Summer Reading Picks for Teachers (2021)

Summer is here! So, it's time for my annual list of summer reading picks for teachers! 

Summer Reading for Teachers

This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

Reading is an easy way to unwind and relax. And, after THE craziest, busiest school year, every teacher can use some of that!

I'm going to share the books I've read and the books I plan to read. I hope you find a few to add to your summer TBR pile. :)

A few tips:
  • Remember to check your local library for these titles. It's a great way to get out of the house, and save money.
  • If you own a Kindle, stock up on all the books you want to read this summer. Most of the time, the digital version is much cheaper. It's small enough to fit in your purse which makes it easy to bring your book(s) with you wherever you go.

Books I've Read (and You Should Too)

Look, I'm a sucker for books about royals. I just am. This is a great story of a "commoner" and a royal coming together despite the odds and difficulties. There is a sequel to this book, but I have yet to read it.


This is book one in a three part series. The next two titles are listed below. It's a cute series about a girl who falls for her British neighbor. Their story unfolds over the three part series. It's full of laughs and all three are an easy read (light, fun, and quick). My favorite kind of read. P.S. I was able to read book one for FREE on my kindle (so, I hope that's still an option).




Listen, as far as I'm concerned, you can read any book from this series anytime, so don't let the word "Christmas" throw you off. Hehe. Honestly, all these years later, I still love the Shopaholic series. Yes, Becky can be exhausting sometimes. She makes poor decisions on the regular, BUT, that is what makes these stories laugh out loud funny. If you enjoy this series, then you'll enjoy this book too.


I love this writing duo. This books was fun. The main characters have the "fun" job of looking after a famous home improvement husband/wife team. America's well loved and favorite DYI duo isn't all it's cracked up to be, and the assistants have quite the job taking care of them. Of course, there is more to the story here, but I'll let you enjoy all that when you read it.



This is a fun read! Imagine America ruled by a monarchy...what??? Well, that's the world this story is set in. It follows the lives of the royals, mostly the siblings, one of which is slated to become queen....sooner than she realizes. It shows what it's like to find love when you're a part of the monarchy (spoiler alert, it isn't easy). It's a good book. Read it.


I love this author. I have yet to read a book by her that I didn't enjoy. This book is about a woman who's sister was murdered. She flees the big city, with her niece in tow, and ends up in a small Florida beach town. BUT, the murderer is on to her, which is scary, BUT, she has law enforcement on her side. Of course, things never go according to plan.....have I built up enough suspense? 


 
MY TBR (to be read) Pile

This is the sequel to American Royals mentioned above. I did start it, but never got to finish it. I purchased it for my Kindle, which I LOVE, but am taking a break from after a full year of distance learning. My eyes need a break. Anyhoo, I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of this story unfolds.

Ok, I did start this one, but set it aside. I just wasn't ready for it, YET. It's a story about people being paired up (romantically) using science. Can science create the perfect couple? I guess that remains to be seen!

An ETSY crafter meets a hard core attorney....hmmmm....SOLD! Also, I love books about weddings (planning them, the actual event, the craziness leading up to them). I'm sure this story will have lots of fun moments and it seems like a quick and easy read. 



I usually enjoy Jennifer Weiner's books, and this one sounded intriguing, so I quickly threw it in my cart. I don't think I can summarize the summary in just a few sentences. Use the link to learn all about this one. 



This book sounds juicy. What I mean by that is, several of the characters have these picture perfect lives...but they don't seem to think so themselves. Then, one little lie comes along that changes everything. I'm intrigued. Looking forward to this one!



You can find all of my Summer Reading Picks in my Amazon store. This link will take you to all of the books I've shared over the past few years. Click HERE to access all the titles in one place.

