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๐ŸŽ‰ 4 FUN AI tools to try
3/21/2023

"Give me something old and red"

Grape Juice by Harry Styles

Hello there,

Last week I told you about ChatGPT writing incredibly reliable text. This week- I want to get into some of the incredible AI tools you can try. Here's the thing- watching AI write for you is just the start. This technology can fuel animations, games, and teaching materials. Here's a few interesting ones I found; some for you and some for kids:

Google Experiments has been piloting games using AI. I played Quick, Draw! which was like pictionary with a computer. It told me what to draw and within 20 seconds it will guess it. There were a ton of games that would be fun for kids and adults to play.

AI Club host online classes for children starting in 4th grade. They meet with a small group of children weekly to learn how to use and develop their own tools using AI.

Duolingo (popular language learning app) uses AI to write tutoring lesson plans for users.

Search engine Bing has changed how we search by integrating AI. You can use this for yourself, or if your child is interested in something, let bing teach them about it. You need to use the edge browser for best results.

What's New? (contains affiliate links)

ChatGPT in Schools: Here's my video breaking down what we need to know about ChatGPT and students. I debunk some myths and show you how to use it with kids that want to try.

Prioritizing Youtube: After looking at data, I will be prioritizing Youtube over Instagram. I'll still post on insta and tiktok, but this mean I'll have time to make more long form videos. Make sure you're subscribed and have notifications turned on ๐Ÿ˜„

Cute and cozy: My trip to Oregon for my friend's bachelorette was a blast. We had to pack strategically because the weather was a little unpredictable. I learned that they say "if you don't like the weather in Oregon, just wait five minutes." The bride wore this great satin skirt for st. patty's day. I loved it because it has an elastic waist that kept it from slipping everywhere. I also got to wear my new anti-frizz winter hat. My hair is fine and curly, so it gets really tangled in winter hats. It really kept my hair nice so I could take it on and off during the day.

Drink this and there will pinot problems: It was gorgeous visiting wine country and taking in the scenery. My favorite vineyards I went to were Durant and Domaine Serene. Here's some pictures:

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Have a great week!

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Does ChatGPT belong in schools?
3/14/2023

"Domo arigato Mr. Roboto"

Mr. Roboto by Styx

Hello there,

Remember when shouting hey alexa! in your home felt foreign? When home assistant devices like Amazon Alexa came out there was an uproar. I even remember being very concerned about being recorded at all times and arguing with Mike when he brought one home.

Now everywhere I go people have one in their home. It's a joke to yell hey google! on a zoom call and hear everyone's robots activate. It's become...normal

Well, we are at that point again- with OpenAI's ChatGPT. This incredible artificial intelligence will chat with you about anything you can think of. If you haven't played around with it- you should. It will generate emails, tweets, and even a five paragraph essay for you...oh yeah essays- that's why people are freaking out.

ChatGPT and students: The gut reaction in schools seems to be: completely ban ChatGPT. For now- I agree. Students, staff, and parents need to be taught how to use it responsibly. We need to understand how to use it as a tool and timesaver. If the thought process is that it's a magic cheating machine, then schools are not ready. But I do not think it's smart to ban it long term.

As the adults in the room, we need to understand how it works, because I assure you- this technology is not going away. I have a video coming out Saturday that explains how we can use it with children, ways to prevent teaching, and the ethics + safety we have to teach students. In the meantime: hop on ChatGPT and try it.

*Pro tip: Sometimes ChatGPT says it is at capacity- but if you make a free account, you can usually bypass that. Make sure you do not put personal or private information into it.

What's New? (contains affiliate links)

So you wanna quit teaching?: Last weekend I released my newest video. It goes over the questions I asked myself and the first steps I took when I decided to leave teaching. It speaks to teachers, but if you've ever considered changing careers it's good advice.

Lunchables for school lunches?: Lunchables are vying for a new market: schools. Here's their plan to replace the hot lunch option...with tiny cold pizzas.

Fresh Air: I'll be heading to Dundee, Oregon this week for a bachelorette party in wine country ๐Ÿท. It's going to be her last syrah ๐Ÿ˜‚ We'll be running around Portland and Dundee. If you've got recs respond to this newsletter.

Dress for the weather: To prep for my trip I am bringing my trusty rain coat and my all weather sneakers. I used to wear those shoes on the playground for cold days and muddy days and they are amazing.

Have a great week!

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Stop paying for apps- the best free sites for kids!
3/7/2023

"You and me are thrifty, so go all you can eat
Fill up your bag and I fill up a plate"

Shape of You by Ed Sheerhan

Hey there,

Let's talk tech. The market is FLOODED with learning games for children. It's great to have that variety, but really frustrating as an adult to have to scan through children's sites to figure out if it's worthwhile.

That's why I did the work for you.

Find what's free: Before you download a single thing, reach out to their teacher and your local library to find out what they can provide access to. Most public libraries offer free access to paid apps like Hoopla, Tumble Books, and some even provide coveted ABCMouse for free. The best part is these tools have been vetted by professionals- so they (should) be quality educational tools!

Coding games: Does your kiddo want to design video games when they grow up? Hour of Code's website highlights dozens of games for all ages to introduce your child to coding. Most of a pretty extensive amount of free games before that paywall hits.

Monster Reading: This app is reading based (they have a math spinoff too) and perfect for kids with big imaginations. Teach Your Monster to Read pairs phonics activities with fun graphics. It's $5.99 to download on a phone/tablet...BUT if you use it on a computer it's completely free.

For all Subjects: ABCYa is one of my all time favorite sites! They have so many games for kids that cover all sorts of skills. Just like Monster Reading, they are completely free to use on a computer. But if you want to download it on a tablet, they will charge a fee. I found this to be a common loophole when I was searching for resources- it's worth visiting an app's actual website to find out their pricing guidelines.

Speaking of free resources...

THANKS SO MUCH TO OUR SPONSOR GEMOOโ€‹

With built-in screen recorder, screen capture tool, documentation tool, organized cloud library, and comment function, Gemoo enables teachers to easily keep parents up-to-date on how their children perform at school and exchange feedback at their own time. All for Free Forever.

What's New?

  • No more homework battles: Spring fever is coming and it's time to tighten up your homework routine! Here's my newest video to get the most out of homework time.
  • More Free Tools: Here's 3 more amazing edtech tools to try with your kids.
  • The best candles: I discovered swan creek candles at a gift shop recently. They weren't even burning yet, and the whole store smelled amazing. I burn vanilla pound cake and roasted espresso at the same time- my whole house smells like a cozy coffee shop. Then I found out they sell refill kits! So I bought the wax and refilled the gorgeous vessels for half the price.
  • Ari Lennox: I recently saw Ari Lennox in concert which was a dream come true. She has an incredible voice and relatable lyrics. I was even more excited to find out she lived in Charlotte for a while and several of her songs were written with it in mind. If you like Neo-Soul and R&B you should check her out.โ€‹

Have a great week!

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Are schools a worthy investment?
2/28/2023

"I believe the children are our future,

teach them well and let them lead the way"

Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston

Hey there,

Over the past few weeks I followed the funding in public schools. Here's a few conclusions I drew while researching:

Money is tight: Schools cobble together money from the federal, state, and local government along which grants and donations. Often it can take years to secure money and it does not adjust with inflation.

One thing to expect to see over the next year is schools fighting for more funding. COVID relief funds are drying up and most districts have not adjusted their budgets for inflation.

