All posts by Michael Bromley

Founder and President of School4Schools.com LLC & The A+ Club, Bromley taught Social Studies for seven years at Archbishop Carroll High School in NE Washington, DC. Bromley is a historian, published author, entrepreneur, and dedicated teacher. School4Schools.com LLC and The + Club are Bromley's expression of enthusiasm and love for students.

Introducing “Tips for Teachers”: building efficiencies to free you to teach (and not waste so much time doing everything else)

The number one teacher complaint is time.

Introducing “Tips for Teachers,” a series of blog posts, videos, lessons, and ideas from School4Schools.com LLC on helping teachers get through their routines and days more efficiently – so they can focus on what they love and what they’re there for: teaching kids.

Tips for Teachers will focus on teacher processes and the use of technology to build efficiencies in every day tasks.

Some coming posts include:

  • Using Outlook to get in control communication, tasks, calendars, and email management.
  • Using OneNote for organization, brainstorming, and task management, as well as some of its other cool features such as email integration and whiteboard.
  • Power of a WordPress teacher or class website.
  • Using an SMS system for student reminders and increased workflow.
  • Grading by voice recording and sharing feedback with students and parents by voicemail propagated through email.
  • How to make a simple, quick voice to text reader to use in the classroom or to help kids read texts you assign.
  • Outsourcing your grading.

Teachers, get your time back!

Check back for these and more coming Tips for Teachers, and follow us on Twitter, Vimeo, or Facebook.

Or subscribe to Tips for Teachers here:

 


Some background thoughts on why I’m so concerned about teacher efficiencies

by Michael Bromley, founder and president of School4Schools.com LLC & the A+ Club

Schools throw huge resources at teachers: Learning Management Systems (LMS) , smartboards, software, copy machines, computers… but how many PD days were ever spent learning how to use them, and if there were any, what follow-up support was there?

My ten years of classroom teaching was always tainted by administrative disdain for my time. We were given tools and expected to use them – without real ongoing support on how to actually use them.

For example, if your school provided you with the Microsoft Office Suite, I’m guessing there was never any PD attached to it, much less any serious guidance on how to use it effectively. Just look at how much a business will spend on teaching its professionals how to use Microsoft Office. A quick Bing search yields $2400 a day for training of 12 employees, or a four-day intensive course for $480 per student. Or, what about a $20 per month subscription to Lynda.com? Nope, not for schools. They’ve got too much money to spend on other things and none for your personal efficiencies and time.

Sure, at my school we had a couple demonstrations on a new system (never anything on MS Office, which most teachers thought consists of Word and PowerPoint.)  I was even asked to show other teachers some of my use of technology during a staff meeting or a PD or two.  But there was never any follow-through and no ongoing individual attention to helping teachers use these tools or build efficiencies. (Some of these same administrators even asked me privately to show them some of my tricks.)

Our tech guy knew hardware but wasn’t much help on how to actually use the things as a teacher. The best support we got was from the students helpers who could actually make a sound system or video work. Meanwhile, every time I dropped through the teacher lounge, I’d be asked to show another teacher how to do this or that on the school LMS or some other computer thing.

It’s something about education that its resources are seen through the lens of budgets and allocations, but not actual use.

Here are two stories to demonstrate it

1. When my daughter started attending my school, I was suddenly not just a colleague but a parent.  Now I saw my colleagues” grading habits, their assignment postings, and I heard the good and the bad from my daughter every day on the way home from school.

One of the most shocking things I discovered was how little her teachers used the very basic LMS program, Edline. It was a total waste (such as the teacher who put up assignments but had them repeated every day of the year, including weekends).  Assignments and grades were posted randomly if at all, and so many answers to my questions as a parent that could have been answered through Edline turned into email and hallway chases. And I was in the same building with them every day, so what about the frustrated parents who couldn’t get the answers I could only get through a personal shakedown?

I told our principal and facilities vice principal about my observations and how I personally had to spend minutes  every day that turned into hours every week helping my colleagues do simple things on Edline that nobody had bothered to show them before and how the school should really help its teachers learn how to use the system. The two of them laughed at me. Literally. They laughed, and I walked away.

So it was back to helping my colleagues one at a time and day to day figure out how to easily and meaningfully put up their assignments and grades for students and parents.

2. When my school replaced blackboards with whiteboards,  I purchased my own projector to take advantage of the ready-screen whiteboards represented. The school had one or two projectors that we were always taken, so I got my own. Now my kids had the benefit of my desktop in every class, and I had the benefit of prepping to it rather than hoping I could get one of the other projectors.

A couple years later the school got a donation for smartboard systems that used ceiling-installed projector that interacted with a device attached to the whiteboard.  Cool stuff. They put it in my classroom — yep, and left it at that.

The audio wires weren’t installed properly, and the tech guy couldn’t figure them out. So I bought my own little amplifier and set it up myself. The VCR system just didn’t work right, so I bought all my videos on Amazon and ran them straight from my computer. And so on.