You can also use these links to learn about past summer picks:
Summer Reading 2016
Summer Reading 2017
Summer Reading 2018
Summer Reading 2019

Do you have any recommendations to add? Share your favorite summer reads in the comments below. :)

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Gift Ideas for Teachers (No School Supplies Here)

This year's gift guide is a bit late, but better late than never, right? Usually, my gift guides include lots of great items you can use in your classroom, but 2020 has just been a doozy of a year. So, this year, I'm sharing lots of gift ideas that you can use to pamper yourself and take care of yourself whether you are in distance learning mode, hybrid learning mode, or back in school (where I'm sure nothing is normal).



This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience. I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

These are items you might gift yourself. Or, you could use these ideas and share them with friends and family who ask you what you want for the holidays this year. Or, consider these ideas for the teacher in your life. 

Face Mask

Face masks are a great way to pamper yourself. This one from Peter Thomas Roth is my all time favorite. I have used it for years. It smells divine and helps exfoliate my skin and reduce the look of pores. But, honestly, any face mask will do! Slather that stuff on, and then sit back and relax!

Eye Mask

Don't forget about those tired eyes. If you're teaching online, your eyes are likely more tired than usual. And, I don't just mean your actual eyeballs. Teaching and teaching online is draining. But that doesn't mean that you need to look drained. De-puff and energize those eyes with a fun and fancy eye mask! 




Slippers

I teach from home. My uniform of choice is a nice work top paired with leggings and these slippers. A girl needs to feel cozy when she's at home! This pair is extra cushiony and super soft. Now, if you're teaching from school, this may not work for you in the same way, but think about how happy your feet will be at the end of the day. 



Diffuser

I have a diffuser in my classroom, and I have one at home. I love to diffuse peppermint oil (I usually buy mine from Thrive Market). Whatever your favorite scent is, find one that makes you feel calm and peaceful. Diffuse it near your home workstation (or your desk at school) in a pretty diffuser like this one and take a few deep breaths throughout the day. Plus, a nice smelling workspace is never a bad thing.




Blanket

It's starting to get cold. When my heater turns off, the chill takes over (and I'm pretty cold sensitive). I keep a faux fur throw nearby at all times. The faux fur throws are extra silky and extra soft. I can quickly toss it over my lap and it just makes me feel calm and warm.




Weighted Blanket

Having trouble sleeping this school year? More so than usual, that is? If so, give a weighted blanket a try. It might just help you get a good night's rest.




Water Bottle

Teaching from home doesn't mean you can skimp on drinking your water each day. I like to fill up a small water bottle like this one so that I can have to get up mid-morning and mid-afternoon to refill it. Teaching from behind a computer means you sit a lot. Needing to refill my water bottle during prep and lunch means I know I will walk away and get moving a bit, plus, I'm drinking my water.



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Distance Learning: Making Connections

We all know that making connections with students is important. In fact, it might be one of the most important things we can do as teachers. Connections lead to a better outlook toward school and a willingness on the students part to engage in the learning process. But, how does making connections look when you are separated with miles between you and your students?


There are many ways to connect to your students when teaching behind a computer screen. And, they are all super simple. 

This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.  I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links.  For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

Morning Meeting Share Time

Every day, we start our day with a "This or That" question. It's almost like a mini morning meeting where the kids get to share their opinion on a topic. I say mini because, my schedule is packed. In our first 30 minute block of online learning, I have to teach phonics, vocab, and reading. But, even though our daily question is quick (5ish minutes), the kids are given a chance to be heard and share their ideas.

Kids love to share. They love to hear their friends share. This allows them to make connections with their peers. This provides for a shared experience that in turn helps build classroom community.

Be Available/Let Them Talk

Our day is broken up between synchronous and asynchronous learning time. Typically, we have 30 minutes together for lessons and what not, and then the students have 20 minutes to work on assignments independently. This schedule is not my favorite, but in this learning environment, I'm not sure there is a perfect solution, so I follow the guidelines set forth by my school and district. 

