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Monthly Thoughts: September

Thank you so much for your positive feedback to this new monthly project of mine I like to call "Monthly Thoughts". As I enter my fourth year of teacher-blogging, I'm realizing that the posts and ideas I have are so scattered across my blog and TpT Store, it's sometimes hard to find information. You can find August's Thoughts HERE and today I'm continuing with September.

Just like last month, there are twenty images that link you to a post, resource, freebie, quote, etc. from my blog or store. Each month will be a new collection of ideas, both old and new, and I hope it will help make the school year's planning easier to navigate.

Be sure to download the calendar page from my TpT Store HERE each month when it's released. It's a clickable PDF, so you will be redirected to my blog, TpT Store, or another website for all of the information when you click the small image.

While I have themed many of the months around holiday items, there are also plenty of ideas geared towards other academic areas, like nonfiction, getting ready for state tests, and more. And if these don't align with your own scope and sequence, hopefully a few can add to your bag of tricks when you do cover those topics in your own classroom.

I'm continuing with the September calendar today, which you can find in my TpT Store HERE.

Monthly Thoughts: September

Click the link to be taken to the free download on TpT

Once August is behind us, I love setting up routines and procedures in writing and reading that will set the stage for a successful year. See how we set up our Writer's Notebook and Book Bins to make them feel personalized from the start.

Classroom ambiance is important during independent work time and you can see some of my ideas for music HERE. I also love to get myself set up with my Teacher Time Bin and Google Forms to start my year off on an organized foot.

I love having fun with unexpected twists in the day, and my Monster Partner Cards are a creative way to group kids, especially during this important getting-to-know you time. We also love reading the many Did You Know? Facts that I hang near the door to the classroom and switch out each day.

Transitions are also made easier with our Word of the Day, allowing us to utilize vocabulary from across the curriculum throughout the day.

Anchor charts also go up around the room, like Just Right books and Soda vs. Water Reactions to help students remember all year long about these important conversations.

Autumn starts here in Colorado, so our Word Work, Writing Prompts, and Math Centers all center on the changing leaves and cooler temperatures.

There's plenty more, so take your pick and click away to find more information on any and all of the images you see.

Download HERE and enjoy! I hope these ideas will get you excited for the school year ahead!

Working on Work-Life Balance

This is my first year back in the classroom full-time now that my daughter is in Kindergarten and whew, this year won't leave much wiggle room, especially in the mornings.

I have tried to be strategic about how in the world I will manage my time, energy, and focus so that I don't get too burned out at school, start bringing too much work home, eventually forgetting my boundaries between work and home, and ending up a frazzled, stressed, and not-fun-to-be-around mama.

Several words have been guiding me that have helped me keep my eyes on the prize: being intentional, setting boundaries, and "Stop, Look & Listen".... I'll explain!

Being Intentional

Being intentional is a very big shift for me. I used to be a multi-tasker, and would have several spinning plates going at any given time, none of which were related to the other. I would skip from grading papers, to laminating something, to going to Facebook, to scheduling an appointment for the car or my daughter, to being reminded that I had an upcoming meeting, to emailing a parent.... it was no wonder I often forgot important deadlines or let the truly important things (like experiences with my daughter) fall through the cracks.

I read an article over the summer from Clean Mama that taught me all about Block Scheduling and I immediately knew this was a system I could get behind. Instead of doing a hundred random things, I would set aside blocks of time to focus only on one thing until it was finished, or until the time was up (and yes, I set timers on my iPhone all of the time!), and then I would move on to the next thing.

This shift of thinking was often painful (especially when the timer when off and I was nowhere near done), but the payoff was so much greater! All of a sudden, things were finished, crossed off of the list, and ready when I needed them! I was no longer trying to play a catch-up game with myself and my to-do list, I was prioritizing and found I had energy to enjoy time at the end of the day with my daughter.

Here are some things I am extra intentional about:

  • Setting my clothes out for the week ahead: All five days, ironing, and including shoes and accessories (I do this for my daughter, too)
  • Packing lunches & snacks the night before
  • Prepping the coffee (a non-negotiable!)
  • Prepping breakfast & dog food 
  • Prepping dinners for the week ahead: I meal plan and use an Instapot (amazing, but look for it on sale!) to cook meats quickly. I also prep my veggies and meats and leave them in plastic baggies marinating, ready to be tossed on a baking sheet at a moment's notice.
  • Clean sink: I read somewhere to never go to bed with a dirty sink and it's amazing how this simple act makes my morning so happy!

Setting & Keeping Boundaries

This is also new for me, but my time and energy are far too important to give away to anyone and everyone who demands my attention. At the end of the day, I want my daughter to have a happy mama who can walk the puppy, laugh, have chats about school and life, and who is available, not stressed and buried in other people's problems (as I have been known to do for years and years).

I highly recommend Rachel Lee Stafford's books Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. I saw her speak and read both of these this summer and wow-- they are food for my tired soul! The simple act of saying no to what you don't need (and yes to what you do!) is so hard, but so important, especially as a mother. Focusing on love, and on loving yourself, has been empowering and has allowed me to create boundaries out of this love, not out of spite or anger or hurt.

Some of my new boundaries include:

  • Not checking school email after 5pm (I let parents know this at Back to School Night): I want and need to be a parent at that time and nothing is so pressing that it can't be addressed in the morning when I get to school.
  • Being in bed by 10pm: I have to get sleep or I am a grumpy bear, no matter how much caffeine I consume. When I set strict bedtimes, I usually miss it by a few minutes, but being in bed by 10? No problem! In fact, it's usually well before, but I end the night feeling victorious around 9:30! 
  • Planning Time & Quiet Time: These times are carved into my day and are appointments with myself (and with God), that I cannot miss. My planning time at school was created for just that: time for planning my lessons and upcoming week. When I use it for social media, chatting with everyone, reading tabloid articles online, I am not filling myself up and I end the day playing catch-up with a tired daughter.... no fun! While I love to socialize, it's now a treat when my planning is done, not something I mindlessly wander and do when I'm trying to avoid work. Quiet Time with God at the end of the day is another non-negotiable. I need that time and always feel better for it. 
  • Prioritizing physical fitness: Why is it that this is always the first thing to get tossed off of the plate when life gets busy? I am so guilty of this! I love and adore CrossFit-- I have a great gym with wonderful coaches and it's become a huge part of my life. Things get busy? Bye gym! By creating this as a priority for myself and by setting aside three times a week to get to the gym, I will no longer let random wants and distractions take me away from something so important. If it really needs to get done, it will have to happen before or after my class.

Stop, Look & Listen

We live across the street from a huge park and my daughter and I take our puppy there at least once a day. When we get to the edge of the sidewalk, she reminds me to "Stop, Look, and Listen" and it has really resonated with me this year.

No matter how hard I try and how many things I attempt to do right, my mind seems to be my own worst enemy. If I get derailed, have a bad day in class, yell when I should listen, experience mom guilt... you name it, I am reminded to Stop, Look, and Listen.

  • Stop: Take a breath, quiet my mind for a second, and get off the crazy train that it's riding.
  • Look: Take another deep breath and look around. Is anything in serious danger? (Probably not, it never is!) What can I notice at that moment that I can be thankful or grateful for? What is my actual reality, not the craziness I am stirring up in my mind?
  • Listen: What do I know to be true? What is the still, small voice of God telling me? What is actually being said, and is there hurt, anger, loneliness, or tiredness that could be coming into play?

Taking this little breather in the chaos helps me to recenter and to get back on track and away from the black hole my mind tends to send me down when I feel things get too overwhelming. It's also helping me be transparent with my daughter when I may find myself in a tired and stressed-out place. Even though she's five, I know she's watching and learning from what I do, not just what I say, so modeling how to work through this in a positive way is so important.

What are some ways you are all managing your own work-life balance? Please share any strategies in the comments below!

My Favorite Back to School Read Alouds

School starts on Thursday and I am beginning to compile my stack of Back to School read alouds. I'm excited to be sharing some of my favorites with you!

Since independent reading stamina isn't high these first few weeks, I like to have a lot of these books ready to go to during our normal reading blocks. I will also pull them out during snack time and after a recess to bring us back together, cool down (since it's still in the 90s!) and start to introduce some important concepts that we will continue to cover all year long (like Growth Mindset).