The smartboard system had a magic wand that worked by interacting with a static electric field that was projected across the white board projector area by the attached device. However, the two 8-foot whiteboards were connected by a metal band that ran down the middle of that projector placement. Static-electricity field + metal band = I could only use half the smartboard screen at a time. The kids and I laughed it off every day, but it was a true annoyance that was daily wasting my time and impacting my lessons.

Moving the projector was an option, but I knew that would be difficult as it was a permanent installation in the ceiling. Why not, then, just cut one of the 8-foot whiteboards in half, move the other one to the middle and the two 4-foot pieces to the side? I asked the vice principal of facilities (the one who laughed at my idea for a PD to instruct teachers on how to use Edline) for help. He was furious. How dare I question what the donors had given me! Alright,  whatever.

See horse. See cart. The wrong one is in front.

Here’s the problem: administrators perceive teachers as service providers for the wrong set of clients. Students and families are not their clients, policy, pedagogy and the Department of Education are. If focus were upon students and parents as the real clients, schools would be very, very concerned about every aspect of a teacher’s day, especially how their teachers use their precious time to support their clients. Instead teachers are providers of pedagogy, test results and public policy.

What would I do as an administrator?

Good teachers know who their real clients are.  Everything else is backup and resource for the core aim of teaching.

My dream school is one in which kids truly are first, and in which teachers drive their teaching and not the school. The school’s job would be to support, guide, and help execute what the teachers themselves decided they can do best. Just dreaming here, but isn’t that what we believe we’re supposed to do with kids — and if so why, then, don’t schools approach teachers the same way?

Anything we can do to make a teachers’ day go a little quicker, a classroom a little more productive and effective, and to help along a teaching process or to lessen a frustration, I figure there is at least one kid who learned just a little more that day and one parent who felt good about it.

Yes, it is “all about the kids,” but it’s helping teachers help kids that concerns us. In our A+ Club student support program, we help kids help themselves. Through Tips for Teachers we hope to help teachers help themselves help kids, one efficiency at a time.

– Michael

Parenting Procrastinators

The School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published an article on how parents can manage their child’s procrastination by Michael Bromley of School4Schools.com LLC in “Parenthetical” magazine:

Parenting Procrastinators

School’s just starting up, so the last thing any of us want to think about are the grades that come at the end of this new school year. Maybe last year wasn’t so successful for your teen, and you are dreading a repeat performance. Maybe your teen struggled in a subject or two, or had difficulty engaging with a certain teacher. While last year is definitely old news and students deserve a fresh start, keeping potential pitfalls in mind as the school year gets underway can position parents to be a positive force in a youth’s academic achievement early on.

Read full article at Parenthetical: Where parents of tweens and teens learn, share & connect

How teachers can use WordPress blogging to enhance student engagement

Every teacher’s goal is student engagement, both in and out of class

Strong Stuff
Strong Stuff

The more our students act on our lessons and expectations outside of class, the better they function in class. Nothing new there.

And the difficulty to achieve it in part explains the annual Professional Development (PD) flogging with the latest, greatest solution to student engagement: “Differentiated Learning,” “Flipped Classrooms,” “Student-Centered Learning,” “Cooperative Learning,” and so on, that attempt to trick students into suddenly caring about our lessons and classrooms.

I’ve tried them all, and I know you have, too. Continue reading

What’s your student’s emotional IQ? Maturity, Emotional Intelligence & Salesmanship

So your child is that smart, a high-riding, high IQ, straight A’s academic cowboy!

Cool that, but how’s that maturity thing going?

The peak age for absorbing new information is age 18. The peak age for assessing the emotional state of others is 40.

It makes sense, as our developmental years are for learning, testing, and expanding our bodies and mind and testing how they interact with the outer world. Our adult years are for organizing and evaluating ourselves within the larger world.  (Here for How Intelligence Shifts With Age)

So perhaps we can measure our children a bit differently from ourselves?

Continue reading

Mentoring students for a lifetime of success

Puck & Stella slideshowTurns out that a friend really can help.

An important study was released by Gallup:

When it comes to being engaged at work and experiencing high well-being after graduation, a new Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates shows that the type of institution they attended matters less than what they experienced there. Yet, just 3% of all the graduates studied had the types of experiences in college that Gallup finds strongly relate to great jobs and great lives afterward

Continue reading

Procrastination Primer Part 2: tools & strategies on how to avoid & overcome procrastination (podcast no. 24)

Stop Procrastination Now!The Procrastination Primer Podcast

 

Part 2/2: Tools & Strategies on How to Avoid and Overcome Procrastination

So what’s the harm in a little delay?

Student Success Podcast No. 24, March 20, 2015

Click here for PowerPoint presentation of Pt 1 & 2 (not narrated).
** Not For Distribution **

Click here for Procrastination Primer Pt 1 (Podcast no. 23)

Continue reading

Learning for the long term: actual content retention versus cramming for the test

Your brain is a web. Cramming is just a strand. Learning is the entire web.

Cramming is compartmentalized memorization, while learning is a series of connected memories.

