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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Collaborative Art

So excited to share this little tip for getting your art on in the great outdoors while the weather is still good! I love to do this collaborative art project with my students at different times during the year: when we have a lot of almost empty paint bottles and need to make room for new supplies, when we are studying the works of Eric Carle or Jackson Pollock, or when the art bug bites us and we just feel like creating something special together.

All you need is some paint (tempera or acrylic), brushes (optional), and some paper that you'd like to use up - roll or single sheets. I have also done this with a long roll of canvas (other fabric is fine). More about how we used the painted canvas in another post! Please follow my blog so you don't miss it!

The photos here are from a year-end use it all up event following a fun field trip. We had an extra hour to soak up at the end of the day, and decided to soak up some sunshine while we worked!
Three (Count 'em - three!) classes of awesome fourth graders cooperated on this project.

We carried all of our extra paint, our brushes, and our random papers from the scrap box outside to a shabby part of the playground beyond the soccer field. We talked a little about the way some artists choose to work, like Pollock who just squirted and scattered and flung paint at his canvas, and like Eric Carle who created tons of individual randomized watercolor, tissue, and acrylic paintings to use as collage pieces in his illustrations.

Eric Carle at work:

Jackson Pollock at work:

 After a brief "town meeting" outside to review techniques and establish some simple rules like not flinging paint at other kids, we got started.

We carried our masterpieces indoors to dry overnight when we were finished. We used drying racks, the entire floor of our large group instruction room, and our fourth grade hallway. We came in early the next morning to gather our art before others stepped on it, or felt it was in the way.

Teachers cut the masterpieces into manageable squares and students used those squares to cut out multi-layered flowers. Haikus, diamantes, and cinquains were hand-written into colorful copy-paper circles to be placed at the center of each flower and added to our portfolio books.

 And that's it! Great way to use up extra supplies before they dry up, and easy way for kids to get their art on in the great outdoors!

For more Bright Ideas to make your teaching life easier, more efficient, or just more fun, be sure to check out some of these posts!


Getting Through Parents' Night

There were a few years during my teaching career when I thought it might be nice to send the parents on a cruise beginning on the first day of school. Visions danced in my head of me handing back their one-year-older and infinitely improved children on the last day! A year with no parents!

That vision quickly vanished each year after meeting everyone at our Meet the Teacher afternoon event and later the next week at Curriculum Night. I have had the good fortune to work with so many caring, connected, and supportive parents over the years, some of whom have actually become lifelong friends. A great parent-teacher-student partnership is the best recipe for a successful year!

Some of my tips for breezing through that sometimes anxiety-producing evening are:

Remember that you are on the same side.

A smooth-running school is a community. Staff, families, and children should all feel as equal, valued, and contributing members. Make eye contact when you shake hands, nod, or fist-bump your first hello. Some may be returning parents, greeted with hugs. Make eye contact with them also. It will deepen the bond you share. Ask for help in the form of volunteers and donations of supplies and time. Have all necessary forms ready and available for families to pick up and fill out on the spot.

A simple idea to ask for supplies would be to set up a bulletin board or display board with "wishing" stars. I used star-shaped sticky notes on this one and each note had a supply that was needed for our classroom. An example is twelve dry erase markers. Another example could be a package of no. 2 pencils. Parents can take a star and send it back with the needed supplies. You might be surprised how many parents have no idea of the money you personally put into supplying your classroom each year. Most want to help when they know!

Show that you know your stuff.

Parents and caregivers will relax when they see that their child will be in good hands for the journey. Be prepared with a curriculum overview of the year in handout form, and also devote part of your presentation to going over the concepts you will cover. I really get irritated at PD sessions and conferences when a presenter uses a slide show and then Reads.Every.Word. on each slide. Have all of your information on the slides. Have a few talking points and allow a little time for your audience to absorb the information. Promise to be available for questions at the end of the evening. It's worth the extra time it may keep you there to discuss homework policy or when you will be introducing the study of fractions a couple of times. If you open your presentation to questions, the audience just may hijack the whole presentation arguing with each other over minutiae. Please trust me on this. It happened to me. Once. That was plenty. Unbelievable!

Use good marketing techniques.

Your parent community and your students are your clients or customers. What are you selling? A part of their education. A piece of who they will grow to be. Make it an attractive and cohesive package deal.
You: the polished professional who took the time to dress professionally for the occasion. (Even if the audience shows up in jeans, shorts, flip flops, etc., you can't. You need to do better.)
A brochure: to advertise your business (the excellent (insert grade) education of the (insert year span) school year). You may choose to use a flip book, folded one page document, or a brochure. I loved having a tri-fold brochure that I updated each year. It looked professional and had good information in it that parents could refer to all year long.
Contact information: your email address, website or wiki, twitter account, anything you will be offering as a way to stay updated and to communicate throughout the year. Show all of this in your slide show also. Your clients will want to know how to find out what you're doing all year. If you don't tell them and give them an easy way to find out, they may just make stuff up and tell it to each other. (Just kidding! I think.)

Be your authentic self.

Let your client community know who you really are. Have pictures of your family and pets on your desk and even in your slideshow. They have family and pets. They'll like you more if you do too. Wish I still had a dog. Sigh. I just miss my dog. We'll talk about him later.
Anyway, don't be afraid to tell them a few things like that. It shows you're human, like them. Prove that you're not a robot.
Being your authentic self also makes your clients much more forgiving if you are suddenly absent because your baby was sick or your pet needed emergency surgery, or if the papers take an extra week to grade because your basement flooded and you spent the weekend throwing away all the ruined stuff that you shouldn't have saved in the first place...Oh wait...That's me, not you. But there you go. Just be real.

