Teacher Rock Star Amanda Jones

Teacher Rock Star Amanda Jones

The very best teachers call their students their “kids.” It’s a fact!

Meet Amanda Jones.

Ms. Jones is one of those teachers.  She  treats her school “kids” the same way she does her babies at home- lots of affection and a healthy dose of tough love.


Amanda is the Special Education (SPED) department chair at the middle school where she works. Her “kids” are a group of 8th graders that come to depend on her as their school mom, second mom, cheerleader, teacher, mentor, and the list goes on…!

As a lifelong learner herself, Amanda is currently working on her PhD while being an amazing wife, mother, and teacher.

HOW does she do it all?

Read on to learn about how she creates a sense of community in her 8th grade SPED classroom while being a major rock star!

As a SPED teacher, how do you create a culture of community in your classroom?

In the first week of school I explain to my students that they are now “my kids”.  I will have their backs, support them, listen to them and be there for them but I’m also going to push them.  I believe in each and every one of them and I know that they can be successful this school year and in their lives.  I share that they can always come to me and tell me the truth..even if they made a mistake or did something wrong, if they are honest with me I will try to help them out.  As an 8th grade student in today’s schools, life can get very hard, very quickly.  I want them to know that they have someone on their side that cares about them and believes in them.  I also explain that now that they are one of “my kids” they will always be one.  Already this school year I have had past students come and visit me at the middle school.  I love that I have created a safe place where the students feel welcomed and loved!

What is your favorite tech tool to use with your SPED students?

In my classroom, we do not have access to a smart board or document camera or anything super cool like that.  I don’t know if this is considered a tech tool or not but I am in love with the Synergy program.  Once a week I conference with each student one on one and review their current grades with them.  This program allows the student and I to sit and review each grade and all of the scores and assignments that have made up that grade.  I am able to show the students what assignments are missing, what quizzes they did well on, etc.  This type of student conferencing encourages students to be responsible and accountable for their academic progress.

Can you tell the readers a bit about the letters you write to your 8th graders?

As an 8th grade teacher it is so bittersweet sending “my kids” off to high school.  I am so proud of them for taking this next step in their lives but I know that I will miss them so much!  At the end of the school year last year I had my students self-address envelopes to themselves and I kept them.  I explained that I would be sending them some mail at the end of the summer.  So in August, I took the envelopes out and wrote each of them a letter. I wished them well in high school, reminded them to respect their mothers, as I know they want what is best for them, and then something personally addressed to each one.


For example, to one of my girls who would often focus more on a boy in class or drama in the hall, I reminded her how smart she is and how she should keep her focus on her goals because I truly believe that she can achieve them.  To one of my boys, my most challenging student, I asked him to give his next teachers a chance to get to know him.  I explained that they will love him if he let them.  I reminded him to ask for help when he needed and to control his mouth and his temper.  And I reminded him of the contract that he signed stating that I would provide him $100 cash on his high school graduation day because his mother and I will be sooo proud to watch him walk across the stage WHEN he graduates, not if.  🙂 I encouraged them to have their parents to email me if they needed anything and to always keep in touch.  I hope these letters brought them confidence about starting the new school year and helped them to remember they CAN do it!

How do you maintain work and life balance between your precious family, getting your PHd and being a SPED department chair?

The only way I am able to even attempt to earn my PhD, be a good educator/department chair, a wife to my police officer and a mother to my babies is with my amazing support system.  My parents, my husband, my mother in law and both of our families have supported me, pushed me and have helped me every step of the way.  They bring me up and encourage me when I am doubting myself, convincing me that I can do it all.  And for these individuals, and my two sweet children, I am dedicated and committed to reaching my goals.  As far as getting the actual tasks done…when I am at work, I am at work.  I often pick one night a week to stay late to finish things up and truly utilize and appreciate every minute of planning I can get.  Once I am off, I am off.  I am in family mode; mom mode, wife mode, homeowner, “what am I going to cook for dinner” mode until about 7:30 p.m.  Once the babies go to bed, I get into the PhD mindset. I work on assignments, papers, readings, etc. until my husband finds me asleep on the couch.  And hopefully, most of the weekends are for family and fun!  There is no way that I would be able to be anything without my amazing family!


