Class Dojo: 17 little monsters, 35 (& counting) class stories, and lots of translating

One of the programs I’ve mentioned a few times, especially when I talked about my presentation at the Kosovo Learning Summit, is called Class Dojo. It’s a behavior Management and Parent Communication tool that I used last year in student teaching and brought all the way to Prishtina. It’s been so cool to see how my students respond to the technology since it is so lacking in schools, and how parents are using it to stay connected with our class. I had someone ask me about what it is, so I thought I would share a bit here.

What is it? It’s an app and website where I create a class to keep track of student behavior. Each of my kiddos has a “monster” that I can give positive or negative points to, depending on their behavior. I get to change the points and behaviors to whatever fits my class, so if we start having an issue with throwing books across the room tomorrow I can automatically incorporate it into my behavior management. It’s especially helpful for my ESL students who can see the number of points that match their individual character and hear the fun sound associated with positive points!

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A sample class with their own monsters!

What makes it different than a regular behavior clip chart or system? For me, the parent communication is the best part about Class Dojo. It’s great for my kids to be motivated to behave so their monster earns a point, but I really appreciate being able to have a direct link my students’ parents. Especially working at an International School where the majority of my parents either speak English as their second language or they don’t even speak English, it’s so helpful to have a way to keep them updated. They get to see how their student is behaving and I don’t have to do any extra work to make sure they see it.

The messaging system is an excellent tool because Kosovar parents are very involved and invested in their children’s education. Many asked for my cell phone number at the beginning of school so they could contact me. Instead, I just sign them up for ClassDojo and we both end up happy! They can message me anytime they want and I keep my privacy. I have a few parents who even message me in Albanian because it’s their only way of having a chance to talk to me. There are enough local teachers at the school to translate for me, so I just make sure to ask someone across the hall when she messages me.

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Another awesome feature: Class Stories!

But what about things other than behavior? That’s where Class Stories come in! I can post videos or pictures straight from the app on my phone or iPad to show parents what we are doing in class. Projects, games, group activities, you name it! I can see how many parents view it, like it, and how many use the translate feature for the captions. Dojo has quite a list of languages to translate into, but unfortunately Albanian is not on the list (yet). I have a few parents who speak Turkish that take advantage of that feature though. I get to post reminders for dress up days, parent conferences, and wish them a Happy Halloween all in one place.


As a first year teacher in a new country with multicultural ESL students I have had to do a lot of readjusting, refiguring, and plenty of starting from scratch in my classroom. One thing that has been consistent though is definitely Class Dojo. It’s a program I feel comfortable using that works even if you don’t speak English. International teaching is my path for the forseeable future and no matter what country I’m in, I think Class Dojo will be right there with me!

Three posts in as many days?? It’s a whole new Rhett! (no promises, this is probably just a fluke) Also this probably came off basically as an advertisement for Class Dojo but I got a bit carried away when someone asked me to explain it. Whoops. My next post will be back to normal, talking about life here in Prishtina and potentially our next adventure (we’re thinking Greece!).

Thanks for reading -Rhett

dozens of books, a €4 bus ride, and three Halloween costumes

Hello again! I actually kept my word and here I am with another post about the last week or so. It was quite a whirlwind, I’m pretty happy that November is here.

Before getting into the Halloween madness, I forgot to talk about one of my favorite parts of October: Scholastic Book Club! One of the issues that we face in my class is the lack of children’s books written in English that my students have access to. Thankfully, Scholastic has a branch based in the UK that is specifically for International Schools. In early October I started a book club and waited for my leaflets to arrive. When I handed them out and explained to my students what was happening, it was like I was telling them about Christmas for the first time! I had 13 of my 17 students order books, which also meant that I earned Scholastic Rewards to buy books for our classroom library. Surprisingly, the books arrived less than a week after the order was finalized! Even though the 30 minutes at the end of the day spent going through the books and handing them out to their new owners was chaotic and stressful, it was so worth it to see my kiddos so happy about all their new books!