If you feel that things aren't going well as the evening progresses, imagine that the audience is naked. Or wearing silly hats. Or masks. It will make you smile. Then keep going! You've got this!

In case you need a start on your presentation, I know you'll like this fully editable one on Google Slides!

Here are my forever free Parent Partnership Letter, Volunteer Request Letter, and Reading Logs. Hope you'll find them helpful.


Five Tips For a Well-Behaved Classroom

"If they had better kids, they'd send 'em!" This is a quote that has really stuck with me for many years in education. I learned to appreciate the impact of those words when I became a parent and later on, a grandparent. I wish I could recall the name of the speaker so I could let him know what an impact his words have had.

Like you, I've had my share of "challenging" groups along with some class groupings that were truly made to order for a teacher's dream of the perfect class. But here's a secret. Ask anyone who has been  through my classroom if they were part of the best group of kids ever, and they'll tell you without hesitation that they were. The lineup of past behaviors and mistakes should not impact the great year you are embarking on right now, with the class of your dreams. If they are not currently the class of your dreams, I hope some of these suggestions will help you to make your dream class come true.

Tip #1: Show you care.
Every child in that new classroom of yours is (or should be) deeply loved by someone. Those who aren't getting the love and care they deserve at home will soon show you what they need (usually by acting out). You will need to show them even more love at first, and maybe throughout the year. 

Asking the families of your students to share what they already know about the new students you will be receiving will form the basis for a long and successful partnership. Students, families, and you will all be winners. Try my free Parent Partnership letter below, or write your own. Then study the responses carefully. Each one should be a blueprint on how to reach and meet the needs of that student every day. I liked keeping mine in a binder to refer back to all year long.

Use the information you're gathering to find ways to show each student that you are genuinely interested in him or her as a person, not just as a student. You might just find a few lifelong friendships in this way to enrich the rest of your days!

Tip#2: Build a strong learning community.
Start team-building activities on the first day and continue them throughout the year. I loved operating my classroom like a little city, with the students gradually taking charge. Kids who feel invested in the outcomes of your classroom will not be behavior problems. It would be counter-productive to their beliefs: beliefs you have instilled from Day 1.

My classroom city had a government, mission statement, jobs that were real and necessary, and a clear identity forged with logo t-shirts, a city seal, a flag and pledge, and standards for meetings and general operation of the classroom. If someone broke a rule, it wasn't "my" rule that was broken, it was "ours", and we needed to deal with it together. We did.

You may find these resources useful as you develop your own classroom community:


Tip #3: Encourage collaboration.
Whenever possible, encourage students to work together. I love to see students working side by side, supporting and encouraging each other in STEM/STEAM activities, science labs, math problem-solving, and book club discussions. There are many ways to select groupings, including student choice once in a while. I have a blog post about how to make collaborative groups work here.

Some great opportunities for collaboration can be found in these resources:

Tip #4: Develop positive life habits together.
This short year that you have with these students is your opportunity to help them on the road to developing skills and habits that will serve them for a lifetime. Think about the things that enrich your life and feed your soul. What are they, and how can you share those parts of yourself with your students? Think of ways that you can integrate some of these habits into your daily classroom practices. You'll be creating a classroom environment that is pleasant and fulfilling to you and nurturing for your students. Win-win!
Here are mine:

Yoga and meditation 
Build in quiet times during the course of your day. Practice yoga with your class if you are comfortable with that, or just have a few moments for quiet reflection at the start or end of each transition.

Whether you have daily journal writing or not, you can keep a journal together as a class. Try writing some thoughts about what your class is learning at the beginning or end of each day. You might also add in a little reflection time after an Interactive Notebook lesson. Set a good example by writing in your own journal as your students are writing. I promise that you won't have to be the "talking police"  or "behavior enforcer" if journaling becomes a norm in your community and all agree that it is valued.

Weave music throughout your day. I love to use it for transitions, but there are so many other ways music can be a big motivator for learning. Think of how you use it in your life. Do you have certain songs that you play when you are working around the house, gardening, writing lesson plans and grading papers, or just relaxing by the fire? Try to use music in the same ways with your students. Develop a "sound track" of your life in class together. During my last year in the classroom, we fell in love with the songs of I Am Bullyproof Music and found so many ways that the lyrics applied to our lessons, especially in Language Arts and Social Skills. With the help of my students, we developed  unit plans to accompany our favorite Bullyproof songs.
Oh, and sometimes, we loved a little "Old Time Rock n Roll" by Bob Seger if we just needed to shake it all off! Find what works in the community you are growing. Music will make it a happy place.

Art is my passion. Not all kids love to draw, but most will decorate and embellish if given the opportunity and cool art materials to work with. I loved using colorful markers, oil crayons, colored pencils, glitter pens, and dabs of glitter as I worked on my lesson example pages for interactive notebooks. Kids were inspired to do the same on theirs. Wherever possible, I loved to add a craftivity or a piece of artwork to our lesson responses. I know you'll find ways to make it fit if you're an art lover, too!

Some resources you might like to browse as you think of  ways to start building those positive life habits:


Tip #5: Celebrate success.
Decide what success means to you and to your students. When it is achieved, have an established way of celebrating ready. Every celebration does not have to be a big party with snacks. The idea is to move them ever closer to appreciating the intrinsic rewards for a job well done and celebrating successes within. I liked rewarding great test scores with classroom money, but often a high five or applause is just right. A mention in the class newsletter is another great way to celebrate. And sometimes a silent cheer and a self-pat on the back.
For a super end of year celebration, try my free Rock Star Student Awards!

For more tips on how to have the well-behaved classroom of your dreams, check out these great posts: