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Star School Leader Award: Recipient Announcement

Star School Leader Award: Recipient Announcement

What is the Star School Leader Award?

In lieu of National Principals Month, this award was created to honor principals who are the greatest school leaders — and who better to ask than those on the frontlines; teachers?

The nomination period lasted a little over two months, from Oct 14 until Dec 19. During this time, we received hundreds of stories from teachers across the country who were inspired by their principals.

To all those who submitted, we sincerely thank you for your contribution to this award. Your responses were a delight to read — you made us laugh, smile and even cry a bit, at times. But more importantly, your voices instilled in us a vast hope for the future of education, and a sense of how great leadership can pave the path to success for schools, teachers, and students.

You sent so many stories of exemplary school leadership that we were compelled to expand the contest to include multiple winners. In other words, we began with the goal to find a star, but we ended up with a constellation 😉 — of twelve recipients.

So, What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end. 
  3.  Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.

What do they win? Recipients will receive a physical Star School Leader award, an Amazon giftcard, free professional development guides, and an upcoming spotlight feature on the Teacher Voice blog — so be sure to check in to view the spotlights in the upcoming months!

And now, without further ado… we present to you:

 

The Star School Leaders

Shameka Gerald

The Inspirational Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Shameka Gerald is the principal at Heritage High School, Virginia. Nominated by Tiffanie Smith.

Mrs. Gerald is an amazing leader that inspires both students and staff.  She is very caring and seeks to meet the needs of everyone. Mrs. Gerald’s leadership has allowed faculty and staff to go above and beyond in many areas.  This includes teachers being leaders in and out of the classroom. Over the past four years as our leader, she has instilled many leadership qualities in teachers to be an effective teacher leader.  This has allowed many to step out of the normal box and try new things in the classroom. Her leadership is very unique in that a few teachers have moved on to higher positions.”

Read Principal Gerald’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Priscilla Salinas

The Life-Long Mentor, Star School Leader Recipient

Priscilla Salinas is the principal at Henry Ford Elementary, Texas. Nominated by Narda Lugo.

Mrs. Salinas inspired me to continue to move forward in my education by always encouraging me to attain my masters.  I worked with her for seven years as a teacher before entering back to school to attain my Masters in Library Science.  I will forever be grateful towards Mrs. Salinas for giving my first teaching position then for hiring me again as a librarian.  I love my job and I could not have done it if Mrs. Salinas had not encouraged me to continue my education. She is a role model to many and continues to encourage everyone to continue to educate ourselves in a daily basis, even if that means losing one of her educators.  She says, “She might lose a teacher, but gain a role model to others.” She is always looking for ways to encourage us to continue to grow which makes us continue to want to.”

Principal Salinas’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Keith Nemlich

The Thoughtful Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Keith Nemlich is the principal at Central Elementary School, Vermont. Nominated by Judy Verespy.

Mr. Keith Nemlich is a principal who truly prioritizes children’s needs. He is a caring, compassionate, thoughtful, inspiring leader who models patience, persistence and playfulness… He encourages mindfulness breaks in the classroom. He encourages teachers to share our expertise with one another at staff meetings, and to briefly observe colleagues at work when we can. Keith researches new, more effective ways to accomplish something he believes in, and patiently, persistently works to get administrative support from the district. I could go on and on about the joy of working for a principal who is intelligent, thoughtful, supportive and inspiring. With tighter school budgets, more stringent standards, plentiful new initiatives cutting into already rigorous school day schedules, teaching has become more stressful. Keith Nemlich makes the teachers, para professionals and students at our school want to go to work each day, and be the best we can!”

Principal Nemlich’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Carol Leveillee

The Culture Builder, Star School Leader Recipient

Carol Leveillee is the principal at Frederick Douglass Elementary, Delaware. Nominated by Jacqueline Allman.

In the four years that she has been our principal she has turned our failing title 1 school around and now we are thriving! She has brought so many ideas to our school through book studies and motivational speakers. Most recently she took a few staff members to a “Get Your Teach On” conference where staff brought back numbers ideas and now she is allowing us to share and implement new engagement strategies school wide. She also has inspired us to build those meaningful relationships with each other and our students and I believe that has helped us turn our school around.”

Principal Leveillee’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Corey Crochet

The Life-Long Learner, Star School Leader Recipient

Corey Crochet is the principal at Labadieville Middle School, Louisiana. Nominated by Cathy Martinez.

Mr. Crochet has a difficult job; how do you inspire students of poverty to value learning? The answer; go back to school to get your PHD in Education.  Mr. Crochet is constantly learning and because of this, he inspires his teachers to do the same. Teachers meet twice a week during the school day, and often meet after school on their own time to study and learn how to make LMS reflect the efforts of the students, teachers and administration. LMS can be a challenging place to work. However, Mr. Crochet’s attitude of removing all obstacles that get in the way of learning is evident  across the campus. He tackles problems and is not afraid to go back to the drawing board when something is not working. His motto is “”Every Student. Every Day, Whatever it takes””. AND he will do whatever it takes through the lens of education and learning.”

