How to Create Mental Velcro in Your Classroom

PLUG INTO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: one of 33 Hacks in Hacking Instructional Design, by Michael and Elizabeth Fisher

THE PROBLEM: PRIOR KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ALWAYS ENGAGED

One of our largest educational conundrums is deciding what, how, and why students need to learn, and making sure we’re moving in a logical direction as we guide them. We can utilize the greatest resources in the world, but unless we’re connecting to previous learning or experiences, we’re not taking advantage of the neural pathways in a student’s mind. 

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Prior knowledge exists outside of standards, outside of grade-level expectations, outside of assessments, and outside of the numerous pedagogical ideas we’re sharing in this book—but it is a vital piece of any student’s education.

If we want learning to stick, we need to anchor it in a way that allows students to build on their existing foundations, using their prior knowledge.

THE HACK: PLUG INTO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE

Students grow neural pathways when new learning builds on knowledge that already exists in their brains. Plug students into their own brains to figure out where to start. You don’t put a roof on a house with no walls or foundation, right? You lay the foundation first; the same theory is true in the classroom….

For the rest of of Hack 7, listen to the podcast episode, embedded above.

For 32 more Hacks from Michael and Elizabeth Fisher, check out Hacking Instructional Design

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Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

Popular author and speaker James Clear says, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” That is, the effects of your habits multiply, when repeated, much like your money multiplies, as it sits in an interest-bearing account.

Clear is the author of the new Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, and he has a simple formula for making your habits Atomic, which he shared with Hack Learning creator and Times 10 Publisher Mark Barnes for Episode 127 of the Hack Learning Podcast

Excerpts from Mark’s brief interview with James Clear

 

MB — In your new book, Atomic Habits, you say, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” Talk about that statement.
 
JC — The basic idea is that habits don’t add up, they compound. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.
 
This process can work for you or against you. That is, habits are a double-edged sword. We’ve all experienced this with bad habits: eating junk food or procrastinating for an hour seem like insignificant choices on any given day, but when you repeat them week after week they can really add up. 
 
It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes very obvious.
 
This is why it’s so important to understand how habits work: you want to be able to design them to help you rather than hinder you. Understanding habits allows you to avoid the dangerous half of the blade on that double-edged sword.
 
MB — People often connect habits to goals, but in Atomic Habits, you say “Forget about goals and focus on systems.” Why should we forget about goals and what systems should we focus on?
 
JC — This is one of the core philosophies of Atomic Habits: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. 
 
Setting a goal is fairly easy. Anyone can sit down for 10 minutes and complete a goal-setting exercise. But what you find is that setting a goal often has very little to do with actually achieving a particular outcome.
 
In fact, the winners and losers in any particular domain often have the same goals. Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates them.
 
MB — So what makes the difference?
 
JC — I think it comes down to the system that you follow each day. Throughout my book, I give dozens of strategies and examples of how to build a system of atomic habits that make it easier to stick to good habits and break bad ones. 
 
Also, it’s worth noting: I don’t believe goals are completely useless. Goals are good for setting a sense of direction and gaining clarity about what you’re working on. But systems are better for actually making progress.
 
MB — Can you share a system from your book?
 
JC — How to stop procrastinating with the “2-Minute Rule.” The Two-Minute Rule states “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version:

  • “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
  • “Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
  • “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
  • “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
  • “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”

The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away. And, as we have just discussed, this is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.

A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.

MB – You have a wildly popular site and newsletter, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. What can our listeners expect to find when they subscribe?
 
JC — I write about self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. Newsletter subscribers get a new article from me each week about topics like habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. Over 400,000 people subscribe to those messages.

Check out Atomic Habits

James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, just arrived and is appropriate for us, because like Hack Learning books, it looks at a problem through a unique lens and offers simple, right-now solutions to making your habits Atomic. You can learn more and grab your copy at atomichabits.com.
Learn how to become uNforgettable at uNseries.com

James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and on CBS This Morning.

How Finding Balance Can Make You an uNforgettable Teacher

Listen to “126: How Teachers Can Find Balance” on Spreaker.

Consider for a moment your responsibilities as a teacher. Now, ask yourself how many of those are real necessities.

