Teacher Appreciation Flipped

Teacher appreciation week is approaching.  In case you didn't know, it's usually the first or second week of May, and it's a time for teachers to be loved-on and appreciated for all the hard work, endless days and nights they put into the job, and countless hours they spend grading, planning, meeting, and teaching children.


This year I have a proposition for the teachers.  While free burritos, chicken, and coffee
are nice, and discounts at stores are sweet, how about this year we try teacher appreciation with a twist.  Call it teacher appreciation flipped, or teacher appreciation 2.0. 


See I've wanted to be a teacher since I was 7 or 8 years old.  It happened to me in the second grade when I had Ms. Lopez as my teacher.  She was young, fresh out of college, and we were her first teaching gig.  It was Audubon Elementary in the 1970's, and I was in love.  She was young and vivacious, and full of inspiration and pep.  She treated us like people, not little kids or objects, and she really trusted and put faith in us.  As second graders we ran the school newspaper.  We had pen pals across town, who we wrote to bi-weekly, and we went on field trips everywhere she could possibly take us.  She even took us camping for three days about an hour west of town.  Ms. Lopez inspired me to be a teacher.  She showed me what teaching could be like, and I wanted to grow up to be like her.


So my proposition to you, as a teacher, is to take a moment of your time this year, and for teacher appreciation week, to pay it forward.  Write, call, email, or Facebook message your inspiration and let them know how much you appreciate what they did in your life to help you to become a teacher.


When I was graduating college, I found Ms. Lopez.  Although she had been let go after teaching my class due to budget cuts, she had continued on in the teaching profession.  She had taught for many years, become a principal, and was now moving to the head of special education for one of the districts in our city.  I wrote to her and just expressed my heart, my sincerest appreciation, and utmost adoration for all she had done to inspire me.


So, who inspired you?  Have you thanked them yet?  Let me know about your story in the comments down below.

Interactive Notebook How To

As many people who know me know, I love interactive notebooks.  I've been working with them for years and refining them within my classroom.  I've also been creating interactive notebook examples for my students to use throughout their own books and getting into the philosophy and construction of interactive notebook ideas.  It had never dawned on me before that many people may not be as familiar with interactive notebooks as I am, and it wasn't until a friend of mine came to me perplexed about what an interactive notebook even was, that I decided to write this blog post and guide and address some of the common issues that many people have with interactive notebooks.

Interactive Notebook How To

An interactive notebook allows students to be independent and creative thinkers and writers.  It takes class notes and other activities and allow students to process the information presented in class in their own way and in their own style.  Interactive notebooks can incorporate many different forms of learning so that all modalities are being met, and they allow for many creative ideas so that learning is fresh and always changing.


Interactive Notebook Setup

The interactive notebook setup can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish it to be, but I have found over years of experience, that the more time I take at the beginning, the less frustration I have throughout the process.  Therefore, I recommend looking at the pros and cons of each type of notebook and choosing the one that best fits your style and needs.  I've even gone as far as making a notebook from individual sheets of notebook paper as we slowly grew our sheets into a notebook over the course of the school year.  In hindsight, this is a method I would not recommend.


Next, there are things like the interactive notebook table of contents, an envelope for pieces and parts of foldable crafts, a bookmark, and page numbering.  Each of these items are effective and helpful in their own right, but none of them are critical to the process if things must get rolling and teaching must commence.


Then comes the examples, and the foldable crafts, and the templates that fill the pages; this is where the magic happens.  Interactive notebook examples can include writing pieces from anything from fiction to nonfiction, letters to stories.  They can include card sorts and Venn diagrams, foldable crafts, matching exercises, maps, and more.  There are over 1000 foldable templates for interactive notebooks alone.


Interactive Notebook Expectations

Ultimately, however, the effectiveness of the interactive notebook will come down to the teacher and how effective they are at guiding their interactive notebook time.  Just as with any subject, if the teacher is nervous, unsure, or shows an air of disdain, the students will sense that and run with it.  The teacher must be calm and collected, organized and efficient, energized and excited for the interactive notebook to be effective.  No one wants kids cutting and gluing their lives away, so ideas must be implemented appropriately in order to ensure that students maximize their learning time.

