Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Back to School {Advice from Your Favorite Bloggers}

Back to school is just around the corner.  What an exciting, and overwhelming, time of year it is for teachers.  The first day always feels like a blur (or, is that just me?), there are procedures and routines to teach, kids who don't know how they are getting home, new students arriving throughout the week, the pressure to delve into the content, and lots of emotions.

Overwhelming, right?  Sounds to me like some good old fashioned advice is in order.  I've called on all of your, and my, favorite bloggers to share their favorite piece of back to school advice.  Whether you're a brand new teacher, or a veteran, I think you'll be able to appreciate these words of wisdom.

Jaime, from Bright Concepts 4 Teachers says:
"Spend the first couple of weeks going over, repeating, and reinforcing classroom procedures and expectations. It may seem boring and unproductive to do but it will pay off the rest of the year when your classroom runs seamlessly, even when you aren't there!"

Alexis, from Laugh Eat Learn says:
"Create a checklist of tasks and procedures you want to accomplish by the end of the first week of school, rather than a schedule to follow.  No matter how prepared you are, you'll be running around starting on day one, and time will slip away.  So, instead of sticking to a schedule, create a list of tasks and procedures and check them off as you go.  Remember, every year is different and one task or procedure may take longer to cover than it did the previous year.  Be flexible and know that your end goal is to complete the checklist by the end of the week, not the end of the day."

Ashley, from One Sharp Bunch says:
"Teaching routines and procedures during the first week of school is so incredibly important.  Don't feel overwhelmed or pressured to address every academic subject during that first, second, or even third day...you will get there!  Routines and procedures must come first, especially with our little learners.  Otherwise, you will be wasting valuable instructional time as you reteach procedures and manage undesired behavior later in the year.  Remember to explicitly teach these routines, model them, practice them, as well as discuss and reinforce them.  Be clear and consistent with your expectations.  Remember not to get upset or frustrated when routines aren't going smoothly.  Simply stop the class, model, and practice that routine or procedure until the students get it right. The payoff for teaching and practicing these routines will be HUGE! A well managed and oiled classroom will run itself.  In the words of Fred Jones, 'Do it right, or do it all year long!'"

 You can grab this free printable here.

Nicole, from Today in Second Grade says:
"Things take time. It is so important not to rush through little things like getting organized or lining up because it's those things that are most important.  If we take the time to really teach and practice organization, structure, and routine, our year will be so much smoother.  I have often wanted to rush through that kind of stuff and get right into the 'teaching.' But, it's worth slowing down lessons and getting classwork done the first few weeks.  In the long run, we will gain back all that extra time spent at the beginning of  the year."

Leslie, from First Grade Frenzy says:
"Model, model, model! I always forget how much modeling we need to do at the beginning of the school year with our students. It's important to get our classroom routines and procedures organized. However, we need to model our expectations for our students and then with our students, so that they are successful."

Elyse, from Proud to be Primary says:
"Classroom management is key.  You can set up the perfect classroom decor, have all your materials organized, and have the most fabulous lessons ready, but if those management strategies are not ready, it can be a hard beginning.  Having a few tricks up your sleeve will make for a smoother beginning.  Your students will be looking to you for the answers and you need to show them that you have them."

Such wise words from Elyse.  Remember, you are the expert, you set the tone, you set the pace, you are the one establishing the framework for a successful classroom.  Which means that you need to know ahead of time how you are going to do this and how you will respond to any hiccups that first week (and there will be hiccups).  Be prepared and confident, your students are counting on that.

Marcy, from Saddle Up for Second Grade says:
"It is so important to start building your relationship with each child from day one.  Make a point to have a one on one conversation with each child, every day, even if it is something small like saying good morning.  You want each child to feel special in their own way when they enter your classroom.  Learn their likes and dislikes, outside of the classroom, and then use  that knowledge to build a strong relationship with each child and tie it to their learning."

Elyse, from Proud to be Primary says:
"Show kindness, patience, and fairness when dealing with your students.  Try to remember that they are learning and part of that means making and learning from their mistakes.  Help them not only learn the curriculum, but teach them how to be socially responsible."

Deirdre, from A Burst of First says:
"Remember that they are only little and no matter what you do, they will love you."

Angela, from Hippo Hooray for Second Grade says;
"Put something on every child's desk in the morning.  Something that your students can be independent with, but will take 15-20 minutes to complete.  Some ideas could be a coloring page or an 'All About Me' poster. When your students arrive, they will work on this activity, which will allow you to dry the tears, answer parent questions and ease their apprehensions, collect paperwork, and so on."