Find Balance

Veteran teacher, author, and presenter Chuck Poole believes that one of the keys to becoming an unforgettable teacher is to find your balance. In his book, uNforgettable: Your Roadmap to Being the Teacher They Never Forget, Poole says that balance “frees us from unnecessary responsibilities.” 

But how can busy teachers find balance? Poole explains it this way:

from uNforgettable

Finding balance is not easy, but it is worth it. Professional surfers have balance. They have the remarkable ability to stand on a board without falling off while powerful waves continually attempt to knock them down.

They understand that in order to stay upright, they have to control their own actions, rather than letting the waves beneath them control the situation. They learn to respect the power of the ocean and just enjoy the ride.

If, though, we figure out when our energy is at its highest point, and budget our time with that in mind, we can increase our effectiveness and efficiency.

As teachers, our work can sometimes feel like a wave crashing beneath our feet and trying to knock us off balance. We become so overwhelmed with lesson plans, expectations, and initiatives that we have little time to enjoy anything else at all, and our job becomes more of a burden than a labor of love.

We feel as though we are surfers who just can’t stay upright, and we find ourselves falling into the ocean time and time again. Finding a way to balance is the only way to keep from drowning. When we find balance, our vision becomes clear and we are able to rise above the waves and make an even greater impact.

Don’t drown; find balance

uNforgettable teachers understand the importance of balance. Although we find ourselves falling from time to time, we follow a plan and maintain a set of boundaries that show us the line between our surfboard and the raging ocean around us.

The plan and the boundaries give us a path to follow, even when things become a struggle. It’s easy to get consumed by what’s going on in the moment, but a plan keeps us on the path toward success, and the grander scheme of things.

Manage your energy

Identify your peak time to help you start to build balance in your life and teaching. When you consider your usual day, when is it easiest for you to work, and when do you feel most efficient? On average, people have three to five peak hours in a day, so pay attention to the tasks that require the most energy, and accomplish those during your peak hours.

Use your not-so-peak hours to accomplish the tasks that take less concentration or motivation. Doing these important—and perhaps most difficult—tasks during these hours will guarantee that you get them done, and leave the rest of the day for lesser tasks that take less energy and focus.

uNforgettable author Chuck Poole talks about finding balance

You will find that your days are more organized and that you end up getting more done. We often spend too much time trying to figure out how to fit everything into the limited amount of time we have each day, and end up failing at many of our goals.

If, though, we figure out when our energy is at its highest point, and budget our time with that in mind, we can increase our effectiveness and efficiency.

Here’s an example of how I work to manage my energy throughout the day:

High-energy time (5–8 a.m., 3–5 p.m.): Spend time with family, write podcast episodes and blog posts, brainstorm ideas for the uNseries.

Mid-energy time (11 a.m.–1 p.m.): Plan lessons, grade papers, collaborate with colleagues.

Low-energy time (6–9 p.m.): Work out, read/answer email, watch TV, check social media.

Follow these simple steps to help you match your energy level with the proper task:

Step One: Consider which tasks take up most of your energy. If you’re struggling, try creating a list or chart and classifying your tasks in regard to how difficult they are.

Step Two: Determine when you are at your best during the day; when you have the most energy. For some teachers, this will be in the morning or during a prep period. For others, it may come at the end of a school day, after the students have left the building.

Click here and learn how to be uNforgettable

Step Three: Plan to complete your high-energy tasks during your peak hours.

Step Four: Complete your mid-energy tasks during other times of the day, when you still have energy, but are outside or at the edges of your peak time. These tasks might include things like grading papers, completing paperwork, or planning units with colleagues.

Step Five: Leave your low-energy tasks for the time of day when you have the least energy. These are the things that take the least mental work and can be left for times when you have the least mental energy. Include things like checking email, social media, or working out.

Sign a boundary contract

Finding balance is not only about time. We might budget our time perfectly . . . and still find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything we have to do.

Making that decision, and avoiding the overwhelm that comes with overpromising, will help you achieve better balance.

Becoming overwhelmed and stressed about a lack of time is not the way to become an uNforgettable teacher. Instead, you’ll be going through the motions and treating your students as afterthoughts. So how do we avoid the problem?

