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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Edutopia's Most Popular Posts of 2015

Betty Ray

Director of Programming and Innovation
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The words "Best of" are in red text within a white circle against a red backdrop.

It's Thanksgiving morning, and I'm riding the BART train to meet my extended family, warm pumpkin pie in hand. The train car is deserted, save for one young teacher I'll call Jane talking loudly on her cell phone about ten rows in front of me. It quickly becomes apparent that she is talking about a particularly difficult student.

"He wouldn't stop interrupting me, and then his friends started joining in. I freaked out and lost my temper and sent them all to the office." Jane lets out a long sigh. "Happy <expletive> Thanksgiving."

Her friend is obviously trying to comfort her on the other end of the phone.

"I can’t do this," Jane says after a while, tears rolling down her face. "I am just a <expletive> teacher. It doesn't matter how much I want to teach, or how much I love my kids. I can't do it."

My heart breaks listening to her hopelessness. I don't know what kind of teacher this young woman is, but clearly she cares. A lot.

"I should go talk to her," I think. My train stop is fast approaching, and I am clenched with doubt. What will I say? I don't want to be that creepy lady on the BART train, awkwardly inserting myself into some random stranger's distressing phone call. And what if she is a narcissistic drama queen who should be as far away from kids as possible?

I pull a grocery receipt out of my bag and scrawl on the back, "Check out edutopia.org, awesome supportive community of teachers + resources." As I walk to the door, I drop the paper on to the seat next to hers. She's staring out the window and listening intently to her friend. She doesn't notice me, and I can only hope that she notices the receipt sometime after I'm gone.

Flash forward to Monday morning after the holiday. I'm back in the office, and I pull Edutopia's top ten most popular posts in 2015 in preparation to write this post. And what do you know? There on the page is evidence that the young woman on BART has the same story as millions of others. The most popular posts -- pages with hundreds of thousands of views -- are not about instruction, or planning, or assessment (well, actually, there is one about assessment). They're written by educators for educators about how to be more grounded, more capable, and wiser. They include tips on how to take better care of yourself, how to own your own power, how to assess more wisely, and how to help kids that are especially difficult to reach.

So, to Jane, the young teacher in the black puffy vest on the northbound Richmond train on Thanksgiving morning, and to anyone else who is losing hope as we plunge into holiday madness, we offer these top ten posts of 2015. They offer practical, meaningful, and teacher-tested solutions for having an impact on your students while taking care of yourself.

It’s not hopeless. It's hard, yes, but not hopeless.

10. Energy and Calm: Brain Breaks and Focused Attention

Neuroscientists know that brains really hate boredom. This post outlines 16 simple tips to keep your brain (and your students' brains!) engaged throughout the day.

9. Homework vs. No Homework Is the Wrong Question

The homework debate is a contentious one, but Maurice Elias from Rutgers suggests that it's not homework per se, but the type of homework that separates the good work from the busywork.

8. Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff

There’s a lot of buzz about helping students develop a growth mindset -- but what happens when we bring the idea of growth mindset into the faculty room?

7. Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves

It's easy to give up on unmotivated students, but Larry Ferlazzo's teacher-tested techniques help students generate their own connections and discover the relevance of course material to their own lives.

6. Motivating the Unmotivated

This young innovator helps unmotivated elementary and middle school students by pairing them with motivated high-school mentors who share similar interests, creating an awesome win-win.

5. 5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessment Tools

Test scores should never be a surprise. To understand how students are doing, you don't have to be a mind reader. You just need a formative assessment toolbox filled with strategies like the ones Vicki Davis suggests.

4. Sometimes Misbehavior Is Not What It Seems

In this post, you'll find four surprising alternatives to standard-issue misbehavior, plus tips for engaging kids differently to help defuse disruptive moods.

3. The 8 Minutes That Matter Most

How do you craft your lessons? See how one teacher has optimized his instruction to activate prior knowledge in the first four minutes, and check for understanding in the last four.

2. The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to Be a Great Teacher

Teaching is so much more than credentials, critical thinking, and content knowledge. While those qualities are important, this post outlines six qualities of the "teacher heart" that separate the good from the great.

1. 13 Common Sayings to Avoid

This rock star was our number one most popular post for 2015 and it's easy to see why. Richard Curwin critiques common expressions, and offers better, more effective, and student-centered responses.

Are there other Edutopia resources that you have found especially helpful this year? Please share them in the comments.

We wish you the best this holiday season!

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