At the beginning of the year, I don't tend to do a lot of heavy-duty "teaching" when I first read these books. When we are more into the swing of things, I will bring them back out and we can then do another read aloud as I pause along the way, ask questions, model thinking aloud, we turn and talk, and more. But for these first few days of school , I want to show my class that reading is community building, it's a chance to relax and escape into a story, and that a book can be enjoyed just because. We'll get to all of the deeper stuff soon enough!

Most of my Back to School Read Alouds center on community, uniqueness, risk, not being afraid to fail, and self-confidence. My hope is that by setting these priorities in the first few weeks of school through reading aloud, students will all know they are welcomed just as they are.... and that our classroom would not be the same without them! 

To check out these books, simply click on any of the book covers below. Each book cover will link you directly to its page on Amazon where you can look inside, read the reviews, and find similar titles. 

Click away here: 

Image Map

I hope this clickable image gave you lot of ideas for read alouds these first few weeks back. Here's wishing you a successful back to school season!

Using Sign-Up Genius to Help with Mystery Readers

One of my favorite parent volunteer opportunities I use each year is Mystery Reader. You can read more about the program HERE and find a packet to get you started on TpT HERE.

One part of the program that I always have to keep up with throughout the year is the sign-up and sending reminder emails, since parents usually have only one slot a year. It can be tricky to rearrange readers, too, when scheduling conflicts come up either at school or with a parent's schedule.

Our school uses SignUpGenius.com for Parent-Teacher Conferences, so I wanted to try it for Mystery Readers this year to see how it goes. So far, I am really excited about it!

I signed up for the free version, which has ads, but still has plenty of features to make it work for this program. Here's a finished look at my sign-up site:

I created this sign up as a "Recurring" event since we host Mystery Readers after Friday morning recess each week. 

One of the new features they have is the "Calendar View" when you are on the "Slots" page. I love this since it gives a great visual to parents (and to me!) of the month. Because we only host parents once a week, I really like how this looks instead of the default list view.

Some of the other features I liked was encouraging parents to write their picture book of choice when they sign up so that others can see and not make the same selection later. I also added a request in the Advanced Settings in "Settings" tab to have parents email or send their clues to me as soon as they could. This is a great way to get a lot of clues upfront.

Sign-Up Genius will also email the parents a few days in advance (I selected 5 days) to remind them of their date. Again, this saves me an email and having to remember myself. I get notified when someone signs up, so I don't have to worry about constantly checking the calendar throughout the month.

At the end, I have the option of sending out invites by entering in emails, or I can publish it and copy the link to add it to our class website, Open House materials, Back to School Night presentation, an email, and more!

I am really excited about this setup this year and I hope that if you're using my Mystery Readers packet, you can try this system out for your own class schedule and feel the relief of getting these items off of your checklist!

Do you use Sign-Up Genius in your classroom? What other uses have you found?

Monthly Thoughts: August

As I enter my fourth year of teacher-blogging, I'm realizing that the posts and ideas I have are so scattered across my blog and TpT Store, it's sometimes hard to find information. I'm excited to be launching a fun series on the blog called "Monthly Thoughts" to help solve this dilemma.

At the end of each month this school year, I will be uploading a clickable PDF themed around the upcoming month. There will be twenty ideas on that page that will link you to a post, idea, resource, freebie, quote, etc. from my blog or store. Each month will be a new collection of ideas, both old and new, and I hope it will help make the school year and summertime planning easier to navigate.

Be sure to download the calendar page from my TpT Store HERE each month when it's released. It's a clickable PDF, so you will be redirected to my blog, TpT Store, or another website for all of the information when you click the small image.

While I have themed many of the months around holiday items, there are also plenty of ideas geared towards other academic areas, like nonfiction, getting ready for state tests, and more. And if these don't align with your own scope and sequence, hopefully a few can add to your bag of tricks when you do cover those topics in your own classroom.

I'm launching with the August calendar today, which you can find in my TpT Store HERE.

Monthly Thoughts: August

Download from TpT HERE to be able to click from the PDF.

Some of my most favorite things are in this month's calendar! I am a true believer that the amount of time and energy you put into the first 1-2 months of school will pay huge dividends for the rest of the year. Because of that, there are community-building activities like Brain Breaks, Morning Meeting and High 5 to a Great Year.

I also love getting management systems underway from Day 1, so Voice Levels and Class Rules will be essential.

