August 19, 2017

4 Steps to Responding to Tricky Emails

Happy August! 
I can't even believe the school year is in full-swing for us. Things have been crazy, as all school years always are the beginning...but I know we are getting close to things settling down!
Things have been especially crazy for me this year, because I transitioned out of the classroom and am trying to fumble my way through a new position as an instructional coach. It's tough to not be with a class of my own every day. I thought I would welcome the break from the classroom stress, but I have missed it much more than I thought I would!
One of the unexpected challenges of being a coach is trying to verbalize things I did to solve problems. How did I teach my students rotations? How did I teach them how to line up? How did I organize my classroom? How did I manage parent communication?
One of the things I had to figure out to explain this week is how I respond to parent emails. Communication with parents is soooo important, and I fully embrace it even now as a coach. But I do remember being a brand new teacher and obsessing over every little email, trying to figure out if the parent was sizing me up as a professional, or just genuinely curious. 
It's great when you want to work with your parents as a team to provide all students the best educational experiences possible. You can send out newsletters, send home weekly folders with notes in them, send out an email blast to a parent list, have a website to post to...there are all kinds of ways you can consistently keep parents in the loop as to what is happening within your classroom! 
However, it's inevitable that, no matter how professional and consistent you are with communication, a parent will question a routine or assignment you did. They will question a behavior management tactic you tried. They will question a response to a question you provided. 
The first thing to accept, especially if you're new, is that it happens to everyone. It's probably literally impossible to go through your teaching career and come in contact with SO many different personalities through your parents every year and never have one ask questions about the way you do things.
If you have a self-contained homeroom of 20 students, that right there gives you up to 40 adults you'll be talking to regularly about your classroom. All 40 of those adults have different educational experiences of their own they are bringing to the table. They have different backgrounds and levels of knowledge about what you're actually doing. They have different understandings. That creates conflict. 

But none of this has to be intimidating. When it comes to responding to emails (or really phone calls and in-person conferences, too!), I like to follow 4 steps to ensure I have covered my bases!
These 4 steps help me stay on track and express myself effectively, regardless of any emotions that may be present.



Step 1: Thank the parent for being invested in his/her child's education.
I like to open emails this way, because I truly believe that that is where questions about education come from. Parents have given you their baby for the majority of the week! That is stressful and they really worry about where they are sending their kiddos off to day after day. If you're new to teaching, or new to their community, they may not automatically trust that you're the expert (which you are, by the way...getting a degree in teaching is no easy feat!) I always want parents to feel like I am on their team, which is why I made the decision that I did. 
Step 2: Acknowledge the parent's concerns.

I like to restate my understanding of the parent's concerns so if I am totally off-base they can tell me. I also want my parents to know that I really read and focused on what they were saying...enough that I could restate it. 
Step 3: Justify your beliefs/actions.

This part is important. You have to know why you chose to teach a standard that way, or why you chose to handle a behavior problem that way. If you do...you know the research behind it, or you have had extensive experience in this area and find this way to truly be the best, this is where you make sure the parents know that. When I was a new teacher, I always felt like I had to tell the parents they were right. I learned quickly that I should defend what I am doing for the whole of my class, not cater to every single family's individual requests. I also learned that sometimes parents feel like their idea would be the best for their student, but they don't have the experience with working with your whole class. If you change things for one student, and throw off the dynamic of your entire classroom, it may be more disruptive for that student in the end!
Step 4: Invite the parent to continue the conversation. 

I always close by letting the parents know that I am available to answer more questions in whatever mode they prefer (phone, in-person, etc.) I let them know my planning time when I can take calls or meet in person, and the days I have coming up that I know I am free. 
These steps typically create a more open sense of communication between you and the parent. They feel heard and understood, but also tend to understand your reason for doing the things the way you did. You are the professional in your classroom, and it's important that your parents believe that! 
I have a little Parent Communication Log Freebie (Google Drive style!) for you to download. That's the true final step of any parent interaction...record it!
Happy Teaching, friends! :) 

July 18, 2017

Fluency Components Part 1: Intonation & Phrasing (+ a FREEBIE!)

