Saturday, July 30, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #5

When your classroom is set up, everything is organized and you have decided how you are going to run your classroom this school year, you should begin to think about how you are going to communicate with parents and families.  

Your relationship with families should be one of a partnership or team - working toward the same goal - the success of the child.  Start your school year on the right foot by introducing yourself early to families.  An early email or newsletter can give students and families an introduction into who you are and how you run your classroom.  

When I receive my class list I immediately send a welcome newsletter to all of my families.  I then also mail a postcard to all of my families reminding them of our school's open house coming up.  You can check out this editable pack in my store by clicking on the picture below.  

Throughout the year there are several ways you can stay in contact with your families and create an open communication atmosphere.  Monthly and weekly newsletters informing families on school and classroom events, standards students are learning and other important information - is an easy way to keep parents up to date.  I send home paper copies in my student's take home binders each week, as well as send out an electronic copy that students can easily access from their phone.  

The Remind app (formerly Remind 101) is an app that allows parents to receive text message reminders from their child's teacher and/or school.  You can sign up for free on their website or app (click on the picture above for a link).  You create a class (ex: Kindergarten 2016-2017) then there are several ways you can invite parents to sign up.  During the year, you can send quick text message reminders or messages to your families through a mass text.  I like this app for how easy it is to use, but also because it keeps parent contact information private.  Parents who sign up cannot see other parents' phone numbers like you can in a typical group message which allows for privacy.

In addition, I do provide families with my cell phone number at the beginning of the school.  If they choose, they can text me their cell phone number and throughout the year I send them quick pictures and videos of their child learning and having fun.  It's also a quicker way to send me a short message throughout the day about dismissal changes, birthday treats, etc.  I have had several parents use this option and I've never had a parent take advantage of having my phone number.  

Finally, I highly recommend doing home visits with your families at some point throughout the school year.  Ideally, this would happen before the school year begins, however, if you don't get a chance to then, please consider taking the time to do home visits at least once.  I chose to do home visits this past year and they were amazing - you can read about it HERE!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #4

Today's tip for back to school is a quick one and it ties in nicely with my tip from yesterday.  When you think of teaching behavior expectations, you need to think of procedures and routines to also teach your students. 

Every expectation and transition needs to be taught to your students.  From how and where to hang up their backpack in the morning to how to dismiss in the afternoon and everything in between.  Before students can be held accountable for following the rules, they must know the expectations and exactly what to do.

Pinterest has a HUGE assortment of checklists you can download to use at the beginning of the school year.  When researching, I found one that I really enjoyed and plan on using myself!  Why invent the wheel if there is something wonderful already available?!

Erika Smatlan over at has created a great FREE resource you can download on her blog!  Here is the link!

Whether you use Erika's list, find a different list on Pinterest or create your own, make sure you are thinking of a list of procedures/routines to go over with your students during the first weeks of school!  Cheers!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #3

Temper tantrums.  Bad attitudes.  Arguments.  Fights.  Screaming.  Crying.

It's going to happen.  Our students are people too - full of emotions, thoughts, and opinions.  But unlike adults, they have only been on earth a short while and are often unsure of how to handle the things they are feeling.  That's where we come in.  

While making a plan on how to handle behavior in your classroom is important, we must also discuss how you plan to teach your children about behavior.  

How do I solve a problem I have with a friend?

What am I supposed to do when I'm angry?  What about when I'm scared or sad?

How do I tell my teacher I'm overwhelmed or confused?  How do I know that's what I'm feeling?

Before you can expect children to behave or act in a certain way you must do two things:

First, you must evaluate if your expectation is developmentally appropriate for the age you are teaching.  Then you must TEACH children the expectations and what you want to see.  

This year, my team is spending a full week strictly talking about classroom and school expectations.  Yes, we are going to continue teaching and building on these skills throughout the school year.  However, the first full week of school will be spent only teaching behavior instead of focusing on academics.  I.  Cannot.  Wait.  I truly feel that hitting these skills early on and head on will help our students in the long run.  

Our district is a PBIS District.  PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Intervention Support.  It is an approach that targets preventing problem behavior and, at the same time, rewarding positive behavior through school-wide incentives.  It is based on the principle that students learn appropriate behavior in the same way they learn to read - through instruction, practice, feedback, and encouragement.  

Our building has created a learning matrix that outlines expectations for our entire building.  The expectations are the same for each child regardless of the classroom, grade level or location.  This helps teachers and staff members be consistent and use the same language ("Be safe.  We walk in the hallway.") and students are held to consistent standards.

Our three main themes are:

Be safe.
Be respectful.
Be responsible.