Getting parents involved is also key, so the questionnaire from Open House and Mystery Readers can give them meaningful ways to be a part of your classroom.

Seasonal activities all center around Back to School and include Word Work, Writing Prompts, QR Math Critters, and the ever-popular Did You Know? Fun Facts.

There's plenty more, so take your pick and click away to find more information on any and all of the images you see.

Download HERE and enjoy! I hope these ideas will get you excited for the school year ahead!

NEW Erin Condren Goodies: Launching July 19th

I was so fortunate to receive a box full of surprises from Erin Condren this week and I can't wait to share it all with you!

Launching on Tuesday, July 19th are some new accessories and a functional lunch tote to help make this upcoming school year even more fancy and fun!

Pencils, highlighters, and erasers are the perfect companion to the rollerball pens and wet-erase markers!

This lunch tote is personalizable and available in nearly every pattern and design!

I use these planner stickers a lot and love the extras that will help keep me even more organized this year.

Some things are familiar, some are brand new! My favorite is the lunch tote and the two-pocket folders. Both will be well-used throughout this upcoming school year and I am absolutely *LOVING* the new notebook with lined pages and a separate bullet list on the side!

For a detailed review, be sure to watch my YouTube video below:

For $10 off your first Erin Condren order, click HERE.

Erin Condren Teacher Planner Stickers & Setup

I'm knee-deep in summer relaxation, so while curriculum is on the back-burner, I always love spending some lazy days with stickers and planning.

I am a huge fan of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner (watch my walkthrough HERE), and have several items in my Etsy Shop to help you personalize and adjust the pages to make them your own. Click on any photo to be taken to the listing in my store.

Weekly & Monthly Numbers

One of the first items I listed in my store were weekly numbers to fit in the top corner of each week. It's a simple but uniform way to make those numbers pop. I have one set that runs for weeks 1-40, but there is also a new version if your school is on quarters: 1-10, four times.

I've also added some new monthly numbers to coordinate with this year's gemstone theme. These are the same size as the weekly numbers, so they show up a bit more than the ones that come with the planner. The monthly calendars are some of my most-viewed pages throughout the year, so I like the bigger numbers for my teacher-tired eyes!

Happy Birthday Pages

These are some of the most useful pages, and I think the possibilities for this spread are endless!

While they are originally set up to track birthdays throughout the year, the lines under each month mean you can use these pages for anything.

I have several options below, from dates, to goals, to supplies, to professional development:

Absentee Log

I have found this spread to be a great way to track communication with parents or students. I will track our calls and chats (anything non-email) and check if there was follow-up. I am liking the idea of using these pages as student communication this year, too. Tracking positive phone calls and/or notes home is a habit I try to implement at the beginning of the year, but by second trimester, it's hard to keep up. I'm looking forward to recording on these pages to keep me motivated all year long. 

Yearly Planning With Stickers

I have updated all of my planning stickers to coordinate with either the 2015-2016 planners or the new 2016-2017 planners. One of the fun ways to get started with them is to set up the Plan Your Year page. I love being able to jot down the scope and sequence of each subject throughout the year.

Granted, these stickers are all I have done when it comes to thinking about next year, but it's only June, so I'm okay with that!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Etsy to see when new designs are listed. While I'm not taking custom orders at this time, I am always open to ideas and suggestions.

To see any of these stickers and plenty, plenty more, be sure to head to my Etsy Shop: http://3rd.gr/Etsy_shop

I hope these gave you some ideas to help continue to make your Erin Condren Teacher Planner your own! If you would like $10 off of your first order, be sure to sign up HERE.

***And, in super-big and exciting news (if the yearly glance didn't tip you off), I am heading back to the classroom FULL TIME next year! I will no longer be job-sharing, but be back to teaching my thirdsters all day long. My sweet daughter will be coming with me to Kindergarten in the same building, so I am extra excited to see the adventures that next year brings. Thanks for your continued support and I hope your summer is off to a relaxing start!

2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner {Part 2: Walkthrough}

I am so excited to be sharing the insides of the 2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner with you! I unboxed this beauty, along with several other goodies, a few days ago and you can watch that HERE.

This year's Teacher Planner is similar in format to previous years, which I love since it's a system that has worked for me, but the small design changes they have made in colors and fonts really makes it seem new!

