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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Quick Tips for Back to School

All teachers are looking for ways to save time, especially when they head back-to-school! I just started my 8th year of teaching (already?!) and there are a few things I do every year that make the following weeks so much smoother.

back to school

One of the first things I do is to set up email shortcuts. We use Outlook for our school email, and I like to have a shortcut for emailing my 4th grade team, another for sending out plans, one for a committee, and one for emailing parents (if it’s not part of the gradebook or other software).

By choosing “Add Quick Step” at the top of the Outlook menu, you can set yourself up to send any of those emails in one click! Saves me SO much time.

Another favorite way to use this is to create automatic filters when emails are coming in. For example, I use Sign Up Genius for my parent-teacher conferences- so I set up a QuickStep to auto-forward those emails to a Conferences folder. I still have them, they're organized, and they don't clutter my inbox.


Look for ways to share the workload. Now is a great time to recruit volunteers and students to pitch in around the classroom! My students help me brainstorm jobs, and fill out job applications convincing me to “hire” them.

When our team is lucky enough to have a parent volunteer, we keep a bin of papers to copy or laminate. I love these free forms from Firstie Kidoodles to let the volunteer know how they can help! Getting a system set up early really pays off in a few weeks! I try to get my first few needed papers copied early, and I also use student or parent volunteers to help put up student work for open house.


One of the most important things to do is picking out a few really fabulous back-to-school books.  In my classroom, powerful books like One and The Junkyard Wonders really help to build our classroom community, while Your Fantastic Elastic Brain and Seymour Simon’s The Brain teach us about learning with a growth mindset, so we can set the stage for “making our brains stronger” every day! (Note: Book links are affiliate links.)


Help your students develop a homework plan. We read the book Frog Medicine and make a plan together. This little book has students answer questions like "How will you know if you have homework?" or "When will you do your homework?"

Taking the time to discuss this now really helps once our weekly homework starts- so students don't let it all pile up until Thursday night! We also share our homework plans with the students' parents at Curriculum Night.


Especially when I was self-contained and my schedule was a little different every day, a traditional plan book of squares just didn’t make sense for me. Instead, I was inspired by a colleague of mine who made a custom lesson plan template! Including weekly routines on the template sped up my planning and helped me remember important things.

You can pick up your own copy of my FREE customizable lesson plan page in my Luckeyfrog TpT store, and read more about personalizing lesson plans here.

plan page

Of course, once students arrive, it’s so important to get to know your students. One of my favorite ways is to read the book Exclamation Mark because I love the message- those things that make us feel “weird” are sometimes the things that let us do something completely unique and amazing! My students write about how they’re unique and create an exclamation mark all about themselves. Such a great back to school bulletin board!

You can check out this Exclamation Mark Mini-Unit in my TpT store.


All in all, remember that the first few days are always crazy- but anything you can do now that will save you time later is WORTH it!

As the year goes on, you can sneak a peek at what’s happening in my 4th grade science classroom by following me here on my blog, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


Another way I save time is by finding great resources created and tested by other teachers in their own classrooms. Could you use $25 in TeachersPayTeachers resources? Enter to win below- but hurry! The giveaway ends Sunday 8/21 at 11:59 EST.

Even better? TOMORROW, Monday 8/22/16, is a one-day sale where you can save 28% in my TpT store! Don't miss it :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more quick back to school tips (and more chances to win!), check out the blogs below. Happy back-to-school season!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Hardest Thing About Teaching

Most people who aren’t teachers (or in teacher families) don’t acknowledge that this job is challenging- and it ABSOLUTELY is, in so many ways."

For me, the biggest challenge in teaching is that the work never ends.

grading bag

Am I the only one?

I care so much about my students. And that is an AWESOME thing. And I love what I do! There’s something so satisfying about finding ways to teach each lesson better, and something so rewarding about finding ways to connect to each and every student I teach.

But that means that I am never, ever, ever DONE.

I could work on “school stuff” for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I would STILL think of something else I could be doing for my kids.
And while it’s wonderful to be so invested… it’s exhausting to go in before contract hours, work hard all day, stay another hour or two, and then bring a teacher bag home. It’s not fair to my husband when I’m grading while we watch a movie “together.” It’s not showing my family how much I love them when I spend our entire Sunday working on lesson plans instead of spending quality time with them.

