Category: Tips, Tricks, Tools.

Check out this post from Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis.

Free time is scarce for teachers during the school year.The summer is everyone’s chance to catch their breath, play a round of golf, catch a movie or finally read that book they’ve been putting off for days. Here are our three favorite tips from Davis.

1) Revitalize Your Physical Health

No matter what you do, this is the most important task of the summer. If you’re not in the right physical state, there’s no way you can be in the right mindset come August.

2) Embrace Change

Davis puts it best when she says, “Some people are afraid of change. Others don’t want to change because it makes them feel dumb. Here’s the thing — the longer you wait to change, the dumber you will feel.”

Nothing could be more true. Whatever obstacle you might be facing, take a small step and keep pushing yourself to the point of feeling self-confident. The feeling won’t be satisfied immediately, but you won’t regret the time put in.

3) Set Goals And Remember Who You Are

Now that you’ve gone through the biggest reformation of your life since last year, it’s time to get ready. Don’t set the bar too low or high, but push yourself to be a little better than you were last year.


As an educator, your summers aren’t necessarily a break. There’s time to catch up on work and look forward to the next school year, but you want to be able to hit the ground running once classes start in August or September. Naphtali Hoff discussed four things for teachers to do during the summer break: reflect, read, re-imagine, and return. You can check out the original post here, but I wanted to talk about it in-depth using quotes from the Roman philosopher Seneca.


“If a man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favorable to him.”

Have you ever had one of those Fridays where you’re like “Thank god it’s Friday!” except it lasts for two months and you can actually say yes to your friends that want to play a round of golf during the week?

This is a perfect time for you to catch up on thoughts. What did you do well? What did you do that wasn’t as effective? What did others do that worked a little better? Ask yourself questions over the summer that will get you to where you need to be before the next school year starts. You won’t always have immediate answers, but you’ll think of them as time goes on.


“Just as we suffer from excess in all things, so we suffer from excess in literature; thus we learn our lessons, not for life, but for the lecture room.”

There’s nothing more inspiring than reading the thoughts of historical figures and your peers. Blogs are okay, social media is alright too, but neither can beat sitting down and allotting a set time for a book. It’s like a mentor/teacher conference.


“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”

Now that you’ve had time to reflect and read, use that new information to bring a fresh perspective into your own work. One of my favorite tactics is to picture another person doing a task and taking notes. Alternatively, you can record yourself teaching a lesson and critique yourself.

Every year is a moment in your career to learn something new about yourself and your profession. The foundation has already been laid, keep on building and moving forward by creating goals for the next year. Dare to push yourself even further than you already have. And if you’re new on the job, push yourself harder than you did at your last one. Whatever you do, don’t be complacent. Keep tweaking.


“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Are you excited? Now it’s up to you to act as a mentor for someone that’s nervous with all of the lessons you’ve learned and had time to reflect on. Whether it’s a teacher or administrator, do what you can to help and give back. Make the best of every moment. Everyone has their good and bad days. Don’t get stuck on either, just take each one for what it is: a chance to prove yourself again.

Lani Cox wrote a piece on how Harvard Psychologist Jon McClelland’s three ingredients to successful learning worked and didn’t work for her.

Let’s go over what those three ingredients are:

1)      Wanting to learn

2)      Knowing how to learn

3)      Having a chance to learn

If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming you want to get better every day just like us. Sometimes the best way to improve your own self is to teach others. Let’s break these three ingredients down by asking three questions from a teacher’s perspective.

Wanting to learn – How do you peak a student’s curiosity?

It’s easier to figure out what you want to do than to tell someone else what they need to learn. The easiest way to teach is to look for subtle ways to interest your students. Tie everything back together. If you know they have an interest in architecture, find specific examples you can use in your math lessons. Students want to learn from people they feel comfortable around. The more you take interest in them, the more they’ll take interest in you.

A personal example took place during my study abroad. My teachers applied to teach at a university in Istanbul but had been rejected. The school accepts teachers from all over the world during the summer sessions, and those that previously faced rejection saw opportunity. Their enthusiasm and passion for the topic which they had worked so hard on their Ph.D.’s for came out during the classes. In a time where I could have easily spent exploring the city and partying with friends, I was more motivated to learn and my teachers saw it.