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This was the best view I had without showing all of their faces, so you’ll just have to imagine their excitement!


Even though today was technically Halloween, we decided to celebrate on Friday instead of starting the week off with craziness. It also was Red Ribbon week last week so it worked out well to end our Dress Up Days with Halloween costumes! Instead of doing an anti-drug campaign in the Elementary School, we focused on Bullying throughout the week and my students were able to have discussions about what bullying looks like and how to stop it.

Monday we all wore red of course, to kick off the week. Tuesday was “Put a Cap on Bullying” aka crazy hat day so I was definitely fighting an uphill battle to keep everyone from playing with their hats! Wednesday we learned that “Friends Don’t Let Friends Bully” and I paired up my students to dress up like twins. Many of the students in the school think that Ms. Lauren and I are twins, sisters, or maybe even the same person, so we decided to roll with it and matched for the day!

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You would think that with my red hair it would be easy to tell us apart now!…Nope

Thursday we learned “Don’t Get Mixed Up in Bullying” and I had students with clothes on backwards, inside out, and mismatched patterns. This happened to be the one day that most of the teachers did not participate in, but no one told us! Everyone seemed to get a kick out of my side ponytail and one gray/one navy Berry College socks that definitely did not match my polka dot dress…

Friday was “Halloween” so all of my students came in with their costumes. I had 4 of the same vampire, 2 girls in the same dress, and a few unique combinations. I guess that’s what happens when you only have one or two places to find costumes in the city. But we had a great day, especially when we watched Shrek’s Spooky Stories and ate popcorn together. Then many parents came to watch our “parade” where we walked around outside to show off our costumes. My class uses GoNoodle every single day for brain breaks, and one of our favorites is PopSeeKo. So Lauren and I threw together our makeshift KooKoo Kangaroo outfits and surprised our students. It was so fun to see their faces when they put together what I was dressed as!

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Our hands are high, our feet are low, this is how we PopSeeKo!

We also had a Halloween Carnival at the Main Campus that night put on by the Parent Association. I helped run the photo booth for most of the night but it was also fun to just wander around and see the older students all dressed up too. I had already taken off my “KOO” so I threw together a last minute bunny costume (not very original, I know).


On Saturday morning, Meghan, Lauren and I took a bus to a nearby city named Prizren. It is one of the few big cities in Kosova that is mainly untouched from the war. After a two hour bus ride, we arrived and had a chance to wander the city, grab some lunch, and hike up to the Kalaja Fortress that was built in the 11th century! It was such a beautiful view and a nice break from the madness of our week. It still amazes me that I now live in a place that has thousands of years of history right down the road. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and see these places. I can’t wait to see where I end up next!

-Rhett

twelve days of work, 90 minute presentations, and the 2 month mark!

So this blog post has been partially written since last weekend (typical me) and I’m finally finishing it on the bus home from Prizren. This weekend will get it’s own post don’t worry, and that means I’ll have two posts in one weekend! Yay! Anyways here’s a post that was written over the course of like 8 days…


These past two weeks have been crazy! I finally have a real break this weekend so it’s nice to just lay around and look back. It comes at a pretty good time because October 22 marks two months since I landed in Prishtina! Looking back now, it’s crazy to see how far I’ve come and how many amazing things I have been able to see and do. I’m getting to a more comfortable routine at school, even if I am coming off of two straight weeks of teaching/working without longer than a half day break. It was definitely worth it though because last weekend was so exciting to be a part of!

Last weekend (October 14, 15, and 16) ASK hosted the first (hopefully annual) Kosovo Learning Summit. Our fearless leader Shannon invited educators from the US, Turkey, Morocco, and other places around the world to a three day professional development conference with the theme “Engaging Learners.”