Some don't think it's worth it: It's hard to catch a law maker saying it directly, but many see public schools as a waste of money (check the comments on my youtube videos). Since they do not make a profit, schools are seen as a drain on the budget. Veiled arguments suggest funneling the money elsewhere or openly criticizing public schools and then withholding funding as punishment. They may argue there should be an "open market" for schools: but schools are not businesses. The return on investment is not literal cash- but I think educating children is an investment in the future.

These sentiments scare me because access to school is a human right. Defunding schools is dangerous. In the US it is already very clear that your zip code can determine the quality of your school. Can you imagine how inequitable it would be if the option of the free neighborhood school disappeared?

You have a say: School issues have a way of boiling under the surface. In fact, before the pandemic, I had not ever seen parents so interested and invested in what happened in schools. Keep an eye on your local school board, research how candidates feel about education, and vote regularly. Often school matters are determined in small elections with low turn out. Your vote and campaign donations really make a difference.

THANKS SO MUCH TO OUR SPONSOR GEMOOโ€‹

With built-in screen recorder, screen capture tool, documentation tool, organized cloud library, and comment function, Gemoo enables teachers to easily keep parents up-to-date on how their children perform at school and exchange feedback at their own time. All for Free Forever.

What's New?

  • 3 EdTech Tools you need to try now: Check out my most recent video. If you're looking for better ways to organize parent communication or easy tech tools for kids this is for you.
  • Quality time: Mike and I celebrated 10 years together and 2 years married last weekend. We unplugged and skipped town to Savannah, GA. All the flowers were in bloom and the weather was perfect. I couldn't have picked a better person to visit with. ๐Ÿ’˜
  • FujiFilm: I love my Fujifilm Instax Camera (the new Polaroid camera)- but I don't always want to carry it around. I recently got a Fujifilm printer. It's the perfect compromise to print pictures from my phone on the fun film.
  • Favorite Dress: Years ago I discovered this incredible dress made by warehouse (sometimes sold by ASOS). It's a button down midi dress with belt: perfect for teaching in. The fabric is lightweight and comfortable for a hot work day. I have it in three solid colors- but I discovered now they make it in zebra print.

Next week I'll be getting into tech tips for kid.

Til then,

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Pros and Cons of Private School Vouchers
2/21/2023

"Now here you go again,

you say you want your freedom"

Dreams by Fleetwood Mac

Hey there,

School Voucher programs have been quietly dominating the United States. Currently, almost half the states have a strong school voucher program that provides a substantial amount of money to families. There are several more that provide a small tax credit or refund.

As I researched for this newsletter, I found they are incredibly polarizing. But what are they? I'm going to break down the pros and cons for you so you can form your own opinion.



With built-in screen recorder, screen capture tool, documentation tool, organized cloud library, and comment function, Gemoo enables teachers to easily keep parents up-to-date on how their children perform at school and exchange feedback at their own time. All for Free Forever.

Ok, but what's a voucher? School vouchers are programs created by individual states for parents to seek out alternatives to public/charter schools. Public and charter schools are funded by state/federal tax money. Private schools and homeschool are not. Voucher programs essentially divert your child's "per pupil" funding to your chosen private school (or homeschool) instead of sending it to fund public schools.

Please note that this is unique to each state- some vouchers are worth thousands of dollars, while others may provide a $500 tax credit. North Carolina, for example, gives vouchers based on family income. The projected average voucher for this school year is $2,769.

Pros:

  • Many proponents argue that tax money is being wasted if you do not send your child to their local pubic school. They would rather see the money benefit their child directly.
  • The second most common argument is that this makes access to private schools and homeschooling more equitable. Schools are incredibly expensive to run and scholarships (especially full scholarships) are competitive. Providing families school vouchers can make alternative schooling accessible in some cases.
  • It creates more options. Many families do not have a choice of where their child goes to school. They simply enroll in the neighborhood school. However some schools may be dangerous, lack desired courses, or have poor test scores. Vouchers provide families with a chance to make a choice they want. In most states this includes religious education.
  • Many states have an additional program to support students with special needs. This would potentially mean extra funds to cover the cost of special education, speech therapy, and/or occupational therapy. If a child is eligible for services, they will receive support during school hours for free. Private schools, however, are not required to provide these services.

Cons:

  • Private schools, homeschooling, and support for special needs are really expensive. Parents will get only a few thousand dollars, but private schools easily cost $10-20k per student annually. Critics argue that it doesn't truly give low-income families a chance to enroll in private school.
  • In practice, they do not support low income families. Indiana has one of the most robust voucher programs in the nation. They have found most families using vouchers are middle class and less than 1% were students leaving "failing" schools. Schools have experienced a drain on diversity as middle and upper class families flocked to private schools taking their tax money with them. Schools are underfunded and struggling. The former superintendent, Wendy Robinson, called it an "assault on public schools."
  • I put religious schools in the pros and cons intentionally since it is so personal. One survey found that the majority of parents used their vouchers for a religious school. Some may see this as religious freedom while others may see it as secular tax money funding religious organizations.

Some Announcements:

  • 3 EdTech Tools you need to try now: My next video premieres tomorrow on my YouTube Channel, Primary Focus! I share about 3 FREE amazing tools that are game changers for both teachers and parents. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss it.
  • Drawing fails: I've been running a fun series showing hilarious drawings students have made in the past. Check them out on TikTok or Instaโ€‹

Check these out:

  • Wonderful: I listen to the most calm, uplifting podcast called Wonderful. Each week this couple shares things that makes them happy. It is, in a word -- wonderful.
  • Florals: One of the biggest conundrums in decorating my home with Mike is that I want to cover everything in flowers and he wants to keep everything clean + modern. We've learned to compromise (we own a LOT of plants) and I express myself through beautiful stationary at Rifle Paper Company.
  • No Headphones: The first signs of spring are showing up in NC. To enhance my daily walk, I've decided to go au natural (read: without headphones) for at least ten minutes. There are so many birds chirping and I feel so much more relaxed when I'm done. It's simple, but so fulfilling.

Til next week,

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NC's Education Lottery: not a win for kids
2/14/2023

"So you can have your cake..."

Birthday by Katy Perry

Happy Valentine's Day there!

Last week I explained how school funding reports work. If you're a new subscriber (welcome!) you may want to peek back at that issue first.

Let's play the lottery: When I was researching NC school funding I saw a lot of people asking about the North Carolina Education Lottery. Like many states, the profits from the lottery program (scratch off tickets, power ball etc) are supposed to be bonus funding for the school's education budget. But that's not working out in North Carolina...

False Promises: When it was created in 2005, the North Carolina lottery promised to supplement the state's education budget with a minimum of 35% of profits going directly to education. The state was supposed to treat the money like a bonus ๐ŸŽ‚, not as a main source of funding. Both these stipulations have been removed. Now it is just a guideline that 35% goes to education, and in some years, like 2016, as low as 25% was shared.

Cake for dinner: Since it is just a guideline to spend the money of education, NC frequently diverts money to other state needs. However it still advertises that the money goes directly to education. UNC Charlotte conducted a study on how the lottery impacted school funding for ten years. They found the lottery money did not increase per pupil spending when compared to population growth and inflation. It is simply replacing other spending. Mike Easley, the former governor who initiated the lottery has called it "a big disappointment, but not a surprise."

To sum it up, Walter Hart, one of the lead researchers said "The lottery was sold as icing on the cake, and over time itโ€™s become more and more of the cake."

If you want to read a little more, this article did an excellent job of explaining the study on NC's lottery.

Some Announcements:

  • I meditated for 30 days- I didn't know how badly I'd need it: โ€‹Check out my newest video. This is a vlog about my meditation challenge last November. I thought I would learn a new skill, but a lot of unfortunate events happened that month. Meditation ended up carrying me through.
  • Tales from a Teacher: I've started a new series on TikTok sharing some of my stories from teaching. If you need a laugh check them out.

