Self Care Professional Development

During a recent PDs, we discussed the topic of self care. Cythina, one of our school social workers, shared some excellent resources with us that can be found at the end of this blog post! As we come to the end of the year, it is easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on in life and to maintain that work life balance.

Take Time to Reflect

I recognize there are time constraints and I understand that sometimes, taking time to reflect can cause added stress, especially when you are already pressured for time. However, this can easily be done while you are doing something else – waiting at the copy machine, walking across campus, connecting with another teacher. One of my favorite ways to reflect is with an after school run with another teacher. This way, we can talk together, my thoughts get put out there and I am getting added advice from someone I trust and respect.

This blog post from George Couros also really helped me put things into perspective:

“Negatives last as long as you don’t learn from them. From every situation, good and bad, there are things that we can learn from, but if we let the negative linger, it will loom over you.”

George Couros

The quote above helps me remember that even when things are getting stressful and seemingly negative, they can become positives when we learn from them. When we take the time to reflect on the events of our day, whether it is with a parent, a student, or something more personal, we can make a well informed plan to move forward and hopefully find that we are a stronger at the end of the journey.

Identifying Happiness 

In the Science of Happiness Podcast, each episode has a “Happiness Guinea Pig.” They challenge their Happiness Guinea Pig to list three things a day that made them happy. This could be written, blogged, or just thought about. How powerful would it be have an ongoing list of what made you happy each day? This could just be something to look back at and reflect on.

Another strategy that the podcast shared was about thinking ahead to the future with an activity called “the best possible self” (the quote below is taken straight from the podcast transcript):

“So the best possible self—the activity is you’re supposed to for two weeks you’re supposed to take 15 minutes out of your day and write about your future. Think about things that are really important to you. So your—your relationships, your work your health. And you know the more specific the better and you know, just go for it, just write whatever you can. And then one of the things that I think it was like the first point was like ‘you might find yourself—I’m paraphrasing here but—you might find yourself like bogged down in the details of what’s happening with your life now which certainly happened to me but you know it was like basically like but just keep writing. Just do it.

And the idea is to write out all of the things that you want and to do it without casting judgment on yourself and so just to really, really stretch yourself to think about what are the things that I want if there are no obstacles and if there are you know there are no barriers, and if I could just have this. And then hopefully the idea is that you can be on your way to achieving that just by writing it down and knowing that the possibility is out there.”

Adizah Eghan

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the present, take the suggested 15 minutes and think ahead to the future. This just might help keep the present in perspective!

Identify Your Triggers

Is there a particular part of your day when you feel anxious or especially stressed? For me, it was the end of the day when I was trying to get a ton of things done before going to workout or before getting to the grocery store or before just going home to be home! When I was really, struggling, I brought this up with my team. They shared some strategies that they use – staying later only one day a week to catch up on everything, getting to work 15 minutes early a few days to complete the burdensome tasks that keep us all late, or connecting with parents and relying on them for help. Talking it out and getting advice really helped me grow professionally and manage my tasks.

Whatever is making you feel uneasy, anxious, or negative, try to identify the cause. If you are not able to identify a cause that can lead to a solution, bring others in to see if they can help you out!

I have learned a lot of great information by listening to the podcast called The Science of Happiness (referred to in this blog post under “Identifying Happiness”). This podcast gives stories and strategies that may help you find happiness and a better life balance – if that is what you are searching for.

Below are a few resources that were shared by our counseling department:

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Global Innovation Summit – Reflection

This week, I had the opportunity to attend The Global Innovation Summit as part of our Apple Distinguished School recognition. During this time, we had the opportunity to connect with some of the other innovative schools from around the world. Throughout my time here, I recognized just how much we are doing to provide our students with a quality innovative education. I also came to recognize where else we can go with our integration of STEM and VAPA, how else we can provide opportunities to our learners, who else we can partner with and learn with and what else we can do to offer opportunities to our learners.

Learn, Lead, Innovate

Learn, lead, innovate was the theme of the #AppleDistinguishedSchools conference. Each session and event was strategically planned to demonstrate these themes.

  • Learn: develop a learning community with educators who Apple has deemed as the most innovative schools around the world
  • Lead: find opportunities to be innovative, lead your personal and professional learning to use technology as the tool
  • Innovate: with the support of technology, create opportunities that are not only new but an improvement on existing practices (for more about this definition, see @gcouros blog post on Are You More Focused on the ‘New’ or the ‘Better’?)