Principal Crochet’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Tammy Taylor

The Teacher's Advocate, Star School Leader Recipient

Tammy Taylor is the principal at Wellton Elementary School District, Arizona. Nominated by Lisa Jameson. 

“Before she became principal, Mrs. Taylor worked with Donors Choose to get sewing machines for our school. Now as our Principal, she helps teachers apply for donations through Donors Choose. This is just one of the ways that Mrs. Taylor has inspired teachers and staff members at Wellton Elementary. With her positive attitude and incredible energy, she has been an excellent role model for our teachers and staff.”

Read Principal Taylor’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Tamara Jones-Jackson

The Analytical Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Tamara Jones-Jackson is the principal at Ralph J. Bunche Academy in Ecorse, Michigan. Nominated by Sandra Fuoco.

In 3 short months, she has created a functioning PTO where we never had one before, allowed teachers to take leadership roles for the betterment of the school, changed policies and procedures so that every day processes run smoother, provided guidance and instruction on how to use our data more effectively so that we can better serve our students, and created positive relationships with students, staff and parents.  But what astonishes me the most is she somehow, someway gets things done! In a struggling district without extra income, we now have a communication system in the building, ceiling tiles and bleachers are fixed (which haven’t been in years), teachers are getting much needed resources, etc. AND she does this all with a smile and positive attitude. In my 2 decades of teaching, she is truly the most inspirational, motivational, and believable leader I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”

Principal Jones-Jackson’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Rodney Ivey

The Teacher Enabler, Star School Leader Recipient

Rodney Ivey is the principal at Swimming Pen Creek Elementary, Florida. Nominated by Janet Shaw.

Mr. Ivey’s positive leadership and vision for doing what is in the best interests of our children sets the tone for all of our faculty and staff to be positive, enthusiastic, and productive . He sees the best in people, therefore young and old rise to his expectations. Rather than micromanage, he works collaboratively with his staff to plan programs and events. He collects data for us, looking for trends and meeting with us on teams to focus on ways to help individual students. Mr. Ivey finds ways to boost students and staff, from a shout out bulletin board to eating lunch with children. He squeezes every penny out of a tight budget to gets his teachers what they need, even planning and manning fundraisers to accomplish his goals. While most of us stay late planning and preparing, many times, his car is the last in the parking lot. He does what needs to be done, even vacuuming my classroom when the custodians were busy on another project. His kind, accepting demeanor inspires students and teachers alike to be kind and considerate. His frequent walks through our classrooms are welcomed, as he joins in our lessons alongside students; we love it when he photographs engaging lessons and shares them out with the staff. Under his leadership, our campus is a very happy inclusive place, with a supportive family-like atmosphere that encompasses parents, kids, teachers, and staff.”

Read Principal Ivey’s Star School Leader Spotlight here.

Traci O. Filiss

The Technology Pioneer, Star School Leader Recipient

Traci Filiss is the principal at Taos Academy, New Mexico. Nominated by Elizabeth LeBlanc.

Ms. Filiss is an inspirational leader because she shares decision-making responsibilities with her staff. Her expectations and her trust in their expertise is tremendous. For example, Taos Academy’s Leadership Team is made up of teacher leaders, many of whom also take on administrative roles. She works hard to empower all stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, and families) to be leaders in our school setting.”

Principal Filiss’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Faith Stroud

The Passionate Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Faith Shroud is the principal at Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy, Kentucky. Nominated by Sandra Stinson.

Mrs. Stroud is a very strong leader and true advocate for our scholars and our staff. She doesn’t ask anything of us that she is not willing to do herself. She goes into work on the weekends, yes that includes Sundays and works for the improvement of our school to benefit our scholars. She has worked to put a Chromebook in every scholar’s hands at our school. Which for our district is not the case every where else. She works and budgets to set up field trips for our scholars that have real world ties to their curriculum and provides them with experiences that they may not be able to have otherwise. She is a fully transparent leader. She does not hide things from the staff and expects the same from us. She works diligently to provide our scholars with the best educators in their field and strives to improve us as teachers with embedded PD and opportunities to attend seminars and workshops whenever possible. She is a true inspiration to me as a teacher and I think that our scholars feel the same way.”

Principal Stroud’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez

The Collaborative Leader, Star School Leader Recipient

Pam Gildersleeve-Hernandez is the Superintendent/Principal at San Antonio Union School District, California. Nominated by Diane Stensrud.