Under each of these themes, our building has broken down that looks like in different settings.  What does it mean to be safe in the hallway?  What about safe on the playground?  What does it mean to be respectful in the classroom or in special area classes?  What does is mean to be responsible in the cafeteria and the restroom?

My team is using our learning matrix to guide our behavior instruction during the first two weeks of school.  We will spend time modeling, practicing, and discussing all of our expectations.  

We will also be using literature to further our conversations and our thinking.  Here are just a few of my favorite books we'll be reading!

 In addition to talking about general rules in the classroom and building, we will also discussing expectations in specific centers.  "I Can..." cards and other 'task' cards can help students know exactly what is expected of them in a learning center.  Signs like the ones below can help guide students in more open centers such as dramatic play and blocks - and give them appropriate options to choose from.  Some students, when given an open choice, can be overwhelmed and may need help narrowing down options.  

Respect for people, property, feelings, and ourselves is stressed every day in my classroom.  We practice positive choice making.  Classroom expectations are taught, practiced and reinforced during the school year, both as a whole class and individually.  However, as stated before, sometimes things go wrong.  Young children break down and the beautiful, calm classroom of your dreams turns into something from Jerry Springer!

In this case, it's important to recognize that students need a break to calm down and recompose themselves.  In my classroom, I have a cool-out corner where students can go when they need a moment alone.  There, they can take the opportunity to recognize how they are feeling and determine how they should appropriately handle those feelings.  When students are in this corner, I will use a sand timer (only a few minutes) so students aren't there for an extended period of time, but will also allow students to help determine how long they need to stay.  

In my corner, there are several, soft emoji pillows for students to squeeze, snuggle, scream or cry into as well as an emotions poster and mirror.  Often students who are young or students with Autism aren't able to recognize their own own emotions or the emotions of others.  This will provide a model for students to practice identifying emotions and an opportunity to have a dialogue with students about they are feeling.

In addition, I have a box of stress balls and fidgets for students to manipulate and use to decompress.  

I also plan to add some books regarding feelings in a small basket, a step by step poster on ways to calm down and a clipboard with Think Sheets - a PBIS tool we use to have discussions with students about their inappropriate behavior and ways to change it the next time the situation occurs.  (I will update with pictures when I get those items added!)

Finally, if conflicts arise in the classroom (this is never going to happen right?!) I am going to be using this mat from Conscious Discipline.  This is a Conflict Resolution mat that literally walks students through the process of solving conflicts with each other.  It emphasizes being open to solving the problem, finding a solution and ending without any hard feelings.  For more information, you can check out their website

Treat behavior like any other subject in school, and TEACH children how to solve problems, handle hard feelings and meet expectations.  Then, work with students as they practice, make mistakes and have successes.  We are adults and often our emotions get the best of us - children deserve the same grace and respect.  When you give children the grace to be human, not only will you create a classroom environment where students feel safe and loved, but you will set students up to capable problem solvers and caring adults. ♥

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #2

It's time for part two of my top ten things to do to get ready for back to school!!! This topic has been quite the topic of conversation in blogs and social media this summer thanks to the AMAZING Kayla Delzer at Top Dog Teaching. She is inspiring teachers all over to reevaluate their thinking regarding how their classroom is set up and encouraging teachers to include flexible seating options. 

When I began setting up my classroom this year I had two goals in mind.

The first?  I wanted to minimize my 'teacher' area.  

Over the past few years, I have had a HUGE, unattractive, old teacher desk that I inherited from the teacher before me.  While it served the purpose of holding my desktop, office supplies, and materials for the week - I didn't like how much space it took up and I ended up using the drawers as a space to throw my junk.  Well, since one of my goals was cleaning up my classroom and throwing things away, I wanted to take away the temptation of having drawers to throw things in.  I opted for a small rolling computer cart that was in our building's storage room.  It provides enough space for my desktop, document camera, VHS/DVD player and a few office supplies.  I placed that along with a cubby shelf that stores my guided reading activities against the back wall and moved my guided reading table in front of it.  Instantly, I saved so much space.  I have never enjoyed having a large teacher area.  My classroom is not just mine.  I share it with up to 30 students every year.  It's my goal to provide them with enough space to learn and grow.  

After I set up my 'teacher' area, I went to work setting up the two other largest areas of my classroom.  The whole group carpet area and my student tables.  Since these three areas are the largest sections of your classroom, it's usually helpful to begin with those.  

I currently have six small student tables around my classroom and all of them are located in the middle of the classroom.  I FAILED at getting a picture of my carpet area (tomorrow!) but it is placed near my teacher area next to my focus wall.  