Check this out:

  • Lessons in Chemistry: I just finished this novel by Bonnie Garmus. The writing was so creative (including the pet dog narrating parts of the story).
  • Clothing Swap Party: Last weekend my friends and I had our second clothing swap party. Everyone brought over gently used clothes, housewares, and accessories to trade with each other. It was so easy to set up and a fun change of pace. If you are looking for a way to be more sustainable or entertain on a budget this is it.
  • Seasonal Leggings: I'm sitting here typing this in my Valentine's Day heart covered leggings... I know you're jealous.๐Ÿ’˜ Since you read to the bottom, I'll give you a "leg up" for the next holiday. Here's some St. Patty's Day leggings ๐Ÿ€๐Ÿ˜œ

Til next week,

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What is going on with North Carolina's student funding?
2/7/2023

"You're slowly making me pay for things your money should be handling"

Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny's Child

Hey there,

Each year the Education Law Center releases their report on student funding. The report breaks down state education budget into per pupil funding. It speaks to the entire education budget including student supplies, school buildings/maintenance and teacher pay. The report looks at just state funding compared to the state's GDP. It does not include federal funding. It asks the question how fair is school funding in your state?

I'm going to focus in on North Carolina, but if you live in another state I encourage you to look at the report. It's fascinating and incredibly illuminating. If you want to dive in a little deeper on NC, read this article. It was the inspiration for this newsletter.

When you look at the numbers:

  • North Carolina ranks 48th out of 51 for student funding (including Washington DC).
  • When you compare them to the state's wealth (based on GDP). NC ranks dead last.
  • North Carolina has the 10th largest GDP of all the states. It is home to some of the largest corporations in the country and is the second largest banking center in the US.
  • With a $6.2 billion dollar surplus, in addition to a nearly 5 billion dollar rainy day fund North Carolina has one of the highest surplus accounts in the nation.

So if North Carolina has access to so much money, why are their schools the worst funded in the nation?

Next week, I'm going to explain where all the North Carolina Lottery for Education money is going. Those scratchers and powerball tickets are not as lucky for schools as you think.

Some Announcements:

  • I got featured on Peanut! If you use the Peanut App, check out my featured article in Railey Molinario's group: How to talk to your childโ€™s teacher without feeling like a helicopter mom. If you're on the app read it here. If you are not a Peanut user, read it here.
  • Valentine's Day Gifts: Need an easy last minute gift for your child's teacher? Check out my video!โ€‹

Check this out:

  • Polywork: If you're a freelancer or enjoy contributing to projects try out Polywork. I've been active on there for several months and it's lead a lot of collaboration opportunities (including the Peanut article I mentioned).
  • Whisk & Wood: If you're local to Charlotte, one of my favorite bakeries has special valentine's day brownies and oh my gosh they are GOOD! Make sure you pre-order because they are small batch. Mike, I know you read this- no guesses on what you're getting for Valentine's Day. ๐Ÿ™ƒ

Til next week,

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๐Ÿ“ฃ teach your kids time management NOW
1/31/2023

"...and time goes by so slowly,

and time can do so much"

Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers

Hi there,

๐Ÿ˜ Welcome to my 7 new subscribers! I'm so glad you're here. Got a friend who would love this newsletter? They can sign up here.

Teaching children time management is a process....and when they can't even read a clock it can get really difficult. That's why I'm dedicating this newsletter to 3 simple ways to use calendars to build time management.

  1. Start Small: Children cannot handle looking at a full month. Use a large planner or print a weekly calendar like the one picture below. Work together to label schools days, home days, and any other weekly patterns like soccer practice. Over time you can expand to two weeks and a whole month.
  2. Make it meaningful: Make a special time of day to go over it. Have a discussion about what happened yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Let your kiddo cross off each day. Pick a time that makes sense (yes the evening is fine). Put events on the calendar together and color code them or use stickers.
  3. Anticipate and Explain: Now that you've built a calendar routine you can use it to explain why/how to manage their time. This is an excellent time to talk through how important it is to pack their soccer jersey in the backpack because it's a tight turnaround between school and practice. You can show them that they really need to finish their project by Monday because on Tuesday there won't be time. And with a little luck, things may go more smoothly as you they manage their schedule.

...keep an eye out on my instagram and tiktok this week for more tips on using a calendar with your kiddos!

Some Announcements:

  • Choosing the BEST School: My FREE course on choosing the BEST School for your child is live. This course is for parents looking to enroll their child in elementary school. Since you're on my email list you're the first to get access to it! โ€‹
    • psst- you can also share this special link with a friend ๐Ÿ˜Š
  • โ€‹5 simple, sweet, and cheap Valentine's Day Gifts: Check out my newest video with great gift ideas. My favorite is #4 ๐Ÿ”

Check this out:

  • Groundhog Day: This Thursday 2/2/23 marks one of my favorite goofy holidays- Groundhog Day. Check out their official site to catch the livestream and share fun facts with your kiddos.
  • Call someone you love: This past weekend my husband and I flew to Bloomington, Indiana to visit my grandparents. It was a really special trip. I'm grateful I can make more trips like that and can't wait for the next. If you've got a second- send some love to your person that's far away today. ๐Ÿ’•

Til next week,

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๐Ÿ’ต How do teachers get paid?
1/24/2023

"It's Friday night and I just got paid"

I'm the ish by DJ Class

Hey there,

I've been so immersed in the world of education, I didn't realize there was a common question on people's minds. It was submitted by an instagram follower & it came up when I was interviewed on the podcast Just Dumb Enough. They asked:

How do teachers get paid? Are they paid over the summer?

Let me start with the easy one: Are teachers paid over the summer? No. Teachers are typically salaried as 10 month employees. They get paid for 10 months of work. A standard model is to get paid September through June. This was the case when I worked in public schools in North Carolina and internationally in Vietnam.

And so how do they get paid? Well this can vary- but best case scenario is every other week, but there are some states like North Carolina and Texas do payroll once a month. You can run into issues over the holidays like this teacher did when you get your December check mid month before winter break and then go up to 7 weeks until your next check at the end of January.

But what about summer paychecks? Some districts will help teachers budget by providing smaller paychecks. For example, if you are paid once a month teachers would have a choice of 10 full paychecks or stretch it into 12 smaller paychecks.

North Carolina go rid of this option a few years ago. When I taught I had a summer savings account. I out aside a specific amount each month to create my own paychecks for the summer months.

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Some Announcements:

  • Choosing the BEST School: My free email course will be released next week. Each day you'll get an email describing a type of school. To get early access respond to this email. And if you know someone going through the school choice panic, send them my way. I'll get them on the list and answer their questions.
  • โ€‹Valentine's Day Gifts: Tomorrow my video 5 simple sweet and cheap valentine's day gifts for your teacher will premiere. You can help my premiere by visiting the page and liking the video- this helps it get more exposure ๐Ÿ™

Check this out:

  • Happy Lunar New Year: Happy Year of the...is it rabbit ๐Ÿ‡ or cat ๐Ÿˆ? The lunar new year just passed and you may have seen people celebrating both. This article explains why China is celebrating the year of the cat and Vietnam is celebrating the rabbit.
  • The 100th day of school: If your school year started un August or September the 100th day should be coming up! Here are some books to read with your kiddo to celebrate.
  • A district that gets it: I was looking up super bowl activities and came across this article from last year. Did you know Cincinnati Public Schools gave everyone the day off after the super bowl last year? Now if only we could get the day after Halloween off. ๐Ÿ˜‚ ๐Ÿˆ

Have a great week,

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Shhh...don't talk so much
1/17/2023

"If you would only listen,

you might just realize what you're missing"

Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson

Hey there,

Stop talking so much: Ok, let me explain...I was reading an article about small steps teachers can take to increase student engagement. The small step was to let students do far more talking than the teacher does. Learning to think critically and communicate takes time and lots of practice. When working with kids, we have to give them time and space to think and talk out loud.