We can give a voice to everyone within the right context. Especially whnever we have stakeholders who are struggling with ideas and new practices, we can hear from them and better understand their perspective. When we listen to why people are unhappy, how powerful would that be to use their comments to reflect on our practices and purpose? Would this be beneficial to hear their voice and build a cohesive learning community?

Learning Environments that Evoke a Feeling


“The technology is not the story, you are the story.”

Randy Nelson

Global Innovation Summit Apple Distinguished Schools 2018

What kind of an impression do our learning environments evoke? Have we become blinded by the appearance of our learning environments? What environmental constraints can we positively impact?

So many of our teachers do an amazing job of offering flexible seating, spaces for brain breaks, aromatherapy, temperature control. All of these things are within our control and when we reflect upon the environment we are creating, we have an impact on the culture and feelings that arise as soon as our learners walk into the classroom. The room environment is the first thing that impacts our learners. How powerful would it be if the first emotion felt is positive?

Innovation and Leadership


Learning can be transformed when we start to create shifts in our thinking for the better. This cannot happen without a reflection on existing practices.

The modern learner’s newfound capacity to take full control of their learning is the most profound educational shift…ever!

Will Richardson

To help us shift this thinking, we can use a few questions to guide our planning.

  • What opportunities are we giving students to be innovative and collaborative?
  • What opportunities are we providing that allows students to create something that demonstrates their learning?
  • How are they sharing this?

Integrating STEM and VAPA

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We have some amazing specialty programs that are already established! How powerful would it be if we started relying on our students to lead some of the end of the year culminating activities?

During the conference, we met with a team from The Young Women’s Leadership Network (TYWLS)  who coordinated a Digital Dance Project.  This Digital Dance project is an event that incorporates STEM and VAPA concepts while remaining student led and organized with support from teachers who specialize in each area.

  • STEM:
    • Science: connect dance to a scientific concept to create an interpretive dance
    • Technology: choreograph around coded Arduinos or Ozobots
    • Engineering: design and construct moving pieces to be part of the set design
    • Mathematics: I have not figured this one out yet, but I would love to collaborate with others to brainstorm
  • VAPA:
    • Art: set design planned and created by students – collaboration with the engineering department will be crucial, costume design with LED lights and coordinated lighting
    • Dance: students compose a choreographed dance
    • Music: use of GarageBand to compose music for the Digital Dance Project
    • Theater: dance is incorporated into the theatrical play

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What do we want our stakeholders to feel? How do we achieve that, how do we make sure that we are giving opportunities that will help all learners feel those emotions? If we are being purposeful about considering emotions and feelings while designing lessons and planning our units, how will that impact our schools and the learning going on?

This fundamental question, and the power that can be seen if we “Change One Thing.” This will help us craft around our intention. I encourage you to ask yourselves what kind of experience fo you want everyone around you to have?

How do we signal that there is something magical here?

Randy Nelson

Global Innovation Summit Apple Distinguished Schools 2018

Continued Learning


There are many opportunities to expand on our existing learning. This can go beyond what is done during professional development sessions and with our teams. For more opportunities to develop skills in using technology in class, check out Teacher Tuesdays at Apple and the


How would it impact our students if we all continued pushing ourselves as learners and helped our own brains grow in areas we are already passionate about or in areas where we may have shallow depths of knowledge?

Providing opportunities that allow learners to create, lead, and innovate will help empower them and give the time and space to be innovative while integrating the academic requirements of education. How would this shift impact the community within your classroom and within our school?



Strategies During Testing

The end of the year SBAC assessment can cause a lot of angst for students, parents, and teachers. We can all work together to make sure that we provide as positive of an experience through this process as possible.


Familiarize Yourself with the Assessment

The SBAC assessment is taken in grade 3-12. All students are expected to complete this assessment in school. The SBAC website has some great resources and videos that will help parents familiarize themselves with the assessment: 

Help Your Child Feel Confident

Have conversations with your child about what to expect during testing. Remind them that their brain is growing and has grown throughout this school year because of the hard work they have put into their schoolwork. Reflect with your child about what they have learned this year. Think back to the previous year and help your child remember that learning is a process that is continuous, it never stops!

Your Words Have Power

Many teachers encourage parents to write a short letter in their home language. This letter is read by students each morning before they begin the assessment. Your letter can include anything that you feel will help your child feel more confident. Reminding them how proud you are of them and explaining what makes you feel you such pride can be a great place to start your letter!

