Summer Goals

Copy of graduation.png

It hasn’t quite hit me yet – that the usual, daily grind has been postponed for a couple of months. Part of it has to do with my current misery – I’ve been coughing and sick for a couple of days now, coming to a head last night when I came down with a low fever and spent most of my evening huddled beneath blankets and binge-watching HBO. Tonight, I’m at least upright, and this time it’s binge-watching Hulu, but still – I’m not poolside, or even gardenside, by any means.

When I have unbooked time, I habitually create goals. Sometimes it’s just vacuuming and laundry, others it’s plant a whole garden. With two and a half months ahead of me, let’s see what I can do with the time and willpower I have.

1. Grow food!

With the homestead shopping spree still remaining that – shopping, not purchasing – we have piles of seedlings in our window sill with no destination. If we plant now, we’ll move without our seedlings (I joke that’s the only way to find “the” house – by planting the garden, we’ll jinx ourselves into finding the “one” the next day). We had hoped to have a plan by now, but to be honest, there isn’t one. I’m thinking we’ll go ahead and resort to what we did four years ago at our last house – a patio garden! It’s hardly sustainable, and goes against almost all of our hopes and dreams for improving soil, but growing in pots does provide homes for our seedlings and food for our table.

2. Finish my certificate.

For the last two summers, I’ve been working on levels I and II towards my Kodaly methodology certification – each level is offered for 5 hours graduate credit at Wichita State with a two week, ultra-intense course in the beginning of June. Since getting my level I, I have found a wonderful and satisfying new path with my teaching – a child-centered approach that uses folk songs from our student’s cultural traditions, all while enhancing their music literacy abilities to the fullest. This year will be my last of three levels to complete – which will bring me not only my status up to “Kodaly-certified teacher” but also my master’s degree status to “15 hours completed” – and this fall I’ll start in on the rest of my coursework to finish a master’s.

3. Buy a @#$^ house already!

Can you tell I’m feeling frustrated? I heard an NPR report that said in this past quarter of housing sales, houses have sold faster than they ever had in a decade. I can’t tell you how many houses we’ve looked at or gotten ready to look at only to arrive and find out an offer (or 3) was already on the house. It’s exhausting. It’s tiring. We’re at the point where we are happy to get a house with a big backyard just so we can build equity with something, but even that has been hard to find! It’s really stressing me out, so that means I probably ought to…

4. Take a yoga class or learn to meditate.

This school year, especially the last few months, have been stressful. I’m ashamed to admit how often I’ve broken down in tears or how often my husband has gotten some kind of exhausted or facepalm emoji through text the last couple of months. I. Need. A. Break. I’ve barely had time for myself, none for my friends or family, much less patience for any of the aforementioned. I’m going to start with some organizing to help me feel in order and then just some plain old sleep. It’s wonderful how therapeutic being in the garden can be, so as soon as I feel up for some exposure to allergens I’ll head out to the garden to weed and explore with the kitties.

Longterm, it would not be a bad plan for my mental health to establish a yoga or meditation routine. Even YouTube has some fabulous guides and gurus, and quite honestly I just need to step up and recognize how much I need this and do it already!

5. Get some thorough work done on my long-term planning.

In order to know what to teach, you need to have an end goal for your students – what do you want them to know when they leave your classroom at the end of your school year together? From there, when do you want to teach those goals, and how? With what resources or focuses? I want to take time to develop my concept plans and long-term planning, now that I’m entering my fourth year of teaching. My first several years were about experimenting, surviving, trying new things, and seeing what fits – how long it takes to teach a concept, that sort of thing. Now that I feel like I have the handle of it, it’s time to think broader, more deeply, and with more effectiveness.

 

Most of all, I want to spend time with myself, my friends, my family, and to relax. After all, it is summer.

Graduation

IMG_2483.JPG

It’s that time of year – wrapping up lesson plans and packing away supplies for the summer, endless graduation parties, saying goodbye to our students. For me, it’s a particularly-tough end of the year, saying goodbye to a hundred little faces that I’ve loved for the last two years. Part of the heart-wrenching part of working for a school district is just that – we work for a district, not a school, and our contract isn’t tied to a building. With numbers and circumstances changing, one of my school assignments is changing, so today I gave hugs and love to my little ones as I said goodbye on their last day of music.

