How to Build Your Professional Learning Network

How to Build Your Professional Learning Network

When I started blogging there was a whole new world of teachers sharing their knowledge and helping each other learn on social media. Jump over to my post about why teachers need to embrace social media if you don’t know what I’m talking about.  I was amazed by the teaching ideas and lesson sharing that was happening on Instagram. Then I discovered Facebook groups for teachers. I was living in the dark about how these social networks brought me top-notch professional development on a daily basis.  The more I read Twitter and discovered teachers to follow, the more I realized I was starting to build my Professional Learning Network.

In the education world teachers are asked to continuously learn through professional development. We can spend hundreds of dollars and multiple days outside the classroom to make this happen. Or we can start learning from each other. Creating a professional learning network within your school building is one of the easiest ways to learn more about teaching best practices. Take a look at how we have created this and how it can help motivate staff.

This post may contain affiliate links. 

Why PLNs are a good thing

For several years now my principal has been trying to build a Professional Learning Network among our own building staff. He started with a book study on Learning in the Fast Lane. Small groups of teachers were assigned a section of chapters to teach and share what they learned. We all had a great time sharing our creative lesson plans and talking about what we were learning and how it could help us better serve our students. Not every staff member participated, but those who did really felt it was a benefit for our classrooms.

Honestly, our staff hasn’t always been the greatest at collaboration or learning from each other. This idea has been a culture change that my principal continues to work towards. A culture change like this can be difficult when many teachers already feel overworked. Plus we were on improvement status by the state because of our test scores. Nothing makes you feel like a failure than a report card with a D. As much as I loathe this system, teacher evaluations, school report cards, and standardized testing, they are the reality. As it turns out they helped us start to make a culture change towards a local Professional Learning Network.

How to make a PLN in your building

Because I’ve been so inspired by all the other teacher bloggers and teachers sharing on social media, I partnered with our media specialist (who’s super creative) to come up with a few new ideas to help our staff. We started with a Summer PD Bingo board. This idea came from a principal blogger who teamed up with another principal blogger friend to help their staff escape summer slide. Our PD board used a lot of the same tasks, but we did try to add a few things we knew our staff might be excited to try.

Find a copy of the Summer PD Bingo board in our free resource library. Don’t have access to the library? Join the Teach.Mom.Repeat. newsletter and get instant access. 

To sweeten the pot for choosing to participate I collected some teacher treats. Throughout the summer I connected with a few teacher authors and a number of local businesses to donate prizes for our Bingo winners. At our opening meeting in August teachers turned in their boards and we drew for prize packs.

Our next step was to find a way for teachers to share during the school year. Last year the board adjusted our contract hours so that we have a 25 minute flex time at the end of the school day. The purpose of this time is for collaboration and planning. Although it may only be 25 minutes it’s enough time to share ideas or get people started with the right resources.

Once a month we are planning a “Learn from the BEST” session. Teachers sign up on a Google Doc with the ideas they have for sharing and the concepts they would like to have someone teach them. Teachers will present in their own classrooms so any necessary materials will be readily available. I have also created a Google Site where we will be able to share any digital materials, session notes or even videos of the professional development. Making materials available to all staff even if they couldn’t attend on that day.

Hopefully this opportunity to teach each other will continue to cultivate a collaborating community amongst our staff. We have such excellent educators at our fingertips we should absolutely be learning from each other. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with the EdCamp professional development model. Learning from teachers who are also in the trenches every day with students can provide a much-needed solution to a current problem. That’s the best part of holding sessions based on resident experts; you can ask for specific solutions to a problem. There isn’t much in the world of teaching that hasn’t been seen before by another teacher. When we can help each other problem solve we can get back to doing our job. And possibly schedule a little more time to enjoy our family and friends.

Does your building have an established Professional Learning Network? What ideas can you add to help make our PLN plan better?

3 Ways to Help Your Child Be a Better Reader

3 Ways to Help Your Child Be a Better Reader

Parents ask me all the time, “How can I help my child be a better reader?” “What can I do at home to help my child be a better reader?” The simplest answer to this question is READ. Read with them. Read to them. Read a page then have them read a page. READ. READ. READ. Let them see you reading, even if it’s the newspaper, magazines or work emails. Show them that reading is a life skill. This really helps them to understand why it’s important to learn reading skills.

When we discuss reading accountability at the start of the school year I share an infographic with students that illustrates the importance of reading. It explains that reading for at least 20 minutes a day during the school year will expose them to over a million words. Exposure to words is how we all get better at reading. Vocabulary is key. Knowing the meaning of words allows us to comprehend what we read. Knowing strategies for figuring out unknown words while we read is also a skill good readers possess.

Reading 20 minutes every night can increase word power and this leads to a multitude of benefits.

Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

So the simplest way to become a better reader is to practice it. Just like any other skill. Professional football players still show up to practice because even they can become better at their game. (Unless you play for the Browns!) I share a personal example with the kids that demonstrates even really good readers still need to look up unknown words.

When I read Wonder I had never heard the word precept before; I understood the concept from the story but had never known the meaning of the word.  Once I looked it up I realized that my understanding was slightly off and with the true meaning I understood the author’s intent more clearly. Has this ever happened to you? Share that with your child or students. Show them there is always an opportunity to learn new words.

Parents these tips and resources are for you to help your child become a better reader. Reading at home is an important way to help students increase their reading skills. These reading strategies, apps, and websites will help parents help their children practice reading at home.

While reading at home is an important way to become better at reading it’s not the only way to help increase reading skills. Here are 3  activities to practice with reading, as well as a few websites and apps that can help.