What is your favorite part of teaching?

My favorite part about teaching is working with the students.  I love watching them grow and change into young adults.  As a special educator I think we are the most blessed (I am probably biased) because we have the opportunity to see such immense growth in just one year.  Many of the special education students that I work with have behavioral and learning disabilities.  In my classroom they learn to work hard on their assignments but also their behaviors and social skills. I am hoping these skills that they are learning with me will continue with them for the rest of their lives.  I hope to make a difference in their lives as much as they are making one in mine.

THANK YOU, Amanda for taking the time to let me take a “peek” into your classroom. Do you want to be a SPED Rockstar?  Check out the tips below!

5 Ways to be a SPED Rockstar


The ONLY 5 Things Your Kid Needs on Their Device: Ages 3-9

The ONLY 5 Things Your Kid Needs on Their Device: Ages 3-9

As an Ed Tech Geek, I often get asked what’s on my daughter’s iPad.

Well, not so much….

My oldest will be four in December. Although she has an iPad, all 5 of my choices can be used on any device that has the Internet. Plus, the apps are available on iPhones or Android devices.

It’s way easier to manage a few apps versus a ton of content on a tablet. Plus, we don’t even want the option for her to make in app purchases. The answer to that will always be, “no.” And, let’s face it, no kiddo wants to be told, “no!” Avoid the argument all together!

I also find that when faced with too many options, kids (like adults) become overwhelmed. Too many choices can be daunting!

So, I’ve broken it down for you….

Make it simple for you and your kiddo!

Here are the ONLY 5 things you need for your kid’s device. Promise.

#1: a Durable Case

For obvious reasons that relate to typical 3-9 year old behaviors….you need a case that can withstand their little hands. I also like cases with handles.

bonus-tip I recommend getting an older used iPad because they are affordable and will definitely be capable of housing a few apps for your younger child.

#2 ABC Mouse

ABC Mouse is just a powerhouse of educational content combined with the fun of your other “game” apps.

  • My favorite parts of ABC Mouse are:
    • You can earn coins from learning to buy new outfits- Norah approved!
    • A complete curriculum
    • Continuous updated content
    • Games along with learning
    • Scaffold and leveled learning

bonus-tipCheck with your child’s school to see if they already have an existing account. If they do, it may be free of charge to your child.

#3 YouTube Kids

YouTube Kids– you’ll be amazed by the goofy stuff your kid gets into watching on YouTube. Plus, it filters its content (to a degree). Obviously you should still pay attention to what they’re watching. Better yet, make them a playlist!

bonus-tipWhen your kid watches the crazy toy reviews (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you will if you put YouTube on your child’s device)…you will always know what toys to get for birthday and Christmas presents.

#4 Netflix or Amazon Prime

Netflix-only if you have a subscription. This can be replaced with Amazon Prime. If you don’t want to purchase a subscription based video library, just use YouTube and make a playlist for your kids (see You Tube Kids above).

  • My favorite Netflix titles for kids ages 3-9 are:
    • Room on the Broom- perfect example of connecting books with video.
    • Jake and the Neverland Pirates- can you say teamwork? I mean, the song even says “together as a TEAAMMMM!” It happens to be on repeat at my house.
    • Ask the Story Bots- they explain lots of cool stuff in kid friendly language.
    • Puffin Rock- so cute and mesmerizing!
    • Inspector Gadget- this is a throw back for me so I can’t help but love Inspector Gadget all over again!

Amazon Prime– if you don’t already have a subscription, it’ll only cost you $99 year which will get you music, movies, and free 2 day shipping on a ton of products.

  • My favorite Amazon Prime titles for kids ages 3-9 are:
    • Dora the Explorer
    • The Backyardigans
    • WordGirl
    • Wishenpoof
    • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

bonus-tip Let your kid pick! Of course, you can have the “final say” but giving them a bit of independence starting early on can boost their confidence and help teach them decision making skills.

