Practical Tips For How Teachers Can Avoid Burnout

In collaboration with @Pikmykid

The past couple of years have been challenging for everyone, but especially teachers. So it’s not surprising that a recent study found that 52% of K-12 teachers reported feeling burnt out. With so much happening and extra burdens on our time, it is more important than ever to focus on ways to make time for self-care.

In this article we will talk about the symptoms of teacher burnout, how it affects both the teacher and students, and ideas for avoiding (or recovering from) teacher burnout.

Symptoms of teacher burnout

Especially in a new school year, we want to be available for our students and their families. But, if we do not set boundaries and make ourselves seemingly available 24 hours a day every day of the week, it will lead to teacher burnout.

The challenges and trying to do all the things can quickly lead to exhaustion, frustration, and potentially, burnout for educators.

Signs that you might be suffering from or on the brink of teacher burnout are:

You have the feeling of dread when thinking about going to work, like Sunday scaries to the extreme, which is likely an obvious sign you are burnt out. There are other less obvious signs you are well on your way there, however.

These signs look different for each person, but common signs of teacher burnout include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Frustration
  • Withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Agitation
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling a loss of purpose or passion

How does teacher burnout affect students and others around us?

Impact on personal lives

As educators, we have a great deal of responsibility when it comes to focusing on student wellness and also for checking in on our colleagues. The experiences we go through each day can weigh heavily on us emotionally, mentally, and physically, which can lead to burnout.

More than just impacting our professional lives, burnout will negatively impact our personal lives, as well. These impacts could be poor physical health, declining mental health, strained relationships, isolation, lack of overall happiness, and more.

Therefore, we need to have the right strategies in place to deal with the impact of these daily challenges and also model these coping strategies for our students.

Impact to students

As teachers, we spend almost 200 days a year with our students each school year. All this time with them makes a large impact on their learned behaviors from the actions they see from us.

Demonstrating how to successfully manage our time, create boundaries, and maintain good mental and physical health is equally as important to teach our students as the other subjects we specialize in. These skills are critical learnings students will take with them into adulthood.

Teacher burnout prevention

We know the importance of self-care and wellness and so we have to find something that works for us and also enables us to provide our best selves for our families, friends, colleagues, and students.

When faced with challenges, uncertainties, or too many things on our plate, it can be difficult to take the break we need and focus on our well-being. But, if we don’t start with ourselves, we will not be well-prepared to provide the support that our students need. To prepare, it is important that we start with SEL.

SEL is essential

When facing challenges, managing emotions and being comfortable asking for help when we need it are essential skills for everyone. Both in our professional and personal lives, our well-being can have an impact on everyone that we interact with.

When we start with our own mental health and wellness, then we can bring our best selves to everyone that we are connecting with. What better time than the start of a new school year!

As we are just beginning the new school year, we should be intentional about finding ways to focus on our well-being and also involve our students in meaningful learning opportunities to really understand what they are experiencing. We can focus on SEL together.

How can we check in on one another as we enter a new school year, which brings a lot of demands on teachers, students, and families?

Each school has new initiatives, procedures, school events, and many wonderful experiences, but they can also be overwhelming and taxing on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Ideas for how teachers can avoid burnout

As we start a new school year and face new challenges, and deal with changing schedules and demands on our time, we need to have a plan in place that works for us.

Creating a new daily routine or even using an app that will help us to take a break, to engage in mindfulness practices, or to focus on our own social-emotional learning and our health and wellness is so important.

Mindfulness apps There are several different apps that can be used to help with mindfulness and setting aside time each day to take a break and reflect. Calm App includes breathing exercises and has categories for music, sleep, and body to find meditations and relaxing exercises. JabuMind has a 10-week wellness series for educators that features iRest tools. There are meditations for starting your day, break time, releasing your day, bedtime, and the weekend.

Exercise. Be active. It is so important to break away from screen time and work and be active. My advice is to pick two points in your day where you will hold yourself accountable for something. Maybe it is going for an early morning or late evening walk. Maybe it is taking a walk around the school building to connect with students and colleagues. Either way, it is great to get up and moving.

Reading. A good friend of mine often talks about the books that she is reading and how she chooses books that are not focused on education or anything related to work. One idea is also to decide to listen to a book instead while taking a walk and doubling up on your self-care.

Be okay with saying no. Sometimes it can feel easier to say yes to an extra responsibility, project or even a small task. It can be uncomfortable to say no, but we have to balance our days and sometimes we need to limit ourselves to avoid burnout.