Knowing how to learn – How do you teach good practice?

This is a little tricky but it is by far the most rewarding part of being a teacher. After a student has become comfortable with you and knows that you’re interested in their growth, they’ll start listening to the lessons intently. Once you have their attention, let the students try things on their own after they’ve gained enough confidence in their abilities. Reiterate that while grades are important, figuring out how to learn is more important than an A. If done right, these lessons can stick with a student for the rest of his or her life.

I used to teach chess lessons in college. One of the best ways to teach is to show a student that you know the material inside and out. In my case, I would beat them. The students would never be offended and it wouldn’t ruin their day because they always think that you’re supposed to beat them, as you’re their teacher and are very much older than them.

Having a chance to learn – How do you offer opportunity?

You can offer students office hours to come in with questions, but how often does that happen? Just like teaching good practice, giving out the chance to learn is solely on the educator. Once a student is interested and knows the right practices, they need someone to push them to be better. They’ll especially need you when the going gets tough. Reach out to them and don’t ask if they need help, just give it to them. They’ll want to succeed for you, just like I wanted to do well for my teachers in Istanbul.

As Cox states, “The learner is dependent on external factors. And given the fact that we learn by doing and watching (or reading) this makes sense. Learning is a relationship.”

We’ll be doing a webinar on Friday at 1PM eastern to discuss social media and education (you can join here), but we wanted to share this with you first.

The U.S. Department of Education released the first of four tip sheets today for educators on using social media.

While social media can be discouraging at times, it is increasingly important for educators to have a firm grasp on all platforms. Whether as an informational outlet or as a means of communicating personal or organizational ideas, state and local education agencies must have an active presence online.

They discussed four innovations in the first tip sheet, and we’ll add one more as a gift.


Innovation One – Utilizing the Voice of Chiefs

Deborah Gist is the Rhode Island Education Commissioner. Her belief is that people don’t follow institutions, they follow people. She has over 9,000 followers and tweets six to seven times a day on average or more than 45 times a day for an Ed Chat. Instead of having a professional account and tweeting from there, it could be better to put one person as the face of the organization instead. That will allow for more audience engagement.

Innovation Two – Trying New Platforms

Educators are everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, you name it and they’re on it. You’re not going to be able to compete with Justin Bieber or Ashton Kutcher for likes, follows and pins, but you shouldn’t have to. Your audience will be significantly smaller. Instead, focus on delivering better information to the people that care about what you are offering. Be a part of the half million education posts on Pinterest, but focus mainly on providing value.

Innovation Three – Engaging Directly With Non-Traditional Media

“Many of the most involved education bloggers are educators themselves.” Educators are constantly trying to help each other, so help them help you help them. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to someone you share a similar opinion with. Ask them a question on what they’re thinking or send them a response through social media or email praising their blog posts or tweets. This can go a long way, as it goes back to adding a personal touch to your organization.

Innovation Four – Keeping It Social – and Fun

“Many will share or retweet something primarily because they agree with the statement or sentiment.” On social media platforms, most people don’t enjoy looking at self-promotion. Only if it’s necessary for them to know something should you spam feeds with blog posts or organizational news. People remember how you make them feel, so be lighthearted, helpful and witty.

Innovation Five – Be Confident

Not everything you try will work. You may see that a post about your agency doesn’t perform well as others. That’s OK. Be open-minded and patient with testing new thoughts and sooner or later you will find one that convinces your audience to come back and check your feed at least once a day. There’s no magic formula to going viral but there are strategies that can be used to get to where you need to be. Focus on the latter first before thinking about the former.


If you want to learn more, we’ll be discussing this in-depth in the webinar this Friday. Here’s the link for you one more time.

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.

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?


Disturbing statistics on STEM Education in the U.S. What does it all mean?



While elementary school is a place for children to learn, gain independence and grow, parents do appreciate regular updates on their children’s education and progress. Here are three great ways to ensure that you keep open communication between you and your students’ parents:

1) Weekly Communication Folders – Tell parents to expect their children to bring home a “take-home” folder every Thursday. Get into the routine of updating student parents on a weekly basis by giving each student a folder with his or her name on it and dividing the folder into two parts: one side will be for handouts that go home (notice for parents about ongoing problems with their child in the classroom, release forms, etc.) and the other side will be for handouts or assignments that the child needs to return to you. This will allow parents to help their children stay on top of schoolwork and address any behavioral problems if need be.

