Tips and Tricks for Educators in Our New Normal

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” By Margaret Fuller

Over the last several months I have been supporting teachers and educators around our new normal no matter if they are going back to school with social distancing in place or if they are doing distance learning. I have been so impressed with all the ideas that educators are doing that I wanted to find a way to share some of the ideas I have seen on Twitter and/or seen through supporting teachers. Below you will see amazing ideas educators are doing in their classrooms and to help parents. #bettertogether

  1. Organize Recorded Lessons: Beatrice Gonzelez has a great quick video to share a simple way to organize your recorded lessons to make them easily accessible to students! Here are some templates for Calendar and Emoji keyboard video.
  2. Guess Who: I love the idea that came from Amanda Sandoval. She created a guess who google slide template where you can add different historical figures or characters for students to guess by asking strategic questions (not just about appearance but students can ask things such as “a protagonist, whose name is the Spanish word for “hope.”” – the guess would be Esperanza- from Esperanza Rising.) Make a copy of her template here so you can integrate this into your classroom.
  3. Levels of Understanding: Esther Park provide lots of great free templates but one of my recent favorite is her Level of Understanding template as a quick way to get a pulse check, have an informal assessment and provide student time to reflect! To check out other great templates by Esther click here.
  4. Tech Tips: Jamie Forshey has a great Tech-Knowledge-y Rocks newsletter that comes out with so many great tips/tricks for educators. If you are not following her or getting her newsletter you need to! Check out her latest newsletter here with lots of templates for Google Jamboard and slides!
  5. Music: Use music as a way to transition from mini-lesson to guided or independent practice and/or provide reflection time when teaching asynchronous. My favorite music to use is Vitamin String Quartet (VSQ) as they perform hit songs with no words!

Tips/Tricks educators share with parents that have helped:

  1. Red, Yellow, Green Cards: As students are working they put a green, yellow or red card up to indicate that they are doing good, might need some help or they need help. This does a few things to help make learning from home easier. One it helps the parent know when to help their child and two it helps the students try to work through something. A “rule” is you can not move from green to red. When on yellow you have to try two things to solve what ever problem they are having. Then before the parent provides guidance the student/child need to share what they did to try to get “unstuck”. This allows students to have productive struggle and allows parents to not always “jump” in to help.
  2. Set Timers: Setting times for students to help them indicate that class is starting in 10 mins allows students to get all their materials they need to be ready for the lesson and mentally helps them to start preparing for a live lesson.
  3. FAQ: Create an FAQ for parents to refer to it and see the answers and or links. Making it a Google document helps create a one stop shop for parents to refer too. In addition to this you can also share a weekly tip or trick for parents too. This helps build a we verse my classroom.

As a final thought I want to give a Huge SHOUT OUT to all the Teachers, Administrators and Central Office Educators who are working SO HARD! Thank you for all you do for our students! I see you!

My Next Adventure: Talking with Edu_Thompson

“Become addicted to constant and never-ending self-improvement.” by Anthony J. D’Angelo 

I have an insatiable desire to learn and seek personal and professional development. Looking back over the last ten years there is not one adventure in seeking development that I have regretted!

2010: I started blogging weekly sharing my ideas and thoughts

2011: I started #21stedchat on Twitter with David Prindle who to this day have never met but for 8 years every Sunday night #21stedchat members joined to learn and grow together.

2012: I was selected for Teacher Fellows Institute of Charlotte where I got to further develop my leadership and professional expertise in order to with different educators in public and private sector.

2013: I was selected for ASCD Emerging Leaders. This experience changed my life as it opened up doors and windows into places I had not even imagined. The emerging leader fellows have become friends and through partners that I talk to at least weekly. They have played so many roles in my life from friends, mentors, thought partners and sounding boards.

2014: I started my own company called Edulum LLC where I learned a lot about business but still got to help other educators through providing Professional Development including running my first conference!

2015: I became Google Certified Level one, two and Trainer which opened new doors for me as I met a lot of different educators from across the county.

2016: I became a certified Apple Teacher and started presenting at national conferences.

2017: I went back to school and obtained my add -on Administration License. My cohort was awesome and I was introduced to a lot of amazing professors who I still keep in contact with.