Set boundaries. It is important to set some boundaries and even goals for ourselves. If we keep ourselves connected a lot, perhaps it means leaving our devices in another room for a period of time. Another idea is to not respond to emails after a certain point in the day, or reserve a specific day each week that is time for our family, and friends and focus on ourselves.

Leverage tech to save time. Take a look at your daily tasks and see if there’s something that consistently takes up your time – like school dismissal. Then research and ask colleagues any technology they leverage to streamline those tasks.

Taking care of ourselves is important so that we can best care for others. We can also share these ideas with our students depending on their age and model the practice of taking breaks or making time for meditation or mindfulness.

Looking for ways to save daily time at dismissal while making school safer? Check out how Pikmykid helps teachers save time, frustration, and stress. See the benefits for teachers!

Meet the Authors

Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU

In collaboration with Pikmykid

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Change Your Bat Angle

Guest post by Brian Kulak

K-5 Principal at Tatem Elementary School in NJ


Brian’s Book: Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame

Read this blog long enough and you’ll realize how obsessed I am with baseball. Inevitably there will be posts devoted to baseball, anecdotes will center around baseball, and metaphors will be drawn from baseball.

Barguments often focus on which sport is the most difficult to play, the most demanding physically and mentally, the most failure heavy. As a lover of all sports, I can appreciate that an argument can be made for each of the four major sports: baseball, basketball, football, and hockey but, to me, there’s really only one answer.


Because of the physics (round ball, round bat), the variables (pitcher, weather), and the psychology (streaks, slumps), there is nothing more difficult than hitting a baseball consistently. A monster game at the plate can just as easily be followed by a soul-crushing slump of weeks, or months, the time in between at-bats seeming equal parts interminable and immediate as you perseverate on what went wrong.

As a 41-year-old weekend warrior, I only get a chance to play games on Sunday mornings. While my preparation for each game often dictates some midweek tee work or live batting practice, I’m still only playing once a week. Admittedly, I take baseball too seriously, but part of me doesn’t apologize for that because I don’t understand why folks would set out to do anything poorly, so I want to play as well as I can each week.

A few years ago I suffered through my worst season ever, and I’m including my high school playing days, during which I hit a paltry .179. During that summer, getting on base was such an anomaly that I could recall when I did reach base because it was only a handful of times. That ain’t good.

Deflated but undaunted, I continued to work that offseason because I was not going to return to my team the same player. At one point, I sent a video of myself taking swings off the tee to a friend of mine who is a hitting tactician. In seconds, he responded with a diagnosis and, ultimately, saved my swing.

“Dude, look at how far you’re wrapping the bat around your head. Change the bat angle to 1 o’clock before you load, and you’ll be quicker to the ball.”

Change. Your. Bat. Angle.

No amount of work on my own would have led me to that conclusion because, though I would have been working hard, I would have been working incorrectly. There was no way for me to self-diagnose my own flaw, so I had to ask for help.

Now, I “change my bat angle” all the time.

When I’m struggling with a certain colleague, I change my bat angle.

When I’m trying to convince my five-year-old that he can, in fact, put on his own socks, I change my bat angle.

When my early morning writing process stalls, I change my bat angle.

As you approach the upcoming school year, I challenge you to change your bat angle. Reflect intentionally on that which you have done the same way each year and change it.

  • Experiment with flexible seating and let the kids help you design the classroom’s layout
  • Revolutionize your “Back to School Night” by asking parents to leave their kids a video via Flipgrid
  • Reframe your instructional walkthroughs to focus on the kids, even a specific kid, in each room, and then write those kids a note of appreciation
  • Flip and hang old posters and allow kids to recreate them using their own words and images
  • Print, laminate, and hang Tweets or blog post excerpts about which you want your staff and students to think
  • Use a mobile desk so you’re in the hallways more and in your office less
  • Take time for yourself each day, even if it’s five minutes of nothing but sitting and breathing

Baseball is a game of failure, and in many ways, so is education. In each, the best players make adjustments all the time in order to best help their team. In each, those who refuse to make adjustments all the time don’t often have teams for long.

Change your bat angle.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

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5 Resources that help students become digital citizens

By Rachelle Dené Poth

October has become the month where educators participate in events focused on digital citizenship. However, the focus on digital citizenship is not only relevant during October — it’s important throughout the entire year. With so much use of technology, especially during the past school year, we need to make sure that we are helping students to build digital citizenship skills in our classrooms.