And worse? I STILL beat myself up for feeling behind, and for not doing enough.
Surely that sounds familiar to some other teachers, too?

For so many people, New Year’s Day is a fresh start- but for me, the time for resolutions is back-to-school. And every year, I tell myself I’m going to finally be organized, not procrastinate, and not live at school.

Last year, I finally did a little better. I’ve still got a LONG way to go- but I cut back so much on the hours I spent on my classroom, and it’s all thanks to Angela Watson. She started a course called the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.

Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club: Learn how to choose a target number of hours to work each week and stick to it! You'll discover work/life balance strategies, productivity tips, and more. Bonus: There’s a private Facebook group where you can ask questions and get the support of other teachers as you create new routines that are sustainable and take back your weekends!

Of course, 40 hours sounds nice- but the goal of the group isn’t about any specific number. It’s about streamlining and building efficiency as a teacher so you can spend less time working without being a less effective educator.

Here are some of the things I changed:
  1. Always make a To Do list before the morning.
    If I come in with the list ready, I don’t have to waste one second thinking about where to start. Even better? I don’t forget as much. Sometimes, this is as simple as a Post-It- but it sets the pace for my day in such a powerful way.


  • Make a better To Do list.
    I’ve always been a list-maker- but by thinking about the gaps of time I actually have in my day and how much I can fit into those specific times, I tend to schedule smarter and make myself more accountable for not wasting moments here and there. When I took the time to plan out my whole week, things ALWAYS went better for me!

  • Stop overestimating what I can get done.
    When I look at the actual time available and I try to schedule within that, I am a lot more fair with myself- so I’m not so hard on myself when the list of 30 things doesn’t get done. And I  try to give myself credit for the multitude of things that come up unexpectedly. It’s not just about what I actually get done, but also how I feel about it.


  • Lower my standards.
    This sounds like such a bad thing- but it’s all about finding a place where YOU put unnecessarily high standards on yourself in ways that don’t really affect the students that much. It’s about identifying those little things that only really bother YOU- and learning to let go, and cut yourself a break. Sometimes simple things work just as well.

  • Put other people to work.
    It took some time to realize that I was putting way too much on myself. I started relinquishing some control and letting my students pitch in more. And by streamlining and making some of my routines more efficient, I was finally working ahead just enough to utilize parent volunteers for some tasks! (These work request forms are from Firstie Kidoodles- you can snag them for free here!)

    One of Angela’s big tips is to “batch” big tasks- doing similar tasks all at one time so you can get in a groove and don’t waste a lot of transition time. Whether it’s doing most of my copies on one day instead of trekking back and forth each morning, or grading on one evening instead of a few minutes here or there, batching has made a big difference in me getting things done without feeling like I’m constantly working.


  • These are some of the BIG ideas, so maybe they don’t sound revolutionary- but they are much easier said than done. Angela’s club content goes into so much detail about specific strategies, and offers printable resources (like the To Do list above) to make implementing each change easier.

    If you’re hearing about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and feeling too overwhelmed to start one more thing, I completely get it. As a VERY “Type B” teacher who already felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day, I was hesitant to join a course. But I had read Angela’s books and her blog, and I knew she had a lot of helpful tips.

    More importantly- I thought if there was even a chance of getting more of my life back, it was worth investing in.
    The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club: What's YOUR target number?
    (And Angela offered a money-back guarantee too, which helped with my skepticism!)

    Once I joined, I started getting weekly articles from Angela. She sends an audio version, too, so sometimes I save time by downloading it and then listening on my commute. Even when I wasn’t able to read or listen that week, it was no big deal- all of the content gets archived on the site to access whenever I do have time to get caught up.

    Besides the e-book content, one of the best parts of joining is the exclusive Facebook group, full of hundreds of supportive teachers who give suggestions, ideas, and encouragement. You are not alone in being overwhelmed sometimes by this rewarding but difficult job.

    The group isn’t about being perfect, or about completely changing everything that you do. It’s about small steps that add up to BIG changes- and for me, the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club has made a huge difference.

    I can’t wait to make more changes this year and spend even more time with my family. As important as teaching is to me, I need to learn strategies for better balancing my priorities so I can give my family the time and energy they deserve from me- and so I don’t burn out!