This was the first conference or large scale professional development ever in Kosova, so it was really exciting to be a part of it! All of the ASK staff attended, along with over 200 teachers from the public schools in Prishtina! ASK didn’t have school on Friday and instead kicked off the conference with a keynote from JT Rehill, who lives in Istanbul and specializes in teacher training. It was great to hear from him at the beginning as a way to get into the learning mindset as opposed to the teaching mindset. Although, I also had to be in the teaching mindset for the conference as well because I was one of the presenters during the workshops!

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Our workshop description and biographies!

You might be wondering why in the world a first year teacher seven weeks into living abroad is presenting at an international conference. I definitely asked myself this question multiple times. Well Lauren (new 1st grade teacher), Stephanie (new to ASK 4th grade teacher), Meghan (new high school Social Studies teacher), and Dardane (high school English teacher from Prishtina) and I make up a new teacher tech team here at ASK. We are working to implement technology in a school with limited resources. The high school teachers are starting “Bring Your Own Device” policies to offer a variety of learning experiences for their students. As for the Ed Center, the three of us were given projectors in our rooms and are using them to enhance our teaching and our students’ learning.

Because many of the programs we are using are from the US or are unknown here in Prishtina, they asked us to lead a 90 minute workshop on “Implementing Technology in Elementary School with Limited Resources” on Friday and Saturday. Meghan and Dardane had a workshop aimed at high school teachers as well. We led an interactive workshop where we talked about using programs like GoNoodle, ClassDojo, Spelling City, QR Codes, and all the Google Apps. It was quite an experience to teach other teachers, especially when many of them needed a translator to understand what we were saying! The lack of technology in the public schools is huge, so we’re not sure how much relevant information we were able to offer, but it was still amazing to get a chance to meet these local teachers and share a bit of ourselves!

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Some of the amazing staff and presenters from the KLS! (photo belongs to ASK)

My favorite part of the Summit was definitely Friday and Saturday night when all of the presenters were invited to dinner. I had a chance to talk with teachers and members of the education community from around the world and it was so fun to hear their stories. I was soaking up all of the experience and wisdom that I could! I made contacts and friends; I felt like a real adult with all of my networking! But at the same time I genuinely enjoyed just talking with everyone about their lives outside of education. It’s one more aspect of international teaching that I am very grateful for.


So since this is being posted a week late, I’m going to try and make up for it with another post! Expect an update about Red Ribbon Week and Halloween in Kosova tomorrow! I’ll also talk about our day trip to Prizren, a city about 2 hours away from Prishtina!

Thanks for reading- Rhett

four thick blankets, almost three hundred statues, and two packs of smokes

Another few weeks have already passed here in Prishtina! We’re over a week into October and as I see everyone’s Fall Break photos back in Rome I’m currently buried in blankets trying to get warm. It started getting colder about two weeks ago, and yesterday I brought out my winter coat. Coming from Georgia where we get maybe a month of actual “winter” weather, I’m not sure how prepared I am for the next six months. (yeah, the cold weather here lasts six months) My apartment is connected to city heat, which is apparently really lucky, but they have yet to turn on the heat for the city so my apartment is quite cold. I think I’ll be able to handle the weather, but it will definitely take some adjusting and maybe some new warmer clothes.


Last weekend Lauren, Meghan, Nancy, and I all went to Skopje, Macedonia on Saturday for a quick 24 hour trip. The city was awesome, and it was great to get out of the city and see something new. Skopje is only an hour and a half drive, and it’s crazy to me that 90 minutes in the car gets me to a new country! We just happened to be in the city on “White Night,” where the whole city had performances, wine tastings, concerts, and free museums on Saturday night. We spend the day wandering the Old Bazaar, Old Town, and Fort Kale, then explored a bit of the White Night celebrations. The next morning we woke up and went on a walking tour of the city. We saw most of the city, including a beautiful mosque and a museum dedicated to Mother Theresa because she was born in Skopje. I heard more of her history and even got the see pages of her journals where she had written some of her prayers!

