December 29, 2015

How to Work Smarter and Keep the Joy in Teaching

If teaching is consuming your life, you need to watch this short video from Angela Watson about finding work/life balance. Finally, someone has practical answers to the question of HOW teachers are supposed to work smarter and not harder!
Can a teacher work a 40 hour week and still do a good job? 

Until recently, I would have said no. In fact, I would have sworn that it wasn't possible. During my 30 years as an elementary educator, my passion for teaching translated into unbelievably long hours, 7 days a week, from August to June. I loved teaching so much that I let it consume almost every minute of my life. Would you believe that I took stacks of papers with me on camping trips because there was never enough time to grade them all during the week?

Work just 40 hours a week and still be a good teacher? Not possible!

I felt guilty about neglecting my family and my own needs, but I couldn't figure out how to reduce my work time and still be effective in the classroom.

Have you heard that the solution is to work smarter, not harder? But NO ONE ever tells you how to do that. At least not until now.

Yesterday I discovered Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, and I watched her video about finding work/life balance. I was hooked in the first 5 seconds! While watching it, I realized a fundamental truth about being a passionate teacher. No matter how much you love teaching, if you FEEL consumed by it, you will eventually BE consumed by it. 

Angela gave me permission to share the video here on my blog, and I want you to watch it now. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the next 2 minutes might just rock your world!

Powerful stuff, isn't it? When I watched it, I felt like Angela was speaking directly to me. In 2 minutes, she challenged my previous assumptions about the need to work day and night to be an effective teacher. I  realized that teachers don't need to work themselves into the ground until their passion for teaching burns out and the joy is gone. 

FINALLY someone has created the tools to help teachers learn how to work smarter! There IS a better way!

One thing I LOVE about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is that joining the club gives you access to a private Facebook group that has over 500 members. It's a place where teachers can connect with others who love teaching, but who are overwhelmed by the demands of the profession. Let me be clear that this group is NOT a place to vent about frustrations. Venting never solves anything. Instead, it's a place to discuss the monthly course content, interact with Angela personally, and learn simple hacks that will trim hours from your work week. 

Let's return to the question of whether or not you can work just 40 hours a week and be an effective teacher.

I now believe that it's possible, but only if that's the number of hours YOU want to work each week. 

You see, Angela's club isn't about pressuring members to limit themselves to 40 hours a week. Yes, the "40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club" makes for a catchy title, but Angela understands that many teachers wouldn't choose to limit themselves to 40 hours a week, if they could even figure out how to accomplish that goal. They enjoy working more than 40 hours, but they want to find a work/life balance that feels right. One of your first tasks as a new member will be to objectively determine the number of hours you're currently working and to set your own weekly target number. Your target number might be just a few hours a week less than what you're currently working, but those hours will make an enormous difference. 

If teaching is consuming your life, you need to read this post. Finally, there are answers to the question of HOW teachers are supposed to work smarter (instead of harder) so they can keep the joy in teaching!
There's so much more I could say about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek club, but I'd rather you click over to Angela's site to get the full details directly from her. Be sure to check it out now because the course is only open to new members 3 times a year. The current membership window closes on January 3rd, and the next open enrollment window isn't until July. (Update: Angela announced on her page that she's leaving the club open until noon EST on January 4th to resolve some glitches in getting people signed up.)

This is a one year program, and the cost of joining is not much more than going to the movies once a month or a few visits to Starbucks. If you're wondering if the cost is worth the investment, you should read the comments on last night's Facebook post. Over a dozen teachers who have already signed up for the club shared why they think it's totally worth the subscription fee. You can pay in monthly or quarterly installments, or skip the recurring charges and pay a one time fee for the full membership. Once your year is up, you will have ongoing access to all the club resources at no further cost. Click here to learn more.

Post Update: The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is only open twice a year for new members. The current open enrollment ended on January 3rd. If you'd like to be notified when the club opens again, please sign up for my Candler's Classroom Connections newsletter

I'm a member of the 40 HTW Club now, but I wish I could have joined when I was teaching. My target number would have been higher than 40, but it would have been much lower than the hours I was actually working. The club wasn't an option for me then, but thankfully, it's here for you now! I encourage you to join the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club so you can discover HOW to work smarter so that you can keep the joy in teaching!

P. S. I need to let you know that this post includes affiliate links. However, I would never promote something if I didn’t believe in it 100%. Angela is the creator of The Cornerstone For Teachers blog, and she's amazing. I feel lucky to know Angela personally, and she’s just as inspiring in person as she is in her podcasts and her blog posts. If Angela says she can help you innovate and find a better way, trust me, she can!

December 27, 2015

The Mystery of the Missing Freebies

Are you wondering what happened to all the freebies in Laura Candler's TpT store? Read this post to solve the mystery of the missing freebies!
Imagine this scenario. You're sitting down to plan your lessons for the week, and you remember a freebie you saw in my TpT store that would fit perfectly with your plans. You click over to my store and do a quick search. It's not there. Hmm. You try a different search term. Still no freebie. Then you notice that most of my freebies are gone from my store! Yikes! What happened to all of Laura's freebies???

Fortunately, this mystery is easy to solve. If you've been following me for a few years, you can guess where my freebies are... right back on Teaching Resources which is where most of them were located originally. You'll be happy to learn that everything is still free, too! The big question is how to find those freebies now.

If you want to know the backstory behind the change, keep reading. If you just want to know the fastest way to get to all those freebies, skip this section and jump to the tips for finding them!

The Backstory...
What happened was that last week I took a serious look at my TpT store and realized that it was a hot mess! The product covers did not have a consistent look, and some of them were downright difficult to read in thumbnail form. So I tackled the project of updating my cover images, organizing the categories in the sidebar, and cleaning up my store. Sort of like a spring cleaning about 3 months early! I'm not finished, but here's a peek at how the first few pages of my TpT store look and the rest will be updated soon.

