Monday, August 29, 2016

Best Ways to Get Your Class Up & Moving!

School started and I don't know about you, but I am seriously WIPED OUT. My class is a group of 6 firecrackers and I have been chasing around after them since day 1. I really wish I was exaggerating.

We have developed some routines in our class that help my rambunctious kiddos stay focused. We do have some fidgets, stress balls, and the like at their desks for work times, but nothing compares to a full blown brain break. Alas, here is my all time favorite fidget - the Tangle! They are virtually silent (well, as long as they don't bang them on a desk, which is a whole different story), they are research based to help with focus, and kids really seem to love them. They're also pretty non-intrusive, and inexpensive! Below is an affiliate link.

After a transition or after a work period, we have a Brain Break. I have fallen in love with GoNoodle. It is a wonderful website and does so much of the work for us. Instead of scrolling through millions of YouTube videos, they have an awesome collection of kid-friendly videos divided into multiple categories. You can decide what energy level, duration, and characters/channel you would like to use. This is so helpful for times when you need the class to be calm and relaxed, which I'll touch on in my follow up post. Today, I'd love to show you what I have found to be useful strategies for getting the wiggles OUT so they are more likely to stay in their seats!

Since many of my sassy pants students are "too cool for school", they always want to watch music videos with dance moves. I love the Kidz Bop channel for this, because the songs are appropriately censored and the dancing is modern but totally kid friendly. It's also simple enough that (most) of our kids can follow along with the moves :)

On the flip side, many of my students have been requesting a song rather than a GoNoodle dance/activity, and I have found that some are definitely NOT school approved (shocking, I know). I made a menu of some hit songs that are appropriate for students to choose from. You can find it here as a freebie :) Just note, when I play these on YouTube, I either don't turn on the projector OR play a video that just shows the lyrics. Just because the song is appropriate does NOT mean the music video is!

So - how do I manage brain breaks? I, personally, like to add choice into our break times. I make sure that we have (at least) 6 times during our day where we can take a 2-3 minute break. It may sound like a lot, but if you met my class, you'd understand. Since I have 6 students, this is perfect. I wrote their names on popsicle sticks and pull one for each brain break. The student gets to choose if they want to pick a GoNoodle activity or a song from the menu. Every kiddo gets a turn and it helps create community along with ownership & buy-in of this time during the day.

How do YOU get your kids up and moving?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Self-care secrets from a (formerly) burned out special ed teacher

Yeah, burn out is real. Most of us hate admitting it, but we have at least towed the line with burn out at some point in our teaching lives. For me, it comes and goes in waves. Some days I make it through the day and no matter how successful, stressful, ridiculous, or exciting my day was, I feel great and know why I do what I do. And some days, I literally go home and fall asleep on the couch with tears in my eyes and my winter coat still on. The struggle is real.

So - WHAT  DO YOU DO?! Well, there's the usuals: get a manicure once a pay period, have several wine options in your fridge at all times, keep a well stocked chocolate stash in the corner of your desk. Please do those things. DO THOSE THINGS. But self care is more than a back rub and a cold glass of Pinot.

And... let me be clear, this is not my strong suit. But I know the importance in taking care of myself and how it directly impacts my students and my relationships with others. So here's some ways that I am working on taking care of myself, so that I am the best teacher, wife, friend, and family member that I can be.

1.) Morning routines.

I personally love to read. It gives me joy. Do I read during the school year? No. Do I read in summer? Yes. I just opened book 6 of my summer last night. Is this okay? NO!!!! Something I have found to be really helpful for me is to make a ritual or a routine of it. I make sure I always have coffee that I really like (not just Folgers), like a good pumpkin or cinnamon flavor, and I make coffee and I read in the morning. This means I have to wake up early. Only by 15 minutes, but that time is sacred. It took me a long time of wanting to implement this routine before I actually did it, and I'm not perfect at it. But it helps. And for me, it matters what I read.

