August 7

Sharing our Story

“We need to make the positive so loud that the negative is almost impossible to hear.” -George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset

How do you use social media to share what’s going on in your classroom on a day to day basis? I spent some time this week sharing ideas with our faculty about how we can use Twitter to share all the fantastic things we do in our classroom on a daily basis. Over the course of last school year, I spent a lot of time crafting the overall social “brand” of my class, and it was, in my opinion a huge success.

Near the end of the school year two years ago, I had a student say something bad about my class. In hindsight, it was just harmless nonsense that kids say anyway, but the fact that it was in print hurt. But every negative presents an opportunity for a positive, and I made the decision before last year began that I was going to bury that negative. Like my wife always says, it’s hard to believe anything bad you hear about something you hear good things about. I was going to share every single positive I saw in my classroom on every single day. Every tweet was going to be a nail in the coffin of that negative.

I shared everything I could. Photos of my students working and their finished product. Periscope video of my class in action. Everything that I saw that was positive, I tweeted. Kids noticed, our faculty noticed, and our community noticed. Students began to work a little harder because they knew that I was quick to tweet to good stuff. It was amazing.

As a faculty, we spent some time discussing the use of Twitter as a way to share our story. We discussed the risks and the barriers. Surprisingly, the risks were essentially nonexistent at this point. Ten years ago, we were worried about how social media may impact our school by propagating rumors and posting photos of our students on the open internet. Obviously, it has not been nearly as terrifying as teachers once thought. It’s actually been an extremely positive branding tool for our schools. The barriers, on the other hand, were eye-opening for me.

The primary barrier teacher felt was standing between them and Twitter was simply a basic technical understanding of Twitter and how it works. Well, that’s an easy fix. My administrator and myself held small group sessions to “meet ’em where they were at” and teach our faculty how Twitter works based on their level of familiarity with it.

We showed them how to use hashtags, how to tweet “at” individuals and accounts, how to make a list, how to read and participate in a chat, how to use a PLN, anything they wanted to know. The session was incredibly effective. I know this because we put together an activity later that night during our annual meet-the-teacher night. The faculty tweeted as many selfies as possible with students and their parents while using the hashtag #MeetTheTeach. Participation was at such a high level that the hashtag actually trended. Not bad for a school whose social media brand was previously being kept afloat by a handful of people.

At the end of the session, I provided our teachers with a spreadsheet of just a few people I follow on Twitter that was sorted by content, as well as a good list of chats and hashtags to check out at their leisure. Our faculty’s burgeoning PLNs are going to be a great resource this school year, but I’m most excited about the Twittersphere learning about Winterboro High School as we begin really sharing our story.

July 17

Collaboration: Taekwondo Go

Welcome to Mrs. Studdard’s and Ms. Scutchfield’s blended world of history and reading!  Students often times struggle to take reading and writing concepts and move them from subject to subject.  Reading and writing are embedded in everything we do but students only see it as one subject.  Our goal is to seamlessly integrate reading and writing into ALL subject areas and our classroom is designed to teach them just how to do this!

While this is our first year working together in a collaborative classroom, we have worked very closely for the past year to mold and shape the minds of the same students. Through our time together today, we have worked out a new classroom management system to help the year go smoothly while also allowing for us, as well as our students, to build great relationships. We have decided that spending time reflecting on our teaching and learning is going to be a valuable and guiding asset to our classroom environment. After all, you can’t know where you are going until you look at where you have come from.

Since we are working collaboratively we looked at what makes a good team. This will be our basis for modeling the types of collaboration we want to see in our students. A good collaboration consists of great communication, support, honesty, understanding, feedback, and reassurance. These are the ideals we hope to instill in each and every one of our students to help them grow as individuals and citizens.

We are excited to begin our journey together and build a professional working environment, and a  great friendship.

For each grade, we are using a “Big Idea” to guide us through the year. Fifth grade will be focusing on the idea of “Who am I” while exploring the themes of discovery, adaptation, independence, and freedom. Sixth grade will be focusing on “Finding my place” examining how they can find their voice, express themselves, be confident in decisions, and use knowledge to survive in the future. All of these themes tie closely with the novels that we will be using each nine weeks along with broad historical concepts that fit in with the themes.


To help ensure that we as teachers as well as our students can meet the expectations set forth we have developed three goals that we hope to reach by the end of the first nine weeks of school.