I also learned that all of the statues, bridges, and many of the buildings we had been admiring were all part of a campaign in Skopje to grow tourism and they had all been build within the last 8 years! Skopje has over 280 individual statues, including a huge Alexander the Great statue titled “Warrior on a Horse” because they aren’t allowed to actually use the name Alexander the Great. There is also a copycat Arc de Triomphe that celebrates Macedonia’s art and independence since they don’t have any significant triumphs. It was fascinating to hear the history on the tour because so much that we saw is quite new, despite there being civilizations in and around Skopje for 6,000 years.

Before we left Skopje we of course had to make a stop at the grocery store! Kosova doesn’t have pork (which means no bacon) and Macedonia does. We spent the rest of our Macedonian Denar buying bacon, pork chops, something that is hopefully cheddar cheese, and bags of corn tortilla chips! It’s funny what small things can feel like such a comfort when you come across them in a foreign grocery store.


As far as school goes, we had our Open House at school on Thursday! I spent the week getting everything ready in my classroom and making sure I knew what I wanted to talk about with parents. I still feel like I’m in the “fake it ’til you make it” mindset but I always want to make a good impression on my students’ parents. I had a presentation ready, and student work on the walls. In the end, 9 of my 17 students had at least one parent come which seemed to be higher numbers than many of the other classes. The schedule was a little chaotic but they were able to meet each of the activity teachers as well as the principal and Head of Schools. I was just proud of myself for making it through the night at least sounding like I knew what I was doing!

Every day I feel a little bit more like I know what I’m doing. Then I have a day where I give a math test and my students struggle so much you would have thought it was written in Hieroglyphics. So it’s an up and down learning process, but I love my students and I’m so excited to see how much we both learn this year.

A little funny story because when you work with 6 and 7 year old they are always saying the weirdest things: We went on our first field trip last week and they were allowed to bring snacks. So that morning one of my (two) girls that speaks English came up and started telling me about how she brought “two packs of smokes and a drink!” Obviously I was caught off guard but then got distracted by the other 6 kids who needed my attention. That afternoon at Germia park I was talking to a local teacher who mentioned that all her kids were eating their “Smokies.” Turns out Smokies are a brand of chips, popular here in Prishtina. Needless to say I was very relieved that my 7 year-olds aren’t smoking cigarettes…


This coming weekend we have no school on Friday because our school has planned the “Kosovo Learning Summit.” It’s a professional development weekend for the teachers at ASK, local teachers here in Prishtina, and any international teachers or those in the Balkans who are interested in attending. There are keynote speakers from all over the world coming in to speak, so it should be a great weekend to learn from other educators. There are also workshops each day covering a variety of subjects and disciplines in education.

One of those topics is teaching with limited technology in Elementary Education, presented by Lauren (the new 1st grade American teacher), Stefanie (the new 4th grade American teacher), and me. I guess we’ve been using so many different programs and applications in our classrooms since the beginning of school that our Head of Schools asked us to lead a workshop for other teachers. It’s just one more thing that makes me grateful to be where I am and surrounded by so many great teachers (international and local Albanian alike), because it just means we get to learn from each other.


This week should be a good one, but also pretty hectic so I’m not sure I’ll be able to post anything until after the Kosovo Learning Summit. But I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories to tell after next weekend!

–Rhett

one month in Prishtina, two apartments, and 18 talking children

So Thursday was my one-month mark of being in Kosova! I had these big plans for a blog post about everything I had done, and what my first impressions were…then I fell asleep in my new apartment at 10 pm. That’s right, I said new apartment. I had been living in a one bedroom apartment for the first month, but it just didn’t feel right. I was at least a 5 minute walk from all the other teachers (I know, such a haul), I didn’t have a real oven or stove, just a convection oven and a two stove eyes, and it just didn’t feel like a place I wanted to call home for the next two years.