This school year I am planning on going through Savor by Shauna Niequist. It's a Christian devotional that's super relate-able, impacting, and quick. Deep without making me use a dictionary first thing in the morning. If you're a Christian or just interested in some inspirational reading, join me!!

2.) Down Time.

Holy cow. We have down time?! Well, not always. BUTTTT - many of us are blessed with paraprofessionals in our room that not only are necessary to running our programs, but they are our assistants in other aspects. GUYS - USE THEM. Like any human on the planet, if the kids are on iPads, doing independent work, silent reading, whatever - they are just going to sit there and do nothing if there's nothing for them to do. It can be awkward to start implementing this ("Hey, I never have you copy/cut out/label/laminate, but now I want you to start doing this."), but it's FINE. They get paid to be there, and you will likely find that they WANT to contribute as much as possible and be a real part of the planning of the classroom. Laminate checklists and use dry erase markers to make them weekly to-dos. You shouldn't have to do all of the cleaning, labeling, velcro-ing, whatever. If it helps you from lugging a suitcase of behavior visuals home to laminate on a Tuesday night AND can be done by staff during the school day? That's a total win-win!

3.) Classroom environment.

Like where you're at. If you're really into classroom decor, you know what I mean. If you're not, or struggle to set that up, it's okay! Add in some things that make the room brighter, more cozy. You and your crew are there ALL DAY. Make it a place you love. This year, I'm adding some quotes just for me by my desk. The last 3 years I didn't use a teacher's desk, but this year I decided that I really want, and need, that space as my own. These are the ones I'm using, but if you search on Pinterest you will find tons of wonderful mantras to keep you going. If you're into prints and frames, check out these awesome ones on Etsy (this one, this one, and ahhh this one!). I personally fear that my behavior bunch may swipe the desk once or twice and I'm going to stick to stapling mine to the wall :) #knowyouraudience

    let your faith be bigger than your fear: every. tiny. victory.:

Also, if you can get permission from your administration (always good to ask because, well, you never know) - use an essential oil diffuser! Diffusing lavender in the classroom is for real SO calming. I also keep lavender lotion by my desk to use AND to let my kiddos use. "They" say that lavender is calming and you know, I'll take it.

4.) Food.

I know when I'm stressed out I do one of two things: am anxious all the time and have no appetite OR go to a drive thru because I'm starving and feel like I have no time. Both of these ideas are terrible. I know when I eat junk I feel gross. And it's honestly not worth it.

This year I am going to start meal planning for the week, which is not a revolutionary idea. It seriously helps me when I do this, though I'm SO BAD about keeping up with it. When I do it, I always have the ingredients that I need on hand, and since my husband and I are the only ones at home, we always have left overs. I typically eat these for lunch, so I know that I'm going to consume an actual meal and not a handful of trail mix and a string cheese for lunch (GUILTY).

Here's an AWESOME blog series from Haley at Miss L's Busy Bees called Teachers Who Cook. Definitely going to be a major resource for me this year with my new venture!

And from here on out... give me your tips! What helps you not want to cry in fetal position after an exhausting day?

(PS These Amazon links are just visual ideas of what I'm referring to - I get a 'lil bit of cash if you purchase them from that link, but that's really it :)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Paraprofessionals... A blessing and a curse...

If you've ever had a paraprofessional that you've had to wake up from a catnap during circle time or somehow always "loses track of time" and takes a 6 million hour lunch break a few times per week, you know what I mean about the "curse" part of the title of this post. I have had my fair share of paraprofessional experiences, and I'll say I'm thankful to report that most of them have been incredibly positive.

I have never had built-in time where I could debrief with my paraprofessionals, and it drove me crazy. If they had more lengthy questions, I wanted to introduce a new behavior plan, switch to a new data collection protocol (etc etc etc), it was almost impossible to roll it out smoothly. I got approval from my administration to show a movie on Friday afternoons so we could have the time to look at data together, ask and answer questions, and just bounce ideas off of one another. I found this to be incredibly useful, and allowed me to train and implement structured strategies with my not-so-strong paraprofessionals.