After working for several hours, I realized that I had a TpT freebie problem. Would you believe I had over 80 freebies in my store?! Frankly, there were so many freebies there that it was becoming overwhelming to manage them all. Most of those freebies were still on my Teaching Resources site, too, although many of the ones on my site had not been updated in a long time. The problem was that every time I updated a freebie, I had to update it on my website and in my TpT store, which meant creating all new thumbnail images for TpT and updating the descriptions. Honestly, I just wasn't able to keep up with it all.

To simplify things, I decided to deactivate most of the freebies in my TpT store and host them in one place - on Teaching Resources. The next time I revise a freebie, I'll only have to update the file on my website, and all of the links and images throughout the site will automatically update.

Tips for Finding My Freebies 

So where can you find all the freebies that used to be in my store? Many of them are in my online File Cabinet or on the Teaching Strategies pages. You can also use the green search tool at the top of Teaching Resources, right under the navigation bar to try to find what you need.

Sign up for Candler's Classroom Connections to gain access to a page with DOZENS of Laura Candler's best freebies!
But wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to search all over Teaching Resources for them, and the best freebies were listed on one page?

Great minds think alike! I had the same thought, so I created a special page that has a long, clickable list with DOZENS of my freebies that used to be on TpT.

To access this page of my very best freebies, subscribe to Candler's Classroom Connectionsand then follow the links in the Welcome email.

If you're already on my mailing list, check your inbox and find the message I sent on December 27th with links to the new Subscriber Resources page and the page titled Laura's Best Freebies.

If you can't find it, sign up for the newsletter again. If you use the same email address you used before, you'll be asked to update your profile. After you fill out the form and click Update Profile, check your inbox for an email with links to the free resources for subscribers. If you don't receive that email, you'll need to sign up with a different email address.

Looks like the case of the missing freebies has been solved, so I'm officially closing the books on this one!

December 10, 2015

Give the Gift of TpT and Make it Festive!

Free TpT Holiday Gift Certificates

 Free customizable TpT Holiday Gift Certificates! Download these festive gift certificates and purchase gift card codes from TpT. Customize each certificate by adding the recipient's name and a unique gift card code. Sure to be a hit with any educator!
What's the very best gift you could give a teacher? That one's easy! A gift certificate to TeachersPayTeachers, of course! A TpT gift certificate is worth gold! Seriously! Being able to purchase top-notch teaching resources instead of having to create them yourself saves precious time, time you can spend over the holidays enjoying special moments with family and friends.

You can purchase a gift certificate for any amount between $5 and $500. Wow! Imagine what you could do with a $500 gift certificate! Click over to the TpT Gift Certificate page to take a look.

Usually when I send someone a gift certificate, I email it because all they need is the gift code to enter at checkout. However, during the holiday season, it's nice to be able to print a festive-looking gift certificate to include in a holiday greeting card.

So I created these two holiday gift certificates that you can give to your favorite educators. Well, first you have to purchase REAL gift cards and write a code on each certificate! As you probably guessed, these don't have any monetary value on their own. I knew you would want to customize them with your own fonts and messages, so I created an editable PowerPoint version. Did I mention that they are FREE? Just my little gift to you! You can download them from my TpT store.

Printing Tip - The colored portion of each certificate is 8 inches wide, so they should fit into a large greeting card envelope after you trim off the white border. When printing them, choose the "Shrink to Fit" option rather than choosing to print them to the edge of the paper. If they are still too wide, try reducing the scale to 95% or smaller.

Free customizable TpT Holiday Gift Certificates! Download these festive gift certificates and purchase gift card codes from TpT. Customize each certificate by adding the recipient's name and a unique gift card code. Sure to be a hit with any educator!

Remember, if anyone asks you what YOU want for Christmas, be sure to tell them that all you want for Christmas is a TpT gift certificate! Hope your winter holiday is fabulous and that you enjoy time with the special people in your life!

November 6, 2015

How to Cope with a Disrespectful Parent

Advice from Real Teachers Series

How to Cope With a Disrespectful Parent - Advice from Real Teachers post on Corkboard Connections
We've all been there, so if this happens to you, don't be caught off guard! Imagine that a parent of one of your students accosts you in your classroom or in the hallway after school and begins verbally attacking you ... and you are so stunned that you just stand there, completely tongue-tied! You know you shouldn't allow another adult to speak to you in such a disrespectful way, but you have no idea how to respond in a professional manner or how to prevent it from happening again.

A few weeks ago I posted a question on Facebook that had been submitted by "Lynn," a new teacher who wanted to know how to handle this situation. Here's what she wrote:

"The parent of two of my students is being completely inappropriate in her communication with me. She is harassing, called me names, and cussed. She questions every grade given to her children and takes it upon herself to tell me how to teach. She is also a teacher at another school district. Did I mention that this is a private Catholic school? I am getting very little support from my principal, but my mentor teacher is very supportive. Any suggestions on how to get this parent to back off? I am a first year teacher, and I have been told she causes a problem every year with one teacher or another. What can you do when administration will not put a stop to harassing parents?"