Here’s an extreme example:

Recently a highly conscientious student joined the A+ Club, troubled over her difficulties in math and science. Turns out the student was memorizing solutions to practice problems before tests, and when those questions didn’t show up on the test, she failed them. (Talk about teacher dysfunction: how could you not notice this??) Continue reading

“I don’t test well” — or do you just not prepare enough?

Testing issues?

You understand it in class, but not when you have to do it on the test?

You do all your homework, but then the teacher pops a question you never saw before?

Actually, you test precisely as well as you learn.

Nice try, though.

We hear this from parents as much as from students:

“My daughter does all her homework but she just doesn’t test well.”

And then

“I think she has test anxiety.”

It’s almost comforting to know that your child doesn’t test well. One would want to sympathize with that, because it would seem to explain things. But it’s just not true.

Here are the components of “testing well”:

  1. Identify teacher expectations

  2. Internalize them through repetitive practice.

“Testing” is demonstration of learning in what we call a “formal assessment.” Certainly there are additional pressures and conditions to render a formal assessment more difficult than homework or classwork. There’s the time limit, there’s the formality of the situation, and the discomfort a teacher getting serious all of a sudden. But that doesn’t change the fact that none of those additional challenges do anything but emphasize preparedness — or lack thereof.

Guided v. Independent Practice

For students who simply do not engage the workflow that teachers expect, they will not “test well” unless they are exceptionally bright and can learn on the fly without studying. Their grades will still suffer, because middle and high school grades are usually no more than 30 or 40 percent from formal assessments.

So acing every test without doing any homework starts you off on a B or C, and maintaining even those grades requires 100% on tests and quizzes. Good luck with that.

For students who follow in the classroom, who understand teacher expectations, and who do the homework and studying that’s required of them — and still do not “test well,” it’s not a “testing” issue. It’s the learning.

A couple of things may be going on:

1. Compliance without learning:

What we call “overly compliant” students are more concerned with fulfilling the form of teacher (or parent) expectations without actually engaging its substance. When this happens, homework and studying happen without real learning. It shows up as high  homework (process) and low test (learning) grades.

2. Lack of lesson internalization:

Whether or not the student engages the expected workflow, if test scores are low, then the student is simply not studying enough. Experts will tell you how it takes 30 distinct acts of learning/practicing something to fully internalize, i.e., to full know it.

With school work, those 30 or whatever acts of learning start with the teacher’s first lesson, then continue through the “guided practice,” in which the teacher shows and leads the students in the lesson (setting expectations, engaging students, building relevancy and breaking it down for understanding — you know, all those things a good teacher does…) and on to enough “independent” practice through which the student has applied the teacher’s learning her or himself.

A quick way to measure “internalization” is to try to teach it to someone else. If you can’t explain it to someone who doesn’t already know it, then you don’t really know it. This is how a parent can engage a child in studying topics that the parent doesn’t know about: “explain it to me.” If the student can’t, then the student needs more learning, be it guided or independent practice or both.

But here’s the crutch: is it important enough to the student to apply him or herself to it fully?

Relevancy

So let’s add an additional component to “testing well”:

3. Making it important enough to study and practice enough (relevancy and commitment)

Overly compliant students do not engage lessons meaningfully, as do other sorts of underperformers who may procrastinate, lack  executive function and other secretarial skills and do not process and practice enough independently.

Just as we would ask the internally-motivated student who learns only topics of interest, the overly compliant, externally-motivated student must adopt that curiosity and drive to learn of the intrinsic learner in order to get past “I don’t test well.”

Both sets must apply themselves with adequate  preparation, practice, and purpose in order to raise those test grades, even in an unenjoyable class.

Heh, it’s only a grade — which actually matters.

So quit making excuses about “testing issues” and get to work really learning it so that when you do have to spit it back out on a test amidst formal, “sit-down and shut-up,” nerve-wracking settings, it’s actually easy — because you already and truly know it.

– Michael

Procrastination Primer Part 1: procrastination awareness – what is it & how does it operate? (podcast no. 23)

Stop Procrastination Now!The Procrastination Primer Podcast

 

Part 1/2: What is procrastination?  Why does it happen? How does it work?

So what’s the harm in a little delay?

Student Success Podcast No. 23, Feb 27, 2015

Click here for PowerPoint presentation of Pt 1 & 2 (not narrated).
** Not For Distribution **

Click here for Procrastination Primer Pt 2 (Podcast no. 24)

Continue reading

The Late Work Game: teachers, do you want missing work, late work — or no work at all?

Welcome back to the late work game!

First semester is up and teachers and students across the country are recovering from that last minute freak out: get that missing work in!

Stressed kids near collapse trying to dig something out, anything to get the grades up. Desperate teachers giving up all pretense of syllabus rules and pushing, pulling, and excusing the kids across the finish line. Vice Principals peering over their shoulders, demanding mounds of paper work to justify failing this and that kid. Now into the new semester and it’s starting all over again. Continue reading