Work From Home – office set up #WFH #WorkFromHome

I’ve been teaching for 15 years now. As a teacher there are some things that I thought were definitely off the table for me in my career. One was travel perks. You hear about friends in other careers being sent to very cool places for conferences, meetings, etc for work. Education being under provincial government oversight is always tight on finances & trips to far off, exotic places just don’t happen (with the exception of teachers organising student trips where the student costs then pay for the teachers accompanying them). Although I did once get to supervise a student attending a conference in St John’s Newfoundland & that was pretty awesome as I’d always wanted to go! Another perk of some folks’ jobs is the ability to work from home some or all of the time. I always knew this just wasn’t in the cards for me as a teacher. We used to joke about how they should call more snow days and we can all just hop online & teach from home – joking, because we knew it would never happen.

Until it sort of did.

Not snow days. But a pandemic!

On March 13th 2020, we were all sent home from school at day’s end & told to bring home our things as it was unsure when we would return to school. And then we spent several weeks trying to set up some semblance of a virtual classroom for our students so that we could complete the semester teaching from home.

That whole spring I worked from my armchair or our couch … for 3+ months:

We went back to school in person in September, but by January were once again sent home to teach from home again. I started a new audiobook that month; Atomic Habits. One of the chapters reminded me of the importance of location cues and of separating work and relaxation space in the home. I’d been doing all my “work from home” hours in my armchair in the upstairs living room (my husband uses the downstairs kitchen table as his workspace). But I had noticed my relaxation time and my work time bleeding into each other which was not ideal. So I did some online shopping & a curbside pickup of a folding TV table. I set it up in the loft where I work out.

What a difference to make a dedicated space in the house to be “my office” that when I sit there it means my work day has started. And when I leave that space, and go down to relax in my armchair, my body & mind don’t keep thinking it’s work time. That worked well for the rest of January & then we returned to school again in person.

Fast forward to April, with our postponed March Break – now spring break, and the announcement came that we would be working from home after the break for an undetermined length of time. I’ve been busy giving presentations to classes about research skills as they start their 4th quadmester courses. And I shared this photo of my set up in a tweet and I got some great photo replies from other teachers with their setup:

Then a few came in with standing desk options:

That second one in particular got me thinking could I also create a standing desk? At work I often use the desktop computer at the checkout desk of the library. It’s right by the library doors so I get to see & chat with colleagues (and students when they’re allowed in to the library in non-pandemic times) as they come & go. It’s a tall standing desk. I have definitely noticed how poorly my body feels after a day of sitting at my home desk that I was using. Especially since the futon I sit on has an angled seat that is a bit awkward to use in conjunction with a desk.

So I grabbed two coffee tables we had, stacked them up, and made a standing desk in our loft! It doesn’t have the advantage of easily folding & storing away like my TV table desk did so my workout space is a bit more cramped. But I am very happy to be spending more time standing than sitting now:

This setup might be the winner that takes me right through the end of June as the Ottawa area case numbers are still so much higher than when they brought us back in February that I can’t see them having us return to school this year 😦 I’m wondering how I’ll fare up there in the loft when those hot June days start rolling in? We do not have air conditioning! But we do have a lake to swim in!

So, what does your work from home setup look like? I’d love to see! Leave a comment below or reply to one of the tweets in this post!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

🚽 #LearningInTheLoo: Getting to Know you Questions

Last week someone on Twitter was asking around for a list of “getting to know you” questions and my blog post on the topic was shared in response. It occured to me that it would make a good learning in the loo poster as I’ve noticed how quiet classes are this year w/ the cohorting resulting in smaller class sizes each day and the fact that students have to sit far apart (social distancing). A daily getting to know you question breaks the ice and gets everyone talking, sharing and learning about their classmates. I’m the first one to say I hate icebreaker activities, but this routine done at the start of every class is something I love. In small classes like we currently have I tend to do this as a full class activity where each of shares our answer out loud to the whole class. When I have bigger classes, this is done in small, visibly random, groups of 3.