Advice for Coping with a Disrespectful Parent
When I shared Lynn's question with the followers of Teaching Resources, I knew that it was a tough one, and I wondered if anyone would be able to offer helpful advice. So I was astounded to see that over 140 fellow educators responded with some terrific and very detailed suggestions! You can read her question and all the suggestions here on Facebook. Normally I shared 15 or 20 ideas here on my blog, but there were so many suggestions that were filled with helpful details that I'm only going to share three examples and you can read the others on your own.
  • Mary Hurst - I'm not sure how things are handled in private school, but please make sure that you keep evidence of every conversation that you have with her. Print your emails and keep them in a folder, document every conversation in a file and keep both hard copies and computer files, etc. You may need them in order to get her to back off. I'm not sure where you are, but you might be able to file legal charges against her if it continues. You may have to tell your Principal that you will pursue that option if the harassment doesn't stop. I sure hopt hings get better.
  • Ginger Henderson - I had a similar situation, although I had support from my administration. I stopped all communication with the parent. I would read whatever the mother or father would send in, but my I did not respond. If it was an email, I'd reply with something like "thank you for letting me know about your concerns" just so they would know I had received and read the message. Then I just let it roll right off my back and continued teaching my class. If they request a conference be sure to have another person present, whether it's a principal, counselor, mentor teacher, etc... In my experience the best way to deal with this is to ignore as much as possible.
  • Vi Petalu - Call a prearranged parent meeting with administrator, mentor teacher, parent, and a stack of data. Let her know the attendees and agenda in advance. Get permission that the conversation be recorded. Back all your claims up with facts. If she won't agree to have the conversation recorded, take minutes to be later shared with all attendees electronically, noting that she didn't agree to have it recorded. Repeat as necessary. Discourage bad behavior with inconvenience and facts. After all, if she truly has a concern, she won't mind taking her own personal time to get things cleared up, right? At the end of the day, everyone is on the same page, wanting student success and happiness, but sometimes it takes time to get everyone there. Listen to her concerns and do all you can to accommodate, but in the end, it's facts and accepting that some people are never satisfied. However, at least that way, you have witnesses and documentation of your earnest, repeated efforts to resolve the situation.

Flashback to My Early Teaching Days

Reading Lynn's question and the advice from other teachers reminded me of a similar situation that happened a few years after I started teaching. A parent came to see me after school to discuss some concerns, and she immediately began speaking to me in a completely inappropriate manner. She had never even visited my classroom, yet she began attacking my teaching methods, my classroom management style, my grading policies, and she just went on and on! I had been taught to treat others with respect, and I had no idea how to defend myself against her verbal abuse. I stayed calm while she was there, but when she finally left I broke down and cried! It wasn't that I felt I had done anything wrong; I was upset with myself that I couldn't figure out a way to stop her verbal abuse and I just took it. When I later told my husband about the incident and how helpless I felt, he said, "Why didn't you just get up and walk out on her?" I was shocked and replied, "What? I couldn't just walk out and leave her in my classroom!" To which he responded, "Why not? You shouldn't let her talk to you that way. If it happens again and she won't leave, just walk out and go find an administrator."

Let's Try that One More Time!
As you might have guessed, it did happen again, but this time I was ready. First, I talked to her as calmly and politely as I could, hoping that I could reason with her and diffuse the situation. But when that didn't work and I had had enough of her verbal abuse, I stood up and said, "I'm sorry, but it seems that we don't agree about these issues. We need to reschedule our conference for a time when an administrator can meet with us."

The woman did not take the hint that it was time for her to leave and she continued talking to me in an extremely disrespectful manner. So I did exactly what my husband advised me to do, and I walked out. As I was leaving, I turned to look at her and saw that she was dumbfounded! She couldn't believe that I would walk out when she wasn't finished blasting me. She yelled, "I'm going to talk to the principal about this!" To which I calmly replied, "That's exactly where I'm headed and you are welcome to come along." I did talk to the principal, but (not surprisingly) the parent didn't join us. She did talk to him later, but he backed me and stood up to her. Even though the situation was difficult for me, I was proud of myself for first keeping calm and trying to reason with her, and then leaving the room when it was clear that she would not stop her verbal abuse. I didn't have any more problems with that parent the rest of the year, but I was careful not to talk with her alone.

Be Prepared and Plan Ahead
Have you ever  had this situation or something similar happen to you? If so, how did you handle it? If it ever happened again, would you handle it differently? Why?

I'm not advising you to handle a situation like this the way I did because you have to do what feels right to you. However, it's a good idea to think ahead to how you might act if something like this did happen to you. Be sure to read the responses to Lynn's question because the educators who responded shared some terrific strategies. If you're a new teacher, ask your mentor or consult other teachers to find out how they would handle a disrespectful parent.

The Question Connection
Do you have a teacher question for the followers of the Teaching Resources Facebook page? If so, click over to this Google Doc form where you can submit your question. I'm not able to share them all, but be sure you to follow my Facebook page so you'll see the responses if I share yours. Also, if you see a question pop up in your Facebook feed that you can answer, please jump in and share your expertise! Your helpful advice might save the day for a teacher who is frustrated or discouraged. Together we can make a difference!

November 3, 2015

Adult Coloring - Art Therapy for Teachers!

Coloring is art therapy for adults as well as kids! Learn how and when to use adult coloring sheets, and download some great freebies from this post!
Adult coloring is all the rage these days. This is no surprise—as busy as our lives are in the 21st century, we are all looking for healthy ways to relax, slow down, and connect with our creativity. 

The calming and therapeutic qualities that coloring has on children are the same for adults. And, yes, teachers count as adults even if our students might think otherwise! 

All adults love to color; they just have different needs than a child does. Adults need age-appropriate subject matter that connects to their lives, and they need opportunities to color material with smaller areas and shapes to match their more advanced fine motor skills. As much as we use our phones, other mobile devices, and computers, it’s important to use the fine motor muscles that control drawing, coloring and writing so as not to lose them. 

When to Use Adult Coloring Sheets

What is your most stressful time of the day? Is there a way you can calm it down by using adult coloring sheets? Here are some suggestions for ways you can work my free adult coloring sheets for teachers into your day:
  • Start your day by coloring while you enjoy a cup of coffee.
  • During lunch, avoid a negative teachers' lounge. Instead, enjoy your lunch outside while you color.
  • If your day starts to go terribly awry at school, stop everything you are doing and hand out some interactive coloring sheets to your students. Turn on some quiet music and pull out your own coloring sheets. Sit down with your students (not separate at your desk) and color with them. This will certainly turn the energy of your class around and get everyone back on the same page again.
  • When your school day is over, instead of going home feeling frazzled and stressed out, sit down and take a few minutes to color before transitioning to your personal life.
  • In the evening, put on some nice music to relax and color at home. Invite your family to join you!
  • Keep some of your favorite coloring sheets with you so you can color while waiting for appointments. The long wait at the department of motor vehicles might not make you as angry if you look at is an opportunity to color.
  • Color during different types of emotions. See how your work looks when you are angry compared to when you are happy. Allow adult coloring to be a therapy.
Coloring is art therapy for adults as well as kids! Learn how and when to use adult coloring sheets, and download some great freebies from this post!

Give Adult Coloring a Try for FREE  

Try Art with Jenny K.’s FREE Pop Art adult coloring sheets for teachers. Jenny has included all the instruction you will need to enjoy these unique Pop Art interactive coloring pages for teachers. 

Take something simple like the apple above on the left, and turn it into something magnificent like the apple on the right. These coloring sheets are unique because you get to interact with them. No two will ever come out the same. See how two teachers colored their hearts completely different. They are both beautiful yet unique - like the teachers who created them.

Use hashtag #artwithjennykpopartcoloring on IG to connect with other teachers who are enjoying the benefits of adult coloring. Click HERE to get started right away!

Coloring is art therapy for adults as well as kids! Learn how and when to use adult coloring sheets, and download some great freebies from this post!

Art with Jenny K Logo
Jenny Knappenberger is an award-winning educator who has taught art to middle school, elementary and gifted children in Virginia and in Arizona. Jenny is is the author of the Art with Jenny K blog and is dedicated to making art integration easy and exciting for classroom teachers.

October 31, 2015

Seek & Spell Challenge - Word Work That WORKS!

Seek & Spell Challenge is an engaging word work activity that's so fun your kids won't know they're learning!
Do your students groan when it's time for spelling? Spelling might be an important subject, but it doesn't exactly inspire a passion for learning! But that might change if you introduce your kids to Seek & Spell Challenge! In fact, they might BEG for this activity!

Students are given a set of letter tiles that they use to create and record as many words as possible. Making words with letter tiles is not a unique concept, but Seek & Spell Challenge has a unique twist that makes it motivating and fun for kids. What's the secret sauce? Simply that all of the letters can be unscrambled to form a "mystery word," and kids love the challenge of searching for that word!

I first created Seek & Spell Challenge as a fun seatwork activity for my 5th graders to be used on special days, like the the morning of a field trip or the day before a holiday because it had a calming effect on the class and my students enjoyed it. But when I noticed how much my students' spelling and foundational reading skills were improving, I started including it as a regular work work activity in my literacy centers. The results were even more amazing when I used it weekly!

When I began creating my monthly  Seasonal Activities Mini Packs, I included a similar word work activity in some of the packs. The only difference was that kids didn't have to look for a mystery word, because the word or phrase was written at the bottom of the printable. (This Words in a Word example is in my November Activities pack.)

But about a month ago, I came across one of my old mystery word printables, and I realized that the original activity was worthy of being a separate product. Furthermore, it was so motivating and effective that it NEEDED to be shared with other teachers!

I decided to run the Seek & Spell Challenge concept by the elementary teachers in one of my Facebook groups to see what they thought about it. They loved the idea!  So I invited those who were interested to work with me on the project. I had only used the activity with 5th graders, and I wanted to adapt it for younger students and test the activities in classrooms from 2nd grade to 5th grade.

As I created the mini-lessons and printables and shared them with the teachers, they offered great suggestions, like using lowercase letters instead of the uppercase letters I had been using. The 2nd grade teachers asked for a variation of the printable with fewer lines and larger spaces for recording words. Throughout the process, these amazing teachers tested the printables and activities in their classrooms. Everything worked perfectly as planned!

Seek & Spell Challenge is an engaging word work activity that's so fun your kids won't know they're learning!
Click HERE to download a PDF preview.

What Teachers Love About Seek & Spell Challenge

I loved seeing the photos of students working with the materials, but the best part was reading feedback from the teachers about why they love the program. It was so validating to learn that what I had experienced in my classroom was happening in other classrooms, too. Here's what a few of teachers shared with me:
Seek & Spell Challenge engaged my students and encouraged "real thinking" about words and their spelling. I loved watching teams of two work together and brainstorm and then check the word wall or their "quick words" for correct spelling. Having to find the "Mystery Word" was the bonus! The kids loved this concept and it provided a nice challenge for those who needed it. Manipulating the letters is important for student growth as it provides practice and exposure that they need as spellers, writers, and readers. ~ Cheryl Jordan, 2nd  Grade
 My students loved Seek & Spell Challenge! I had them work individually and then with a partner. They enjoyed comparing the words they each had made, finding those that were the same and those that were different. They saw that they could rearrange the letters in each other's "big" words and make smaller words too. I know there are similar word work activities; however, this packet is much more thoroughly put together and easier to prepare and use in the classroom. ~ Cheryl Barrios, 3rd and 4th Grade
I love how Seek & Spell Challenge is naturally differentiated for each student’s level; my lowest students could find success and my higher students could find challenges. ~ Deena Hayes, 5th Grade
My students loved the kinesthetic aspect of Seek & Spell Challenge. It was interesting to watch how they created words and how the activity easily differentiates itself as the kids are working. Having the letters that can be confused underlined helps greatly. Even though my kids needed help finding the mystery word, they were still so excited to get to it via my clues and were just as happy when they finally figured it out. The mystery part adds such a fun element to the whole activity. ~ Sally Campbell, 2nd and 3rd Grade

Seek & Spell Challenge Holiday Word Work Freebie

Does Seek & Spell Challenge sound like an activity that would benefit your students? Wouldn't it be nice if you could try it before you buy it? :-) You can!