During asynchronous learning time, I am always still online in our live Google Meet (it's a requirement). The kids know they can pop in at any time during asynchronous learning time to ask a question, get help, or just talk. A lot of my students will pop in just to talk. They like to show me things in their home or things they have made. They like to share stories and ask questions, and you know what? I'm fine with that. When they take the initiative to come and hang out with me, they clearly want to interact and are looking for a connection on their end. 

And, don't worry, I do check in to make sure they are caught up on their assignment for that work period. If they aren't, we work on it together. This allows me to make sure their assignment gets done, I can see where they are at, and we get to chit chat a bit along the way. This has really allowed me to get to know my kids on a more personal level. I love when they pop in.

Sometimes, kids will come back to our meet 5-10 minutes early. Just to hang out. I let them talk to me, and to each other. I do not put my Meet into present mode with music playing. I encourage them to interact. It's just one small way I can encourage social interaction. They know that when it's time to start, I will let them know and they have to mute as others come back to the Meet.

Communicate with Parents

Staying in contact with parents is a great way to strengthen connections with your students. When your parents feel in the know, they are more likely to support their kids with online learning. When your students have parents who support them, they are more likely to have a positive outlook toward school. Find opportunities to communicate with parents outside of reminders that their child needs to complete a missing assignment. Share a win. Give a compliment. Thank them for supporting their child. 

Social Time

At the end of each day, I have an optional Meet where the kids can come and do a quick directed drawing with me, followed by a Mad Lib (Mad Lib, Jr. is my favorite for primary aged students). We draw, we laugh, the kids often share stories and ask questions. It's just a nice time where we hang out without any academic instruction. 

Happy Mail

Snail mail will never go out of style. Kids love getting mail! I like to send my students some sort of mail every once in a while. At Halloween, I sent them a sheet of stickers and a pencil, along with a special note. 

For the winter holidays, I plan to send them a few color by code coloring pages, a fun sticker sheet where they get to create a holiday friend (from Amazon), and a word search (which I'm sure I'll be able to find on TPT). It doesn't take long to get this set up and sent out. 

My students loved their happy mail delivery in October, so I'm excited to put together a new one for December.

Most of these ideas are ways that I have connected with my students, but in the course of doing so, the kids have also been able to connect with one another. While it may not be the same as it would be in real life, it's something, and I'm grateful for the connections we've been able to make.

Share your favorite way to connect with your students during distance learning in the comments! 

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Amazon Must-Haves for Distance Learning

I recently wrote a post about finding balance in the midst of teaching online during a pandemic. You can find that post here. Today, I wanted to share some of my favorite tools for distance learning. Things that, if I really think about it, help make this sort of teaching a bit easier in one way or another. 

My hope is that maybe one or two of these items might help you solve some issues you're having with distance learning. Neck pain anyone? Back pain anyone?


This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.  I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links.  For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

Document Camera

Friends, if you use one of these in the classroom, you need to be using one at home. It is my top must have. I don't have the space at home to set up an anchor chart. I can use my doc camera to create mini anchor charts with the students and to project all the kinds of things I used to project in the classroom. I simply share my screen and switch to the doc camera software so the kids can see what they need to see. 

As you can see, I have a super fancy set up here to give the doc camera some extra height. Hehe.


If your school allows you to check out materials, and you haven't already taken advantage of that option, I highly encourage you to check out your document camera. If that isn't an option and you'd like one of your own, you can find the one I purchased by clicking here. A word of caution, these tend to sell out often.

Phone Stand

Here's why I love my little phone stand. It is next to my computer and it allows me to easily see when any Dojo messages are coming in. I have so many tabs open on my computer, there is no way I can toggle between them while I'm teaching to see if a parent has sent a quick message about tech issues, etc. I can also see when my principal has sent me a message.


Ergonomic Foot Rest

Goodness gracious, when I first started distance learning, my back was killing me. I felt like I was 85 years old. Then, I remembered that long ago in my previous work life, I had a desk job (10 hours a day at a desk) and an ergonomic foot rest. I quickly searched Amazon and grabbed this foot rest. It was worth every penny. My back quickly recovered and I've been using the foot rest ever since.