As always, all my past editions (including this one) of Learning in the Loo can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Reading List & Bookmark: Beyond Black History Month #TLchat

Earlier this year someone (but can’t remember who) shared a link to my school board’s list of equity & diversity resources & supports. It includes a list of books, many of which were already on my radar for me to read as I engage in anti-racism learning. My goal is to get a copy of each for our school library shelf. In the meantime I thought rather than simply email out the list to colleagues, that I could turn it into a bookmark.

So here it is: a bookmark I titled Beyond Black History Month Reading List & put one in every staff member’s mailbox in the main office:

The list (source):

  • me and white supremacy
    by Layla Saad
  • White fragility:
    Why It’s so hard for White People to Talk About Racism
    by Robin DiAngelo 
  • Between the World and Me
    by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • This Book Is Anti-Racist:
    20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action And Do the Work
    by Tiffany Jewell
  • My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies
    by Resmaa Menakem
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
    by Beverly Tatum
  • Dying of Whiteness:
    How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland
    by Jonathan M. Metzl
  • Sister Outsider:
    Essays and Speeches
    by Audre Lorde
  • White Like Me:
    Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son
    by Tim Wise
  • The New Jim Crow:
    Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
    by Michelle Alexander
  • So You Want To Talk About Race
    by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The Skin We’re In:
    A Year of Black Resistance and Power
    by Desmond Cole
  • How to Be an Antiracist
    by Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Rage:
    The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
    by Carol Anderson

Have you read any of these? What did you learn from them?
Do you have a must-read book on the topic you’d like to suggest? Let me know in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Saving Messages of Thanks for a Rainy Day (or Interview)

When I first started teaching I would get handwritten thank-you messages and cards from time to time. I kept them in a portfolio binder so I wouldn’t lose them & could look back at them. I tried to find that portfolio today & couldn’t. It’s around somewhere but not sure exactly where. And when I got email messages that were complimentary I would often print them out & put them in that binder.

But most of the messages I’d like to save these days are digital. Either email messages from students, parents and colleagues, or twitter messages. So I thought I would share what I do to save these messages. They can be great to look back at when you’ve had a bad day, to remind yourself that you are a great educator and you are making a difference in people’s lives!


Yesterday I had to contact students on spare with a password reset from the board. A mundane email I sent out. One of the students is someone I’ve taught in past years and she responded with this lovely little boost:

A small thing maybe, but it put a smile on my face! Worth saving because it made me feel appreciated. Also as a portfolio item to show evidence of my overall student communication work.

So I use labels in Gmail. I created a label titled “portfolio” and put anything in there that says nice things about my teaching and work. Anything I may want to reread later to give myself a boost and/or show to someone in a hiring process.

You know when former students email you out of the blue? Those are always awesome. I got this one to start this school year & so I labelled it as “portfolio” in my Gmail.

It is so awesome to look back through all the messages in this folder. I’m not everyone’s favourite teacher, but I have made a difference for some of my students and reminders of this help me keep my passion and determination to keep doing this job better every year!

You could use this method to save physical messages in cards too. Take a photo of the message you want to save (for example a handwritten thank-you card) and attach to an email that you send to yourself. Then open that email & tag it with your portfolio label (or whatever you decide to call it).


Since I am active on Twitter, I will sometimes get messages thanking me for PD I’ve hosted or that serve as evidence of PD or work I’ve done. I use the “like” feature in Twitter to archive these in one spot.

For example, after running a Twitter book club for the Thinking Classroom book every Monday this winter I got some lovely messages of thanks worth saving:

Sometimes we blog, but don’t know who’s reading & what they take away from it. So a message like this one is encouraging:

And sometimes I use it just to save a moment from my career:

You can see what I’ve “saved” to my Twitter Likes here. Sometimes I hit the like button by accident on a tweet, so if there’s something in there that doesn’t seem like it fits, that’s probably why.