Support on Testing Days

The days of SBAC testing can be incredibly stressful because the normal routines of our school day are not followed. Students arrive in class, do a classroom specific motivation strategy, then begin testing. The testing can last for hours throughout the day. Therefore, at home, before and after  your child arrives at school, you can:

  • Make sure they are well rested
  • Make sure they have breakfast
  • If your child earned an SBAC medal, make sure they wear it to school
  • Make sure they are on time to school
  • Leave them a note or pack their favorite snack
  • When they come home, ask them how they felt during testing
  • Strategize with your child to discover ways they can feel successful during testing



Show What You Know

Throughout this entire school year, your brain has grown! You have learned new concepts, strategies, and you have developed new academic skills. The purpose of this assessment is simply to what you have learned. While it is important to do your best, it is also important to realize that some of the questions are meant to challenge you and that is okay! Part of this experience is learning how to handle situations that are stressful and daunting. Stay confident in yourself and show what you know!

Believe in Yourself

It is crucial to believe that you, yourself, can achieve great things! Have confidence that you can demonstrate your knowledge successfully! Don’t forget all the hard work you have put into your learning throughout this year. Help yourself remember how far you have come academically by reflecting on where you were before this school year started.

Feel Confident About What you Have Learned

We all have times when we have not put our best effort into something. Now is the time to reflect and feel proud about all the times you did put your best effort into the task at hand. Think of a time when you felt successful on something related to school. Hold that feeling in your heart and mind. Whenever you are feeling stress or pressure because of an assessment, bring that feeling back to yourself. Give yourself a moment to feel that same pride again.



Test Pep

Test pep is very different form test prep because one is about celebrating successes, the other is about closing knowledge gaps. While both are necessary, test pep can help build the confidence in our learners and remind them that while it is okay to feel stressed, we have strategies to work beyond that and put our best effort into our task.

Inspirational Posters and Reminders

Ms. Gates and her ASB student have done an amazing job of creating posters for students to feel supported during testing. Especially when frustrations run high for both students and teachers, this can be a source of calming in the classroom. The reminder that this is what they have prepared for, the messages that make them feel supported, the thought that it is okay to feel frustrated as long as we have strategies that can help us move forward – all of these messages can help support our learners even when they are feeling frustrated.

In Ms. Miller’s class, I  noticed that she had her students create thinking caps with social-emotional learning connections. These thinking caps will help students feel excited about testing and help them stay motivated by serving as a reminder that they have spent the year helping their brains grow.


Every year, we ask our parents to write an inspirational letter to their children. Giving time to allow our students to read this letter, holding a conversation about what this letter means to them, and reflecting on the words of their loved ones can help students feel the supported and help them feel proud of how hard they have worked.

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We are looking forward to seeing what our students have learned over the course of the year! We will be reflecting on the results and data to provide an even more effective academic education for each individual learner.

Trust Circles for Testing

How would it impact your class if every day, students had the opportunity to destress and converse about crucial topics? Many different situations can arise during testing and these preventative conversations work towards resolving an existing problem which can help alleviate some testing anxiety. Talking it out, using pictures, and watching videos can help guide everyone to a more successful testing experience. The guided conversation topics for trust circles below can help students get in a mindset of success when these conversations are held in a calming and purposeful manner.

Before a Lengthy Assessment

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  • Reflect on everything we have done to prepare for today.
  • What strategies can you use to feel more energized?
  • What helps you stay focused?
  • Why is grit so important?
  • How will you make sure you are most successful?
  • What does effort look like?

Before a Challenging Task

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  • What does “rise above” mean to you?
  • How does it feel when we put our best effort into our work?
  • How do you work through challenging tasks?
  • What helps when you are struggling?

After a Difficult Assessment

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  • Tell about a time you tackled a difficult task. What did you do?
  • What is something you felt successful with today?
  • How did you handle the challenges you faced today?
  • What is your takeaway from this video: Pass it On – Finish Line

When Focus is Lost

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  • How do you continue believing in yourself even when you are struggling?
  • What do you do to help you stay focused?
  • What strategies do you use to keep on track with your goals?

When Frustrations Run High

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When Defeat Seems Imminent

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  • How does believing in someone help: Pass it On – Track Coach
  • Describe a moment when you felt proud.
  • Describe a moment when you were proud of someone else.
  • What does persevering look like?

Orchestrating these trust circles, especially during testing can help students be reminded of a time when they were successful. The idea is to get optimistic thoughts flowing and to make sure that everyone feels like they are part of a supportive classroom community.

For more videos and inspiration, check out the website, Pass It On

For more resources on Trust Circles, see our school Trust Circle Google Doc.

Combating Assessment Stress

Testing time can be stressful for students because normal routines are disrupted, days seem a lot longer and they are taking a high stakes assessment. There are strategies that make testing a little more manageable for all learners.

