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Teacher Feature – Mrs. Michelle Blair

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

-Benjamin Frankiln

 Hey teachers!  We hope you are enjoying these lazy summer days.  The sounds of cicadas in the trees, birds singing happily to each other and the pitter-patter of 23 pairkids on paths of feet following you through the woods.  Yikes!!  We didn’t mean to scare you out of a mid-summer’s night dream, we just want to introduce you to a fantastic teacher from Bucks County, PA.  Don’t worry!  She is enjoying her vacation just like you, away from school, recharging her batteries with her family.  However, I did get a chance to meet up with her right before school ended and those 23 pairs of feet are her impressive young learners!

 Meet Mrs. Blair

Mrs. Michelle Blair teaches 23 of the luckiest 2nd graders in Bucks County, a quaint suburb of Philadelphia, PA.   Her welcoming, safe classroom environment and calm approach to teaching keeps her students challenged and engaged.  When she takes her students walking through the woods, it is not recess, but serious learning time.

She believes, as Ben Franklin did, students need to be involved in real world experiences and hands-on activities to truly learn.  This pre-planned wilderness trek is an extension of her science unit, and to add to the experience, she called in an expert (Mrs. Mitchell) from the PA Audubon Society.

I met Mrs. Blair as her students were lining up to go on the “bird walk.”  Just as we were about to leave the building she introduced her students and I to Mrs. Mitchell, who would be joining us, to help relay facts and information about the local bird population.  We all extended a warm hello.  A quiet sign goes up and her students get settled down.  We respectfully leave the building and begin looking to the skies with excited eyes.

 “When second graders are actually doing something they tend to retain information better and they will be able to make real world connections. “

As soon as we exit the building one of Mrs. Blair’s students notices a giant bird hovering over the soccer fields.  Mrs. Mitchell is beside herself with excitement over the mysterious bird and begins to explain every detail about a vulture’s important life and actual scientific name.  She has on a wide brimmed hat and was very animated for someone who wasn’t supposed to make a lot of sudden movements (in order not to disturb the birds).  Mrs. Blair has a huge smile on her face as she turns to me and says, “Isn’t she the coolest?”

 I looked at Mrs. Mitchell with her cute bonnet-type hat, sweet disposition, obMrs. Mitchellvious love for 2nd graders and a lot of enthusiasm for birds that live in PA.  “Yes.” I had to smile in agreement.  Mrs. Mitchell was super-cool and Mrs. Blair helped everyone to see her that way.

“I just love this.”  Mrs. Blair commented as we continued to walk through the woods and finding all types of creatures making mischief with her students.   

“When second graders are actually doing something (like a bird walk) they tend to retain information better and they will be able to make real world connections.  The next time they are outside with their parents, they could actually point out a bird they remembered seeing on their bird walk.  They’ll also be more likely to recite a fact or two that they learned about that particular bird.  They wouldn’t get this kind of learning experience from a book or a PowerPoint presentation.”

Learning Through Questioning

As we walked further into the woods, squirrels and groundhogs make their way into our bird watching along with the occasional dog walker and environmental project orchestrated by high-school students.  I noticed another important part of Mrs. Blair’s teaching strategy; learning with her students.  Mrs. Mitchell was the expert here but Mrs. Blair’s students still looked to her for answers: 

“Hey Mrs. Blair, what do you think that is?”  

“I’m not sure, it looks like a small house.  What do you think it could be?”This response causes a small discussion between young friends.  The options of a house, a place to rest after a walk or a place to watch birds, are analyzed.  They decide it must be a quiet place to go and watch birds. With this, they promptly run excitedly screaming their discovery with the rest of their classmates!

“Mrs. Blair, what kind of bird do you think that is?”

“I think it’s a sparrow.”   bird on a tree

One of her students responds to that last comment, “That’s not a Sparrow, it doesn’t have a forked tail.  I think it is a Swallow.”

Mrs. Blair beams a huge smile at me.  I am immediately drawn into that incredible moment when you know your students are gaining real knowledge and enjoying the experience. 

Her lessons are a reflection of her belief in involving children in the process of learning.  She tries to get her students outside as much as possible to for her science lessons.  Content and facts are important but getting her students involved in an activity is a key component in developing a life-long love of learning.

