I assumed that I needed a photographic memory, or maybe it was because I’m dyslexic. I definitely lacked the stealth necessary to cheat; classmates routinely lifted their shoulders to block my vision of their exams. I could never explain why I tested sopoorly, but standardized tests weren’t interested in my excuses. The deeper my grades sunk, the further back in class I’d sit; this also closely tied to the lack of effort teachers invested in me. Teachers forgot me once the back of the classroom became my domain. I stopped attending class after failing math for a third semester; until truancy officers brought me back.
“At this point you’re likely to graduate two years after your peers,” my advisor informed me, never prying her eyes from my transcript.
My advisor suggested attending an alternative high school to accelerate my credit accumulation. I applied for the alternative school, but by the time I was accepted I’d grown jaded, and developed a disdain for school and its administration. My test scores led everyone to turn their backs on me, and I’d now been funneled into my last option. A seed of resentment grew to be my primary motivator. Graduating high school for my own good became almost secondary, I was determined to void test scores and disprove everyone’s opinion of me as a failure.
Refocusing myself in high school was challenging. I applied myself to a degree I was unaware I possessed. My grades caught momentum, and I even passed algebra — thanks to one teacher in particular: Mr. Manjee. I don’t remember exactly what common interest we found, or what gave our relationship footing, but we bonded very quickly. Manjee introduced math in style, and demonstrated its application in everyday life during his lessons. He helped me, and other students with a track record of failing, not only pass algebra, but to see it’s usefulness. Manjee kept a diligent eye over my studies throughout my time at the alternative school. By senior year, I managed to raise my grades tremendously, averaging an A and eventually graduating as class valedictorian. Suddenly, I had high hopes of attending a university. College tours gave me a glimpse of a life in which I could recreate myself. I could forget downtrodden schools in impoverished neighborhoods. I wouldn’t have to share the same fate as my parents or the other kids in my neighborhood.
I recognized the letters of rejection by envelope size. A dream simply doesn’t fit in a letter-sized envelope. I was denied by every university that I applied to. Two years of Fs coupled with two years of As, formulated a cumulative average of Cs. No reputable college wants a C student.
Despite this, I didn’t feel an ounce of discouragement. Ironically, I was inspired. I had proved to myself my goals are always within reach. I was shocked to learn Manjee felt as if he failed me after all his encouragement and help applying to college. Manjee’s success with me lay elsewhere. Manjee viewed me as intelligent, capable, and amusing; although I did not identify with these qualities, it was flattering to have a teacher think of me as a person with qualities rather than a grade or college name. My presence never felt unwarranted, and it never seemed that the scale of my problems was insignificant to him. Most of all, he was patient and allowed me to learn at my own pace. My relationship with teachers renewed, I genuinely believed in the opportunities education could offer me.
I ended up attending community college, eventually transferring to a four-year school. I remained in contact with Manjee over the years. He continued teaching, but often felt deterred by how the school system perpetuated inequality. He went on to join Kiddom, an education technology platform, as their Chief Academic Officer. Manjee had been privately consulting Kiddom’s CEO (and his best friend) while he taught, helping design a way to ease the burden of tedious tasks with technology, and allow teachers to allocate their time where it was needed most: with students. The creation of Kiddom revived in me what originally solidified our relationship; it was that core commonality of resilience. When Manjee told me Kiddom was hiring and that I should apply to support teachers, I saw this as an opportunity to repay someone who’d done so much for me. I began working at Kiddom as a Teacher Advocate. My tasks involve assisting teachers navigate the platform, customizing Kiddom to fit their classrooms, and occasionally, occupational therapy. I listen as teachers express their frustration with the archaic systems in place.
“I love math, but I find it pointless if I’m unable to inspire students to use mathematics creatively. I’m merely a robot at this point,” a teacher once told me, “ I love this program. Knowing that there are people out there who believe as educators we are responsible to meet the needs of children not only academically but emotionally, makes me think that maybe I could keep going.”