But that's so difficult!

Yes, especially if you're like me and love to talk. Here were a few tips to let kids talk more:

  • Let them talk first
  • When you do speak model how to explain your thinking. Speak in complete sentences and explain your thought process (I used to think this...but now I know...)
  • Ask questions instead of giving directions or explaining the answer: What's the first step? How does your teacher do that? Do you see any clues?
  • Encourage them to elaborate. Show them that you want to hear more than a "yes" or "no" answer: How did that feel? What does it look like? Does it remind you of anything?
  • For more tips check out my video How do I get my kids to talk to me?โ€‹

I'll be posting some examples of this on my instagram this week.

Some Announcements:

  • I've created my first e-mail course! This course answers the number 1 question I get: What kind of school should I choose for my child? I compiled the answer from several experts to explain 6 different school styles. You'll learn about Homeschooling, Montessori, private schools, and more! I'll release the course next week, respond to this email to get on the waiting list.
  • I will be streamlining this newsletter to focus on education news and tips for this newsletter. Thank you for sticking with me as I explored various topics and layouts. Each week I will focus on an education news story or education tip. Then I'll share some announcements and things to check out. I'm always looking for feedback and ideas, just respond to this email.
  • I'm on TikTok now. I did it - yay. @PrimaryFocus Follow meโ€‹

Check this out:

  • Chestnut spread: My friend brought me home this incredible chestnut spread from France. It's a paste you spread on bread with the most delicious vanilla cinnamon taste. I'm addicted!
  • Archetypes Podcast: I have been binge listening to Meghan Markle's podcast on Spotify. She explores archetypes placed on women (diva, good wife/mother, ambitious) with incredible interviews. If you identify as a woman I think you'll be inspired. If you've got women you love, I think you'll be enlightened.
  • Keenan Anderson: You may have heard of English Teacher, Keenan Anderson's, passing at the hands of LAPD after a car accident. Here is the GoFundMe started to support his son's education. โœŠBlack Lives Matter

Have a great week,

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I'm so mad and you should be too
1/10/2023

Hello there,

I'm f*kin' pissed.

I never swear in Primary Focus and try to keep it family friendly but...it's Monday night, this newsletter should go out Tuesday, and this is the only thing on my mind. Last Friday, elementary school teacher Abby Zwerner was intentionally shot by her six year old student while teaching a lesson. She is 25. She was shot in the chest by a first grader in front of her classroom full of first graders.

I'm sitting here shaking because I used to have a class full of first graders. I can only imagine the amount of warning signs this child gave leading up to this and the amount of system failures that allowed this to happen.

She is recovering in the hospital still. Before she got help for herself, she made sure all students evacuated her room. She is a hero.

Teachers should not have to be that kind of hero.

If this fires you up, I highly encourage you to contact your local school board and representatives. You can support Abby by donating to her GoFundMe page.

I'll be back next week with something more uplifting, but until then send the teachers you know some love.

Take care,

Natalie

โ€‹Subscribe to my youtubeโ€‹

โ€‹Follow me on Instagramโ€‹

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Napping in the New Year
1/3/2023

Hey there,

Happy New Year! My husband and I had an NYE party that was a blast. We were so lucky to have friends come in from out of town to celebrate with us. We had a decades themed party and I went for a 1940s look.

Here's a few pics:

Looking back on last year- here are by top 5 videos from 2022:

#1: Are All Flamingos Pink?โ€‹

#2 My Top 3 End of Year Teacher Gift Ideasโ€‹

#3 All the Baby Farm Animalsโ€‹

#4 I resigned from teaching...a message from a teacher's broken heartโ€‹

#5 Why I Quit Teachingโ€‹

2022 was a huge year of transformation for me and I'm so honored to have you here. Thank you for subscribing and supporting me. I'm so excited to embark on my first full year outside of the classroom. It's been a joy growing Primary Focus full time.

Here's a few things making me smile:

  • ๐Ÿ“บ Modern Family: I always like to have a friendly show on deck to pair with all the intensity on TV. I started Modern Family again from season 1 and so far it's still hilarious. The writing is so clever.
  • ๐ŸŽจ Creative Mornings: Once a month creative mornings hosts an incredible program meant to uplift creatives and small business owners. I've started forming some friendships and gotten a lot of inspiration from these events. They have branches in over 200 cities- I highly recommend you go to one!
  • ๐Ÿ˜ด Rest and relaxation: If you've made it to the bottom of this newsletter, thanks for reading. January is filled with endless reminders to change everything about yourself for a "new year, new you." I want to remind you that you actually just accomplished another year in your life. If your body needs a nap- take it. The holiday season is relentless. You've got all year to make 2023 great. โค๏ธ

Take care,

Natalie

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๐ŸŽ For the Last Minute Shoppers
12/20/2022

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Here's a few things making me smile:

  • ๐Ÿˆ Pepper the cat: My sweet calico kitty has been obsessed with our Christmas tree. She stares at it, lays under it, and...eats it. She looooves the Christmas tree lights so much she has started trying to eat them. Last night I caught her staring at one for a while and then put it in her mouth. She looked sweet for just a second with her whiskers and nose lit up- but now we are on "tree watch" around the clock. ๐Ÿ˜น๐Ÿ™€
  • ๐Ÿง Nailed It (Netflix) has to be the funniest game show on tv. Basically amateur bakers are challenged to make impossibly beautiful cakes- it's a competition for the best of the worst. The results have me screaming with laughter. If you need something family friendly to watch I highly recommend it.
  • ๐ŸŽบ And a classic- I recently discovered Louis Armstrong's Christmas album and it's a treat. Make sure you listen to the end for his recording of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: playlistโ€‹

Happy Holidays,

Natalie

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Remembering Sandy Hook
12/13/2022

Hi there,

This week, I want to take some time to remember and mourn the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Tomorrow, December 14th, marks 10 years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Sandy Hook massacre happened my first year teaching, and Uvalde happened in my lastโ€” it really shook me that in 10 years so little had changed. Some districts found funding (which is already so sparse) to improve security, but the United States has struggled to make nationwide change. I am dedicating this newsletter to those that lost their lives and have been so affected by school shootings.

The events that unfolded at Sandy Hook were tragic and left a horrible mark on the idyllic image elementary schools should have. Give your loved ones a hug today, check your voter registration, and think about what you have done to help our country move forward in a safer, peaceful direction. Sending all my love, hopes, and prayers, progress, and change. โค๏ธ

Here's a few things I've enjoyed lately:

  • ๐Ÿฅง Kringles! A few years ago I started a tradition of sending Christmas Kringles to my parents and in-laws. They are a beautiful and tasty wreath shaped pastry.
  • ๐ŸŒ If you live in North Carolina, the strict school calendar laws may change- keep an eye out, this battle has been simmering in the state for a long time. Right now the law says schools must be out for the summer by June 11 and back in session no earlier than August 26. It was put in place by the tourism industry for economic reasons.
  • ๐ŸŽฅ And... I published a vlog reflecting on the first summer after I left teaching. It documents my period of reflection this past summer as I adjusted to changing careers.

Take care,

Natalie

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Growth Mindset #3: The power of yet
12/6/2022

Hi there,

This is the final installment in my series on growth mindset, this week is all about the power of yet.

