VIP Student Area

VIP Student Area

Do you ever feel like your students, that do everything they are supposed to day and in and day out, never quite get the recognition that they deserve? Do you wish you had a new approach to motivating those that struggle? Well, then a VIP student program may be just the thing for you!

I first heard of this idea from a blog called Life in Fifth Grade, who got the idea from Rachel Lamb (The Tattooed Teacher). Leslie (the author of Life In Fifth Grade) set up her VIP area midyear and offers great advice. I especially love the way she built anticipation for it by cordoning off the section of the classroom she intended to use for it ahead of time.  I think this really helps with student by-in and excitement!

If you are thinking of having a VIP program in your classroom, here are the best tips for setting it up for success. To begin with, think about what it means to be VIP.  My husband and I often attend business conferences and always try to upgrade to VIP. For us, this means special seating, a meet and greet with the speaker, meals provided, and special areas marked VIP only, like a VIP lounge with snacks and a separate restroom.  We have a special designation on our conference badge and often get to check in earlier than others.  We have even gotten “swag bags” with stuff regular attendees don’t get. I kept all these things in mind when I was thinking of how I would structure a VIP area in a classroom.

First, decide what criteria students must meet in order to be designated VIP, as well as how long VIP lasts.  Every classroom will be slightly different, but one rule of thumb is to make all of your criteria measurable. For example, “Be kind to everyone” is a great goal, but difficult to measure, whereas “No marks on the clipboard” or “No red dojo points.” Is easily measurable, with no room for argument. Explain to the students that not everyone is guaranteed to be designated a VIP.  It must be earned and it can also be taken away. Also share how long students will be allowed to be designated VIP.  Again, this is completely up to each teacher. For some, it will be for a week; for some a day; for still others, a longer period but maybe students only sit in the designated area during certain times, like writer’s workshop or math or whatever you decide. Again, these are individual classroom decisions based on what is best for the circumstances of that class. Remember, this is a huge privilege reserved for those students who demonstrate exemplary behavior. Once you decide on what the criteria will be, publicly post it and let everyone know what is expected.

Second, make a special area of the room designated strictly for those VIP students.  Maybe a special table or seating area.  You don’t have to go out and buy anything major, just use the desks or tables you already have and make it special by decorating that table with a tablecloth, balloons, table signs, confetti, streamers, you name it.  You might want to get chair covers for your chairs also—the possibilities are endless! I would also put a swag bag for each student filled with special supplies, stickers, and a small treat. There would be a VIP caddy of special supplies like smelly markers, colorful pens, and fancy pencils—anything out of the ordinary.

Third, have a bulletin board where your criteria are posted but also serves as a special place to recognize those that have achieved this distinction. There are also many ways to let students know that they have been selected.  Leslie’s students are one to one, so she sends out an email to the students that are designated VIP.  Since I taught younger students and we were not one to one, I would make an announcement at our morning meeting.

Besides a special place to sit, special tools, and recognition on a bulletin board, some other ways to celebrate your VIP’s is to give them a badge to wear and send a letter, email or call home to let parents know that their child has been picked as a class VIP. Another option is if your school does some sort of announcements, it can be shared with the whole school that way. VIP’s might also get certain privileges, like the first to line up (or last if it is recess!)

The possibilities really are endless for this program, and every classroom will be unique in how they approach it. I have created a VIP kit for you that has table signs, badges, announcement cards, and a sample parent letter to help you get started.

Comparison is The Thief of All Joy

Comparison is The Thief of All Joy

All during the month of March on my social media channels, the focus was on #makeitpersonal, a campaign I decided to start after an experience I had with my daughter and her school. The focus was on seeing that every child feels safe, comfortable, accepted and welcome in the classroom. As March comes to a close, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to teachers as well. Yes, it is important to build community, see students as individuals, but what about the teachers? They are an important part of the school equations, and we have to build school community among staff and also within the broader teacher community itself. It is so important for teachers to build each other up, help each other out, support and be there for each other. We cannot fall into the trap of comparison.