While for so many, the end of the school year marks the end of an era – the end of 5th grade, the end of college, and, for some teachers, then end of a career. As I sit here on the couch, nursing a late-spring fever and miserable cough, I’m reminded that it’s never really the end, but merely the restart of another lap around the track. We’ll toast to the end of another year, schedule vacations, put our feet up, but we start the preparation for next fall as soon as our students walk out the door. Come this fall, we’ll be greeted with a similar batch of excited, beaming faces intermixed with tired, unsure ones and still need to inspire them to the same results through our teaching. We’ll face the same, miserable stacks of paperwork, exciting workshops with new ideas, complain about the same types of issues, celebrate the victories, and face that student that just makes you want to cry after trying everything. (Today, I had that student laugh at me and try to hurt me by saying that I must be getting fired if I’m moving schools, to my dismay and to the shock of all his classmates. Unfortunately, no explanation would persuade him from thinking it was the truth – and I left today hoping dearly I had made some kind of difference in this poor child’s education, with all the struggles we’ve had. It was not a good morning.)

But alas, the years don’t always get to end with a perfect, wonderful goodbye – sometimes they are messy and imperfect. All we can do is learn from each day and let it (hopefully) influence the next experience for the better. For a teacher, our years are a cycle, of hard months to exciting months, of challenging students to sweet notes on Valentine’s Day, of evening concerts to a much-needed summer vacation. While our students may close their books and move to the next school or graduate from their last classroom ever, we continue in the cycle – to rinse, refresh, be inspired, and begin again.

Happy summer, my friends.

Hurdles

hurdles.png

The past couple of days I’ve just been reminding myself to breathe. We’re taking small steps at a time towards our homestead – we’re at the point of getting insurance lined up, but until I have the keys in my hand I’m not willing to call it ours! We walked around the property and thought it felt too good to be true – close to town, 2 1/2 acres, mature trees but ample growing space, a wood stove, and a dock on the lake. We’re jumping hurdles at the moment, one piece of paperwork or check from my checkbook at a time. The finish line still feels laps away, so until we’ve crossed it we won’t call it a victory just yet.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.10.58 PM

We’re at the point in the year where students are under stress from assessments and we teachers are trying desperately to keep them motivated, interested, and engaged while also not checking out ourselves. I have a few more lessons planned with my students, mostly to wrap up some work stations with recent concepts: we presented la in 1st grade, eight & two-sixteenths in 4th grade, and we’re diving deeply into instrument families in 2nd grade. My 5th graders are working on guitar, 3rd grade trying out recorder, and my kinders wrapping up their program. We’re about to tie up a nice and neat knot on our year, and what better way than to get out some of that extra energy with some folk dancing? We’ll spend the last three or four lessons just dancing, from traditional folk dance to maybe even the Macarena or the Cha Cha Slide (I mean c’mon, I can’t have these 5th graders not ready for their middle school dances!). I’m looking forward to wearing my comfortable dancing clothes for the last couple of weeks and having little to worry about in terms of lesson planning – all it takes is gathering a list of dances for each of my grades and prepping the music to go along. Heck, we might even go outside with my Bluetooth speaker!

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.10.12 PM

After crossing the hurdles with school, it starts to come down to cleaning and prepping our rental for the move. We have our inspection on Friday for the house, and if all goes well I’ll start making moving plans this weekend. I have garlic in the ground from last fall and onions from this spring, so the time will come to decide to take them with me and try transplanting or to let them be a gift to the future tenants. They’ll love to have 93 onions, right? It will be bittersweet to leave our rental – we’ve lived here for three years and have made so many memories here, from helping install a beautiful patio with our landlord to toiling over the garden every season to try to improve the hard, clay soil. I know it’s silly, but this home is where we had our second “baby” – Olivia, our little girl cat, has only ever known this house with us, and she and her “brother” love basking outside on the patio and chasing squirrels around our yard. There’s an emotional hurdle to cross when we leave, for sure. This home has been just that – our home. I will miss it when we move, though I know we have some wonderful times to look forward to wherever we end up.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.10.34 PM