Ergonomic Mouse Pad & Cordless Mouse

If you're prone to wrist pain, these two items will be your best friend. I started out the year wearing a wrist brace. I just wasn't used to this much computer work (I'm also prone to joint pain). Again, I remembered to way back when I had a desk job and an ergonomic mouse pad that helped ease wrist pain. I found this mouse pad on Amazon for super cheap and quickly added it to my cart. 


The wireless mouse may not be as big a deal to others, but for me, it's one less cord to have to battle once papers and manuals are spread all over my desk during the day. I also found the mouse on Amazon.

Laptop Stand

Keeping in line with the whole ergonomic thing, this laptop stand helped to alleviate some neck pain I was also experiencing at the start of the year. It also helps keep my laptop from overheating.


Cozy Chair

I mean, if you're going to sit all day, you might as well have a cute and cozy chair. This one is from Amazon. I love it. It was a bit of a splurge, but I have no regrets.


Tiered Cart

This thing helps me organize all my stuff so that it's also accessible throughout the day. I teach from the loft space in our house. It's a microloft (extremely small) and I have no storage for the materials I need. I can load up this cart and push it against the wall when I'm not teaching. In the morning, I simply pull it next to my desk and can easily grab what I need. 


This cart is from Michaels, but here is a comparable one on Amazon (in case you don't have a Michaels near you).

Expandable File Folders

When they told us we would be required to do reading groups virtually, my jaw dropped. I mean, HOW? Then, I went into action. I use these expandable file folders to store the materials I need for each group. I mostly use Reading A-Z projectable books with my groups, and these file folders allow me to organize the guided reading lesson plans with my notes for each day/group. 


Do you have a distance learning must have? If so, leave it in the comments below!

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5 Tips for Surviving Distance Learning

Distance learning dragging you down? I hear you. I feel you. I've been teaching 100% from the computer since mid-August. I've spent my fair share of days glued to my computer, solving tech issues I'm not really qualified to solve, and adapting our curriculum to work in an online environment all while getting to know my students, identifying their needs, and trying to make connections. Oh, and meeting the needs of my own family and home.

distance learning tips for finding balance

For the first several weeks, I was working 12 hour days. One night, my husband came home to see me crying at my computer. Feelings of hopelessness, frustration, and overwhelm got the best of me. But, it was that moment that I decided I would no longer allow this learning environment to be as all consuming as I had allowed it to be. My home was being neglected, my family was being neglecgted, I was on a constant verge of an autoimmune flare (if you know, you know), and I struggled immensely to help my middle schooler not only adjust to online learning, but middle school itself. Enough was enough.

Let me be clear, I still work hard, the work is still hard, and I still have my struggles, but now I'm in a groove. I can tackle each day with a clear mind and fresh point of view so that I can be the best virtual teacher I know how to be. 

Here are the things I did, and still do, to help me find some balance with distance learning. I hope some of these resonate with you.

Set boundaries

Just do it. Is it hard? Yes (at first, anyway). Is it necessary? Yes. 

I sit down at my computer at 7:30 every morning to begin my work. My contracted hours begin at 8:21, but I have always been one who goes in a bit early. At 3:31 (end of the contract day), I turn my computer off. That's it, I'm done. No matter what, I walk away and I don't return until 7:30 the next morning. I make good use of my prep time to attend to the tasks on my daily to do list.

And, I no longer do ANY school work on the weekend. I just won't do it.

Was this hard to do? Yes. Truth be told, I had to baby step my way there, but I'm there now. I no longer feel as overwhelmed or hopeless. And, I haven't cried since that night my husband came home to that awful sight.