My friend Rachel Perry has an amazing podcast called Making the Leap, and when I heard her episode about comparison being the thief of all joy, I couldn’t help but relate it to teachers, and new teachers especially. Rachel shared a story of being newly married and wanting children right away, then feeling very upset and jealous when she would get Christmas cards from other friends who had already started their families.  She talked about feeling inferior and referenced the famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about the fact that no one can make us feel inferior without our permission. This is so true.

WE are the ones who decide that whatever it is that they have (and we don’t) makes us inferior—no one else can do that.  If you focus on what they have (and you don’t), nothing good can come from that because it begets negative energy and then you get stuck in that negative space. She reminded us that we need to focus on our story and our truth and where it is that we are going. This spoke to me so much, I am surprised I didn’t wreck my car!! (I was listening as I was driving to work).

When I first started teaching, over 25 years ago, there was no social media, but there was a Sue Strauman, a Debi Cunningham, and a Phyllis Pederson. Now, if you don’t teach where I teach, those names might not ring a bell, but if you do; well, then, you know EXACTLY who I am talking about. Sue, Debi, and Phyllis were the respective “rock star” teachers in the three buildings I taught in. You know the ones—the teacher everybody wants, that have gorgeous classrooms, cool learning experiences, and killer class management skills.  If I had allowed myself to compare where I was when I met each of them, I would always feel defeated and unworthy. But if I learn from them, and glean all the golden nuggets of education that I can from their experience, then that is a different story.

And, now you, my dear early career educator who is just within those first few years of teaching, you have so much more pressure—you have your school’s rock star (every school has one) but also all the teacher social media communities hurling hundreds (if not thousands) of new, beautiful images and stories every day.  All I have to do is open Instagram and I can feel this. I have taught for over twenty- five years and have more than a few tricks up my sleeve, but I don’t have to get very deep in my newsfeed before I see teachers that are seemingly teaching circles around me. There again, our mindset comes into play. If we look at it from the perspective of “Oh wow, they are so amazing… why didn’t I come up with that lesson, decorate that space, design that cool resource, (fill in the blank with a dozen other possible things),”  we will always come up short.  However, if we flip the switch and think, “That’s a great idea. I could make (this tweak) or (that change) and it could really help me with (whatever classroom issue it addresses),” we go from negative comparison energy to positive growth energy. We have to use what we see on social media and our own colleagues as advisors not benchmarks for where we should be at that moment. Don’t try to make someone’s else’s story your story, because all too often we are comparing our beginning to someone else’s middle or even final chapters. Because here is the thing, no matter how much we admire and try to emulate someone else, our story will never be the exact same because we have different behavior issues, curriculum challenges, and administrative mandates so comparison is futile. Learn, ask for advice, observe, or in the case of social media, follow, comment, post questions, but don’t ever compare. As the saying goes, “You do you, boo.”

Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting

Morning meeting is one of my nonnegotiable times of the day. It is also one of my favorite times of the day! I don’t know of any other block of time in our schedule that accomplishes so much:

  • All 6 of the language arts (reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and visually representing)? Check.
  • Social/Emotional Learning (SEL)? Check.
  • Routines, rules and procedures? Check.
  • Community building? Check.

If you ask me, that is a pretty powerful 20-30 minutes! There are many ways to run your morning meeting. If you are just starting out, I highly recommend The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. That was the book that started it all for me. There are so many great, helpful tips in this book. There are also dozens and dozens of other bloggers extolling its praises. Everyone does things just a little bit differently, so I am going to share what has worked best for me.

My morning meeting consisted of Greeting, Share, Activity, Schedule, Rules and then I wrapped it up by picking our “lucky duck.” Other people also do News and Announcements, where the teacher handwrites or projects a message about the day’s events; Reflection, where students reflect on their learning; Poems; Singing/saying a class song or motto; Exercise or movement (GoNoodle is great for this); Reviewing behavior expectations and/or learning targets for the day; or Mindfulness/Yoga. The possibilities are endless! You have to decide what will give you the most bang for your buck and meet the needs of your students. For me, the routine listed above did just that.