Next I began working on my placing my centers.  My largest center by far is my library (LOVE LOVE LOVE my books!) so I usually start there.  One thing to think of when placing centers are the varying noise levels of each center.  For example, I have a block center in my room.  It is located on my large whole group carpet.  The carpet softens the sounds of the blocks when students are building.  Since I want to keep my loud centers and quiet centers as separated as possible, my library is located on the other end of my classroom, next to writing.  In my library, I've provided a soft rug and comfortable seating.

Along with a very large variety of books sorted and organized by theme...

and reading level!

This year, I've also chosen to incorporate my listening center into the library.  I provided stools set up next to my rolling cart with supplies so students are able to sit on the floor or up higher to listen.  

When I place my centers around my classroom, I like my centers to have clearly defined areas where students can work without distractions.  I use shelving to create small 'cubby' like areas for students to be while working.  

Whether you like open spaces or defined areas, make sure your centers are clearly labeled and students understand where each center is located. I use my Center Signs to clearly mark each center in my classroom for students to independently find their work station.  

After getting my centers in place, I began work on my second goal - providing students with more choice in the classroom.  While some view flexible seating as simply providing a variety of different seats for students, flexible seating is so much more.  It's more of a change of thinking.  Students are provided with more control and choice over their learning environment and are trusted to make choices that are best for their learning.  Consider this...when you work on your computer at home, do you sit at a table or desk?  Or are you more comfortable on the couch or comfy chair?  Or maybe even spread out on the floor?  My guess is that your answer varies from your neighbor's and might even vary depending on your mood or what the project entails.  

Students are the same.  I often have students who prefer to stand at their desk and work.  Students who complete every center laying on their stomach on the floor and those who sit criss-cross no matter what.  While each of your students learn and grow differently, ALL students can thrive in an environment where they are given more choice.  

You may want to start small and THAT'S TOTALLY FINE.  Teachers should not feel like they should change their whole classroom or way of thinking over the summer.  Maybe the idea of flexible seating makes you nervous or you are unsure how exactly to incorporate it.  My advice is to begin small.  If you want to keep your traditional tables/chairs/seating chart, etc. then start at a place you feel more comfortable.  Are there independent work times in your day where it is easier for students to move about your classroom and work where they choose?  Start there.  Small changes can mean huge success.  Here are some ways I'm providing students with more choice in my classroom along with how much it cost.

Scoop Rockers from Wal-Mart - $5 a piece.  These are GREAT for students to use while working on the floor and for those students who need to move more while listening on the big carpet. 

Yoga Mat from Five Below - $5.  The best thing about these yoga mats?  I cut them in half!  One yoga mat isn't necessary for little bodies so I doubled my seating simply by cutting them in half!  These are great for students who like to lie on their stomachs or sit on the floor and spread out to work.  The mat also naturally creates a work space for students to keep their materials in one location. 

Outdoor Cushions from Target - $7.50 a piece on clearance.  Besides having these available for my students to use on their own, we will be using these as seats for my guided reading table.  My table is lowered for students to be able to sit on the floor or on their knees.  

Red Bench - FREE!  A family member made this bench for me years ago and I still love it.  It is currently on my large carpet as another option for students to sit on during whole group time. 

Stools from Family Dollar - $5 a piece.  These stools are here as an option for students who are wanting to exchange their regular backed chair.  Stools require a little more stability and allow more freedom to move - this will be an option for students to choose.  

Clipboards - free from willing teachers!  Clipboards are an easy way to students the ability to move to different locations around the room.  They are able to keep working anywhere in the room!

In addition, I will be raising one of my tables to create a 'standing table' for students who enjoy standing to work and I will be purchasing lap desks for students to use as well.  

Setting up a classroom can be OVERWHELMING.  Take it one step at a time.

1. Decide if you want an open concept or more defined areas in your classroom.

2.  Set up the largest areas first (i.e. teacher desk, tables whole group area, etc.)

3.  Decide what centers you are going to have, then carefully place them around your classroom - giving each one a defined area that students can successfully work in. 

4. Consider implementing flexible seating for students to have choice while working on independent work throughout the day.   

If all else fails and you need another set of eyes, grab that super organized friend (or two) that I mentioned yesterday - and bribe them with chocolate.  :)

Monday, July 25, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #1

Hi friends!'s that time of the year...the school supplies are in stock, the sale ads are in the paper and on tv and parents' nerves are shot.  That's right - BACK TO SCHOOL!  