Back in the classroom, her students get busy filling their “Bird books” with lots of facts and drawings of the cool birds they discovered.  Mrs. Blair reinforces the learning and differentiates by writing the facts that her students recall, on the board.  

Mrs. Mitchell and I said goodbye to her second graders and just before I walked out the door, Mrs. Blair points to a blown-up picture on her far wall.  Eight years ago, she taught her first, 1st grade class.  (This was the beginning of her tenure and knowing where she was going to teach for a long time.)  The picture she pointed to was of her first official group of 1st grade students.  I squinted but recognized the tiny, curly hair little girl in the front row.  My daughter is 15 years old now but has never forgotten or lost her great love for her 1st grade teacher.   Apparently, Mrs. Blair hasn’t forgotten her either.  

“If they have the drive to learn, they can do whatever their hearts desire.”

In addition to her full-time teaching position, Mrs. Blair taught a technology summer camp with her husband, who is also a teacher.  Her techy camp students got to learn Glogster, Google Earth, Storybird and much more.  She has been a soccer coach, a cheerleading coach and a one-on-one assistant but is now in the most important role of her life.  She is a mom to two very active little girls (1 and 2 years old).  Her family spends time going to the beach, playing with sidewalk chalk and bubbles, going to book stores, libraries, ice cream parlors and of course walks in the woods.    

As busy as she is, Mrs. Blair is about as cool as they get.  There is always a sense of calm and easiness to her personality.  Teachers are not always going to have all of the answers, mistakes will happen and life will be difficult and messy at times.  Mrs. Blair seems toMrs. Blair take life as it comes, enjoying happy moments and muscling through the tough ones with a quiet strength.  She knows her students will also face certain obstacles as they move beyond their elementary years and offers additional guidance as they pave their own futures… 

“I hope my students achieve their dreams and goals.  I tell them to be kind and do their personal best each day.  If they have the drive to learn, they can do whatever their hearts desire.” 

They may or may not remember that Swallows fly with their mouths open or that Robins tilt their heads to listen for worms as they bounce around on the ground. 

But what will stay with them forever, is the memory of the incredible teacher who provided the best possible learning experiences and cared more for them then they will ever know.    

Thanks, Mrs. Blair for being the Teacher Academy’s August Teacher Feature! Keep doing what you do and making this world a better place! 

For more information on The Teacher’s Academy’s convenient professional development courses, check out our course catalog. Now serving all states in the country. We are also an approved provider for Act 48 hours and ACSI certified!

 

 

 

Mindfulness in Education

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Top 5 Benefits to Practicing Mindfulness in Education

What is Mindfulness?

There’s this new concept being tossed around in schools called, mindfulness. Doctor Jon Kabbat Zinn, founder of Mindful Based Stress Reduction practices, defines mindfulness as the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.

 

This concept sounds so simple, but it is not easy. Proponents of mindfulness practices in education say it’s the latest tactic that can help students focus on work, increase learning, decrease stress and enhance the overall community of the school. Skeptics claim that the idea of mindfulness is too simple and it can’t possibly work. They are both right…and they are both wrong!

 

“History, Meet Science.”

Mindfulness is not new. And depending on where you live in this world, it’s not new to education.  Mindfulness practices are rooted in the ancient Buddhist philosophy of practicing gratitude and self-awareness through meditation. It is a simple concept that works. Although it took almost 2000 years for science to catch up to the claims of mindfulness, science has proven that mindfulness practices can have tremendous effects on health and well-being. With recent breakthroughs in health care, like MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), doctors are able to see and study electrical activity in the brain. We now have a much better understanding of how the brain functions. In fact, we now know that we can actually exercise the brain to make it grow in certain areas. At first, these findings were applied to the medical community as a way to aid physical healing and combat mental illness. With continued astounding results, mindfulness found its way into the business world and eventually, the education realm.