1. Depth of Knowledge

The simplest comprehension questions ask us to recall important facts. If we can read something and then share the important parts then we have successfully comprehended the story. However, students often struggle to determine what’s important and what’s just part of the story. Characters and their actions that move the story forward are important. If a character stops to buy candy at the gas station it could be to show us that they have a sweet tooth, or share insight to the setting, or to have them interact with another important character. If they simply stop to buy candy and move on then there isn’t much important in that. However, students who connect to behaving similarily can feel like it should be important when it’s not.

Ask your child to recall the important parts of the story from the chapter or section that they just read. If it sounds like it may not be important to the overall story probe them for why they feel that was an important part. If they can defend it to show significance this is great practice for comprehension.

Being able to articulate why a character made a decision or acted in the way they did helps students see the big picture.

2. Vocabulary

If students are reading out loud and stumble on a word saying it for them is good. But then ask if they know what it means. Sometimes we just need to hear a word in order to recognize it; making exposure to words such a vital part of becoming a better reader. If they can’t tell you the meaning ask them if the context around the word can help them figure it out. Still unsure or can’t figure it out? Looking up the word in the dictionary is necessary.  Find a place in the house where you can write these words so your child will see them daily that can also help. It takes several times seeing a word and thinking about what it means before we add it to long-term memory.

A few websites that are good for simple word practice include:

FreeRice.com

Vocabulary.com *also has an app called PowerVocab

There are also several phone apps that are free word games. Any word game that is not just spelling words will help increase vocabulary. One that is great for middle school is called The World’s Worst Pet. It’s a strange name for an app, but it has helpful games to learn new words. You can also choose the level of words and increase as kids gain more knowledge.

3. Reading Websites

There are several websites that provide reading practice for kids whether they are in a classroom or at home. Often they require a login and have paid versions, but they also usually allow for free features as well. Here are some of my favorite sites:

ReadWorks.org is geared towards teachers, but their Article-A-Day option is great for at home practice. Many of the sites are geared towards teachers who use these in their classrooms, but it’s just as easy for a parent to set up an account.

FunBrain.com is a great site for books online and reading games. They offer searches by grade level from Pre-K to 8. There are also vocabulary games as well as other subject areas available.

LearnOutLoud.com is a great place to find free audiobooks. Titles are mostly classic books, but those can be very exciting. When listening to an audiobook it is always best to have the physical book to look at while listening. This helps kids engage with the vocabulary.

Newsela.com is a current event website that allows students to read nonfiction at their level. The site is geared for teachers to use in their classrooms, but this can be accessed at home as well. You will need to create an account to access the content. Although it’s not the site’s intent, parents can easily create an educator account and add their child or children to a class you call Home. If your child’s teacher is already using this site then ask if they would assign articles for your child to practice at home.

There is a navigation tool on the left that allows you to choose a child’s level by grade and then narrow by skill. If your child’s teacher has expressed a specific area they need to practice this is a great way to zero in on that particular skill. Kids can search for a topic that is of interest to them, which will help them engage with the reading. After each article, there is a quiz for students to take. You can track their progress in your account and celebrate their growth!

Finding support for helping our older children be better readers can often be a difficult task. There is a plethora of support for young, emergent readers but there are very few options to help our tweens and teens. It’s assumed that by the time they get to be this age they are fluent readers, but that’s not always the case. Books can often be a turn off for older students if they haven’t been able to find one they enjoy. The resources above should help to make reading easier for them and an activity they can hopefully enjoy. If you’re looking for popular book suggestions here are 50 for the secondary student.

Teacher friends, share your greatest resources that you suggest to help parents help their children.

Moms, what is your child’s greatest struggle with reading? Share the strategies you’ve used at home that have helped. Want to receive great mom resources and freebies straight to your inbox? Drop your email in the form below.

 

DIY Current Read Classroom Poster with Canva

DIY Current Read Classroom Poster with Canva

At the start of the school year, I was seeing lots of posts where teachers created a classroom poster to show kids the books they were currently reading. My husband had actually done this in his classroom last year and I ran out of time then forgot to make one for myself. This year I turned to Canva.com to make my own classroom poster that would fit inside my 11×14 frame that hung just outside my door. I decided to design a poster that would allow me to write the title with a dry erase marker on the glass of the frame. This would save me from having to print covers everytime I picked up a new book to read. Which is also better for the environment.

When I shared this photo on Instagram a lot of people sent me messages asking how I had created the poster. The simplest answer was Canva. But it did take me a lot of scrolling to find the template I had used. To make this easy for everyone to duplicate I recorded a video to show you how to make your own.

Here is my finished product, along with my latest Cricut vinyl projects.

Hope this video tutorial helps! I’d love to see your projects come to life. Be sure to post them on Instagram and tag me.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about blogging in the classroom as I mentioned in my video join my Blogging in the Classroom mailing list. Learn how blogging can become your total package writing curriculum and give your students a voice.

 

How to create classroom community

How to create classroom community

One the greatest aspects to establish in the classroom, right from the start, is a sense of community. Classroom community is important for students to feel they are in a safe place to share ideas and take some risks. When they feel the environment around them will support them even if they didn’t get the right answer they will still be willing to try. Their willingness to try will make for a much more productive class period each day.

Now, this all sounds great, but it can often be difficult to establish a community within a middle school classroom. For one thing, middle schoolers can be pretty opinionated. By the time they get to 8th grade they may have been burned by others and until you prove them wrong they are convinced you will be the same kind of teacher. Middle schoolers are also big fans of drama. They often carry a grudge like a new momma carries her newborn. They cuddle it and feed it and watch it grow.

Classroom management for middle school can often be difficult. We all want to see positive behavior from our students, but how do we make this happen. This weekly system will reinforce positive behavior from your students. Find posters and activities to help get started the first week of school.

Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

This can make creating a class community a difficult process. That is why it’s best to start as soon as possible.