With so many students interacting and having access to social media and digital tools, they need to develop the right skills to navigate these spaces and be prepared to deal with any challenges or barriers that may arise. According to Pew research, some students expressed feeling overwhelmed due to the pressure that can come from social media, while others experienced positive outcomes such as strengthening friendships and developing a greater understanding of diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

We need to create opportunities for students to become more digitally aware and literate, and to be responsible when using technology. There are many ways to do this, depending on our content area and grade level. We can model best practices for our students, bring in a specific digital citizenship curriculum to guide them through their learning, or use digital tools and resources available to have students explore and create.

Helping students learn to safely navigate what has become a highly digital world is something that we are all responsible for. Students need to be aware of the impact of their posts online, how to create and manage social accounts and protect their information, and how to properly access and use resources they obtain through technology.

5 resources to explore

In my experience, I started by joining one of the October events and limited our focus on digital citizenship to that one day. However, for the past few years, I’ve been starting each new school year with a focus on digital citizenship and continue working on it throughout the year. I believe that it’s important to start with a discussion about interactions and what some of the challenges might be when it comes to using technology and our interactions.

In my eighth-grade STEAM class, we discuss each of the nine elements following the outline and the resources provided in the book Digital Citizenship 9 Elements by Mike Ribble. We have used the following resources in our class and, as an added activity, students choose one of the nine elements and create sketch notes that we display in the hall for the school community to learn about digital citizenship.

Here are five resources for teaching about digital citizenship:

  1. 21 Things 4 Teachers provides teachers with 21 different topics aimed at helping students to develop the technology skills they need for the digital world. There are learning activities and assignments for students to complete at their own pace. It also offers professional development through ten-hour self-paced learning modules which connect curriculum with technology and best instructional strategies. Students can learn about online safety and specific technology topics through activities, videos, and quests.
  2. Common Sense Education provides digital citizenship lesson plans to help educators address relevant topics and help students learn how to create their digital lives. There are many lessons available for different grade levels and topics such as media balance and wellbeing, digital footprint and identity, and cyberbullying. Each lesson includes a plan, estimated time, materials needed, and key vocabulary terms, making it easy for educators to get started.
  3. Be Internet Awesome offers a free curriculum that provides everything teachers need for teaching online safety and digital citizenship in the classroom. It has additional resources such as activities, charts, guides, and Google slides. Students can go to “Interland” to play different games to learn more about internet safety and keeping information secure.
  4. Book Creator now has three books on digital citizenship, created in collaboration with Common Sense Education. Students can also create their own books to share what they are learning, collaborate with classmates and build their own digital citizenship skills during the process. Books can include audio, images, text, and video. Have your class create their own Digital Citizenship book to inform others!
  5. Brain Pop has a variety of lessons and topics for educators and students. In the digital citizenship module, there are 16 topics, and one of the free lessons is Digital Etiquette. Students can learn about each topic by playing games, making graphic organizers, learning about primary sources, making a movie, and there are more interactive and personalized options available. Brain Pop has free and premium accounts.
  6. Nearpod has many lessons available for educators to get started quickly, with some lessons focused on digital citizenship. There are short videos that can be used to promote discussion and full lessons that offer a mix of content and activities that boost student engagement and involvement in discussions with their classmates. Nearpod offers more than 380 interactive lessons focused on digital citizenship and literacy.

Beyond using some different apps and websites, I also recommend checking out some blogs and books. A few of the books that I have used in my own classroom include Digital Citizenship in Action by Dr. Kristen Mattson, Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble, and Digcit Kids: Lessons Learned Side by Side to Empower Others from Around the World by Dr. Marialice Curran et all. These books offer a wealth of resources for educators who are getting started with teaching about digital citizenship, and they include activities for use in classrooms.

Follow the hashtag #digcit  on Twitter!

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

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Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Educators are always looking for new ideas to boost student engagement in the classroom. To do so, they need to understand student interests and needs and also be intentional about reflecting on their teaching practice. While teachers want to understand the impact of their instructional methods and tools on students’ learning, they often don’t have time to solicit feedback from individual students, and students are afraid to provide honest feedback when they feel saying the wrong thing could impact their grade. Yet students need to be part of the conversation, because not only is student voice a powerful tool that can be used to engage students in their learning, but student feedback surveys are better predictors of academic growth than principal observation and teacher self-ratings (Hanover Research 2013). 

