A collection of thoughts and resources to help educators stay effective and fresh.

Queen of my AHDH Kingdom

I should begin by letting you in on the fact that I am the Queen of an ADHD Kingdom I like to call the Allred Family Circus. Honestly, every single person in my family has ADHD and 3 of the 4 of us also have anxiety. What does that mean for this well-educated and responsible mom? My life is crazy and it is all I can do to get us all where we need to be at the right time with the right stuff and maintain a reasonable home.  It is an exhausting roller coaster of somewhat organized chaos.

The ONLY way I keep things together is by using a planner to keep up with everything and a family calendar that I update weekly.  Recently I added a new tool to help us keep it together, a large whiteboard where I keep lists of our most important to-dos and weekly activities.  This has been my saving grace!

I “made” this board myself using white wallboard from Lowes (very cheap) washi tape, and adhesive vinyl.  When I bought the board a Lowes I had them cut it to fit on the inside of the door to my garage. This guarantees that every time I head out to the car, I see a big visual reminder of everything!

I used washi tape to fancy up the edge of the board and add some divisions. Then I used my Cricut to cut headings for the sections of the board. Now all I have to do is fill in the sections with dry erase marker, which wipes off easily when it’s time to change something.

This visual reminder may not be chic home decor, but it helps us keep it together, and that is what matters most!

Check out my board:


Tangled Stress Relief

Educators have notoriously stressful jobs, and as a result teacher burnout is a frighteningly real problem.  Between state and district guidelines, paperwork, a lack of resources, students living in troubled homes, teachers carry a heavy load. As a result, teachers desperately need some way to relieve this stress in order to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy.

Informal art therapy has been something of a “magic pill” for me. Several years ago I became aware of doodling style drawing called Zentangle.  Zentangle is an art from that grew from the doodles that many of us have always done on the corners of our papers.  At it’s simplest, Zentangle involves using geometric shapes to create patterns. These patterns can range from very simple to complex, and can be simple black and white or colorful.  It is possible to simply recreate or copy any of the multitude of official Zentangle patterns or create custom patterns.  The beauty of this art form is that there is no pressure to make it look like something realistic; whatever you create is “right.”

Zentangle drawing can be very relaxing, allowing you to focus full on drawing the lines and letting go of other things that clutter your mind and cause stress. Really it is a form of meditation using the act of drawing lines to create focus rather than focusing on breathing.

The best way to understand what Zentangle is and how it can help is to try it out yourself. So work with me to create a simple Zantangle drawing by following along with this tutorial.

Materials: blank paper or a device with drawing function, black marker, pencil (optional)

Step 1


Step 2






Step 3grid for sunbeam





Step 4


Step 5


Step 6

square spirals




The PD Problem: Canvas + PD = Endless Possibilities

the pd problem 3

There’s a joke that goes something like…. “I wish I had more professional development sessions, said NO teacher ever.” Sadly, every joke has an element of truth to it. How many educators would say they wish they had more PD? Not many I’d guess.

There are some valid reasons for this. Educators are busy, we need professional development which is relevant and that we gain value from. Additionally, just like our students we learn more from PD that is engaging and fun.

why dont we love pd_editedAs an instructional coach, I believe strongly in providing the type of professional development opportunities that do just those things for the teachers I work with. During this school year, I have been using Canvas (learning management system) as a tool to do so.

Using Canvas as the vehicle for professional development, I have been able to address some of these issues with PD and empower professional learning at our school.

Canvas is a digital learning platform which was recently provided for our faculty by our school system.  As with any new tool, educators wanted to know why it would be valuable to learn about Canvas and integrate it into their classrooms.  Rather than doing a traditional session on how to use this tool, we decided that the best approach would be to use Canvas as a tool for teacher learning so they could experience the benefits themselves.  This has been a great success, and has the additional benefit that it has allowed me to address some of the things that can make PD something less than desirable.

The first way I began using Canvas was as a simple information portal fschool info portalor our faculty.  I created a course and added all of the documents, resources, and links that would normally go in our huge back to school faculty handbook. Included is our calendar, forms, school handbook, as well as a place for PLCs to record meeting notes.  All key information is now online, and at our fingertips without ever having to worry about losing the notebook.

I meet with teachers weekly during their planning periods for a time we call Team Huddle. During this time we discuss student progress, solve problems, and work through professional development. I created another course in Canvas as the home for all of our PD session materials. I add materials for each week to a module with that date and the title of what we are doing. On a content page under that heading is an agenda list for that day, and links to any materials we will be using.          

ins design modelsOne major benefit of collecting our PD materials in Canvas it that it allows easy reference back to any topic or material without having to create one more notebook. Although we typically work with these materials in a blended format, this allows any faculty member to participate even if they are off campus. No one has to feel like they missed out if they were not present for a session. Additionally, it allows us to keep learning outside of school.  Recently we had a snow day on a date that was scheduled for PD.  I simply added short videos of a few things that I needed to tell teachers, and then they worked through the session virtually on their own time rather than having to do a make-up session.