  1. Implement a behavior system that reduces the number of referrals
  2. Using a journal, we will reflect weekly on our lessons and strategies
  3. We will hold each other accountable for addressing learning targets each day


By setting goals not only do we keep ourselves accountable, but we also show students how to set attainable goals.

This year our hope is that our classroom will be successful by displaying the following qualities:

courtesy, perseverance, integrity, self-control, and indomitable spirit.

July 14

Curating Collaboration

The following is a reflection from our planning day with Kevin Studdard (@kevin_studdard) and Darren Denney (@DenneyPBL). The guys have it going on and are ready to move mountains with their collaborative ELA/History classes.

Students are expected to collaborate together in today’s classrooms on a near-daily basis.  This is reflective of the kinds of jobs our students will more than likely find themselves in when they eventually join the workforce when they leave high school.  How better to show

students what successful collaboration looks like then by modeling it through a cross-curricular, collaboratively taught classroom?


Two subjects that are ideal for this type of teaching and learning are English Language Arts and history.  History provides a context or lens through which students can evaluate primary texts or other ideas and reflect on them through discussion and writing.  Students may also read novels that share thematic elements with events from differing time periods to gain a broader understanding of the world around them.    

Though this is a new partnership for both of us involved, we agree that our collaborative ELA/History classrooms should help students to develop analytical mindsets to apply to everyday life through exploring content, evaluating ideas, and expressing beliefs.  By following through with these points, we hope that students will develop an analytical mindset that will follow them for years to come.

To begin the year, we have developed some attainable goals that we believe will set us on the path to developing the classroom that both of us know will be suitable to the needs of our students:

  • Students will have a clear understanding of classroom procedures and expectations.
  • Teachers will explicitly address learning targets daily.
  • Teachers will engage students via technology regularly during the learning process.

By faithfully striving to achieve these goals, we should be able to create a classroom that will be manageable and open to the task of combining two very rich content areas into a seamless learning experience for our students.

May 6

Balancing the Language Arts Plate

Below is a link to the Blendspace full of all the materials presented in today’s presentation at the Literacy Summit in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The presentation was made by Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Lacey, Principal Emily Harris, and Lead Teacher Ashley Gable, along with Student Leaders,  Justus Garrett and Katelyn Shirey all from Talladega County Schools!

For anyone not present at the summit, it deals with instructional materials and strategies used to balance the Language Arts plate for your students!

Happy Learning!

April 6

Engagement During Test Prep?

Please read this post by guest Blogger Emily Nestor! #Exceptional job Mrs. Nestor!


As educators, we all know the blank stares and lack of engagement that come with preparing for high stakes assessments. During these “prepping sessions,” we ask students to read passages, answer questions, and work through problems that resemble what they will see on the “big test.” We go over each of the questions to ensure that everyone knows the right answer and then we move on. But is what we are doing really effective? My answer to this question is no. Research suggests that when students are actively engaged, they are more likely to retain the knowledge that is being presented to them. So how do we achieve this level of engagement with test? We add a little tech to it! The web is full of Tech Tools that can add a level of engagement to test prep and truly take it to the next level. Here are a few of my favorites!


Exit Ticket: Simply create your classes and have students join using a special class code. Ask questions on the fly or build your own practice assignments and receive immediate feedback that can help you “zero in” on struggling students.


Kahoot: We all know that kids love games! That’s why Kahoot is a great choice for practice and review! You can create quizzes, discussions, and even surveys that have join in the fun by simply typing in a special code. The bright colors and easy to follow format make it 100% kid friendly!


Socrative: This is an oldie, but a goodie! With a very user-friendly interface and easy sign up for students, this is a great choice to implement during review. Build your own quizzes using test specs or ask a Quick Question by randomly choosing a question from your test prep work. And of course, the data you have access to would be great for more individualized instruction!


Mentimeter: To get stated, all you have to do is create an account and create your first event! Give your students the code to join your event and access your questions!  This tool is very basic and a great starting point for implementing tech into review. A few cons – answers are anonymous, you can only ask 2 questions per event, and you can’t download the data….Unless you want to upgrade.


Quiz Socket: This a great tool for those who are a little less tech savvy or don’t want to spend a great deal of time setting up a site. Simply go the website, create a quiz, and have students join and share their answers with you by simply chose A, B, C, or D. You can even download the data into a CSV file !