Oh my goodness.
I can't believe we are two weeks away from school starting here in Nashville. I have gotten nothing done!
 I have the curse of being overly optimistic when it comes to to-do lists...anyone else struggle with that? I pile tons on my list, feel so accomplished for writing it all out, then realize how impossible it will be to actually knock everything out in the time frame I have...so then I feel bummed and not productive. And I don't get even one thing completed!

Well, I am happy to say that I am trying to take advantage of the few days we have left and I'm writing a (small) series of blog posts! Having a newborn does give you a lot of time sitting on the couch nursing. When I realized that I could have my laptop on my knees and get things done, it was a game changer! (and it probably makes me a workaholic...but we won't talk about that. Haha)

The other day, I posted about a Fluency Pack that I had created. I wanted to piggy back off of that and write about fluency in general.

I am a nerd about this topic. It's one of my favorite things to cultivate in my students each year. I have bought and read books, downloaded articles...I am a weirdo. BUT! I also have a lot of fluency knowledge stored up that I really want to share!

Ok, so I want to talk to y'all about Intonation and Phrasing. These are two things that you are modeling every time you read to your students, but you may not have explicitly taught them before. 
In case you're like me, and you're unsure exactly what these words even mean, this is a run-down:

INTONATION: The way we change our voice when we read to create meaning. When we change our voice to match punctuation, or when we read the way we think a character may have said something, based on context clues...that's intonation!

PHRASING: The way we group words together when we read to make it flow better. We. Don't. Read. Word. By. Word. Instead, we say several words together quickly and take brief pauses at articles, conjunctions, and punctuation marks. 

It's important to teach your kiddos what these words mean, and model doing it correctly. Like many skills that we teach our students, a powerful demonstration is to read to them WITHOUT intonation and phrasing. 

My favorite books to use for this are the Pigeon Series by Mo Willems. Gosh, I just love that man's books. Anyone else feel like he just gets kids? I own so many of his books in my classroom library, and they are totally worn out after just a few years!

Anyways, sometime near the beginning of the school year, I will introduce Fluency, and I will go through the 5 main parts of fluency that I want them to pay attention to this year in their reading (I teach 2nd grade, FYI). I do mini-lessons on different days for the different parts. When I teach about Intonation and Phrasing, I will explain what they are, and then I'll read a Pigeon book to them

The trick is that I keep the pigeon book turned away from them so they can't see it, and I read without any intonation and phrasing. I will pause every once in a while and ask them how they think Pigeon feels about what's happening in the text. Some of your kiddos will be too smart for you and they will say that they know he's upset because they've read it before (eye roll). But, when you really press them to explain how they know how Pigeon feels...they can't tell you. You haven't given them the tools they need to comprehend the story by stripping your voice of expression! (Also, when you read word. by. word. it's hard for them to follow, also making comprehension more difficult.)

After this boring read-aloud, I tell the kids that I am going to try this again, but I need them to coach me. I teach them hand signals for each type of punctuation that Pigeon uses. (PS-this is why these books are so great for this lesson! They are short enough to read twice without eating up a ton of class time, AND they almost all have every sentence type in them!) 

I show them the book this time around, and as each sentence comes up, I look to them for what I need to do with my voice. 

Here are the hand signals I use (Pictures would be so helpful here...I will get some soon!):
Question Marks: Point your fingers up to the sky (to show that you raise your voice)
Periods (for statements and commands): I bring my fist down on my palm to show that my voice drops and stops. (like the Rock in Rock, Paper, Scissors)
Exclamation Points: I do "spirit fingers" (haha!). Basically, just wave your hands to show that you read the entire sentence in a more excited voice!

After the second read aloud is over, you have taught your students hand motions that can be used in my Primary Fluency pack, ANNDDD they have a stronger understanding of how much more exciting a story can be if you pay attention to the way you use your voice! 