Click here to learn how to find balance

Many of us have trouble saying no because it is in our nature to help others. We end up taking on more than we can handle, which causes stress and resentment. Instead of teaching, which we love, we get busy doing favors that we never wanted to do. Our life begins to spiral out of control—all because we never set boundaries, and therefore we said yes to too many things.

Ultimately, our passion takes a back seat to stress—and our students notice. Combat this problem by creating a contract with yourself. When we sign a teaching contract, we are saying we will abide by what’s in it, and meet the expectations we’ve just signed on for.

If we do not follow through with that, we can be fired or sued. They are powerful pieces of paper that bring joy to those who receive them and pain to those who break them.

The same concept works with a boundary contract. This contract is one you design and outlines what you’re willing to take on outside of your normal teaching responsibilities—and what you are not.

Click image to look inside

Here are some examples. If you enjoy heading up committees to help develop the school, include it in the contract as one of your outside activities. If you do not, include it in the contract as a responsibility that is not acceptable to you.

If you are willing to take on a coaching responsibility or an after-school club, include it in the contract. If not, make sure to list that as something you are not willing to take on during the year.

Put these things down in writing and then sign it, and you’ll have a document to review down the line when you’re faced with a decision. Making that decision, and avoiding the overwhelm that comes with overpromising, will help you achieve better balance.

Finding balance in our lives will benefit everyone we come into contact with, and by implementing a few strategies, we can change our lives for the better.

How to transform your library into a real learning community

Is your school library mostly a place to store books? Is it empty and silent? What if you could transform your library into a dynamic learning hub?

Award-winning school librarians Kristina Holzweiss and Stony Evans are on a mission to incorporate library media centers into your learning community. In this excerpt from their new book, Hacking School Libraries, you learn how to transform your library tomorrow, with three quick tips from the authors.

How to Transform the Space

Weed.

Why are you holding onto books that are outdated, inappropriate, or damaged? This sticks you right into that old-fashioned, no-longer-relevant teaching column. Upload your collection and analyze it through your circulation software to determine the average age of the entire collection and the average age of each section.

Then start to figure out how you can change it up. Focus on the areas that are the oldest first, as those are the ones that need the most attention.

We all hope that we will fit into our old clothes at the back of the closet, but do you really need a book about space written before the astronauts landed on the moon? You are a school librarian, not an archivist.

Declutter.

Do your patrons suffer from sensory overload when they enter the library? Clean it up and simplify to immediately and easily update the space. Remove or modify signs and displays. Create a short list of positive expectations, rather than the list of “do-nots.”

Inspire reading with a reading lounge. Click image to learn more.

Ditch your desk, which is old-fashioned and taking up valuable floor space that could be used for a reading nook or collaborative workspace. Attach anti-slip tape to the bottoms of bookends to keep books in place, use paint stirrers as shelf markers, and place baskets on the floor for students to return books that need to be reshelved.

Rubber refrigerator door liners will keep books from slipping on carts. All of this will clean up the space and make it easier and more pleasant for students.

Organize.

Many of the following suggestions are based on libraries for the younger grades but can be adapted for the ages of your learners. Create a cubby system where students can store their belongings so they don’t have to worry about keeping track of things while they’re browsing or working.

Learn how to make students makers–not consumers

Scrapbooking storage boxes are the perfect size for makerspace or literacy kits.

Hang curtains from spring tension rods to hide supplies, and use hanging shoe organizers for pens, highlighters, markers, scissors, and crayons. Numbered and color-coded baskets make it easy to distribute supplies.

Utilize mobile, lockable charging carts to keep track of and organize any technological devices you have in the space. Use clothing racks to hang posters and charts so they remain straight and protected, and use PVC pipe to create a storage system for headphones.

Learn to engage with EdTech in your library

Purchase a personal laminator to create long-lasting, color-coded labels. Create signage that is visually appealing and clear, and use both text and images to make it easier for all students, especially English language learners and special education students, to understand what you’re asking of them.

Learn more

For all 10 ways to incorporate library media centers into your learning community, look inside Hacking School Libraries today.

