Saturday, July 14, 2012


My plan was to take a break in July. You know, stop thinking, planning, charting, and listing everything I have on my mind for this new year starting in just over a month. (Who's counting?) I stopped reading through hundreds of fantastic blog posts daily. I quit logging into mine to see if something struck my fancy to write about. I've been doing my best to focus on my food, my health, and my personal kids' activities while pinning away on Pinterest. But, wouldn't you know it, every fourth pin is an incredible idea I don't want to miss or forget... and there she goes.

So I really am going to do it. I'm going to take a couple more weeks vacation and then I'll be back. Back to being inspired by you all, back to exploring all the avenues I can take an idea, and back to creating a warm and fun place for kids and me to excel.

Happy July... and really, don't forget to take your break!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pen Pals

For some reason, I can remember in middle school consulting a booklet of some sort to find kids' names and addresses who were interested in being Pen Pals. Now this would have also been around the same time that I got my hands on a catalog featuring gift wrap and greeting cards that I could sell door to door while making something like 10 cents a sale... toward purchases of my own greeting cards and gift wrap, maybe even scented pencils. Talk about "You know you were born in the 70s if..."

Well, I don't remember having too much success with my own Pen Pals, but I've been really happy with those my students have made. Over the years I have been Pen Pals with friends' or relatives' classrooms across the country. This year, I am going to be Pen Pals with a teacher at our neighboring school. Many of the kids who attend the different schools actually live on the same street which was literally cut in half by our district's boundary lines. The cool thing about this partnership is that we are going to meet twice this school year. First, our Pen Pals will visit our classroom in September as we create and share a Get To Know You Lunch. We thought the Pen Pal experience might be more authentic if they have a face and introduction to go with the name. Then, in May, we will visit our Pen Pals class for a Good Bye and Good Luck Next Year Lunch.

I'm excited to incorporate Pen Pals into our writing program which already includes letter writing. Who doesn't love getting a letter in the mail? While I've always sent a postcard to each of my students at the beginning of the year, I'm going include a postcard for their birthdays and one positive postcard at some point during the year, as well. Again, I'm seeing another opportunity to share life lessons along with academic ones.

Do your students get an opportunity to personally communicate with other kids through some type of communication during the school year? How often do they "talk"?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Community Outreach

The first Sunday of each month, my family visits a local retirement home with other families from our church and neighborhood. The families do all sorts of different and easy activities for about 45 minutes with the residents. We sing songs, put puzzles together, color, or even make a treat to eat. Did you know the elderly are especially fond of marshmallows? Well, these adults certainly are. Needless to say, we didn't even get to the art project because so many young and aged hands had eaten our craft supplies before we even got the directions put on the tables. I wanted to bring this positive and moving experience to my classroom this fall. While I do not have plans to take a field trip off campus, I am going to begin a program I'm calling Send A Smile.

The Send A Smile Program will be incorporated into our weekly Little Buddies activity. We already meet with our Kindergarten Little Buddies to read, write, and do math for about 30 minutes each Friday. The first Friday of the month, however, we will now write notes and decorate pictures to be sent to a local nursing home. I'm also going to suggest that my students bring artwork done at home to include in the monthly envelope. I hope that this will encourage my classroom families to step out into our community and look for ways to pass on a smile in an easy, family-friendly way.

How do you incorporate Community Outreach into your classrooms?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Which way to go?

So I have officially been on vacation for 5 days. During each of those days, I've perused, pinned, and downloaded. I've also skipped over to way too many Polyvore pictures! In the back of my mind, however, has been little voice saying, "What about your blog?" I've updated my Calendar on my class Shutterfly website. I've begun looking for and pinning activities to my language arts themes. But again, I hear, "What about your blog?"

I know it's imperative to stay fresh and current and update often to successfully blog. I want to include lots of photos and show, not just tell, my classroom stories. Now, I just need to figure out how best to do that when I won't actually be in my classroom for the next two months. Hmmm... I guess it's time I figure this Linky Party thingy out, huh?