Mrs. Hernandez continually seeks to better herself by reading, participating in professional groups for book discussions, attending conferences, taking classes to remain current, and classes to push the boundaries of education. She focuses on 21 Century Future Ready Skills, and encourages the staff to do the same. I love it when she hears us talking about an opportunity for professional development, and says, “Go for it! Let’s make this happen!” She attends as many conferences as possible with us, and makes every effort to provide team-building opportunities. She also makes every effort to equip us to reach our professional goals. Despite the challenges of working in a small district, and wearing many hats, Mrs. Hernandez continues to grow as a learner, as well as a leader. She is an inspiration to me!”

Principal Gildersleeve-Hernandez’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Sarah Hays

The Motivational Coach, Star School Leader Recipient

Sarah Hays is the principal at Emily Dickinson Elementary School, Montana. Nominated by Tina Martin.

“Each school year Sarah finds a way to motivate us as a staff. This year with the start of a new year with a lot of new staff members and an extra 75 students, we had a lot of movement (rooms, and locations of support staff). This did not stop Sarah from being positive and sharing her passion and goals for us as a staff. At the kick off meeting, Sarah talked about how we all came together and continue to do what is best for the children. She encouraged us and looked at the positives that are happening and not that we are a school bursting at the seams and there is no extra spaces. She shared copies of “The Energy Bus” and had us work break into groups to read each section of the book and come back to summarize what we read to the rest of the staff. Sarah modeled how we too as classroom teachers can share this strategy with our own students.”

Principal Hays’s Star School Leader Spotlight is coming soon.

Principal Tammy Taylor: The Teacher Advocate — SSL Spotlight #3

As a principal and a part-time teacher, Principal Tammy Taylor of Wellton Elementary, Arizona keeps a close eye on the needs of her students and teachers.

Principal Shameka Gerald: The Inspirational Leader — SSL Spotlight #2

Principal Gerald encourages students to use technology to create their own path. Learn how she creates a community for both teachers and students to grow.

Introducing Responsive Curriculum Management

Responsive Curriculum Management provides visibility into classroom progress so you can build systems of continuous improvement

Academy’s New Curriculum Development Tool is a Game Changer — Part 1 of 3

After creating a team to test the new feature, our School Success Lead shares notes with both excitement and regret that she didn’t have this tool when she was a teacher!

What is Keeping Administrators up at Night?

We asked key questions around what’s worrying admins & how they vet & learn about new tools and systems adopted in the classroom to address their greatest concerns.

Individual Rotation and Flex: Blended Learning Models

Individual Rotation and Flex: Blended Learning Models

Jessica Hunsinger

Jessica Hunsinger

Product Manager, Kiddom

Former educator passionate about building human potential. Saving teachers time through interoperability is what currently drives me. 

In the third of our blended learning series, we cover two models that are the best fit for classrooms with central learning labs.

In the first post, view the accompanying infographic to find out which blended learning model is best for your classroom. In the second post, learn about station rotation and lab rotation.

Let’s Start with the Basics.

The individual rotation model, included under the rotation model umbrella, has students rotating between different stations and learning opportunities, but is different from other rotation models in that students don’t necessarily rotate to every station. Each student has an individualized playlist of activities and only rotates to the stations or modalities identified on their personalized schedule, determined by the teacher or, in some cases, an algorithm.

In the flex model, online instruction is the primary mode of accessing content and materials, with additional support from a teacher face-to-face. Teachers share learning activities with students who access them at their own pace, and then teachers use data to intervene in real-time. This model is dependent on self-directed learning and allows for a fluid schedule that is more flexible than other models as online learning makes up the bulk of a student’s direct instruction.  

We grouped these two models together because they require the same technology access and they look very similar in classroom practice. In both of these models, the learning space is designed to have a central learning lab or collaborative space.

As explained in “A Deeper Look At the Flex Model” by Blended Learning Universe, these models “benefit from a larger, open learning space instead of traditional classroom walls. The value of an oversized classroom space is that it allows for students to flow among multiple formats and for teachers to roam more easily among the students.” The main difference is who is in control of the student flow. In the flex model, the student has far more autonomy, whereas the individual rotation is personalized but dictated by a teacher or a data system.   

Choosing the Individual Rotation Model

The individual rotation model is a good choice when you have enough devices for every student to use and you want to use those devices to plan personalized lessons for each student. Data is the main driver of student schedules and materials in this model. With the right tools, individual teachers can manage these decisions, but many schools use a data manager to help dictate the student’s schedule or the stations they rotate to throughout the day.

Students checking out their individual rotation schedule for the day in a Teach to One classroom

One example of an individual rotation model is demonstrated through Teach To One, an offshoot of the School of One model that many schools have adopted. It is a personalized math program that uses the individual rotation model to tailor learning experiences to learning styles and rates of progress. The program includes nine different learning modalities that support a variety of learners. The video demonstrates how having students identify their learning styles helps students take ownership of their learning and advocate for themselves.

If your goal for exploring a blended learning model is to increase student ownership of their learning, you can also create stations based on learning modalities.  At the individual level this may seem daunting, but teachers can use a individual rotation model that does not require a different schedule each day.

At the default station, students always have work to complete online at their own pace. When teachers use the data from the self-paced curriculum they can intervene as misconceptions arise or mini-lessons are needed. You may use a messaging system or classroom display that informs students that they should rotate to offline stations: “You are scheduled for a small group discussion today” or “Rotate to group work station at 11.”

One way that teachers or schools do this is by using playlists. A playlist is a group of related learning activities. With a playlist, students are given a clear sense of the path they are going to take but it is also easy to work student choice in along the way. Heather Starks, a blended learning teacher explains how she uses playlists in her blog piece “Why I am Loving Instead of Hating the Beginning of this School Year”.

By using playlists, you can schedule different checkpoints for students. When students need more frequent check-ins, you can easily differentiate their playlists by including more face-to-face teacher time. Kiddom supports the creation of playlists in the Planner feature, which allows you to create a “Teacher Check-In” assignment, like the one in the image below, that will prompt students to see their teacher.

Getting Started with the Individual Rotation Model

Just like with the other rotation models, you can experiment with individual rotation in your class by choosing a day of the week to introduce the concept to students and practice it to work out the kinks. It would be helpful to decide how you want students to rotate in advance.

Will you use a playlist model which tells students to “rotate” when they get to a certain point in the curriculum or when misconceptions arise? Or will you establish learning modality stations and have students rotate based on their learning preferences? Either way, you can use Kiddom to support this practice.

An important thing to consider when adopting the individual rotation model is how to incorporate social emotional development. Critics of this model argue that it works best for self-motivated individuals. However, putting in the effort to help students develop that type of intrinsic motivation can be a great impetus for future success.

If you are interested in trying the individual rotation model, be sure to learn from the efforts of early adopters and pay special attention to organizing opportunities for social interaction and development.

Choosing the Flex Model

One of the biggest advantages of a flex model is that it lets students, not teachers, dictate when they rotate. They rotate between various stations when they need them and they are not constrained by time limits. If you’re hoping to increase student motivation and autonomy, this may be the model you choose. This form of blended learning is most often implemented at a whole-school level but can be accomplished at the class level with careful planning. 

The organization Blended Learning Universe explains how this impacts teachers: “Because of the heavy emphasis on student autonomy, the role of a teacher changes in a Flex model. Instead of delivering instruction to whole groups, teachers spend most of their time providing face-to-face tutoring, guidance, and enrichment to supplement online lessons.”  

The amount of advanced curriculum planning that goes into developing, curating, and creating the online course materials that allow for students to independently progress through the material may be a shift for most teachers. Rather than planning throughout the year, with a Flex model you will plan and prepare most of your materials in advance.

Another example of this new teacher and student dynamic is illustrated by the case study of  Summit Schools, produced by Khan Academy. At Summit Schools, students sign up for assessments with the teacher when they feel like they are ready to demonstrate mastery. This shift in responsibility also helps to support many social emotional learning skills. Most implementations of a flex model also incorporate some form of weekly check-in between students and teachers that allows teachers to guide students to develop goal setting skills.  

Getting Started with the Flex Model

To get started with a Flex Model, you will first need to choose or create a self-paced online curriculum. There are a growing number of available online curricula but many teachers prefer to organize the online materials to match their style or even to develop their own digital lessons and activities.

Kiddom’s Planner is one way to organize and store your curriculum for a self-paced flex model course. In Planner, you can easily organize all of the curricular materials in units and playlists (groups of related assignments).

When you assign a playlist to students, they can work through the learning activities independently and check in with you when they have completed the tasks. Students can also communicate with teachers by commenting on the assignment and open the dialogue when a teacher is working with other students.

Finally, as mentioned above, the flex model shifts many responsibilities to the students which is a great way to teach social emotional learning competencies.  These competencies can easily be tracked using the 5 CASEL standards available on the Kiddom platform.

This blog post is based on our Blended Learning 102 Guide. For more information, we encourage you to download it here.

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What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

The arts are critical to our foundational skills and understanding. For National Arts in Education Week, we’ve asked members of our team at Kiddom what studying the arts meant to their education. Here’s what they said!