Molly, from Lucky to Be in First says:
"Walk away at a set time every day.  Cutting out laminate, cleaning every crevice in your classroom, and perusing through teacher resource books can wait! Go home, spend time with your family and friends {or at the very least, kick back and watch TV}!  There is always something you can do, but you also have a life that you deserve to enjoy."

Aris, from Sailing Into Second says:
"Create a tidy tub for each table so students can throw away their trash as they work and one person can walk the tub to the recycling bin. Tidy tubs prevent your littles from making an even bigger mess by trying to carry all their little scraps to the big recycling bin in the classroom."

Cyndie, from Chalk One Up for the Teacher says:
"When decorating your classroom, do what makes you happy, because chances are, it will make your students happy too.  Do not feel the need to fill up every space in your classroom, and stick to colors you love.  A few years ago, I had an overdecorated primary colored classroom.  I loved it, but I grew tired of it quickly.  By winter break, I was over it.  Last year, I decorated with black backgrounds and added pops of color. I loved it and I got many compliments on it."

I'm hoping that since you're here, you might be okay with hearing some advice from me too.  Hehe.

My advice: Go slow to go far.  You can't expect to teach your students anything if they don't know how you or your classroom operate.  Kids need structure and it's up to you to set that framework for them.  Know ahead of time the things you need to teach them so that they can be successful academically. And then, take the time to explicitly teach them these things.  The key is taking your time.  You can't rush this, you need to go slow.  The payoff is worth it in the end.  Every year, I tell myself to resist the urge to jump into our curriculum.  It will get done.  It will!  But, it won't get done if I have a class full of students who don't understand my expectations, routines, procedures, and rules. Take the time to teach these things, and then teach them again.

You can grab this free printable here.

And, don't forget to build your classroom community. Get to know your students. Talk to them, listen to them.  Let them know that they are safe, welcomed, and accepted. Once all of these things are in place, your students will go far and you will get through all that curriculum.  You will.

I hope you've been able to take away something from this post. I wish you all a successful and fun-filled back to school season!


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Saturday, June 25, 2016

8 #GIRLBOSS Quotes for Teachers

In a nutshell, being a #GIRLBOSS means you're focused, competent, and confident.  And, I think we can all agree that these are qualities that are beneficial for teachers too (even if you aren't a girl)!  The following quotes will hopefully motivate you to be a boss, a #teacherboss.

Teachers love to teach. They also love to learn.  Sometimes we learn from professional development books, trainings, conferences, or even quotes. Yes, quotes.  Sometimes, quotes serve as powerful reminders and open our eyes.

As I recently reread #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso, I realized that there are several quotes from her book that teachers can learn from.  She may be a self-made business mogul, but much of her down to earth, straightforward advice can be applied to any person, in any profession.

How true this is! We don't always see immediate results in the classroom but that doesn't mean that the wheels of learning aren't in motion. We have to remain confident that what we are doing will turn into something huge, eventually.  We have to.

"Remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t ever let the Man get to you."

If you've read this blog for a while you know that I'm just a big kid at heart. Please don't ever grow up. I mean, yes, you are an adult and adulting is inevitable, but that doesn't mean you can't still love Hello Kitty, Care Bears, or whatever. How else do you expect to identify with that classroom full of littles? And as for that Man. He seems to be knocking on our door all the time. Don't mind him. Play the game, but do what you need to do for your students.

"You combine hard work, creativity, and self-determination, and things start to happen."

Teaching is hard work. And it demands creativity.  A few years back, my nephew was on track to become a teacher.  He earned his degree and everything, but ultimately he chose another profession because too many of his professors convinced him that creativity was dead in teaching. What?!? Clearly these people are out of touch with reality. It takes creativity to integrate your subjects, modify programs to meet your students needs, plan engaging lessons, and fit everything into a week, let alone one day. Creativity in teaching is not dead. It's alive and well, my friends. When you're willing to put in the work coupled with creativity and a belief that it's all worth it, you will see results. Your students will respond and you will see growth.

Enough said. This quote basically applies to every person, anywhere.

"You don’t get taken seriously by asking someone to take you seriously. You’ve got to show up and own it."

Talk is cheap. Show up and do your job. People don't need you to tell them how good you are, they will see your dedication, determination, and drive. They will see you are committed to your craft. They will know how awesome you are simply by you doing your thing. You don't have to tell them. 