To my blogging friends, how do you fill the summer, non-school moments on your school blog?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Goodbye, 2011-2012!

My trusty Pillsbury Doughboy renamed Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man timer was a gift on the first day of my teaching career... kind of. Until that day, he lived in my Mom's kitchen and was used by her pretty much daily. Knowing I needed something to (1.) help me track my time spent on presenting lessons, (2.) use for classroom management, and (3.) be relatively inexpensive, I dropped it into my newly personalized teacher bag and off it went to live on my teacher desk. I can't remember if dinner was over or undercooked that night, however, I've celebrated the end of each school year since with a final one minute countdown and cheerful beeping.

So congratulations to all you wonderful and amazing educators out there on another completed year filled with moments of fulfillment, happiness, fun, frustration, ahas, creativity, and perseverance!! Here's to taking the night off and resuming the blog stalking for 2012-2013 tomorrow!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Oatmeal or Cocoa Puffs?

Prior to earning a teaching credential, I had never heard the phrase professional development. Once you've been in the profession for... hmmm... two years, those two words take on a whole new meaning. Sometimes it entails tearing down and recreating every poster you ever spent an hour beautifying. Sometimes it just encourages a lesson tweak here and there. Over the years, our district has been significantly "professionally developed". Like everything in life, there are plans and strategies that resemble Cocoa Puffs cereal. First we're koo-koo for them but, after a few weeks, the ideas turn soggy and go down the drain with the brackish milk. Other plans and strategies become like oatmeal, sticking to our ribs and becoming permanent fixtures in our lessons or teaching mannerisms.

This year, we have spent many professional development meetings learning about and discussing strategies created by Kate Kinsella. When I first heard her name, I was intrigued. I mean, one of my favorite summer authors is Sophie Kinsella of the Confessions of a Shopaholic series. For an instant I daydreamed about a staff development meeting filled with tears of laughter and winking approvals. While Kate Kinsella's articles aren't quite filled with British humor, I have actually had many enthusiastic take aways. The active listening/response strategies pictured below being one of them. I think it's a very kid friendly, fun, kinesthetic approach to demonstrating to third graders how to improve their listening and communication skills.

I've always been more of the philosophy that I'm going to try anything new with an open mind, a creative heart, and a bit of gumption to try to make it work. Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it just isn't my cup of English Breakfast tea. Yes, I still have Becky from Shopaholic on my mind. How have you been able to incorporate newer professional development strategies or techniques to your already tried and true favorite programs?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Class Scrapbook

I'm a scrapbooker, however, that little hobby has taken a major backseat to computer fun recently. I still love to incorporate its eclectic creativity into big projects that my students work on though. At the beginning of the year, I'll bring in one of my family's scrapbooks and take the kids on a short get to know me tour. They don't know what's cooler, the funny photos or the embellishments.

The scrapbook pictured here is really what gets them talking. This was lovingly given to me by a parent-turned-friend on the last day of school five years ago. It has become a staple in my first 10 minutes of welcoming my new class into the room. It's a great way to invite them on the journey that will be a our year together. For the students new to our school, it's a reassuring glimpse into me and my personality. For those who know me, it's putting pictures with the stories older siblings have shared. Most importantly, it the best Anticipatory Set (Do they even use that vocabulary in the college teacher programs anymore?) I've found for any lesson. It also serves as a fantastic visual as the kids create their personal portfolios throughout the year to take home on the last day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Voices From Home

Growing up, I always saw my Mom volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning field trips, and correcting things for the teachers at home. Granted, she didn't need an answer key for the spelling tests. Her criteria was (a.) the kid tried hard, s/he should pass. (b.) the kid is always in trouble, s/he should at least have one positive thing happen today. (c.) the kid irritated the teacher today, s/he should study harder... and write more clearly. To this day, I will not give her any papers to grade. :) However, she is always welcome to colorfully stamp happy faces all over papers.