How do you archive lovely messages of support & appreciation from your students, their parents and your colleagues? Let me know in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

🚽 #LearningInTheLoo: Photocopier Fitness

It’s easy to say we don’t have time to exercise. But we all have 30 seconds here and there throughout our day. Try doing 10 or 20 reps of one of these exercises the next time you’re waiting for:

  • your copies to print
  • the staff bathroom to be free
  • your lunch to heat up in the microwave
  • the bus to arrive 
  • the bell to ring
  • students to arrive

What other exercise moves do you love to insert throughout your day?

This edition inspired by Eugene Lee (our model). Thanks Euge!

As always, all my past editions (including this one) of Learning in the Loo can be found here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Learning Skills & End of Course Reflections #OntEd

Here in Ontario we have to report on learning skills at report card time. And even more so when virtual compared to face to face, some of the things we’re meant to assess in learning skills are not always visible to me. So I like to ask my students to complete a self-reflection about their learning skills in my class using a rubric I created years back from the growing success document.

Here are the learning skills criteria outlined in Growing Success (page 17):

So I took that doc and created a rubric with the 4 levels of achievement students see for learning skills on their report card; Excellent, Good, Satisfactory & Needs Improvement.

I ask students to read it over and choose one description for row that best describes their work habits in our course. This is useful feedback to me because sometimes I don’t realise, for example, how much help a student is seeking outside of class time to persevere with the course material (tutoring, homework club, etc.).

Then on the back (I do this as a paper task when we’re face to face for in-school instruction) I ask students to review their evidence record that I’ve emailed them and tell me what level they think they’re currently achieving in the course, as well as which expectations are strong or weak:

This accomplishes a few things:

  • Allows me to see how accurately the student understands their level of achievement in the course thus far. When a student sitting around a 1- tells me they think they’re getting a level 3, then I know I need to have a conversation with that student where we look over their evidence record together to clarify what it’s telling us.
  • Asking them to identify the curriculum expectations where they have not yet demonstrated a passing level of achievement ensures they recognize the gaps they need to fill in their evidence of learning before the end of the course (redo assignments or propose another way to show me evidence of their learning).
  • Identifying their strengths & weaknesses by curriculum expectation can help me when writing up their report card comments as we are asked to provide one comment about their strength, one about a weakness, and one for next steps. I’m not a fan of the comment bank provided to us (it’s still based on the categories in the achievement chart instead of the curriculum expectations) so I choose to write my own comments (using very similar wording to those in our comment bank) that are based on the curriculum expectations since we have transitioned to grading by curriculum expectations (aka. standards-based grading).

The last section asks students to reflect on certain aspects of the course that help provide me with feedback for the next semester (or quadmester now). These can obviously be adapted to match the work done in your class as well as the criteria you’re interested to get feedback on:

When we teach face to face I print this document up on legal size paper & give one to each student to fill out & write their name at the top. When virtual I assign it in Google Classroom choosing to make a copy for each student which automatically puts their name in the title. If you want anonymous feedback for that last part to ensure they’re willing to give you the honest goods, you can turn that last set of questions into a Google Form that doesn’t collect identifying info instead.

As always, here’s the whole document (the virtual teaching version – find the face to face version in the Version History) so you can make a copy & edit as you see fit. Are there reflection questions you love asking at the end of a course that you don’t see here? I’d love to hear what they are in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Annual Reading Challenge List – 2021 #TLchat

Our 5th annual Reading Challenge is ready to go! I was a bit late with it this year as I somehow missed migrating the task forward to my January to-do list in my Bullet Journal. But a colleague that participates each year reached out to ask if it was coming back which jolted me into action!

It’s usually just staff that participate, but even if students don’t complete the challenge I hope it gives them some ideas of what they could read this year. I have some friends and colleagues that have expressed an interest in reading more lately so perhaps this list can be the motivation to do so for them.

