is the concern with data practices. Most people are very much concerned with data storage and security, transparency about data use, legal standards & oversight, collection of location data, collection of video/audio data, and collection of telecom data.

Our thoughts of the first infographic can be summed up by this quote from Alistair Croll:

“Perhaps the biggest threat that a data-driven world presents is an ethical one. Our social safety net is woven on uncertainty. We have welfare, insurance, and other institutions precisely because we can’t tell what’s going to happen — so we amortize that risk across shared resources. The better we are at predicting the future, the less we’ll be willing to share our fates with others.”

There will always be uncertainty in the actions of others. That can’t and should never stop us as a nation from advancing further into our developments. Our world has made so much progress over the last ten years because of big data. We need to forget about the danger of a few and keep our eyes set on the betterment of the whole.

When you think of social media, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Facebook and Instagram likes? Twitter followers? Pinterest pins?

When you think of social media and education, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Edmodo? Teachers Pay Teachers? MinecraftEdu?

What are the differences between the educational social media outlets in comparison to the others?

The difference is what you, the educator, can put into and get out of it.

When you use social media, what results are you expecting?

When you use Edmodo, you can expect a better, stronger collaboration between you and your students all in one tool. Teachers Pay Teachers is a great way to offer your expertise to other educators in your field and get instant feedback on improving yours and everyone else’s curriculum. MinecraftEdu is an interesting way for teachers to reach their kids and assign history and science lessons through a video game.

Educational social media gives you, the educator, an opportunity to reach your student in a more personal way that Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can’t offer. Educational social media provides educators and administrators an effective two-way communication outlet instead of just an informative, almost narcissistic one.

The latter networks can still be used in an effective way, though, as most people in your community will more than likely be using them. You can still use Facebook and Twitter to post about happenings in the area, and Pinterest to show what’s working at your school, district, or state.

At a period in our society where people in the U.S. are on social media on an average of 16 minutes an hour and using social media on their phones 71% of the time, Educational social media is offering teachers a new way to keep up with their students.

It’s only a matter of time before 16 and 71% become 20/75%, 30/85%, and 45/95%. In education, it would be in our best interest to figure out how we can use those numbers to our advantage because the worst case scenario is having a 1 hour, 100% mobile social media use and our field being irrelevant.

2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau put a Slideshare deck together a few days ago. It already has 7,500 views and is definitely worth checking out. In no order because they’re all awesome, here are our five favorite quotes:

  1. “Adults want to be valued at work, to be relevant, and to have a voice. Kids want the same. Great classrooms are a great place to work.”
  2. “I want to know that what I do each day makes a difference. Students want the same. Great teachers give students the opportunity to do so.”
  3. “End of every lesson students should answer: What can I do today that I could not do yesterday? AND What will it lead to tomorrow?”
  4. “Asking students the right question is far more important than telling them the right answers.”
  5. “Teaching is solving the mysteries of human motivation, hope, fear, and doubt. Every day. For every child.”

You can find more inspiration on Twitter from @JeffCharbonneau.

I woke up this Monday morning at 7AM fresh and ready to go. A little nervous, but ready.

It was a busy weekend. My cousins threw high school graduation parties, family came in from up and down the east coast, Louis Vuitton handbags were given as gifts. It was a celebration to say the least.

I spent all day Sunday getting ready for the next 24 hours. While my friends were mentally preparing themselves for the new episode of Game of Thrones or posting about their elation or disappointment in the result of the Blackhawks/Kings game, I was on my laptop consuming as much information as possible. I had to be in the office the next morning prepared to hit the ground running.

The ambitions of a 23-year old college graduate seeking a job in the startup world are not the easiest to satisfy in this market. Not only do you need the right amount of experience, you also need the network, the skills, and the right head on your shoulders. You know, the one that tells everyone that you’re a great fit and capable of being a sane, normal person in the office.

Some of us get really lucky. We get our dream jobs or internships on the first go. I was lucky to be among one of them. At 22 I worked remotely as the Content Lead for the fastest growing sports social media platform in the world (I currently have 3,048 followers on their app, no big deal).

I learned countless lessons in that year which my PR and International Studies degree could not have entirely grasped. I was no longer being graded on a scale of 0-100 on my homework or tests. Instead, I was constantly creating, testing and improving upon ideas that would draw in actual leads and have an impact on a venture-backed company with investors expecting positive progress and results. This was a real product being used by real people with real needs.

Fast forward to this Monday, my first day as the Marketing Coordinator for Always Prepped. At 23 I am once again grateful to have such a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the world around me, and to also share all of the exciting ideas with you.

With the keys to the car that is this blog, I intend to give you a one-stop shop for all things education and ed-tech. Whether it’s staying informed with the latest news in the industry or approaching issues and questions we’re all thinking about, I want to help you stay up-to-date and driving the conversations with your peers and coworkers.