Here is an idea that was sparked by a teacher I connected with through Instagram. If you have read the book or watched the movie Wonder then you know what I mean by Mr. Browne’s precepts. He was a teacher who started his class with a precept, a word I had to look up in the dictionary because I’d never heard it before reading Wonder. Precept is defined as a rule or direction dictating a way you should act or behave. To me using this word makes so much more sense than calling them inspirational quotes, or even using just inspirational quotes.

The plan

Hashtags are all the rage so I’m going to use #MotivationMonday to kick off each week. Even if we have a holiday Monday and start the week on Tuesday. When students come in and get settled we will start with our posted precept. Read the precept out loud together then discuss what it means. This is a quick, 5-minute conversation. Using weekly precepts can help create a classroom community.

As the week moves along notice when kids are living out the week’s precept. Tell them how they are demonstrating it and call them out to their classmates for doing so. This will allow everyone to see what the precept in action looks like. By Thursday all students will need to cast their vote for the classmate who they felt lived out the precept. This will be done through a simple Google Form that students can find on our class blog. The form asks simple questions: voting student’s name, nominee’s name, why they deserve to be recognized. At the end of the day Thursday I will go through the votes and the student with the most votes will be awarded a small laminated version of the precept poster. They will also receive a printed list of the reasons why they were deserving of this precept. All voters names will be kept anonymous. It will be up to students if they would like to share that they voted for that student and why.

In class on Friday, we will spend a few minutes celebrating that student for their outstanding accomplishment. It is my hope that this will encourage positive behavior. Our class motto is a positive presence & a positive participant. Using the weekly precepts will help support and uphold this message.

If you would like to purchase a school year’s worth of precept posters and awards you can find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Set the stage with other activities

When you teach in a class that has multiple levels of learners, meaning you’ll need to pull them into small groups for many of the lessons, it’s a good idea to start building a community that also recognizes differences. As a teacher who has an intervention specialist for every class it’s no secret to the kids that there is a second teacher in the room for a reason. The kids who are on IEPs know they need extra support and the minute you ask them to join a group away from the big group they often feel stupid. The stigma is real and if we don’t treat it in a way that can make these kids feel comfortable they will continue to see themselves as a label.

Caterpillars and Butterflies

Over the summer I kept hearing about or reading about how caterpillars change into butterflies. This made me think about the obvious theme of metamorphosis. Starting out as something small with little skills and turning into something more beautiful and grand. But then I started to think about the life of a caterpillar and the life of a butterfly separately.

As a caterpillar, they crawl on their bellies and eat leaves. In that state, those things are good for them. As butterflies, they now get around with wings, totally new skills because of a totally new body. They now eat nectar. Again, a totally new food source which is perfect for nourishing their totally new bodies. (Sorry, I’m not a science teacher so this is really basic here, but I promise a good point is about to be made.) As caterpillars, they needed to eat a certain kind of food to fuel the body they had at the time. It’s what was best for them. Imagine if a caterpillar tried to eat nectar rather than the leaves it’s body truly needed. They probably wouldn’t grow and they would most likely be super hungry all the time. It’s the same for us.

If we try to “feed” ourselves something that we aren’t ready for or can’t grasp the concept of right now then we are going to get frustrated and shut down. It’s important for us to know what we need in order to grow. Or it’s important for students to understand how they learn best in order to actually retain knowledge.

Like caterpillars, we can often evolve over time. If we build up our knowledge enough to transform our weaknesses into strengths we become something new, a butterfly. Now we have to figure out how this new self learns and grows. That can often mean trying something we have never tried before because we are something (or at least our mindset might be something) we have never been before.

This little breakdown of the metamorphosis theme is meant to help students think about how they should be aware of their personal learning style AND understand that it can change. It’s possible to train yourself to be a better learner in a style you may not have been successful with previously.

Why this matters

For example, I’m the worst singer! I listen to the radio in the car, but I’m not really a music kind of person. However, when I had my children I discovered that singing to them soothed them to sleep. I’m still baffled by this! Plus, I’m so bad with music that I really only know two songs. The ABC’s (yes I’m a total ELA nerd) and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Do you know that my two-year-old has been singing ALL of the correct words to Twinkle Twinkle since she could speak sentences?  I discovered that she learns things when they are in a musical lyric. So I started making up songs to teach her things. I’m not about to go live with these songs, but she is learning and so am I.

The first week of school my read aloud will be Hermie by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a caterpillar who desperately wants to be special like so many other bugs. Then when he becomes a butterfly he recognizes that he hadn’t become his true self. I’ll ask the kids what they think is Hermie’s greatest lesson learned. Their answers should reflect ideas about being ok with who you are or where you are at presently. That we don’t need to desire or try to be something we are not. Especially because we all have the potential to become someone greater than we are today, at this moment.

Next, we will all draw ourselves as the butterflies we see for our future selves. Students who feel comfortable drawing from scratch will get a blank white paper and those who need an outline to get started can have a copy. They will color and cut out their butterflies and we will hang them in the classroom.

My next major point to students will be noticing how different each butterfly was drawn. I’ll make an observation that the process inside a chrysalis is probably not the same for a bright blue wing as it would be for a marbled yellow and black wing. That means that in order to be formed into a butterfly each one might need something different to achieve the end result. The same idea applies to our classroom, each student will need a specific path of lessons to achieve mastery of a skill.

Now we have established the idea that we all have the potential to be something different than we are right now and in order to get there, it can look different than the person sitting next to us. Ultimately creating a safe space where different is good.

Now is the time to ask students what goals they need to set in order to become that butterfly they envision. What new skills does this butterfly have that the caterpillar didn’t have or wasn’t very good at? What goals would help that butterfly gain these skills?

Keep in mind this whole class activity is a metaphor!

I would love to hear from any of the teachers who give this approach to classroom community a try. Share in the comments how or if you plan to give this a go.