2018: I co published an eBook with Allison Zmuda called: How to Leverage Personalized Learning. This was a unique experience as we wrote it in four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas!

2019: I co-published an article with Allison Rodman: Eight Things Teams Do to Sabotage Their Work. Allie and I did this all virtually through Zoom and Google Docs – looking back on it, it prepared me for 2020 in a lot of ways!

2020: I started my own YouTube Channel! That is right, this year I am really trying something new, different and fun! I have started a YouTube Channel that will air my talk show called Talking with Edu_Thompson starting Monday, Sept 21st, 2020!

Talking with Edu_Thompson is a talk show that focuses on discussing the unique challenges educators are facing and hearing from multiple perspectives in order to learn and grow together! Every other week I will be releasing a new talk show session. Make sure to subscribe today to my new adventure! I love meeting new people and learning from them so if you would like to be on Talking with Edu_Thompson then please direct message me on Twitter or post in the comments as I would love to have you!

8 Sites to Help Educators Prepare for Distance Learning

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” By Herbert Spencer

For the start of the school year 20-21, the current trend is that districts are moving to distance learning for at least the first few weeks. As educators are preparing for the start of the school year they will need professional learning opportunities.

Thinking outside the box of what professional learning looks like besides attending a course; below are my favorite sites to gain instructional ideas, tips and tricks for distance learning through blogs, podcasts, videos and more!

Caitlin Tucker: Her blogs, her books and her tweets are chalk-full of ideas of incorporating technology meaningfully so students are engaged. She breaks things down for you to make it manageable to try her ideas in the classroom.

ASCD Webinars: ASCD’s free webinar series brings experts in the field of education anytime and anywhere. Our webinars address timely and relevant topics like student engagement, classroom technology, and instructional strategies. They archive each webinar so that you can get your professional development on demand.

Cult of Pedagogy: Choose the way you learn best by reading, listening or seeing as Jennifer Gonzalez has an amazing blog, podcast and videos. She also has courses you can pay for at a low cost.

Ditch That Textbook: They have curated and created over 50 back to school activities for the distance learning.

Free Technology For Teachers: Richard has a lot of great ideas on his blog but don’t miss his YouTube Channel as he has a regular series of tutorial videos including more than 400 Google tools tutorials!

Alice Keeler: Named the “Queen of Spreadsheets” by Google, she is an expert in EdTech integration but understand no amount of technology can replace a great teacher. Alice uses tech tools to enhance instruction and build relationships with their students.

Jeffery Bradbury AKA Teachercast: Jeff has a amazing YouTube Channel with lots of videos that highlight different teachers sharing tips and tricks around technology integration.

Shake Up Learning: Kasey Bell is a Google Certified Innovator and Trainer. She has lots of tips and tricks on how to be a Google Master in her blog posts, podcasts and webinars!

Bonus: Here are a few Youtube Channels by teachers for teachers to check out too!

Pocketful of Primary: Michelle a 4th grade teacher shares what she is doing in her classroom. She will now be sharing what she is doing in her virtual learning classroom as her district is remote until January 2021.

Everyday Educator: She shares technology tips and tricks that work for all grade levels!

I know there are so many other educators and sites that are providing professional development for free. I would love to hear what some of your favorites are in the comments below.

12 Ways to Build Relationships with Students Virtually

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” by James Comer

Many schools across the country are not sure what school will look like in the fall. Building relationships is the key to a successful classroom environment that promotes academic success so we need to think about ways we can build relationships virtually. Here are six ways educators can start building relationships before school starts and six ways to continue to build them throughout the school year.

Before the School Year Starts:

  1. Create a “Meet the Teacher” video: In the video share a little about yourself and what students can expect to learn in your class to build students excitement. For example: In Science we are going to harness the energy of the Sun to make the best snack ever invented, S’mores!!
  2. Create a Scavenger Hunt using your LMS: Before school starts help students learn how to navigate the LMS (Canvas/Schoology/itslearning etc) your school/district is using by creating fun scavenger hunt to explore the components. Thought out the hunt add in things to get to know your students better in the discussion section or have them post an “assignment” that is fun so they can practice. For example: Write a top ten list of things about yourself.
  3. Have students create a Flip Grid: Have students share something such as one thing they want the class to know about them, a favorite book they have read or have them give answers to a “get to know” you survey. Then ask classmates to respond to each others flip grid posts. Make sure model by doing one too!
  4. Host a Virtual Open House or 1:1 Conferences: Provide a few dates and times for parents and students to meet you and have the opportunity to ask questions just like you do at a typical open house. For one on one conferences you could have a few questions for each student to answer and then have time for them and/or their parents to ask questions. A great way to do this is using sign up genius.
  5. Create a Bitmoji Interactive Classroom: This allow students to get to know you in a different way as you can share with them what would be on your walls if you were in a classroom. For example for me they would definitely see a Syracuse Poster! Check out this video to see how to create an interactive bitmoji classroom.
  6. Create virtual lockers: Have students create a space to get to know them as well by having them create a virtual locker. This could be something you add into your scavenger hunt as an assignment! Here is a copy of the Virtual Locker Template to get started created by Lauren Vining.

During the School Year:

  1. Morning Meetings: There is no reason you can’t provide morning meetings virtually with your students. Have the students come together before the day starts and share morning announcements and do a team building activity. This is also a great time to incorporate Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons in. Here are some great free sites for lessons and ideas: Common Sense Media and CenterVention.
  2. Host a Lunch Buddies: Lunch used to be one of my favorite parts of the day with students to get to know them. Pick a day and time when students can eat lunch with you and talk about other things besides school. During this time you will be able to build relationships differently on a Zoom call.
  3. Hold Theme Days: As students, part of the fun was having theme days and that shouldn’t go away. Have students participate in hat day, wacky tacky day or spirit week!
  4. Send a Notecard to Students: Everyone likes receiving mail. Send students a notecard about something you are proud of them for or bragging on them for doing something awesome. They don’t have to be long or fancy but knowing you are thinking about them will go such a long way.
  5. Chit Chat Time: Often times in school you get to know students during transitions. Let students know after a lesson you are going to stay on if they want to ask any questions. Or provide times where students can sign up if they want to ask you something more privately. This can also be done through email/or private message in your LMS was well.
  6. Shout Outs: Share authentic wins and jobs well done. This could be during morning meeting or it could be in a weekly newsletter email that goes to all families.

Remember to acknowledge that this “new normal” is challenging for all of us- parents, students, and teachers but we are in this together! As always I would love to hear from you in the comment section; how you are building relationships with students?

More resources:

How to Build Relationships Virtually: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers

7 Strategies to Develop Student Executive Functioning Skills for Remote Learning

A-Z: Leadership Traits and Attributes

“Titles don’t make you a leader, impact does.” Unknown

Effective leadership is essential in moving schools forward to evolve and grow. Being a good leader isn’t something everyone can do because leadership is a journey and takes time, reflection and intentional goals. Many effective leaders share several traits and attitudes; below I offer 26 ways leaders can be effective.

A strategy I suggest is choosing one trait or attribute a week and self reflecting where you are in your leadership journey with the attribute or trait. Using this strategy will help you start to make small changes in your practice to becoming an even more effective leader. 

Authentic: Being your true authentic self at work will allow you to enjoy what you’re doing every day because it will will align with your skills, values and passions. It won’t be a job you have to go to but a job you want to do.

Balanced: Being a good leader means making sure you are modeling positive behaviors such as work/life balance. It also helps you be the best leader you can be when you are also taking care of yourself.

Communicate Effectively: Communication is an integral part of being an effective leader. You need to be able to synthesize information along with being able to frame problems as opportunities in order for staff not to feel confused or overwhelmed.

Decision Making: Effective leaders need to feel comfortable making decisions in response to rapidly-changing information. As a leader, your decisions need to be responsive and guided by your priorities, purpose, and data.

Empower: It is important you understand that great work can not be done alone and that you need a team to be able to be successful. You can empower staff by acknowledging others strengths and potential contributions.

Focused: It is key to stay focused and not lose sight of your goals. There will always be lots of distractions; you need to be able to filter and focus on moving forward, keeping in mind the goals you set.

Gratitude: Expressing gratitude not only shows you care and recognize people but it also builds trust and creates positive, feel good interactions. Check out this article to learn more, Why Gratitude Makes Leaders More Effective.