Before I ever began morning meeting, I taught the procedure we would follow. This step is crucial no matter what you are trying to implement. Kids need to know what is expected of them to be successful. So we take each component on its own at the beginning of the year and teach the routine and procedure specifically. For example, I started by teaching the way we would begin the meeting each day. I called the students one table at a time to hang their things up and go to the carpet. Then I showed them how to sit (we sat in a circle around the perimeter of our carpet—and I sure enough did use those words, so now we can add math to the list of standards met during this time!). I explained that although we normally sit in our assigned squares, for this time of day, they would get to choose where they sat as long as it was a good choice (and we discussed what “a good choice” meant in this instance as well). We also went over how to sit on the carpet and do whole body listening. I used the “Criss-Cross Applesauce” song by Harry Kindergarten to review exactly how they should sit. We talked about the fact that morning meeting is a time when we could feel free to share our ideas without fear that anyone will laugh or think they are silly. I let students know that participation was voluntary (but it isn’t long before they are all participating in some way!) We discussed how they would respond (each section is different) and that it is important to always treat each other with kindness and respect. Then I began teaching the components of morning meeting we would use.

The first part for me is the greeting. This is when students greet one or more students depending on which greeting you choose. To begin with, I simply have one student turn to the one next to them and say “Good morning, __________.” Eventually we add a wave, a high five or some other gesture, but we build slowly. It is important for kids to feel comfortable with one step before moving on to another. There are lots of greeting ideas in The Morning Meeting Book, and I am working on a comprehensive product for my ‘teachers pay teachers’ store that will have many of them listed.

Next, is sharing time. This can also be done in many different ways. I typed all of my student’s names in a two column chart and just used a clothespin on the first and last student to share. We picked about 4-6 per day so that everyone had the chance to share once during the week. I let them share anything that they wanted to. Very rarely did I have to cut a student’s time off, but I did have the occasional chatty Cathy that would talk all morning if I let them! This was a great way to get to know the children as individuals. Another option would be to pick a discussion topic and let everyone contribute their idea on that topic.

Next was an activity. For my class, I loved using the Chit Chat Messages from Deanna Jump. These were a perfect ELA review for my kiddos, and I had enough to last almost the entire year. She has several versions available in her TpT store. Sometimes, I would do sight word review or listen to an alphabet song (Jack Hartmann has lots of great options on his YouTube Channel!).

Finally, we would go over the schedule for the day. When I first came to my school, we studied the work of Ruby Paine in high poverty schools (mine is about 80% low socioeconomic status) and one of the things that was stressed was the need for a visual schedule. Many times children of poverty live in homes with much randomness to their day, so providing them with the step-by-step plan of how our school day will unfold helps them understand planning and routine and allows them to feel in control of what will be coming next. I had a pocket chart with all of our daily activities with picture cues listed, and trust me, they noticed right away if something new popped up on our board!

To wrap up our meeting, we would go over the rules. I used Whole Brain Teaching rules, which have gestures to accompany them. We would stand and say the rules and then I would pick our class helper (we called them the lucky duck because everyone wanted to be chosen!) and begin the rest of our day.

Morning meeting looks different in every classroom, but I think if you try it, you will find it becomes one of your favorites too!

Interested in hearing a bit more? Check out my Facebook Live here.
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Make It Personal

Make It Personal

My favorite movie of all time is “You’ve Got Mail.” One of the best scenes in the movie is when Meg Ryan’s character is sick and at home just after her store has closed, aka put out of business, by Tom Hanks’ character. He tries to cheer her up and says, “It wasn’t personal,” to which Meg launches into how it was personal to her and “Whatever anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” While I realize it wasn’t her purpose in the movie, truer words were never spoken about a classroom. And I am making it my mission to help transform classrooms into more personal spaces for children. This one is personal to me, so fair warning this post is a bit longer than normal, but I hope you will hang with me to the end. I promise it is worth it. (Alternatively, you can watch the Facebook Live I did on this topic here.)