As Alex Isaacs, an 8th-grade math teacher notes, “LessonLoop allows me to quickly conduct a survey with great questions built-in where I can quickly push this out to my students to better inform my practice.” 

LessonLoop instantly shows you how engaged your students are with a class lesson so you can gain immediate insights and adjust your instruction in real-time to help them learn better. As shown below, LessonLoop works through the four simple steps of:

1. Anonymously survey students, 

2. Review instant actionable lesson engagement reports, 

3. Receive personalized instructional recommendations, 

4. Discuss results with students so learners feel seen and heard. 

How LessonLoop Works

How do the surveys guide teachers about their practice?

LessonLoop measures student engagement in nine actionable categories (see below) that provide you with insight on how to calibrate your instruction to support active learning at each student’s just-right instructional level. With these categories, teachers have better ways to focus on the specific needs and interests of their students. Especially for social-emotional learning (SEL) and determining student progress in class, the categories and questions provide tremendous insight for teachers with information not easily accessible in any other way. 

With the information the surveys provide, teachers have many ways to evaluate, analyze and then act upon authentic student feedback to improve their practice. Working with LessonLoop’s instructional coaches/Tip Masters, they can explore new methods and tools to help address some of the areas indicated in the survey.

Sample Lesson Engagement Report

What can we learn about student engagement from using LessonLoop?

Through lesson embedded feedback, teachers better understand the impact of their instructional strategies and how students experience the learning environment. By reviewing the responses, especially the free responses, teachers receive feedback that promotes reflective practice. Using the survey results, Tip Masters work with each teacher to find strategies and tools that will increase active student learning.

Sample LessonLoop Student Free Responses

How does LessonLoop facilitate getting to know students? 

LessonLoop provides opportunities for every student to share their perspective on their immediate environment and how they are experiencing a lesson. Incorporating student voice allows students to experience a sense of respect and empowerment from their teacher. With LessonLoop, students can provide valuable feedback to their teacher and all feedback is provided through an anonymous survey, which promotes more honest feedback. Students feel comfortable responding to the survey, and because their opinions are heard, they feel more connected to and comfortable in their classroom community. When teachers circle back and discuss how to improve a lesson with students, students feel their voice is impactful and are empowered to take ownership of their learning. Students that feel seen and heard have greater motivation for and engagement in learning because they feel like an impactful member of the classroom community. 

How does the gamification aspect of LessonLoop lead to better and more authentic, honest feedback from students?  

LessonLoop incorporates gamification elements through our fun, animated surveys (see pictures below). According to Dr. Shawn Clybor, “These gamification elements keep students more alert, more active in engagement, and therefore more likely to read the questions and think about their answers.”  LessonLoop is designed to be a robust platform that informs instruction and involves students in their learning experiences. It is also meant to “encourage joyfulness, to be fun, to be funny,” says Clybor.  Using it becomes its own experience, building bonds between teachers and students.

LessonLoop Gamified Surveys

In addition to the gamified surveys, LessonLoop provides educators the ability to ask custom questions and generate two new games (humorous poll and secret word) with one click. These games focus on student engagement at the beginning of class, serve as a pick-me-up if attention is flagging mid-class, or are a fun way to end a student engagement survey.

What professional learning comes with LessonLoop?

LessonLoop provides personalized data-driven professional learning for teachers.  While all teachers have access to a knowledge base of free tips, with a paid tips subscription, every teacher is assigned an experienced Tip Master to help with reviewing their surveys and finding strategies and tools to try. The real-time lesson-embedded feedback helps educators better connect their instruction to students and be more reflective in their practice. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) also benefit as all teachers receive instructional recommendations from subject-area specialists and coaches! PLCs can be organized around student-centered data for engagement and professional learning. Within the PLCs, teachers can share ideas and provide support to one another which then enhances the learning experience for all students. In addition, educators accumulate continuing education units (CEUs) based on minutes of use of the platform aligned with Learning Forward and/or Charlotte Danielson standards.

What to expect with LessonLoop

So many benefits!

Student Engagement Surveys: 

  • Amplify student voice through anonymous surveys
  • Strong predictor of academic outcomes 
  • Provide missing actionable data on why students aren’t learning 
  • Provide daily feedback on the delivery of the curriculum with a clear focus on social-emotional learning (SEL),  critical thinking and collaboration, and culturally responsive instruction.

We are offering free trials of LessonLoop to educators who provide feedback on our new gamified student surveys. Click here for a free trial!  And if you missed our webinar, here is the link!