Because of those fond memories, I try to encourage every parent to make a trip into our classroom at least once a year. As a result, I created our class Voices From Home program. With so many working parents, it's really hard to commit weekly or even monthly volunteering time. This way, it's one day and can be in and out, if necessary.

Parents typically prefer the beginning or end of the day. I've had one run over during a lunch hour before though. We have several different languages at our school. Thanks to parent conferences using Google Translate, I've been able to offer this experience to non-English speaking parents, as well. Some have brought in a book in their language to share. Another made a cultural dish to eat. Their kids do the translation, and the class is enamored!

Here's the information I give to parents about the program:

I invite you to participate in my Voices from Home program. I believe great teaching comes from setting great examples, both at home and in the community. Voices from Home gives the students a chance to see an adult modeling how to read aloud, how to speak in front of a group, and how to answer questions. It also serves as a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about the various educations and jobs our parents have.

It's easy! All you need is to volunteer about 20 minutes of your time. You can bring a picture book to read to the class or I'm happy to lend you one. Then, you introduce yourself, read the book aloud, and answer a few questions about yourself. It's very similar to our T.E.A.M. Star presentations, except you're the star! In order to allow each parent a chance to visit us, I can to schedule you at the beginning or end of the day.

Class Website

You know those people who would rather keep a to do list on their desk just for the purpose of being able to cross things off as they are completed? Yeah, I'm one of them. I even go crazy with color coding sometimes! Despite the fact that I'm gingerly walking out into the world of blogs, I've actually been pretty with it in terms of class websites for awhile.

About ten years ago, I created my first website through Scholastic Class Pages. I loved it! It was easy to manage, looked really professional, and kids (and grandparents) could successfully navigate it. I never could decide what my favorite feature was. I loved the safe, online games as much as the fact that I could reset it to show the same field trip information for the next school year. However, last summer Scholastic changed Class Pages to Blogs. The Class Pages were taken down and I was left with a giant internet and few ideas. I mean, really, who blogs??? Or so I pondered...

I knew that I didn't want to pay for a class website. Nice people call me frugal. It's called budgeting, but I'm happily identified as cheap. Anyway, I ended up trying out Educator Pages. It was free, fun, and easy to manage, too. However, I just didn't have all the sparkling bells and whistles I was used to in the free version. So the search continued.

Just recently, a friend told me about Shutterfly Share Sites and I fell in love. I love the fact that I can secure it and accept members by invitation only. I personally feel more comfortable sharing student photos just within our classroom community. The site is completely customizable and quick to change. I have added about 15 pages of information from our class calendar to our class blog to our class share schedule to reading, math and grammar help pages. The bonus is that parents can pick and choose any photos off of the class site to purchase through Shutterfly, whether individually or in book form. It's awesome! Below is an example of information on one of the pages, although the graphics didn't transfer. Did I mention this is only post #4 or #5?? :)

Voices from Home

I invite you to participate in my Voices from Home program. I believe great teaching comes from setting great examples, both at home and in the community. Voices from Home gives the students a chance to see an adult modeling how to read aloud, how to speak in front of a group, and how to answer questions. It also serves as a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about the various educations and jobs our parents have.

It's easy! All you need is to volunteer about 20 minutes of your time. You can bring a picture book to read to the class or I'm happy to lend you one. Then, you introduce yourself, read the book aloud, and answer a few questions about yourself. It's very similar to our T.E.A.M. Star presentations, except you're the star! In order to allow each parent a chance to visit us, I can to schedule you at the beginning or end of the day.

I can even add a secure sign up sheet for something like Voices From Home that the parents complete online. I just wish I'd found Shutterfly Share Sites a year earlier.

*Bonus points for exceptionally cute templates to choose from.

