Tag: teacher resources

Harmony: A Teacher’s Work-Life Balance

Posted on December 29, 2019 by

Finding harmony, or a ‘work-life balance’, is not always so easy. Teachers work in environments where we are on display, constantly being asked to flex one way or another, to group and individualize, to plan, execute, reflect and regroup.

Most of the time it’s doable – we find a rhythm to our classes and our workflow and especially after November harmony just happens.

Until it doesn’t. Usually because of an interruption. Or a disruption.

Or a life event that reminds us that being ‘on’ all day without anywhere to hide, without a place to retreat, leaves us very vulnerable.

As an educator, I feel like this sometimes:

In my part of the world, this is the treat in our fall and winter skies – murmurations of starlings, dancing in and out of formation. Their harmony is mesmerizing, only broken by the intrusion of a predator or a decision to rest.

When my dad died last month, this is what came to mind. A disruption of harmony. An intrusion. A storm of emotions and decisions and realities that threatened my equilibrium and pushed me out of teaching. It’s just impossible to face forward at times like this, looking into 120 sets of eyes that hunger for recognition and caring.

This time, I didn’t have a choice.

I just stopped. I focused on what I could do to make me happy, knowing that if I could recenter and regain a little bit of life harmony, the work harmony would fall into place.

A few days in, I heard a knock at my door ten minutes before class started. I hesitated to answer, afraid of how I would react to any sort of request. Surprisingly, when I pushed open the door a tiny little girl on crutches, blond braids slightly askew, chimed, “Mrs. Wolfe, can I show you something? I wrote my hook last night and I think it’s really good!

How could I say no to that? And as she read aloud the few sentences she’d crafted the night before, I smiled. What we’d been learning in my first period English class stayed with her overnight, urging her to write and create and share…a teacher’s dream.

I set an intention at that moment, seconds before the bell rang, to look for more.

“After a storm comes a calm”

Harmony appeared nearly every day after that. Rather than getting caught up in the needs of everyone else, I looked for tiny glimpses of hope that what we were creating in room A-1 meant something. I stepped back from worrying about being behind, and pushing to finish, and settled into the process. Watching the joy in students’ eyes when they ran over to me during reading time, novel in hand and exclaiming they noticed an example of dialogue written just the way we’d been learning about…or pointing to a character’s thinking and wondering why it was or wasn’t italicized.

I helped them push past perfectionism in their publishing and find a platform that best enhanced their narratives, challenging their creativity and showing them that they, too, are published authors.

As my flexibility increased in the classroom, the joy showered down on me and I feel the harmony easing back in. Teaching is hard if you do it right – just like parenting. It’s much simpler to look the other way; easier to take the path of least resistance. This month is teaching me to honor the ebb and flow of my life and of my classroom. I’m consciously practicing creating harmony in my personal life as well as my profession, and the navigation isn’t always smooth. Life cycles don’t always follow a predictable pattern. Stress builds, minds close, and boundaries grip us tightly.

Like the starlings, I’m learning how to rebalance. Practicing mindfulness so when harmony is disrupted, when an ‘intruder’ shakes up my center and pushes me out of bounds teaches me I can handle it. I can harness my power, listen to my rhythms, and swoop low when I need to.

I know I’ll rise up again.

If you’d like a copy of the narrative writing HyperDoc with lessons we’ve been doing, click here.

If you’ve got some ideas for bringing more harmony into our lives, please reach out – I’m confident there are many of us who could use a bit of help.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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5 Things You Probably Don’t Know Teachers Are Thinking

Posted on April 23, 2015 by

I went on a ‘release’ day today – that’s teacher talk for when we are allowed to leave our classroom to do something besides teach students. It’s kind of a silly word to use, isn’t it? Just think of what being ‘released’ from something implies – that you’re somehow in a situation unwillingly (like jury duty) and someone else decides that you can be let go.

Not such a positive way to think about teacher training…but being ‘released’ is the only way to collaborate with colleagues, learn new skills and strategies, and plan for how to improve my teaching and make the overall school experience better for all students.

So I spent the day with two wonderful, hard working, experienced colleagues at a workshop for AVID teachers – AVID is a program for supporting kids to achieve their dreams of going to the college of their choice, and I’ve been running and teaching it since 2008.

I believe in the power of AVID, and the possibility that all kids have to achieve anything they set their mind to.

AVID girls

Spending the day with these two women is empowering; they are kindred spirits, women who themselves graduated from top universities, have decades of teaching experience, are mothers and partners and creative spirits…

and they spend most of their day, their nights, and their free time thinking about, creating for and innovating to provide the best education possible for their students. For OUR children.