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Changing the Conversation with Parents

Is it time to reconsider parents’ role in teaching and learning in

your space? Parent and family involvement in education can now be

so much more than a phone call, open house, or parent-teacher conference.

In her new book, Hacking Early Learning, Principal of the Year Jessica Cabeen

shares some practical strategies for engaging parents in daily teaching and

learning, using 21-century technology.

See how you can bring parents along for the entire journey in every school

year.

THE HACK: CHANGE THE

CONVERSATION WITH PARENTS

Having your first (or second, or third) child enter the K–12 system

can be a milestone in many ways for families . . . and for teachers

and leaders. Setting the tone for when and how you communicate

and build a mutual relationship goes a long way toward establishing

trust with the stakeholders you will be serving on the journey.

Authentic family engagement is more than a parent night, more

than Dads and Donuts, and if you do it well, it will start well before

students enter the classroom, and leave a lasting memory well after

they leave your school.

How we welcome and end every day with students can also be a

great starting point in building relationships with families. In what

ways are you intentionally taking time to show care, concern, and

empathy for the students in your class? How often are you checking

Click image to look inside

in with families after a difficult time? When do you recognize that

student who just seems to be doing the right thing every time you

turn around? How do you celebrate every child during the school

year—and make sure that the family hears about it as well?

If you have an opportunity to live where you lead, you have the

bonus of engaging with future, current, and previous families in

your community every day. This is a chance for parents to see that

you are more than a principal, and for you to see how much they

love being parents. Building relationships with families can occur

on Saturdays at the swimming pool during a swim meet, Sundays

at church, or at the library when you check out new books after

school and see former students studying.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

Find the right platform(s). Families these days

receive information in more ways than ever before.

As educators, we must work to find the right fit

for each family, to make sure they are receiving

information in a timely manner. Our school community

recognized early on that parents were

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process for positive communication.

engaging more with their phones than the school

folder. Armed with that information, we created a

blog that links directly to our Facebook page. That

way, families can see an intro to a subject and click

to go right out to the blog for further information.

We also post pictures of the school day, host

Facebook Live events, and push out reminders on

this social platform. I used Twitter … so

parents can see inside their child’s day. YouTube

has been a great vehicle for pushing out monthly

your stakeholders so that you are choosing

the right tools to reach families, and recognize that

there may be more than one right answer.

Jessica Cabeen, Minnesota Principal of the Year, author of Hacking Early Learning

Make sure to teach the tool, and then use it!

Teachers use tools like Seesaw, Remind, Facebook,

and Twitter to communicate with their families.

Before posting, they spend time at back-to-school

conferences, demonstrating the tool and helping

families get signed up and logged in. We want to

make communication between home and school

easy, accessible, and supportive for families. I have

even seen teachers highlight the tool during subsequent

parent nights and conferences. But once

families are signed up, use the tool to communicate

early and often. The more you post, the more families

practice using it, and the stronger the bridge

between home and school will become.

What are some communication tools you

can use to communicate? Jot them down—

and then start to figure out how you’ll pull

them into your daily, weekly, and monthly

communications.

Reach out the old-fashioned way. One expectation

to maintain is that families receive positive communication

about their child within the first month of

school. Starting the second week of school, armed

with addressed postcards and classroom lists, I sit

in classrooms and look for the good in everyone.

Once I have observed a class, I take the time to

write three to five postcards to specific students

engaged in learning and positive social behaviors,

and/or contributing to class in a specific manner. I

use the class list to keep track of who I sent

cards to, and then move to the next room.

This process takes almost a full thirty days,

but is incredibly worth it! Parents and students are

proud to receive mail from the principal, and it helps

me shift the defined role of what a principal is “supposed”

to do to what our vision of school leadership

is. Plus I get to contribute to the success of our

learners every day!

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process

for positive communication. Make your way into at

least one class, observe, and decide how

you’re going to give the students—and their

families—positive reinforcement.

This excerpt from Hacking Early Learning is shared with permission

from Times 10 Publications.

For more episodes of the Hack Learning Podcast, hosted by Mark Barnes,

visit the archive at HackLearningPodcast.com and subscribe to the show.