So that's it, y'all! I'd love to hear how the hand signals go for you if you use them!
Also, because the components of fluency need visuals, I am linking some FREE anchor charts that you can use in your classroom!

Happy Teaching! 

July 17, 2017

Primary Fluency Pack!

**For your convenience, this post contains affiliate links. 

Hey there! Long time, no blog.
Two kids in two years, plus working full-time throughout the year will keep you away from managing teacher blogs. Oops!
I am coming back in strong today to share the beginning of a series of posts and resources I have planned! These are things I have been using in my classroom since I was in grad school, and it only recently dawned on me that I should turn them into real resources (duh)! 
Isn't that such a struggle when you're new to TPT? I've had my store up and running for about 2 years now...so I guess I can't really call myself new anymore, but I have been terrible about prioritizing my time to make my store something lucrative. Whenever I get an idea for a resource, it's usually something way over-the-top cutesy that I did not create for real use in my classroom. I focus much more on making it look presentable that practical...it's a big no-no that I've only recently started to un-learn!
So, it hit me that I have a slew of fluency activities and lesson plans that I have been using for ages, and whenever I share them with teachers in real life, they always go over well. THAT is the stuff I should be writing about and creating! The stuff that I know works well!
So, I bring to you a pack of Fluency Centers I used in my classroom this year!


This pack includes 5 different centers + all of the materials you will need! They can be done by students with partners, and some can be completed individually. If you do Daily 5, they all would translate to "Read to Someone" extremely well! If you have a daily/weekly fluency time in your block, you can make this pack work!

My favorite part about the centers I create for my classroom, is that they aren't specific to any set of task cards or book. All 5 of these centers can be used with multiple resources...which means you can rotate through them for the entire year. Your students won't tire of them because each time you introduce a new book that will work, it feels new to them! I can personally attest that these activities can last an entire year without students complaining...I've done it. :-) 

There are a few texts mentioned in the pack that I wanted to link here for easy shopping...in case you don't have them! You may have several of these, but just hadn't thought to use them for fluency. :)




**Any books in these series will work very well, these are just a few examples!
One of my favorite texts/lessons to use with fluency is teaching intonation with Pigeon! Check out that lesson plan here!

Happy teaching, y'all! I hope these centers make fluency instruction a little easier for you to manage, and that it helps your students. :) 

January 2, 2017

Living Intentionally

Let me start by saying that marriage is cool.
On the way home from church yesterday, I asked Chris if he had any resolutions or goals for 2017. That little question turned into a deep, thoughtful conversation about what we both hoped for our future financially, spiritually, professionally, and within our family as parents and in our marriage. We talked about our vulnerabilities and weaknesses that may prevent us from reaching these goals, and how we could support each other and serve as accountability partners. 
There's no better word for it. It was just cool to have someone understand my heart that well and open his to mine.

Anyways, mushy-stuff aside, I keep thinking about what we said and what I want this year to hold for us. This all doesn't have a whole lot to do with teaching. I hope that's ok. I'm hoping that writing it down and putting it out there gives me that extra boost of motivation and accountability. It will give me something to refer back to as the enthusiasm of January leaves and the routine of the rest of the year sets in. 

Overall, I'd like to live with more intentionality this year, but that could cover a lot of things. I narrowed it down to three specific things that I am going to (try) to focus on this year.

1. Giving myself permission to put away the phone.
I started this at the beginning of our Winter Break. But it's been slow, and I honestly have to be very intentional about leaving my phone in another room or at least putting it on the other side of the room when I'm with my family. I waste so. much. time. scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I never gain anything from it, except maybe a little FOMO because I'm a mom at home not out doing "fun stuff". I've been slower to respond to texts and calls, and I hope this doesn't get translated as being a bad friend. I just have such limited time where my husband and baby and I are all together at once. After this break, I will lose that family time to the world of high school baseball (my husband coaches). I love to support him, but the trade-off will be fewer family dinners, fewer lazy mornings together, fewer Saturday afternoons running errands together. This year, I'd like to give myself permission to leave the phone in another room so I am not distracted when that family time is happening. I can whine and complain about my husband's coaching, but that's not going to change anything but our attitudes towards each other. Instead, one actionable step I can take right now is to be completely present when he's here and give my baby the example of parents who put down their phones and look each other in the eyes when they are speaking to each other. 