A few things I reminded myself of as I made this transition are:
  • My mental and physical health are crucial to being an effective teacher.
  • I can't teach effectively if I am burned out.
  • This job does not pay me enough to sacrifice my own time and energy at the expense of caring for my own needs and family.
  • Being a teacher does not mean I need give up my life and health.
  • No one cares how much of my own time I commit to making distance learning work.
  • Talking to fellow teachers who felt the same and wanted to lessen the burden of online teaching themselves.
Let's be honest, I still remind myself of these things.

Find other ways to spend your time

Part of my feeling of overwhelm stemmed from the fact that I was no longer making home cooked meals and my home was being neglected. I'm stuck and home. All I see is the inside of my house. And, it wasn't looking so hot. I'm a firm believer that your physical environment plays a huge part in anxiety, mood, and overall well-being. 

I started watching "Clean with Me" videos on YouTube (yes, they're strange, but oddly motivating) and started taking that time I now had available by setting boundaries to attend to our home. I didn't actively seek these out, they just popped up on my feed one day. I guess it was a sign. Haha! I've been decluttering, deep cleaning, and fixing small things here and there ever since. 

I also started exercising regularly. Again. This has always been something I do, but with all the work I was doing to stay afloat with distance learning, I simply couldn't make time for it. And that was another thing that was contributing to my sense of overwhelm. Now, I'm back to several workouts a week. I love using Beachbody workouts, but I also go for walk around our neighborhood because you can only stay cooped up for so long.

Plan with others and divvy up the tasks

Share your workload. If you have a team that works well together, capitalize on that. Divvy up the planning so that each person is responsible for planning one subject each week. 

When my team and I decided to do this, it helped make the process of setting boundaries a lot easier. We were all overwhelmed and on the verge of burnout. Each member of my team is responsible for planning a subject using our adopted curriculum and preparing the digital materials for that subject. We have a strict system in place where plans and materials must be dropped into a designated Google Drive folder by a certain day each week. This works well for us and everyone has done an amazing job of staying on schedule. 

We meet weekly to go over the plans and answer any questions others have, and also share tips and things that have been working for us. We ask each other for advice as needed. 

Sometimes, I even plan with teachers outside of my school. We bounce ideas off each other and share successes. So, if your team is too small to divvy up the planning, you can ease the burden of planning by reaching out to other teachers you might know.

TPT is your friend

I make a lot of materials using screenshots of our curriculum and the like, but sometimes I just need something a bit more engaging for our asynchronous assignments. I've been creating on TPT for many years now, but I can't create it all. And, when it comes to distance learning, I need my fair share of supplemental digital resources. Rather than spend 10 hours creating one resource every time I need one, I search TPT to see what I can find. This saves me tons of time and I'm willing to spend a few dollars here and there if it means my own time remains my own.

With that said, I have created some digital resources that I rely on often. Click below to check them out.

Find something that brings you joy

Read a book, binge watch whatever, play a board game with your kids, diffuse your favorite essential oil (mine is peppermint), leisurely peruse Pinterest, bake something, decorate for the season...these are all ways I bring joy to my world these days. 

If you're looking for some binge worthy shows, here are a few of my faves on Netflix:
  • Jane the Virgin
  • New Girl 
  • Schitt's Creek
  • Man with a Plan
  • The Last Kingdom
  • Ashley Garcia Genius in Love
  • The Good Place
  • Community
  • One Day at a Time
  • Mr. Iglesias
  • Lucifer

I realize most of these are comedy. What can I say, I like to laugh.

Bringing joy doesn't have to be big, it just has to warm your heart and take your mind off other things. What brings you joy? Share in the comments below!

If you are still experiencing a great deal of overwhelm and hopelessness with distance learning, I hope some of these ideas might resonate with you. Remember, teaching cannot dictate how you live your life. It should not come between you and your home, your family, or your well-being. I hope you are on the path to finding a groove and a bit of peace. 

XOXO

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Amazon Must Haves for the Classroom

It's time to share some more Amazon must-haves for the classroom. Amazon is one of the most convenient places for teachers to get what they need. I find the majority of my classroom items on Amazon. Their pricing is great and you can't beat Prime shipping.



