How Can Teachers Find Connection and Avoid Isolation?

How Can Teachers Find Connection and Avoid Isolation?

Have you ever felt lonely in a room full of people? For teachers, this can be a daily occurrence. Despite the fact we spend our workdays surrounded by students in our classroom and work in schools with other teachers and staff, teachers can still feel very isolated.

Teachers spend the day working in individual classrooms, often with the door closed to avoid disruptions or interference. We work alone with individual student groups and can have little available time to talk with our colleagues about our teaching practice. While some may feel a sense of autonomy in this setup, others find it very isolating.  

Researchers Seyyed Ali Ostovar-Nameghi & Mohsen Sheikhahmadi (2016) found that “isolation is likely to result in burnout and feelings of extreme helplessness.” When feeling the effects of burnout, a teacher may withdraw and feel less job fulfillment. This greatly affects our attitude about our job which bleeds over into the classroom, affecting the learning environment for students. This has even led to a rise in teacher attrition rates over the past decade (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

So when teachers are experiencing this, how do we break out of it? How do we find connections with other adults and avoid feelings of isolation?


While teaching can often feel like an individual sport, it should be a team adventure. As Johnson, Reinhorn, & Simon (2016) explained “as [teachers] collaborate, teachers with different skills, areas of expertise, and levels of experience may find that teams not only support them in curriculum development, lesson planning, and pedagogy, while also offering professional relationships that sustain them and improve the instructional capacity and professional culture in their school”. As teachers, we should look for opportunities to work together on lesson plans, give feedback and ask questions. We should keep our doors open, literally or metaphorically, inviting other teachers to visit our classrooms and find moments to visit other teachers’ classrooms. We should  ask each other for help and ideas on problems we’re struggling with and share successes we’ve had in our classrooms.

Although these things are not always easy to accomplish—we have strict schedules, 100 kids to deal with, and a limited amount of resources—there is always a way. When physical proximity, time, and scheduling prohibit us from doing these things the traditional way, sharing video and making virtual visits can be a great way to collaborate and keep ourselves in touch with other adults and professionals.

“Exemplary teachers search out those who can give feedback that is critical to their development. They do not shy away from feedback that may be contradictory to what they believe. They take in numerous responses, both qualitative and quantitative data, in order to grow and enhance their teaching practices.”

Jon Konen (2018)


Connecting with other teachers can require actively watching for opportunities. Damon Weinhold, a teacher who shared his experiences of building a network of professional support said, “I think educators who succeed and stick out actually actively recruit these professional circles.” Teachers can make deliberate choices to create moments to connect. Eating lunch outside of the classroom can provide time to see other colleagues. Check in with your colleagues and share how the day is going. Moving conversations beyond small talk and discussing subjects of great importance opens up opportunities to connect and support one another. Attending extracurricular activities, like school plays or the big game, can offer a chance to see other adults while also supporting students. Even continuing education could be planned with colleagues. Make connecting with others an intentional part of your day—you deserve it!

The fundamental nature of reality is relationships, not things”

Senge et al. (2012)

Humans have a deep need to connect with other humans, and a lack of connection has a negative impact. Have you experienced professional isolation? What ways have you found to overcome it and create connections with others?

Restorative Justice in Schools

Restorative Justice in Schools

Many discussions in education revolve around behavior management and discipline. Different people subscribe to different philosophies, but one that is receiving a lot of attention is restorative justice or restorative practices. What is restorative justice? What are the advantages and disadvantages of implementing it in a school? Here’s what we found.

What is Restorative Justice?

According to We Are Teachers, “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment.” The focus is on helping students learn to work through conflicts, coming to a solution that serves everyone well. “It aims to help students understand how their actions have harmed other people and give students a chance to right their wrongs,” is another explanation from Stephanie Wang at Chalkbeat.

Schools that practice restorative justice take a proactive approach—building relationships and developing a sense of community before incidents happen. Students are given opportunities to talk to one another, discussing goals, dreams, and fears so they get to know each other, understand one another, and build respect.