"No matter where you are in life, you’ll save a lot of time by not worrying too much about what other people think about you. The earlier in your life that you can learn that, the easier the rest of it will be."

This quote reminds me of something my mom repeated throughout my childhood, "Worry about yourself."  This saying has become my life's mantra.  Focus on making yourself the best teacher you can be. Who cares what the teacher down the hall thinks.  She doesn't know your students and their needs, nor does she necessarily know what's best. Just do you. 

"Focus on the positive things in your life and you’ll be shocked at how many more positive things start happening."

There are so many negatives to this job, like an overwhelming number of negatives. But dwelling on them won't get you anywhere. With that said, you're human, go ahead and vent.  It's natural.  But then, get proactive. Find a solution that turns it into positive. Make it work for you the best you can.

"When your goal is to gain experience, perspective, and knowledge, failure is no longer a possibility."

I like to think that as teachers we are always looking to do these three things. I equate them to being the best teacher you can be. I like to think that if you're being the best you possible, you won't fail. Sure, you might encounter a hiccup or stumble a bit along the way, but you won't fail.

Whether you're a new, or a not so new, teacher, there is always room to gain more experience, perspective, and knowledge.  I fear teacher burnout.  I fear becoming the teacher that does the same thing every single year. I fear losing my passion.  If I allow these things to happen, I will fail. So, I do whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen.  I read books and articles to expand my perspective and knowledge base and I collaborate with my peers to have a deeper understanding of my craft.  

I wish I could say I have a favorite quote from above, but they all resonate with me. They are all straightforward reminders to just go out and do my job, like a boss. ;)

Do you have a favorite? Did one quote resonate with you more than the others? Leave a comment below.  I'd love to know!


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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Work Smarter, Not Harder {10 Tips for Teachers}

Sometimes people ask me how I get it all done. When they ask this, they are referring to the work that has to be done outside of the actual act of teaching.  The planning, the grading, the prep, and so forth.  The truth is, I make it look easy because I've learned to work smarter, not harder.  

Once upon I time, I had a different career.  I had many different tasks to accomplish each day.  I had daily deadlines to adhere to and people counted on me to be knowledgeable, punctual, thorough, and prepared.  The demands of this job required that I work smarter, not harder. Many of the work habits I adopted back then followed me into my teaching career, and along the way, I've added some strategies to my repertoire that are specific to teaching.  

While I'm no expert in efficiency and work productivity, I hope that the tips that follow help you to make better use of your time as a teacher.

Make a list.  Every day. Identify what needs to be done and write it down. Then, prioritize it. 

It doesn't matter what you use to write your list on. Like sticky notes? Great! Prefer a pretty note pad? Super! Don't give two hoots and prefer to use scratch paper or whatever is lying around? Fabulous. Just write it all down!

I like to write my tasks down at the end of each day.  This way, I know exactly what I need to do when I get to school in the morning.  I try to write my tasks in the order they need to be accomplished, but I have also been known to write them down and then number them to the side.  This is just my way of making sure I tackle the most important tasks first.  And, I'm flexible about my tasks. Anything I don't get to one day (because it was low priority) gets bumped to the next day and prioritized with the next day's tasks.

Get it done. Once you've identified the tasks you need to accomplish, and you've prioritized them, do them. Get to work. Quit dilly dallying.  Put your phone down, stop chit chatting with your neighbor and get to work.  Confession: this can be hard, but you'll have time to stalk your phone and chit chat if you get your work done first.  

Think of it this way, if you don't get your work done you run the risk of being unprepared, stressed out, and ineffective as a teacher. And our job is too important to chance that! Force yourself to focus and get things done as quickly as possible. If this is super hard for you and you need some external motivation then reward yourself each day/week that you get stuff done. Before you know it, it will become a natural work habit.

Establish a daily work routine. Yes, there will be interruptions and disruptions, but you can still create a framework for what your work time will look like each day. Decide which tasks you will attend to each morning before school starts and each afternoon when the students are gone. 
Write down your thought bombsYou're a teacher, you probably have 25 random thought bombs a day....when you aren't at school. 

Sometimes I get random ideas or remember small things that need to be done when I'm not at school. To help me remember these things, I carry a small notepad in my purse. And I keep one on my nightstand as well. Sometimes, I email myself from my phone!  This way, I can easily record those little reminders and ideas as they come to me and I won't have to waste time trying to remember my thoughts and ideas when I'm back at school the following day.