2. To stop waiting for nap time/bed time
I come home exhausted from my job teaching little ones, and waiting for me is my own little one needing my attention. On the weekends there is so much to do to catch up on life, but my baby is still there needing full-time care. As he has gotten older, he's obviously become more of a handful. A sweet, hilarious little boy, but a handful...as boys tend to be. I catch myself counting down the minutes to the next nap time so I can finally sit down and do whatever is next on my to-do list. Or I limp through dinner/bath time to get to bedtime so I can sit down and have a minute to myself.
It's tough, and I'm no supermom. I'm not hoping that I will gain some magical bursts of energy this year, but I do want to make this a year that I remember that he will only be little once. One day I may get some of that "me-time" back, but I will also lose my baby. He will be off with his own friends, and his own agenda, and I'll miss the post-nap cuddles, or the bath time that only his mommy could do the right way. I would just like to keep that in the back of my mind this year. 

3. To focus less on external beauty
This one is tough, but I'm also pretty proud that I'm finally grown up enough to realize that I have the power to work on this part of myself. In church this week, the sermon touched a little on sin that you know you shouldn't do, but you catch yourself doing it over and over again. 
I've always known what mine was: vanity and insecurity. It seems ridiculous now, but I was a child/teen model for a stretch of time (I know...so weird). Those experiences served a good purpose in many aspects of my personality. I used to be painfully shy, and I do believe that the courses I had to take on poise and professionalism molded me into a more confident young woman than I had been before. But modeling is what it is. You have to dress in front of people who scrutinize your appearance, and when your self-esteem is still developing, it will warp your perception of yourself for sure. I began to crave affirmation that I was pretty, and if I wasn't told, I didn't believe it. My sweet husband still fights those battles with me. 
Becoming a parent helped, because most days I don't have time to do any makeup or even shower. And I really have become ok with that. It also made me realize that this attitude that I hold that beauty is everything will be passed onto my children. I want my son to be able to see past physical exteriors to the hearts of the girls he becomes interested in. If I have a daughter, I don't want her to see her mom placing so much stock in appearance, or spending so much on clothing. So, my third attempt at living with intentionality is to focus more on taking care of my body and my mind, and less on which clothes or shoes I own.

So that's what I'll be working on this year. I hope everyone has a happy 2017 full of goal-meeting and love. 

October 22, 2016

Death of A Martyr

These are some thoughts that cross my mind pretty frequently:
*I am overworked and underpaid.
*I'm a teacher. I don't have time to take care of myself.
*I'm a mom when I come home from being a teacher. I don't have time to take care of myself.
*There probably aren't any other professions out there that require a 60+ hour workweek, but pay you as if you only work 30. 
*If I didn't have to spend so much free time writing lessons, I would probably be a better friend.
*I am overworked and underpaid.
*I don't have the time/money/energy to cook healthy food for myself. I'll just eat take-out. Again.
*If I had an easier job, I'm sure I'd have the mental and physical energy to exercise more.
*I spend much more time caring for other people's children than my own. I have nothing left to give my family when I come home.
*I am overworked and underpaid.

This is embarrassing, but I could have made that list MUCH longer. Did you notice how similar many of those complaints were? How obnoxious. Who would want to talk to someone who is a broken record of complaints about the work that she does? Why would someone choose to be in a public service profession, and then whine about it 24/7?

Unfortunately, I am not the only teacher out there who gets bogged down in the negativity surrounding the education profession. But we all keep showing up to teach, year after year. Eventually, that bitterness will eat away at us all...we will begin to believe that we have no control over how miserable we are. We are teachers, so we must suffer. Being bitter about all of the things we think we don't have or can't do is totally justified when you have a job as taxing and thankless as teaching...right?