I worked with the realty company who helped us find our apartments, and I was just about to move into an apartment in the building with a few of the other teachers, when they called me and told me their was an apartment open near Meghan and Lauren! They are two new American teachers who I have gotten very close to, and most nights I was at their apartment until at least 10:30. So I was excited at the prospect of living close to them. I met with the realtors who took me to Meghan and Lauren’s street, and then into their building, and then past their apartment to the floor above them! I saw the apartment on Tuesday, told them yes within 20 minutes, and on Thursday I packed all of my things and moved in! I am now living directly above them, next to the Japanese Embassy. We live on what is called the “Cafe Street,” so I have plenty of access to restaurants and cafes.

I have nothing unpacked yet, but I already feel more settled in this apartment than I did all month at the old place. It’s not that it was a bad apartment, it just didn’t suit my needs or feel like home. When I get everything packed and all of my suitcases out of the floor I will post some pictures of my apartment and my view.


Everyone told me throughout senior year, “First year teaching is the hardest.” I knew they were right and I tried to prepare myself, but obviously I had no idea what I was in for. We are about to start our 4th full week of school and at least once a day I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I am the only teacher in my grade level so it’s tough not to have someone across the hall to ask “Are your kids getting this? Am I just teaching this wrong?” Plus, I have the freedom to use whatever standards I want because the school has no set curriculum. It’s great to have that flexibility and freedom, but at the same time it’s a bit daunting.

Right now I still feel like I’m treading water and taking it week by week. It seems like every week my schedule changes, or there’s a new procedure for something during the day, or they take all of my furniture and give me new tables. It’s definitely a learning process and I definitely have to remind myself everyday that it’s okay not to be the best teacher yet. Behavior management is something I had plenty of experience with in student teaching and I never felt like it was a skill that I struggled with, but the past month my behavior management has been way below the level I expect from myself. It’s a combination of being truly on my own for the first time, having a class of 18 where 13 are boys, and the difference in cultures. I know it will get better with time, I just have to keep reminding myself that.


If you didn’t notice, I have a new website! I decided to switch to WordPress (mostly because Lauren peer pressured me into it) because it seems to be more user friendly for me and those reading. Now you can scroll to the bottom of this page and subscribe! Then you’ll get an email every time I post, which will hopefully be more frequent. It also works out well because Lauren and Meghan both have their blogs on WordPress, so if we ever wanted to collaborate on something or create a shared blog, we could do it more easily. We’ve got some crazy adventures planned already, so it’s probably best to do this now.


Anyways, there’s a small piece of what my last month has been! I love Prishtina so much already and sometimes I can’t believe that this is my life. I will say that I am completely unprepared for the winter. It’s not even October yet and today the high was 65 with a low of 45. I think I’m in for a rude awakening if this is what the beginning of fall is like! So if you have the urge to send some warm clothes to Kosova, feel free!

Have a wonderful week!

-Rhett

ten days of school, three day weekends, and too many chocolate croissants to count

So I know that I hoped to update every week, but it’s obviously been two weeks since my last post. Whoops. Just chalk it up to the first week (and a half) of school exhaustion. I feel like every night I’m just treading water to be ready for the next day of teaching. But I think this is pretty typical of first year teaching, not even taking into consideration the fact that most of my students speak another language at home and 4 of them speak no English at all. I’m slowly getting more into a routine and hopefully this weekend will give me a chance to get ahead of things.

Backtracking to the first few days of school, we started on Thursday September 1st. I had 18 students on my roster (13 boys and only 5 girls!) and 9 of them were there on the first day. It was so exciting to finally meet them along with their parents, even if there was a significant language barrier with some of them. One thing that I learned early on during the first day of school is that culturally speaking, the rule “Don’t talk when the teacher is talking” isn’t really a priority in Kosova. My students were very chatty from day 1 and it is still something that we work on every day. We also practice saying my name a lot because they are so used to saying “Teacher, Teacher!” If I have to get used to being called Miss Rhett by my students, then they can get used calling me by my actual name 🙂

On Friday, the 2nd day of school, 13 of my students were there and only two were girls! One of whom didn’t speak any English, and the other was waiting for her only other female classmate from the year before. We spent a lot of time on routines and procedures, but it’s definitely more difficult when you have to mime things or have another student translate. I was definitely ready for my first weekend to take a breather and mentally prepare for the first full week.