“Personal spaces” can have many different meanings, but for this discussion, I mean making classrooms a place where students feel heard and are recognized as individual people, with all their unique abilities, quirks, and needs. This philosophy stems from events in my own life, both as a teacher and a parent. I have a daughter that has struggled in school since she started. She was diagnosed with ADHD in the second grade. This was also the year I met my husband and we married when she was in fourth grade, so from third to fourth, I blamed the school struggle on the changes with our family. Immediately after we got married, I began a second and then a third job, so then I blamed it on being busy. I knew there was more I could be doing, but I just didn’t have the time. Plus, as a teacher I know how much is already on a teacher’s plate, and I definitely didn’t want to be THAT parent. I talked with the principal of the school as she was transitioning to junior high, and she felt like that was the missing piece—our effort. She also stated as a private, parochial school, there was a bit more leeway on the accommodations that could be given without a formal plan if they were truly needed. This appeased me for the moment, because I felt my daughter could still receive support at school and I wouldn’t have to be Ms. Bad Guy adding more work to the overstressed teachers. I was spending at least 60 hours a week in my own classroom in a high poverty school which was an extremely stressful environment, so I felt very strongly about not making more work for her teachers. So that was sixth and seventh grade.

At the beginning of eighth grade, I changed jobs. I left the classroom to teach at a local university. My work hours were cut by almost half that first semester, and she started off fairly strong. She knew herself that effort on her part was going to be a huge component, and I was proud of the gains she was making. However, it wasn’t very long into the school year that she started slipping again. This time though, I really felt like we were doing what we could, and I was getting very nervous about high school which was looming large at only a few short months away. Her pediatrician had always advised me to get a 504 plan for her, but again, I knew it would be adding to a teacher’s workload and so I always hesitated. I knew if she was going to have any chance of success in high school, we NEEDED one, so I called for a meeting with the new principal (her school has had five principals in her time there). She and the one resource teacher for the school (K-8) and I sat down to talk about my concerns and how to move forward. Again, the issue of Ellie’s efforts came up. I explained that while I definitely felt that was an issue, there was more to the story. It was late in the day, so we agreed for the resource teacher to do some more investigating and then we’d go from there.

In the meantime, I got more confused. On the one hand, my daughter would forget things, not turn in homework and need a million reminders. On the other, there were subjects that we studied, studied some more and then a little more after that, but she still couldn’t get her grades up. To me, it made the situation all the more confusing, because like most people, I was trying to figure out who’s “fault” all these things were. Somebody had to be the one responsible, right?

Several weeks passed, and I finally get an email from the resource teacher. It was fairly lengthy but boils down to “We aren’t doing anything else here on our end until she shows more responsibility and effort.” I about lost my mind. I was absolutely at my wit’s end at what to do! So, I did what every mom does—locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes to gather my thoughts in peace. I was really trying to put myself in her shoes and understand what might be going on in her mind; what could be the explanation for these issues. And that is when I remembered when my father used to question me about things, I would just get nervous and say, “I don’t know,” because I was afraid of him being angry with me. And, as much as I am ashamed to admit, plenty of that anger was now bubbling up inside of me. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind not to give in to that emotion, but instead have her come sit with me, in a private conversation, to get to the bottom of things. Since her go-to answer was always “I don’t know” I told her that no matter what she said, she wouldn’t be in trouble for being honest. Then I proceed to ask her why specific issues were happening. And for every. single. one. she had a completely plausible answer. She just never thought she could tell her teachers about these things. It was an extremely tearful, but enlightening experience.

After we talked, it hit me that I had probably done the same things as a teacher. I’d just assumed a kid was unmotivated or more interested in other things besides school. While I firmly believe there are people out there that are lazy and unmotivated, I think it is definitely the exception and not the rule. Far more often, it is that they are like my daughter—a kid who stopped trying when it just became too difficult to keep it up.