February 9

Time Is of the Essence: Pre-writing on a Budget

Below is a post from guest blogger and teacher leader, Kevin Studdard.  He recently taught Teacher Academy on our new school wide graphic organizer teachers will use in their classrooms when essays or writing prompts are assigned.  #Exceptional job @kevin_studdard!

I love to write.  There’s something about the expression that comes with taking words right from the brain and putting them carefully into a medium, constructing those intricate thoughts oh so carefully so that they carry with them a weight that moves others to thought.

That said, I feel there’s a problem with writing, especially at the secondary level.  It’s not one that is easily addressed due to circumstances beyond the control of most common educators.  In my opinion, the biggest enemy of good writing, the kind that moves others to think, the kind that touches on socially and emotionally important aspects of life, the kind that makes a person wake up and say, “I want to put that on paper” is time.

Most standardized tests give students anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes to prove they can write a decent response to a given prompt.  To tell the truth, I probably spent more than 40 minutes simply thinking about what I wanted to put into this blog post.  To write a good response, students are expected to plan and pre-write their paper, actually write their paper, and revise and edit their paper to meet certain guidelines that will prove they are decent, academically-minded writers.

In my experience, pre-writing can be about the trickiest part of the whole process for students.  I think most of them hear, “You have 40 minutes to complete this test.  You may begin,” and immediately freak out, writing anything and everything that comes to mind that may or may not actually be relevant to the topic.  Here, there’s no order.  There’s no plan.  There’s panic and confusion.  There’s chaotic writing put into place in order to fill up as much of the page as possible in hopes that someone will say, “Wow!  This student wrote a whole lot so it must be good!” without any consideration to the content.

Pre-writing under the pressures of time takes…well, time.  Recently, teachers from our English department met to create a school-wide method to address the lack of pre-writing we saw in many of our students.  I was so impressed with what my colleagues and I put together I introduced it to my students as soon as I could work it into my lesson plans.  Carefully, I walked through the steps: “Supporting details go here.  Your thesis goes here.  Be brief, but specific.”  I turned them loose on the graphic organizer feeling confident and elated because my students all seemed to grasp what we were wanting from them in the beginning stages of their writing!

It took 45 minutes.

I wish I were kidding, but it seriously took 45 minutes for them to complete.  I want to be sure I’m clear here: this was just to complete the graphic that I showed them how to use, not including writing the actual essay.

Methods of using the tool were varied. Some students attempted to fit as much information as they possibly could into the section for supporting details using complete, and often long, sentences.  Others used short snippets with brief details and descriptions.  If nothing else, this shows that writing and the methods by which students express their ideas is as different as their individual personalities.  However, these methods can still be honed and shaped just as much as the personalities of individuals change as those people grow and learn.

From here my goal is clear: teach students to pre-write while being as time-efficient as possible.  It will be a process, but one that can be achieved simply by pulling back the time given to pre-write and expecting my students to do so with the hope that not every minute detail makes it to paper, internalized like the art of breathing.  Yet, like the expressiveness of writing itself, their pre-writing should be personal and written as a plan by them, for them.  It’s going to be messy, but most things done right are rarely done right the first time.

January 21

The AVL….Now What?

Last week’s Teacher Academy was led by Tina Wheeler, our Media Specialist.  Mrs. Wheeler is this week’s guest blogger about our learning!

The purpose of this week’s teacher academy was to address a deficiency in our technology survey pertaining to the Alabama Virtual Library.  The teachers were given a brief tutorial on the many different sites that the AVL offers. Kids Infobits, Searchasauras, and Kid Search are designed to offer elementary school students an easy-to-use and graphically appealing search experience. We discussed the ability to search for videos, pictures, magazine articles, and lots of other areas that will give students a plethora of valuable, reliable information. Another valuable site is the Opposing Viewpoints database. It allows students to find different facts and opinions on social issues facing our world today.   We also looked at several research tools for analyzing data in all the countries of the world with the Data World Analyst site. This database provides students the opportunity to analyze countries at a glance and offers a detailed statistical comparison of countries around the world. Students can also create tables and charts as well as export information in to a spreadsheet.