To me the most of powerful benefit to using Canvas for professional development has been how it has allowed an increase in interaction from all participants.  By embedding tools like Padlet, every participant has a chance to share input and respond to each other. Additionally it has allowed me to collect information very quickly from participants so that I am able to tailor each session to those participants needs. Finally this has added to engagement because it has shifted our sessions from the traditional lecture style to something hands on where teachers can work on and explore something to put to use in their classroom.

The discussion board feature in Canvas makes it a great tool to use for faculty book study discussion responses
discussions. It allows educators to participate when it is convenient for them, and still get the benefit of the powerful discussions about learning.

Using Canvas for Professional Developmet also makes differentiation much simpler. We meet in mixed subject groups, and this used to make it difficult to provide something that benefitted every subject area within a single meeting.  Now I can begin with a common theme and then provide links to how that theme would develop in each individual subject area.

Using Canvas gives me more options for making PD fun by allowing embedding video, interactives, and graphics. Most importantly it has allowed me to maximize the usefulness of the time I spend with teachers so that they feel like they get value from every meeting.  A side benefit is that teachers have become so comfortable using Canvas that many have implemented its use with their own students! Double win!

The PD Problem: Recipe for Success

the pd problem 2

Recently I explored what is wrong with professional development. I have come to the conclusion that by making the effort to ensure that PD is relevant, valuable, and delivered in a way that is respectful of the expertise and differences of our adult learners, we can eliminate the majority of the problem with PD. With the addition of an element of fun, PD can go from something we endure to something we yearn for.  The recipe for success with professional development, is simply to approach teaching educators with the same pedagogy that we say should be employed with our students.

There are a multitude of articles written on the importance to make learning relevant for students who are children, that need is equally as great with adult students. Think about how many times you have tuned out from a training due to the topic being something that does not apply to you??? We can create relevance in our PD by differentiating to meet our adult learner’s needs. We add value by making sure that educators come away from every PD with something they can put right to use in their classrooms. If we do those things, and add in a sprinkle of fun, then our PD can be like an award winning recipe!

Let’s look at  an example of a recent professional development I did where I attempted to include those elements.

recipe card

Recently I met with my school faculty to discuss ways that we could go about vocabulary review as we begin prep for end of year testing. I began by very quickly reviewing Marzano’s Six Step Process for teaching Academic Vocabulary. Then using templates from NC Digital Leaders Coaching Network leader, Abbie Futrell, we played a round of Chopp-Ed Vocabulary Edition.  Each teacher was given a digital basket of ingredients (which included a broken copy machine) and were tasked to create a recipe card with a vocabulary practice activity. I gave teachers 15 minutes to work and they presented their recipes. The winning recipe in each group earned a jeans pass for the “chef.”  

Without a doubt, this was a fun activity! The activity was energized by the need to beat the clock and the competitive edge to develop the best recipe.  The quality of the activities designed by our teachers reflected this energy. By allowing teachers to be creators of their own knowledge, and acknowledging their personal expertise the PD session reached a level of engagement that I rarely see in teacher trainings.  The fact that teachers walked away with a whole recipe book of vocabulary activities they could put to use added great value to the time spent, and resulted in a quality teaching resource.
I’m so proud of what my teachers developed during Chopp-Ed Vocabulary Edition that I wanted to share this resource with you as well.   

All ChoppED Recipe Cards

The Problem With PD: What’s the Problem

the pd problem 1

Educators typically love learning, that is why we do what we do. However if you were to play a game of “Would You Rather” with educators and asked: Would you rather do manual labor or attend a professional development session, I have no doubt that the manual labor would win. Why is that? What’s the problem with PD?

why dont we love pd_editedWhen I posed this question to my digital learning network, the responses were varied .

Looking at the problems mentioned, they seem to fit into one of 5 generalizations. Key issues are busy lives, relevance, value, delivery, and fun. I created an infographic to elaborate.


Interestingly the majority of these issues can be remedied by applying our own good advice about teaching students to the task of teaching adults. There’s not much we can do about how busy educators are, but we can make the effort to ensure that professional development is relevant, valuable, and delivered in a way that is respectful of the expertise and differences of our adult learners. If we can also add an element of fun, PD can be a homerun.


I will explore HOW we can do that in the next post in this series, “A Recipe for Success.”

Back at It

When I pulled up my blog site this past week, I knew that  had been away for a while and needed to get back at my writing. I didn’t realize just how long it had been though!

It has been almost 3 years since I last helloposted! Wow!

