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Digital Learning

Sliding into Summer

It's an exhilarating time of the year! Testing should be over by now (Pleeeease tell me that's true for you!), classrooms are getting packed up and summerized, and we're celebrating all the learning that has happened for our students in this important piece of their childhood. Still so much to do and so much to ponder. 

I cried at the end of all but one of my classroom years. (That one year is another loooong story. I'll save that for now.) I was sure that I would never see these precious children of my heart again once they ran out the door into the summer sunlight (or rain! We live in Michigan, where the weather is never guaranteed.). My teaching friend, Joanie, always told me not to cry because, "They're making more. And when they are ready, they'll send them!" But what about this group? What about these kids who have become a kind of family with me this year? 

The good news is that so many of them have come back as adults as our lives have crossed once more, whether in real life or on social media. Hearing them say to their own children that I was their third or fourth or fifth grade teacher fills my heart. Surprisingly, more than a few have remembered and reminded me of the "Super Summer Kit" I once sent them out the door with on that last and bittersweet day of our year or years together. (Lots of looping years!)

What was the Super Summer Kit? It was simply a large ziplock bag or white 8 1/2 x 11 envelope filled with an activity calendar, a list of books "Recommended in Rainbow City" by other students, a goodbye letter from me filled with memories of our year together, and hopes I held for them as they grew up and away, fun writing suggestions like nature observations and different ways to make fun books and journals, a list of fun local day trips and summer field trips, and a summer bucket list brainstorming activity called "I Would if I Could". Kids used these throughout the summer with no future deadlines or pressure. Some even took them to camp for some downtime suggestions to share with bunkmates. I made a colorful and personalized cover page for each one, and loved having this unique gift to greet them on the last day of school as important as the backpack bags I greeted them with on the first day!

Since I have now have evidence that so many are hugely successful adults, and since those who looped with me or returned to a classroom of a teaching friend that I could check in with came back refreshed and even smarter, I have to conclude that the Super Summer Kit was enough. The thick worksheet books that parents used to clamor for at our local Borders Book Shop every May and June seemed daunting and uninteresting to me. What kid wants an assignment to complete every day all summer long, in  the interest of "keeping skills sharp"? Kids need their vacation and down time just as much as we adults do to refresh, recharge, and renew our interest in learning. I always found that the activities that I selected for that kit (most found right here) were a "just right" approach to summer learning.

So, if you are lamenting the end of the school year, even while looking forward to your own summer plans, and want to send your babies off with a fun and leaning filled kit for their summer, I hope you'll check out these summer resources from Rainbow City Learning for a happy slide through summer and into the next school year. And don't worry, they're still making more! (Love and kisses to Joanie, now in Heaven.)

For more ideas as you slide into summer, please check out the fabulous bloggers of Teacher Talk! Want to join us? Email me and I'll tell you how to do it!

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Spring Activities

When we think of April, we usually think of Earth Day and National Poetry Month. Did you know that it is also National Garden Month? Neighbors here in Michigan are telling me that their tulips and crocuses have raised their winter weary heads. Nothing happening here yet, but I am filled with hope, just breathing in a little of that air filled with the promise of spring. That smell? You know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. The scent that fills your soul with the promise of spring. Do you know what you are actually smelling though, when you smell that smell? MUD! You are smelling MUD! The earth is thawing. There has probably been some rain recently, and when you stick your nose out the door to check on the crocuses (as I just did, right this minute), you are actually smelling mud!

When you share that news with your students, and I'm 99.9% sure that you will, here's an amazing book to share along with that news! Your kids will love it! I promise! It's oozy, gloppy, and delicious! Great for word choice lessons too!

Some fun followup activities that you can try to bring the promise of this new season into your classroom:

Soil Sundaes
This one is a forever favorite of my students (the citizens of Rainbow City). Some of them, as adults, are still thanking me for this one. It's memorable. Here it is, for free, from my Stepping Into Steam resource. You're welcome.
If you love this activity, and would like to see the whole resource (including Wearing Away with Erosion and Truffle Craters, also good followups here, along with a scaffolded STEAM journal), just click on the Soil Sundaes card below. 

Of course, the sundae making activity is fun. Try adding some gummy worms! I also loved keeping soil, rock, sand, and pebble samples handy to make actual soil samples after this activity and then trying to grow flowers or beans in the soil. Kids and I brought back samples from our vacations in empty camera film containers (I know, what are those?) Any empty container will work. Glad makes teeny tiny ones, if you'd like to make them uniform. 
I also made soil, sand, pebbles, mulch, etc. available from our local garden store. Yours might be willing to donate! Offer to take pictures and have kids write about their soil investigations for them to display in their store. Grownups love that stuff!

Poetry Flowers

This one blends the observance of National Poetry Month with Spring. When the mud (or playground surface) is dry, try taking your kids outside for some splatter painting fun. Think Jackson Pollock. Or Eric Carle. I'm a big fan of planning a day in the spring to use up my leftover paints. Much preferable to storing all the odds and ends. Take some roll paper or just large sheets of paper outside, take kids dressed in clothes that can risk some paint spots, aaallllll your almost empty paint containers, and some brushes outside. This is best done at the end of a day so that the papers can dry around your classroom overnight. (Have a conversation with the custodian first about how this would work best in your school.) 
The next day, when dry, kids cut the splatter paintings into flower shapes, take a circle of colored copy paper, and write a poem on it. The display will make your room look like Spring inside!

Some of the paintings my kids made and a sample poetry flower below. To see the resource I created to make this, just click below!

Create a Fairy Garden

A fairy garden is a fun STEAM project for Spring. Use recyclables, maker space stuff, and found objects to create a special spot in the outdoor area of your building or in a corner near a classroom window. Small fairy gardens in pots also make great Mother's Day, Special Person or Grandparent's Day gifts. These can be accomplished very inexpensively with reusable stuff. 
Here's a Pinterest board to explore for ideas. Just click below!

Wishing you a muddy, fun, and happy Spring!
For more great ideas for Spring activities, be sure to visit the Teacher Talk blogs!
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Poetry is the Song of Our Souls

She balanced her journal on her knees, focused in earnest contemplation of a totally blank page. "Can I answer with a poem?" she asked. "Of course," I answered, as others looked on, wondering what she was getting away with. A shorter answer, for sure, but one that could speak volumes about what the true answer from her heart might be. As I set out to begin this post, the first thought in my brain was that poetry is the song of our souls. Just as you can listen in to what a person holds in their heart as they sing, poetry provides the same window into the soul of the poet.

April is the month when you can really start to see the fruits of your yearlong labors as a teacher, the month the children all seem to bloom. As those beautiful blossoms begin to open, poetry written by our students gives us a clear view into the soul of each blossoming learner. There is no meandering with poetry. It is generally short and to the point. No over-description, no extraneous words. Poetry focuses its meaning and touches the reader or listener deep inside. A journal page, free-write, interactive notebook response, or draft written in poetic form, can never be a bad thing. If a fuller essay is required, the poem becomes a distillation of the essence of that essay. If any written response is required, a poem of course fills the bill. And, as a writing form that lends itself to combination with art, music, dance, or dramatic performance, poetry rules!

Some thoughts on weaving more poetry into your practice:

Poetry Performance
Lots of teachers use the "Poem in Your Pocket" model to share poetry, based on the classic children's poem by Beatrice Schenk deReniers. Here it is, in case you haven't heard it. Click on the pocket below to download a free resource to use on Poem in Your Pocket Day in April!

This is a fun way to introduce poetry performance to your class. Pull a poem that you love out of your own pocket and perform it. My favorite poem to perform is "Honey I Love" by Eloise Greenfield. It's  so worth memorizing. I can promise your kids will be spellbound when you recite it to them with all the feeling that is right there in the poem. It will inspire many of your students to memorize a favorite poem of their own.

Poetry Sharing
When kids are ready to perform, make the performances a part of Morning Meeting, or a part of any regular time in your day or week. I have always used a campfire setting to share our poems, whether ones we wrote ourselves, or ones we just love and want to perform. It's cozy in the fall and winter, and makes us think of camping in the spring and summer. Here's a blog post I wrote about
The Poetry Campfire .

Poetry Publishing
There are so many ways to combine art with the publishing of your poetry - a class quilt, banners, Poetry Slam book, on your website, and in portfolios. Here is a blog post I wrote with directions for turning some short poems into beautiful watercolor flowers:
Watercolor Flower Poetry

Portfolio Friendly
If your portfolios are a little short of writing pieces this year for any of the reasons that our challenging profession has presented, April is the perfect month to get that collection growing. April is poetry month! Poetry is short and doesn't have a lot hard and fast rules to follow. It flows from the heart. So take out those portfolios and see where an empty spot can be filled here and there with a beautiful song of the soul. 

Here's a post you might like: A Portfolio to Remember

Find my favorite POETRY RESOURCES by clicking here!

Happy April, teachers! I hope your souls and those of your students sing throughout the Spring!

I had soooo much fun talking about poetry with my teaching friends on our podcast, We Teach So Hard, Episode 32. Hope you'll tune in soon!



The Thief of Joy

We have a pretty good local theater company here in Detroit. It's called "Broadway in Detroit" and they bring touring shows around after they leave Broadway. It's not Broadway, but is anything other than Broadway really Broadway? You'll get lots of different answers for that. If you do ever visit in my part of the world, you also really should try the tiny Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea. We've seen some amazing productions there in Jeff Daniels' hometown in the gem of a theater company that he started. But I digress.  Who's surprised? (Nah!)

We have been season subscribers to Broadway in Detroit for probably more years than you personally have walked on the earth. We love most of the productions, and really, some theater is always better than no theater IMO. This year, every seat for the season was sold out a year in advance because HAMILTON!!!!! is coming next week. Season subscribers get to keep their regular seats at the season price with no extra padding of prices. Sweet! And it's HAMILTON!!!!!

Right now, I am visualizing all the plays we've seen recently with not much advance hype that were thoroughly enjoyable, bordering on fabulous, and maybe full throttle magnificent. But were they HAMILTON!!!! ? Uh, no. We will finally see Hamilton next week, and I can't wait to see what all the hype is about.

Last week, after a lovely dinner with precious friends of ours, we settled into our seats to experience "The Lightning Thief" in musical form. I will admit to be being a little more giddy than most about the production because I love love love the Percy Jackson Series. The Lightning Thief was a favorite spring read-aloud with my fourth graders while I was still in the classroom. It was edge of your seat exciting, and what better way to introduce kids to Greek Mythology than with half-breed middle schoolers at a camp where they learn how use their special powers obtained from the god side of the family? The play was promising all that plus singing and dancing. I had a feeling that there would be a lightning bolt or two, some optional glitter, and other special effects like mylar confetti, and the theater gods did not disappoint.  So, settling in, I was pretty psyched to begin with. As one more aside, lots of kids get taken to the shows that seem appropriate, and I was looking forward to really seeing every inch of the stage, as most elementary and middle schoolers are shorter than I am! Yay! My usually craning neck was all like, "aaaaaahhhhhh...".

As the first act progressed, the storyline was familiar, I thought the singing and dancing was topnotch, and so many visualizations that my students and I had conjured in our heads were happening right before my eyes. It was more delicious than the skillet salty caramel cookie with Ray's ice cream that we had polished off for dessert just an hour earlier. It was a feast for all of our senses, and I watched it, I'm sure, the way many have watched HAMILTON!!! At the end of the first act, I was floating on the euphoria of a great theater experience. I looked across at our two couple grouping and saw two rather unimpressed peopled and one who said, "It was ok. I liked it." IF I had any self-control at all, it might have been a good time to dial down on my enthusiasm for awhile, but if we've ever met, you know....

I loved it!!!!! Followed by much description of every delicious morsel in the play. As I did that, my husband was pointing out all the grownups who had their coats with them for intermission. They were leaving? Sheesh! I guess one special feature that contributed to my joy was the amazing time I had sharing the book with my own students. I could still see their faces during most of the scenes, and remembered laughing at our discussion of whether Percy's friend Grover was half Sayter or Sauter or Saater. We had a fun debate over that. I was wrong, kids were right! Just an example. And, spoiler alert: Poseidon, as a surfer dude, was possibly the funniest thing I've ever seen.

And now, the excitement over HAMILTON!!!! is really ramping up. Everyone is talking about whether they have already seen it, will see it next week, or will travel to Chicago to see it because they couldn't get tickets here. I am, of course, expecting to love it, but my mind is kind of buzzing today with what makes one play a HAMILTON!!!, sought after, anticipated, and thoroughly enjoyed, and what makes another an intermission exit, meh experience?

As a teacher, I can't help wondering why we see some of our students as HAMILTON!!! while some are Percy before camp. Why are some of the read-alouds we choose HAMILTON!!! in quality and why do some kinda fall flat? And of course, don't we all want to be that teacher that kids see as a HAMILTON!!!! among teachers?  

I think the difference is the attitude we bring to it. My mind travels back to the first show of the season this year, "Something Rotten". In this play (also with mixed reviews , but I (are you ready?) LOVED IT!), Shakespeare is experiencing writer's block, and feels basically worthless as a writer. And yet .... wherever he goes, he is looked upon as a rock star! When a crowd gathers, he rises above the citizenry, dressed as a rock star, and you hear, "Shakespeare!" as if being sung by the greatest backup singers ever. It's all about attitude.

So teachers... It's March. Reading month, right? How do we walk into that classroom each day? It should be like the rockstar teachers that you know we are inside. Fly that cape! Hold your head high! And when it is time to introduce your next read-aloud? Are you introducing just any ol' book? Heck no! You are introducing HAMILTON!!!

Seriously, friends, that's exactly how I always did it. "You guys! You will not believe this book that I found for our next read-aloud! It's so amazing that I almost called you this weekend because I couldn't wait for you to find out about it! I can not wait to start talking with you about this!" (Attitude! HAMILTON!!!) Even if you are thinking that this is a little beyond your comfort level, try it! I think you will amaze even yourself!

If you would like to explore some reading likes and interests with your students, this set of cards will definitely get the conversation started.

For some other thoughts on March topics, be sure to visit the links below. This linkup is for members of our Teacher Talk blogging group. Like to join us? Ask me how!

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March is Reading Month

"It's always something." (Gilda Radner as Roseanne Rosannadanna) Every day that we show up at school, ready to learn, is a cause for celebration. "...and everywhere was a song and a celebration." (Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Woodstock, baby.) Seriously, teachers, we can find something to celebrate in class every single day. The biggest celebration, of course, is when the imaginary light bulbs flash with new learning, with a newly converted reader for life, budding author, artist, mathematician, researcher, or maker. As teachers, we are part of those amazing moments all year long. And yet, if we seek other celebrations to bring a learning theme to our students, the calendar is filled with them. Here's year-long resource for an author birthday focus every month.
Read Across America Day was originally conceived to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss. You might have been wearing out your "Cat in the Hat" striped chapeau for all the Marches for as long as you've been teaching. Maybe your school focuses on Dr. Seuss, or maybe you just enjoy that celebration in your classroom. Maybe your own teacher tied a red bow around her neck every March, and the memories are filled with warm fuzzies. are ready for a new idea?

Did you know that Leo Dillon's birthday is March 2 also?  With his wife, Diane, Leo Dillon was the author/illustrator of forty beloved children's books. Many of the books will bring the concepts of diversity and world peace into your classroom. What a beautiful segue from February is Black History Month! Why not kick off March is Reading Month this year with a fresh focus?

A favorite Dillon book of mine is If Kids Ran the World. My students were so fortunate to have the chance to meet this gentle and lovely couple before Leo's death in 2012, when they visited our school.  The mentoring for our future authors and illustrators was off the charts! If Kids Ran the World was the book they were working on at the time of Leo's passing.

In addition to the beautiful illustrations and words showing how the world would be a better place if we all cared  for others in the way these children do, this book effortlessly becomes a mentor text. Sign up for my newsletter (pop up when you enter this post - You may need to refresh!) before March 1, and I will send you a follower freebie showing how to use this lovely book as a model for writing. Already on my mailing list?   Check your inbox on March 2! Happy Birthday, Leo Dillon!

Some other authors whose work will make for great sharing and inspiration any time of the year: Patricia Polacco, Eve Bunting, and Jacqueline Woodson. These are a few of my favorites, and my students have enjoyed many lessons for reading and writing led off by the works of these writers. 

Try The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco to see how the author's own mother was encouraged to love reading!
Share a read-aloud of The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Alsburg to prompt a discussion of all the things we might enjoy if we give up a little screen time. 

Of course, no month-long celebration is complete without a few official school-wide or grade-wide or even class-wide activities. Some of my favorites:

Hold a Read-In
In no way should this be confused with a clean your desk, grade papers, and enter data day. Wipe that thought from your mind. It's tempting for sure, but a read-in day where you participate right along with the kids is a golden opportunity to encourage a lifelong love of reading (like yours!). Only you can be the role model for that in your classroom. Sleeping bags, blankies, jammies, and pillows optional! My kids always liked making little fort areas under the desks for uninterrupted reading bliss!

Who doesn't love a Parade?
Ask your students to bring in their Radio Flyer or Little Tykes wagons to use as float carriers for a Parade of Books! (Think Macy's Thanksgiving or Disney any day, or The Rose Bowl Parade, but with books!)  Kids work in teams to create a float display (think giant diorama!) of a book. The team members dress as some of the characters as they accompany their float in a parade for school and community!

Spotlight on Books
Create a display with a fun place to leave comments/reviews about a book that the class shared as a class novel, book club choice, or read-aloud. Place a book cover in the center of the display, and kids write comments all around. Examples of fun places to leave comments: black construction paper with colored chalks, small white boards with wipe-off markers, plexiglass with window markers, fabric with glitter pens. I know your kids can  help you think of more! 

Recommended in Rainbow City
That's what we called ours, anyway! Start a weekly or monthly newsletter or blog section where kids can review books they have read and loved. It's a great resource for your students to clip and keep on hand for when they are browsing for new books to read. 

