Recording Myself on Video

Recording yourself on video as a classroom teacher is not unheard of in teacher prep programs.  The idea is that by watching yourself on video you will notice things that aren't obvious to you when you're in the moment of teaching.  I recorded myself teaching/facilitating a lesson years ago and remember learning a few things from the experience -- some good and some not so good.  As I look ahead to starting year ten in education, however, I'm thinking that I should take a look at my classroom from a fly-on-the-wall perspective again.  I believe I'm in a better position in my career to learn much more -- I think -- from a video recording of my own teaching than I was the first time I recorded myself.  I have greater insight in what a classroom should look, sound, and feel like and I'm hoping choosing to videotape myself teaching this year will help me get closer to that ideal.  So, this post is short but has an important purpose: to share my goal of video taping myself teaching this year with you so that I will actually do it!  Stay tuned for a future post on what I learned from the experience.

Here's an article from Harvard University on the "value of self reflection" via video recordings if you'd like to learn more.  Lastly, feel free to let me know if you're a teacher and have videotaped yourself in the classroom before.  Did you do it long ago or recently? What did you learn? Should it be common practice?

Happy back-to-school season,
Ms. Vila

On Contacting Parents

I made it one of my professional goals to better communicate with parents this past school year.  To this end, I decided to send out bi-weekly email updates to all parents (aside from the direct calls and emails).  I chose to include the following in those emails:

  • Updates on classroom lessons and activities
  • Reasoning behind some of my classroom decisions
  • Pictures
  • Upcoming quiz or test dates
  • Other important team or school dates/events
  • A What You Can Do At Home tip
  • Encouragement to reach out if there was a question or concern
  • A closing thank you for parental support

Because I teach two sections, a standard 7th grade math class and an accelerated 7th grade math class, I wrote two emails each time.  Two emails twice a month equals four emails each month.  That's 40 for the year!  But no big deal, I thought.  Come to find out, it was more difficult than anticipated at times.  Looking back, I think I put too much pressure on myself to make each email update absolutely fabulous.  Sometimes, I couldn't think of a "good enough" What You Can Do At Home tip.  Other times, due to vacation days or other interruptions, I felt that there wasn't enough fresh and exciting news to share.  And then there was the time spent attaching pictures... ugh.  Still, I completed my goal.

On average, 71% of my standard math class parents and 86% of my accelerated math class parents opened my emails (stat via MailChimp).  Although I'd prefer 100% engagement, of course, I was pretty happy with those numbers.  I was also thrilled to see that my emails prompted many parents to hit "reply" with a question or concern which increased two-way communication this past year.  Lastly, I was happy to hear the positive response from a number of parents on their overall thoughts concerning the updates.  One parent responded nearly every time with a simple "thank you so much for these emails" or "I wish I was in your class."  That was nice to hear on those tough days.

I can undoubtedly state that I will continue this practice next year.  I may, however, email parents every three weeks instead of every two so that overall they receive fewer but hopefully more meaningful and robust updates.  I think that will allow me to take the pressure off a bit, too.

How do you communicate home? Have you done something similar? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Ms. Vila


What do you do when the quiz average is 60%?

My students took a quiz last week and the average score came out to 60%. Students earned scores from 10% to 100% and everything in between. Here's a bit more info:

Number of students who earned 0-19%: 4
Number of students who earned 20-39%: 7
Number of students who earned 40-59%: 7
Number of students who earned 60-79%: 16
Number of students who earned 80-100%: 14

  • 18 students failed and 30 passed (so far)
  • 6 special ed scores are not included because I do not yet have their scores from the special ed teacher
  • 4 students have not taken the quiz due to being absent
  • 23 "accelerated math" students are not included because they follow a different program

The quiz was on perimeter and area with most questions being multi-step problems. For example, one question asked students to find the perimeter of a composite shape made up of a rectangle and a half circle. Of course, students worked through similar questions in class before the quiz. I expected the average to be in the 70s or 80s (as usual).