I do know for sure how that happened…. After my last post 3 years ago, a major change affected my school and my job. Our long time principal moved to another school. The following year, I struggled to adapt and help my faculty adapt to a new administrator.  Then as that school year drew to a close, we learned that we would have yet another administration change.

Changes in leadership can be tough on a school. Even when the new leader is FABULOUS, it takes lots of mental energy and hard work to adapt to new expectations and leadership style.  So why haven’t I been present in the blogg-iverse?  I was too busy adapting.

In that time, I have learned so many things and rekindled a love of music and creating art. As a result, I feel the need to make sure that my bpog not only features education posts, but also posts exploring the hobbies and activities that help us live.

So, I’m back at it!  I look forward to chatting with you all!


Summer, aka Teacher Detox Time

As your last student walks away from you on the final day of school to meet his mom in the car rider line or to climb up onto the big yellow bus you probably feel a bit of nostalgia for the time you spent with those sweet students and the great moments of learning during the past 10 months…..  But let’s get real, most teachers are so incredibly exhausted and ready for some rest and time for themselves and their own families that their feelings during that final dismissal range from blissful relief to all out cartwheeling joy!


Vacation in my backyard

Image from Mandolin Davis via Flickr

Blessed summer. From the view of the last day of school, summer seems to stretch out in front of us like the wispy horizon looking out across the ocean. There are endless possibilities out there and the end is too foggy to see clearly yet.  What a delicious feeling to contemplate the things that might fill this time that is finally all ours.  Sleeping late in the morning, naps in the backyard hammock, reading a novel by the pool, precious moments with our own children to read with them, do crafts, and visit museums. Time for those home projects we just didn’t get to. Time to have lunch out with friends like real adults do. Time to watch tv in the evening without a stack of papers on our laps to grade.  Honestly, the promise that a summer holds is like a beautiful siren’s song.

Finally the “first day off” comes which  teachers have looked forward to for so many long months! Unless you are an educator who lives in an environment much different than mine, your summer reality is much different than your dream though.  For starters, it’s very likely that you have a summer job that you have to work.  Teachers aren’t “off” in the summer, actually we are unemployed, so unless like me it is more expensive to pay for child care than it is to get a part time job, you might be working during the summer too.  Let’s take a look at the reality behind a few more of my summer dreams:

  • sleeping late/naps – Kids and/or pets demanding food and attention make this a joke. I can’t even pay them to leave me alone!
  • reading by the pool- Again, kids. It goes something like this, “Hey Mom, watch this!”  “Mom, tell him to stop ____.”  “Mom…….”
  • reading, crafts, museums- You might get lucky and get a few good times in here. First you have to survive getting everyone up, fed, and dressed.  Then you can expect some fussing, bathroom trips, sunscreen, spills, and at least one bout of tears. But think of the memories you will make!!!
  • home projects = Work for free, enough said.
  • lunch out with friends- This can be great but getting everyone’s schedule together can be tough.
  • watching tv- Good luck, At this point everyone in the house is used to watching what they want all the time while you work.

And don’t forget all the reflection, and planning you will be doing to prepare for the next school year ahead  (more work for free).

OK, maybe I made this sound a bit worse than it really is. Summer really is a great time of rejuvenation for teachers. Even with the aggravations, the time pressures of the school year are off and I am allowed to do things on my time and on my COUCH, which counts for a lot in my book!

Avoid the Summer Slide: Use it or Lose It

Summer is a time for lots of fun, sleeping late, and vacations, but it can also be a time when students lose some of what they learned because they don’t keep skills sharp by practicing over the summer. These 5 options will keep students learning all summer long!

summer slide comic

1– Read something EVERYDAY. Newspapers, magazines, novels …let your child choose their reading material. The important thing is that they READ.

2– Try on online reading comprehension practice program like Newsela. (https://newsela.com/) This is a free program that helps students build comprehension with nonfiction text using articles about current news and events.The program adapts for reading selections on each students’ own reading lexile (reading level). Many articles have self checking comprehension quizzes that go along with them.  Check out details on their parents page about how to get started  https://newsela.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/topics/38518-parents.

3– Create an account on Khan Academy and complete some math lessons. https://www.khanacademy.org/ This is another free site that offers lessons on skills at every grade level, and will help suggest the skills that are best for your child to work on next.

4- Go to a museum. Explore, discover, and talk about what you see.

5– Learn Computer Coding. Check out the tools available on https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/cool-tools-to-help-kids-learn-to-code to help your child learn computer coding skills, or learn how to code mobile games and apps using Touch Develop provided by Microsoft at https://www.touchdevelop.com/.

One way or another, school skills are just like any other skill you might learn, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Make sure your child doesn’t lose what they learned this year by practicing those skills a little each day to keep them sharp!