Once we’re back at school and I can hand them out I’ll make the bookmark version of the list to give out to folks. They get laminated to last. I noticed many staff write the title of the book they read next to each challenge so I’ll try to incorporate a space explicitly for that into this year’s bookmark.

What’s the prize? The glory of reading 12 books 🙂
I share out the accomplishment of each challenger on our school conference so we can all cheer them on.

What are your reading goals for this year?

The list in text form:

Check off after you have read a book that is …

  1. a prequel or a sequel
  2. in the Fantasy genre
  3. by an author from the continent of Africa
  4. in audiobook format (you must listen to the audiobook version) Ottawa public library offers audiobooks you can download to your phone has a program that sends educators free audiobooks each month & you can listen using their app on your phone: 
  5. a cookbook; read it cover to cover
  6. about a hobby (non-fiction)
  7. manga
  8. written FROM a TV show or movie TV shows made into books: movies made into books:
  9. written between 1900-1950
  10. one you are re-reading
  11. by a Canadian author
  12. non-fiction about anti-racism

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Grading Tips for Efficiency (aka why the Twitter community is so awesome)

This year is tough. No doubt about it. Colleagues are having conversations around different ways to assess in the virtual online teaching environment in order to ensure students aren’t cheating by, for example, using an app like Photomath to solve equations for them. And sometimes when you look for more open-ended prompts that allow for variety & no one exact solution, it winds up taking longer to mark. So I thought this question from Sabrina on Twitter was timely:

Have a look through all the replies but I thought I would feature a few that stood out to me here. Love this idea from Karen about giving herself a timeline for returning work, graded or not. It happened so often that I trucked piles of marking home, night after night, to wind up not even taking it out of the bag because “I’ll do it tomorrow before class when I get to school & am fresh with renewed energy & motivation”.

Remembering that here in Ontario our final grade is meant to be based on observation, conversation and product; all three. Most of us tend to rely on too much product, me included. It’s tough to get a recorded level written down based on observation & conversations because they happen in the moment & you don’t necessarily have the time to stop & record a level on a checklist. But if you can’t do it in real time, a chunk of time after class is over to use some well-planned observational rubrics, like Meaghan suggests here, and record levels of achievement or anecdotal notes based on your observations & conversations from that class can be helpful:

I appreciated this response from Krista because I could really see myself in it. My style is to mark an entire batch at once. But as Krista points out, it’s hard to carve out that magical block of time to do that. She suggests chunking down to smaller sets. For me, that involved marking an entire set of 1 question. Then coming back to mark the entire set of question #2, etc.

If you’re like me and watch a lot of videos on YouTube (or listen to podcasts) at a speed of 1.25 up to 2 times faster than recorded, then this suggestion from Michael might appeal to you. Have small group Meets & record them. You could open several meets & move between to supervise after hitting record in each. Then rewatch them at a later date but sped up (click the settings cog along the bottom of the video saved to Drive & choose Playback Speed to adjust as desired):

In my first practicum in a grade 8 science classroom I planned a ton of hands-on labs because what’s better than hands-on science, right? My associate teacher smiled and asked if I planned to mark each of the lab reports? Of course, I said! Oh man!!! Her smile should have told me she knew something I didn’t. All those labs are sooooo much work to read through & mark. So I love this suggestion from Audra about only asking for certain sections of the lab report for each lab. This strategy could be applied to other assignment styles beyond science lab reports too:

Another strategy I’ve played with over the years is audio feedback. For a while I was uploading images of student Math tests into Explain Everything & posting a personal video to each student with their feedback as I circled and pointed to that part of their work in the image on the screen. I don’t know if it saved me time or if I spent the same amount of time giving more detailed and informative feedback, but either one is a win. So I liked this reminder from Melanie about audio feedback:

Have you got tips for being a more efficient marker/grader? How to give better or more detailed feedback in the same time or less? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear your strategies!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)