Thankfully, I'm on vacation this week which gives me time to figure out a plan. How do I organize class time next week to best address this issue? How do I best reteach those who need it and enrich those who did well? When should I give a retake? What would you do?

Ms. Vila

***Update!*** We spent three more days clarifying the material. Students who earned 80% or above on the initial quiz were given extension activities. Most students took a retake on the fourth day and the average is now in the 80s. Woo hoo!

I did it!


Earlier this year I blogged about my goal of reading 25 books in 2015.  I hit my goal on August 17 and today, with two days to go until the new year, I completed my 30th book.  (Starting a new degree program in the fall really slowed down my personal reading from September to December.) 

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo - A must-read for those who love to organize.

2. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman - I think this book should be required reading for every human!

3. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley - An honest look at what we are doing wrong when it comes to our children's education.

4. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh - A pure and beautiful classic.

5. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran - Another beautiful and timeless classic.

6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau - Made even better with a post-read visit to Walden Pond.

How Twitter Made Me a Much Happier Teacher

Those who know me well know I love my job as an educator. But what many of even my closest friends don't know is that there was a period not too long ago when I contemplated making a career change. This time of frustration had little to do with my district, my school, and certainly not my students. Rather, my disenchantment came about from looking at the much larger picture. I realized I had chosen a career that is not well professionalized, well understood, or well respected.

Thankfully, I recalled my happy teaching days and decided to try to regain my love of being in the classroom and all that it entails. I realized I needed to find highly driven and happy teachers, teachers similar to the younger Ms. Vila, to help resurface those qualities in myself.

Enter: Twitter. I came across Twitter while looking for teacher blogs online. The more I read about teachers using Twitter, the more I knew I needed to open an account. Once in, I discovered countless teachers from around the world sharing, collaborating, and helping one another. I also discovered Twitter chats, scheduled events where participants respond to questions on a particular education topic. These chats are informative, inspiring, and fun!

I continued to "meet" connected educators and participate in chats over the next couple of months. Today, I'm continuously finding fresh ideas for my classroom and building a network of happy and inspiring Twitter-friends. The effects of this cannot be overstated: my excitement and love for the profession are back and are even higher than when I first started teaching! I didn't think Twitter would have such a positive impact, but I'm thrilled it has.

Thanks for reading,
Ms. Vila

List of Twitter Education Chats
Some of my favorite chats are #msmathchat (geared to middle school math teachers), #bfc530 (a 5:30am quick chat for all educators - I usually only have enough energy to lurk that early, but it gives me such a positive start to my day!), and #tmchat (all grade levels and content areas).

My Latest Tweet:

My Big Summer Trip

I just returned home from a three part trip: Colorado for 3 days, Argentina for 10 days, and New Orleans for 2 days. It all went so well. Here are a few pictures: (can you tell where each picture was taken?)

That's all for now!


You may have heard of the #iwishmyteacherknew craze that hit last month (April 2015). Colorado teacher Kyle Schwartz had her students finish the phrase "I wish my teacher knew…" without further instruction. The responses she received from her elementary students were both heartbreaking and eye-opening. Read more about her story and her student responses here.

I decided to include the 'I wish my teacher knew' prompt in my third quarter survey (I've surveyed my students each quarter this year) and waited with anticipation for the results. Below are a few of the responses I received. As you will see, some were uplifting, some were silly, and some made me reflect hard on how I can further improve my teaching.

Actual responses from my students: I wish my teacher knew… 
… If I don't do part of my homework it means I don't understand it.
… Class is sometimes easy and sometimes hard.
… How much she's helped me in math this year.
… Kids in class, including me, don't ask questions out loud. They just don't want to seem even dumber compared to the rest of the class.
… How to take care of a baby rhino.
… How awesome she is.
… That I like to sit front and center.
… That working with partners everyday is good.
… That it takes me a while to understand some of the more complicated sections.
… More jokes.

I plan on including this prompt on every future survey (and if you're a teacher I recommend you do too!) Thanks to my students for answering honestly - you guys rock.

Ms. Vila