If you'd like more information on how to set-up and run your interactive notebooks, I have a free 13-page interactive notebook how to guide.  It's available here if you would like more guidance and support with this process.


Let me know if you use interactive notebooks in your classroom and how they work for you.  If you have questions or problems, please don't hesitate to ask.  I am here to help!  Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Grab your free 13-page guide.

Afternoon Tricks to Ease Your Teaching

As the day lingers, it can be hard to stay focused and motivated.  It can be difficult to remain patient and remember to complete the simplest task, but it was by completing three simple tasks that I made my life so much easier, and I'd like to share them with you too.

There's Pride in Ownership

The first trick comes with about 15 minutes left in the school day.  Assign your students chores, just as you would your own kids.  Have 3-4 kids assigned to wipe down the desks, use others to clean up the library, and pick a couple to vacuum or pick up the floor.  Whatever your problem areas seem to be, that's where you need to assign some kids to clean.  It only take 3-5 minutes and the room will be gleaming for you.  Along with the cleanliness, students learn to take responsibility for their environment and many gain pride in doing a job well.

Mystery Trash, the Game

On days where the floor seems particularly messy I like to play a game with my class.  This is trick number two, and I call it "Mystery Trash."  As the kids are filling out their planner or packing their bags, I take a quick trip around the room and pick 3-5 pieces of trash of varying size, color, and type.  Don't pick them up!  Just make a visual picture of them in your head and then tell the class it's time to play mystery trash.  If it's one of your first times, you'll have to explain the rules to them, but they're pretty simple.  Students pick up all the trash they can see, but before they dump it in the trash or recycling can, they bring it past the teacher first.  As the teacher, I survey their handfuls and look for my pieces of trash I visualized earlier.  Once I see one, I replace that piece of trash with that student's beautiful face.  Keep going until the room is spotless.  It usually only takes a couple minutes.  As kids bring you pencils and markers, glue sticks, and scissors, make sure they place them back in the supply bins and not in the trash.  Grab anything else out of their hands that might need to be kept, and tell them to dispose of everything else.  Once the room is clean, congratulate the winners, and if you'd like, pass out prizes such as class treasures, classroom money, bookmarks, or something easy and affordable.

Set the Room for Success

Lastly, trick number 3, is to set your room up for the next day before you leave that afternoon.  This can be a tough one!  By the afternoon dismissal and carpool has taken place, I feel wasted, I am exhausted and beaten down and just want to go home for some down time, possibly a nap, and some unwinding.  However, I have found that if I push through and set up my room for the morning, I am much happier the next day.  This includes writing the agenda on the board, changing the schedule on the wall, passing out papers to the student's desks, laying out the lesson materials, and more.  Whatever you might have to do before that first group of kids arrives, do it before you ever leave.  Even better, then you're ready in case you need the dreaded emergency sub.  I tend to be a morning person, and so you might think that I would want to do this all in the morning before the kids arrive, but to have it done and be able to focus on the next tier of tasks was really helpful to my productivity and mindset for the day.  It gave me a feeling of accomplishment before I had even accomplished one thing.

So those are just three quick and simple tasks to do before you leave for the day to make your life easier.  What else do you do in the afternoon to make your life smoother?  Leave me a comment below and tell me all about it.

Mindfulness in My Classroom: A 6th Grade Teacher's Story

As my school year started, I knew I wanted to make mindset play a key role in my student's day.  Each day a bell ringer greeted my class, and almost every day that bell ringer had something to do with mind set, character education, or ethics.  We discussed how to deal with losing in sports, how to handle getting a bad grade on a test, how to challenge one's self to possess a better character, what to do if you found a lost wallet full of cash.  Yet, it became apparent, pretty quickly, that my class needed something more.