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Diving into AI with AutoAuto!

In Collaboration with AutoAuto AI

As a language and STEAM educator, I am always looking for new ideas for my classroom. Especially when it comes to exploring emerging technologies, I enjoy diving into new resources and seeing how students respond.

A big area of focus in my eighth-grade STEAM course is artificial intelligence. For any educator thinking about getting started with artificial intelligence in the classroom, but worried about knowing enough or which resources to try, I definitely recommend checking out what is available through AutoAuto AI and their self-driving cars. If you are hesitant to bring STEM to your classroom, AutoAuto AI makes it easy to get started with their teacher on-board training and easy-to-navigate learning platform. Also, their free professional development courses are available where teachers can take a deeper dive and earn an AutoAuto Certificate of Completion.

Why learn about AI?

Many people wonder about the benefits of learning about AI and why bring it into our classrooms? The quick response: We are interacting with AI every day and our students need to understand what it is, how it works, the impact that it has on our lives, and what it might mean for the future of work and education. With resources like AutoAuto, we are able to provide the right learning opportunities that will spark student curiosity and help them to build skills in these emerging technologies. It also helps educators to feel more comfortable starting with AI and being able to support students along the way. We take them from consumers to creators and innovators. With the use of AutoAuto, students develop programming skills and educators can also meet the ISTE Student Standards.

Getting started

What I think is quite important, is engaging our students in conversations about what AI is and where we see it in the world. What are the benefits and concerns when it comes to AI? For anyone looking for an all-in-one space to get started right away with AI and to have access to videos, rich content, guides and more, AutoAuto AI is a great choice! The lessons include an Intro to Programming and AI, Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, and more. Students can build skills in many areas and master Python programming.

What makes AutoAuto AI so beneficial, is that teachers are able to enroll students in their classroom and let them get started at their own pace. Being able to see each student’s progress and provide personalized feedback to them through the comments available or typing your own, makes a big difference for student learning. The teacher dashboard is great for seeing how students are working through each of the units. Being in class with students to hear their responses to receiving points and working through challenges was great to experience.

Students working through each unit.

The auto-grading feature is definitely a timesaver and for manually graded lessons the availability of an answer key to review student submissions makes it easy to provide authentic and timely feedback! With some courses moving towards a 100% alignment to CSTA, and other common CS standards, AutoAuto is a great choice for 3rd-12th grades.

AutoAuto’s virtual car and worlds are quick to captivate students’ interest with its fun city where there are places to visit such as a pizza shop and a car wash. In the virtual city, students can go on different challenges such as the spy mission and the color hunting challenge. Using the physical and virtual AutoAuto cars, students are able to see the real ways that code can save lives, like in the pedestrian detection and avoidance project. Students really enjoy these real-world experiences!

All students can code!

Because the platform has video lessons, slides, and text to assist, students are guided throughout each unit. With a video overview, exercise hints, and instant feedback on their submissions, students can work independently and use these resources as a model. Even though some students were hesitant at first, saying that they “wouldn’t be able to figure out the code,” they quickly realized that they had the support they needed within the platform and from each other. When students were working on the more advanced projects, as I moved around the classroom, students were asking each other “How did you figure out the code?” or “Can you help me with this?” which was a change from them relying on me for answers. There was definitely excitement when students completed a task and were awarded points. Throughout the class I could hear some cheers for “Nice, 25 points!” and “ Yes, I got it right this time!”

Students really enjoyed having the opportunity to work through each of the courses and learn about the coding behind the virtual cars. For my students, they were able to choose where to begin based on their interests and this made them quite happy. As soon as I showed students the dashboard and the units, a few said “I’m starting with computer vision because that looks awesome!”

The power of choice is great for students and providing ways for them to develop problem-solving and critical thinking ways while sparking curiosity makes a difference for engagement levels. Even though at times, students get stuck with writing code, they are starting to help each other and are learning together!

Preparing for the future

To best prepare students, we need to help them develop a variety of skills that enable them to be flexible with changes that will happen in the world of work. With emerging technologies like AI, students need opportunities to work through some challenges and develop SEL skills such as self-awareness, self-management, and relationship-building. Students supported one another as they worked through the different modules, which can be challenging at times. It is great to see students developing their confidence when it comes to coding and also taking more of a lead in class.

