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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planner Tour: flip-through and setup

Time for a little more planner action! ;)


I finally got a chance to take out my old pages from the 2016-2017 school year and put in the fresh, new pages for the 2017-2018 school year and I'm so excited! I decided to film the process this year, so if you're interested in seeing: 1) what my planner looks like after it's been used for a full year and get a quick look at all my weekly and monthly spreads, or 2) see how the disc binding system works in terms of taking pages in and out, then you'll enjoy this video!

Also, you'll see the fun new cover design that I customized with an inspirational quote for this year in the video. If you want a copy for yourself, be sure you're subscribed to my newsletter- I'll be sending it exclusively to my newsletter subscribers at the end of June!


If you're curious about how I set up my planner, here is my post on how I digitally customize my printables before printing my planner, and here is my post on all the supplies I use, printing tips, etc for setting up the planner once it's printed.

Here is the link to my planner, and here is a post with all the different planner formats I have available, in case you're interested :) If you're looking into planner options yourself, or hoping to up your lesson planning/ curriculum writing game, don't miss my new email series! Click here to learn more:


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Monday, June 19, 2017

DIY Visual Calendar for Kindergartners

Summer is the time for home projects! I've been itching to update my daughters' visual calendar now that they've graduated preschool and are headed to kindergarten in the fall. If you have any children who thrive on predictability and routine like mine, this project is really quite simple and has been a really helpful tool for several years now in our house!


I've been using a visual calendar at home with my daughters since they were 2, mostly because of one of my daughters who was (and is) very resistant to change and likes to anticipate what is coming next. When I first started using it, I had a weekly calendar at the top and a chore chart just underneath. Over the years I've gradually changed the board to reflect the information that the girls needed for their ages, and I've made a few more changes to get ready for elementary school! First, here's what the whole board looks like:


The main weekly calendar at the top of the magnet board (aka car drip pan) is staying pretty much the same. I first started using a visual calendar when the girls started daycare, primarily to help them see when they would be with the daycare provider, when they would be with their dad, and when they would be with me, so I basically had meals, nap and bedtimes, and when they switched caregivers on the schedule. When they started preschool, I took pictures of their school teachers to indicate when they had school and also added a monthly calendar.

With kindergarten on the horizon, I started thinking about which items the girls would want to see on their schedule. I made a few new magnets to use in the fall:


I made some magnets for field trips, their various specials, and the rotation day for their school schedule, and I got rid of the napping magnets (so sad!) and the preschool teacher magnets. I've decided that for elementary school, I'll just put up the letter day of the rotation rather than a picture of the teachers.

The section just below the weekly calendar is brand new- I made a couple of simple to-do checklists with each girl's name at the top (names are blocked out in the photos). I figure it will be a good way for us to keep track of homework assignments and other to-do's each of them needs to do throughout the week. After printing the checklists, I stuck them onto the board and covered them with a single-sided laminating sheet right on top to make it dry erase.


Just below that, I've moved the monthly calendar (which I added when they started preschool) to the side to make room for another magnetic clip. I am planning to keep any papers from school etc that we need to keep track of there, whether it's information about an upcoming field trip, homework assignment, or lunch calendar. Now that the girls can write, they do the majority of the monthly calendar themselves- read more about how we use that for memory keeping and planning ahead in this post.


Having a visual calendar has been really helpful, especially with my daughters' schedule between two houses, and it has been fun to see the girls gradually take on more responsibility in putting together their calendars and have more of a sense of ownership through the process. If you want to see how the calendar board has evolved over time, from toddler to preschool to now, or if you want more details on how I made the original board (very cheap and easy!), check out my previous posts below:



If you're wondering where the chore chart went, I now have a family chore chart in the kitchen instead- read about that in this post. I guess we're actually getting ready for elementary school now! If you have any ideas for how to help elementary age students anticipate their schedule and keep their assignments and to-do's organized, please leave a comment below- I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fostering Relationships with Students as a Specialist Teacher

I'm pretty sure most of us got into teaching because we love and care about kids. But when we teach hundreds (or even thousands) of students and you only see each one for 30 minutes every week (or two weeks.... or three....), it can be pretty hard to foster real relationships with our students! And let's not even get started on the fact that for those brief minutes that we see them, we're trying to cover so much content that there is very little, if any, time left to get to know the students. Today I want to try to unpack some of the factors that I believe have allowed me to better connect with my students despite those challenges.


Now, I'll start off by saying that I am in a better position than many music teachers to make real relationships happen. I see my students 60 minutes total every 5 days (some once a week, some in 2 30-minute classes per week), and I teach just under 400 students in just one building. As I mentioned before, I know many music teachers (and other specialists) see each student far less than I! Still, I think these principles can be applied to any situation to, at the very least, improve relationships with students.

1. Watch students' faces

I truly believe the biggest factor in deepening my relationships with my students has been my morning duty! I'm assigned to monitor the front entrance of the school as all of the students are arriving. This gives me the perfect opportunity to do something very important: make eye contact with as many students as possible. I try to say hello and make eye contact with as many students as I can each morning (and throughout the rest of the day), and I pay close attention to any students whose faces show some kind of emotion, whether it's good or bad. Sometimes a student is excited because it's their birthday or they lost a tooth last night. When I notice a student looking particularly happy or excited and I ask them how they're doing, they will often share what's on their mind. 

Sometimes though, a student is upset. Sometimes it's obvious, but I've noticed that this year, since I started being more conscious about making eye contact, I'm picking up on more students who are trying to act normal but, on closer inspection, show signs of being tired, stressed, sad, or even angry. When I can pick up on those changes in expression, I pull them aside to ask them what's going on. Sometimes they're sick, sometimes they miss their mom, but other times it's a much more serious issue. In any case, doing this consistently has been the biggest factor in deepening my relationships with my students. 

2. Talk to other teachers and staff

I have often learned really valuable information about a student's life outside of my classroom by going to other teachers and staff to talk about a student. I usually go find another teacher to talk to when a student does something out of character in class, but other times it's because I look back and realize there has been a pattern of gradual change over the last few weeks/ months, or because I noticed something was bothering a student but I either didn't have time to speak with them or when I asked, the student wasn't willing to talk. Not every student in the school is going to be comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with me, but often their homeroom teacher, other specialists, psychologist, nurse, or even the school secretary will have noticed the same things I am, and can either tell me what the reason is, assure me that it's being dealt with, or they'll be more focused on the issue themselves because I brought it up. Usually I just stop by the teacher's room for a 5-minute conversation. That's all it takes, but it often makes a difference in being able to understand the bigger picture of what is going on in my students' lives!

3. Give it time

Although as specialists we have the disadvantage of seeing students for less time each week, we do have the advantage, in most cases, of seeing the same students for multiple years in a row. Now that I'm finishing my 4th year in my current school, I am finally starting to see the fruits of the little interactions I have been having with my students over the course of several years. As specialists, the reality is we have to be more patient than other teachers as we foster relationships with our students. It may take longer, but we'll often be able to connect with students who may not find a connection with any other adult in the building!

With these 3 components in place, I have seen exponential growth in my connection to my students this year. With one more week left of school and emotions running the gamut, I have students dropping into my room randomly throughout the day, just wanting to talk and hang out. It really does work, and I really do think that fostering those relationships is truly worthy of all the time and energy we have to give. 

These may seem like obvious, basic points, but how much thought and energy have you put into truly being conscious of each one? I hope you'll keep these thoughts in mind as you reflect on your previous school year and prepare for the next.

Want to read more of my thoughts on "behavior management"?



How have you found ways to connect with your hundreds of students? Share your ideas in the comments below!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Travel Tips with Kids: DIY Sticker Activity Sheets

I'm back with another tip for traveling with kids, and today is all about providing some easy, cheap, and engaging entertainment (that doesn't involve a screen)! We all know stickers are pure magic, but I wanted something a little more exciting than just stickers on plain paper, and I honestly haven't been that happy with the "sticker activity books" I've purchased in the past. This easy DIY is my solution!


It's not the most complex idea but it allows plenty of room for creativity and imagination! Here are the supplies I used:


Because I'm taking the girls to Disneyland this summer, I went against my normal avoidance of character merchandise and got a bunch of sticker books with different Disney characters. Everything else I already had: dry erase markers, laminating pouches, and a few pictures of different background scenes I printed from the internet.

The idea is to give kids the tools to do some creative storytelling by giving them lots of different stickers with different objects and characters, and background scenes with a variety of locations (I have a jungle, underwater scene, village square, ice palace, ballroom, and an outdoor picnic area). Of course you could change this up to match whatever your kids are interested in- get some animal stickers and print a zoo, farm, or pet store scene; use car stickers with a city scene.... you get the idea.


I used the laminating pouches to laminate the background scenes so that we could reuse them. Hopefully this will help us avoid any arguments over who gets to use which ones!

Tip: if you stick the stickers on the back of your hand before using it, you'll remove some of the adhesive and make it easier to take off without ripping the sticker!

I left the back of the paper blank so that the girls could color with the dry erase markers and make their own backgrounds (or just draw whatever they feel like):


Depending on your children's ages, you could also put some pre-made activities on the back side, like letters for them to trace, crossword puzzles, tic-tac-toe boards, hangman board, mazes, and more.... the options are endless! If I have more time before our trip I'll probably print some ;)

What are you taking with you on your trip to keep the troops entertained? If you're planning a trip with young children this summer, here are some other posts I've written on traveling with kids:



Safe and happy travels, everyone! :)