I always thought I was “bad” at all things artistic, and avoided taking art classes all through school. I only gained an appreciation for arts education after I began teaching high school, and met colleagues who supported our students’ sense of self-efficacy through hands-on art projects. During my years teaching at an alternative high school for over-aged, under-credited high school students coming from incarceration or transitional housing, I watched students who had struggled to find a voice at school blossom in art classes taught by a dear friend and colleague, Lisa Barnshaw. Students in her class learned that it was ok to make mistakes and how to express their pain, activism, and aspirations in a multitude of ways. She created a calm, warm classroom environment filled with opportunities for choice and collaboration, and framed all of her feedback with positivity and a growth mindset. In fact, on days when I was particularly stressed about my own lesson plans or classes, I would retreat to the back of her room to sketch or create alongside our students — it was one of the most meditative and safe classrooms I’ve witnessed in 10 years in public education. Thanks for all you do, Lisa!


Studying the arts taught me that art (music, poetry, illustrations, paintings, etc) doesn’t start and end with the piece itself. It’s a timestamp of thoughts, feelings and issues, in a point in human history. Art not only becomes something to admire, but a window into one’s mind in an era and place.

Shout out to Ms. Leatherman, my 4–6th grade music teacher.


Throughout middle school and high school, art class was the space I had to clear my mind and think creatively amidst busy school days. As a student who always felt the pressure to achieve academic perfection, understanding that everything had right and wrong answers, studying art helped to balance my personal perspective on performance. Studying art provided room for subjective expression, room to test the waters in an area where perfection cannot be defined. I learned that even in a field where technique can be studied and basics can be learned, it takes courage to think abstractly and take risks on a canvas that will not let you know you are on the right path. Having confidence and having faith in the process in art is just as important as the end product, one that can always be changed, improved, and interpreted in many ways.

Shout out to Ms. Gourieux for creating an open, creative, and relaxed atmosphere where we could learn about different types of art and appreciate a space different from our core content subjects. She formed genuine connections with her students and took the time to learn about our interests and our talents. I took her classes every chance I could get!


As a child, I gravitated towards theatre and performance. I still remember my first play at age 9, looking out into the audience from the stage, hearing the applause, and thinking “this is what I want to do when I grow up.” I went on to study theatre in college, and realized that theatre is so much more than just putting on a show.

Studying the arts taught me how to look at the world through different perspectives. It cultivated my ability to collaborate, to work with a group of people, to bring a story to life. It taught me empathy, compassion, critical thinking, creative problem solving. It taught me vulnerability. Studying the arts taught me who I am.

Shout out to all my acting, dance, and singing teachers in high school for encouraging me throughout the years.


I didn’t appreciate the arts until I started a rock band in high school. As the singer and lyricist of the band, I quickly realized this was going to be anything but formulaic, which is how I learned a lot of the core subjects in school. I struggled a lot through this project, but it helped me realize art can help eliminate the borders of isolated disciplines in schools. It’s inclusive, ignites curiosity, and gets young people to get messy. And it’s totally okay to get messy!


Studying the arts taught me how big the world is, and the different ways in which different people perceive things. I remember being blown away when I discovered that vanishing points weren’t used in early paintings because they weren’t invented yet. I thought the painters had chosen not to use perspective, when in truth the concept hadn’t been discovered yet. Now it seems so obvious! While studying the arts I was also amazed by the similarities in humanity; like the vibrant colors we see in early Greek statues. Ancient Greek sculpture looks so solemn and serious to us now, but when you learn how they were painted back then, there was just as much bling as we see in modern culture — they just didn’t have access to neon lights!


Studying the arts taught me how to “get the metaphor.” It taught me how to understand and accept the fact that certain concepts can never be contained fully with words, and can only ever be touched on with the help of stories, sounds, images… you know, art! This was crucial for my education, and ultimately helped me accept bigger things, like that life is more complicated than the easy labels we use every day, and that sometimes “the metaphor” is the only way to create an area of mutual understanding between two people. One thing I’m still learning from the arts is how different types of art convey meaning differently for people. For me, prose, poetry, and music were the best means to land a breakthrough. But for another person, photography might be the vehicle. Breakdancing, baking. It takes all kinds.

Shout out to Mr. Williams, a former lit teacher who first sparked my love for literature and writing. He made a point to give my class stories that broadened our perspectives. Through those stories we learned how varied yet similar the human condition is, which was so good for a class of small-town kids in East Tennessee, where many of us hadn’t travelled far beyond ourselves.


And that concludes our team post for National Education in the Arts Week. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and that you gained a sense of how important the arts are to our foundational skills and understanding, as evidenced even in this small sample size.

If you are an arts educator, check out our free eBook, Standards Based Grading in the Arts to learn how teachers of all subjects use Kiddom to quickly create arts-based lessons that align to standards with one click. And as always, happy teaching and learning!