Mindfulness in the Classroom - A 6th Grade Teacher's Story

Behavior - bad behavior, or poor choices - was at an all time high in my class.  Our daily bell ringers, weekly character lessons, school PBS (Positive Behavior System), student affirmations, and classroom incentive program had done nothing to sway the rampant disrespect and disregard I had seen throughout my classroom.  I had tried all of my usual classroom management tricks and nothing had an effect.  That was...until my teaching assistant and I had an interesting discussion one warm October day, when we both shared with one another about our success with meditation and mindfulness on a personal level.

Mindset, Mindfulness, Meditation

As we both had been experimenting with meditation and mindfulness, seeing the benefits of calmness, serenity, and focus in our own lives, we thought maybe the class could see those benefits as well.  Within days I started my class on daily meditation, through an app I got on my iPhone, and almost immediately we started seeing results.

I tried the meditation and mindfulness at two different times of the day, after recess, and after lunch, finally settling on sharing our time together after lunch.  We would turn off the lights, turn on the speakers, and listen in to the message of the day.  Some kids would really hone in and focus, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, and working hard to master the techniques being taught, while others would simply color or put their heads down.  Regardless, of how they approached it, the mindfulness and the messages were working, as my behavior issues and referrals declined by approximately 30%, and our lesson content taught in the afternoons increased as well.
Meditation Apps - Headspace & Calm

Besides trying the meditation and mindfulness at two different times, we also tried two different apps.  These are not affiliate links, just my own experience and the feedback I received from my students.  The first app we tried was called Headspace.  I got this app recommendation from a doctor I had seen, and had only tried the free sample sessions previously.  Once the kids and I got through the 10 free sessions, we then switched over and tried Calm, an app I was recommended by a friend.  The kids immediately had an aversion to the Calm app even though I thought it had more features that they would like.  The students did not like the sound of the voice and felt like it was too rushed.  They also hated the background noise of the waves crashing on the shore.  So we went back to Headspace and I bought a yearly membership.  It's not cheap, just to warn you, although it is tax deductible if you're using it for your classroom.  I thought the investment of less than a $1 a day was worth it, but it can be a lot on a teacher's salary.

Mindfulness quote

Mindfulness wasn't the solution to all my problems, but it alleviated a lot of the headaches I was having.  It also gave me 5-10 minutes to reground and recenter myself before starting to teach again.  I enjoyed emulating and setting an example for my students and I think many of my kids appreciated having the guidance and the security to see that mindfulness is not hokey or stupid or goofy; it's something even adults do.  One of my most difficult students was one of my best exemplars when it came to our daily mindfulness and meditation.

So if you have been dealing with behavior problems in your classroom, or a class that just comes back from specials bouncing off the wall, try mindfulness as a way to calm them down and focus them on learning.  You can use your personal device, a computer, or even just have them breathe deeply in and out for 18 seconds while thinking about where they are and what they are doing in that present moment.  Another idea is to have your students ground themselves in the moment by examining what they can hear, feel, see, touch, and taste.  This not only helps you to focus on the moment and mindfulness, it helps those with anxiety to regain control.

So give these mindfulness ideas a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below.

The Power of a Greeting

Every day as students enter my classroom, I stand at my door and greet them.  Whether it's with a handshake, a hug, a fist bump, or just a wave, this simple gesture has power beyond measure and it's something you might want to consider adding to your teaching repertoire.

The Power of a Greeting

In 2017, approximately 1.3 million children were homeless at some point during the year. [1]  In addition to this, nearly 438,000 children are in the foster care system in the United States, with 12% of these kids living in group homes or institutions. [2]  This does not even include the children in domestic violence situations (5 million children each year [3]) or in homes where parents are deployed (over 900,000 children have had one or both parents deployed multiple times [4]).

Thus, with at least 6.7 million kids in situations where tensions are high, depression and anxiety are elevated, and connections with loved ones are often missing or strained, a simple gesture of hello in the morning, or whenever your class may be, can help make a connection with a student who may not otherwise get to make a positive connection with an adult that day.  Not only does it allow for a basic connection with a student, a greeting has been shown to build confidence, promote self-respect, and encourage positive feelings about ones self.