I have never wanted a magic wand to go back in time more in my life than I did in that moment—not just for my daughter but for all the kids I hadn’t tried hard enough for. But that is impossible, and I am now left to do what is possible—make a plan to move forward. I have a plan for my daughter and will be bringing it to her school when the time is right, but what about everyone else? I can’t go back and reteach those students I slighted, but I can use that experience to help new teachers (and even ones who have been at it as long as me—I’m proof that it is never too late) not fall into the same traps. Taking my cue from Meg’s character in “You’ve Got Mail” again, and believing that whatever else our classrooms are, they ought to begin by being personal, I am going to share every tip, strategy and idea I can to help teachers get to know their students as real people, not just another body in a seat that needs a grade assigned to them at the end of the term. What makes them tick? What do they like? What do they dislike? What fires them up? What drags them down? I want classroom environments to be a place where every student feels heard and welcome. That instead of labelling or writing off a child, we take the time to dig a little deeper, go a little further and truly understand that child.

To that end, I am proposing three strategies you can take into your classroom tomorrow that don’t require any prep, and the only materials you truly need are two listening ears, but will pay huge dividends in building the community that facilitates learning and growth for all children.

Tip #1—Morning Meeting/Class Wrap-up. I am a huge proponent of starting every day with a morning meeting. I tried to be as diligent with a class wrap-up but wasn’t as successful. If I were still in the classroom, I would definitely be making time for it knowing what I know now. My morning meeting consisted of some type of greeting, sharing time, an activity, and then going over our schedule/learning targets for the day. If you are truly starting this tomorrow and that feels overwhelming to you, just start with share time. As I mentioned before, all you really need for this activity is two listening ears. If you don’t feel like you have time for everyone to share, pick a few volunteers each day or create a schedule. I will be doing more blog posts on morning meetings in the future, but this is a great place to start.

Tip #2—Rose, Thorn, Bud. This is an activity I first saw on Edutopia, which is a fantastic website for teachers. It was just the rose and thorn in that article, however. A “rose” is something that makes you happy, that you are proud of, a celebration, etc. A “thorn” is something that is bothering you, or went wrong, or is upsetting you. This is a whole class discussion, and usually the teacher starts by modelling this with her own comments. So, for me, I might say, “My rose is that I got all the green lights on the way to work today and then a front row parking spot when I pulled up. My thorn is that it is super cold outside, and I don’t like winter.” Then each student in turn would share their rose and their thorn. At first, they will likely be superficial things like my sample, but over time, if this is done regularly, you will be amazed at what kids will open up to you about. When I did this with my college students, I had one student tell me that she did a similar activity as a camp counselor, but they added a “bud,” which is what are you most looking forward to tomorrow (they would do this at night, just before lights out), and they added the rule that you could do them in any order except to end with the thorn, so that they end on a positive note. I loved this addition and will use it this way going forward. I also loved that I learned it from a student. I think being open to suggestion and treating them as equals in this regard goes a long way to foster community as well, which in turn will lead to kids being more comfortable to share more personal things.

Tip #3—2 x 10 strategy. In this strategy, you pick a student and spend 10 minutes a day for 2 weeks just getting to know them. Talk about anything not school related—their hobbies, their interests, their extracurricular activities, whatever helps you to get to know that particular child. Ideally, you would do this with each student in their own turn, but if that seems overwhelming, start with the kiddo that is a tough nut to crack, so to speak—that kiddo that seems to be having a hard time, but you just can’t put your finger on why.

Hopefully, these strategies will put you well on your way to establishing and maintaining a “personal” classroom. I’ll be sharing a different strategy to #makeitpersonal every weekday in March on my social media channels, and I would love for you to join the conversation, because kids deserve it!