This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.  I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links.  For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

This is not the first time I've shared some Amazon must-haves. You can check out other must-have items for your classroom by clicking here. 

With that said, here are some MORE amazing Amazon must-haves for your classroom. :)

Easel
This past year, I invested in an easel. Those fancy ones from Lakeshore and Really Good Stuff are too pricey for me. But this office style easel has proven to be very useful and effective. You can adjust the height, it's magnetic, and it has a whiteboard surface. I expect to get several years out of it. Click here to check out all the details.



Heavy Duty Paper
I used to print all my task cards, write the room cards, and reward tags on card stock. Which I would then laminate for added durability. But, using all that card stock eventually wore out my printer.

Now, I prefer to use 28 or 32 lb. printer paper. It's a higher quality, thick printer paper (thicker than your standard printer paper). And, the color always looks more vibrant. Once laminated, it's nice and durable and everything holds up really well. These two are my favorite:

HP 28 lb. paper
HP 32 lb. paper


Charging Stations
As my collection of classroom tech grew, I realized I needed a way to keep my devices organized while they charged. Beyond that, I needed something to contain the nightmarish collection of cords that was taking over that corner of the room. Cords are like the visual equivalent to nails being dragged on a chalkboard.

These bamboo charging stations are perfection. There is a power strip inside the base where each device is plugged in. Any cords that hang out of the charging station are wrapped together and now the cords stay out of sight and the kids know where to put the devices when they're finished with them.


Amazon sometimes runs out of the bamboo color, but they also offer a version in black. Click here for the item I purchased to check out the available color options.

Hole Punch
Yes, a hole punch made the list. Hehe. Over the years, my hands have become weak and prone to inflammation. Hole punching can be a more difficult and uncomfortable task than it needs to be. Enter this hole puncher.


It fits in the palm of your hand and has an ergonomic design. Best of all, it punches really easily. You don't have to squeeze too hard at all. This reduced effort hole punch is from Paper Pro (Bostitch). I ordered several so I have a backup, and one at home. Check it out here.

Oil Timer
This oil timer is a great tool for keeping kids focused during independent work time. I choose a time keeper (aka time manager) who comes to the front of the room during independent work time. They hold the timer while keeping an eye on the rest of the class. When the timer runs out, they place it on another student's desk (a student who was working the whole time and not talking). You can read more about this classroom management idea here. 


Click here to see this oil timer on Amazon.

Keyboard Covers
I know most people use these to cover their keyboards and make them look more fun and colorful. I use them as a word work center. Simply place a set of words out with these keyboard skins and you have yourself an instant center.


No, there is no accountability with this center. But, it does expose kids to a keyboard as they practice typing words they need to know. If this idea appeals to you, click here to see the keyboard covers I purchased.

LCD Boards
Another fun word work tool I've found on Amazon are these LCD writing boards. The kids love them! I mostly use them in our small groups when we practice sight words or specific phonics skills. These boards are a bit different than a mini whiteboard which is why the kids love them. It's different and being able to use them creates immediate buy in. Click here to see the boards I purchased on Amazon.


Harry Potter Style Glasses
If you like adding a bit of novelty to your day, then consider purchasing these glasses. My kids love wearing them during small groups, independent reading, or when working on their sight words. Kids who already wear glasses have been known to put them on over their regular glasses. If something as little as a pair of fun glasses motivates my students to read, I'm here for it. Click here to check these out.




Cap Erasers
I don't know about you, but my students always go through pencil erasers faster than they go through actual pencils. One day, I looked at our pencil bucket and noticed that most of the pencils still had a lot of life in them, they were just missing erasers. The solution was simple, get some cap erasers! These Paper Mate ones are my favorite because they erase and hold up really well.


For around $4-5 you get 144 erasers, which lasts for quite some time. Click here.

For more useful finds click HERE.
For tools every teacher needs click HERE.


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