  • Not yet: When you have a growth mindset, you don't fixate on what you can't do. You focus on what you're working toward. But when you're little and haven't experienced the thrill of success, you can get stuck on what you can't do. That's why they need you to...
  • Teach the power of yet: Sure they can't read...yet That's why kids need the adults in the room to teach goal setting.
  • They don't know yet: Your child may not be old enough to have actually completed anything they are proud of yet. Sure they learned to walk, but they don't remember. Maybe they know they learned to ride a bike, but they were unaware of the steps they took to accomplish that. A lot of things just happen to children. You get to show them their role in it.
  • Next time your child has a goal, document it with them. Use a journal to write their goal and 2-3 steps to accomplish it. Make sure they are measurable. If it involves practice, keep a chart too. Along the way take, photos of their progress so you can reflect once they achieve their goal.

Here's a few things that have been keeping me busy:

Wishing you a wonderful week,

Natalie

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Growth Mindset #2: What to say when...
11/29/2022

Hey there,

Last week I explained what growth mindset is, this week I'm going to explain how it benefits children. To my new subscribers (hello!), if you missed last week's you can read it here.

So why is developing a growth mindset so important for kids?

  • Glad you asked: When you have a growth mindset, you understand that it takes time, effort, and intention to develop a skill- we do not just have talent.
    • Imagine in your youth - the single best time to develop skills - you believed some kids were just born to play basketball, but you weren't. So you don't try, so you don't play, and so you go through life feeling just a little slighted that Kobe was born that way and you never stood a chance.
    • Keeping a fixed mindsets affects children's confidence because they do not believe they need to try or put effort into things. It sneaks up on us the most with high achieving children. Many are shocked the first time they don't get something the first try...and respond by giving up.
  • So what do I do?: It's not very hard to model a growth mindset, it's all in the way you speak and approach challenges. Both when you are doing something alone or experiencing a challenge together, children will mimic your approach. Here are some examples of what you can say day to day:

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  • After a while you may see your confidence grow too ๐Ÿ˜„ Next week I'll share some more examples of how to model growth mindset when your child is frustrated. If you're enjoying the series...will you share it with a friend?

Before I go, I have a few recommendations for you:

Have a great week,

Natalie

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Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset #1
11/22/2022

Hey there,

It's almost Thanksgiving and I've been feeling really thankful this year. So much has changed this year, but I have an incredible support system that's made me feel so confident through it all. Part of that support system is you- thanks for subscribing to this newsletter ๐Ÿงก

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about Growth Mindset:

  • What is Growth Mindset?: Coined by Carol Dweck, I first heard about Growth Mindset during a staff meeting. I took a quiz to find out if I had a growth or fixed mindset. I threw it into the camp of Enneagram and the Myers Briggs test: fun social psychology made to get your reflecting, but didn't mean much to me. But over the years I realized how important it is for children to develop a growth mindset. When you hear about children having grit and high self esteem it connects back to having a growth mindset.
  • Ok, but what is it?: When you have a growth mindset, it means you believe success is achieved through time and effort. You're not intimidated by failure and instead use it to reflect and regroup. You'll most often hear Growth Mindset being compared to a Fixed Mindset:
  • The impact: Once I learned about this, I realized a lot of people that I encounter with a "victim mentality" are stuck in a fixed mindset (you know- that person at work who is perpetually having a bad day). The world happens to them, and they have no control over it. Those with a growth mindset know they are an active participant in their life and are ready to make the most of it.

Next week I'll explain how to help your children develop a growth mindset. Until then, I'd love it if you shared this newsletter with a friend. They can sign up, view this issue and previous ones here.โ€‹

Happy Thanksgiving,

Natalie

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I went to a conference in a male dominated field: here's what I learned
11/15/2022

Que lo que there! (that's how Dominicans say "what's up")

Last week I went to the Dominican Republic with my husband Mike because he was presenting at the Caribbean Developer's Conference. I'd been looking forward to the trip for a long time. It was a chance to lounge by the pool and get that November tan (ok- freckles, lots of freckles). But my husband had other plans for me- since I've changed careers, he registered me and encouraged me to participate. This was my first conference in a male dominated field and outside of education; I learned that these professionals act very differently than what I am used to.

  1. They were confident: Like really confident, both in what they were good at, and in admitting what they wanted to learn more about. I often find myself trying to guess somebody's answer instead of just flat out asking them. For example instead of asking What are you doing for Thanksgiving? I might ask someone with a clumsy multiple choice: What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year, are you going to your family, or staying home, or do you even have family, do you even celebrate? Sorry for asking... So, I changed my approach to asking questions directly- I felt more confident and like the person was given a chance to answer completely.
  2. They didn't waste their time: People were friendly- and they were there to network. I saw a lot of people directly explaining they were hiring or looking for specific opportunities. If interests didn't align, they let the conversation end. It didn't seem like people were getting stuck in the small talk I sometimes politely endure. On that note- I saw a lot of people say "I don't know about ___, but let me introduce you to __ who does."
  3. They didn't talk about kids: This is probably an unfair generalization, but when women with children get together, they can talk about children nonstop. It's an easy thing if you're running low on conversation. I expected to see that, but even though the conference started right after Halloween I did not see one picture of a kid in their costume. My husband did not know if most of the people we talked with had kids (I found out because that's an essential question in discussing Primary Focus). I don't really know what to take from this because I heard plenty of small talk about other things- but it was interesting to see men do not pick their kids as the easy chit chat topic.

I'm not entirely sure if I've found some grand point to make from this- but all I can say is the conference felt very different than the way I have become accustomed to communicating. I'm looking forward to more experiences like this with my career change. Have you had observations like this?

Til next time,

Natalie

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This will get you dancing ๐Ÿ•บ
11/8/2022

How's it going there?

I've got 3 things to share with you today- let's start with the fun one

  1. Dance the night away: To my American subscribers, today is election day. I know a lot of us are caught up in the news cycle, so I want to share my Election Day Playlist.* These are upbeat, fun bops that will keep you smiling. No election news here- just good times. *I did not choose edited versions, so there will be a few to skip if you listen with the kids or at work.
  2. I've got a video premiering today! These are 3 things you should mention at your parent teacher conference. Even if they don't come up during your chat, these are things helpful to mention at some point to your child's teacher. Check it out here!

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3. A Natalie update: I got home yesterday from a trip to Punta Cana. I've travelled the world, but I had never been to the Caribbean. We didn't leave the resort, so I'm not sure I can say I've experienced it yet, but I did have a great time!๐Ÿน

I went with my husband who was there for the Caribbean Developers Conference. Mike encouraged me to participate in the conference, since I work in technology now. I'll share my thoughts on what it was like to attend a conference in a male dominated field in my next newsletter.

Ciao,

Natalie

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I didn't think this would happen only 5 months out of the classroom
11/1/2022

Hi there,

I've been doing some consulting lately. It's been interesting to work with a client to translate what they want into a product. When the founder of tailorED reached out to me, I was excited to transfer what I know from my years teaching into marketing materials and videos for her. It's been a great experience for me- and I learned a few things:

  1. Organize everything: Whether it was brainstorming, a proposal, or tracking hours worked, I had to stay very organized. This helped me work efficiently and communicate clearly.
  2. Ask a lot of questions: My favorite trick after learning new information is to summarize what was said in my own words and ask if I got it right. It gives them a chance to correct misconceptions. When you work in schools everyone is busy- so that's usually the only chance you get to ensure you got it. This time, I had my client's undivided attention. I asked a lot of questions and now I know to ask even more for our next project.
  3. Be myself: I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to laugh and joke during calls. When I taught (especially in my early years) I was more buttoned up- but now I can be myself. I think it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable- it's a lot easier to give/receive feedback when you've built a relationship.