Book Trailers
Use your technology (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, or your favorite movie creator) to have your students create exciting trailers to "advertise" their favorite books. So many resources, directions, and examples of book trailers for kids in this post. (Just click on the director below!)

I loved sharing ideas for March is Reading Month with my podcasting friends, Tracy, Deann, and Kathie. Tune in to "We Teach So Hard" Episode 28 to hear what we came up with!

Happy, happy March! Hope you get to read something you love this month, too!

Read more about it!


Bundle Up For The TpT Sale

Tick-Tock - The clock is ticking on a huge site wide sale on TpT! The best strategy when shopping the TpT sale is to stock up on bundles. Already discounted before the sale, they are discounted another 20-25% during the sale. (Don't forget the code TICKTOCK at checkout!) Save even more by leaving awesome feedback as you buy and using the credits you earn for another purchase, and another, and - well, you get it!

I have been arranging many of the resources in Rainbow City Learning to make shopping easier for you. To see ALL of my bundles, just click on the words "BUNDLE UP":

I hope you signed up for my email list when the box popped up here. (If not, refresh and do it!) I will be sending a shorter but very usable version of my newest resource on March 2 to all email subscribers as a Follower Freebie to say thanks!

Visit my Facebook page and comment on the gift card post for a chance to win a $10 TpT gift card, and your favorite Rainbow City Learning resource!

Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a $100 TpT gift card from The Best of Teacher Entrepreneurs Marketing Collaborative. Soooo many ways to make the most of this sale!

Happy Shopping!

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Teacher Fashions Through the Decades

As a college student, I worked in retail clothing sales and did some modeling in fashion shows. I was fashion conscious to the extreme, taking great care to plan every outfit for every occasion. All of my adorable wardrobe was color-coded and facing forward on hangers. Shoes matched, and jewelry was perfectly accessorized. Naturally, for my first teaching job, I was ready to rag. (Translation fresh from the 70s: Ready to dress appropriately.)

I showed up for my first day in fifth grade, dressed pretty much as the model above. Just change everything red to everything avocado green and add a suede belt. Substitute pearls for the gold necklace, and lose the glasses. Done. I sashayed through the door of room 214, ready to share wisdom with my attentive and eager students. As the minutes and hours of that first day wore on, it became clear that there would be no bending over a desk or sitting on the floor in that mini dress. No air-conditioning, and the pearls just made me sweat. The less than eager students, bummed to be back in class after summer, were challenging, to say the least. And I was not dressed in a way that would allow me to do all I could to become a great teacher.

It took some time (and money) at first to convert my dream teacher wardrobe to one that would work for me in a real life classroom, so at first I continued to dress in a similar way, minus only the pearls. With a virtually unpronounceable last name, the students took to calling me "Miss Baby Doll". They said that I looked like a Barbie doll, and I took it as a compliment. Sort of. My wardrobe kinda did look like Barbie's.

The above pic was taken at my friend's wedding the week I started teaching. Somewhat Barbie-like. Sooo many mini skirts. Go go boots. High heels. For years, I believed that I was tall. I was eye to eye with every 5'9" teacher that I worked with, so obviously I was imposing, tall, and powerful! Perception is everything. Imagine my shock when the failing discs in my spine the last few years of teaching sent me to wearing flat shoes. I felt like I was standing downhill from absolutely everyone. Really. Kept checking the floor to see where the slant began.

And yet, as I have Kondoed each item from my teaching wardrobe over recent years. (Way too recent - I keep EVERYTHING!), I really meant it as I thanked it for its service and brought up memories of classroom adventures while wearing each one. The decorated sweatshirts during the big hair years, the thematic teacher sweaters - my favorite was the one with appliquéd gift packages and ribbons. The additional badge on that one said, "Each day is gift - That's why we call it the present." Love. Thank you for your service. The purple dress that I wore so often that a talented student made a sign for my door with my name. On each letter danced a tiny version of me in my purple dress. Love you, Danny. And love you, purple dress. Thank you for your service.

Back to New Teacher Ville. I eventually found a great compromise that would allow me to get a little more use out of the minis and also allow me to remain employed. Just. Add. Pants. Bought a half dozen pairs created by my favorite ladies at the time, Polly and Esther (polyester). Black, navy, brown, purple, red, and green. Got dressed as usual for work, and then just slipped on a pair of pants before I headed out the door.