Lesson Plans for the First Day of School

Lesson Plans for the First Day of School

Teachers have been preparing for their year most of the summer and the excitement builds to crescendo the day students walk through our doors. The last lesson plan we really want to follow is to stand at the front of the room and go through a  massive list of rules. Some teachers will choose to do this. You can be different and set a tone of learning on the first day with this lesson plan.

Often times the first day of school will not follow your regular time schedule. This makes for difficult lesson planning to figure out what you can fit into the usually short time you have with these new students. Take advantage of this unusual timetable and let it work to your benefit. Even if you run a normal schedule this plan will be one that students will enjoy. You will also learn a lot about your new kiddos!

Make your first day of school all about the learning. Use these first day of school lesson plans to help set the tone of the school year.

Set a tone of learning

Show them your books. There will be plenty of time to go over how to turn in papers and where to return supplies and the consequences for bad choices. Let your students know that on day one your priority is their learning. Sharing your books and the passion you have for them will make a strong first impression.

Consider how much information these kids are taking in on the first day. Nearly every teacher is going over some part of the handbook or handing out their list of rules and expectations. I used to be that teacher. I would write them a letter that talked all about my expectations for being a student in my classroom. We would read it out loud together and it would serve as a model letter which they would replicate for homework that week. Now multiply this by the number of teachers an average middle schooler or high schooler sees in a day. That’s a lot of information to take in within a seven-hour day.

Get them talking

The first day of school marks a change in the social scene hub. Wherever the crowds were gathering over the summer this all changes on the first day of school. Kids are excited to see which friends are in their classes and where their locker is located and who they will sit with at lunch. The kids are much more focused on their social scene day one then they are about the expectations teachers are explaining to them. So why not let them be social? As long as they are talking about books, let them talk.

Listening in on these conversations will provide you with valuable information. Pay attention to who resists and who dives in with both feet. Your resistors are now on your radar! Those who dive in and start talking about the books in the stacks they’ve already read will be your marketing committee. Use them to share book talks and favorite reads for those who aren’t so excited about reading. Find more ideas about the readers you’ll be meeting in your middle school classroom in this guest post I wrote for the Booksource Banter blog.

How to share your books

This is an activity that I call Speedbooking. It’s similar to the concept of Speed Dating. To prepare for this activity you’ll want to place seats in a circle or have a fixed pattern for books to travel. At each student seat place a stack of 4-5 books. Choose a good cross-section of your library. Be sure the stacks are a mix of books. Pull some of your most popular, “fly off the shelf” titles. Don’t forget about the books in a series. Research shows that students are more likely to continue through a series. So including these books will be good for your reluctant readers.

When students arrive in the classroom tell them that they’ll have time to look at the books, but not yet. Start with a conversation about how to choose a book. Ask them to give you all the ways they make an informed decision about choosing a book to start reading. Some of the most common answers might include reading the back of the book (great place to teach the word synopsis vs. summary), read the first few pages, looking at the cover. Another good teachable moment to mention that judging a book by its cover is ok when it’s an actual book. A few answers that don’t often come up but are worth mentioning are to choose a favorite or trusted author, read in the middle to look for words that might be too hard, look for key aspects that identify the genre. Keep this talk to 10 minutes and it helps to make a list on the board or in an anchor chart.

Now they are ready to start looking through the books. In order to keep track of the books they like try my record sheets. One is a running record and the other is meant to replicate Instagram. This can be used for your visual students. Often the struggling readers have a hard time finding books they like or that on their reading level. They might feel pressure to write titles down because those around them have several on their list. Giving them the option to draw and use the Instagram template gives them something to keep their hands and minds busy if the stack isn’t for them.

Each round takes about 90 seconds. It helps to set a timer. The kids will catch on to the process which allows you to listen in on conversations happening or strike one up about a book you might recommend. Ideally, you’ll have time to allow all the stacks to make it around the circle.

Follow up lesson plans & ideas

After all your classes have been through the stacks and have created a Future Reading List be sure the lists are placed where they can be referenced often. Most likely your schedule will only allow for this activity to take place. The following day is a great opportunity to show students your book check out system. If you currently do not have one or are looking for a free system that is digitally tracked read my post about using Classroom Organizer. If your library needs some “beefing up” check out this post about reading recommendations for middle and high school.

Share your first day of school routines that have helped you get to know students right away while setting the tone for learning. I’d also love to hear from anyone who tries this plan!

A lesson plan for the first day of school that sets the tone for learning and community.

How to rebrand your blog

How to rebrand your blog

Teach.Mom.Repeat has a whole new look! After one year of blogging, we have decided to take Teach.Mom.Repeat to the next level. In order to do this a rebrand was in order.

This isn’t normally a topic I write about, and I don’t have plans to start blogging about how to blog. However, I have found that blogging in the classroom is a total package writing curriculum.  Which I why I’d like to share the blogging education I’ve gotten in this past year. I’ll share how a lot of these things are now part of my classroom blogging curriculum and the Blogging with Students course that launched in Septemeber 2017.

I also wanted to share all the new style pieces that went into Teach.Mom.Repeat’s new look through a giveaway. At the end of this post, you’ll find details for entering. But don’t just scroll to the bottom! If you want to see what will be included in the Blogging with Students course read about how I have given this blog a major overhaul.

Learn how and why it might be in your best interest to rebrand your blog. Find out what I did so you won't make the same mistakes. Plus enter our giveaway.

Why Rebrand?

When I first started this blog last summer I thought I had done my research. Wrong! There is so much more to blogging than choosing a platform, theme, and niche. Beware the posts that tell you it’s possible to start a blog in 10 minutes or less. It may be true that a blog can be up and running in 10 minutes, but it’s not accurate if you have actual blogging goals.

At first, I was really only looking for a creative outlet, but then I started to realize the cost involved in starting my new creative endeavor. Hosting, themes, logos, stock images, courses, fonts, email services, just to list a few. Once I invested some money I started to realize I’m going to need to monetize this blog to recoup my cost. To do this well it takes more money and a better-looking blog. Hence the rebrand.