#5 Pictures and Videos

Last but certainly NOT least, include updated pictures and videos of friends and family on your kids device.

  • There will be no WiFi needed for your kiddo to enjoy pictures and videos of the family.
  • Plus, it will inspire your family to create more photos and videos to upload. Trust me, your kid will be asking for new pics and videos to watch.

bonus-tip Put all the stock apps in one folder away from prying little fingers.  That way, they can’t mess with settings (knowingly or unknowingly).


What do you think the list is missing?

Let me guess….

-Drawing or coloring pages? Nope! Check ABC Mouse!

-Educational TV? Nope! Netflix, Amazon Prime and Youtube will cover that!

-Puzzles and games? Oh, yeah, that’s ABC Mouse, too!

-Family-centered goodness? You have that covered with your awesome photos and videos!

(sorry for all of those explanation points!)

What else is there? What are some of  your kids favorites?

Let me know in the comments below.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Thanks for reading Edutechchick!

Rock Star #1: Brittany Walker

Rock Star #1: Brittany Walker

Meet Brittany Walker, a fourth year teacher, who happens to teach 4th grade. She’s the very first teacher featured in the Teacher Rock Star Series- and for good reason!

I met Brittany during our division’s K-12 admin licensure cohort through Old Dominion University.  Now, she’s pursing her Doctorate in Education, also from ODU. Nothing against the Monarchs but I think Brittany will always be a Kentucky Wildcat at heart. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A

Besides being a life long learner herself, she’s full of fantastic ideas about how to get students truly engaged in learning.

Although Brittany is mostly known for her amazing guided math bundles in her TPT site (see Exhibit B), I wanted to know more about the “Readbox” concept she implements in her 4th grade classroom.

Check out her TPT Site Fourth Grade Fab to see all of her math manipulatives!

Read on to learn more about Mrs. Walker’s Readbox.


Brittany was generous enough to give me a bit of her time during the second week of school. YES, I know! That is very generous…

Here’s what she told me!

How did you come up with the idea for your classroom Readbox?

I was first inspired to implement Readbox in my classroom when I saw a picture online that inspired the idea. I mostly wanted to use Readbox to coordinate with my technology themed classroom and also feature high interest books for the students to read just as Redbox features high interest movies for its viewers.

How do you manage student Readbox checkouts? 

I manage checkouts by assigning each student a “classroom credit card”. The cards are laminated. Just as customers check out movies using their credit cards to pay, students check out books with their credit cards. With dry erase markers, I (or they) write the title of the book on the back that they check out. They then turn in their card. When they return their book, I wipe the card clean and they get their credit card back.


What advice do you have for others looking to implement Readbox?

The best advice I have for others is to keep up with the books you are featuring to make it exciting for kids! They love to see what is “coming out” next!

What are some other techniques that you use to get students excited about reading?

First, I always let students choose their books. I also teach them how to choose good fit books on their reading level. Reading high interest material is the only way to make them fall in love with reading. I also use goal setting and data tracking to excite students about reading! This year I have started data folders where they will be able to graph their reading level as it increases. This will give them a visual of their progress.

What’s your favorite part about teaching?

My favorite part of being a teacher is watching students set goals and achieve them. I love watching students take pride in and own their learning. My favorite part of teaching is the students I teach.


Thank you, Brittany, for being my first ROCK STAR.  I hope you all will visit her TPT Site.

Feel free to ask Brittany any of your Readbox questions in the comments below!

10 Tips for Getting Started with Blended Learning in the K-12 Classroom

The educational landscape is shifting.  Thank goodness.  It’s starting to mirror the types of experiences students are having outside of the school day.  Students are finding themselves in classrooms that blend online learning with the support of the teacher. Teachers roles are changing from the “keeper of all knowledge” to “curators of knowledge.” When done correctly, blended learning prepares students to meet the changing demands of life after school- whether they are going onto college or pursuing another avenue of employment.