2) Monthly Letters – Mail a letter home to parents at the beginning of each month laying out what concepts or topics will be taught over the course of the next four weeks. Incorporate fun lesson plans and field trips that you have planned to show parents that their children are learning through a variety of ways and that you value your students’ education. Show them that you are going above and beyond to make their children’s education enjoyable and productive. To make the process easier, you can even create a standard classroom newsletter to send to all parents once a month: include photos, a calendar with the month’s activities, and student accomplishments and highlights.

3) Regular meetings – Plan regular meetings with parents. Each parent or guardian should be required to meet with you at least once a year. If some are more involved or concerned with their children’s education than others, leave open the option of meeting with certain parents more regularly. Be prepared for each parent meeting by bringing some of the student’s schoolwork and remaining open to parent questions. The more accessible and responsive you are to parents, the easier your life as a teacher will be.


Social media offers plenty of opportunities for student learning and interactivity as it is only becoming more prominent in the business world. Students who become comfortable with social media early on will only benefit. According to Mashable, here’s what you can do to integrate social media into your classroom:


1) Create a digital classroom on Edmodo.

Edmodo helps you create a social, digital classroom. The platform allows you to vote, post assignments, create an assignments calendar, and upload photos and messages to students. Edmodo allows students to get quick feedback by taking quizzes online. Teachers can also communicate socially with one another by sharing lesson plans online and asking questions to their online communities. With more than 17 million users, Edmodo is rapidly growing. Get up to date with the latest online tools like Edmodo to make you and your students’ lives easier.

2) Use a hashtag for guest speaker discussions.

Encouraging students to engage with guest speakers via Twitter makes them more engaged with the discussion and prepares them to raise important topics or questions. This method ensures that students get their questions answered without interrupting the speaker while he or she is talking. Incorporate the students’ social communities outside of the classroom, allowing them to chime-in with questions for the speaker as well.

3) Require students to blog about current news.

This will entice students to read relevant articles daily while learning how to cite sources digitally, and embed hyperlinks and images . Keeping a blog is a great way to develop your voice as a writer, and to explore and highlight your interests. By requiring students to keep a blog, you’re helping them create writing samples to include in portfolios and establish their digital presence as an emerging, intelligent leader.

For more ways on how to include social media in your lesson plans visit


Rising junior high school students feel overwhelmed before junior year even begins. They know what’s coming: a year of eating, sleeping and breathing college applications. As a high school teacher, the least you can do is understand that your students are under a lot of pressure and offer them advice on how to balance it all:

 Tip #1: Be Prepared and Plan Ahead

       Advise students to:

-       Enter junior year with a potential list of colleges they’re interested in attending.

-       Ask for college teacher recommendations early, so teachers will have enough time to write valuable recommendations.

-       Take both ACT and SAT practice tests. Based on which one suits him or her better, choose the ACT or SAT route and stick to it. This will narrow their focus.

-       Put aside time each week to study for standardized tests whether it’s on their own, in an SAT or ACT class or with a tutor.

Tip #2: Prioritize & Set Goals

        Advise students to:

-         Know their values, their likes and their dislikes. It’s easy to lose sight of priorities in the midst of it all.

-       Make a list or timeline at the beginning of the year with goals and tasks that need to get done. Prioritize based on deadlines to meet their goals.

-       Plan when they’re going to take the ACT, SAT’s or both and leave room for error. Remind students it’s normal to take the test a few times before receiving the score they want.

Tip #3: Stay Organized & Breathe

       Advise students to:

-       Keep a planner, check things off when they complete them and keep track of where they are in the application process for each school.

-       Keep a drawer full of college recruitment mail and application materials.

–       Remind students to breathe and gain some perspective. Yes, college is an important milestone in their lives, but it’s four years of their lives – not the rest of their lives. They will get in. They may not get into their dream school, but maybe it wasn’t the right match – they may be happier elsewhere.