When an incident occurs, the offending student is given an opportunity to repair the harm they caused. They meet with those they hurt, along with a mediator, and discuss how they can make things right. All involved talk about what happened, why it happened, and the harm it caused. They then come up with a plan for righting the wrong.

Benefits of Restorative Justice

Implementing restorative practices promises many benefits. With the focus on building relationships and developing a sense of community, schools often establish a more positive climate. Students come to know and understand each other and learn to be more considerate of one another. Trinity, a fifth grader at a school practicing restorative justice in Denver, said, “When you go to school here, you get to know each other. At my old school, we never got to know each other—or to understand each other.”

Teachers and students develop a greater sense of mutual respect. A study shared by Hechinger Report found that students felt they had a better relationship with teachers who fully embraced restorative practices. “And the strong relationship in turn linked to a great sense of respect between teacher and student.”

Discipline issues may take away less from instructional time. Some teachers implementing restorative practices feel they spend less time disciplining and more time teaching. The focus on keeping students in school and avoiding suspension when possible can also help keep students in class, giving them greater opportunities to learn.

Restorative Justice Roadblocks

Restorative justice isn’t just an easy fix, though. Adopting the practice is not just a matter of flipping a switch. It takes time, effort, and buy-in from everyone involved—teachers, students, and even parents. If students aren’t willing to participate in the necessary conversations, the process will be halted. If teachers don’t see the value in shifting the way things are done, they will struggle to find the motivation to take on another new program and change current disciplinary practices.

Implementing restorative practices requires a shift in mindset. “Restorative justice can’t just be a set of things we do. It has to be a framework for how we view teaching and learning,” said Kathy Evans, associate professor of education at Eastern Mennonite University, as quoted in an article from Hechinger Report.

Research on the impact of restorative justice is sparse and not conclusive. The practice has been around in other settings for hundreds of years, but it is unclear how real and deep the benefits are in an education setting.

Have you implemented restorative justice in your school or classroom? What has your experience been?

Classroom Audio—A Student’s Perception

Classroom Audio—A Student’s Perception

Studies about the effectiveness of classroom audio systems have been conducted for decades. Research demonstrating the benefits of classroom audio is abundant, accessible, and probably not new to many educators. But do classroom audio systems really make that much of a difference in real-world application? What effect can a system have on the way a student perceives their teacher?

Meet Lizzie

Let me introduce you to Lizzie, my daughter, who is now in seventh grade. Lizzie received an ADHD diagnosis when she was in second grade. She was diagnosed with a learning disability and a significant executive function delay in sixth. She has a hard time reading people and shows signs of anxiety. And school has always been a challenge for her.

Starting at the end of third grade, Lizzie often came home upset because her teacher “yelled at the class” that day. I was surprised by this as I had met her teacher, and she didn’t seem like the yelling type. I would ask clarifying questions, and she would assure me the teacher had yelled. I was concerned but not alarmed, as Lizzie’s understanding of events was not always accurate. This pattern continued through fourth grade.  

No More Yelling

I gained a new understanding of the situation Lizzie’s fifth grade year—that year she never complained about the teacher yelling at the class. Her teacher was nice, like the other teachers that she identified as “yellers,” but Lizzie never came home upset about the teacher yelling. A few months into the school year, I learned about classroom audio systems. Then the lightbulb went off, and I asked my daughter if her teacher wore a microphone.

“Yes, she does.”

Did Mrs. _______ wear a microphone?

“No, she didn’t.”

How about the teacher from the year before?

“No, she didn’t wear a microphone either.”

Lizzie’s Perception

In sixth grade, we were back to stories of the teacher yelling at the class. Once again, when I met the teacher, I couldn’t picture him yelling at the class. But I could picture him raising his voice to speak over a room full of excited students. In Lizzie’s eyes, he was yelling. In Lizzie’s eyes, all her teachers who didn’t wear microphones yelled at the class.

