Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Advice to My First-Year Teacher Self

If I only knew then what I know now. Famous last words.
That first year is almost a blur. I embarked on my teaching career in the fall of 1996 as a lateral-entry business education teacher soon after my husband and I relocated from South Florida to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I had previously worked as an account representative for a health-insurance company and had not stepped foot in a classroom since I graduated from high school. While I was hoping to enter a similar role, I decided I would substitute teach to get plugged into the community until I landed a permanent job in the insurance field. What I thought was a temporary job ended up being my calling.
Because I came in midyear, I wasn’t assigned an official mentor until my second year. Thankfully, there were a few angels in the building that helped me survive as I was flying off the seat of my pants during the first couple of months. Reflecting back, because I drew from my corporate experience and regularly presented to large groups, I was comfortable presenting to my new “clients.” I actually thrived that first year, but nonetheless, if it wasn’t for my unofficial mentors, I’m not sure I would have lived to tell this story.
As I think back to that adventurous year, this is what I would tell my first-year teacher self:
  • One size does not fit all. Differentiation may appear monumental, but it’s crucial to ensuring that all students learn and it’s really very doable. School is not about curriculum, it’s about students. It’s more than fair to modify a strategy, assignment, or even deadlines. For some students, differentiation is required by an IEP or other learning plan, but you may find that others simply need a little grace. So long as students are meeting the learning targets, it’s important to remain flexible. In doing so, you will find that you are not only capturing their minds but also their hearts.
  • A.S.K. (Always Seek Knowledge). Listen more than speak and ask lots and lots of questions. Fellow teachers may seem busy, but we all remember that first year, and most will lend a hand. Yet, if you don’t ask, they may not realize you need help. Students are also a good resource. While they may seem uninterested in talking to their teachers, give them a listening ear, and they will tell you all you need to know (and often more than you want to hear). It’s imperative that you know your students, so you best know how to reach them.

  • Students are more than a score. When students don’t submit work, find out why before entering a zero in the grade book. Chances are they need help and are too afraid to ask. What may appear as laziness or apathy may actually be a cry for help. Our mission is to empower young people and prepare them for a lifetime of learning and growing. We are so much more than grade givers.

  • View mistakes as stepping stones—not as stumbling blocks. Remember that failure is not an end but merely a beginning. We are all works in progress. And don’t be afraid to share this message with students. They really need to hear it, especially at the secondary level.

Teaching is hard work, and we often feel unappreciated. But take heart; we are making a difference in every single student. In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.”

This post was a contribution to the EdWeek column, Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo on the "Sage Advice From Veteran Teachers to Those New in the Classroom."

Friday, October 21, 2022

Random Name Selection Tools

Random selection tools can be really helpful from creating groups to establishing the order of presenters to random drawings, and more. For years I used Random Name Picker on and while it works well, there are several others that are also free and give you more customizing options. 

  • Spinner Wheel lets you place multiple spinners on the same screen and spin them at the same time. I used this one this month to draw the Bailey's Glen winners and was able to draw two names at once. You can use SpinnerWheel without creating an account on the site. However, if you do create an account, you can save your spinners for reuse. 
  • Wheel of Names is a free random name picker website that not only lets you enter names but also lets you upload images to be chosen at random. It also lets you create a free account that you can use to save a wheel for each class

  • offers a random name picker that can be used to select one student's name at random. It can also be used to randomly create student groups. You can even use it to create a randomized seating chart! 

  • Classroomscreen is a service that lets you create a home screen on which in addition to random name selectors, you can place reusable countdown timers, stopwatches, noise meters, and more helpful classroom management tools. I've used this in standardized testing and also in the classroom. It's pretty useful and I highly encourage you to check it out.

In this short video, Richard Byrne, from demonstrates the tools linked above.  

I hope this will be helpful to you in creating an engaging learning experience for your students.

