Updated: Apr 30
We started Bluebird Teaching with a simple idea about providing teachers a combination of teacher tools and a professional community for authentic self-care as well as integrated, self-directed professional development.
Two years and a lot of learning later, our launch day has finally arrived! I want all Bluebird Teaching members to thrive because of becoming part of our community, so I offer these best practices to help you get the most from your Bluebird Teaching experience.
1 - Bookmark Bluebird Teaching as soon as you join. Better yet, keep the app.bluebirdteaching.com tab open and integrate Bluebird Teaching into your daily practice.
As a new user, I recommend that you tag and store your teaching materials daily. Set aside a few minutes at the end of the day to upload the day’s materials to your “My Files” storage. As you work on your upcoming lesson plans, browse through “Discover” for inspiration and then save useful shared materials to your files. Check in to the “Connect” space to ask a question, to help another teacher with an answer, or to join a Group or Topic discussion.
2 - Take Time to Tag Now — Save Tons of Time Tomorrow (Besides, tagging is fun!)
As I said in number 1 above, it’s a best practice to tag and store teaching materials daily. Be aware that, at first, tagging may take a bit longer because the system is new to you. As you become more and more familiar with the process, you will find tagging takes very little time compared to the time it takes to find files using traditional online (or paper) folders. Once your materials are tagged, finding them takes literally seconds.
Be sure to tag materials purposefully. If you use a material for more than one grade level, set tags for all applicable levels so the material will appear in searches where you are filtering by a single grade level. Pay close attention to key words -- get creative and think about categories that you might want to have that material be part of when you do searches. This is even more important for shared materials; help other members find your shared material by providing as many key words as possible. The same is true for material type. You may want a material to appear when you are searching through your graphic organizers and also if you are searching homework or learning strategies. Remember that you can always change or update your tags at any time.
I used to waste so much of my most precious resource — time — looking for my materials. A couple of times, colleagues asked me to share something with them during lunch or planning. Knowing they were waiting for me and needed some help made it even harder to find what I needed, and it was so frustrating. Now I just choose a filter (tags when you store become filters when you search) and find what I need in an instant. Plus, using tags and filters makes me feel like I am shopping on my favorite shoe website!
3 - Share as Much, and as Often as You Can
As teachers, we help each other all the time by sharing our ideas and materials with colleagues. We depend on each other. Bluebird Teaching members share this same commitment, so we encourage members to choose to share as many materials as they can as an act of helping each other thrive. We never pressure members to share, we just say that sharing materials with the community is a good practice, a good feeling — and good karma!
As we developed and shared the platform with colleagues for feedback, several reached out to me directly to express concern about how their materials were not “fancy,” or “colorful.” They were worried that they might not be as good as other materials shared on the site. I want to allay this concern right here and right now: materials that work well in the classroom to help kids learn and grow are the focus — appearance is secondary.
I am willing to admit, most of my materials are rather plain. What sparkles and shines is what happens in the lived curriculum of the classroom. Of course, the materials are important, but they are only a part of the learning experience: we laugh, we move the furniture, we go in and out of groups, we discuss ways to solve problems, we participate in authentic discussions and activities. What happens among the members of the classroom is the key to success. The materials are not the master — the instructional expert is!
That is why, based on our colleagues’ feedback, we developed the Suggestions for Use feature. Which leads me to best practice number four...
4 - Complete the “Suggestions for Use” When Sharing Materials
When you generously choose to share a material, regardless of how it “looks,” you can add a few words in the Suggestions for Use space to capture what you did with the material that made it a useful part of your instruction. It takes a moment, but it’s a really good feeling to know you’re helping someone else have the kinds of teaching experiences we all strive for. And when you add your Suggestions for Use, rest assured some else is adding the same for you when you browse their shared materials!
An example is a very plain-looking assignment/organizer I have shared to go along with the novel, “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. The assignment is to create vignettes inspired by personal experiences in the style of Cisneros. That’s it – just instructions. But my Suggestions for Use describe how we turned those vignettes into actual books designed by my students and showcased during a daylong “Book Signing Event” to which parents and administrators were invited along with students in each class period. Each participant was given sticky notes for writing and attaching positive comments to the student-created books on display all over the room. Students were so motivated by preparing for this event, the work was amazing, and the pride on students faces as they read their sticky note comments was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. You won’t see that on the assignment, but you will see the potential after reading my Suggestions for Use.
So, share away and add those Suggestions for Use whenever you want to showcase the sparkle! Materials that are downloaded can be adapted, and even decorated, by the new user without changing the original, so don’t hold back!
5 - Connect with Members on our Dedicated Bluebird Teaching Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn Spaces
Bluebird Teaching is all about strong connections among community members. There are so many things to do in our social media spaces. You can join discussions, seek advice, and get answers to questions that are specific to your needs. You can ask for materials you need that are not yet available in "Discover." You can also find teachers interested in ongoing collaboration on lesson plans, classroom activities, or online projects — the possibilities are limited only by your imagination! Jump right in on topics that you care about to exchange ideas and wisdom in a productive way that helps everyone grow. And don't forget to share some smiles and laugh a little along the way!
Make it a habit to Connect with Bluebird Teaching members on our social media spaces least once daily as a well-deserved way to relax. Get inspired and respond to member posts so we can get to know each other. Share compliments on materials you’ve downloaded, ask general questions, and share wisdom with the entire membership. The possibilities are endless. And please be sure to share us on your page!
You are also welcome to announce materials you have just uploaded and shared: What high school English teacher wouldn’t want to know that a poetry writing guide has just become available? What math teacher wouldn’t be happy to see that a problem-solving anchor chart is now available? You can also ask for materials you need. Because we are newly launched, our materials base needs time to grow. Why not post a request and see if a member has something they are willing to share? This community is all about supporting one another, so asking for help is expected and encouraged. You can also seek collaborators in the general space as well as Collaboration Central if you have a one-time request.
The focus of Bluebird Teaching is on creating a space where members know they are “seen,” valued, and cared for. There’s so much emphasis on self-care these days (sadly, much of it lip service), but maybe the real key to self-care is having access to a caring community that shares with one another. None of us is alone as a member of Bluebird Teaching.
I do hope these five best practices have inspired you to use the site and socials daily in ways that help you save your time and stress. Let’s get together and have some fun!