The Chalk Blog

Barb Istas

Recent Posts

Teachers and Books - Read ‘Em and Reap!

Great "curl-up-next-to-the-fireplace" book ideas

Hey, topnotch teachers! Whatcha reading on the sidelines these days? Reading for pleasure in my free time? What’s free time anyway? Is there such a thing -  and if so, why don’t I have some?  

Research tells us we must offer students choice for independent reading and teach them self-selection skills so they’re able to find and finish books they love and learn from. But, that’s a whole other course 5040: Increasing Comprehension with Close Reading in Your Classroom - or two 5009: Reading Instruction for the Head and Heart.

This blog post is really for you, teachers. Educators trying to practice what they preach will read books for both pleasure and learning. So, what are you reading right now?  Besides the read aloud or novel you are teaching or re-teaching, what are you reading for your own enjoyment or benefit? 

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Topics: Teaching Excellence, Literacy

Refresh with Walk & Talks [VIDEO]

Sparking Student Engagement

A lull in learning is never fun - refresh your students with this movement activity! Even though November can be a bit chilly in some states, especially Minnesota where Learners Edge is located, you can still find ways to incorporate the walk and talk. Perhaps taking a walk through the halls of your school or a lap around the gym will be just enough movement to spark student engagement! 

Barb - Refresh With Walk & Talks
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Topics: Teaching Wellness & Inspiration, Instructional Strategies, Video

Practice Writing with Daily Pages [VIDEO]

Building Writing Confidence in Your Students

Are you struggling to get students to write with confidence? Maybe they need an extra boost! Check out these awesome tips from our Curriculum and Instruction team member, Barb. She'll convince you to try Daily Pages in less than 2 minutes...

Barb - Practice Writing with Daily Pages
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Topics: Teaching Excellence, Video, Educator Coaching

How to Get the Most Out of Professional Development Days

3 cheers for PD days - precious time to build your teaching toolkit!

At Learners Edge, my team is full of professional development super fans. Granted, it’s our job - but we do consider ourselves lucky to actually believe in what we practice and preach. We’re also tuned-in to teaching enough to know that professional development (PD) opportunities are usually viewed from one of two lenses: 

  1. Love it.
  2. Hate it. 

PD is a necessary opportunity to focus on your instructional practice and consider new ideas for implementation. With the goal of supporting students and yourself, every educator has a million outcomes to meet!  It’s daunting, to say the least, but PD can be the key. So instead of preaching to the choir - I say we lift up the naysayers and the PD pessimists, to see if we can encourage a slight shift in mindset for the next round of required learning. And in order to truly reach the intended audience, I’ll keep it short and sweet!  Here are some insights on how to make the most of your next PD Day!

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Topics: Teaching Excellence, "personalized professional development", educator wellness

How to Make a Parent Phone Call

The parent phone call can often be a scary and intimidating situation for even the most experienced teacher. Below is a sample script designed to help make the most of the precious few minutes you have on the phone with parents, covering key concerns and communicating effectively.

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Topics: Teaching Excellence, educator wellness, Parents

Substitute Teachers aka Super Subs to the Rescue

Whom do we turn to when we’re called out of the classroom? When the flu attacks or someone in our family needs us near, whom do we call to cover our teaching responsibilities?  When we’re lucky enough to attend a professional training or workshop, how do we keep our daily instruction on pace?  We call a substitute teacher, a super-sub, of course!   

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Topics: Teaching Excellence, Substitute Teachers

Nonverbal Communication in the Classroom

What You Don't Say Makes a Difference

As a Learners Edge Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, I’m constantly prompted to reflect on my classroom teaching career. And, I’m very happy to report, the low moments fade from memory and you get to keep the joy and carry it with you forever. How great is that? 

One of my most powerful teaching and learning memories is from a two-day workshop I attended on nonverbal communication in the classroom. I believe it’s true - when the student is ready, the teacher appears! This learning opportunity transformed my teaching. I shared my learning with colleagues and mentees over the years - whenever I had the chance. Today, if I could look you in the eye, stand by your side, and nod my head, you would feel the positive energy I still feel toward nonverbal communication! 

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Topics: Teaching Advice

Creating Parent Connections

Introductions Matter

Relationships are built on communication and start with a warm and welcoming “Hello!” Classroom teachers have a special responsibility to build positive working relationships with parents, guardians, and families of each student on their roster. Research proves the power of first impressions and common sense supports the importance of this teaching and learning goal. However you choose to send out that first greeting -  with intention and a little bit of effort, it will pay off - for students, families, and you, the teacher!

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Topics: Teaching Advice, Parents

Avoiding August Anxiety

How to Avoid Letting Anxiety Get the Best of You!

It’s August, teachers. These three words summon fear of future school days ahead for many educators. Dreams of teaching duties interrupt summer slumber. For countless rational (and irrational) reasons, this third month of summer rings a familiar bell that often rolls out the red carpet for August anxiety. Ugh. Sigh. Panic and despair. Educators are becoming well-trained to identify and intervene with student anxiety, but unfortunately anxiety targets teachers, too.    

Let’s take a breath together and consider these questions:  How does anxiety meet and greet you every August? What can you do to avoid August anxiety? 

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Topics: Teaching Wellness & Inspiration, anxiety

STEM, Middle School, and Girl Power: An Interview with Ms. Lauren Wester


Anyone who’s ever worked in a middle school or raised an adolescent, will nod and smile when Lauren Wester says her middle school-age students make her laugh every day. “There isn't a day that goes by without a student saying or doing something that cracks me up,” she claims, adding, “I also feel like they are in this magical in between; their brains are developed enough to understand jokes or sarcasm, but still open to and reliant upon adult help. It feels like I’m truly helping shape them.” 

Ms. Wester teaches 7th grade life science and 9th grade forensic science in a large suburban school district. Her teaching targets range from fun and focused learning to serious life skills that reach beyond the classroom out into the community and global society. 

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Topics: STEAM/STEM, Gender Differences

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