Until next time, take care and's the tidbits that make it all grand.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Ready for Whatever 2022 Brings

For the first time in my entire life, I will be ringing in the New Year alone, thanks to Covid. There will be others in my house, but I am in quarantine in my basement at least until Sunday (or until I am symptom-free). I've been in isolation since being diagnosed on Wednesday night. While I'm beyond thankful to be home rather than a hospital, I hate not being able to hug and kiss my loved ones at midnight. The isolation, however, has given me lots of time to ponder the future and whatever 2022 may bring. 

Since learning of the One Word movement in 2014, I've ditched New Year's resolutions and I instead focus on a word that aligns with my needs and priorities for the coming year. Tonight I'd like to reflect on the words I selected for the last few years, their significance, and the quotes or Bible verses that helped me identify the word for the year. I will start with 2018 because honestly, prior to that I was just jumping on the bandwagon and didn't internalize my word as I did starting in 2018. I'll also link to the blog post where I originally shared my word for the new year (except for 2021 which I only shared on a tweet).

2018 - Forward
2017 was a rough year for me. I made a career move that I later regretted and was not able to go back despite several attempts to do so. As I struggled greatly with regret, I felt God tugging at my heart to just put the past behind me and move forward. This was a very impactful word and enriched my life greatly.

2019 - Beneficial
By the fall of 2018 I was in my second year as a facilitator but in a slightly different position at a new school, so it was as if I was repeating my first year as a facilitator and still feeling a bit green and overwhelmed with all the various facets of my role. The word beneficial helped me to focus on that which was truly beneficial to my teachers and to me, rather than just trying to check off all the boxes. It was helpful both professionally and personally.

2020 - Present
At the beginning of the year, I felt that I needed to be more present in the moment and more present to those I did life with. However, in March of 2020 when Covid turned our world upside down and we had no idea what was happening from one day to the next, the word present saved my sanity and helped me to just take life one day at a time, live every moment to the fullest and enjoy my time with my loved ones. 

2021 - Ordinary
Covid took the wind out of my sails, leaving me feeling lost - just like most people. In fact, coaching and supporting my teachers often meant taking ordinary duties off their plates so they could teach. And all those extras that the pandemic added to our plates, from sanitizing to covering classes and everything else, not only caused stress and frustration but had me feeling subpar. And while it felt a little demoralizing, I learned that excellence is not about being a rock star, but rather about doing my best in big and small things, even in tasks that aren't in my job description. I quickly learned to redefine teamwork and find pride and joy in ordinary things. This was crucial not only in keeping my attitude in check, but also for my social and emotional well-being. When I found the quote below, I knew ordinary was going to be my word and it really carried me in 2021.

For 2022, I want to be ready for "whatever" life may bring. I'm building on all these words. I continue to move forward, focus on what's truly beneficial, make the most of the present, and revel in the ordinary. Life has been hard and it's easy to get caught up in negativity. I don't know if things will start to stabilize or if more changes will rock our world. I don't know how my life or my role may change but whatever happens, whatever I do, I want to keep an open mind and give it my all. 

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2022, whatever it may bring. Cheers!

What Is Success?

Source: FBLA-PBL

I was recently honored to be the guest speaker at the FBLA Induction Ceremony at my school.  In case you're not familiar with Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), it is the largest Career and Technical student organization in the world. At its core, its mission is to prepare students for a career in business, but regardless of where students' paths lead, FBLA is a great launching point for leadership and success in any endeavor.  

Image source: Life Hack
It was the first time I was asked to be a keynote speaker and while I didn't hesitate to say yes, once I did,  I was quite nervous about it. However, once I started planning my speech, my nerves turned to excitement. Inspired by this year's theme, "Success Starts Here," I unpacked the definition of success and spoke about four individuals who have greatly inspired me on my success journey.  