Humble: Being humble makes great leaders open-minded and willing to listen to others. It shows you trust your team/staff and respect them. Humble leaders don’t let pride get in the way; they take constructive criticism to improve their craft.

Inspirational: As a leader people are looking up to you. You need to have the ability to communicate that passion, purpose and meaning to others to help inspire them as it will define your culture.

Joy: Bring joy to work is an essential attribute for leaders for many reasons. When leaders lead with joy it is infectious and spreads like wild fire to create a culture of joy. Having a culture of joy makes staff happier which means more productivity and engagement. Do you want to learn how to bring more joy into the workplace; check out theses 12 ways.

Know Your Self: Effective leadership involves leading by example which means you need to know yourself as a leader. Your personal experiences, values and strengths make up your leadership philosophy. Here is a great exercise that takes 10 mins to allow you to create more self-awareness.

Learning: As a leader you should be constantly learning and growing your practice. No one is saying you have to know everything but be willing to learn and grow by saying things such as “I don’t know the answer but I will find out.
This also models for your staff that learning never stops.

Mindful: It is important to pay attention to the present moment as much as it is important to look forward. You need to keep in mind not everyone is in the same place as you and to have empathy for others.

Nimble: Nimble and agile leaders are those who can adapt to an ever-changing and uncertain world. As a leader you need to be able to see how your school, department etc can continue to grow and develop while making pivots.

Openly Listen: Effective leaders need to listen to others around them. Openly listening to not only their ideas but also the barriers they see. You also need to listen to them when they are having struggles in and out of the workplace in order to be supportive.

Proactive: As a leader you need to be proactive to take time to strategically think and plan. Too often as leaders we get caught up in the tactical and day to day we don’t leave enough time to strategically think. One way to making sure you have time to strategically think during your week is to block it off on your calendar like it is a meeting.

Questioning: Asking questions helps leaders understand concepts, ideas and others. When you don’t ask questions you make assumptions and that doesn’t help anyone. Asking questions to clarify, identify gaps in understanding and to learn helps leaders facilitate discussions. Questions are also a great way of challenging people to think differently or to think about the outcomes they want.

Relationships: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” by Maya Angelou. Building relationships is the most important thing you can do as a leader and you must remember to continue to foster and nurture them.

Servant leader: Being a good leader means you need to put people first. To do this you must help others with their goals and grow their skills. Check out this article to gain ideas on how to put people first: The Power of Putting People First

Transparency: When you are transparent with your staff they don’t have to tell themselves stories of what is happening because they know what is happening. The more openness and honesty you promote, the quicker you and your team will be able to work together.

Understanding: As a leader, you must understand that everyone has different needs and that there isn’t a one size fits all solution. You must tailor your coaching and supporting style to match their working style.

Visionary: Having a vision and using it as a foundation helps to move the work forward. The vision needs to speak to the staffs purpose and why it’s important for the school/department/organization to exist. You need to be able to create not only the mental but also the verbal pictures of desirable future state.

Wondering: When you wonder, it sparks curiosity and innovation. Never letting the status quo exist helps you keep you on the cutting edge.

X-Factor: Each leader have different X-Factors that make them unique. Figuring out your x-factor will help you know yourself as a leader and understand your strengths.

You Elevate Talent: The greatest leaders distribute leadership and elevate others talents by knowing their strengths. As a leader, take the time to list the strengths of your staff and then meet with them one on one to listen to their goals and ambitions. Use this information to determine ways you can elevate their talents.

Zest: To have zest as a leader means having positive energy. Positive energy motivates and inspires people and helps you network as no one wants to be around someone that is miserable or complaining, except those that are miserable.

Leadership can be hard to define but I like how John C Maxwell defines it, A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Want to read more of my lists A-Z? Check out my previous blog post – Personalized Learning from A-Z

Collection of Digital Learning Activities and Lessons

“I dream of a digital India where quality education reaches the most inaccessible corners driven by digital learning.”By Shri Narendra Modi

Over the last week I have been capturing lessons and activities that educators are posting to help other educators. #bettertogether

Why I Took a 6 Month Hiatus

“Taking a break can lead to breakthroughs.”  ― Russell Eric Dobda
I am back from my six month blogging hiatus and I feel good about my decision. Many of you asked when I was going to “come back” to writing again and a few of my readers were upset that I decided to take a break so I want to explain why.
I decided to take my hiatus because I was beginning to see blogging as a chore. I didn’t want that as I know how valuable it is to learn and grow through reflections and sharing of ideas, so instead I decided to take a break. During my break it helped me reevaluate my goals for blogging and reset boundaries.
During my time off from blogging weekly I was able to still write; I published a few blog posts on Education Elements website and an article with ASCD.