Even if you live in an area of affluence where both parents are present and students are well taken care of, a greeting can go a long way to build self-respect, confidence, and respect.  A smile, bright eyes, and a welcoming grin, joke, or gesture can put students at ease and earn you a well-disciplined student for the day.  While simply learning how to correctly shake hands can earn students a lifetime of respect.     

Besides the statistics, isn't it just obvious that a greeting can warm even the coldest spirit?  I've had the grumpiest students brighten up and become engaged in my class just because I met them at the door and exchanged pleasantries with them.  And I've had the saddest kids and kids traumatized by outside events make it through day after day after day inside my classroom, because I stopped and showed them how much I care before we began each day.  It's just a simple, "hello," or, "How are you doing?" or, "I missed you," and you've shown them that you care, thus making a connection with a student, and allowing many doors of opportunity to be opened.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
There are many ways to implement a morning greeting in your classroom. Here are just a few...

  1. You can simply stand at the door and shake hands as students approach.
  2. You can let students choose their form of greeting (handshake, fist bump, wave, high five, etc.) and greet each student in a way that they feel comfortable.  For a printable resource you can hang outside your room to let students choose their greeting, click here.
  3. You can let each student create their own greeting or handshake and greet each student in a unique way.
  4. If you're really busy, (although not advised) assign a student to greet students for you.  It's better than nothing.

Morning Greeting Printable

So, how do you greet your students?  Comment below, and let me know.

[1] https://www.icphusa.org/interactive_data/the-united-states-of-homelessness/?gclid=CjwKCAiAyrXiBRAjEiwATI95mVAWHTpnDWkbtoJ-EbeEmnhggMdN7iTJackF11hQAEZ-XSfAjgjdiBoCtTQQAvD_BwE

[2] https://www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/

[3] https://cdv.org/2014/02/10-startling-domestic-violence-statistics-for-children/

[4] https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-military-families

New Year, New School, New Challenges, New Rewards

A new school year can be challenging, a new school...intimidating, but add in a brand new school building with a newly formed school and it can become downright daunting.  Yet about 50 other brave souls, along with myself, have accepted the mission to open a new charter school in our city and we're excited as all get out.

Along with the usual beginning of the year decor challenges, book labeling, and student names to learn, we are building a school from the ground up.  In fact the paint is still drying and the carpet is still being laid, but our determination and hearts are strong for the decisions we make and the training we undergo to make our school what we want it to be...a beacon for parents, a place for learning, and a spot where students will know they are loved.  It's why we are all so committed.

Just a few weeks ago, a blueprint and a targeted building list was as close as I could get to my classroom.

Now, with just a few weeks left of summer vacation, I can peek in my room and see the potential that all our work is driving towards.

 We learn about Capturing Kid's Hearts so we can build relationships with our youngsters and have them learn to be leaders in our communities.

We dive into Singapore Math and CKLA training so we can grow minds with great curriculum.

But we also build schedules that will let all sides of our students thrive.

  • We create a schoolwide DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time so that not just kids read but everyone from the principal, to the teachers, to the campus security reads and sets an example for the youth in our building.  
  • We include character education blocks so it's not just something we say, but it's something we walk.  
  • We have science and social studies in every schedule, every day so that every student, from kindergarten to sixth grade, is getting a well-rounded education.  
  • And we include the specials, which for us right now, in our first years, are PE, music, art, and Spanish.    

We also work as a team to create a school vision, lay the building blocks of how we will function as a team through our social contract, and work with our administration and literacy coaches on how to best serve our students.

It's an incredibly daunting and exhausting process, but it's so rewarding and enriching as well.  In the end, all this hard work will be worth it, as we create our new school and especially our successful students.

Let me know in the comments if you have ever opened a brand new school, and what were your favorite parts about the process.

Making Minutes Matter with History Minutes

Did you know that there was once a "year of confusion"?
Did you know that the computer was invented in 1822?
How about that President Garfield was actually killed by inept doctors rather than an assassin's bullet?

Each of these moments are covered in what are called "History Minutes," a brief two page look at a time or place in history.