How to Rebrand?

Start with your color scheme. 

Once I had learned more of the ins and outs of WordPress I started to discover how I could manipulate my theme. All without the knowledge of code talk. Picking 3 to 4 colors that will unit your blog is important. This will drive the way you create featured images and other essential photographs, like a profile picture. Teaching kids to do the same with their blogs will help them get a taste of graphic design elements. It’s also a great way to bring art into the classroom.

Photographs that represent your style. 

My next objective was to style myself for photographs. My mom introduced me to two locally owned businesses run by moms just like me, who sell handmade jewelry and clothing. Willow Elizabeth jewelry can be seen in my profile photo and other stock pictures scattered on the site. My favorite purple tee from Unsalted Boutique with the perfect TeacherMom saying, “Kind words cost nothing” can be seen in several featured images. 

Luckily my husband is a professional photographer and agreed to take new photos of me. Professional photos are important. If you want readers to take you seriously a beautifully edited photo helps. Anyone who has seen a beautifully crafted Instagram account knows how important edited and color coordinated photographs are to a brand.

If you want to start a serious blog hire a photographer to take headshots of you for the profile picture. Make sure it represents what you blog about and your style. Have them also take a few shots that you can use for featured images and Pinterest images. I’ll come back to Pinterest later. When readers see your face they feel connected to you as a person.

Translating this into the classroom can get tricky with safety issues. That’s why I teach kids how to make their own cartoon avatars like Bitmoji. Most of them are already familiar with this concept and have their own to add so it’s a fast lesson.

Logos and headers and images

Changing my logo was actually my husband’s idea. He had created the first one for me, pretty quickly without much intentionality. We have a friend who works in the graphic design business and does beautiful hand lettering. As a gift to me, my husband commisioned her for a new logo. I love that she captured every aspect of what Teach.Mom.Repeat. represents. A nearly empty pencil jar for my classroom, a dinosaur for my son and a teddy bear for my daughter.

Having a logo with specific fonts help to unify the website. I discovered a fantastic website that allows me to use free templates to add featured images and Pinterest imagesCanva is a design site that is so easy to use, I will also teach students to use it for their blogging image needs. There are also great ways to use Canva for teaching resources, like my text structure notes and graphic organizers. The printable teacher planner pages I designed using Canva and continue to create new color schemes.

Make money blogging

The more I educated myself on this blogging adventure the more I learned how it is possible to make this a new income. In the past, my husband and I have brought in extra income through coaching. However, it’s hard to dedicate time after school for practices and games when you have small children. I also tried direct sales, but again there is more time out of the house after school hours. Blogging allows me to use nap times and evenings giving me the freedom to be with my family more. It has also helped me to connect with so many other educators and moms around the world. 

To truly make money with a blog there is a lot of preparation and goal setting that needs to take place. Teaching this to my students will help them see how online businesses are career opportunities. Along with all the other careers associated with blogging, for example, the tech people I have talked with when I need help fixing a problem. There are countless businesses that utilize blogging on their websites which means blogging doesn’t have to just be a self-made business. 

Teaching students email etiquette will serve them later in their careers and possibly make them more marketable. Click To Tweet

Teaching students email etiquette will serve them later in their careers and possibly make them more marketable. Along with the lessons in design and using the WordPress platform, it all could benefit a student who needs to have some prior knowledge of these things to enter the ever-growing technology fields. 

What’s next?

As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ll be launching a course for teachers to use blogging in their classrooms as a writing program. The intention is not just for the ELA classroom. I hope that the lessons on writing informational and argumentative formats will serve any subject area. While this course will be geared towards the upper elementary, middle and high school grades there are plans to collaborate with lower grade levels for a future course.

Once school starts I will be launching a Make Over Your Mornings email challenge. I know the first few weeks of school are always high adrenaline and I don’t have trouble waking to my alarm. But once the routine settles in I start to create bad habits like pressing the snooze button. If you want to join us in creating more productive morning routines, whatever that looks like for you, then sign up below.

There is also a fun series on Instant Pot recipes coming this winter. If you’ve been following me for a while now you know how much I love my new Instant Pot! There will, of course, be updates on all the blogging lessons and our new reading rotation schedule.

Thank you for sticking with me and joining me on this blogging journey. If you’d like to continue to hear more AND be entered into our style giveaway sign up to receive emails below.

Back to School Organization Tips from a Teacher and a Parent

Back to School Organization Tips from a Teacher and a Parent

Summer is winding down and the stores have already stocked the shelves with school supplies. This will be my first school supply shopping trip where I will need to follow a list not created by me. My son is entering preschool in the fall. It’s adorable how he tells people he’s going to work but he really means school. #teacherparentproblems  

Because this is my first time starting the school year as a teacher and a parent of one school-aged child things are a little different. My entire morning routine is going to change. The first week or two I’ll be running on those start of the school year fumes. But eventually the teacher tired is going to set in and my son’s new sleeping schedule will make him irritable making us all want to press snooze. This is why I’m putting together a Make Over Your Mornings email challenge that will begin after the Labor Day holiday. You can learn more about it by signing up below.

Organizing my mornings will only be part of what needs to change. Thankfully we won’t be looking at any homework time in the evenings with a preschooler, but some of you may be in the same boat of added “to dos” this school year. As a middle school teacher, I’m well aware of the changes that come with students starting school-sponsored sports teams. The added amount of homework. An increase in the number of academic classes and teachers to student schedules. All of these are big changes for kids, and for parents.

This is why I have teamed up with my friend Amy from Organization Boutique. As a parent of middle schoolers herself and an expert on organizing, Amy shares how parents can prepare for life in middle school. My added teacher perspective ensures you can feel confident and ready for the changes that come with starting middle school.