But we all forget about this thing we have called Mindset. 
I learned through some reading last year (Thank you, Angela Watson), that your mind is so, so powerful. It has held true this year. If I want to love my job and the life that I'm living, all I had to do was decide to love it. It actually was that simple. 
Making small mindset shifts throughout the week led to some big changes. 

If I feel like a standard is developmentally inappropriate, or I just plain didn't teach it well, I choose to focus on the kids I did reach that day, rather than the ones who seemed lost. 

If I am dreading something I have to do one week (report cards, grading a test, etc.), I choose to knock it out as quickly as possible early in the week. I know that if it is behind me, I will feel better. 

If I'm missing Isaiah, and I feel that pull to pout about it, I think about the kids in my classroom. These are their parents' Isaiahs. I need to focus on them while I have them. 

If I want to do something, and realize I don't have the funds, I choose to pray for gratitude for what we can afford. We own a home, two cars, and have a healthy baby that we can clothe and feed. 

After I put Isaiah down for bed, I choose to run. I focus on how much better I will feel afterwards, rather than on what a long, tiring day I had. If I dwell on that math lesson that didn't quite click, I will feel tired before I even put on my shoes. 

I work a true 40 hours a week now, with the exception of report card or parent conference weeks. I don't take many things home. If it will drain me and make me less excited to see my students the next day, I save it for planning time, or 30 minutes before or after school. I won't take it home unless I absolutely have to. I used to have the mindset that the best teachers worked crazy hours, or that it was physically impossible to work from 8-4 each day. I no longer believe that. With a little strategizing, and a ton of self-discipline, I am proof that you can be just as effective working less hours. In fact, I would argue that I'm proof that I am an even better teacher now than I was back when I was clocking 70 hours a week. I have time to recharge at night, and that has made all the difference.

I can't take all of the credit here. These ideas about Mindset and cutting back on hours are from other, better teachers who already figured out that you can gain energy from your career as a teacher, rather than letting it drain you. Spirituality also plays a big part here. Prayer really helps me. When I pray for the wisdom to lead the little lives I've been given this year, I have a MUCH better morning. But that's another choice I have to make each day. 

None of this is easy. It's really hard work to choose to to be positive. I have many, many days where I fall apart and lose sight of all of this. Today was one of those days. But I always manage to snap out of it and remind myself that I have the ability to make my day good or bad. And it's an explicit skill that I can model for my students and my own baby one day. 
 
We have the power to be the teachers we want to be, with the lives we want to live. You don't have to be the martyr among your friends and family, leading the tragic teacher life. All you have to do is choose. 

July 25, 2016

8 Keys of Excellence!

Oh my goodness. Summer is over. 
I mean, I technically still have 7 days. But when you're moving into a brand new building and you haven't had clearance to work in your classroom until recently...it means summer is over.

Who am I kidding? I was up at the school working like a dog the last 7 days of summer at my old school too. :) 

If it weren't for classroom decor and TPT ideas, I would seriously mourn the loss of summer. It's the cute stuff that keeps us going!

On that same train of thought, I also use this time to brainstorm ways that I can incorporate all of the ideas I had last school year...or the ideas I saw other teachers have that I wanted to borrow. :)
My teammate from last year was a big fan of the 8 Keys of Excellence, and she incorporated them daily into discussion with our second graders. I had heard of the 8 Keys, but I had never really seen them in action before. They really caught my attention a couple months into the school year when I saw how they had shifted my class's language. 

I saw 7 year olds to remind each other to "speak with good purpose" when someone said something inappropriate.

I also saw them encouraging each other when a concept was difficult. They would chant "failure leads to success". 

I was so amazed at the positive classroom culture that these little keys created! I piggy-backed off of my teammate all year, and I promised myself that I would use them this coming school year. I made some posters for my classroom that I wanted to share!




All 8 posters are up in my TPT store (link below). There is also a link about the 8 keys if you are interested in learning more about them. I can't wait to use them with my kiddos next year!

And happy decorating to all as we near the beginning of a new year!