To put what we had learned to use, the teachers were posed a controversial question, “Should Americans who had contracted the Ebola virus be allowed to re-enter the United States?” The teachers were instructed to use the Alabama Virtual Library to find ideas that support both sides of this issue in a fun teaching protocol called “Tug of War.” This strategy requires students to weigh both sides of an issue with facts and solid statistics as opposed to opinions and jumping to conclusions. We placed a rope on the table and asked the teachers to write their supporting facts on a sticky note.  They were to place them on the side of the rope that it supported.  These sticky notes are called “tugs.” The whole idea was to make their thinking visual.  At the end, we were able to look at the rope and determine which side had the most accurate, reliable information. This protocal came from the book Making Thinking Visible by Ritchart, Church and Morrison. 


December 29

Blooming With Google

Thank you all for visiting Teacher Academy so regularly!  This is our last blog of 2014!  Thank you to guest blogger Emily Nestor for writing this blog on how we call can “Bloom with Google”!

Technology plays an import role in many of today’s 21st Century classrooms. Through the utilization of technology and Web 2.0 tools, students and teachers are provided with opportunities to enhance their teaching and learning. The implementation of technology not only help to create a level of engagements for students, but also create an increase in rigor as students are asked to perform tasks that require them to think more deeply about the content while also making meaningful connections to the world around them. However, technology should not merely be something that students use to create culminating products. Instead, it should be used as a resource as students and teachers move through the 6 levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This weeks Teacher Academy was titled “Bloomin’ With Google” and provided teachers with Tech Tools to implement within each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. All of the tools are “Google friendly,” which means that students are able to use their already existing school login to access the tools. Check out some of the Tech Tools that Winterboro’s students and teachers with be using as they are “Bloomin’ With Google!”

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Blooming With Google

October 7

How to Model Strategies in Writing

Thank you to guest blogger Ashley Gable for  leading and writing about last week’s Teacher Academy on “How to Model Strategies in Writing”.

My name is Ashley Gable, and I am the Contextual Reading teacher here at Winterboro. This past Friday, I had the opportunity to lead Teacher Academy. Our focus was Modeling Strategies in Writing.

Academy began with a Google Form to get our critical thinking juices going! The form asked three questions about writing in the content areas as well as teacher strategies; then teachers had to “Agree, Disagree, or Defend” their responses.

Afterwards we watched a video clip of an amazing Secondary Writing Teacher-Kelly Gallagher. (Please Google him if you haven’t heard of his awesome contributions to the world of secondary writing!) Then we analyzed the process or gradual release of responsibility that secondary teachers should utilize for writing. Teachers should present a mentor text (preferably real-world and professionally written). Think real world-not 5 paragraph essay; this should be some movie critique, restaurant review, or proposal. Then we compared a teacher model-side by side to the original review. Finally, we analyzed student samples.

As a wrap-up to our lesson, we as teachers went through the process with a modeled text (“5 Things I can do to Help our Planet”), teacher text (“5 Things I can do to Improve Writing”), and student text (in this case-teacher created). Teachers created “5 Things I can do to Improve Writing in ___________” (lists varied based on teacher content area). We shared these in an awesome tech tool called Blendspace! This is a must see collaborative sharing board!

Here is our Protocol Card that gives an overview of our Teacher Academy discussions!

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*All texts came from Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher.

October 7

PBL Refresher in Teacher Academy

Below is written by guest blogger Emily Young. Ms. Young is the Title 1/Technology Integration Specialist at Winterboro High School.  Thank you for sharing Ms. Young!


Although we are only in the first 9 weeks of the school year, Project Based Learning is in full swing at Winterboro High School and we already begun to plan for the upcoming 9 weeks! Over the last 2 weeks, content area teachers have been given the opportunity to step away from the classroom and collaborate with peers in order to plan a PBL project for the next 9 weeks.

During their planning day, teachers revisited the 8 Essential Elements of a PBL project and utilized these elements in the planning of their next project. We also discussed the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and discussed how the activities within our projects should move students from a basis level of remembering to a higher level of critical thinking and creation.

After teachers were given time to brainstorm project ideas with their peers, they began laying the foundation of their projects through the use of the 8 Essential Elements of PBL (

and a PBL Overview planning tool (

Teachers prepared “overview posters” to present to their peers and the Critical Friends Protocol (

Teachers were then given time to process the feedback received through the Critical Friends Protocol and use the feedback to revise their PBL plans.

These days were extremely successful for the teachers at WHS and  by the end of the 3 days, we had added almost 10 new projects to our PBL arsenal!