Practical advice from a teacher and a parent to help start the school year organized.

Why Students Need Organizational Skills

Look at how many people are searching for time management tips. It’s so much easier to learn when you are younger and have fewer responsibilities. Not to mention how it can prepare for high school, college and beyond. Many job postings want to hire people with strong organization skills. Parents and teachers can’t always remind them of what needs to get done and how to do it. Taking on responsibilities helps build self-esteem and confidence.

Organizational Skills = More Efficient + Less stress

Time Management Skills for Students

Teacher Advice: Start with the class schedule. Most districts offer a time for students to walk their new schedule. Specifically, the incoming grade that is new to the building. This is a great time for students to familiarize themselves with the school building. Take notice of the distance between classes and the student’s locker. Students should work out the times they will have to stop at their locker and which materials they will take with them at each stop.

Buying materials for middle school might look a lot different than elementary. There really aren’t a lot of supplies needed. Teachers may ask for items they will collect and use as a community supply rather than expecting students to keep track of them individually. So stick to the list! Avoid your child having extra materials that might be distracting during class time or clutter their lockers.

Parent Advice: Use a paper or digital calendar/planner to plan long-term projects and keep track of activities outside of school. Have your child schedule out their school hours, activities, chores, and any other planned events. This will help them see how much free time they have so they know where the best time to schedule homework and anything else that comes up. Have them follow the schedule for a week and then talk about how it went and make any needed adjustments.  Keep doing this on a weekly basis until they are confident in their planning skills.

Stop procrastination in its track!  Many parents have been up until midnight helping their student finish a project they just started that evening even though they knew about it a month before.  Teach your child to plan in advance. Have your child write out all the steps they will need to take to complete a long-term assignment, then schedule each step by putting it on their calendar with a deadline.

Don’t be the alarm for your kids.  This may take a lot of time and effort depending on your child’s personality.  Some are naturally early risers and don’t have a problem waking with an alarm. Others are heavy sleepers or slow to wake and may need an extra loud alarm clock or to have the alarm across the room to avoid snooze.

Organizational Skills = More Efficient + Less stress Click To Tweet

Lockers

Teacher Advice: You might be a teacher if you roll your eyes while walking down the locker decorations isle. Seriously, why do kids need carpet in their lockers? Ok, the chandelier lights are kind of cute and much more practical. The shelves that you can add are definitely a great idea! I also like the magnetic containers for holding loose pens or pencils.

Some schools, like mine, provide a color coding system for class folders. This makes it easier to organize the locker by placing materials in the order they will be needed. For example, if books, folders, and notebooks are placed together, spine facing out vertically, in the order of class period from left to right students can keep them in that order throughout the day. Each time they grab a set of materials from the left they should return them to the right. This will cycle materials keeping them in order. Using a strategy like this from the start will hopefully keep the locker clean and homework where it belongs.

Parent Advice:  Learn from my mistake – buy a locker shelf to help organize the locker.  When attending the orientation day before school starts, most of the locker prep revolves around learning the combination and adding decorative accessories.  Students don’t have all their books yet so it’s just putting some supplies in there. I didn’t really think about how much other stuff needed to be stored in the locker and my son’s binders and folders were destroyed because he needed to stack so much in it.  He literally brought one “binder” home at the end of the year and it was just the front cover.

Extra Clothes and Lunches

Teacher Advice: Most schools will provide or suggest students keep a daily agenda. It’s a good idea to mark each day that will require Gym clothes or sports practice clothing. Especially considering these are not always year-long activities. Seasons change, quarters change. It’s important to have these dates marked ahead of time.

Another question to ask on Open House nights is where to keep extra bags at school. For example, our football players have a special place to keep all their pads and equipment during the school day until it’s time for practice. If the bag isn’t going to fit in their locker find out what the expectation is for students.  

Lunchtime in middle school is often precious social time. Which is why teachers can find it effective to revoke this time as a way to motivate students to complete assignments or show better behavior in class. A working lunch doesn’t always need to be a punitive though. Encourage your child to talk about what lunch looks like for them. Everyday! It can change every day.

Parent Advice: Middle-schoolers should be responsible for remembering to take gym/sports clothes to school and to bring them home for washing.  Have your child create a checklist posted to the door they exit. It serves as a double-check that they have everything for school and after-school activities without you needing to remind them.

You may want your kids to plan out their outfit the night before or the beginning of the week. So far my kids have been pretty drama-free with clothing but I remember stressing out about school clothes. Pre-planning can help but it’s not a miracle-worker.  Sometimes preteen/teen hormones win.

Middle schoolers are old enough to be able to pack lunches on their own.  Just double check that it’s not filled with Doritos and Oreos!

Setting up lunch prep areas in the pantry and fridge with pre-portioned servings will help make packing lunches easier.  Your child can help prepare the portions at the beginning of the week. They are more likely to eat it if they’ve helped in the process.  

Homework Tips

Teacher Advice: Homework is a hot topic in many educational conversations right now. There are a number of schools that have created homework policies. Anything from expecting a specific amount per week to absolutely no homework should be assigned. My best advice here is to know what the homework policy is for your child. It might be a building policy or it might be that each teacher has their own. Be sure to pay attention to that first week of school papers or emails teachers are sending home. As an English teacher, I will plug here for reading every day, regardless of the homework assigned.

Reading 20 minutes every night can increase word power and this leads to a multitude of benefits.

A few questions to ask teachers: When is there time to complete unfinished assignments? Is this scheduled every day or does it need to be scheduled when needed? Some middle schools may still have study hall included in their master schedule. We do not. If students are behind on assignments and are not completing them at home they would need to schedule work time with that teacher. It might be before school or after school.

Parent Advice: Using a planning system will help your child identify time available for homework and plan out longer projects.  Just because they know they have time available, doesn’t guarantee they will actually do their homework. You still need to check in with your child about homework every day.  

It’s so important to have a distraction-free homework space.  Create a homework center at home, stocked with all the school supplies your kids need to complete homework.  Some supplies middle school students may need at home: pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener or extra lead for mechanical pencils, highlighters, colored pencils/markers, glue sticks, scissors.  

If you don’t already, have a rule that all school materials go back in the bookbag immediately after finishing homework. Don’t let their homework clutter the kitchen table or home office.  They will likely forget stuff at home if it’s not put away right away.

Interested in additional tips?  Check out How to Organize and Prepare for Back to School or Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

If you have any of your own advice that would help please share it in the comments. Good luck this school year!

 

How to Blog with Students

How to Blog with Students

Blogging in the classroom is a total writing program for any teacher. Even if you aren’t the writing teacher, you can still use blogging in the classroom with your students. Most teachers have a website attached to their district’s website. It’s mostly a place for students and parents to find important information about grades, assignments and future events. However, a class blog can provide all that and more. Want to create your own beautiful class blog? Sign up here to receive a FREE 5-day email course.

As an ELA teacher, I had tried the many different routes for writing about reading. Reading logs and journals are some of the more popular options, but these are incredibly time-consuming to grade. Reading logs quickly became the bane of my existence as a language arts teacher. We think that asking parents to sign reading logs students will have integrity with this assignment. That also assumes parents will uphold the integrity of the assignment, but really it becomes a thorn in everyone’s side.

Blogging with students makes for a total package writing curriculum. Students who blog are learning how to write with an authentic voice. This guide will walk you through the process and give you ideas to start blogging with students tomorrow. Lesson plans for the full year are available.

Journals force students to be more accountable for their reading and require them to consistently write. However, that’s a whole lot of reading and grading for teachers. Not to mention the lugging home of a crate filled with journals. I even tried grading in a rotation so that everyone only received a weekly grade. This did not take into account the number of absences that would happen regularly. Needless to say, it was overwhelming each week and I needed to find a new solution.

Teacher Bag Sayings

Writing Skills

Consider the opportunity for students to actively use the writing process weekly. A process that every standardized test is asking them to do. In a short time frame, students are asked to read the prompt, plan a multiple paragraph response, type that response, revise, edit and submit. Blogging will do the same. Each week I post 3-4 different prompts on the same topic in our Google Classroom page. These prompts are reflective of the lessons planned for the week. We might be writing about the characters from novels to prep for a lesson on how the setting affects characters. When it’s a holiday or school-wide theme week I might ask students to write in reference to those events.

Blog posts are informational and opinion writing. When teaching students how to write essays in these genres, having the background and practice with blogging helps. Subheadings are encouraged with blog writing which helps students who have trouble with multiple paragraphs. When sharing your opinion in a blog post you can’t get away with giving that opinion and no evidence for why. Those are two writing skills the majority of students struggle to do well.

Writing is an important skill for every student to master. Blogging is a great way to incorporate writing into the classroom on a weekly schedule. Learn how to blog with students all year with this total package writing curriculum for any subject.

Technology Integration

Obviously, you can’t blog without typing and word processing skills. Both are essential now for state testing. I have seen a number of my students not finish the essay portion of their state test because they couldn’t type fast enough. Blogging in the classroom weekly gives them practice typing. I don’t mean pecking at a keyboard, I mean they must use two hands and practice the correct way.

Now let’s add in the technical know-how for creating images to feature in their blog posts, linking within a text, and how to write a thoughtful comment on classmates’ posts. Each of these provides computer skills that can be transferred to other subjects. Creating digital images can help students learn the basics of visual appeal that can be added to any type of digital project. Linking within a text is a skill EVERYONE should know how to do. I find it super funny that kids think they have to cut and paste the entire website into the document as their link. I try to teach them that any text can have a link, which makes the document look a whole lot prettier.

The writing of comments can become a type of writing for your class. Think about all the applications to anti-cyberbullying you could include with these lessons. Talking with students about their digital footprint and what they are posting to social media accounts. It helps when they are hearing it from multiple adults. Writing comments can also help students learn the art of elaboration. It’s not enough for them to comment, “Great post.” They need to learn how to compliment and show they read the post or ask a pointed question because they are genuinely interested.

Plus, when using Edublogs, students will learn the basics for navigating the WordPress platform. Considering WordPress runs 80% of the entire Internet, and that number is growing, this gives students future career knowledge. In my opinion, this makes blogging in the classroom the total package writing curriculum.

Parent Communication

Let’s talk about keeping in touch and informing parents. With Edublogs you will set up a class blog that you can use for classroom communication with parents. It will look like a real blog with pages and widgets that you customize for your needs. Keep parents (and administrators) informed on units, assignments, needs, and all your foundational teacher information in one place. Simply send a link in an email and parents have all the information they need. Available to them at all hours of the day every day of the year. Fewer emails from parents asking questions you’ve already answered? Maybe.

Plus, parents will be able to follow their child’s writing progress and make comments to support their child. Now students aren’t just writing for a teacher-only audience. They now have a global audience. There is a hashtag specifically created for teachers to solicit comments, #comments4kids. If you have a student who needs some encouragement throw out the link to their blog post with the #comments4kids and they will get replies.

How do I make this happen in my classroom?

If all of this sounds like the total package writing program to you then you’re going to want to take my Blogging with Students course. Here you will find lesson plans and videos that you can use in the classroom to write quality blogs with your students.

If you would like to see what my classroom site looks like visit our Colorful Classroom. Not sure you want to blog with students, but the idea of a class blog is appealing? Try my FREE 5-day email course. Learn how to create a beautiful class blog that can help you connect with parents and keep student resources in one place.

Stay up to date with all things Blogging in the Classroom by dropping your email below.

Tell me what questions you have about blogging with your students.

Minimalist Teacher Planner Pages

Minimalist Teacher Planner Pages

Teacher planners are a really big deal. The hunt for the PERFECT teacher planner is a fierce experience. I often equate it to trying on bathing suits. You know they aren’t going to have the absolute perfect fit for you, but it’s a necessary accessory. So you venture out asking for recommendations, trying out different styles, and finally settling on something that mostly fits. 

Finding the PERFECT teacher planner is like finding a great bathing suit. Click To Tweet

On my personal hunt for the best planner, the frustration lies in the layout of the pages. Most teacher resources seem to be geared toward elementary teachers. Very few calendar layouts allow for teachers to plan for multiple classes within one subject area. The other things I really hate are the super small boxes! Who can actually plan within that tiny 2×2 square?

Price is also a determining factor when making a final planner purchase. I know there are teachers who swear by the Erin Condren series, but I can’t bring myself to spend that much money year after year. Plus, once again the pages that are offered don’t apply to me. If the price is that steep then I want the whole package!

Download these simple teacher planner pages free. No frills. No flourishes. Room to plan lessons, keep lists and leave notes for the week.

Minimalist Teacher Planner Pages
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Last summer I was introduced to the Create 365 Happy Planner for teachers. This planner style allows for some major customizing that other systems don’t allow. It uses expander rings that allow you to add pages to the planner itself. For example, you could print your district calendar and add it to the front of your planner so it’s always in a convenient place. Another great reason to use this planner with expander rings is to add your own formatted pages. Perhaps you’ve purchased some forms from a TeachersPayTeachers store; with this style of a planner, you can easily add them among your pages. The system also provides 2 pocket folders that can be added. Check out this pack of folders, checklists, stickers, and notes pages. Make sure you also grab the Big paper punch to add all the pages. There is an upfront investment, however, with all the options and ways to customize I feel it’s worthy of the cost. 

I’ve been very happy with my Big Happy Planner, so much so that I bought a smaller size for keeping track of family events and meals. I never thought I would be the kind of person who decorated my calendar pages with stickers. Turns out I’m exactly that kind of person! I love sitting down on Sunday afternoons and planning each week. Choosing fun stickers to give my week a theme really helps to make Monday a day to look forward to.

Now, my husband, who is also a teacher, had a much harder time finding a good teacher planner. Most of the options are styled for women. This seems to be a common problem. The other day several teachers on Instagram commented that they struggled to find a plain, flowerless, non-script font cover option. Not every female teacher is looking for a flashy planner. So I decided to help!

If you want planner pages that are simple and you can print yourself, use the form on the sidebar to grab yours today. Choose to be added to our Teacher Tribe list and you’ll get this free download plus access to our growing resource library.

Print your FREE planner pages and go super simple with a three-ring binder. Or you can follow my lead and invest in the Happy Planner system that’s reusable year after year. Either way, these FREE printable pages should help you stay organized throughout the school year.

Grammarly is for Everyone

Grammarly is for Everyone

Let me confess. My grammar is sub-par.

That’s right. I’m an English teacher with sub-par grammar skills. In fact, I recently applied for a position with NoRedInk and did not make the cut, by two points, on their grammar exam. Was this a surprise to me? Not really. I’ve always struggled to remember all the grammar rules of the English language. This is why I’ve been ecstatic to learn about the app Grammarly.

Teachers, students and bloggers should be using the Grammarly chrome extension. Help your students learn their most common mistakes quicker. Double check your own writing so your audience is not distracted by grammatical mistakes.

Why teachers, students and bloggers need to be using the Grammarly app
Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.

Time is incredibly valuable when you’re a working mom of toddlers. I don’t always have the luxury of extra time to look up a grammar rule or ask someone to spend their precious time proofreading my work. Using an app like Grammarly can provide me with the answers I need quickly and allows my writing to be polished.

Using an app like Grammarly can provide me with the answers I need quickly and allows my writing to be polished. Click To Tweet

This morning I read a Facebook post by another teacher who was asking for advice about her principal’s incorrect word usage. She mentioned that he was continuously misspelling a word that gave the context new meaning, incorrect meaning. She wanted to know if she should correct him. Most people shared that they have also had a similar situation and if they had a close enough relationship they corrected them. Someone commented that friends tell friends when there is spinach in their teeth, therefore, pointing out a grammatical mistake is the nice thing to do. Many also commented that she should subtly use the word correctly or during a teaching observation. A majority of comments simply said do nothing. My advice was to casually share the Grammarly app. This is what I shared as a way to let a colleague know they were not always composing grammatically correct emails to our staff.

Plenty of people working in leadership positions didn’t get there because their grammar was perfect. However, these leaders often write for a large audience. That audience can lose faith in their leader when simple grammar errors become consistent. Back in my single days I once told a guy we’d never date because he couldn’t properly punctuate a sentence. He was completely offended, but so was I. Grammarly would have helped him get a date. Although it would not have helped his face to face conversation.

I’m constantly telling my 8th graders that we now live in a world of written communication. Text messages, emails, status updates, Tweets, Instagram and Snapchat captions. A large audience will see all of these types of written communication. If part of that audience wants to hire you someday they may be paying attention to your grammar and spelling. What you write represents you, and that means it’s important to put your best foot forward. This also goes for adults.

Using the Grammarly app will help save you time and allow your writing to be polished. Educators may want to look into their education options because it also includes a plagiarism checker. Sharing this app with students could give them added confidence in their writing and help provide them with a new writing resource. I always tell my students to use the available resources when searching for an answer. Digital dictionaries, spell checker and Grammarly can all help students increase their writing skills. I know that after only a few weeks of using the app myself, I began to correct my most common mistakes before typing them.

Try the app for yourself! I think you’ll find it saves you time and possibly some embarrassment.

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