Success is not the same for everyone. We all have an idea of what it means to be successful - fame, fortune, accomplishment, higher education - but not all successful individuals achieve wealth, fame, or high academic achievement.  And it's not always a straight path. I shared the speech in a bonus episode of the Teaching Tidbits Podcast and the recording is embedded below. I encourage you to listen and let me know who has inspired you in your success journey. 

While I didn't share Michelle Obama's quote in my speech, I do think it sums up my message perfectly. 

As 2021 comes to a close and you embark on a new year, I wish you and yours much success. And remember, it's the tidbits that make it all grand! Cheers!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Hispanic Heritage Month and Cultural Competence

It's mid-October and we are wrapping up National Hispanic Heritage Month. Unlike other commemorative months, it is observed in two months starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It starts mid-September to coincide with independence day celebrations of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and runs through mid-October to coincide with the observance of Columbus Day on October 12, most recently referred to as Indigenous Peoples' Day or Dia de la Raza, as its referred to in Latin American countries. While the month is set aside to celebrate Hispanic cultures and acknowledge the contributions of Hispanic Americans, I see it as an opportunity to build cultural competence in ourselves and in our students. 

The American Psychological Association defines cultural competence as "the ability to understand, appreciate and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one's own." For educators this means having the openness to adapt to the cultural needs of every learner. By building cultural competence in all students we validate the identities of underrepresented populations and give them a sense of belonging. Moreover, it's an opportunity to breakdown stereotypes and debunk myths about Hispanic culture that sadly are so prevalent in our country, and this extends well beyond October 15. 

You might be thinking. Would this be adding yet another initiative to our already full plates? And how does this celebrate Hispanic heritage?

First, it's not another initiative, but more of a mindset shift. And as to the celebration, there's no better way to celebrate and validate a heritage than by learning about the individuals that identify as Hispanic, especially when the Hispanics are such a vastly heterogeneous population.

Cultural competence can be built in small ways. Here are three important points to keep in mind:

  1. Reject all stereotypes. According to Webster, a stereotype “represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude or uncritical judgment.” While you may not consider yourself prejudiced, you may hold oversimplified opinions about Hispanics that are stereotypical in nature. And if we pretend to know things about an individual based on our knowledge or experience about their ethnicity, we are giving in to stereotypes. Even if you may not intend to harm, pander or patronize, or even if your assumption is accurate, stereotypes are offensive nonetheless, and there is no place for them in schools. Rethink stereotypes in any form and be an upstander by calling out stereotypical statements made by students and also colleagues. And this pertains to any ethnic group, not just Hispanics. Check out my previous post - "Is Stereotyping Another Form of Racism?" 
  2. Ask more than assume. Given that over 60% of the Hispanic population in the United States is Mexican or of Mexican descent, much of what many folks identify as the Hispanic culture is actually Mexican culture and is not representative of all of Spanish or Latin American culture. Some individuals are easily offended when you make assumptions about their birth country, cuisine, traditions, holidays, religious observances, physical features, socioeconomics or even language skills. There are actually 20 countries where Spanish is the official language and chances are that there may be a student or staff member from a country you know little about. Challenge yourself to learn more about their country, their story, and their culture. Check out this list of Spanish speaking countries. 
  3. Open your mind and heart. Being bi-cultural has given me a keen appreciation for multiculturalism. But what I find most interesting is the similarities I discover in individuals and cultures that I perceive to be radically different. Kindness and compassion know no boundary and friendliness is understood by all, even if you don't share a common language. We can preserve our own culture, values, and beliefs while honoring and celebrating cultures' that are different from our own. And while this mindset is healthy for us as individuals, it's essential for educators who are preparing young people so they can thrive in a global, multicultural society.
  4. Keep it fun! I'm in no way insinuating that we do away with the fun crafts and yummy foods - we certainly need that too, especially during these stressful times. Cultural competence makes us better human beings and it should be presented in a positive light. Most importantly, celebrating and elevating a culture should never demean another culture. 