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Here I am writing this so I obviously survived the first full week, but there were definitely moments where I was unsure! I had 16 students on Monday, including one new student halfway through the day who was not on my roster and came from a school in Turkey where she didn’t speak English. Tuesday I had 17 and on Wednesday I met another little boy who just enrolled from the local Albanian public school. In total now I have 18 students because 2 of my original students never arrived.

The first full week was definitely a learning curve for all of us, but I am getting better at thinking on my feet. We have limited technology at the school so I’m relying more on worksheets and my whiteboard then I usually would in the States, but I’m using it as an opportunity to better my classroom management and pedagogy. It’s interesting as time goes on to see where my students are in terms of reading and writing, since for most of the class English is their second language and last year may have been their first year in any school setting.

One of my favorite things about my class is the diversity. In my class of 18 students alone, English, Albanian, Turkish, Bosnian, Serbian, Tagalog, French, Dutch, and Romanian are all spoken at home in some capacity! Most of my students are from Kosova, but I also have quite a few whose parents are international and have just raised their children here. I’ve already had two parent-teacher conferences since school started that the parents initiated! They are clearly invested in their children’s education, which is so nice to experience!

This previous Monday was Eid, a Muslim holiday, so we didn’t have school. We took advantage of this three day weekend and went on our first adventure outside of Kosova to two small costal towns in Montenegro! They were absolutely beautiful and deserve their own post, so I am going to write about my weekend separately and hopefully post it in the next day or so.

Until then, I’m still taking it a day at a time and soaking everything in. I’m loving this city and it’s exciting to get more and more settled here. Hopefully I will soon have time to document more and post more updates, but who am I kidding? I’m a first year teacher!

ten days, countless cafes, and no cheese

I guess since I’ve had this site ready for 3 weeks and I’ve been in the country for 10 days I should actually post something. Especially since tomorrow is the first day of school and I will have 18 2nd graders keeping me occupied! Plus now that my last piece of luggage arrived today I can finally say that I live here in Kosova!

I am loving Pristina. It doesn’t feel like I just moved here, I already feel settled in to the city and the life that I’m going to live for the next two years. Albanians seem to take their time, except when they’re driving. They can’t go without their coffee breaks, and they actually convinced me to drink a macchiato! (Surprise: I actually enjoyed it! Even though it kept me wide awake for the next 12 hours) Everyone at the school has been so helpful in getting us settled into our apartments and classrooms. We went on a staff retreat last week and I think that was an excellent way to start off the year together. I am the only 2nd grade teacher in the school but I feel so supported by the other local teachers and the other new American teachers.

I am grateful to all of the teachers at ASK, but especially to my American homies who are doing all of this for the first time with me. It doesn’t feel like we’ve only known each other for 10 days (technically we met in Iowa in February when we were hired but that doesn’t count), but for months or years. We’ve already belly laughed together, lost track of time talking, and done plenty of harmless teasing. I’m finding that a lot of phrases/way of doing things are very Southern and they don’t let me forget it. But I think when you are in a place where you don’t speak the language or know your way around, banding together and making a little found-family is the best way of adapting.

I will make a separate post with pictures of my classroom all ready for students. I am pretty proud of it because I walked into an absolutely empty classroom Monday. I’ve put a lot of heart into it the past three days but I think it will be a wonderful place to spend my first year teaching. I’m excited to fill it with students tomorrow!

My goal is to post at least once a week, if not more. Hopefully now that school is starting I can get into a routine and be more intentional about it because I know that everyone is anxious to hear how it’s going. We have a three day weekend coming up in a few weeks so I should have some fun travel stories come out of that as well.

If the past 10 days are any indication of my life here in Kosova, I cannot wait to see what the next two years hold. I’ve already adopted the attitude of “Go with the flow,” which is a bit necessary in this place, but I know I have so much to learn and I am so excited that I get to do that here!

Thanks for reading
–Rhett