This particular teacher loved Kiddom’s social emotional capacity. He’d taught math for ten years, his spirit diminished because he knew students needed more than a mechanical exchange to truly cultivate their minds. This conversation lead me to reminisce on the many math teachers throughout my education, and my transformative relationship with Manjee. Maybe teachers long for more ‘aha!’ moments with their students? Maybe over-testing leads teachers to grow jaded? I realized teachers yearn for a relationship with their students, but unfortunately bureaucracy often creates discord. I was delighted that this math teacher found a solution in Kiddom, and then it dawned upon me — Kiddom had also just saved a forgotten kid in the back of the classroom.
Thank you teachers, old and new, for continuing to look for innovative ways to connect with your students.
My grandma was a teacher. My mom was a teacher. The only thing I can ever remember wanting to be was a teacher. I felt (and still feel) that it runs through my blood as a core piece of my identity. So, it may come as a shock that I am stepping away. I am leaving my job as a classroom teacher.
The realization came as a slow and steady evolution. However, at the end of the path, the decision was ready made. Here is my story.
Last summer I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To summarize, she walks the reader through a process of decluttering belongings by asking a question about each and every object. “Does it spark joy?”
This question bounced around in my head as I began to evaluate my life, growing busier with time clutter by the day. I thought, What if I applied the idea of spark joy… to my time? I began my courageous analysis.
I started journaling about every action I took throughout the day. I kept a diligent log for weeks. Then, I went back and looked at each and every item and asked, “Did it spark joy?” (For my purposes, I define joy as activities that keep me grounded in the present moment and contribute to my long-term wellness. However, this could be an entirely different blog post!)
With that definition of joy, I developed a rating scale.
1 = spark joy
0 = joy neutral
-1 = joy depleting
I determined that after adding up all of my numbers, I could with almost certainty predict the outcome of my day. High number, great day. Negative number, horrible day. It seems so obvious now, but at the time, it was a real revelation.
I set a new life purpose. Create days with a high joy value.
How to begin?
Eliminate the -1
What could I do to completely cross joy depleting actions off my list?Example- The joy depleting errands through big box stores were replaced with Amazon delivery.
Transform -1 into 0
What could I do to change a joy depleting activity into a joy neutral activity?Example- While loading the dishwasher (-1), I started listening to audiobooks (1). In one simple step, I created a 0!
I was starting to make progress on the homefront. I was amazed that with very little effort, my days were increasing more joyful.
However, now I was faced with looking at my professional time.
Taking attendance: 0.
Facilitating Inquiry: 1.
ANYthing involving standardized tests: -1.
I was stunned at the results. A profession I thought I loved left me with more days, than I wanted to admit, in the negatives. I always had considered myself a positive person. I was confused. Had education changed? Had I changed? Were other teachers feeling this way?
Just to humor myself, I started crossing off all of the -1 activities from my list. Is it possible to create a day with mostly spark joy? If it were possible, what would it look like? As fast as my hand could write I began to journal about the vision.
I visualized joy being at the center of education. I visualized feeling full year round with minimal moments of depletion and exhaustion. I wanted to create a life that I didn’t need a vacation from. I extended the vision, not only to myself, but to every other teacher in the profession. What if we could create a system that held teacher and student wellness as the centerpiece for all decisions? What if.
It was in that moment that my decision came ready made. This school year I committed to take daily action around the things that matter to me most. I began to notice a difference in my energy as I began using my strengths.
It was with a mixture of certainty and trepidation that I applied for my leave of absence. It shocked my family and co-workers. It shocked my students and parents. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question, “What will you do?” The best response I could come up with was, “Live my joy”. Because really- what else is there?
I dove in and began doing research. I found organizations and people that had similar missions. To bring wellness to teachers and students. To prioritize joy. To make time and space for personal growth and development. Things have to change in the field of education, or the high rate of burn out will leave our students stranded. I believe I can help bring that change.
So, here I am. My last day of school. I may be leaving the classroom, but I will always consider myself a teacher.
As I create space for new habits, here are some of the organizations that have inspired me:
1000-Petals is a well-being training and consulting company based on the science and practice of mindfulness and movement.