When we provide students with experiences that will more meaningfully engage them with the content, by moving them from consumers to creators, it will increase student engagement and promote higher student achievement. In my class, students began asking each other for help with some of their tasks. As a teacher, it is great to see students take the lead more and also not be afraid to ask for help when needed. Seeing them collaborate and problem-solve together are just a few of the added benefits! With only 51% of U.S. high schools teaching computer science, and the demand for STEM jobs expected to increase 11% from 2020 to 2030, AutoAuto’s curricula can help you prepare your students for tomorrow.

We must make sure that we best prepare our students by providing access to resources like AutoAuto that provide them with opportunities to work at their own pace and explore based on their interests and needs. By providing students with opportunities to engage in more student-driven, hands-on learning, it adds more meaning and authenticity to the work that they’re doing.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She is the author of sevens books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World”, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us,” “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” and “Things I Wish [..] Knew.” All books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Turning Towards Focus in Schools

Guest post in collaboration with Focusable @getfocusable

Engagement is a concept that really has a hold on us, and it’s not just educators. Social media and game designers obsess about maximizing it. Enterprise software companies espouse the value of it towards team performance. Heck, our banking app tracks our session duration and tries to increase it. 

It’s likely accurate to say that the majority of educators have chosen engagement as the goal of their work. Overall, this is a good thing. It has helped move teaching methods beyond compliance and remain relevant. Engaged students are an unequivocally good thing. 

But recently we started to ask ourselves some questions about engagement. What does it really mean to be engaged? Both from the teacher’s perspective, and from the students’. Further, does it matter how engagement gets created? Or is all engagement the same? And if every experience you have across society is also aiming to maximize engagement, is it the right thing for educators to be doing? Or should educators be taking a left-hand turn…

We dug into the education literature on the topic. There are countless informative and thoughtful sources. What was most interesting to us was what our research didn’t reveal – a clear definition. Frankly, the more we dug, the more confused we got. There is a huge range of definitions. And not all of them agree. Here’s just a sampling. Engagement is paying attention. It is purposeful learning. It’s curiosity. It’s interaction (or action). It’s immersion in a task. It’s flow. It’s exhibiting a passion for learning. It’s excitement. It’s just compliance but with another name. There are scaffolds trying to integrate and make sense of all the disparate definitions. 

How does a teacher even know what engagement is and how to create it with this lack of definitional clarity? 

As we stated in our first post, our goal is to figure out how to set the conditions for an optimal learning experience, or flow, in education. We know this has the greatest potential for both academic performance and enjoyment of the experience for students. Our research into engagement was fueled by trying to understand how we can leverage the concept better towards this goal. But if we’ve learned anything about flow so far, the details matter in how you approach it. Deplete dopamine too much or avoid the struggle of balancing brain chemistry, and you simply never get there. 

The more we thought about it, the lack of clarity around engagement started to feel more like a hurdle than a concept for educators to leverage.

One early realization that we had was that engagement is an exhibited trait or behavior. This stands in contrast with flow, which speaks to inner experience. This introduces the potential for at least some disconnect. 

For example, do you look engaged when you are in flow? This must be true sometimes, but is it always true? And do the actions that set the conditions for flow look like engagement, too? Or do they look different? How do you know the difference between the two? And worse, what if what looks like engagement actually represents an internal state that interferes with flow (ie, overstimulation)? 

Our sense is that to strive for optimal, we need to work with terms that have more precise definitions, clearer look-fors, and less potential dualities. 

In our last post, we attempted to build a scaffold to help us seek this clarity. We already have some tweaks and improvements in mind based on the feedback we got that we’ll publish soon. 

In the meantime, we’ll turn our attention to the term focus. 

If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it.MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, AUTHOR OF FLOW, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF OPTIMAL EXPERIENCE

Focus is a term that we all know, or at least think we know. And it’s surely something that almost anyone would agree is essential to learning if you asked. But as we found in our last Twitter chat, it is not a hot topic with many educators (likely due to the emphasis of engagement). 

Focus is often equated with the words attention and concentration. In scientific circles, attention is the most clearly defined of this group. The neuroscientific definition of attention is a cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things. Attention comes from a rather complicated interaction between several brain networks (the default mode and task-directed networks). Interestingly, ADHD and other attentional conditions are differences in how these two brain networks interact.

The definition of focus is more varied and less scientific. It is often described as the center of attention. But for educators, this definition isn’t as enabling as it could be. A more useful definition is to think of it as the control of attention. 