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Classroom Personality

I always find myself drawn to hearing about how other teachers create their classroom personalities. As a kid, I wanted to perform on Broadway, although Star Search would have sufficed. Believe me, I practiced Whitney Houston's The Greatest Love of All daily... just in case. Luckily, I feel like teaching affords me the opportunity to live out that ambition daily. I get on my "stage", often in costume, and entertain while educating. I strive to create an inspiring and engaging environment where the kids feel like members of a team. In fact, our class motto has always been "We are a T.E.A.M. - Together Everyone Achieves More".

On my class website I share the following with my students' families:

Who we are!
Whether you started with us on the first day of school or during the year,
I'm so glad you're a part of our T.E.A.M.!

T.E.A.M. Goals
* Students will be actively involved in the learning process.
* Students will be proficient with grade level content and skills.
* Students will become organized, independent learners.
* Students will successfully work within cooperative activities.
* Students will develop self-confidence and goal setting.

It's been so long, I don't even know who or where I got the original idea from. In fact, I still have my original T.E.A.M. folder lovingly decorated with art by my Dad during my student teaching year. Yep, I bet quite a few of you would agree that teaching is totally a family affair! I do know that the two books below were my staples when initially creating a classroom personality. Their ideas and direction for classroom management and attitude never seem to go out of style.

In the meantime, what is your classroom personality?

Invitations: Changing as Teachers and Learners K-12

getting organized

I've always placed learning centers around my room using a table here and a student desk there, cramming as much on my computer tables as possible. This year, in hopes of creating more organization and less clutter, I decided to build Bookshelf Central. I used Target $1 baskets to hold Math Center work and Writing Center work. Since I typically have six table groups, I've made one Center Basket for each group. I hope it'll be more efficient to update my centers weekly and I love its cuteness factor.

We use the Envision Math Program. I'll put the weekly Topic Math Games, Extension Activities and supplies in each the basket for Math Centers/early finishers, as well as flashcards.

Ok, so maybe I'll still have some stuff on my computer tables. Here I keep my whiteboards, eraser bucket, and dry erase marker bucket.

I've always used community supplies. However, keeping them at the tables can take up a lot of valuable workspace. Here I've got the crayons, markers, colored pencils, scissors, glue sticks, sticky notes, math counters, and extra erasers neatly packed up and easy to access for the kids. Yep, got those in the Target $1 bins, too.

Let's get this party started!


Welcome to my new blog!! I'm so excited to be here! I've found such imaginative, thoughtful, inviting, and encouraging ideas and lessons in the blog world that I wanted to get in on the fun. Through glimpses into my classroom, I hope to inspire and energize you, as well. So, let's get this party started and get brainstorming...

bulletin boards

Wait, it's only May. Why have I already started set up for the new year? Total excitement. You see, I've been blessed to share a contract for the last four years while raising my babies. This fall, I return to the classroom full time. I'm just plain totally excited!

I feel like a first year teacher. I'm jazzed about the class decor. I'm doing a complete overhaul and updating of my files and supplies. My creative juices are overflowing onto the walls and into the lesson plan book. I've got so many ideas and inspirations floating around in my head and on my computer that I'm struggling to remember everything.

To start, I called in my trusty classroom buddy, my Mama. We spent hours pouring over color schemes and materials at Target, the Dollar Store, Big Lots, Walmart, you name it. Being scrapbookers and overall crafters, we knew we needed ribbon and contact paper to make it all come together. Take a look at our creation...

Because the new Fire Marshal has strict rules about the very small amount of paper allowed on the walls, I had to find a new way to display kids' writing. I'm pretty happy with what a little bit of spray paint, lots of contact paper, and a ribbon can do to almost 20 year old clipboards. Only teachers can appreciate how ten hours of work takes up so little space though.

*Bonus points for finding a way to get rid of the little scribbles etched into the boards. :)

My writing center

My Focus Wall - floor meeting area

My desk

My Mama's curtains. Yep, it added just that little bit of cuteness I wanted.