Kiddom is a team of passionate educators, designers, and developers creating transformative tools to make learning personal, expand access to quality content, and foster community collaboration.
Yellow Barn Wellness is a community based organization that strives to create an environment where the complexities of today are simplified back to the basics that our bodies call for — to build a balance of fitness and nutrition in an environment that encourages both.
Generation Wellness provides innovative solutions to empower educators, counselors and parents to promote the success of each child.
Mad Hatter Wellness is working to enhance the quality of life for children and adults with and without disabilities through empowerment, education, awareness, and movement to globally eliminate sexual violence and promote advocacy for self and others.
It’s the time of year to help students pinpoint areas of interest and encourage them to explore those further.
As the year comes to a close, student motivation can start to slip. When the weather warms up, it’s okay to admit that some students may be counting down the days until their summer vacations start. Truthfully, you might be too! Teaching is a double-edged sword: it’s rewarding, yet emotionally and physically exhausting.
It can be tempting to become more passive as things wrap up, especially when many of us have been preparing students all year to demonstrate what they’ve learned on cumulative standardized tests or internal exams. However, when I was in the classroom, I took another approach to end the year strong. I used the last weeks of school to encourage students to reflect and dive deeper into a topic from earlier in the year, which sent students into summer feeling empowered by everything they were able accomplish. Students spent the last part of the year working on projects to highlight what they learned and share why it excited them.
An easy way to give students a level of ownership is by using Kiddom’s Planner for curriculum development. The playlist feature in Planner lets you break projects into manageable pieces for students to complete. First, students begin by choosing the format in which they want to showcase what they have learned. Based on student choice, teachers can assign them the most relevant project outline. By using individualized resources and feedback shared through Google Drive and Kiddom’s communication tools, students will be able to produce projects that reflect their own development and passions, and take critical reflection and analysis tools with them onto their next course or grade.
Use Kiddom’s Planner to build personalized playlists for students to explore topics of interest.
In my biology class, there was a broad unit that covered nutrition. I had one student who, in his words, was allergic to vegetables, saying they made his “taste buds sad.” As we approached the final project, he wanted to build a greenhouse to grow flowers for his mom. I took this opportunity to link multiple units together and tied the skills he was passionate about developing to nutrition by supplying him with lettuce and radishes to plant. I had never seen him so excited to learn and build! This student was chronically late throughout the year and yet, for this project, he was coming in after school and at lunch! When his plants began to grow, his eyes lit up. The moment we harvested his first radish, I didn’t even have to ask him if he was going to try it. He rinsed it off and popped it in his mouth; the look of disgust was priceless, and could only have been gained through this personal exploration. While he left for the summer still hating vegetables, he was ecstatic with the knowledge that he could build a structure and grow plants.
As a teacher, shifting ownership of learning to students through final projects gives me time to reflect and learn from my students. I was able to identify which lessons truly “stuck” and which may have missed the mark. Analyzing which topics students choose to focus their projects on helped identify strengths in my curriculum. What does this tell me about the units I have taught? Where do I need to focus more next year and what lessons were particularly effective? I used the students’ interests to help me reflect on lessons that they remembered, and which ones had faded by June. Kiddom’s standards reports, alongside the assignment based reports, lets teachers compare student interest to their mastery of those skills. Not only can we see what our students enjoyed learning but how that engagement affects their mastery of a standard. With these data points I can make notes for next year detailing the most effective lessons for bringing students to mastery. Setting aside time to learn from past experiences is an important part of teaching that can easily get lost in the shuffle.
Standards-based reports allow you to infer interest by performance on specific skills.
We focus on students leaving the school year with something they can take away but we also need to find time for teachers to synthesize what they have learned during each school year. Kiddom gives teachers time to analyze their own development at the end of the year, letting them go into summer ready to take what they have learned and build a stronger foundation for the coming year.
I teach a variety of courses at a high school for overage, under-credited students in New York City. I’ve used online resources to support instruction for years, but I needed a more creative solution for students with real barriers to attendance and at risk of aging out of high school. To more appropriately meet their needs, I designed and piloted a self-paced learning program offering thirteen different courses, all supported by some form of online content.