Why is control of attention a useful definition to educators? Most scientific findings support the idea that attention isn’t fixed. It varies. It varies between individuals and contexts. And importantly, it can change. You can improve it. Even those with ADHD can show progress with time, behavioral changes and yes, medication. It is both accurate and useful to think of it as a skill. Control of attention is a definition that captures this important fact. 

This means that not only is focus practically helpful towards things like managing classrooms, it is also a skill that you are developing through the learning experiences you create.

So what is the relationship between focus and flow? Flow can be defined succinctly as ordered consciousness. This is in contrast to normal consciousness which is usually disordered (distracted, out of our control, etc).  So it follows somewhat logically that control of attention is the very foundation. Some definitions for flow even use the words intense focus. But the two shouldn’t be directly conflated. Focus itself is not flow. Focus requires effort to get started. There is no loss of self, as there is with flow. Finding focus can provoke all sorts of reactions, often negative. Frankly, it’s a struggle. Flow is none of those things. Flow is what happens when your neurochemistry finds balance while struggling to focus and starts to feed further action more naturally. 

It is worth stating that you will never experience flow if you cannot control your attention.

It is also worth noting that focus is a useful skill beyond the purposes of finding flow. Most of the predictions about the future of jobs, and the skills educators should be aiming for in response, are misguided at this point. We can say this with confidence, because frankly, we have a horrible track record as a society of seeing the capabilities of technology in advance. 

But there is one aspect we are 100% confident in, and it is this: there will be more, and more sophisticated, experiences to control your attention with each passing year. It’s already a huge problem, as we all know. And it’s only going to get worse. Controlling your attention is just about the only ‘skill of the future’ we’d bet our life savings on. 

Control means you can direct, or redirect your attention at will. You can stop doing one thing, and start doing another. You are aware of where your attention is and where it isn’t. It is often a struggle, but in this case, visible struggle might be a positive sign. A sign that the skill of focus is being worked on. 

A lack of control, then, is distractibility. It is the inability to switch from one task to another. It is a lack of awareness of what you are doing. It could be a lack of struggle, or even just over-excitability. 

If you were to try to observe whether a student is focused, or not, these would be some of the things you would look for. 

While we recognize, again, that some definitions of engagement might match up – it’s really the ones that don’t that have us most concerned. They incent teachers to skip over the development of the skill of focus in the interest of more obvious interaction. And to us, this is a short-term gain for the long-term loss of the potential for flow, as well as interfering with the development of an essential skill. 

Perhaps moving away from engagement is the left-hand turn educators should consider.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

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Culture of Curiosity with Capstone!

At the start of a new school year and after a summer break, sometimes building the excitement for the return to school needs a little boost. When it comes to sparking curiosity for learning, educators are quite creative! We have different methods, a hook for a lesson, a variety of digital and traditional tools we can use with our students. When we consider our options, we always need to focus on the underlying purpose for our choice. What are we hoping to provide for our students? How does a certain method or tool amplify their learning potential? Why change what we have been doing in our classrooms?

Preparing students with the essential skills for the future requires ​all e​ducators to take some risks and create a culture for learning to spark curiosity and innovation. At times, finding ways to bring digital learning and innovation to schools can be challenging. However, when we can find one resource that provides everything in one space and is full of possibilities, it makes a big difference for us, but more importantly for our students. We need to explore methods and tools that will empower us to provide students with opportunities for risk-taking, ​for becoming curious for learning while also developing essential SEL skills.

As teachers, we should strive to offer different choices for our students to be able to show what they are learning and to apply their knowledge in a way that provides opportunities for them to be creative, to have fun while creating, and that will engage students more in learning. We have used Buncee for many years and with PebbleGo Create now available, there are endless possibilities for creating a culture of curiosity for learning. Students can choose from so many amazing resources to learn about topics of interest and then use PebbleGo Create to share that learning in authentic, meaningful and personalized ways.

Maintaining culture of curiosity

Getting started as we head back to school is the perfect time to dive in! Students are excited for what they are going to learn and one way to hook them in, is by selecting a focus area from the Capstone resources. There are so many topics available to choose from related to the content area being taught. Instead of using materials you already have, explore the resources available from Capstone! Look at the book collections and have students select something of interest and then see what they create! By promoting student choice, it amplifies learning as students become excited to share that learning with their peers. They will interact with one another while engaging in purposeful learning and an extra bonus, having fun in the process.