My last hurdle is my prep for my level 3 Kodaly course – the past two summers, I’ve enrolled in level 1 and level 2 certification courses through Wichita State University as part of my master’s degree. (Am I now regretting the financial impact of enrolling in 5 hours credit for the beginning of June after settling closing costs mid-May? You betcha.) Learning a new methodology for my teaching has changed my career – it gave me direction, inspiration, creativity, and a path to lead my students to true music literacy. It’s been an exhausting and thrilling three summers, and this year is the last I need to get my certification! I’ll spend two weeks in intensive courses and there is a bunch of homework I have to complete before I head down to Wichita – close to 50 songs to analyze for classroom use and multiple others to find myself for analysis, research, and presentation. Whew!

A month from now we will be days away from the last day of school and maybe even signing our contract on our house, and that sounds unbelievable even as I type it! Deep breath. Gotta keep my eye on the finish line.

Eco-Friendly Classroom Ideas

eco-friendly.png

We’ve done so much in our home to be eco-friendly – we installed a bidet, use washcloths in our kitchen rather than paper towels, cut down on our mini fridges (sorry, hubby, the one in the basement for band practice had to go!), bought more natural products and invested in ones that have less packaging, bought more items in bulk, use handkerchiefs more than tissues (not as gross as you would think) – the list goes on. But I suddenly realized that my paper product – and plastic product – consumption at school was nothing like what I was attempting to do at home. My room was filled with plastic storage, hundreds of copies were made – and thrown away – each week, I had filing cabinets stuffed with papers I don’t use… the guilt set in. Every other part of my life was filled with trying to do the sustainable, green, and healthy thing, yet why couldn’t I do it at work?

A lot of it comes down to standards – it’s standard and okay to make copies every day, to use color ink on your bulletin boards, to have filing cabinets bursting with lesson plans, ideas, projects, student files, and more. But I want to challenge that standard.

Just because it’s always been done that way doesn’t make it right, or what YOU have to do.

This being said, we all have to approach our journey towards earth-happy practices in our own time and at our own pace and scope. If you don’t do these things in your room, that doesn’t make you a bad or evil person. If the progress you make today is to just be more aware of it when you walk into your classroom on Monday, then that’s progress that shouldn’t be ignored or belittled. If you are inspired to dump your filing cabinets in the recycling bins this summer and switch to Google Forms for tests and lesson plans, then all the power to you!

Here are some of my goals and accomplishments, so far, at achieving a more earth-thoughtful classroom:

1. Make fewer copies.

I have 420-some students, and that makes for a LOT of copies. And if we do a semi-school wide activity, like program evaluations or end of the year summaries, that means so much paper and ink consumption. And let’s be honest, where do those copies end up after they get used? While I’d love to think these worksheets get cherished, we all know they end up trashed at home.

img_17111.jpgTherefore, a lot of this comes down to a more critical examination of my lessons – do I need to have ten worksheets where my 3rd graders practiced writing sixteenth notes, or do I just need them to practice writing sixteenth notes? As much as I can, I’m going to make one set of 25 copies and place them in plastic sleeves for use with dry erase markers. The students still do the worksheet practice, but I don’t have 75 copies of these being made for 3 classes every year. Now, I have a clean, class set that gets filed every year.

I recently purchased these sheet protectors from Amazon – we used them for a write-the-room activity before break where my 2nd-5th graders had to find flashcards that a little leprechaun friend hid around the room. Each grade level practiced their own rhythm sets – but for my 300 students using this activity, I only had 25 copies made.

 

2. Reuse as much as possible.

When I make manipulatives, I try to make them sturdy and long-lasting to get as much out of them as possible. I believe firmly in the power of the laminator and the use of cardstock – the heavier paper and lamination helps turn my projects into long-lasting and strong work. Beat charts and card games that I printed and laminated my first month of teaching are still going strong three years in. Write-the-room cards, scavenger hunt pages, exit tickets, you name it – make one set, laminate, and reuse!