By the time I discovered this life changing magic, I was teaching second grade. My wardrobe innovation allowed me to squat, bend, and criss cross applesauce with the best of them! A local tv reporter decided that my classroom was the perfect backdrop for her stories about school or kids, and showed up without warning. My mother enjoyed no longer being embarrassed when she spotted me on the news at 6. Totally covered, still tall (hadn't given up the heels yet!), confident, and competent.

Back to that Gift sweater and its friends. Thematic sweaters and jumpers (Dresses with straps that we wore with a shirt, tee, or sweater underneath. - translation courtesy of the 90s.) Every teacher I knew had a few of those thematic clothing items, some embracing the trend more than others. I was all in. Like Ms. Frizzle, my outfit often signaled what we would be learning that day. If I didn't have exactly the right thing, I would be up until the wee hours, appliquéing, glitter-gluing, and bedazzling until I had the effect I was seeking. Some of  these fashion choices did get that discussion moving!

It wasn't long (The 80s, I think) before I discovered that a sweat shirt was a perfect canvas. I made so many outfits for my daughters and myself, adding paint, appliqués, skirts, ruffles, and ribbons to one basic sweatshirt after another. My daughters wore these to school with tights. I added pants or a skirt, and voila! Easy dressing, and relatively easy mornings getting everyone out of the house to start the day!

Aaahh.... Casual Fridays! Jeans Day! I can still feel the excitement when we, as a staff, could donate money to a worthy cause in exchange for being allowed to wear jeans to school on Fridays. It wasn't a given. Pay up or dress up. Only contributors to the cause were permitted to wear jeans to school. We checked on each other, and felt so good about the contributions we made.

I'm not sure when pay to play for jeans day fell away, but it did! Teacher clothes have become increasingly casual as the years have passed. With so much to think about, and so many balls to keep in the air these days, I get it. Just get dressed and show up. So much to do!

And finally, the teacher fashion trend that has happily followed me into retirement like a faithful and adoring puppy. Yoga pants are so versatile! A good pair of black yoga pants (not tights or leggings - pants) can take you from the yoga studio to class to meetings or to dinner. Just make sure that the top part of your outfit is appropriate for the occasion, and you are all set!

The last year that I taught, there was a yoga class that I liked to attend. It was close enough to get to after I finished my school day (two hours after the kids left), but not close enough to allow for changing time. I had a dozen pairs of black yoga pants, all exactly alike, and wore them every day. Every. Day. Not sure if anyone noticed, because I added shirts, sweaters, tunics, jackets, etc. I'm positive that the final look was professional as well as comfortable. And no zippers or buttons for those quick restroom visits? Teacher gold!

I'm wearing yoga pants with a tee shirt and sweater now as I write this post. Yoga pants: my favorite teacher clothing innovation of all. Yoga pants, thank you for your service!

I would love to hear from you about your favorite teacher fashion trend during your own career. Please add your response in the comments below!

I had so much fun discussing this very issue with my podcasting friends on We Teach So Hard. I Hope you'll join us there on iTunes, Google Play, or Anchor.

Inlinkz Link Party

Have I Ever Told You?

She climbed in my lap, her fluffy curls tickling my chin, and grandsweetheart #6 and I began to devour our latest new book, Have I Ever Told You? by Shani King. What a delicious and inspirational read for home, with your own precious babies, or at school with your also precious students. (No longer an affiliate. I recommend this book purely from the depths of my heart!)

As we turned the pages, each one beginning with the words, "Have I ever told you..." or "Have I told you...", and she answered in her sweet and bell-like voice, "Yes, you have!" or "No." or "Just now!", my mind was buzzing with the reach of this idea far beyond a bedtime story. What a beautiful read for February, this month of love, this month of remembrance, of honoring the achievements of African Americans, of looking forward to honoring the achievements of women in March. If I still had my classroom, I would definitely be dancing down the hall with this one this week, ready to share with my class! Yeah, I love sleeping late and not even worrying about snow days, but I would give it all up to share this with some kids! As many as possible, so teachers, please help me out with this!

Each page reaches deep within your soul and far beyond your own existence to all the possibilities that just being human can offer. It lets the child know that he/she is special, loved, can be anything, and should reach out to others on so many levels. It reminds with each new page that as teachers, as parents, and grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers and keepers of kids in any way that rings true for you. that we teach what we are.

We teach what we are. The kids are always watching and listening. The best things we can model are love and compassion for others. No fancy props or complicated lesson plan is ever necessary for this. You don't need to write notes or start your class valentines with, "Have I ever told you?" (although what a great mentor text lesson you might do with this book!). Some key management decisions that you might make for your classroom could easily send that message.