The teachers I know are kind and love their students. They wouldn’t yell at their class in anger, yet that is exactly how my daughter interpreted their “teacher voice.” To her, the class was getting yelled at most days, except for the year her teacher used her teacher microphone. For my daughter, who is sensitive to loud noises and has a hard time focusing, the use of classroom audio completely changed her perception of her teacher and what happened daily in class.

Top Ways to Use Cameras in the Classroom

Video Review for Video Reflective Practices

Top Ways to Use Cameras in the Classroom

We live in a world where cameras are everywhere, and they have been making their way into the classroom. Students carry them in their pockets every day in the form of cell phones. Teachers have cell phones, tablets, or other devices with cameras. Some classrooms even include installed cameras. Since the cameras are a part of our lives, how can teachers leverage them to enhance learning in their classrooms?

Share lessons with students

Whether absent, studying at home, or working in a flipped classroom, students can be helped by accessing lessons outside of school. Students who miss class for extra-curricular activities, medical absences, or in-school-suspension can keep up with the class. When studying from home, students can review difficult concepts and have a parent or guardian review the lesson so they can understand what’s being taught. Teachers using a flipped or blended learning model can record any lesson they need to share with their students.

Professional Learning

Lifelong learning is important for everyone, including educators. When teachers record lessons, they can review what happened later to reflect on their strengths and areas where they’d like to grow. Video gives a clear, objective record of events. Video can improve self-reflection by clearly showing the “instructional reality.”

“When we record ourselves doing our work, we see that reality is very different from what we think.”

Jim Knight

Cameras open doors for capturing lessons and teaching moments to be shared with others—professional learning communities (PLCs), teaching teams, instructional coaches, and others. This increases options for feedback. It also expands options for collaboration within a school and even with other campuses. For small or rural schools where teachers may feel isolated, sharing video opens up their network and enhances opportunities for collaboration.

Student & Teacher Safety

Cameras can provide an accurate, unbiased record of classroom events. When teachers encounter bullying, fights, or conflicting reports of others’ actions, a video record can clarify what actually happened. If a student reports a classroom incident incorrectly or parents are concerned about how a student is being treated, a recording can ease concerns and give a clearer picture to all parties involved. Even knowing that events are or can be recorded can help everyone be mindful of their words and actions, creating a more thoughtful space for everyone.

When it comes to cameras in the classroom, there are a lot of mixed feelings from excitement to concern. How do you feel about classroom cameras? Is this a trend you embrace or want to avoid?

Growth Mindset—What is it and how is it beneficial?

Teacher giving feedback to students

Growth Mindset—What is it and how is it beneficial?

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset—are these familiar terms? The concepts and their effects on learning have been an object of discussion for many inside and outside the education community. A growth mindset has been shown to increase learning and success for students, so it’s important to understand what it is, the benefits, and how individuals can develop it.

What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset consists of believing that intelligence, skills, and abilities can be developed through work, practice, and consistent effort. People with a growth mindset welcome feedback and constructive criticism as a way to see where they can improve and grow. They value the learning process and welcome opportunities for increased development.

By contrast, individuals with a fixed mindset feel that everyone is born with certain traits and skills—people are either good or bad at things. Constructive criticism feels like a personal attack. Failures feel permanent because failing at something demonstrates a lack of ability. Living with a fixed mindset requires proving worth and value over and over again.

There are things that can be mistaken for a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not just applauding effort; progress needs to be made. It’s also not the same as being open-minded or flexible, and it’s not all-or-nothing where someone is either all growth mindset or all fixed mindset. Everyone experiences each at different times and in different areas of their lives.

What are the benefits of a growth mindset?

Developing a growth mindset opens opportunities for people to:

  • —Learn and achieve more
  • Rebound faster from setbacks, failures, and disappointments
  • —Avoid wasting energy worrying about approval from others
  • —Increase collaboration, innovation, and creative risk-taking
  • —Sustain personal motivation
  • —View difficult tasks as opportunities to expand abilities
  • —Perceive challenges as an exciting chance to grow

How to develop a growth mindset?