If you're interested here's the demo for tailorED:

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Oh, and I hope you're having a wonderful autumn! Last night I went to my friend's house to hand out candy to trick or treaters. My friend shared "Pumpkin Delight Little Debbies" with us. They are hard to find (her mom shipped them from the midwest!) but wow they were good!

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Til next time,

Natalie

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My last week teaching after 10 years
10/25/2022

\Hey there,

Sharing my story has been an important part of the videos I make for Primary Focus. Today I am releasing my vlog on my last few weeks teaching. It was hard to go back and watch the footage, but I feel it is important to put out into the world. People in education typically care very deeply about their work and though we are masters of making a lot out of a little, the stakes have gotten too high. I hope you'll watch my newest vlog:

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I want to add here- this captures a really intense few weeks for me. I've taken a lot of time to invest in self care, reflection, and planning my future. I'm happy- very happy - and I can't wait to vlog about what happened next. ๐Ÿ˜Š

On a lighter note I went to see Lizzo last week and it was the best concerts I've ever been to. I love how inclusive she is- she made a sold out audience feel intimate. That was the first concert I've been to in years- so it was about damn time!

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Til next time,

Natalie

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3 Reasons Why Teachers Don't Need Merit Pay
10/18/2022

Hey there,

Merit Pay has been a looming controversy for North Carolina teachers. It's been proposed before, but now state superintendent Catherine Truitt has been pushing this as a way to overhaul the way teachers are paid in North Carolina. There is a panel studying the proposal right now. Merit pay is controversial and has lead teachers in other states to strike. As I wrote this email I tried to find articles with clear facts, but most (including this email) are laced heavily with opinion. Keep an eye on this issue, because it is not going away.

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So what's the big deal? Merit pay can mean a lot of different things, which is one of the reasons why it's so controversial. In a nutshell, a teacher would be paid based on their accomplishments. This could range from getting a master's degree to their test scores. They may need to compete with other colleagues to get their pay raise. Right now the panel is exploring a lot of options, but I'm not convinced. On the surface is sounds like a logical way to pay employees, but I have a few issues with it:

  • NC educators are not paid fairly: They already are begging for fair wages- and now they have to prove their worth? It's not appropriate to talk about merit pay until an appropriate base pay is determined. I see merit pay as a distraction to the real issue and not a solution.
  • Schools are not businesses: Schools are not for profit, so it's hard to imagine looking at students (aka PEOPLE) like they are a number. American schools are already plagued with too much testing, now if you are creating a competitive environment around tests there will be even more stress placed on students. It also leaves me wondering where teachers who don't have test scores are left. Does the music teacher get a pay raise/bonus?
  • It changes the relationship with their principal: One of the best things about a teacher's relationship with their principal is they are not in charge of their salary. It's unique and it helps build trust in a stressful workplace. Schools also run on tight budgets, down to the salaries they can afford on staff. Are they going to be put in a position where only a certain amount of staff can afford to get their bonus money?

These are my two cents...but I encourage you to keep an eye on this. I've been watching for a while and the panel is addressing concerns from teachers- we will see where this goes...

Til next time,

Natalie

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Just get to work!
10/6/2022

Hey there,

Hurricane Ian left terrible destruction across the Caribbean and the United States. Before I get into homework help, I ask you to consider donating to Save the Children. They are providing supplies such as diapers, wipes, portable cribs, and water to children and families in Florida. ๐Ÿ’š

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Lean on me: One of the biggest issues families face in homework time is whining. This can turn a simple 10 minute routine into 45 minutes of fighting and 2 excedrin ๐Ÿ˜ค. If it isn't filled with tension, then your child may suddenly act helpless like they've never been school a day in their life...you decide which is worse.

If you've gotten to this point in homework time, it will take a while to reset your child's outlook. But, if you are committed, you can get the control back in homework time.

I've got some ideas for you:

  • It starts with you ๐Ÿ‘€: You're the role model and your kiddos are watching you to see your attitude on school. Whatever you do- DO NOT TALK SMACK ABOUT THE HOMEWORK! It doesn't matter how stupid the assignment is or how frustrating the project is- if you give any indication homework sucks, your child will get full permission to fight it.
  • Stick to the routine โฑ: In a previous newsletter I mentioned making a schedule. I urge you to keep with it- treat that time like it is sacred. If you are inconsistent, you are saying the time is not valuable. Even if there is a night with no homework, build in time to study or read together. If your child is fighting it, sit down with them the entire time. Distractions can be the biggest issue during homework time- you be defense keeping distractions away while they tackle homework. ๐Ÿˆ
  • Show them how to do homework ๐Ÿ“: Not the actual work- but how to get organized. Model turning off their phone/tablet, reading their assignments page, setting up their workspace, putting a big checkmark on their list. One of the hardest parts of an ominous task is getting started- give them the skills to begin working.
  • Dangle a carrot ๐Ÿฅ•: I'm sure you're ready to speed up the process- so make homework a black and white issue. If you follow through with the consequence or reward you probably won't even have to yell.
    • No ___ until your homework is done.
    • We can ___ after your homework is done.
    • I want to give you 30 minutes to ___, but if you take too long on your homework it will cut into that time.
    • If you get your homework done without complaining for 3 nights in a row, then we can ___.
    • ...and one for you too: If I can make it through homework time without ___, then I get a big glass of ___ ๐Ÿ˜‰

I'll be taking a break from the newsletter next week, but in the meantime, you can check out my newest video on pumpkins. This one is great for older kids in upper elementary and middle school.

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Have a good rest of your week,

Natalie

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Struggling with homework? Read this!
9/27/2022

Hey there,

Homework sucks: It takes a lot of patience to sit next to a child after a long day and encourage them to independently complete something you could do in 30 seconds. I'm going to give you a few simple tips to keep your child on task and model study skills they will need for college and beyond.

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  • Make a physical checklist โœ…: This suggestion came from a follower on instagram! Start with all the assignments and books on the left, and as you complete them stack them up on the right. Every time something is done let you child say "check โœ…." There is something so satisfying about a checklist!

If you know a family that's got the homework blues, encourage them to sign up for this newsletter. Send them this link. They can sign up and view previous newsletters

See you next week!

Natalie

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Why ban books when you could ban homework?
9/20/2022

Hey there,

Now that you're settled into the school year, I'm sure the honeymoon phase has ended and homework battles are beginning. When I taught, I personally hated assigning homework, but I can't say all teachers feel the same. In fact, homework is a huge controversy in schools and each one I taught at had a different policy. The "go to" rule of thumb has become about 10 minute per grade level plus 15-20 minutes of reading. Sure that works in the lower grades, but by the time you reach 5th grade that's over an hour of homework each night!

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So how do you manage it? Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing tips on how to make homework a productive time. This week will focus on you- next week will focus on your child.

Banned Books Week: Speaking of reading- it's Banned Books Week! I'll be posting a few satirical videos about children's books that were banned over the years. First up, is why the most innocent Dr. Seuss book was banned. Click below!

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If you know a family that's got the homework blues, encourage them to sign up for this newsletter. Send them this link. They can sign up and view previous newsletters

See you next week!

Natalie

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What we should do about low test scores
9/6/2022

Hey there,

The scores are in and... You may have seen in recent headlines that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released test scores from the end of last school year with dramatic results. Test scores for kids (specifically 9 year olds) dropped to their lowest levels in decades. The world of ed news is freaking out and I'm concerned.