Simple things like letting your class plan the Valentine party and how Valentines might be distributed and shared would send the message, "Have I ever told you what great ideas you have?"

Establishing a class government system in which every child has a voice and a personal  stake says, "Have I ever told you that you can make hard choices and live with them?"

Infusing multicultural studies throughout the year, not just during a designated month or week or holiday, will be sending the clear message, "Have I told you how important it is that we all feel honored, loved and respected? All of us!"

Showing students the future career possibilities of work that they are doing right now will say, "Have I told you that you can be anything you choose as you prepare for life as an adult?" Letting your kids respond to lessons in multiple ways or to craft responses using their current strengths will tell them that you value their strengths and make them unafraid to try new things and respond in other ways as well.

This is a perfect time to stretch our wings with some additional modeling. If we are teachers who respect others, show compassion for all, and truly believe in our kids as learners now and citizens in the future, let's teach it through the opportunities we provide.  Love is in the air right now. Let's sprinkle in some positivity, compassion, belief in each other, and trust with what matters. The air has plenty of room and can hold all that and more! Start with a great read-aloud!

Click on links above for ideas from Rainbow City Learning on adding more to the air than love this month!

For more great February ideas, be sure to visit all the blogs of Teacher Talk!

Inlinkz Link Party

Culturally Responsive Teaching

As a young teacher, immersed in a culture unlike the one I grew up in, I learned to dance like the Jackson Five (or at least like Michael and Janet), I learned to jump rope double dutch and recite all the rhymes that usually were a part of that, I knocked on doors of my students' homes and invited myself in to chat and have a cup of tea or whatever that family enjoyed having a conversation over. I had never heard of culturally responsive teaching, and yet my teaching spirit guides were whispering in my ear 24/7 about the need to make that class a community and to build relationships before the teaching and learning could begin.

As my career path led me to a situation where the dominant culture of the school was in theory more like my own, I still had to struggle to learn the traditions and practices of that group. In this school which I had assumed was of my own religion, the boys and girls did not sit together during prayers. As the girls disappeared behind a curtain during morning prayers, and as I tried to get my new charges to return to sit "with their class" (my cultural understanding as a trained teacher), I soon heard the voices of my teaching spirit guides once again, "Not how we do things here."

As the third season of my teaching career got underway, happily immersed in a neighborhood school right where I was raising my own children, I still listened to those teaching spirit guides telling me that there were many surprises on the horizon, and that community building and relationships should take first place way ahead of the curriculum. Rainbow City as a learning community was born in that school. Planned, named, and put into practice by my students. It became our shared culture.

I was sometimes accused by colleagues of being all fluff and glitter, but every "fluffy" activity that I planned, every long and personal story that I shared, every time I stopped everything so that a student could share a similarly long and highly personal story contributed to my success as an educator and my students' successes as learners and citizens. Our learning experiences made a light sent out to shine into the future. Say it loud. I'm fluffy and proud! This "fluff and glitter" approach gave my students and me a chance to tailor the learning to our prior knowledge and experiences and to build from there. I currently have many very successful adults out there in the world who give at least a portion of the credit to "What I learned in Rainbow City." Some give probably much more credit than I alone deserve, but we sure built some beautiful learning and beautiful memories together. And to any Rainbow City citizens reading this post, mwah! Kisses and hugs to each of you. My heart has followed you and celebrates your wonderful life, the choices you have made, and the lessons that you are still learning!

The spirit guides are whispering that this post is becoming just a tad fluffy and a touch too glittery, so we will move along. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Another buzzphrase. To me, culturally responsive teaching is literally just plain old Responsive Teaching. Teaching that respects and responds to the learner and gives the learner options in how to process and respond to that learning. It is and can be as simple as that, in my humble opinion. Take time to get to know your students, build relationships first, and draw on the knowledge that you have gained in this process to tailor the learning to the learner.

A wise and wonderful principal once told me that, "I like for people to do things WITH me, not TO me." as she encouraged my serving on so many district committees. The same life lesson should apply to the atmosphere in our classroom learning communities. Of course we should cover the curriculum standards. But we will do so much more than cover if we involve the students in how the lesson will be presented and how responses and assessments will happen. Teaching and learning shouldn't happen to them, rather it should happen with them.