3. Plan smarter and slimmer.

There are some times in your career when scripting lessons is important – first year of teaching, observations, new lessons. But do you need to write your script out for every lesson every day? If you’re like me, you go through 7 lessons a day, 1-2 times a week. If I printed each lesson on it’s own piece of paper, that’s close to 420 pages per year. Let’s round that to 500, allowing for extra paper for your program prep. With 500 sheets of paper in a ream, that 6% of a tree. Multiply that over 5 years, and you’ve used 30% of a tree. Over a 25-year career? One and a half trees of paper. No, thank you!

img_1823.jpg

I threw together a simpler lesson plan for myself with smaller boxes to abbreviate my lessons and had them printed so that 4 grade levels would be on one sheet – 2 on the front, 2 on the back. What used to take 7 pages of print now takes 1.5 – cutting my paper consumption down by nearly 80%. Teachers Pay Teachers has piles of lesson plan templates – go explore!

Alternatively, you could go all digital – I investigated the idea of an online lesson planning software or even just using Google Docs to type my lessons and transfer them to my iPad’s Google Drive. Explore, and see what’s best for you – I’m still a tactile person that wants to write my lessons by hand, so the smaller lesson plan is working best for me right now.

4. Go digital as often as possible.

In addition to the idea of digital lessons, what about switching your tests and quizzes to a digital version? If you’re not feeling super tech-savvy with using Google Forms to take musical tests with adding pictures of melodic or rhythmic patterns, you can at least start with a performance evaluation that is digital. I made this for my 1st graders, and I was shocked at how easy it was for them to sit down at one of my iPads and take it while we watched our video performance after the program. I set up my 5 classroom iPads at my desk and had five students at a time come over and take the test – they were done within 1-2 minutes and only had to type in their name. This eliminated 450-some performance evaluation copies each year – and each year I read through them and then trash them, so why continue to throw away resources when I can have all the responses digitized, interpreted, and stored on Google?

Visit Google forms to build and experiment, or click here to visit my 1st grade performance assessment.

5. Re-examine student portfolios.

When I first started teaching I wanted to keep track of everything my students did on paper in their very own folders. I had visions of beautiful, crips folders containing their work throughout the year that would awe and wow parents when it was sent home…ha. This dream instead resulted in bulging and overflowing crates of folders that we would forget to keep updated. I didn’t use worksheets as often as I thought I would, so our portfolios weren’t very impressive. So why do I still have them? There’s nothing wrong with sending any of their work immediately home or hanging it in the hallway to show off to their classmates, and it will make the few paper copies they will use that much more special knowing they will be featured.

6. Switch to all natural cleaners and get rid of hand sanitizer.

Not only does the antibacterial sanitizer not truly kill all the germs (why do doctors wash their hands rather than just use sanitizer spray?), they are very bad for the beneficial bacteria in your body. Your body needs certain kinds of bacteria to fight off the bad bacteria (illness, autoimmune diseases, cancer), and antibacterial products don’t discriminate. Encourage your students to wash their hands rather than just rub down with sanitizer.

7. PURGE the unnecessary.

I’ve done so much work to clean and purge every single year I’ve been teaching. Early on, I was making the mistake of printing everything I thought looked fun or interesting…only to have it stack up in my file cabinets. I spent some time during conferences going through and sorting my cabinets, pulling them apart and recycling everything I hadn’t touched in at least two years. While the damage has already been done by having printed the copies, I can start to eliminate the practice to print automatically and second-guess where and how I’m going to store the random worksheet or newest poster I found.

By taking time to purge your classroom of unnecessary supplies, broken instruments, old and outdated curriculum, resources that are falling apart, missing game pieces, broken CDs, and more, you can also start to take away the need to buy more plastic storage containers or sorting bins. Use only what you need – it declutters your classroom and your mind, keeps your dollars in your pocket, and reduces the amount of petroleum products that are living and breathing in your room. There’s nothing that says your desk can’t still be untidy time to time, but you’d be surprised at how calm you’ll feel knowing what’s truly inside your deepest cabinets and hiding under your shelves and knowing that those items are there for a reason and that they have a purpose.

It’s Time for a Sale!