So, what are some best practices for incorporating blended learning into your classroom?Here are 10 tips to get help you get started with blended learning in your classroom:

  1. Don’t assume everyone has the same access to tech. Take a tech inventory at the beginning of each school year to determine what types of access students have to a device and Internet outside of school. It is also a good short “homework” assignment to have students find out where the closest free wi-fi is located in relation to their house.
  2. Use transparency. Make sure you let your administrators, IT department, and parents know how you plan to use technology in your classroom. Including all stakeholders in what is going on in your class will ensure an overall good experience. Never let your principal be surprised that your class is blended.
  3. Check your tech. Before teaching a lesson, make sure everything works on your school network.  Impersonate the student experience as much as possible in order to catch any issues before class. Even if you check your tech, having a backup plan is never a bad idea.
  4. Keep students’ privacy a priority.  The tools you choose to incorporate must keep information private and not loan out student data to third party companies. Furthermore, you should not post student pictures on an open network. Also, it’s not a bad idea to check out your school division’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to make sure you aren’t violating any rules.
  5. Set the expectations. Clear instructions and examples, coupled with a rubric and quality resources makes for a positive experience. Anytime students are working with online resources to complete a task, they should be provided checkpoints along the way.
  6. Incorporate meaningful learning experiences with quality content and resources. which means don’t just use tech to use tech. Cut the fluff.  Don’t let tech be the “babysitter.”   The activity should achieve a learning objective. Think about how overwhelming the Internet can be when doing research….provide some good starting points for students.
  7. Be a content curator and creator. Put together the best resources for each of your class’ topics. If you can’t find a resource you really like, get in front of the camera yourself. Don’t really like getting in front of the camera?  No problem! There are plenty of other tools out there that can help you curate topics.  Some places to check out for content curation include Pinterest, Symbaloo, and Educlipper.
  8. Model digital citizenship along the way. Navigating society is significantly different than even five years ago.  The lessons you teach your students in the classroom need to be useful somewhere other than the end of course test they must pass. Common Sense Media has tons of resources on digital citizenship.
  9. Monitor progress.  Of course monitor your students’ progress but don’t forget about your own! Self-reflection is key to making adjustments as you go.  It’s perfectly okay to take small steps towards incorporating more and more technology until it’s a seamless part of your classroom.
  10. Adjust after you’ve had a moment to reflect on what’s going well and what needs improvement. Be honest with yourself and seek student feedback. Then make adjustments as necessary.

Subscribe to the blog for upcoming articles on:

  • Free download: Taking a Technology Inventory
  • “Curate that Content:” Tools for Organizing Digital Resources


5 Ridiculously Common Fears Teachers Have on the First Day of School

5 Ridiculously Common Fears Teachers Have on the First Day of School

We’ve all been there.  Sad summer is coming to an end yet excited to start a new school year. Inevitably, the “back to school nightmare” emerges sometime between mid-July and the end of August. Usually this nightmare includes forgetting important items, not being able to make it to school on time, and there is always an embarrassing article of clothing that happens to be missing.

The “back to school nightmare” forces you to stare into the near future. Another year brings another chance to work magic in your classroom and learn from your students.

Students, it’s true! Teachers are just as nervous on the first day as you.  It doesn’t matter if it’s their first year teaching or their 25th year.

5 fears wp

  1. You won’t have enough.

    Enough what, you ask? Enough copies, enough calculators, books, and mostly you’ll worry if you have enough  energy.  Apologies, the worry about not having enough will continue….until the end of the school year.

  2. Oh the bladder…

    You will have to be trained again. No more free peeing.  You will be back on your old schedule in no time (morning, between second and third block, and after lunch). Until then, be weary of extra fluid….

  3. The alarm clock won’t go off.

    You get stuck in traffic. Your car breaks down. For whatever reason, you don’t make it to work.  GASSSSSSPPPPP.