If you have never tried Erin Condren's planner or products, I cannot recommend them highly enough. She has everything from planners to cards to notepads to cell phone covers.... and more! Her paper quality is fantastic and they make great gifts for anyone on your list, including you! Personalization is available on almost every item as well. See more of my posts about Erin Condren HERE.

Without further ado, here is the walkthrough of the 2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner:

One correction I want to point out: In the video, I mentioned they do not come with Date Dots and I was wrong. After checking, they DO come with stickers for each and every month to put on the circles in the monthly spread. This will add even more beauty to the calendar portions!

These Teacher Planners will launch May 3rd (Teacher Appreciation Day!) HERE.

If you haven't signed up with Erin Condren, you can use my affiliate link HERE for $10 off your first order!

Have a wonderful Teacher Appreciation Week!

2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner {Part 1: Unboxing}

It's that time of year, again! Amidst all of the craziness of April/May and wrapping up a school year, I was beyond excited to come home today and see a beautiful, pink Erin Condren box on my front porch!

Inside, I was thrilled to find the newest edition of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner, along with several other coordinating goodies.

Just like last year, I will split this review into two parts: the unboxing and a full walkthrough of the planner itself.

Without further ado, here is the unboxing video!

This year's Teacher Planner doesn't release until May 3rd. Until then, you can read up on all of my other Erin Condren posts HERE.

To sign up and receive $10 off your first order, click HERE.

See you soon for the full walkthrough!

Disclaimer: ErinCondren.com gave me this planner to review, but all opinions are my own. I only promote what I use and love!

Getting Ready for State Tests

State Tests (PARCC this year) are around the corner and I am compiling some things to help my students (and I) get through the long two weeks ahead.

I posted some tips from a few years ago HERE and I am reposting a few of them here, with some added ideas as well.

1. Relaxing Music

We aren't allowed to play music during the test, so I assume you aren't either, but I love having quiet music playing as the kids are coming into the room and getting themselves situated. It's bound to be a time full of nervous energy, so with calming music in the background you can begin to get them relaxed before the long test time ahead. Finds some great artists and stations HERE and HERE.

2. Brain Breaks

We are allowed to take one, 3-minute break during each test, and I plan on taking advantage! I do recommend having some Brain Breaks on hand before the test begins (and then hopefully one in the middle, if it's allowed), but be very selective as to which one(s) you choose. Calming, stretching, massaging breaks will be best and allow kids to get some wiggles out, but in a smooth, centered way. Our tests are all computer-based, so I want them to relax their eyes, stretch out their bodies, and really be able to settle in nicely for the duration of the test. After the tests are complete, though, a dance party is definitely in order ;) Find hundreds of Brain Break ideas HERE.

3. Door Signage

Our class is next to the bathroom, so I want to make sure that everyone knows it needs to be completely quiet when they are in our hallway. I hang this sign on our doorway during each test and then keep it handy for other class assessments we have throughout the year. It's a freebie on Google Docs HERE if you'd like to pick it up for your door.

4. Non-Food Encouragement

I have done food as treats before, but wanted to mix it up a bit to discourage sugar highs at 10am. So, I used a common fun find from the dollar store, glow bracelets, and attached these freebie tags (on Google Docs HERE in two versions: test and PARCC) using double-sided tape. If you have a 2" round punch from my Brain Breaks, use it on these circles! It is a great way to cheer them on, but keeps the energy manageable and the day flowing as normal. Which brings me to....

5. Routines

So technically, this isn't a new thing to do, but I wanted to stress the importance of getting back to the normal routine and structure of the day once the tests are done. We test for the first 60-90 minutes each morning, but that leaves a whole bunch of time in the day where we can do and accomplish a lot of fun things! We're knee-deep in our Animal Research Reports (read more about these through the years HERE), the kids have never been more independent in reading and Daily 5, and we still do have about two months of school left. So, when the tests are done for the day, we immediately turn our attention back to the goodness of school. I have found that this keeps me sane, as well as my students. It also releases a lot of anxiety or worry around the test when it doesn't dominate our thinking for the day. Your testing may be structured differently, but I encourage you to get back to the wonderful routines and systems you have worked so hard to develop with your students as soon as you can!

Best of luck to your students and you during this testing time!

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