Since it is so beneficial to have a growth mindset, how is one developed? Here are some strategies we found:

  1. —Focus on the process that leads to learning, like hard work and trying different strategies
  2. —View challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles
  3. Prioritize learning over seeking approval
  4. —Reward and praise what people do and how hard they work, instead of individual traits
  5. —Practice receiving feedback as an opportunity to improve, not as a personal attack
  6. Reflect on learning every day
  7. —Always be working toward some kind of growth and learning goal
  8. —Give yourself time—learning and growth don’t happen overnight
  9. —Support others (and yourself) in developing any skill of interest
  10. —Celebrate the success of others and use it as motivation to work hard and succeed!

Developing a growth mindset is helpful for anyone, at any stage of life. Research shows that it helps people be more successful. What have you done to develop a growth mindset in yourself or others?

5 Tips for Maintaining Focus in a Busy World

Focus and Mindfulness through deep breathing

5 Tips for Maintaining Focus in a Busy World

With so many differences between us, there is one commonality everyone shares—busy lives. There are numerous demands on our time and energy, countless activities and events we can be a part of. This can make it difficult to stay focused on the things we really want to accomplish. When our schedules become too full and leave us feeling like there’s too much on our plate, what can we do? We reviewed some ideas and compiled five tips that can help.

Establish Priorities and Values

An important first step in managing your focus is to determine what’s most important and what you value. Then align your values with your time. Determine your “why” and keep it in the forefront of your mind to stay on track.

Plan Ahead

Start every day making intentional choices and plan how to spend your time. One source recommended choosing the top three tasks to accomplish each day and remaining focused on those most important tasks. Once you’ve decided what you’d like to do and how you want your day to look, move forward with that vision in mind.

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if it’s because you’re on the edge of doing something awesome or is life showing you that something needs to be cut out?”

Shawn Blanc
Limit Distractions

Take inventory on what takes up space in your life, whether physical or mental, and decide what can be cleared out. Organizing your physical space and clearing out clutter is a great place to start. To tackle the mental space, limit notifications on cell phones, computers, and other devices; set boundaries for social media participation; and avoid getting caught in the trap of constantly checking email. Set aside a time for these and other tasks and commit to it.

Say No

This one can be particularly difficult, especially for people in a helping profession. There will always be invitations extended for additional work responsibilities, service opportunities, and social engagements. When they arise, remember the priorities and values you’ve already identified, and take some time to consider before responding. If the new invitation doesn’t fit within that framework, politely decline.

“You can’t serve from an empty vessel.”

Eleanor Brownn
Mind Your Health

Maintaining your health is critical. We need to be able to functional physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can help yourself physically by taking time to exercise, being careful to eat foods that leave you feeling your best, and leaving time for enough sleep. Your mental health can be supported by practicing mindfulness and meditation or even something as simple as taking a mental break when things get particularly taxing. In all of these areas, it’s important to support emotional health by celebrating progress made every day—don’t beat yourself up when you’re not perfect!

As busy as our lives are, it’s possible to maintain our focus with a little planning and care. What have you found effective in staying focused in a busy world?

Integrating Coding and Robotics in Schools

little robot

Integrating Coding and Robotics in Schools

Educators are always looking for the best way to educate students and help them succeed. They innovate and look to the innovations of others. They review different trends to understand the benefits. Some trends grow as they’re adopted into teaching regimens while others are left behind. One of the teaching trends that’s persisting and continuing to grow is coding and robotics.

What gives coding and robotics staying power?

With so many education trends coming and going, what keeps robotics and coding moving forward, growing from a trend to a regular teaching strategy? As technology advances, so do the number of technology careers available. When students get to experience STEM subjects and their practical application, those students are better prepared to fill technology jobs. In addition to subject-specific skills students learn, they also gain experience in thinking critically and solving problems.

What are the benefits of coding and robotics?