  4. Not being able to eat lunch with your people.

    Sometimes your lunch is changed. It’s horrible. There is nothing worse than being the only one in your crew that has a different lunch time.  BOOOOO HISSSSS to being the last to hear all the weekend updates.

  5. None of the students will sit down.

    Ok, wait, that’s my “back to school nightmare.” Every. Single. Year.  Students would be milling around, unruly, and thank GOODNESS I’d realize that it was just a my “back to school nightmare.” If your some kind of dream analyst, I guess you’d say classroom management was always at the forefront of my mind.

So, what did I miss?  What is your ridiculous back to school fear? Do you have a “back to school nightmare?”  Please share!

5 ridiculous pin

The Magic Recipe for Teaching Perspective in All Subjects

The Magic Recipe for Teaching Perspective in All Subjects

On the first day of school in my history classroom, I always conducted a mini lesson to teach students perspective.  I LOVE this lesson for several reasons- it sets a fantastic tone for the start of the year, you get a quick writing sample from students, and it provides you with valuable insight into your students’ personalities.

So, what is the magic recipe for teaching perspective?

The element of surprise!

After introducing myself and discussing some of the awesome places and time periods we would be studying, I asked students to take out a piece of paper. Once everyone had a piece of paper out and you get students’ attention, start (safely) throwing things around the room.

Yep, like a crazy person. In fact the crazier the better, and I always go for a dramatic exit with a few “door slams.” The one caveat here is you have to remember the order in which you complete your crazy rant.

After you are finished, ask students to write down what they just saw in as much detail as possible.  They can write in bullet points or full sentences.  Encourage your class that there is no “right or wrong answers.” I always added that they wouldn’t hurt my feelings in their responses.

What happens as a result is usually hilarious.  The kids laugh, you laugh, and they learn how different everyone’s perspective is….

Once students have about 5 minutes to write down what they witnessed, ask for volunteers to read their account and hand pick other students to illustrate how different everyone’s perspective is although they were in the same room, witnessing the event at the same time. Ultimately, you should be looking for the student who has the most accurate account.

Trust me, students will all have written something different.


The different perspectives, although students were in the same room.

Was everyone’s perspective right, although different?

How would students’ accounts of my crazy actions been different if they had been in one of my classes before?

This simple perspective activity transformed my classroom on the very first day.  It set the tone for learning, thinking outside of the box, and led to lots of laughs.

Give it a try! I double dare you : )


5 Tech Tools all Admin Should Use with Their Faculty this Year

5 Tech Tools all Admin Should Use with Their Faculty this Year

Are you a K-12 administrator? Do you expect teachers to utilize technology with their students?  First ask yourself, are you taking the same types of risks with your faculty?

Here’s the truth: school administrators cannot expect teachers to take risks if they don’t take risk themselves.

No, I’m not talking about wearing a bold pant suit to a school board meeting; I’m talking about incorporating technology in their faculty meetings.

One way to take productive risks includes utilizing technology with your faculty.  While modeling a skill teachers should use with their students by incorporating technology as a tool to positively interact with all members of their school family:

  1. Remind– I don’t think you should continuously intrude on the personal lives of the teachers in your building but I do think you should continuously try to build a sense of community.
  2. Socrative– or any form of instant polling. Socrative just happens to be my favorite. Use this at your next faculty meeting to determine what professional development is needed, get feedback instantly, or simply model the tool for teachers to use in their own classroom.
  3. Today’s Meet– back channeling at a faculty meeting could open your eyes to all stakeholders perspectives, not just the one’s with the loudest voice. It also will give you a transcript of a meeting and allow you to reflect on whether or not the message you were trying to convey and even the morale of your faculty.
  4. Pinterest– create boards to share with faculty of resources separated by grade, subject, interests, motivational quotes, etc.  Want an awesome Ed tech board?  Check out my TechnoEducation Geek Board.  It’ll make your geeky heart happy…!
  5. Paper.li– curate relevant Internet finds for your faculty and colleagues. Much of the work is done for you, leading to a generated e-paper of current events and topics related to education.