To give teachers a chance to test out the activity, I created a holiday word work freebie that's similar to the sets of mystery word printables in Seek & Spell Challenge. The reason I titled it a holiday activity is that the mystery word is "gingerbread," but you can use this one any time of the year. There's no holiday clipart on the page itself.

Download this word work freebie from my TpT store and try it with your students to see how it works. Here are some features you'll love about the Seek & Spell Challenge program:
  • Ready-to-use, no prep printables
  • 36 mystery words (1 per week)
  • Several options for grading rubrics
  • Editable printables and rubrics
  • Several formats make it easy to differentiate
  • Hands-on, kinesthetic approach    

Thanks to My Teacher Field Testers!

I wanted to wrap up with a funny story from Deena Hayes who tested the activity with her 5th graders. Sometimes teachers have to be a little sneaky to get kids started on a new activity, and Deena knew just what to say at the first sign of resistance!
"My class had a great time completing the activity. At first, they weren't exactly thrilled, because it looked like a spelling activity. I reassured them that it wasn't spelling at all, instead it was a fun puzzle contest. With that, the race was off and running!"
I am so grateful for the help from my field testers; Seek & Spell Challenge would not be the awesome resource that it is without their feedback and suggestions! To show my appreciation, I listed them all in the acknowledgements at the end of the book... and I sent them all a free copy of the finished product, of course!

October 27, 2015

Undercover Boss - School Style!

Guest post by Michelle of Teach 1, 2, 3

I was watching one of my favorite shows, Undercover Boss, when I had a brainstorm! What if a legislator, congressman, State Superintendent or Commissioner of Education went undercover in the schools in their districts? They would see the impact of the decisions that they make. It would be first-hand experience, much better feedback than what they normally receive.

If you haven't seen Undercover Boss, you can click HERE to watch the first few minutes of an episode on YouTube. But be sure to return to Corkboard Connections to read how the undercover boss concept might work at school.

If you listen to many conversations or read many posts involving education, you will often sense a negative tone. Teachers are facing more and more pressures today. Critics of new curriculum and standards, larger class sizes, less resources, and the list could go on and on. Is it any wonder that administrators, school leaders, and the Sunshine Committees are often searching for ways to support the staff and improve the school climate?

Undercover Boss - School Style

While it might be a pipe dream to have our government leaders spend a day as a teacher undercover, I do think administrators could do a modified version of it. Everyone at the school knows the administrator, so the undercover portion of Undercover Boss would not work. But, the principal could go back to the classroom and walk in your shoes. He or she would gain some of the same valuable insights that the people on Undercover Boss do. What is a strength and weakness of the new curriculum? How are the students adapting to the school wide behavior plan? Can the class hear announcements? Is there enough time to get the class through the lunch line? He or she could also see the impact of other decisions that are made by the administrative team.

Choosing a Class to Visit

An administrator is a busy person so how would he or she decide whose class to visit? This can be organized in a variety of ways. Here are two suggestions:
  • Reward - Put all of the names of the staff members who have perfect attendance for the month in a hat. Draw a name (or two,three . . . ) out of the hat. Those names are the winner of a 30-minute break when the administrator teaches a lesson. You may find that your attendance rate goes up which is a win-win for everyone! 
  • New Teachers - I don't know about you, but when I began my first year of teaching, I was completely overwhelmed with all of the hundreds of details and decisions that I had to make in a day. I really wished that a mentor would had modeled strategies with my class instead of giving me a list of what I needed to work on before we met the next time. It would had been more beneficial if I could have seen these strategies in action rather than verbally telling me what to do or handing me a book or article. A principal would be the perfect person to do this since he or she knows these students, sometimes for years and shaping the career of a new teacher has to be (I would think) one of the more rewarding aspects of the job.

Undercover Story Time With Your Principal

An easy way to implement Undercover Boss - School Style is for your principal to schedule a Story Time visit with each classroom. One of my former principals visited each class at the beginning of the year to read his favorite book and talk about what school was like when he was in that grade. It was a great way for the principal to introduce himself to the students. Students found ways to connect with him through the story time lesson. I often saw them talking to him in the hallway or lunch about topics brought up in his lesson. He share things like: playing soccer, favorite cartoons, and his favorite subject in school. All topics that are an instant hit with students!

It not only built relationships with students, but those same children went home excited about how their principal who was so "cool" and played soccer like them. I had several parents comment on how impressed they were that a busy principal would take the time to visit classes and do something like this. These visits were scheduled during the first month of school because he knew teachers have endless amounts of paperwork. Although we were asked to stay in the classroom, we were allowed to work on paperwork or other work that did not involve the students. This was like a 30-minute gift of time for us when we needed it the most. This was a wonderful community building activity that I highly recommend.

Story Time Freebies
If you are a teacher and you would like your principal to bring story time to your classroom, be sure to share this post with him or her. If you are a principal and would like to try this activity, I have some free printables for you. Here's what's included:
  • Signs: color and black/white
  • Schedule your story time visit with the teacher
  • Reminder about your visit
  • 3 reading response assignments 
There are 3 variations of the reading response assignment that you can use in different grade levels or to differentiate in one class. If you don't want to assign them yourself, you can give them to the teacher after your lesson.