I look forward to learning and sharing again with all of you!

Building Empathy with Educators

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.” by Meryl Streep


Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts and feelings  from their point of view, rather than your own. An empathy map is a tool that I like to use with teachers to take a human-centered approach when thinking about personalizing students learning.  Originally designed for businesses to think about their customers needs, schools are now using them to think about their students needs. Empathy maps shed light on which problems to solve within your school or classroom through a protocol.

The purpose of an empathy map activity is to empathize with end users, our students. When we better understanding how they think and feel, it will allow us to design classroom practices that work for them. You can create empathy maps several ways but my favorite way is to interview multiple students to gain perspective and truly hear their voice. Example questions for an interview would be:

  • What would make you excited to come to school?
  • Describe a class you feel most successful in and why.
  • How could all teachers help you feel successful?
  • Tell me about a time when you learned to do something really difficult? How did you learn it?
  • What would your ideal learning experience look like?
  • What change do you feel would make the biggest difference in your learning experiences? Why?

Then when I sit down to do an empathy map, I take a blank piece of paper, draw a circle in the middle and then section it off into the four sections below:

  • Said: What are things this student might say in your class?
  • Thought: What are things this student might be thinking while in your class?
  • Did: What are some things this student might be doing in the class?
  • Felt: How might this student feel?

Inside the middle circle I put the students name and then answer the above questions for said student using the data I gained from the interviews. If you don’t have time to do the interviews, that is ok too. You can then walk through this activity and think about what they would say, think etc- just know with this approach you can unintentionally add judgements.

Empathy Maps are a great way to disclose the underlying “why” behind students actions, choices and decisions so we can proactively design for their real needs; not based on what our needs as teachers are. After completing the empathy map activity you can now adjust an upcoming lesson, task, classroom environment etc to address students’ needed. 

Other activities to build educators empathy:


Lots of images of doing an empathy map

Google Drawing Empathy Map Template



Social Emotional Learning Resources

“When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.” by Stephen R. Covey

Developing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills within students is not only one of the most important ways that classrooms and schools can raise student achievement scores but the skills also prepare students for life. Here are my favorite ways to integrate social emotional learning into the classroom at any grade level:

  1. Morning Check In: Greeting students at the door and gauging how they are entering can help reshape a students day. When you see a students demeanor different, you can have them step aside to find out whats wrong and how you can help turn their day around. This not only shows you care but also can allow for less disruptions in the classroom. For younger grades you can make a chart and have them tap the feeling that they are having. such as happy, sad, etc with pictures to help them recognize their feelings.
  2. Read Alouds: Reading aloud stories that have social-emotional themes help student understand situations. Read aloud for the younger grades can be pictures books and for older grades can be chapter books.
  3. Morning Meeting/Advisory Time: Holding morning meeting is a great way to start off the day and build classroom culture. Having SEL activities as part of morning meeting makes them even better. For older students, I usually call it advisor time. This time set aside empower all of your students with a voice and allows ownership of their learning environment.

Other great resources:

ASCD: Whole Child Initiative 


Character Lab

What’s New with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in 2018

13 Powerful SEL Activities

8 Apps for SEL

Common Sense: SEL Resources

Connecting Via Social Media

“Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.” By Amy Jo Martin

I love social media as a way to learn and grow as an educator. To me, it is eyes and ears into so many different educators classrooms, schools and districts. Recently I have been getting a lot of Facebook (FB) requests from educators. To me it is important to keep these worlds seperate as I believe that it is a key component for digital citizenship, especially as educators. This is what led me to make a seperate FB profile as an educator. I can accept other educators as friends to continue to learn and grow and not annoy my other friends when I post about education topics. 😉

Below are all me education social media links:




*I have not done instagram at this time but I may on day.