Test Training That Doesn’t Suck, The Finale

     So far in my quest for the best end of year test training ever,  we played a game, enjoyed tropical refreshments, and laughed at one heck of a skit in which my administrators modeled “what NOT to do” during testing.  Those things were some nice additions which hopefully made the dreaded end of year test training more bearable.  To be perfectly honest though, those things although thoughtful, we’re  much like the candy we often use to try to bribe our students to make an effort in the classroom.  The recipients enjoy the treat, but in itself it isn’t powerful enough to cause the impact we need.  I had 2 more plans in mind to make test training informative and less painful, but only one of them was something I had any control over.


Plan 4- Respect Profressionalism

    This year the test administrators manual made it very clear, that administrators should read the manual BEFORE attending test training. Though I’m sure it has also said this in the past as well, I think prior test coordinators were afraid to hand out the manual early for fear of them getting lost.  My thought was that if we trust teach ears with our community’s children everyday, they can handle a newsprint test manual.  So a week or so before test training I handed out manuals and gave the directions to read before training. I realize it’s very likely that not everyone read it, but they are professional adults and should be trusted to take care of their responsibilities. 

     When training day came, what we had frequently experienced in the past 2 as someone going page by page reading to us and telling exactly what to mark. I think doing it that way is insulting to highly educated adults,  especially those who have already read the manual.  Instead I approached the task by going over key points related to security and procedures, spending the most time on details which were changes from the previous year. In this way, it was my intent to be responsive to the needs of the “learners” and make sure they were clear on procedures while at the same time respecting their intelligence and not wasting their time.

challenge quote

Plan 5- Attitude is Everything

     The final way to make test training not suck, lies totally in the hand of each individual participant.  While the leader of the training can add elements of fun and enjoyment and be sure to address the needs of the participants, the bottom line is that it will be whatever you make it.  This was clearly evident to me as I saw completely opposite responses to the exact same experience from different people.  Some left the training saying “testing still makes me nervous, but this is the only time I can ever say I had fun at test training!”  While others spent the entire session and their walk out the door mumbling, and commenting with outrage at certain procedures.  Interestingly,  EVERYONE in the room would agree that some of the procedures we are having to follow are not in the best interests of kids (myself included).  The difference came with the attitude people reacted to that with.  Each person has the choice to see difficulties as a challenge they can work through,  or as a tragedy they are a victim of. 

If you want end of year test training to suck a little less . . . choose to be someone who works through the challenges – you can do it!

Test Training that Doesn’t Suck, Part 2

You may have heard that old saying that says something about putting lipstick on a pig. Well, in my last post I talked about playing a BINGO game during End of Year test training to add an element of fun. That is a nice touch, but I’m a realist – that is little more than “lipstick on a pig.”  The faculty still ends up sitting throngh listening to essentially a lecture on material that a) is less than interesting, b) they are forced to participate in even though they don’t want to, c) many have already been through multiple times before, d ) they could figure out themselves by reading the manual anyway.
I do respect teachers’ time and intelligence, but the state requires me to do this training anyway. Needless to say, it’s going to take more than BINGO to liven things up!

Plan 2- Make it Tropical

To remind us all that the end (and summer vacation) is near, I arranged for some simple tropical refreshments. Lime punch, tropical fruit trail mix , a selection of cookies, and some cute “beachy” decorations were available as faculty arrived. I also found a great Hawaiian luau station on Pandora to play to set the mood before we started.  Hopefully this reminded the faculty they were appreciated and helped take minds off some of the stresses of testing season.


Plan 3- Show Instead of Tell

One thing I hate about professional development is that so often we are instructed on great best practices and strategies to use with students, but when it comes to our own learning, trainers do the exact opposite and go right back to the lengthy lectures.
According to the test manual, teachers were to have read it prior to training . It really wouldn’t be respectful of their time to sit there and go through it page by page. (Yes, I know that a good percentage of the staff never opened the book prior to training. Another issue entirely I agree.) Rather than wasting valuable time and insulting the staff’s intelligence, I chose to spend time reviewing important key procedures and looking carefully at the few changes.
Rather than telling or reading what is expected of test administrators , my awesome principal, assistant principal, and guidance counselor assisted by doing some dramatic modeling in the form of a comedy skit. One dressed and played the role of “bad test administrator” another was “bad proctor” and the third was “bad test taker.”  They acted out all the what N0T to do items to prompt our discussion.
Being something totally unexpected from them made this activity a hit. They did everything imaginable that you don’t want to see in a testing situation: teacher late with an inappropriate t-shirt and a soda, the proctor’s phone ringing, and the student taking a selfie.
This allowed us to go over all these critically important security issues, and have a great laugh about it instead of getting more stressed about testing.  The faculty got to visualize what shouldn’t happen and they definitely won’t forget their principals acting so silly anytime soon.

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