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 3.32.57 PM.png

As some of you may know, I have a small-but-growing Teachers Pay Teachers store for which I’ve spent quite a bit of time building products. I’ve been recently updating some of my older files and adding a bunch of composition worksheets, since composing and improvising is something I’m really striving to include more of in my own classroom. To say thank you for my supporters, I’ve decided to throw a 15% off sale, Thursday 3/23 through Sunday 3/26! 

Here is a preview of some of my new and updated items, including some sugary-sweet peeps for Easter!

 

“May I Have This Dance?”

Happy Monday…or shall I say, happy that Monday is over? Our day at school had its ups and downs – we had the full moon at our backs, we’re wrapping up a 3-day weekend, and this is the week before spring break. Tonight, however, I’m choosing to focus on the joy we experienced today – my 4th graders rocked at the grand left and right in one of our folk songs and some of my students started using my break corner with great success. Plus, my students really enjoyed our shamrock improvisation activities! I’m realizing how important it is to put me as the human, not as the teacher, first and to focus on the positives. 

f3e5d81a48909ad8b5861a3b42222b50

Every day, I face students who thrive and students who need that extra boost, as well as students who make every direction and activity difficult, and I find that these kiddos cloud my thoughts in the midst of the joy I am trying to find. For a variety of reasons, students who are oppositional or defiant can turn our lessons upside down and wrench our control away in a heartbeat, and its so frustrating to not know how to help them (or not hand them the exact ammunition to pull you to pieces) and lose face with my students in an attempt to reckon with them. Today, I received an email from our school social worker with this intervention document attached, and I wanted to share it with you, because I spent the next half an hour memorizing it!

“May I Have this Dance? Effective Interventions for Oppositional and Defiant Students”  presented by Sharon Blanchard MS, LPS and Dr. Jeanie Johnson

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 7.59.12 PM

I’ve already used several of these tactics with some of my most difficult students, and I have found them to be incredibly effective. This document not only talks about why students are (and got to be) defiant, but it provides ways to navigate issues with students for when they say, “This is stupid,” “You can’t make me,” or try to push all of your buttons. What I also love is that it discusses how you can make things unintentionally worse and how to develop conversation tools to deepen your relationship with the child. This is a treasure trove – I hope it will help you like I think it will help me unlock some of my toughest students. 

Improvising Shamrocks

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 1.39.14 PM

I can’t go to Dollar Tree anymore.

I end up walking out with piles of craft foam shapes, treat baggies, stress balls, decorations, storage bins and a thinner wallet anytime I go there. I purchased some shamrock shapes at least two years ago and hadn’t come up with an idea for them yet, so I put them to use with some improvising practice this past week.

My 4th graders just learned eighth-two sixteenths – “ta-dimi” we call it – and we are in the process of introducing some improvising methods to my second graders, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone with this activity.

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 1.38.23 PM

I took four shamrocks at a time and created beat charts – I chose to laminate them because the sparkles on some of the shamrocks got everywhere, though is did make the charts a little warped in some cases. We paired these with dice I made on foam blocks – I made one set with quarter note, two eighth, four sixteenth, and eighth-two sixteenth and another set that just had quarter note, two eighth, and quarter rests for my 2nd graders.

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 1.38.45 PM

In groups, the activity started as a way to practice clapping rhythms. One student would roll the dice, arrange them in the pattern of their choosing on the board, and clap the pattern before passing it on to the next student. But after a while, I’d take one dice away, and then the assignment changed – it was time to improvise! The last beat, now blank, would be filled in with a rhythm of that student’s choosing. After a few minutes of getting comfortable improvising one beat, then we could take two dice away and improvise two beats. Continuing this process, we can wade in to the deep, scary side of improvising slowly and get used to the water rather than just demand the students to make music on the spot in front of their classmates.

We’ll continue using these beat charts this week and adding some Irish folk dancing and games to wrap up before spring break, and a couple of grades will do a “write the room” activity where they have to hunt around the room for flashcards I’ve hidden and copy them on a worksheet. Hopefully the spring weather will warm up and help the trees be as green as our classroom before St. Patty’s day!