Some easy ways to get started on creating a more responsive classroom:

All kids love games. Most families play games, and every culture has certain games that are unique to its members. It's so easy to incorporate game playing into your teaching practices. I developed a review game with my students when the game show "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader" was on TV. Everyone watched it. It was part of the culture of our community. What fun to see fifth graders triumph over grownups! It showed that kids are smart, they pay attention, and have a lot of knowledge to share. I made a fairly simple power point with a slide for each subject and then inserted a question from a lesson we had learned that week. The question slide was linked to an answer slide. Three of my class jobs involved being the "Game Show Host", "Technician", and "Awards Committee". The whole class played every Friday in the time slot before lunch. Because what are you going to then anyway, right? The host read the question as it appeared on the screen. The technician played a song loop on on our boom box. (Subliminal messaging works great here. The song we used for our peppy thinking music was "It Takes All Kinds of People" from Thanks and Giving by Marlo Thomas and friends. It took me forever to find this now long hidden gem on the internet, so I am linking it here for you. You're welcome! Make it your favorite ear worm. I can still hear it right now!) While the music played, kids wrote their answers on individual white boards (or laminated white card stock) with a wipe off crayon or marker. Each student kept an old sock in their desk to erase with. When the music stopped and the host said, "Show me!", each student held up his/her answer. Everyone with the correct answer received five rainbow city dollars. (Class Economy secrets here.) This simple review game became part of our class culture for years after the TV show failed. It was simply "what we do here" to remember and celebrate what we've learned and to get ready for tests.

SCOOT games are another way to introduce or reinforce learning in a responsive way. Kids need to move! This game approach gets them up and moving. An important piece of SCOOT gaming, though, is the followup. It's important to give students time for debriefing and a little conversation with their peers. As they present their responses, watch their learning success soar! Look here for a little SCOOT inspiration!


Improv (improvisation) is an effective way to get students to try on character traits from fiction or history or current events, filtered with their own cultural background. Work in small groups (I like to start with a "fishbowl" approach - everyone gathered around one small group who will demonstrate first) and give the participants each a character, a general situation from your lesson focus, a mood, and a time/place to discuss their reactions. Sit back and watch. You will learn so much about the culture of your students. The teaching elves at Rainbow City Learning are working on an improv approach to the way kids deal with natural disasters. Be sure to sign up for our mailing list when the box pops up on this blog post for a free sample when it's ready, and follow Rainbow City Learning on TpT to see when it's posted. Yeah, the teaching elves are related to the teaching spirit guides. They have some pretty good ideas. Even when they suggest the use of glitter. I listen.

 Social interaction

Humans are interactive creatures. Kids need to talk. When you encourage them to share information and responses, and to plan and execute PBL projects together, learning magic happens. Give them what my students and I called "Conversational Opportunities" as often as your own culture and sanity will allow. Let go of the reins whenever the coast is clear ahead and let the students take over. You are always there to walk around, bringing the focus back to the "I Can" statement or a piece of the lesson that you want to reinforce. Drop it casually into the conversation and let your students run with it!


I'm a raving fan of the storytelling approach. To me, it's like adding honey to your tea or a sprinkle of sugar to your coffee or cocoa. Well, you get it. Is it necessary to teaching a good lesson and getting a high rating on your eval? Probably not. Your evaluator may even need a bit of coaching on how the storytelling has made you a more culturally responsive teacher. To me, good storytelling leads you into some of the best lessons you'll ever teach. Telling a little known story that you know about an historical figure, a friend who was just like that fictional character, or especially you yourself when you were their age will hook your audience , hold them in the palm of your hand as their brains open up to receive new knowledge and will (bonus!) encourage them to share some of their own stories. All storytelling does not have to be oral. You can tell your own story, finish the lesson, and send your students back to their places with a burning desire to write their own story that applies in their journal or Interactive Notebook.

 Learning that motivates students and sets their souls on fire with a passion to know more and to show what they know is culturally responsive learning. You don't have to rap the times tables or work on a secret handshake or dance on the desks to bring this to your class. You simply have to care about each student, build a relationship of respect and trust, and then take off the training wheels! The lessons will culturally tailor themselves as your students feel more a part of it all.

The more I read about culturally responsive teaching, the more I see these common threads: kids feel safe and respected in class, kids are finding motivation in learning (something in the ideas or process is holding a mirror up to each kid receiving it), attitudes begin to change around school and learning (both are seen as fun and stress free), and kids have choice in the way they respond.

A resource that brought me success in bringing this type of learning to my students is an Interactive Notebook model that we used for every subject. This is a basic tool and template that can increase the cultural responsiveness of your classroom. We built each notebook together as we responded to the specific lessons that we were required to learn. Each student's notebook was unique to that student, and it became the ultimate test study guide. No textbook or tedious study guide needed to accompany it.  Fluff and glitter? Try it out and you tell me!

For more January ideas, please visit the amazing blogs of Teacher Talk. If you'd like to join us as a blogger, contact me before linking up!