Coding and robotics programs offer many benefits for students, including increasing engagement, developing high-level thinking, and fostering empathy and creativity.

As students experience learning through coding and robotics, engagement rates may rise. Robots are interesting. Learning about them and making them work can be a lot of fun. Some students even find a new passion and discover a new learning pathway for their themselves.

Working with coding leads to high-level thinking. Students get to see how their decisions affect the design and function of the program or robot. The coding process helps them think a few steps ahead, a skill that can be used often in life.

Working with robots and coding is a great time for students to work in a group and develop teamwork skills. As they plan and troubleshoot, they practice collaboration and build communication. Working in a group also gives students an opportunity to emerge as leaders—both the type that will speak out and help direct the work to the quiet, behind-the-scenes leaders who keep the group on task and perform technical jobs.

Another benefit of coding and robotics work is the opportunity to develop creativity and empathy. As students work toward solving a problem, they have to come up with new ideas and think outside the box to find a solution. They also use their creativity to design and create their own product when they’re coding games or apps. Empathy is strengthened as students consider the end-user’s needs. Thinking about what would create the best experience for someone else moves the focus from the student to another person.

How do you effectively integrate robotics and coding?

Starting to integrate coding and robotics into a classroom can be intimidating, especially for educators who don’t have a lot of expertise on the subject. Fortunately, there are people and resources readily available to help.

A good place to start is with other people. You may find people in your school who have experience with coding, and online groups can also guide you through the process. There may even be experts in your community who would be happy to share their knowledge.

In addition to seeking help from other people, there are websites and apps dedicated to helping students learn to code. is a well-known one to start with, but there are many others, as well. Kits and games can be purchased, too.

One of the best overall tips we saw is to keep it fun. Encourage exploration, play, and discovery.

With all of the interest in and benefits of coding and robotics programs, it appears this trend is going to stick around for a while. Have you tried it in your school or classroom?

The Many Ways Teachers Fund Classrooms

classroom funding and grants can provide classroom supplies

The Many Ways Teachers Fund Classrooms

There are so many things competing for today’s education budgets that it can seem impossible to stretch funds far enough. School supplies are in short supply, technology becomes outdated, and new ideas like flexible seating and makerspaces could create positive changes in classrooms. Small budgets can make it seem impossible to purchase everything needed, so what are educators to do?

Fortunately, options are available beyond going without or paying for things out of pocket. Philanthropic organizations set money aside to help organizations like schools in the form of grants. Other groups provide a platform to raise funds to satisfy unmet budget requirements. Sometimes you can even find the resources you want and need for free!


Many organizations offer grants to individuals and organizations that need additional funds. This money doesn’t have to be repaid, but the grantor may ask for a report of how the grant was used and how it benefitted the intended audience. A simple web search can start the process of searching for a grant to meet a particular need, and some websites compile lists of grants, like The NEA Foundation,, and Where a need exists, there is probably a grant designated to fill it .


Some teachers turn to websites like or to reach private parties who want to help. Educators spell out their request and how it will benefit students. Private parties find an open giving opportunity and donate the amount they feel comfortable with. This gives anyone the opportunity to help any project, classroom, or school they choose.


With the prevalence of online retailers, private citizens can now purchase what educators need through online stores. Teachers make a shopping list or wish list and share it with the public, allowing charitable givers to help purchase what is needed. These lists can be shared on social media so virtually anyone can support any teacher, classroom, or school.

Sometimes teachers don’t have to look any further than the school’s PTA. Since PTA budgets are separate from the school or district, PTA leaders can make decisions regarding where they spend funds. Talking to the PTA can open doors for additional donations.

Whether a teacher, principal, or community member, it’s easy to see the evidence of funding struggles in education. Fortunately, there are options to help fill unmet needs. Between grants, crowdfunding, and donations, options exist to fill the gap between what is provided and what is needed to provide a good education.

Teacher Collaboration—Why is it so helpful?

Teachers Collaborating

Teacher Collaboration—Why is it so helpful?