What's going on? Iโ€™m not concerned about the drop in scores- with effort and consistency, that can be made up. Iโ€™m more concerned about the approach taken to fix low scores. In my career, Iโ€™ve sat in countless data meetings, data dinners, data dives, and data pep rallies focused on "lifting" data. The effort to lift the data often starts with cutting the fat -- or rather, the fun -- from schools.

My concern here is we are going to quantify a unique moment in time. The push to improve test scores will take the fun out of classrooms. Thereโ€™s already too much teaching to the test and drilling in US schools. What Iโ€™m seeing from the reaction to the test results is to expect even more of the same.

That means thereโ€™s no time for the arts, the fun electives, no time for field day, or the school play, no time for extra sports or all the things that make kids feel alive and part of a community at school.

We can't let these low test scores make schools unhappy places. So many kids are already under the pressure that their worth is a number- schools need to be well-balanced places where you are more than your grades.

After all, getting straight A's doesn't mean you're automatically a good person and leading a happy life.

So what can you do? If you have a child in school or work with them, make sure they are learning balance. The children who were in school during the pandemic have had it hard enough. Of course they need a well rounded education, but they also need to be kids. As the adults in the room, it's on us to make sure these headlines don't result in stress on our next generation.

Share this newsletter with a friend! ...and let me know what you think about the test scores.

Yours in education,

Natalie

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The piglets are here! ๐Ÿฝ
8/31/2022

Hey there: Just dropping in to let you know the piglet video is up! These piglets are the reason why I ended up at A Zoo 2 You in the first place. They stole my heart ๐Ÿ’– Share with a friend and watch below!

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Share this newsletter with a friend! ...And keep an eye out for more videos from the farm- Poppy the Kinkajou will be getting her own feature next.

Yours in education,

Natalie

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Click here for baby animals! ๐Ÿท ๐Ÿฆ™ ๐Ÿฎ
8/30/2022

I've been having some fun: In July I went to A Zoo 2 You in Monroe, NC to meet their animals. They run a mobile petting zoo business so they have lots of miniature farm animals and babies that love being near people. I spent hours filming with their animals. You can go there too- they do farm tours!

Something to watch: I need to humbly tell my husband he was right in this newsletter. He told me to wear jeans and I insisted on a dress for the video. As the video goes you can see it slowly get covered in mud ๐Ÿ˜‚ At least it all washed out! Here it is below:

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Share this newsletter with a friend! ...And keep an eye out for more videos from the farm- a second one focusing on piglets will be posting very soon.

Yours in education,

Natalie

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Published & Piglets ๐Ÿท yes, you read that right
8/16/2022

What's up? I published an article! Since I was in grad school it's been a goal to publish an article on education. I must admit, I did not think it would be about leaving my job, but I'll still check this goal off anyway. Check it out here:

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For those of you that know me from my former school, I want you to know I loved working there. I try to make it clear, but there were much larger forces at play that made my job difficult. If anything, the community and PTA at my school kept me in teaching longer. I'll be thinking of you all over the next few weeks as school starts!

What else am I up to? A few weeks ago I visited a farm and soon I will have several family friendly videos out about meeting all the baby animals. Spoiler: there were 4 day old piglets- they were so sweet! I plan to visit some more attractions soon to create virtual field trip videos. Here's a sneak peek!

โ€‹https://youtube.com/shorts/PUBzElj4pIg?feature=shareโ€‹

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Can you answer a question?: I'm planning for future newsletters and I'd love your feedback. Can you fill out this short survey?โ€‹

Share this newsletter with a friend! Thanks for reading- it means a lot ๐Ÿ’•

Yours in education,

Natalie

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Ain't no hollaback girl ๐ŸŒ
8/9/2022

My apologies for the song: I've asked around and everyone suggested this song for the newsletter. Fun fact- Rachel Zoe trademarked the word bananas...so let's hope the newsletter doesn't get canceled ๐Ÿ™„

But I digress: Over the past 5 weeks, this series this newsletter explored ways to support your child with phonics. Here are links to each one:

โ€‹#1 Let's talk phonicsโ€‹

โ€‹#2 What are letter boxes?โ€‹

โ€‹#3 a, e, i, o, u and sometimes...โ€‹

โ€‹#4 ...but why is it spelled like that?โ€‹

Make phonics fun: Phonics is hard work to teach, but as your child's skills grow, it can actually be really fun. There's a whole world of word games out there ranging from rhyming games to scrabble that can get your child thinking. Here are some of my favorites (some links are affiliate links to things I love that I will earn a small commission from. There's no extra cost to you):

โญ๏ธŽ a portable spelling game easy for road trips that will have you feeling like you ain't no hollaback girl

โญ๏ธŽ a simple game for early spellers- you can upgrade to the harder version when they're ready

โญ๏ธŽ a classic game for older spellers that will get the whole family thinking

A quick survey: I'm planning for future newsletters and I'd love your feedback. Can you fill out this short survey?โ€‹

Share this newsletter with a friend! Thanks for reading- it means a lot ๐Ÿ’•

Yours in education,

Natalie

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...but why is it spelled like that?
8/2/2022

We've made it past sounding out: Teaching a child to spell starts off simple (cat, dog, etc.), but quickly gets challenging (like the word "orange" ...wtf?!). English is a language that not only has a lot of rules, but has borrowed countless words from other languages. Take words like: tofu, restaurant, lasagna, and khaki...these will leave even the finest tutor just spelling it out.

But why is is spelled like that? A lot of these words will leave learners shocked, wondering why it is spelled that way. As usual there's not a great answer...and we all know kids aren't satisfied with a vague answer ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ. You've got two options:

๐Ÿ˜Ž The easy way: Tell them "it's from another language." Every language has its own special spelling patterns. When English speakers borrowed this word, we kept the way it was spelled. This is particularly helpful to explain why names are spelled certain ways.

The easy way, pt. 2: I also have an explanation for words like "know" or "are" that do match a spelling pattern, but one that is a little odd. In these cases, I explain that English is a very old language. People used to spell and pronounce things differently. Even though most of our words make sense to spell now, there are still some that we have just kept the same from the olden days.

๐Ÿฅธ The hard way: The easy way is good and all, but what if it's on a spelling test?? Check if you can find any words spelled similarly. Like you could compare the word restaurant to sauna. That way they will have more associations with its spelling.

Have a laugh with your kiddo about the strange spelling and then get to work memorizing it. Write it, search for it, and fill in the missing letters in it (r_sta_rant). Once you think they've got it, show the word spelled three ways to see if they can pick out the correct spelling.

Before you go, I need your help: After next week I'll be moving on from phonics. I'd love to get some feedback on what you're interested in hearing about. I could do another series like this or keep topics changing week by week. Respond to this email with what you do or do not want to read. Thanks! ๐ŸŽ

Share this newsletter with a friend! Just send them this link: https://newsletter.primaryfocus.tv/โ€‹

I'll be back next week with the final edition of my series on phonics!

Yours in education,

Natalie

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a, e, i, o, u and sometimes...
7/26/2022

Oh yes, vowels: The way we pronounce vowels can change the meaning of a word (bow ๐ŸŽ€ vs bow ๐Ÿ™‡โ€โ™‚๏ธ) and create accents and dialects. As a fluent speaker of Mid Atlantic English, California English, and Southern English my husband can always tell who I'm on the phone with based on a few changes in vowel pronunciation.

Vowels take time: While these five little letters a, e, i, o, u (cue a 2nd grader screaming "and sometimes y!") may seem straight forward, they often take the longest time to teach and learn. Consider this: children should know their letters confidently by the end of kindergarten, but they will continue to learn new vowel sounds and spelling patterns through second grade.

In my experience, children that speak multiple languages struggle the most with vowels since their sounds vary so much. Even if they speak fairly fluently, spelling with the correct vowels will take time.