Last but not least, remember this is about tidbits that you can weave into what you are doing. Even simply raising awareness can go a very long way,  Reflect and explore a pedagogical shift that will not add more to your already full plate, but will instead affirm learners, breakdown stereotypes, and debunk myths, validating those who otherwise may feel disconnected and expand horizons of those who may have limited knowledge of the Hispanic culture or don't interact with individuals of Hispanic heritage. And this is not fluff, this is based on research and aligns with current anti-racism efforts. Here's a great post on "Getting Started With Cultural Responsive Teaching."

If you have any ideas or success stories you'd like to share please add them to the comments below, or reach out to me by email or on Twitter. 

Until next time, take care and's the tidbits that make it all grand.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The State Of My Podcast

Have you ever had to step away from something you enjoy simply because your plate is so full?

Creating using Quozio

Last November, after just 10 episodes, I abruptly stopped recording podcast episodes. Not only was my plate full, I frankly needed more human connection. Like everyone else, I was spending too much time on my laptop and phone and needed to disconnect. But I also needed to disconnect from education. Not leave the profession, but rather create a boundary that I have never felt the need to put up. I'm an education nerd and could read or talk about education all day long. Almost every single podcast I subscribe to is related to education. I may leave the school building, but the school never leaves me. That was until last fall.  The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a social and emotional toll on everyone, but most especially educators. 

So I was settling into a new normal that included being more disconnected from technology and education, spending more time with my family, and getting rid of anything that's not essential to my health and well-being. And that included podcasting and blogging. I put both on pause. For the first time in many years, I was done with school when I left campus every day. And I have to admit it felt pretty good.

Created using Quozio

However, I missed podcasting and I'm ready to give the Teaching Tidbits podcast another try. In my latest episode, "The State of My Podcast," I reflect on my podcasting experience thus far. What I learned about podcasting, what I learned about myself and where the podcast is headed. I invite you to take a listen and share your thoughts. 

If you would like to share any podcasting ideas or would like to be a guest, please reach out on Twitter @amgonza or leave a comment below. 

Until next time, take care and remember, it's the tidbits that make it all grand.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Mind Your Ps and Qs, a Norm Setting Protocol

The beginning of a school year is an exciting time for educators and learners. For many of us, it's an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again with new groups of students and perhaps new colleagues. And if you taught remotely for all or part of the last school year, you may still be getting acquainted with some of your colleagues - or perhaps all of them if you are new to the school.

Today I'd like to share a PLC protocol that I have found to be helpful in developing team norms. While I've used it with teacher teams, I think it can work really well in setting up class norms in a student-centered environment. It's actually an adaptation of "Irks and Quirks" published in the book Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs: The Human Side of Learning People, Protocols, and Practices by Daniel R. Venables. I call it "Mind Your Ps and Qs" and it gets participants reflecting on their own pet peeves and quirks as they develop team norms. Ideally, you want to create the norms immediately after completing this activity, but if the group is too large you may need to tweak it so it doesn't take up the entire designated time period.

Here's how it goes.

Time: 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the group. And I suggest stating this at the start so it doesn't take any longer.

  1. Give each participant an index card. 
    • On one side, they write one pet peeve regarding PLCs or meetings. Some common examples include, one person monopolizing the conversation or not starting meetings on time.
    • On the other side, they write one quirk that colleagues (or classmates) should know in order to make their work most productive. Some examples include sharing preferences or learning styles.
  2. Participants share both sides of the cards with no comment or discussion from colleagues. 
    • Ideally sharing is voluntary, but I found most people are open to sharing.
    • This should take 5-7 minutes.
  3. Debrief for about 3-5 minutes before moving on to setting team norms.
If you have a PLC protocol that has worked well for you and helped you build relationships, I'd love to hear about it. Please share it in the comment below, drop me an email or reach out to me on Twitter (@amgonza).

I wish everyone a happy and healthy school year. And remember it's the tidbits that make it all grand. Take care!