This cohort of students earned over 100 credits* over the course of the school year, proving the efficacy of my program. As a result, my school decided to allow me to continue experimenting with the program and build it out further. I was excited to continue, but the work was exhausting.
The 21st century educator’s juggle (mandated systems not pictured). Yikes!
My students were exploring content provided by Khan Academy, IXL, Duolingo, Everfi, Empower3000, Quill, A.D.A.M, and more. These providers each have their own database and the student achievement data doesn’t necessarily flow from one to other. So I spent an unsustainable amount of time transferring data from each of these content providers into my gradebook to have one place that could show me a holistic picture of where my students were academically. 21st century learners are used to obtaining feedback in real-time but unfortunately, I could never keep up with their pace and so they often asked, “why haven’t you updated my grade, yet?”
This “interoperability” problem is what inspired me to take on the Curriculum Specialist role at Kiddom. As a teacher, I saw first-hand that connecting great content directly to a teacher’s workflow was something they valued. Building and consolidating the “teacher toolbelt” is integral to their mission. I still teach part-time, and while the availability of impactful teaching resources has increased, the problem of juggling data from each resource continues to persist (and irritate).
Working at Kiddom, I realized and was surprised by how difficult it was to connect with education technology companies that want to invest the time to work together and solve interoperability. We want the same thing (to support teachers and learners), so I optimistically believe this is a possibility.
Working together effectively means we’ll all win, especially students.
If you’re a K-12 content provider and you’re reading this, please consider it an open invitation to reach out and connect with me at Kiddom. I’ve probably used your materials and I want to share them with more educators. While sharing your platform directly with teachers might be beneficial, I can’t help but think about how I might be perpetuating the demands on teachers’ time caused by the need to manually transfer data.
Interoperability is my passion. Let’s work together to help teachers use their limited resources in the most efficient way possible to positively impact students.
Today, we released a redesigned student experience on Kiddom to help 21st century learners access and submit work, track their own progress, and solicit feedback from teachers in real-time, from one place.
Over the past century, education technology has often left students out of the equation. That’s unfortunate, because students today move fast and are incredibly tech-savvy. At Kiddom, we believe students shouldn’t have to wait until progress reports are printed to learn where they stand in class or on specific skills. Students shouldn’t have to wait to see their teachers in person to pose clarifying questions or solicit feedback on an assignment. And from what we’ve gathered, teachers are constantly looking for ways to empower students to take control of their learning. With our redesigned student experience, the possibilities of student ownership are endless.
Timeline — Everything in One Place
When students login and click into their class, they’ll be greeted by their Timeline. Timeline allows students to view assignments (past, present, and upcoming) from one place. This not only includes teacher-created assignments, but also all the Khan Academy videos, CK-12 exercises, CommonLit readings, and other resources their teacher might’ve assigned for differentiation purposes via Kiddom’s Library of resources.
Submitting Work and Soliciting Feedback Made Easy
When students click on an assignment from their Timeline, they’ll be able to see any instructions or attachments their teacher may have included, as well as the standards or skills has appended to the assignment. Students may upload and submit their own work and also engage in a discussion with their teacher regarding the assignment.
Reports — Monitor Progress and Self-Advocate
When students can actively monitor their progress in class, they’re more likely to advocate for themselves. With our redesigned Reports, students can track their overall class progress, as well as progress on individual standards and skills — all in real-time. This means they finally have the data they need, when they need it.
We’re Just Getting Started
The new student experience has been long overdue. And while we’re incredibly excited about the positive impact it will make in classrooms around the world, there’s still a lot more work to be done. Over the next several months and into the next school year, we’re going to focus on adding community features to accelerate our vision of building a collaborative education platform. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the new student experience with a comment or chat with us directly using the in-app chat tool. Happy teaching and learning!
Editor’s note: We’re still testing the new Kiddom student experience. If your students signed up before Friday, April 21, 2017, they may not experience the new Kiddom just yet. We plan to conclude testing on Friday, April 28, 2017, at which time all students will be on the redesigned student experience. For more information, contact our support team.