Focus on Growth

When we are reviewing information with our students, it is crucial that we look at the individual. While data is important and helps us support our learners, we can keep their growth in mind and use that to individualize our feedback and create goals which will help them progress.

When we reflect on data, how powerful would it be to consider where each student started and where they are now?

When I was teaching grade two, I was going over Lexile Levels during one-on-one conferences. One student who had been struggling in reading all year had finally progressed beyond BR – “beginning reader.” When I shared the new Lexile level, this student looked at me said, “You mean I am not a beginning reader anymore?” My heart sank. This was a term I had taught this student. I had not focused on the strengths or growths, I was more concerned with data than anything else.

When I changed my mindset to focus on what each student was excelling in and started  supporting to reach individual goals, they started exemplifying their strengths and showing growth. They even began working to support other students in areas where they felt most confident. The individualized goals and feedback empowered the learners to excel beyond what was expected of them and to take their learning to a larger audience by helping others learn and supporting them.

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Positive Words

Keeping the focus on positivity can also help support our learners and reduce the stress that often surrounds testing. Simple encouragements, listening to students, and gentle support can all have a positive impact on the attitude students have towards testing.

Some of my favorite positivity videos are from This website is full of short (30 – 75 second) videos that are incredibly inspirational and up-lifting.

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Relaxation Strategies

Teaching strategies that will help students when they get overwhelmed can be beneficial even beyond testing time. One of my favorite read aloud books, Good Morning Yoga, has a great mantra at the end that helps set a purpose for the day. We read this book every Monday; students set a purpose for the day and then reflect on that purpose at the end of the day.

This is just one strategy that students can use when they are feeling overwhelmed. I would suggest talking to your students in a trust circle and hearing from them. What strategies do they use when they are feeling overwhelmed? By keeping an on-going list of these strategies, students can have a resource they turn to when they are feeling overwhelmed.

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Healthy Routines

Reminding students about healthy sleep and eating habits has emotional as well as physical benefits. These routines, if taught early, can become a regular part of our students’ lives. Hold conversations about how students feel when they are rested compared to tired, discuss the benefits of healthy eating, talk about how to manage time to fit social hours, school work, and exercise into a day… All of these short conversations can have a positive impact over time.


Testing can be a stressful time; it can also be an opportunity to show strength in character. How powerful would it be to hear from our students and strategize with them to help monitor and reduce stress levels?

From Differentiation to Individualization

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Driving Objective

When education works to reach each individual learner, it creates opportunities to recognize and apply strengths, interests, and values while applying voice and choice to the everyday education of all learners.

What would it do to a school if we recognized and applied the strengths, interests, and values of each learner as individuals? How would this empower our learners and give them a deeper purpose in learning? 


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Each learner is an individual who is developing their own strengths, interests, and values and whose voice and choice should be recognized in their everyday learning and everyday assignments. When we empower learners by connecting their passions to academics, they are more likely to put an increased effort into their work which will make the learning more purposeful.

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Starting by developing an understanding of the strengths, interests, and values within each learning then moving on to recognizing these qualities in each individual learner can empower learners and create a more effective learning experience.

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Recognizing strengths, interests, and values, can begin with the Thrively Strengths Assessment. How powerful would it be if we used those strengths along with what we notice about each individual student and applied it to their academics? For example, if a student is interested in makeup, have them volunteer for theater and help with the play. If a student is struggling to demonstrate compassion, pair them up with a student who had this strength and give them support as they learn from each other.


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When our lessons are more individualized and allow for voice and choice, they are:

  • More relevant to challenges that are being faced today
  • More meaningful and applicable to tasks that are immediate
  • More reasons to create quality work now
  • More purposeful, which will help increase retention of learning

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The 4 Cs – Communication, collaboration, creativity & innovation, and thinking critically – according to P21 are skills that are essential to helping our students develop because they are necessary for tackling  tasks and largert challenges. We can provide opportunities to develop these skills by connecting learners to global audiences, allowing students to create projects based on learning, and starting conversations about the world of work

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Together, we can develop a growth mindset with our learners so that when challenges arise, we have a community of school support and resources at hand that will help us work through those challenges together – creatively and collaboratively while using communication skills and critical thinking.

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Developing a growth mindset to help students continue developing their strengths and recognizing the strengths in others is one way that we can create meaningful groups and help individualize our lessons so that each student sees the purpose and value in their learning. 