Are you on the administrative team or have an administrator who likes to try new things?  Does Undercover Boss - School Style sound like something you or someone you know would like to do? If so, try one of these ideas or tell us your how you did it in the comment section below.  Learning and sharing from each other is one of the best parts of the blogging community.

I enjoy writing about how to have a happy school. I have compiled some of my posts about this topic on a page of my blog and will continue to add to the list as I add more posts. Click on the picture above if you'd like to read more ideas about this topic. Thank you Laura for inviting me to visit your blog today!

Michelle is the creator of the Teach 1, 2, 3 blog where she shares her teaching tips and classroom management strategies. She's taught in a variety of schools, both large and small, as well as public and private, and this wide range of experiences is evident in her teaching materials. 

October 15, 2015

The Question Connection for Elementary Educators

If you follow my Teaching Resources Facebook page, you may have seen my Question Connection posts. This is a regular feature where teachers can ask questions, and other educators respond with links to resources and helpful advice based on experience.

Submit Questions Anonymously
The only problem with submitting a question on Facebook is that up until now, there hasn't been a way to share it anonymously. But sometimes a topic is just too sensitive for you to want to post your question publicly.

Problem solved! Just submit your question via this private Google Doc form, and if it's a good fit for my Facebook page, I'll be happy to post it for you sometime in the next week or so. When you submit your question, you'll be asked to enter your first name, but you can make up a name if you want the question to be anonymous. To get started, click HERE or the Question Connection form below.

What are "Good Fit" Questions?
Because a lot of questions are submitted, I'm not able to share every question that's submitted. So I review all questions and select the ones that I think will be most relevant to elementary educators because they are the primary followers of Teaching Resources. What kinds of questions are a good fit for the page? You can ask for links to curriculum resources, advice about how to deal with classroom management issues, book suggestions, information about new online tools, etc. If you aren't sure if your question is a good fit, submit it anyway because you never know!

Don't Miss the Responses to Your Question!
My Facebook page has over 670,000 followers, so if your question is shared, it's likely to get some pretty amazing responses! I've seen questions that had over 100 responses! To be sure you don't miss them, click over to the Teaching Resources Facebook page and click the Like button to follow it. If you don't see your question after a few days, scroll through the posts on the timeline to see if it's there. 

Share Your Advice and Expertise
Teachers sharing their advice and expertise make up the other half of the Question Connection. So if you see a question you can answer, please jump in and help! Your advice might offer just the right solution for another teacher reading the post. Through the power of social media, you'll be making a impact beyond the walls of your classroom. Trust me, a teacher somewhere will be thanking you!

Got teacher questions? Ask and answer them on the Teaching Resources Facebook page because the best advice comes from real teachers!

October 8, 2015

20 Terrific Quiet Signals That Work!

Advice from Real Teachers Series
What's your favorite quiet signal? Check out these terrific quiet signals that include everything from call and response strategies to fun noise-making objects like train whistles and rain sticks!
When you teach hands-on lessons and use active engagement strategies, it goes without saying that you MUST have an effective quiet signal! You'll use it over and over again, so it can't be too annoying, and it needs to be something that will get your class quiet in less than 5 seconds.

I shared my favorite quiet signal on my Teaching Resources Facebook page and asked the followers to share their favorites with me. I loved the quiet signals that were shared so much that I decided to compile the responses as a post in my Advice from Real Teachers series. If you want to read my original question on Facebook and see the responses for yourself, click here.

20 Terrific Quiet Signals That Work! 
My favorite quiet signal is the set of chimes below, and I shared this image when I posted my question. Several teachers agreed with me and explained how they use chimes in their classrooms. Other favorite quiet signals included a mixture of "call and response" strategies as well as a variety of fun noise-making objects like a train whistle, a concierge bell, and a Tibetan singing bowl! I've included Amazon links* for those items so you can learn more about them if you're interested.

  1. Carol Hunt - like a dream! I use it to transition center activities. 
  2. Karen Swales - I had a set of these chimes in my classroom. They were especially effective with students with sensory processing issues and children on the autism spectrum.
  3. Reuben Hks - I raise my hand, and then students raise their hands and stop talking. This gives students a chance to finish their conversation if they are talking with a partner or working in a group.
  4. Pepper Sullivan - I use non-verbal signals.  I hold up 5 fingers and move about the room.  As students notice and start to pay attention, I drop to 4, then 3, then 2, then 1 as they all get quiet.
  5. Linda Legman - I say , "1, 2, 3,  look at me!" They respond, "1, 2,  look at you!"
  6. Sam Shaw - I've got a plastic dog toy duck that I quacks.....I've also got a silly bike horn....
  7. Deborah Brooks - I have verbal cues as I am all over the room and won't readily have something nearby to chime and such. I usually say " Awesome!" And they reply "POSSUM"!
  8. Kelli Jo Wusterhausen  - One I learned from a colleague was "and a hush falls over the crowd" and they say "hushhhh" and the listen. 
  9. Jillian Bishop – A Tibetan singing bowl works well  
  10. Rosemary Montenegro - I flicker the light and say, in a very upbeat voice, "Show me your listening wings!" The kids stop what they're doing and stretch their arms out to let me know that they are listening!
  11. Matt Hill - I say "Sharkbait" and they say "Ooh ha ha" and freeze.
  12. Mindy Halverson - My favorite is a throw back to Vanilla Ice. I say "Stop" and the kids respond with "Collaborate and listen." I teach them how the song does it. We also talk about what collaborate means. I have had some groups that really got into it which made it more fun.
  13. Jaqui OShaughnessy - A wind chime. SO gentle and always gets the kids' attention.
  14. Casey McAdam - I say, "Hands on top, that means stop."  The kids stop playing because their hands must touch the tops of their heads.
  15. Karen Swales - For something more hands on, a Kalimba is a very soothing (and quiet) instrument. It's very calming when the student holds it with both hands to play. I found one similar to this at a local craft fair. 
  16.  Phillip Gumery - I use the simple ringtone on my mobile. It’s loud enough to get attention and works as a quiet time signal as well.
  17. Peter Jarvis - One classroom I saw had a remote doorbell. The button was on the teacher’s desk and the chime part somewhere in the classroom.
  18. Alicia Figluizzi - I use this bell and teach my high school students two signals. One ding means simmer down, be aware of noise/transition, and two quick dings means I need the whole class's attention or a transition is about to occur.
  19. Amanda Becker - I have 7 things. Haha - variety!  1. Concierge bell  2. Train whistle - mostly for clean up  3. Rainstick  4. Peace sign with my fingers 5. Coconut piano chime (it's awesome!) 6. Rhythm clap  7. Call and respond techniques
  20. Shawn Collins - I teach my students to respond to my verbal call in the same way. .. For example, If  say,  "Claaaaaaaassss." They respond "yeeesssssss?" I switch it up using a southern drawl, a British accent, and so on.  (This strategy was originally developed by Chris Biffle, founder of Whole Brain Teaching, and you can read more about it here.) 
What's your favorite quiet signal? Check out these 20 terrific quiet signals that include everything from call and response strategies to fun noise-making objects like train whistles and rain sticks!