In my own classroom, I want students to enjoy learning but also be curious about what they are going to learn and how they will show that learning. Providing my students with different choices for creating with the language will not only help them to build their language skills and foster creativity but also help with the development of technology skills and promote digital citizenship as they post online and share their work.

Ideas to try

Especially at the start of the new year, there are a lot of topics that we need to bring into our classrooms. Capstone offers a diverse group of book collections that focus on important topics like equity and social justice, issues related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as health and wellness for example, that help educators to provide the right learning experiences for students to develop greater self- and social-awareness. Students may be curious about a topic but hesitant to ask about it and what better way than to provide these materials for students to explore and then use PebbleGo Create to share what they have learned. When students share their work, it sparks curiosity amongst classmates and amplifies the learning that happens.

For your content area and grade level, find a relevant subject or share the “Biographies” with students and have them choose a person to study. Within these topics, there are activities, timelines, and more that will lead students to become curious for learning. After students have time to complete the activities, they can then use PebbleGo Create to share what they have learned. With so many options, it is easier to create a culture for curiosity and creativity in your classroom with all that Capstone offers for students and teachers.

An idea to place students more in the lead is to use the “States” and ask each student to choose one of the states to learn about and then create something that shares their takeaways. Or focus on each region of the United States and give students time to choose a state in that region.

With the states, there are activities, videos, timelines, and even recipes, so much to really draw students in and boost engagement in learning. It is so much fun to create and have so many choices in PebbleGo Create! We also learn about our students from the choices they make and what they choose to create!

When we offer more choices, we provide more hands-on, meaningful, and student-driven learning. With new ideas, we can boost student engagement and creativity, help to spark curiosity for learning and student needs can be better met. By bringing in new technologies and opportunities, we better prepare students with the skills that they will need moving forward.

Using a method like genius hour for example, and asking students to explore an area of interest and then “share their genius” or doing project-based learning (PBL) are more great ways to boost engagement in learning and place students in the lead more. Students need opportunities to explore their passions, design their own problems or challenges, and as a result, they will start to focus more on the learning process itself. Students will wonder what comes next for them and be motivated to continue learning and growing! To best prepare students for the future, we need to offer experiences that promote curiosity, student-driven independent learning, and help them to work through productive struggle, to reflect, and continue on their learning journey.

What I love about using Buncee and PebbleGo Create is that they help educators to amplify student learning through the right tools that enable each student, educator, or anyone to visually communicate learning, thoughts, and experiences and create something unique. It gives students a ton of options and a safe space to explore and find exactly what they need.

See the creativity come through your student work and even your own. Have fun creating!

About the Author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She is the author of sevens books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World”, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us,” “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” and “Things I Wish [..] Knew.” All books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at

Rachelle is available for in-person and virtual PD sessions for your school.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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Becoming the Change via Dan Wolfe

Guest post by Dan Wolfe, Author of Becoming The Change

Becoming The Change: Being Socially Aware Of One’s True Character

 Becoming The Change  

“I’ve learned one thing: you only really get to know a person after a fight. Only then can you judge their true character.”

-Anne Frank

Empathize don’t criticize. Understanding someone and where they are coming from can be one of the most challenging things to master especially when you don’t agree with them. This can also lead to a fight. Not the physical kind but one that is verbal. Passion tends to overflow which sometimes prevents cooler heads from prevailing. As Anne Frank once said we can only judge someone’s true character after being in a fight with them. That is also when we truly get to know them.

Even though we are able to judge them and their character we must remember that it is only our opinion and ours alone as to what we think of them and their character. As long as we can understand their perspective, and respect them and what they believe in (even if it is different from how we view things) that is how we can truly embrace a higher level of social awareness.

What does this quote mean to you and how can you apply today’s message toward becoming more socially aware?

Becoming The Change: Patience Is Everything

 Becoming The Change  Self-Management  

“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you ever get the feeling that life just seems to flash right before our eyes? We are in such a hurry to go from one task to the next. But do we ever take the chance to let things just slow down and patiently wait for the moments to come to us instead of us always going to them., As author Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us in today’s quote we need to adopt the pace of nature and let patience lead the way. Good things come to those that wait or so does the saying go.

Nature waits for the caterpillar to bloom into a beautiful butterfly along with so many other things that take time. It is well worth the wait as is what we want to achieve in life. In life we want to take time and with patience leading the way it makes it all worth it in the end.

What does this quote mean to you and how can you apply today’s message towards managing yourself better?

Dan’s book is available on Amazon. Check out his daily blog and his podcast.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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