Ok but why?: Consonant sounds are created using your whole mouth, teeth, lips, and tongue. To make the "f" sound you need to touch your teeth to your lips. To make the "l" sound you need to touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth. To make vowel sounds, you just open your mouth and let the sound come out (I bet you're making those sounds right now).

Sure it's simple, but if you aren't making the sound correctly, heard it wrong, or have an accent it can be hard to correct. It really takes practice, memorization, and a grasp of the language to master vowel sounds.

How can we practice? (some links are affiliate links to things I love that I will earn a small commission from. There's no extra cost to you)

โญ๏ธŽ This puzzle will get your child thinking critically about vowel sounds

โญ๏ธŽ I had a spelling flip book like this in my classroom. Kids love it and will be delighted with the real and nonsense words they can create.

โญ๏ธŽ Practice filling in the missing vowel in words. You can try this in my packet on spelling CVC words!

โญ๏ธŽ And finally my favorite song about the long and short vowel sounds- it's so mellow

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Did you learn something new? I'd love it if you would forward this to a friend!

I'll be back next week with part 4 of my five part series on phonics!

Yours in education,

Natalie

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Let's talk phonics...
7/12/2022

This is email 1 of 5 in my series on phonics: Over the next 5 weeks I'll share a series on phonics in this newsletter. It will have tips for those working with kids and plenty of fun facts for those following along to support (hi mom!)

Let's talk phonics: Phonics simply means the method used to teach reading and writing. It's for languages with an alphabet- like English and it's not for the faint of heart.

We're all just making it up as we go...seriously look up Deseret Image: Rain Noeโ€‹

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Why?: Well, reading and writing is complicated! It's freaking hard to explain it and there is so much to learn.

Educators are still arguing about the best approach and youโ€™ll probably observe many abrupt changes over the years (especially with testing). Don't get caught up in that though! If you commit as a family to prioritize school you can take on anything...even phonics ๐Ÿ˜œ

How can I help?: Phonics is taught most heavily in Preschool to 2nd grade, then it tapers off. It's essential that a child has help outside of school to succeed. The good news is, reinforcing it doesn't have to be hard:

โญ๏ธŽ Read together. Every Day. Period.

โญ๏ธŽ When you teach the alphabet focus more on the letter's sound than its name. Say: W says /w/ like in walrus instead of Walrus starts with letter W. Watch more alphabet tips here!

โญ๏ธŽ Build writing into your routine- the more comfortable your kiddo is with writing, the easier it will become. Family journals are a really fun way to keep up with it. Here's a video on how to do it.

Share this newsletter with a friend and ask if they've signed up for my email list.

I'll be back next week with tips on how to spell using letter boxes!

Yours in education,

Natalie

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A new beginning
6/28/2022

I resigned: Until recently, I thought I would teach for my entire career. I felt sad and defeated as I packed up my classroom, but I knew "it's about damn time."

Why? There's a lot of reasons, but a big one is- at some point I stopped getting to teach. More and more responsibilities were getting piled on me and my colleagues. Endless testing, data input, surveys, meetings, and trainings filled up my to do list. I didn't have time to plan or prepare for lessons. Instead everything was about completing a bottom line for someone, somewhere in an office that needed to have a meeting about it. Teachers have limited time without students during the day- I had 15 minutes before and after school daily, and less than 3 hours a week of planning time. To avoid working endlessly outside of work hours I had to cut corners on the very reason why I was at work: teaching.

I'm passionate about what I do, and at some point I realized the joy had been taken out of my job. I'm not so far in that I can quietly countdown the years til retirement- carrying on meant committing to this joyless busy work for 10-20 more years. I realized to survive I would have to stop caring... and how does that even work when you're in the business of caring?

So what's next?: Well... this- I'm going to be expanding Primary Focus into my full time business. Here's some things to look forward to:

โญ๏ธŽ More videos! If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them (respond to this email!). My 3 main focuses are videos for parents/teachers to watch, videos to watch with kids, and videos with some "Perso-Natalie" that are about me ๐Ÿ˜‰

โญ๏ธŽ Selling teaching resources on my blog & TeachersPayTeachersโ€‹

โญ๏ธŽ Expanding my blog and publishing on education websites

I'm planning a lot, but I'm also giving myself time to rest and reflect. It's heartbreaking to leave something I love so much, but I hope I can leave education better than I found it. You can hear my thoughts on it with my newest video here:

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Share this video with a friend and ask if they've signed up for my email list. It's the easiest way to support me.

I'll be back in your inbox soon with more updates on videos, teaching tips, materials for your kids, and education news.

Yours in education,

Natalie

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No more negotiating!
6/21/2022

No Means No: I think TLC had it right when they wrote No Scrubs- there is nothing more annoying than someone who just can't take a hint! ๐Ÿ˜ค Unfortunately for parents and educators, we are the ones who have to teach kids when to stop trying and accept no for an answer.

The problem is, that puts us in the position of saying no and enforcing the boundary. When I first started teaching that was very hard for me. It made me feel like I was being mean to kids. I was also completely inconsistent. I'd say yes to one kid and no to another. Crying and whining made me feel bad, so I'd change my mind. My classroom became unruly, and the kids had the upper hand as they quickly learned how to manipulate me. ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ

I got some golden advice from my teacher coach that changed everything:

โญ๏ธŽ say what you mean and mean what you say! following through is everything

โญ๏ธŽ no matter how much kids push back, classrooms/homes with consistent rules and procedures are comfortable places to be...the other option is chaos ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

โญ๏ธŽ anticipate problems so you can stay calm in the moment- consider meaningful consequences ahead of time so you can handle issues swiftly

...what are meaningful consequences?

watch my newest video to find out!

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Share this video with a friend that could use a little help with their teacher stare- it works wonders on kids!

I'll be back in your inbox soon with more updates on videos, teaching tips, materials for your kids, and education news.

Yours in education,

Natalie

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Hey- it's Miss Natalie!
6/14/2022

Summer Slide: During those hot summer days, all your child's progress this year can be drifting away...that's what Sandy and Danny were singing about in Grease right?

Summer slide sucks and it happens to all kids. Imagine the school year is a ladder. They spend all year building up knowledge and skills climbing up it. Once school is out, many children will "slide" back down the ladder. The average child will lose 2-3 months of learning and some lose even more.

A child's brain goes through a process called pruning. Just like you would prune a bush, their brain snips off information not being used. That's right- when it comes to the child's brain it's use it or lose it!

The good news is, you can take easy steps to help your child retain their knowledge. Commit to reading, reviewing, and critical thinking this summer.

I challenge you to:

๐ŸŒด read every day (look for your library's summer reading program and Barnes & Noble has one too)

๐ŸŒด Review a little daily- 5-10 minutes with flashcards is all you need

๐ŸŒด Pick out educational camps and visit museums, historical sites, and parks. These interactive experiences will have education built in!

My favorite products to help you commit to learning every day:

๐ŸŒด Brain Quest Summer Workbooksโ€‹

๐ŸŒด Summer Bridge Workbooksโ€‹

๐ŸŒด Nat Geo Kids Triviaโ€‹

You can also use some of my videos to review:

Here's my playlist of videos to teach math at home. It includes 4 subitizing games!

Here are some tips on how to get the most out of long road trips and wait time this summer:

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And finally my favorite- how to keep a summer journal the whole family can write in:

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Thanks for subscribing to my email list. This was my very first one ๐Ÿ˜„

I'll be back in your inbox soon with more updates on videos, teaching tips, materials for your kids, and education news.

Yours in education,

Natalie

โ€‹Subscribe to my youtubeโ€‹

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