Collaboration is not new in the world of education. Discussions on student collaboration happen regularly, and many sources offer tips and guides for facilitating it. People generally accept that effective student collaboration plays an important role in classroom learning and preparation for future careers. Teacher collaboration is just as important and can greatly affect classroom learning for students.

“If our ultimate destination as educators is student achievement, think of teacher collaboration as the journey.”

–Lauren Davis, Schoology

What does it look like?

Teacher collaboration happens when teachers work together, possibly planning for their particular grade level or subject. It might look like a teacher submitting a video lesson with her PLC to get feedback or share best practices. It could be a teacher team reviewing student work so they can select targets for instructional improvement. Collaboration happens when teacher teams work together to plan professional development.

How does it help?

Effective teacher collaboration takes additional time and effort, but we found many examples of its worth. It has been associated with increased student achievement. Research has also indicated teacher collaboration can lower turnover rates among new teachers. Sustained teacher collaboration is a primary vehicle for continuous improvement of teacher practice and encourages shared accountability and collective responsibility for student achievement.

Schools and students receive a lot of benefits when teachers collaborate. When educators share the same vision, they create an environment for more effective student learning. Sharing ideas for presenting content can result in more creative lesson plans. Teachers, especially beginning teachers, more easily avoid isolation and feel more supported when given the opportunity to collaborate with others. It also gives teachers a great opportunity to test out new instructional methods and receive feedback on their effectiveness.

Tips on making it happen

So how do you make teacher collaboration a reality? Time, trust, and respect are three key ways that we found. Teachers already have a lot of requirements on their schedule, so time has to be set aside specifically for it. Some schools even adjust their schedules to create common planning time, allowing teachers to designate a specific day and time to meet. Open collaboration requires trust, and a safe place to learn. Ideas and perspectives of all involved need to be respected.

“The more people invested in a student’s education the better the chance that student has to be successful.”

Lauren Davis, Schoology

Collaboration is a valuable tool in education, whether between students or between teachers. When teachers are given the opportunity to collaborate effectively, we can see a great impact on classroom learning and student achievement.

What experiences have you had with collaboration?

5 Tips for Creating a Positive School Culture

Positive School Admin

5 Tips for Creating a Positive School Culture

Positive school culture—it’s talked about a lot, but why is it important? According to ASCD, “A positive school climate, many argue, is directly correlated to school success.” The National School Climate tells us “Empirical research… shows that when school members feel safe, valued, cared for, engaged and respected, learning measurably increases.”

Since a positive school culture increases learning and improves school success, we decided we wanted to learn more. We searched articles and blogs for tips to build that kind of culture in schools and found some recurring themes. Below are the ideas we saw repeated in most, if not all, of the sources we found.

How to do it?

  1. Build strong relationships. This idea wove itself through most of the other ideas. To build a positive school culture, relationships are key. This includes relationships between faculty and staff members, between the principal and the teachers, between teachers and students, and between students and the principal.
  2. Celebrate, recognize, and praise the awesome. Show people that the great things they do get noticed. Focus on the positive and appreciate when good things happen.
  3. Be a role model. If we ask people to behave in a certain manner, we have to exhibit that behavior ourselves. Set the example with your attitude, words, and actions.
  4. Mindfully manage the physical environment. Is your school clean and orderly? Is it a comfortable place for all to be? Ensuring the school is well-maintained and displays are inviting and inclusive to all of your school community can help everyone feel safe and welcome.
  5. Develop a shared vision. It’s easier to move forward in the direction you want if everyone clearly understands the goals and objectives. Communicate and be straightforward about expectations, policies, and rules.

Establishing a positive school culture takes intentionality and work, but it’s worth the effort if it increases learning and improves success.

Want to read more? Check out these sources:

Steps to Creating

11 Real Ways to Build

8 Ways Principals Can Build

8 Ways to Build

Building a Positive School Culture

Twitter Survey—What demonstrates positivity in a school’s culture?