Teaching the Gray Areas of Conflict: an Opportunity for Critical Thinking

Teaching the Gray Areas of Conflict: an Opportunity for Critical Thinking

Dan Thalkar

Dan Thalkar

Middle School Teacher, Los Angeles, CA

I try to teach and learn. Middle school teacher in Los Angeles.

We like tidy narratives. Heroes and villains. Beginnings, middles, and ends. You need only look at the latest Marvel Blockbusters to see the formula writ large. There is an inherent danger to this structure, as we impose labels and story-arcs over people and events that rarely, if ever, conform to such a convenient structure. The opposite, though, the absence of narrative, is no better.

Unfortunately, for an example of the latter, you could just watch the news.

Not only do we increasingly like our current event stories to be clear-cut, they often seem to move so quickly that there is no time for ambiguity or complexity to evolve. Google “news cycle” and you will see a plethora of quantitative data and existential hand-wringing about the increasing speed — or complete erasure — of the news cycle. “Donald Trump killed the news cycle,” writes the Columbia Journalism Review. “Self-contained storylines that once would have risen and fallen in distinct waves of public attention have given way to information overload and frequent confusion.” The New York Times opines that, “. . . nothing matters long enough to matter.”

Labels and the illusion of character arc are still present — look at any recent story about North Korea — but context is left behind.

Forget simplistic narratives; it seems that in the news we’re often left with no narrative at all.

What does this mean for educators? It means that we need to complicate. . . everything.

We can no more teach Westward Expansion as a clear-cut moral story than we can allow our students to believe that a story no longer being talked about consistently is equivalent to the story no longer existing.

Any educator who teaches in the humanities or has the opportunity to develop students’ civic engagement, whether in class or an advisory period, has the responsibility to help students make sense of the world around them.That means identifying fake news, reading multiple sources, and identifying bias and assumptions. It also means acknowledging that very, very few events have easy-to-trace beginnings and ends or fit into convenient, all-encompassing summaries.

Case in point: Syria. The war there, which started in 2011, is still happening. It is also very, very complicated. The same can be said for Yemen, which also isn’t exactly in great shape, though you aren’t likely to hear about it either if you glance at the latest headlines. And the justifiable uproar of family separation has masked the potentially more destructive removal of asylum for those seeking refuge from domestic abuse or gang violence.

It’s impossible for every teacher to help their students fully understand every one of these issues. It’s impossible for any person to fully understand every one of these issues. But we can refuse to buy into the mindset that nothing matters long enough to matter.

We should work with our students to identify issues they are interested in, research context, and follow events as they unfold over the course of a school year. This is different from just learning history or just talking about headlines. It’s a shift in the way we perceive time and learning. Instead of a predetermined lesson or objective, we have ambiguity. Instead of a backwards-planned unit, we have uncertainty. Instead of resolution, we have the beautiful, chaotic mess of life.

If we want our students to genuinely enact democracy, to engage with the world, then our classrooms need to authentically engage with the world while it is happening. As John Dewey wrote, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

I am not advocating that we forego curriculum in order to only follow current events, or that it’s even possible to track every major news story. (What counts as a “major” news story, anyway?), but I am advocating that we open our classrooms to uncertainty and vulnerability.

Watching the world unfold in real-time is a terrifying, wondrous proposition. Follow any story closely enough, and conflict will arise in your community. Students will have differing opinions, will question why something matters, will venture into realms that are uncomfortably personal. Rather than seen as a cause for concern, we should view this for what it is — a beautiful opportunity.

Conflict within the context of learning is an opportunity not just to speak about civics and civil discourse, but to actually practice it. Not just to speak about restorative justice, but to struggle through it. Not just to theorize about right and wrong, but to wrestle with its embodied meaning for us as human beings.

So, as you develop your curriculum for the upcoming year, schedule some room for ambiguity. Give students a chance to decide what stories they want to follow. Learn what matters to your community. Make a few predictions about issues that you think will become increasingly important. And then, over the course of the year, get to know the people involved. Research the places, the histories, the futures. Help students see the connections between the content you are studying and the events unfolding around them.

Situate your classroom in the world and dwell there. Let the world matter long enough to matter.

Guest Post by: Dan Thalkar (@dthalkar) Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA

Back to School Tips and Tricks for Classroom Teachers

Back to School Tips and Tricks for Classroom Teachers

To kick off a new school year, the Kiddom Success Team has put together some recommendations to help you get the most out of Kiddom and start the semester strong. These tips and tricks will help you and your students engage and get ready to tackle another year!

 

Tip #1: Create a Getting to Know You Survey

Investing time in getting to know your students early in the school year is essential for building strong relationships that allow students to take academic risks and encourage open, honest feedback.