How to Teach Your Quiet Signal
After you choose a quiet signal, it's important to teach it to your students so they know exactly what to do when they see or hear your signal. After you explain the procedure, have them practice it right away. Ask your students to pair up and discuss a topic of interest. After they've been chatting for 15 or 20 seconds, use the quiet signal. Then time your class to see how long it takes them to get quiet. Write the time on the board and challenge them to get quiet in under 5 seconds. Continue practicing until the class is able to accomplish this. It won't take as long as you might think! 

Having an effective quiet signal is one of the best ways to maximize instructional time. Instead of wasting precious minutes trying to get your class quiet so you can give the next set of directions, you'll have them quiet and ready to listen in 5 seconds! To learn more strategies for using quiet signals, click over to my Teaching Resources website.

Which of the 20 quiet signals shared here do you already use? Which new ones would you like to try? If you have your own favorites, I hope you'll share them with us in a comment on this post! 

*The links to products on Amazon are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, you will not pay anything extra. However, I will earn a small commission on those sales which helps to support my work creating resources for teachers. Thanks!

September 22, 2015

Spelling Stories - Creativity Unleashed!

Tips for assigning spelling stories ... great way to unleash your students' creativity!
Have you ever asked your students to write a story with their spelling words? It may not seem like the most original assignment, but the resulting stories are always tremendously creative!

This assignment may not sound exciting, but it's an extremely effective way of assessing how well your students understand their spelling words... and the stories are fun to read! If you don't believe me, just read the spelling story below that was written by Derrick, one of my former students!

Here are some practical tips to help you unleash your students' creative talents with spelling stories.

Tips for Assigning Spelling Stories
For several weeks before you ask your students to write stories with their spelling words, have them write spelling sentences. For that assignment, I allowed them to choose 10 of their spelling words and to write a complete sentence that showed the meaning of each word. It was only after they mastered that assignment that moved on to spelling story assignments. Here are the basic directions I gave my students; feel free to modify them according to your students's needs. I allowed them to change the form of the word slightly, such as making it plural, changing the verb tense, and so on.
Use at least 10 of your spelling words in a short creative story. The story can be silly, but it must make sense and must be more than a collection of unrelated sentences. Underline all spelling words used in the story. You may use other forms your spelling words, but be sure to spell them and use them correctly.    
Creativity Unleashed
Sample spelling story in blog post by Laura Candler with tips about assigning and scoring spelling stories.Most spelling lists include unrelated words, so students must be very creative in order to include at least 10 of them. I don't mind if the stories are short as long as they meet the requirements. Sometimes the funniest and most creative stories are the shortest ones! I'll bet you have at least one student who likes to take shortcuts on assignments. If your students are like mine, they will write the most hilarious stories just to get the assignment done with the fewest words possible! Click the story on the right to read Derrick's story, a perfect example of creativity unleashed! He used 14 words in a story that wasn't even a full page long.

Tips for Grading Spelling Stories
Spelling stories can be tricky to grade, but if you're going to grade them, it's important for your students to understand your grading policy. Rubrics are perfect for grading these types of assignments because they keep you from being too subjective. You can download and use my Spelling Story Rubric from the Spelling page on Teaching Resources if you like it, or modify it if needed.ips for assigning spelling stories ... great way to unleash your students' creativity!
Each of the 5 criteria on the rubric can receive up to 5 points. After you assign the points and total them, you can use the scale at the bottom to convert that total to a letter grade. I suggest sharing the rubric with your students and their parents before they write their very first story. You might even want to write a sample story that contains errors and show your students how that story would be graded. Then display Derrick's story example shown above and have your students help you score it with the rubric.

Free Spelling Story Rubric included in post with tips for having students write spelling stories.

Tips for Sharing Stories
At some point during the writing process, be sure to provide an opportunity for students to share their stories with their classmates. If you have a class blog or website, post the stories online for everyone to read there. Morning meetings and author sharing times are great opportunities for sharing, too. Our favorite time to listen to spelling stories was Friday afternoon when everyone was packed up and we were waiting for the final bell to ring. I would call on volunteers, one at a time, to sit on my teacher stool and share their spelling stories. It was a fun way to wrap up the week and always left us laughing as we walked out the door!

September 18, 2015

6 Reasons to Teach Calculator Skills

6 reasons to teach calculator skills to upper elementary students, including how calculators foster mathematical thinking. Free calculator quiz in the post!
When North Carolina first began to allow calculators on state tests, many elementary teachers (including me) were shocked! What? Kids need to develop basic computation skills before they are allowed to use calculators!