Link to TPT store: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/8-Keys-of-Excellence-BlackBrights-2656476

8 Keys: http://www.8keys.org

March 24, 2016

Going Digital on Bed Rest + A Freebie!

Yes, it's true: I am a teacher who was put on bed rest with no warning. I survived, but I wouldn't wish it on anyone! It was a normal Friday at school with my 2nd grade babies. I was 32 weeks pregnant and I had just walked them to their busses and said goodbye to them for another weekend. I made it back to my classroom and started organizing things for the following Monday, and I started having contractions. 

I went home and kind of pretended that they weren't happening. I had a dance team fundraiser the next day, and I knew that if I faced the reality of possibly going into labor, that it could really mess up my plans (mistake #3,192 I've made while pregnant). I continued to have the contractions sporadically all weekend, and I finally called my doctor Sunday morning. 
To make a long, stressful story very short: the contractions were for real. I was dilated and effaced, and I had to be put on bed rest until I made it 36 weeks in an attempt to not have my baby boy too early. No teaching. No coaching. Nothing.

I learned a few things about myself during this bed rest period. 
1.) I am a control freak. Turning my classroom over to someone else with no ability to warn my students or parents or go in and prepare for a sub caused me so much anxiety I actually had higher blood pressure than normal when I would visit the doctor's office. Higher blood pressure than I had when I was teaching full time and coaching part time! Unbelievable. I had already started organizing and preparing for my maternity leave...it was going to begin the day before my due date BTW (LOL). The baby wasn't supposed to come until my classroom was ready. Instead, I was being forced to take a leave of absence 8 weeks before I had planned, and slap together some emergency plans in less than 24 hours...I wanted to just let it go and focus on my baby's health, but...
2.) I am not a graceful loser. I continued to believe that, even after the verdict had been stated, my doctor may change his mind or something. I went into each appointment with the same slew of questions. "Do you think I could go back to work if I found a way to sit a lot more?" No. "What if I only went 3 days a week?" No. "Maybe I could go back at 34 instead of 36 weeks?" No. I even tried to argue with my HR department to let me work part time, despite the doctor's orders. I really did that. I had to be told pretty firmly that it was illegal for me to work with medical orders to stay home before I stopped emailing them.

My original maternity leave organizational system. A box for each week...this idea was inspired by Miss DeCarbo over at http://secondgradesugarandspice.blogspot.com.  
Each box has several labeled file folders in it. Some had already been filled, but I had many more copies to make before I had planned to leave! 

3.) I genuinely love my job. I'm afraid that this post is making it seem like I wasn't concerned about the health of my baby. That's not true. But I did come to realize that this new role as someone's mom  was going to replace teaching as the most important work of my life...and part of me was going to have to accept that teaching would be 2nd place. I didn't expect that to be such a difficult thing to swallow. Teaching provides so much stress and busy-ness all year, that I really didn't know how much I appreciated it until I wasn't allowed to do it. I missed my students, my fellow teachers, the parents...everything. 

All of this taken into account, I realized that in order to still plan maternity leave my way I was going to have to get creative with how I could have a hand in the planning from my bed. Enter Dropbox.com. 
Within my dropbox account, I created a folder titled "Maternity Leave". There is a folder for each week of Wonders that needs to be taught. I have been filling these folders with various rotation activities that match the standards, graphic organizers, etc. These weeks in the photo above are actually the weeks that I am hoping to come back and teach myself...but we will see how long baby boy stays in there once I go back next week! If I have to stop teaching at any point before my original plan, all I have to do is enter my interim sub's email address and share these folders with her! This will keep me from feeling like I have to go up to school to communicate everything that needs to be done. What amazing peace of mind for a control freak like myself!

To round off this post, I wanted to share a free product that I created while I was thinking through how I wanted to teach the various skills this week. Problem & Solution is coming up, and this graphic organizer gives students 3 questions to ask themselves to come up with the main problem in any story! Enjoy!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Problem-Solution-Graphic-Organizer-2463537