On a weekly basis, you can expect posts on the most important topics in education, summaries of the biggest stories, events to be aware of, and relevant quotes to keep you motivated. I look forward to interacting with everybody.

To our success,



P.S. if you’re interested in writing a guest post on our blog, send a tweet to @AlwaysPrepped.

Recently we saw a great whitepaper from Curriculum Associates citing 14 points that administrators should evaluate in making an EdTech purchase for their school or district. The use of technology in schools across the country has increased tremendously over the past 5 years. Since there are so many options from assessment to grading and behavioral management tools it can be difficult to determine which tools will actually make a valuable impact on your school. With expanded emphasis on alignment Common Core Standards in many states schools need to make choices on technology applications that will show their value over the long term.

edtech purchases

Here are 14 steps to making valuable EdTech purchases:


1) Take Inventory

-Know what tools you currently use, and how effective they are for you and your staff.

-Think about how often the tools are being used.

-Think about who is using these tools, why they are being used, and if they are being used correctly.

-Are the tools used in your school or district properly supported?

2) Determine your educational priorities

-What are you looking for a product to do?

-Include all teachers and other staff members in the process.

-Figure out what processes are of the most need first.

3) Don’t customize (too much)

-Most schools need products which similar functionality (i.e. Common Core transition, saving staff time, streamlining communication).

-Be very specific about your needs and wants.

4) Use collaborative buying if the option is available

-Research your connections within your district, or school associations to learn how your co-op process works.

-Consider putting out an RFP.

5) Make apples-to-apples comparisons

-What are the results from this product in other schools or districts?

-What is the vendor’s renewal rate as a % of sales?

6) Understand data integration capabilities

-Only work with vendors that integrate with other service providers you currently have to lessen the workload for your staff.

-Data integration can help your teachers greatly in getting real-time feedback and insights. Make sure that teachers are involved in the process at this level.

7) Consider piloting the program

-Look to evaluate specific goals from the pilot.

-Make sure you have at least 1 staff member invested in the process.

-Choose a vendor who may do fewer pilots, but has great feedback or recommendations on customer service from past users.

8) Watch company support services closely

-How are support issues resolved? Does the company use a ticket system? How can you escalate key user issues?

-Who will be the main point of contact for your account? How responsive are they?

-Are you able to contact the CEO if you need immediate help?

9) Understand total cost of ownership

-Are their additional (hidden) fees for the use of this product or service?

-Make sure you fully understand the pricing model

10) Pricing and implementation guarantees

-Set a policy for vendors that your  school or district required either a money-back guarantee or price assurance.

-Ask vendors to certify the authenticity of price quotes that are given in the evaluation process.

11) Look for other ways to save

-Ask the vendor if they would come to the school or district to run PD over a few days.

-Assess the difference in price between per pupil vs. flat fee licenses.

12) Ask for references or recommendations

-Reach out to other similar size schools or districts that use the product.

-When speaking with reference spend time discussing customer service, account management and what they may know about the product roadmap.

13) Know what implementation objectives are

-Know how this product can help you in the short term, and plan for deeper integrations in the future.

-Make sure the program can work for everyone who needs it to.

14) It’s a journey, not a race

-Keep in mind that know product you purchase will be perfect day one.

-Your needs will continue to evolve so make sure that the product is helping to push your mission and vision forward.

We would like to know what other points in the process of buying new technologies may have been missed. We value the feedback of our readers and want to continue to find great content to share, Thanks for reading.

Happy Friday Educators!

We found a really cool blog post from Vicki Davis at The Cool Cat Teacher. In the post, Vicki writes about strategies that educators can use to alter forces that may pull education in the wrong direction.

Here are 9 ways educators can tug education back into the right direction:

1) Take time to listen and learn every week
2) Ensure professional development includes the pedagogies teachers should use
3) Teachers and students need a voice
4) Share your learning and inspire others
5) Be fair because you care
6) When you get a spotlight, grab a mirror
7) Be gracious, but keep perspective
8) Stop the flattery, no rock stars
9) Level up every day

educator quote Nelson Mandela

We really enjoy Vicki’s posts, and suggest that you follow her @coolcatteacher on Twitter.

Hope you had a great week!

Over the past few years there has been a greater emphasis on data-driven instruction, and implementation of Common Core Standards in many states across the country. Teachers and administrators have been looking for digital tools to help bridge the gap between traditional instruction and the addition of EdTech application usage from the classroom to the district office. Below is an infographic on what teachers want and need from digital instruction tools.

We will be posting later in the week on how administrators and district offices are using EdTech tools to be more productive later in the week.

Some questions for you to think about while reading:

-How can EdTech product developers collaborate closely with principals, teachers and students?

-How are teachers and administrators defining product effectiveness?

-Why do teachers seem to know about only 53% of the available products on the market?

-In what ways can product developers close the availability, usage, & effectiveness gaps for digital tools?