Establish an email schedule. What I mean by that is, pick a time of day that you will read your emails. 

I tend to read mine first thing in the morning. We don't have a "desk job" so checking email periodically throughout the day is not always practical (or smart). Maybe you opt to check it first thing and immediately after school. Great! The point is, create a routine that works for you and your situation. 

I also have a policy of responding to emails within 24 hours. Keep in mind that you don't need to respond to every email you get. So many of the emails we get as teachers are FYI type emails. Don't bother with responding to those.
Finally, I also have a policy of never checking my email from home.  You never know what's lurking in that inbox, so I err on the side of caution and refuse to even log into my email from home.  Work emails get read when I'm at work.  End of story.

Collaborate. Whether it's with a like minded individual or your grade level, collaboration can make your job so much easier. 

Keep in mind that collaboration isn't dolling out or splitting up responsibilities. It's discussing and evaluating the material you plan to/are expected to teach your students. 

The point of collaboration is to help you perfect your craft and effectiveness as a teacher. So, make sure you confer with people who will help you achieve this.

Set limits. Leave your work at school. Teaching is demanding. It demands your energy, focus, and your time. 

Time is the biggie. And let's be honest, there isn't that much time in the day. How do some teachers cope with this? They take their work home. Even I have fallen victim to this, but in the past several years, I have set limits on what/when I take work home. See, I'm not just a teacher. I'm also a mom, and a wife, and human being with interests outside of my job. When I'm at work, that is my priority and when I'm at home that is my priority. It has to be. 

Now, as I said, there are times when I bring work home, such as when I am *seriously* behind on grading (it happens, friends) or need to work on report cards. This is something I need to do free of distractions (and on a computer that works more efficiently than my ancient desktop at school). I can bust out more report cards at home, once my little one has gone to bed, than I ever could at work. Other than that, my work pretty much stays at school. 

It all boils down to prioritizing your workload at school and sticking to a routine. When you find what works for you, you won't feel the need to regularly bring work home and when you do bring it home on occasion, you won't feel as guilty. 

Grade like a boss. Say what?  What I mean by that is, know what you're going to grade. Mark it in your lesson plans, or put a sticky note on those materials to remind you so that when you give that assignment you know you're planning to use it for a grade.  Then, set aside a day or two each week to enter grades. This way, you are able to enter them without spending huge chunks of time doing so (and parents knocking on your door pestering you as to why you haven't entered grades in the past month). 

Remember, you don't have to grade everything. If you've completed an assignment together in class, don't even collect it from students. Send it home! If you want to look over class work (and you probably should), you could spot check certain assignments, depending upon what it is. Or, you could go over it in class so your students are able to see how they did right there on the spot, saving you time in the long run.

Take a break. Or two. During the school day.  No, I'm not suggesting you run out into the hall and hide from your students, but just like your students, you need a brain break here and there too! 

Last year, our second graders endured an extremely long afternoon in the classroom. Most of that three hour chunk of time was core curriculum. It was a challenge for all of us, but thank goodness for brain breaks! On most days it was obvious that the kids needed a break, and some days, so did I.  Go Noodle to the rescue!  After our brain breaks, we were ready to refocus. The brain clutter was gone and the students were able to move onto the next set of learning tasks with a fresh mind. More importantly, I was able to tackle the next lesson with a fresh, decluttered state of mind.
NOTE: While Go Noodle is a super easy way to facilitate brain breaks, I know that some people have extremely hard core firewalls and can't access this site. No worries.  Play a game of Simon Says, or lead your students in some stretching exercises.  You could even line up your class and walk a few laps around the school.  If anyone asks, tell them you're practicing your hallway procedures.  ;)

The point is, it's OK to take a break, it's natural! Doctors, police officers, and everyone in between take them. And, it's a well known fact that breaks refuel and recharge the the body and mind, and teachers shouldn't think that breaks are off limits.  You're the professional, use your judgement to facilitate breaks as needed in your classroom because you will all benefit in the long run.
Make time for you. Find time in your day to focus on YOU! Focus on something other than teaching. 

Yes, we love what we do, and yes, we are passionate about it, but it isn't healthy to focus on teaching all.of.the.time. Read a book, find a hobby, get your nails done, binge watch Netflix. Whatever! Just make sure you carve some time out for you to focus on other things. Otherwise, you fail to take care of yourself and run the risk of burnout and/or unnecessary stress.  Plus, you're worth it. ;)
Do you have any favorite "word smarter, not harder" tips to share?  Comment below!

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