Using our Google Drive integration, you can create a survey in Google Docs and share it with your students in Kiddom. They’ll each receive a private, personal copy organized automatically in a Kiddom folder in your Drive. Our assignment settings make it easy to share this without it counting towards a grade to ensure that students aren’t afraid to be honest.

You can also align your survey to any of the CASEL standards for social emotional learning — we suggest the competencies that measure Self-Awareness and Relationship Skills. Once students have submitted their responses, you can comment directly on the Google Doc or use Kiddom’s commenting features to start a dialogue that will last all year.

 

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Tip form Melissa Giroux, School Success Lead

 

Tip #2: Make Every Assignment Unique…and Engaging!

It’s simple: When you give students meaningful, engaging assignments, they’ll appreciate the material, and they’ll appreciate you.

Bellwork, exit tickets, and other re-engagement activities can be crucial for retaining information, and Kiddom’s K-12 Library lets you easily offer exciting and engaging materials for all subjects. You can then use our Playlists to organize and store all of your saved videos, interactives, games, and more without hours of searching or planning. Your Playlists will be ready to go with a simple drag-and drop!

Let’s start by creating an assignment in a Playlist. The Playlist will be saved in your Planner, so you can easily drag and drop your classwork for each day whenever you’re ready to assign, without creating the assignment over and over again. Within your Playlist, you can make an assignment for each day and attach content from the Library (or your own…or both!), standards, points/rubrics, and assignment type. Use your Playlists to group lessons, resources, videos, assignment types — whatever works best with how you’re organized.

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When you’re creating an assignment in your Playlist, click the Kiddom “K” logo to access our content library. With about 100,000 resources, we have exactly what you need: videos, interactives, practices, and more, for all subject areas.

Simply select your grade level, subject, and if you want, where you’d like to see the resources from or resource type. This will generate all of the content we have for your subject and grade. You can also use keywords like “American Revolution” or “Molecules” to narrow down your search. Preview the content to see if it’s the right fit and then click select to attach it to the assignment.

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Since Playlists live in your Planner, you can carry them with you from class to class. When a new week starts, simply edit the assignment to add new content/change due dates/points or rubrics. kiddom

Tip from Shabbir Manjee, Support Specialist

 

Tip #3: Create and Assign Class Roles

Clear and consistent routines and procedures can make or break classroom management systems. When I was an 8th grade teacher, I often wished I could multiply myself to get it all done. So I did! I created a list of “class roles” for students to act on, such as homework recorderoffice assistant, and tech assistant. This gave them the chance to practice taking on more responsibility while freeing me to focus on instruction.

Not only do class roles give students greater agency — if done right, they can be an orderly foundation for your class culture.

 

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How can I implement this in my class?

  1. Think of tasks students can carry out to help the flow of the day or period. You know your class and students best, but feel free to use our resource of possible class roles and descriptions.
  2. Create an assignment for each role in Kiddom. Write out the descriptions in student-friendly language so they will be able to understand the expectations when it is their turn.
  3. Create a Playlist of class roles that you can drag and drop into your Timeline and assign them to different students throughout the year.
  4. Go over the roles and expectations as you would routines and procedures. Depending on your students, you may need to model it, review it mid-year, or have them sign up. Ask them to master it and then teach the next student for you.

That’s it! Enable your students to contribute to the class and give yourself a break.

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Tip from Nicole Plante, Support Specialist

 

Tip #4: Start a Student Club! Run By Students, Powered by Kiddom

Teachers using Kiddom know it’s a great way to plan, organize, and assess student progress throughout a school year. But did you know you can also use Kiddom to power student-run clubs?

If you are an advisor for a student extracurricular, whether it’s student government, debate team, or the anime club, you know it’s a lot of work to get members the information they need about upcoming events, trips, fundraisers, and meetings. You’ve probably found yourself wondering how you can put more of the onus on your students to get it done. That’s where Kiddom can help.

If you want to give student club officers control of their clubs, it’s as simple as creating a teacher account for them to use on Kiddom.

Just set it up with credentials for students by creating a student officer email account, then use that account to sign up with Kiddom as a teacher. This account can be used each year as new students take leadership roles in your activity.

Here is an example:

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Class: Debate Team

Teacher: Ms. G

Collaborators: Debate Team Leaders

Now your students have access to the same posting and commenting abilities that you have, putting student-run clubs back in the hands of students.

Do your student officers need to distribute an itinerary for a upcoming club trip? Do they need to vote on a revision to club by-laws? They can easily post documents, questions, and polls for their club members with this account!

In addition, these student club leaders will have the ability to assign members of the club individual tasks and goals; just like you would do in an academic Kiddom class. Meaning, not only can your club become officially student-run, but your student leaders will be able to distribute tasks and assignments to groups of club members in order to get everyone invested in club goals and activities.