Then we got a look at the new state math test. Holy moly! The test was divided into two parts, a calculator-inactive section, and much longer calculator-active part that was made up entirely of word problems! I realized that if my 5th graders had to work out every answer by hand, they would never finish the test! I also realized that it wouldn't be fair to hand out calculators for the first time on test day. In short, I needed a new game plan.... one that involved calculators.

Calculators Are Not Magic - You Still Have to Think!
Most students are intimidated by word problems, so when I decided to introduce calculators, I felt that our problem-solving lessons would be a good place to begin. When I first handed out the calculators, my students were so excited! They seemed to think those calculators were going to magically solve the problems for them! It didn't take long before my students realized that calculators are not magic at all! Why?
  1. You still have to read the problem, choose a strategy, decide which operation to use, record the answer, and check the solution using a different strategy. In other words, you still had to THINK!
  2. Calculators aren't helpful with some types math problems, so you needed to know WHEN to use it and when it might be a waste of time.
  3. You have to know HOW to use the calculator in order to get the correct answer. The data from the problem must be entered in a specific way, and if you enter it incorrectly, you'll get the wrong answer every time. 
  4. You have to know how to interpret the number that appears in the display window when you finish entering the data, especially in problems involved time, measurement, and money.  
Why and How to Assess Calculator Skills
Do your students know how to use a calculator? You won't know for sure unless you assess those skills! Download this freebie to use in your classroom.
After they got over the disappointing realization that calculators are not magic, my students began to enjoy using them and looked forward to problem solving lessons.

However, I soon noticed that some students knew how to solve the math problems, but they were getting the answers wrong because they didn't know how to use their calculators properly. Time for some calculator lessons! I knew that some kids didn't need the extra help, so I created a simple 10-item Calculator Quiz to find out who did. You can download this free assessment from my Daily Math Puzzlers page. When I handed out the test, I told my students that they were not allowed to work out any problems on paper. They were required to use their calculators and they could only use their pencils to record their answers. Needless to say, they were shocked! "You mean we can't work out the problems on paper even if we WANT to?" "Nope. Sorry. Only the calculator."

After I scored the tests, I taught several guided math group lessons to the students who were having difficulties. The other students used the time to work on math center activities. Then I retested the kids who I had worked with to be sure they had mastered the basic calculator skills. These lessons were so successful that I included calculator instruction in each Daily Math Puzzler book.

6 Reasons to Teach Calculator Skills to Upper Elementary Students
So why should we teach upper elementary students how to use a calculator? Based on my own experiences and feedback from other teachers, I am convinced that calculators boost mathematical thinking and are motivating to students. Here are 6 reasons to teach calculator skills and to encourage your students to use them to solve math problems.
  1. Calculators help kids overcome computational limitations.
    Kids often have the conceptual understanding to solve problems that are much more difficult than their computational ability would allow. For example, a student might know they need to divide a 2-digit number by another 2-digit number, but if he or she hasn't mastered this skill, the answer will be out of reach without a calculator. Overcoming computational limitations is especially helpful for special needs students and actually removes barriers to more advanced levels of math instruction.   
  2. Calculators encourage the use of multiple strategies.
    Being able to use a calculator frees students to consider and test out a wide variety of problem solving strategies in a short time. They can solve a problem using one strategy (without or without a calculator), and check their answers using a different strategy. 
  3. Calculators help kids solve more problems in less time.
    Calculators allow students to work more quickly, which means they can solve more problems in a given time. So you can increase the number and complexity of the problems you introduce in each lesson without increasing the time devoted to problem solving lessons.  
  4. Calculators promote persistence in problem solving.As students begin to think more creatively and try different methods, they will experience success with some methods and failure with others. But it's HOW they feel about those "failures" that's important. I noticed my students were less discouraged when they couldn't solve problems quickly; they tried to figure out WHY their methods didn't work. Then they adjusted their thinking and tried a different strategy.     
  5. Calculators foster a growth mindset.Educators are starting to realize that praising students for correct answers is not nearly as important as recognizing their struggles along the way. When students are able to persist and try different strategies to solve challenging problems, they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves for not giving up which leads to the next benefit.  
  6. Calculators promote a positive attitude towards problem solving. As the saying goes, "Success breeds success," and that's definitely true in math. Using a calculator drastically increases the chance that a student will get the correct answer, and the subsequent feeling of accomplishment promotes a more positive attitude toward the next problem.  
What If Your Students Are Not Allowed to Use Calculators on Standardized Tests?
Is there any benefit to using calculators during the school year if your students are not allowed to use them on standardized tests?  Yes! Your students will still benefit from using them early in the year to boost their mathematical thinking, as long as you devote sufficient time to teaching and reviewing computation. As the year progresses and your students' computation skills improve, you can gradually wean them off calculators completely.

When Should Calculators Be Introduced?
I introduced calculator skills early in the year because my students were 5th graders who had developed a fairly solid understanding of numbers and what they mean. I don't advocate giving them to young children who have not had time to develop number sense, because entering numbers into a calculator won't be meaningful to them. You are the best judge of when your students are ready to begin using calculators. However, if you observe your students randomly punching numbers in as if they are hoping to stumble on the answer, it might be time to put the calculators away for a while and focus on math problem solving strategies.

Learning to use a calculator had a tremendous positive impact on my students' mathematical thinking and their willingness to tackle tough problems. Furthermore, because I still taught computation skills, I didn't see any detrimental impact on their ability to solve computation problems without a calculator. If you think about it, calculators are just another math tool. No, they won't magically solve word problems. However, the way calculators help students become better problem solvers IS almost magical!