 

Despite its roots, mindfulness is a secular practice that can be done by anyone, regardless of their race, religion or socio-economic demographic. Mindfulness activities are simple, but they are not easy. Any activity that teaches the brain to focus on one object while remaining void of any judgment in the present moment is a mindful practice. Meditation, journaling, intentional breath work, thoughtful physical movement and even mantras are some ways one can learn to focus the mind. Let’s take a look at the top 5 benefits that mindfulness may provide in your classroom.

 

Top 5 Benefits to Having a Mindful Practice in your Classroom

 

1. Mindfulness improves sleep. Students of all ages, from elementary to the university, struggle with sleep. As children experience pivotal stages in physiological development, their sleep patterns become interrupted. As they age and develop stronger emotional responses to daily strife, their sleep habits tend to be the first to suffer. It’s no secret that all humans need ample amounts of sleep. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or contemplation, done right before bed and in the morning, can help calm the mind and allow the physical body to relax to a deeper state.

2. Mindfulness develops a strong self-esteem, while cultivating a sense of compassion and gratitude. Not all kids need that extra self-esteem booster, but some do! Mindfulness has a little something for everyone on this spectrum. In gratitude practices, such as journaling, meditation or “Pay –it -Forward” activities, students experience how their actions have a direct influence over their lives. When students take a proactive approach to their lives instead of the victim mindset, they feel a sense of self-worth. When they see how their actions affect those around them, they develop empathy and compassion.

3. Mindfulness helps students worry less and focus on what is important more. Test anxiety, social pressures and even bullying can be combated with mindfulness activities. When students use breath work and thought watching activities to slow the heart rate and calm the constant stream of thoughts that ask “what if,” students have an opportunity to see a little more clearly.

4. Mindfulness strengthens relationships with others. Embarking on a mindfulness journey together as a school creates a bond between faculty and students, the results of mindfulness: feeling peaceful, receptive, willing, and accepting, pave the way for strong bonds between students on campus and their teachers.

5. Mindfulness helps students find a greater satisfaction to their life. The concept of mindfulness is so simple: Simply teach the brain to experience each moment without judgement. And the effects of this art include feeling gratitude, peaceful, joy. Students who practice mindfulness find its effects to be contagious. Their purpose for life is clearer, and they have the tools to navigate through it.

 

In the course, Mindfulness in Education, from The Teacher’s Academy, you will explore the definition of mindfulness, research the science behind it and embark on a mindfulness practice that you can use in your classroom. As educators, we can instill mindfulness into our students either directly or indirectly. Through learning mindfulness techniques like meditation, movement, journaling, contemplation and more, we learn to physically change the brain matter. The result is a more peaceful teacher. The mindful teacher has greater patience to handle the stress of the day and more creativity to solve some of our toughest problems. In this case, the students reap the benefits of your mindfulness practice indirectly. Once a practice is established, the mindful teacher can use the strategies to help students find their focus before a big presentation and calm their nerves before a big test.

 

As we know in education, there is no silver bullet that will make every student the top student in their class. By definition, that’s impossible! But as trends in education come and go, mindfulness, having successful results for thousands of years, might be worth a second look. Teachers in all parts of the country, from Oregon to Pennsylvania and Texas to Ohio, are starting to take on mindfulness practices in their classrooms. Don’t be the last one to jump on this band wagon…it may not come around again for another thousand years or so!

 

Want to enhance your pedagogy even more? Check out all of our professional development classes. Our catalog ranges from basics in computer technology to the best resources for teachers. All of our courses are written to Common Core standards and are accepted in most states for your professional development needs.  We are an approved provider for Act 48 hours and ACSI credits. Check us out today!

Inspiring Ideas for the 21st Century Classroom

The summer is almost here!  It is about this time during the school year when most teachers feel totally drained.  The last thing you want to do is take a workshop or go to a seminar to keep up with your professional development hours.  We know how you feel because we are teachers too!  That is why the teachers at The Teacher’s Academy decided to come up with an inspirational course.  Inspiring Ideas for the 21st Century Classroom encourages teachers to wind down, reflect upon their practices and have some fun watching other teachers work their magic around the world. This is an 18-hour professional development course designed for teachers who need a break!