    If you’re thinking you might need this too, be sure to check out this post from Angela that will give you tips for making the most of your summer- and give you a better idea of what you can expect in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club!
    P.S.- In full disclosure, I am an affiliate of the program, but I’m sharing this because I’ve been a member myself since October and I really believe in it. My husband commented on how much more he sees me, and I even convinced my mom to join!

    P.P.S.- If you are interested, be sure to check it out SOON! The club only opens enrollment twice a year, and this will be your last chance to join until December.

    Sunday, June 26, 2016

    Shark Week: Take a Bite Out of Learning

    It's that time again! I am so excited to be hosting this year's Shark Week link-up with Matt from Digital: Divide and Conquer.

    I'm a fourth grade science teacher who used to work as a reading specialist, so I am always looking for ways to incorporate a little reading into my science lessons. One of our standards asks kids to look at how fossils are used to tell us about the past, and I love to get kids comparing prehistoric creatures with similar ones alive today.

    Of course, kids LOVE to read about a giant shark called the megalodons- so for Shark Week, I'm sharing this quick freebie with you! On this "Then vs. Now" passage, your kids will have a chance to compare and contrast great white sharks and megalodons using the color-coding strategy that's been so popular in my Text Detectives- Find the Text Evidence resources.

    Better yet, this asks them to go beyond just color-coding and use text evidence to write an essay that compares and contrasts these two sharks. I hope your kids really enjoy learning about these amazing animals! Click on the photo above or click HERE to download.

    Be sure to go on to Heather's blog at Learning with Mrs. Langley and check out her freebie. You can follow the hop around or look at the Inlinkz below to find some great resources for your classroom- but hurry! These JAWSOME freebies may only be free during Shark Week!

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    Thursday, April 21, 2016

    Cute and Content: Not So Impossible!

    The first school where I taught was considered “failing.” If our test scores didn’t go up that very year, the school would be taken over by the state and we had a good chance of losing our jobs.

    No pressure or anything, right?  : )

    A big push from our administration was to consider the value of each and every activity we were doing. Was it cute, or was it content?

    While I only taught there two years, the mantra stuck with me.

    Now, I don’t mean that we can never do the cute stuff, or that my room is bare. I spend so much time there, and so do my students! But I’m a big fan of bringing in a little content with the cute whenever possible, especially now that I teach 4th grade.

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    This year I decorated with lots of classroom décor items from Creative Teaching Press. I have absolutely loved the layered look of the borders and the colors really brightened up my all-white room! (Check out my turquoise classroom décor here.)

    So, Creative Teaching Press definitely brought the cute- but you may not know that they also bring the content, even for the upper grades.
    Close reading is one of the most vital ways we dig into text, and I love this close reading poster set for reminding students of the routines! It has a fresh, modern feel- but more importantly, it gives kids a practical reference to use during class. The specific examples for text-dependent questions would be SO helpful for my struggling students!

    And for math, I love introducing my students to multiple strategies for solving. For my kids, it’s never been helpful to just put reference material on the wall without really using it together- so I love to laminate posters ! That way, I can write on them with a dry-erase marker during our mini-lesson.

    Once we’ve introduced and practiced each strategy, we add it to the wall- and the kids can use these anytime they need a reference! Anchor charts, like these for Multiplication and Division Strategies and for Algebraic Thinking, can really  help our students be successful- especially if we make them an interactive part of our lessons.

    And, while they’re a very visual way to help kids remember and use the content we learn, they also happen to fit in seamlessly with the classroom décor I already have. (See how well the posters all pair with the lime green mini hexagon border and ombre turquoise scallops border? LOVE!)

    Just remember- no matter what your classroom theme or color scheme is, it’s ultimately a classroom. When your mind starts to drift to next year’s classroom theme or setup (I always start thinking about that this time of year!) don’t forget to think about the content as well as the cute!

    And to help you out? Creative Teaching Press has offered to share all of the items in this post with one of YOU! If you’re looking for colorful, cute, and practical classroom décor- make sure you check them out.

    CTP is always adding new products, too- like a new Snow Much Fun! Bulletin Board to celebrate winter this year featuring a snowglobe, banners, mittens, and more.

    To see more of what Creative Teaching Press has up their sleeves (and to enter for more free décor!) hop over to Ehle Kindergarten!
    Mrs. Ehle's Kindergarten Connections

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