I've had several people ask me about these new resources.  They've wondered...
Why did you create them?  
What's in them?  
How do they work?  
How can they be used?  
So I figured I would explain my "History Minutes," how they came to be, what they are, and just how they can be used in classrooms.  Then, at the end, I've got a couple ways that you can try them out and see how they fit you and your students.

Why I created them...

I created my "History Minute" resources for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost, I wanted to
integrate learning across the curriculum for my students.  That's why it's not just a social studies lesson.  It's a geography snapshot, a close reading activity, and a math or science lesson, all centered around one central theme.

At my school we were constantly looking for ways to integrate material between the language arts teacher and the social studies teacher.  Or the math teacher and the science teacher might be finding new ways to hook up and teach cooperatively, so I wanted to create something that was already geared towards that integration.

I also just love the true stories of history.  Forget the names and the dates and the memorization of facts, just tell me a story about people and connections and how one thing can forever change the world, and I'm mesmerized.  So in my "History Minutes" that is what I attempt to do. I try to hook students with the interesting stories that haven't been told.  I try to connect them to places by showing them what's cool or different that they maybe didn't know.

What's included...

Every "History Minute" runs around 30 pages when you count the answer keys.  That might seem like a lot for a "Minute" but there's a couple reasons for that.  One, is that integration piece.  I wanted to include the various pieces for the various subjects.  But two, is that the story is from a moment or a minute in time, not that it will take you just a minute to complete.  Here's a typical run-down of a "History Minute" packet.

For instance, in "Slavery, Snakes, and a Saint" students will read a 2-page story on the real life of Saint Patrick, who was never actually a saint.  They will then examine the main idea of what they just read, further explore the vocabulary that challenged them, and answer a page of comprehension questions as well.  Next up - support the idea with textual evidence, a great pre-cursor to standardized testing, and then delve into a writing prompt about metaphors.  Also included are guided cloze notes over the reading, a geography sheet on Ireland, a science lesson on the life cycle of snakes, and some fun notes which I've entitled "Smart Scribbles" that get kids taking notes and doodling at the same time.

How do they work...

"History Minutes" allow you to cover a history topic in as brief or as in-depth a way as you would like.

  • Don't have a lot of time?  Just read the 2-page story.  
  • Want to get in depth on Stonehenge and the Neolithic Age?  Complete the 5-part close reading activity and then explore the magical ratio of pi with circles and polygons.  
  • Want to split the work with a co-worker?  You take the close reading section while you allow a colleague to work with students on the geography and science lessons.  
Spend one class period on a topic, or spread it out, and use just five minutes at the start of each day, as a bell ringer, to cover a piece. 
The options are practically unlimited.

How they can be used...

A "History Minute" can also be used in a bevy of different facets depending on the needs of your class and the time you have as a teacher.

First of all, they are great to take and integrate into your unit lessons.  For instance, take "The Calendar Under Roman Rule" and add it to your teachings on Julius Caesar.  Who isn't going to know him for the crazy, mad dictator that he was, when they hear about the year of confusion?

If you don't teach lessons about South Africa, its colonization by Europe, or the diamond mines...then place "The Cullinan Diamond" in a station used for rotations or extra credit.  Students will have access to another point in history they might not have gotten to learn about, and you've got another work center for students to visit when they need a time out, when it's time to rotate through stations, or when they just need a new and different activity.

Best yet...if you're going to be absent and need something simple for your sub to do?  Pull out a "History Minute."  Have your students explore the life of Marie Curie or learn about the Columbia Shuttle disaster.  It's all at their fingertips and with the answers included, it should be virtually foolproof for any sub to accomplish when you're absent.

How do I try one out...

So now that you've made it this far, the real question is how do I try one out?  Well I have a couple of possibilities for you.  First of all, I've made a shortened sample of a "History Minute" on Machu Picchu.  Although there is a full length packet available, this will give you just a quick taste, as it's been cut down to one-third the size of a normal packet.

It is available HERE!

And if you want a full packet, you can enroll in my bulletin.  By subscribing, you will receive "Murder or Malpractice?" for free in your third issue, about ten days after you join.