Friday, August 22, 2014

5 Ideas You Can Use to Start your Schoolyear Off Right

Hello again!

Are you ready?

They're coming...sooner than you think...soon, your classroom will be full...of...children!

I hope you're having lots of success getting everything ready for the new children in your class. Maybe some are moving up from a younger class; maybe they're brand-new.  It's always a nervous time for teachers as we prepare lessons and materials, wondering what new challenges the new class will bring.

Fortunately for you, this blog isn't called "Pursuing Fear;" it's called "Pursuing Wonder."

 Do you remember your first year as a teacher? Or maybe this is your first year. There's a lot of uncertainty as you wonder what the staff will be like, how you'll get along with your directors and work under them, what to expect from the kids.

All this can feel like a big, scary monster and is especially true for the kids.

I have a monster of my own this year: a new job! Remember when I said that if you don't like your job, you should be grateful that you have one? Don't be afraid to look for other opportunities, too!

But have you noticed something about monster movies lately? In the past few years, there's been a glut of movies
featuring "nice" monsters: Warm Bodies, Twilight, Life After Beth. Monsters don't scare us as any more.
Even children's books have plenty of monsters that aren't scary.

So this year, banish your monsters and help your kids banish theirs with these 5 simple ideas:

1. Tweak your first lesson plan

     It can be tempting to wing it the first week; after all, you've taught the same thing year after year. But even if you have a lesson from previous years, try tweaking it. There are lots more ideas out there than when you created it.
     My first lesson plan, available soon, is strictly about rules. We're spending one day on each rule, with 2 days on Helping Hands.
     I have lots of monster books lined up to help me: The Love Monster, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and Go Away Big Green Monster.
     There's also a fantastic resource on TeachersPayTeachers (not mine) about teaching Monster Manners. At the end, there's a mini-book about listening that I've already used with great success with the younger children transitioning into our classroom.

3. Revitalize your Mat chart

      So now you've got the perfect room arrangement. The problem with this is, that means moving the mat placement. Again. And re-drawing the mat chart. Again.

This year, I decided to use magnets.

         I used to create all of the objects in the classroom; then, I saved a screenshot and printed it out on magnet paper. I laminated the whole thing and cut it up. Now, whenever I rearrange or move a child, I jut move the magnet!

         It's not a perfect system; when I test-drove it with the assistants, they were a little confused about where to put the mats at first. But with some tweaking, I think it will work.

3. Rearrange to create a new classroom

         I don't know about you, but I love rearranging my room. I do it at least once a year so that it feels fresh. Think about it from the perspective of your students: do you leave the same toys and props in the centers throughout the year? The same pictures up on the walls no matter what the theme? Of course not! Students need variety to feel engaged and the adult brain is no different.  
         You can read more about it here, but the fact is that changing our environment helps keep us creative and motivated.

I recently revamped our quiet center using a fantastic find: a giant cardboard box! 

4. Bulletin boards

         I discovered something great to do with bulletin boards: section them off.
As you can see in the picture, it breaks up big boards and organizes needed information into something bright and uncluttered. That's my visual schedule there at the bottom, using pictures of the classroom and attached with velcro. 

5. Desk

         It finally happened: my desk has nothing on it! I moved all of my resources out of sight to a file cabinet and kept out only the day-to-day forms. My library books and "To File" folder are nearby on a shelf.
(By the way, my "To File" folder is fantastic for me, a natural piler. I toss papers in it, then set aside one day a week to file everything in it.)
It feels good, but it looks so lonely now.

Need more easy tips to clean your space? Try this Lifehacker article:10 Simple Ways to Make Your Office Look Clean

Bonus Tip! 

         Initial conferences are a wonderful way to start the school year. Even if your school doesn't require home visits, make it a point. 
         While you're at it, give them your info on a laminated business card. I simply used a free Avery template, put my contact info on it, and printed it on bright paper. A magnet on the back makes sure it doesn't get lost. 
Questions sheet, calendar, and contact info

What are your best tips for starting out the schoolyear right? What do you absolutely need to do before you feel that you're ready? Share in the comments below!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Happy "Admit You're Happy" month!

Hello, all!

I hope you're having a great summer so far!  Are you planning for the next school year? Wondering what your kids will be like? Stressing about your boss? Well, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams:

You'll get there!

Today I found out that August is "Admit You're Happy Month." This seems like an odd concept at first. "How do you even know I am happy?"  My theory (and the purpose of this blog) is that there's always something to be happy about. Don't like your job? At least you have one in today's tough economy. Don't like your boss? Just be the best you can be. Do you have a home? Food on the table, however meager? There's always something to be happy about. 

Just remember as this school year starts: you're not alone. 

 A great resource I've found for getting myself motivated this year is this infographic from An Ethical Island:

When you follow that link, then you'll find that each area is clickable and takes you to a different resource about that topic. It can really help sometimes to re-think why you want to be a teacher and consider what else might be out there.

You can find more inspiration on my Pinterest board here:

Sometimes it can help to share our accomplishments with others and be lifted up by others. In the comments, we'd love to know: what keeps you motivated? What are you happy about this year? 

Happy teaching!

--Amy Latta, KidatHeart