Images Taking Differentiation Further to Provide Individulaized Learning.034Encourage the conversation about voice and choice to start so that everyone is aware of why individuality in learning is important. This can begin with both understanding and applying students’ strengths, interests, and values. This does not mean that each student should have a separate assignment. Instead, it means that the students should have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a way that is best for them – a blog, an iMovie, an interview, a digital media presentation, etc. Talking to our learners and understanding more about how they would like to demonstrate their learning can make them feel more empowered than if they are given an assignment that is created by the teacher for the teacher. We can remove limitations on learning by making sure that we give options that will best apply to each individual learner.

For more research and information on this, download our Hypedoc (a document with links embedded in the text) from participate:

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This document has links to all of the research presented in this article:



What would happen if we provided our students with the opportunity to develop empathy through global connections while recognizing their need to communicate academic learning with various audiences? Recently, in Elizabeth Aderholdt’s fourth grade class, she has been doing just that! With the free program,, the fourth graders in this class were connected with other classrooms from across the globe.

The mission for Empatico is best explained by their Founder, who also happens to be the Founder & CEO of KIND Snacks:

We want kids to adopt a sense of responsibility to other human beings. This should not only help them understand how to prevent conflict, and how to develop critical listening skills that will come handy in their own lives, but also to positively cement the areas of their own identity that they can be proud of. It should also help a new generation of leaders recognize our shared responsibility to solve society’s biggest challenges.

Daniel Lubetzky – CEO & Founder at KIND


Supporting students in becoming global learners by giving them opportunities to video chat with other classrooms from across the globe. Conversation is centered around grade level academics.

This global connection is relevant to our vision at Feaster Charter because we also work to prepare our learners for a multi-cultural society. This is one tool that we can use to keep our students connected globally instead of simply locally.

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Screen shot from explaining the process for connecting with other classrooms

The Connection

Once a teacher has logged in, chosen a lesson and available times, they are connected with another educator. Together, they plan out the questions and logistics behind the video chat. Right before the video chat, both teachers log onto their Empatico accounts and the video connection begins right from the Empatico website!

During this chat, I instantly saw the students light up because they were given a different audience to connect with. To them, their learning had a purpose beyond gaining knowledge for an assignment or assessment. Together, both classes recognized that they had the opportunity to demonstrate their learning and gain a different perspective.

The video connection also allows time for a Q&A session. This is where I saw the students really come to life and demonstrate their social intelligence. Through this interaction, I saw how meaningful this connection is to the development of communication and leadership skills. Students on both ends are given the opportunity to ask relevant questions and hear others’ responses which allows them to contribute to the academic growth of others, build and potentially maintain a relationship, and foster leadership skills as they facilitate a group discussion.


The Purpose

The Empatico connections give the opportunity for students to explore learning beyond their own classroom and even beyond their own cities.

  • Collaboration: students are collaborating within their classrooms and with their partner class throughout the lesson by exploring standards and academic concepts as they facilitate conversations.
  • Communication: learners are given a different audience to communicate with so that they can share their thoughts and hear the thoughts of others. This helps them recognize other perspectives and communicate their own perspectives with audiences who may not have as much in common with them as their school peers.
  • Critical Thinking: during the Q&A portion, students are given the opportunity to think beyond what they have researched during their lesson. This, often times, requires them to think from another perspective other than their own, which helps develop empathy.
  • Creativity: throughout the process, students are “open and responsive to the perspectives of others” (P21 Framework)

All of these skills are relevant to the academic standards and applied throughout the learning connection.


The Benefits

  • Global Connections: students learn about others and participate in meaningful interactions.
  • Social Emotional Learning: in elementary school, students can learn how to develop positive perceptions of others and be well informed about their own identities and the identities of others.
  • Perspective: students have their own perspectives and, now, they can work to recognize the perspectives of others who may have a different life experience partly because of their geographical locations.
  • Academics: lessons and activities are planned out and teachers can collaborate together to make them best supportive and effective for their learning environments.
  • Teacher Professional Learning Network (PLN): connecting with other educators from around the world can help us reflect on and develop new best practices.
  • Audience: students are now learning to share and collaborate globally with others who are also participating in a shared learning experience. Emaptico provides the lesson, connection, and platform for our learners to share their thoughts globally while hearing the thoughts of others living elsewhere.



After the video connection, in Ms. Aderholdt’s class, students were given the opportunity to share their thoughts and take aways during a brief trust circle. They reflected on the academic concepts they now know because of this lesson and they reflected on the thoughts and ideas that they learned because of the conversation with their partner class. Both classes plan to continue the connection using Flipgrid to record their reflections and watch the reflections from their partner class.


Starting with third through fifth grade, this program works to develop not only empathy through global connections but also a connected learning that includes lessons based on grade level standards. Recently, it has expanded to include first through fifth grades!