Once your students have access to their club’s Kiddom course, the possibilities for student ownership are endless!

kiddomTip from Sarah Gantert, Success Specialist

 

We hope you find these hacks for using Kiddom fun and exciting! Let us know how you’re using Kiddom by emailing support@kiddom.co, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter below for the latest news, guides, resources, and more!

Celebrated Summer

Celebrated Summer

Dan Thalkar

Dan Thalkar

Teacher, 4th/5th Ethnic Studies

Dan lives and teaches in Los Angeles. Over his nine years in the classroom, he has taught 4th through 8th grade, and in his free time he probably watches more cartoons than most of his students. He also enjoys poetry, critical race theory, and Kendrick Lamar.   

Ah, summer. Sweet, sweet summertime. A time for relaxation and peace, for lengthy samurai novels and Bruce Lee movie binges.

A time for families to be separatedviolent crimes to risecelebrities to kill themselves, the Supreme Court to legitimize inhumane practicesthe openness of the internet to succumb to the inevitable pressure of capitalism.

Hurray for summer.

I always appreciate this break. This year, I desperately needed it. This was a long, emotionally draining year, at the end of which I didn’t know how much more I had to offer. How many times can you hear children say ‘I want to die’ before it no longer burns?

And so I am incredibly grateful for afternoon naps, for waking up early to catch all of the World Cup games, for sitting outside with a beer in the middle of the afternoon (or, in the present moment, late in the morning). Yet, the world stubbornly refuses to relax and abide by a teacher’s schedule. The world keeps happening. As a result, summer is also when I tend to feel most impotent and lost.

These last few weeks have bordered on the surreal. Our president wants his people to respond to him the same way Kim Jong Un’s are forced to respond. Thousands of children have been ripped from their parents and held in cages — but, by the way, says Border Patrol, even though they are technically cages, let’s maybe not use that word? — and, though that may no longer happen, there is still no plan to reunite the families, and there is now a path toward indefinitely detaining entire families in cages and former Wal-Marts. We’ve left the U.N. Human Rights Council. We were never the most conscientious members, but the symbolism stings. And the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court.

This is our country. If history has taught us anything, it’s that this has, more or less, always been our country. We are habitually unjust to the oppressed. We have a lengthy tradition of exclusion and internment. This is us.

History has also taught us that we can fight, and we can be better. This is the pocket where I try to live as a history teacher. Our society is unjust and oppressive, but we are descendants of a long and proud legacy of resistance and love.

Lately, it’s been a lot easier for me to tap into anger than love. I don’t quite know what to do with myself. Venting brings me no relief. Phone calls and marches, though I do both, never feel like enough. I make meaning of myself and the world through teaching. I process current events with the kids in my classroom. It’s where I find hope and where I feel useful. I can’t teach right now. I also realize that I really, really need to take a break from thinking about teaching right now. I need to breathe.

When I was younger, my anger was enough to give me energy and push me through. It isn’t anymore. It probably never should have been. If I’m going to be my best come August, I need to let myself heal.

This work is consuming. We’re never good enough. We never do enough. We never see enough, hear enough, speak enough, listen enough. There’s always more to learn, more to plan, more to systematize, more to refine, more to interrogate. This work will consume you, if you let it.

Don’t.

We can’t do this work if we burn ourselves out of oxygen, be it through anger or passion. What I’m trying to let myself learn this summer is that it’s okay to feel impatient. It’s okay to spend time with discomfort. It’s okay to sit with my feelings and thoughts. It’s okay to heal.

Whatever you’re doing this summer — whether you’re working summer school, planting a garden, or sleeping and watching Netflix — please, please, let yourself heal. I know it’s hard, considering what’s happening in the world. If you’re anything like me, then teaching is part of your healing process. That’s fine (I tell myself), as long as it isn’t everything. We are, all of us, gloriously multifaceted. When we let what we do define us, when we let what makes us angry control us, we limit our humanity. This, in turn, limits our effectiveness as educators — and partners and parents and siblings and friends.

And so, as I watch the news and fume or phone Congress and feel impotent, I am simultaneously plotting new ways to teach civic engagement and finding new comics to read. I’m learning more about the origins of human rights so that I’m better able to teach them, but I’m also going for walks and letting myself process. I’m watching documentaries I might want to show in class, but I also just watched Power Rangers. I’m letting my mind wonder and wander and seeing where it takes me. I’m spending a lot of time with Walter Benjamin and the Bhagavad Gita. My theory is that the more whole I am as a person, the better I’ll be as a teacher.

I don’t know if any of this will make me a better person, but it feels right, and so I’m listening. If it does, if it helps me heal, then I’ll be better for it and able to keep growing when the school year starts. If it doesn’t, well, at least I watched Power Rangers.