So while I just love those paras who end up being our fiercest sidekicks and literally our right and left hands, it's HARD to manage other adults. We cannot control them, sometimes they don't agree with our strategies (like reinforcement schedules... PLEASE JUST FOLLOW IT... gah!), and typically they are older meaning it can be hard to redirect someone who could literally be your mom. But, I will leave you with these images that I hope will encourage you to put in the extra effort to train them well, create positive environments that naturally enforce hard work, and show gratitude towards these staff members that are literally golden.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mini-Trashcan Makeover

I. love. mini-trashcans. Let me count the ways.

1.) I just think miniature things are really cute.
2.) My students have always gotten a kick out of them.
3.) Paper scraps. Sticker backs. Crayon wrapper pieces.

I have always used these at small group tables when we are doing literally anything. Instead of the kids going back and forth to the garbage can NINETY TIMES in one lesson (this is such a pet peeve of mine), this little trashcan gives the kids no reason to get up. Then, one kiddo gets the job of emptying out after the lesson. Done.

I found some at 5 Below, but they were Spiderman. I love a superhero, but I just really needed it to not have a character on it. I have no explanation except for that the Spiderman one looked cheesy and annoying. And matches nothing in my classroom.

I used my favorite Scotch tape to cover it up, and it literally took 2 minutes.

You can see one of my finished products and the "before" of its twin, for the full effect.

Now do what's best and just go grab a mini-trashcan :) I have also heard they have them at Walmart, I just don't live anywhere near one. 

#BestYearEver - What I Bought

So I've been (way) behind on blogging, because, leave it to me, I dropped my laptop. The DC Jack (which I learned is the name of that circle you plug your charger into... you're welcome for that tidbit) cracked and I could no longer charge it. Though, like I stated, I am a Type B teacher through and through, I have a LOT to create, print, and edit for the school year, and I have been exercising the muscle of NOT FREAKING OUT. It's now fixed and back in my life, and so I'm back in yours. Don't get too excited ;)

I have been anxiously awaiting the TeachersPayTeachers #BestYearEver sale, and I bought some awesome products. Let's see what I'll be using in my classroom this year thanks to some credits and a generous sale...

My girl Sarah (The Designer Teacher) has been tirelessly working on this huge product. I have free reign of my classroom now - lots of resources, but no requirements on curriculum use. I really think this will be a great way for me to get my hands wet. It's SO thorough and hands on, plus super clear so kids aren't distracted. I love cute fonts, but I also know my students. I'm also toying with the idea of using some of this in an interactive notebook format? We'll see. 

Perfect for my ED class. I'm going to post it under my whiteboard and each student is going to pick their emotion during morning calendar time. 

Can you tell by these three purchases that I am a little nervous about the first week of school? Well, now I know we'll at least have something to do... and it's all super cute.

This product by Traci Bender has been in my Wishlist for a few months. I am so excited that I snagged it for my class this year! These experiments are super simple but sound really engaging. I plan on doing one per week with my class. They're all differentiated in 3 levels and will really help my students grasp the scientific method in a simple way - a skill they need if we can reintegrate them back into a more mainstream setting at some point.

Blair has done it again :) We are going to end every day with writing in our journals! They will be an awesome way to teach self-reflection. 

This is a new TPT seller who had her entire store on sale for $1 for the sale! I love the clip art she used and that she has tons of character-based brag tags. I don't think I'll use the term "brag tag" but will definitely be printing and using the character tags to encourage and praise positive behavior traits!

Super stoked about this bundle because rumor has it, my class loves art. I figure this is a great way to work on our drawing skills so we can incorporate more activities like illustrating our own stories, drawing vocabulary words, and drawing pictures of books they have read. 

Whimsy Clips always has my heart. Her kiddo clip arts are always so freaking cute. I have her "bad choices" clip art, but truth be told, I really need both. 

My best seller was my favorite product in my store, Yoga, Exercise, and Breathing Activities. I used it daily in my former classroom and will likely use it tons in this one as well. 

What did you guys buy?