It made me think about teachers and teaching in another way – in a very human, raw, open manner. It made me think there are at least 5 things you probably don’t know teachers are thinking:

1. Teachers believe in possibility – for all children.

When I first started teaching, a wise mentor told me that she believes every child wants to be successful – they just don’t always know how to get there. When we walk into our classrooms each day, each period, each hour, we believe in the possibility that every child in that room can not only learn, but can grow into an individual with the potential to change the world. We know that not every day will be amazing, and we know that sometimes it takes years for our lessons to sink in and bring a child to another way of thinking; we also know that some days we get it so right on that children have a moment that they believe in the possibility of their future, too.


2. Teachers think about their teaching all the time.

I haven’t met a teacher yet (in 25 years) that isn’t automatically programmed to see an opportunity to share something magical that they discover outside the classroom, to seize a book or materials that spark their creativity and will certainly enhance their classroom. We do it on vacation, when we’re walking the dog, or when we’re listening to the radio. Sometimes teachers have even been known to go away on vacation together and TALK ABOUT TEACHING! As much as we would often like to, teachers generally are on the lookout for any way to make learning more meaningful, more exciting, more relevant – all the time.

3. Teachers think about their students outside of the classroom.

Some of my worst – and best – days of teaching come home with me. Those are the days that I question myself, days that linger in my mind, nagging me to solve a problem, find a new way to connect, or search for something that will make my students laugh or question or want to do their very best. Oftentimes I’ll call a teacher friend for advice, or search the internet for hours for new lesson ideas, or intriguing video clips, or for photos that will make them smile. It’s impossible for me to not think about my students, even long after they’ve left my 8th grade classroom.


4. Teachers think about how to do more with less.

In my 25 years of teaching, I’ve watched education budgets shrink, salaries stagnate, classrooms remain ill equipped for today’s learner, and teacher work days disappear. I’ve also watched class sizes increase, healthcare costs rise, new technology arrive and waves of popular curriculum pedagogy come and go. Today, I have more students, more preps, more demands, and more work hours. I also have less money, fewer classroom assistants, fewer supplies, less ‘free’ training and less free time. I honestly spend more hours than I should trying to figure out how to streamline curriculum, how to get volunteers into the classroom to help connect with kids, and how to balance my work life with my home life.

5. Teachers believe in the power of relationships.

We know that if a child, a teacher, and a parent share common goals and the belief that success is possible, great things can happen. Teachers believe in building relationships with children first, then building curriculum. In middle school, where I reside, it’s nearly impossible to teach content if students do not first develop trust, respect and feel safe in the classroom. We know education starts at home. We see the power of early childhood education, of families that read to their kids, and parents who stress the value of education. Teachers want to be allies with parents, not enemies. We believe in the power of relationships to create magic for our children.


And maybe you’re sitting back, reading this and thinking I’m exaggerating. Maybe you think that not every teacher thinks this way. And you may be right. Like any profession, teachers share a wide variety of perspectives and philosophies.

But what if you’re wrong? What if you give teachers the benefit of the doubt, and assume they made teaching a career not because of the high salary (ha!) and summers off (ha! again – we just do our year-long job in 10 months!), but because we really do believe in your child – in all children – and we are here to serve?

Imagine what a transformation we could make. Just imagine…


Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Not Empty Vessels: 21st Century Learning and the Common Core

Posted on April 28, 2013 by

Are today’s teens really empty vessels? I think not. Today I’m excited to be presenting at the California League of Middle Schools Spring Symposium. The conference’s focus is “Implementing the Common Core“, which is an area I’ve been working on for the last several years. In 2011 I was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study global learning and 21st century skills which culminated in a teaching trip to Indonesia, and ever since I’ve been hooked on integrating real life skills and global education into my classroom. I’d love to share my ideas and help you learn to move your kids into the 21st century, whether you’re a teacher or parent.

What’s All the Talk About 21st Century Skills?

I LOVE this video from Sir Ken Robinson, who I consider a guru of modern education. If you’ve never seen an ARA Animate video, you’re in for a treat!

Economics play a huge part in globalization. Parents and teachers want to prepare kids to enter the changing job markets, but we don’t really know for sure what the economy will look like when they enter the work force. Countries also want to figure out how to hang onto cultural identity while preparing the next generation to work in a shrinking world, where it is necessary to interact with people from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The problem is that our education system is trying to meet the changing needs of our world by doing things the same way they’ve always been done. And as Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What are 21st century skills?

English: Framework for 21st Century Learning

English: Framework for 21st Century Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

21st century skills student outcomes (in the rainbow) explore life and career skills, learning and innovation skills, information, media and technology skills, and core subjects with 21st century themes-current events and topics that are impacting our world. The support systems (in the pools) are ways that education systems can help foster the skills; schools use standards and assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development and stimulating learning environments to help students prepare for college and career readiness.

What’s the connection between the Common Core and 21st century skills?

Some of the strongest areas of alignment between the Common Core and 21st Century Skills come in the English/Language Arts and Math areas. For example, when we look at the ELA standards below (black) against the P21 skills (red), we can easily understand not only the necessity of 21st century skills, but the absolute ease with which educator and parents can weave them into curriculum.

P21 Framework Element against CCSSELA College and Career Ready Definition

 Core Subjects = Build strong content knowledge

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving = Respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline

Communication = Comprehend as well as critique

 Information Literacy = Value evidence

Self Direction = Demonstrate independence

 Global Awareness = Come to understand other perspectives and cultures

Information, Media and Technology Skills = Use technology and digital media strategically and capably

How will 21st century skills help graduates find jobs?

In the 21st century, automation will take over many current jobs, forcing workers to make themselves more valuable in the marketplace. How will they do that? The Center for Computational Thinking at Carnegie Mellon University  believes that by educating our students in computational thinking we can create students who are ready to enter careers upon graduation. According to Carnegie Mellon, “Computational thinking means creating and making use of different levels of abstraction, to understand and solve problems more effectively.” Individuals will need to learn to manipulate data and understand how to communicate beyond just text.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, of the ten fastest growing jobs, five are computer related.

What is global education?

“Global competence is a crucial shift in our understanding of the purpose of education in a changing world.” – Anthony Jackson, Asia Society.

Global education is preparing our students to be college and career ready in the 21st century. According to Tony Jackson, globally competent students must have the knowledge and skills to Investigate the World, Weigh Perspectives, Communicate Ideas, Take Action, and Apply Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Expertise. As technology and travel shrink our world, we need to prepare our students to live, learn, and work with people from all over the planet. Our economies, national security, and the literal future of our environment depend now more than ever on these skills.

Investigate the World

Globally competent students ask and explore critical questions and “researchable” problems – problems for which there may not be one right answer, but can be systematically engaged intellectually and emotionally.

Weigh Perspectives

Globally competent students recognize that they have a particular perspective, and that others may or may not share it.

Communicate Ideas.

Globally competent students understand that audiences differ on the basis of culture, geography, faith, ideology, wealth, and other factors and that they may perceive different meanings from the same information.

Take Action.

Globally competent students see themselves as players, not bystanders.  They see themselves as capable of making a difference.

Apply Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Expertise.

Learning content matters. Globally competent students are lifelong learners.

Is the Common Core just another trend?

There’s debate among educators about what value the Common Core really holds in our education system. As explained in Edutopia’s article, “Two Paths: How Will You See The Common Core”, educators fall into two camps: those who believe that the Common Core is just a revamped version of No Child Left Behind, and others who see it as an opportunity to leverage real growth in our education system. Those leaders who take the latter view see the common core as having three distinct benefits: Aligning the Common Core standards to 21st-century skills and deeper learning outcomes, capacity-building through professional development, and new assessment strategies. I believe that if we take this opportunity to move in a new direction, and keep a balanced approach to education, the Common Core really can provide a foundational structure to creating college and career ready graduates who enjoy learning and are thinking critically about their future, as well as the impact they can make on the world at large.

For more information on Common Core and Global Education, contact us:

Jennifer Wolfe



Twitter: @mamawolfeto2

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Amanda Sharpe



Twitter: @labibliotecaria

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Flipped Learning Using Edmodo: An Innovative Approach to Education

Posted on April 26, 2013 by

One of the most exciting education strategies I’ve used this year is flipped learning. This weekend, I’m presenting at the TechConnect 2.0 Conference in Sacramento, California with my friend and colleague, Amanda Sharpe. I thought I’d share some of the excitement with you!

What is a flipped classroom?

  The flipped classroom, simply put, is having students do at home what they traditionally do at school. Using technology, students would watch videos, listen to podcasts, or participate in online reading and discussions as homework, and use class time in teacher-facilitated discussions and activities directly related to their previous night’s activities. A flipped classroom turns the teacher into a guide, not the starring performer. Flipped classrooms provide for learning through activity, not passivity.

flipped learning

What does a flipped classroom look like?

  • Discussions are led by the students where outside content is brought in and expanded.

  • These discussions typically reach higher orders of critical thinking.

  • Collaborative work is fluid with students shifting between various simultaneous discussions depending on their needs and interests.

  • Content is given context as it relates to real-world scenarios.

  • Students challenge one another during class on content.

  • Student-led tutoring and collaborative learning forms spontaneously.

  • Students take ownership of the material and use their knowledge to lead one another without prompting from the teacher.

  • Students ask exploratory questions and have the freedom to delve beyond core curriculum.

  • Students are actively engaged in problem solving and critical thinking that reaches beyond the traditional scope of the course.

  • Students are transforming from passive listeners to active learners. 

From: “The Flipped Class: What Does a Good One Look Like?” by Brian Bennett, Jason Kern, April Gudenrath, and Philip McIntosh http://www.thedailyriff.com/articles/the-flipped-class-what-does-a-good-one-look-like-692.php

What are the benefits of a flipped classroom?


In my classroom, students enjoy using technology as a different way to access their homework. Somehow, it seems more ‘fun’ and even shy, inhibited kids who normally wouldn’t participate readily in class discussion want to chat online about a video or article we’ve read.

How do you flip a classroom?

In my classroom, I utilize Edmodo. Edmodo is a free social learning network for teachers, students, schools and districts that is set up like Facebook, creating instant ‘buy-in’ for students. Some of the benefits of Edmodo are:

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

  • Exchange ideas

  • Share content

  • Access homework, grades and school notices.

  • Closed environment

  • No private information required from students

  • Students join classes by the invitation of their teacher only

  • All communications are archived

  • Teacher has full management control

     How can Edmodo help the flip?

    Students can access online or on the go:

    Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

    Image via CrunchBase

    – web – iPad

    – iPhone – iPod touch (wireless)

    Easily share content (files, videos, pictures, etc.) in posts and monitor student responses.

    Assess student mastery of at-home learning with quizzes and get feedback quickly with polls.



Finding Your Comfort Level

The best way to begin flipping your classroom is just to start at your comfort level. Flipping can happen in what I call four stages: beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert. I’ve found that if teachers wait until they have it all ‘figured out’ they will never try it. Flipping your classroom can make teachers feel a bit nervous about loosening control, and change is scary. Comfort Level depends on various factors, including familiarity with Edmodo, comfort with technology tools, and development of a safe online classroom environment.

Comfort level: Beginners

Edmodo is used at this level mostly for enrichment and extra support. Teachers can:

  • post handouts used in class

  • post Powerpoints used in class

  • post copies of stories used in class

  • post articles to read ‘for fun’

  • post syllabus, permission slips, forms used regularly

Is this flipping your classroom? Yes, sort of. It’s the first step! I started here the first year, got myself grounded, and the next year I went to Intermediate.

Comfort level: Intermediate

Intermediate level users do everything in Beginner plus…

  • post audio versions of stories and poetry read in class

  • post articles to read and start online discussions

  • post videos to watch and start online discussions

  • take polls

  • use badges

  • create folders for library

At this level, you are actually flipping your classroom! I suggest you hang out here for as long as it takes to feel comfortable, and you’ll see such great responses you’ll want to move to the Advanced level!

Comfort level: Advanced

Advanced flippers do everything in Beginner and Intermediate plus…

  • Post content lessons on Edmodo and use in-class time for applied learning

  • Post teacher created podcasts for new and review information

  • Post teacher created video to introduce or supplement concepts

  • Have students use Edmodo app for back channel discussions and Q&A during class instructional time

  • Create a library on content-linked instructional resources for students to reference throughout the year

  • Have students share work on Edmodo and provide feedback to one another

This is where I’m experimenting right now. Some of these depend on your technology expertise, but also on the time you’re willing to invest outside of class prepping for your flip. Like any new skill, sometimes there’s an upfront investment that pays off in the back-end.

Comfort level: Expert

Expert flippers do everything in Beginning, Intermediate, & Advanced, plus…

  • Extend learning beyond the classroom walls using real-time back channel discussions (during current events such as the State of the Union, an astronomical event, elections, other breaking news, etc.)

  • Globalize learning by creating a co-classroom with students around the globe

When I grow up, I want to be an expert flipper. Really. I think this is so cool and offers so much promise in education that I’m pushing myself to do more and more online. I want to teach my kids how to be responsible digital citizens not just by showing them, but by having them practice it.

What does it look like in a classroom?

While my 8th graders were studying the Bill of Rights, we studied children’s rights around the world. One activity we did was to watch a series of four videos through Edmodo-see the clip below on South African children. Students were required to comment at least once on the discussion thread, adding their thoughts about children’s rights and what they watched. Many kids commented on their classmates’ posts, and we saw a read dialogue begin BEFORE WE CAME TO CLASS. I was amazed at the depth of thinking that occurred when kids had time to watch the video, pause when needed, rewind, re watch, synthesize the information, think out their comment and respond appropriately. And the best part of all? They loved it!

So you want to flip your classroom?  

We’ve got resources to help!

Edmodo Help Center

Our 21st Century Education Pinterest Board

Log on to Edmodo http://www.edmodo.com, join our group (code: 2es376), and check out the shared folders (also public!) chock full of resources!


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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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