I highly recommend Steven Anderson’s The Tech Savvy Administrator. It includes great suggestions for administrators to harness the power of technology with their faculty.


Administrators, did I miss anything? How do you incorporate technology in your school day and beyond?

A Letter to Longwood

A Letter to Longwood

Dear Longwood,

You are one hell of a college, in a wonderful small town.


In the past, when I would tell people I lived in Farmville for 7 years, they immediately thought I was joking and referenced the Facebook game, Farmville, not the quaint Central Virginia town where I learned SO much about life. Continue reading… A Letter to Longwood

25 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers I Wish Someone Would’ve Told Me

25 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers I Wish Someone Would’ve Told Me

So, you are starting your teaching career?  Welcome to the most demanding and difficult, yet rewarding job in the world!  What’s that great line in A League of Their Own?  Oh, yeah!

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Exactly the same as in the education world.  Gosh, it’s hard.  But in the same token, it’s great.

After being in education for the past `12 years, here are my 25 key pieces of advice for new teachers. I wish someone would have shared these with me.

  1. Know the division and school policies. Not knowing is not an excuse. Make sure to read the employee handbook and follow the rules.
  2. Document everything. Even if it seems insignificant at the time, make notes every time you speak to a parent. Be careful what you put in school email as everything can be FOI’d (Freedom of Information Act). Keep your personal opinions about a student to yourself.
  3. Ask for help. One thing about teachers, they like to help others. That’s why they joined the profession. Never struggle alone…ask your colleagues for help.
  4. Never reinvent the wheel. Search Pinterest or reach out to your fellow teachers. Either way, spend your time wisely.
  5. Create a support network. It doesn’t have to be within your school.  Check out Twitter to find like-minded educators.  Finding your “tribe” can be sanity saving.
  6. Dress for success. I’m not referring to wearing a suit daily but you should remain professional and and comfortable.  I understand the desire to wear cute shoes but your feet will thank you if you invest in well made, supportive footwear.
  7. Build relationships with key support staff. The secretary, library, and custodian are all individuals that you will need throughout the school year. Be nice to them. Always.
  8. Give yourself a break. It DOES get easier.
  9. Never underestimate the power of parental involvement. Contact students’ parents early and often. For every negative phone call or email you send, send a positive one.
  10. Have fun and use humor. Students can tell if you enjoy your job and it will assist in helping them learn.
  11. Invest in a great planner. I highly recommend Erin Condren’s teacher planner. It is glorious.
  12. Create systems that work for you for grading papers, taking attendance, paperwork, etc.
  13. Engage students. Engagement=learning. Students who are having fun learning are also less likely to be discipline problems.
  14. Understand copyright laws and follow them.Model good practice for your students. Never plagiarize and make sure to have references for your materials (if applicable).
  15. Always have a little stash of papers to grade. (at doctor’s appointments, staff meetings, etc,)  so you aren’t grading papers on the weekend.
  16. Take time to self reflect. It will help you to grow personally and professionally.  Teachers should take time to adapt, change, and refine- it’s an integral part of honing your craft.
  17. Stay away from negative people. It’s contagious.
  18. Don’t listen to what other teachers say about students. Form your own opinions.
  19. Be mindful of your social media presence. Teachers are held to a higher standard and perception is everything.
  20. Test all technology on the school network. You can have the most amazing lesson in the world but if a website is blocked on your school network, you will be wasting everyone’s time.
  21. Have high expectations for your students. They will rise to the occasion.
  22. Be consistent in everything- procedures, discipline, and the message you send to your students.
  23. Write thank you notes. If someone helps you out, writing a quick thank you note goes a long way!
  24. Celebrate even the smallest victories. Preferably with chocolate.
  25. Never stop learning. Likely you got into the teacher profession because you love learning.  Make sure to keep the curiosity alive.




Veteran teachers, what would you add to the list?  What is some advice that you wish someone would have told you when you were just starting out as a teacher?

Wishing all my fellow educators a wonderful 2016-2017 school year!!!

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