Preparing for back to school can be nerve wrecking.  There are often so many things you have to do and think about - where do you even start?!  In an effort to help you be a little more organized and productive as you get ready for the upcoming school year, I've compiled a list of my top ten things you MUST do before back to school to help your school year run successfully.  Over the next ten weekdays, I'll be sharing this list with you as I work through preparing my own classroom for the year!  While this list is not exhaustive by any means, it is a list of what I feel are items that will help you start this school year feeling prepared and *somewhat* ready (let's be honest...are you ever really ready?)

First up....

While this may not be an exciting topic to discuss it's SOOOO important.  We all know the two main types of teachers - the one is super organized with clearly labeled tubs and files, and the one with piles and piles of paperwork shoved into the most hidden spaces that no one even remembers it's there in the first place.  While I am typically the first type (very type A personality), by the end of the school year I have a tendency to put materials, papers and manipulatives wherever I see fit at that particular moment, with the promise that I'll "Get to it later."  Well let me tell how you that's worked out....

Having an organized classroom is not just aesthetically pleasing.  I can help you be more efficient and help students become independent learners in their environment.  Think about it...  Do you have student materials labeled?  Are there particular places student supplies or student work belongs?  Are students expected to return items where they belong in order for others to use them?  To help you classroom run smoothly, teachers can use the same principles.  

One of my big projects this year was sorting through, organizing and cleaning out my teacher resource binders.  With the WONDERFUL blessing of TeachersPayTeachers and the fact that our district is becoming more of a Google district, the need for my old teacher resource binders wasn't really there anymore.  Also, the fact that the binders took up almost an entire cabinet in the classroom was motivation enough to do SOMETHING.  At the end of the school year, I packed up 44 teacher resource binders and lugged them home.  OH.  EM.  GEE.  Talk about overwhelming.  

It took several days going through these binders over short Netflix stints to finally clean them out.  My rule was...if it was something I owned electronically and could reprint what I needed - then the paper version was gone.  If it was something I created a long time ago and now have a much cuter version - gone.  If it was something that I haven't used in three years - GONE.  I ended up with three boxes of recycling and about 30 empty binders.  CRAAAAAAZY!  

The next big project I tackled was organizing my shared reading resources and GO Math centers.  These are resources I use every week so I knew I needed them to be organized and ready to go.  Who has time to do that once the school year starts?!  Not me!  I took my shared reading resources and organized them by quarter.  Each weekly shared reading set was put into it's own gallon size bag, labeled and put into the correct quarter's tub.  When the week comes, I can simply grab the necessary bag and have all the materials at my fingertips.  For my GO Math centers, I split the chapters (there are 12) in half.  Resources for Chapters 1-6 are in one tub - each chapter printed, cut and labeled in it's own gallon size bag - while resources for Chapters 7-12 are in another.  Where did I put the tubs when they were ready?  In the cabinet where my binders were!

The main goal of throwing out unused resources/materials and organizing the ones you do use is this - IT MAKES YOUR LIFE EASIER.  How many times do you create a center or activity only to find you had already made it, just misplaced it?  How many times do you say, "I know I have that somewhere..." only to never remember where that 'somewhere' is?  Wouldn't it be great to know exactly where that fun game or awesome resource was?  Would't it make planning so much easier? Trust me.  Take the time.  Organize now.  Don't put it off until the mess is bigger and half of your things are buried and forgotten!

Here's what you can do:

1. Decide what exactly you want/need to organize (maybe your teacher resources, your desk drawers, one cabinet/closet, etc. - don't feel like you need to tackle your whole classroom right away!)

2. Recruit your most organized friend - bribe them with coffee if need (because friends make life more fun!)

3. Decide what kind of organization fits your personality and needs the best - do you like papers in binders or in file folders in a filing cabinet?  Do you like clear tubs you can see through or would you rather 'hide' what's inside?

4.  Stop procrastinating and get to work.  Make the tough decisions and honestly throw away/give away/recycle what you don't use or need (a friend who isn't emotionally attached to the 3000 bear counters can help with this as well...)

5. Label.  Labeling what you have gives you a good inventory of what most of your resources include.  When I finally separated my thematic centers and labeled them, I realized that I bursting at the seams with a few themes (fall, Christmas, winter) but lacked in others (pirates, dinosaurs, zoo).

Here are some labels that may help you get started (and one is a FOREVER FREEBIE!).  Just click on the pictures above!  Organizing can be the least favorite thing for most people (and some just don't know where to start!).  However, in the long run, an organized classroom - one where both the teacher and students know what resources are available and where to find them - can provide an environment that helps foster independence and make everyone's lives easier!