There are 8 projects in this course:

  1. Interview Question
  2. Happiness Activity
  3. Ted Talk: Mitra Analysis
  4. The Teaching Channel Video Assessment
  5. Curious Activities
  6. Ted Talk: Tezuka Analysis
  7. Dream Big Building Design
  8. Personal Reflection

Each project gives teachers a chance to think about education in a new, creative way.   The course opens with a quick introduction and an interview question.  (A familiar, but important question.)  Teachers are then asked to watch a quick video.  After hearing some inspirational words, they are asked to add a few thoughts to their original answer.

Project #2, The Happiness Activity, allows teachers to enjoy a few minutes of a good-humored Ted Talk then practice some simple acts of kindness, as discussed in the course.  For a few days, teachers will choose to be grateful for 3 things, journal about something positive, exercise, meditate or perform some random acts of kindness.  All activities are designed to make teachers feel good about themselves and spread a little love!

Project #3, Ted Talk: Mitra Analysis, takes teachers on a journey to India!  Sugata Mitra conducts some exciting learning experiments with children living in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country.  Watch how children with no instructions, direction or guidance learn about some complex topics with nothing more than their curiosity!  Teachers get a chance to analyze this type of teaching practice and freely give their opinion.  (We can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this one!)

 Project #4, The Teaching Channel Video Assessment, poses 15 questions on a series of three videos with different ideas of how to inspire students back here in the US.  Empathize with other teachers from across the country as they struggle to create activities with purpose and meaning.  Watch how students respond to and retain information with hands-on activities.  (Maybe steal some great ideas to use with your own students!)  Learn about the importance of incorporating deeper learning activities into the curriculum.  Finally, watch teachers learn a new way to use art to enrich a language arts class.

 Teachers seem to love when we include projects that they can use in class (check out the projects in Nutrition and Creating a School Garden), and so our 5th Project, Curious Activities, allows teachers to create 3 of their own inspirational activities to use in class.  Think about all of the cool new teaching strategies you’ve learned and lessons that you already teach.  Can you modify the activities to make them more inspiring?  Can you adjust certain projects to foster curiosity?  We offer some really cool examples and reference websites where you can find inspiration yourself!

Our 6th Project, Ted Talk: Tezuka Analysis, takes teachers on a trip to Japan where they visit the “Best kindergarten you’ve ever seen!”  (Well, that is the name of the Ted Talk video.) Teachers get to see how engineers have created a school to address the needs of these young, rambunctious learners.   They will begin to discover how the design of the school can have a positive effect on education.

 Project #7, Dream Big Building Design connects teachers with educational architecture around the world.  See how schools and classrooms are designed in France, Germany, Afghanistan, and other parts of the nation!  With this information, teachers get to design what they believe would be the perfect school.  Using pictures from the Internet, software tools or just pencils and paper, teachers can have fun creating their educational designs.  We hope teachers can use a small part of their design to update their own classroom!

Our final project allows teachers to reflect on all of the new teaching ideas, inspirational people in education as well as new design features they found to be interesting.  This project is all about imagining what education means to teachers, how things might change or stay the same – whatever comes to mind, we want to know!  Think of Project #8 Personal Reflection as therapy in a word processing document.

The Teacher’s Academy is a company created by teachers for teachers.  We happily provide a service for many teachers who do not have access to free professional development.  Our service also benefits teachers who are more comfortable completing their requirements on their own, wherever and whenever is most convenient.

We are an approved provider of Act 48 Hours in Pennsylvania, Continuing Education Units in Texas and ACSI hours for our Christian school-teachers across the country.  We provide professional development hours for busy teachers in most states like Oregon, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Indiana, New Jersey, parts of New York, etc.   Find your state page on our website!

Teachers that work for The Teacher’s Academy are all certified and some are even working full-time in in the classroom or with other teachers, addition to writing and editing courses for our company.  Our “Teacher Features” get us into the classrooms of innovative and inspiring teachers so we can share their ideas with the rest of the nation.

This course is a direct reflection of how we have put the ideas from our client-teachers, into 18-hours of professional development designed to recharge positive energy!  Have a wonderful, relaxing, safe summer and enjoy this course at your own pace!

Have an idea for a course?  Contact us!  Check out our Course Catalog for a listing of all courses.