Side Hustle for Teachers

Side Hustle for Teachers

Many teachers, for various reasons, end up with a “side hustle,” or second job. I have had one for pretty much my entire teaching career. For me, the main reason has always been financial, whether it was when I was single and just starting out or even now when I am married and near the top of the pay scale for my district. When I was single, I was the so-called “breadwinner” and it was strictly my income that was paying the bills. Now that I have a family, there is more income, but definitely more expenses also! Who else out there feels like they might be paying the orthodontist’s kids tuition with their kids’ crooked teeth? Plus, all of my three children are involved in extracurricular activities and not a one of them is free! Money isn’t the only reason people look for a second job—some do it as a hobby that generates income or as an opportunity to meet new people and perhaps help others. Others want to build their savings, add a cushion for the summer months if they don’t get paid or pay off debt. For still others, they see it as a chance to sharpen their skills in a different environment. Some people are thinking of making a career change, or want to explore other interests, but want to just go “part-time” at first.

So, if you fall into one of those categories, there are three main ways you can make extra income while still keeping your teaching job:
1) Traditional part-time jobs like working in a retail store
2) Direct Sales or Network Marketing
3) Web-based opportunities

Traditional part-time jobs are great for those that want to get out and meet new people. Often, stores hire extra help for certain busy times of the year (such as Christmas), so it is a great option if you only want to work for a short while; for example, to get some extra cash for a trip or to pay off a bill. Another benefit is that you often get a discount at that store–but be careful with that! Sometimes, that “discount” can cost you more in the long run if you are buying lots of items you may or may not need—not that I would know anything about that! ?

The second option is direct sales, and the good news is that there is one for just about every area of interest now, whether it be clothing, crafting, essential oils, health and fitness, makeup – you name it! I have been involved with three different direct sales companies over the years. All were excellent and very reputable companies, and, in fact, I am still a presenter for Younique now. For me, it is about earning the products for free or at a discount. I am trying to build my business a little more, because starting next year, I will have tuition payments to make myself, and want to use the income from that to offset that cost. Others, however, go all in, and are able to retire from teaching to work from home full time. Not everyone is a big fan of network marketing though, so it can be tough to get through to some who have a negative connotation for what it is you do. The upside is that you can set your own hours and decide how much or how little you want to work towards earning.

Finally, many teachers are moving toward web-based side jobs more than ever before. Websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Etsy allow you to market your creations to their audience for a fee. But that is far from the only way to make money online. You can teach a course, either through a platform like Udemy or Skillshare, or one you design yourself from scratch (just a heads up—that is something I have in the works for this summer myself so stay tuned here for updates and information!) Another option is doing online surveys or test scoring. You could do online tutoring or ESL teaching. Some people are able to make a profit from their blog. If you are looking for something outside of education, you could be a virtual assistant (VA) or a freelancer designing blogs or logos for instance. The possibilities really are endless!

Obviously, there are many good reasons to get a side hustle as a teacher, but we have to look at the drawbacks as well. Will the additional income be worth the time away from your family? What about implications to health and fitness? There are still only 24 hours in a day, and if you are working most of them, what healthy habits are you sacrificing? Eating well? Exercise? Sleep? The tradeoff may not be worth the toll on your health. And finally, could your second job get in the way of your job performance as a teacher? If you are still relying on that as your main source of income, you don’t want to take the chance of jeopardizing that position.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Hopefully, I have presented some information here to help you make an informed decision whichever way you choose! Do you have a side hustle? Shout it out in the comments below!

6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

When it comes to productivity, I was not always the greatest at managing my time well. I’d often find myself at school at 6:30 PM and feel like I had nothing to show for the three hours that had passed since school was over.  I knew I need to make a change, so I sought out blog articles and turned to Pinterest to help me.  Here are the things that worked best for me, and hopefully, they will help you too!!!


Whenever you are trying to develop a system for more productivity, I think the best thing to do is start with what I call a “Big Picture Breakdown.”

By this, I mean for you to think of the period you are trying to plan for—it could be a school year, a month, a week or a day. Whatever it is, think of all the tasks you want to accomplish during this period, and do a “Brain Dump,” as my friend Tiffany aka Coach Glitter calls it. What you will do is set a timer, and just write.  Get all your ideas down and don’t worry about censoring yourself, putting them in order, etc. JUST WRITE! Chances are the list will be overwhelming, and that is ok.  Tell yourself you are probably not going to get to all of these things, but the list is there so you can make your best plan to accomplish as much as possible.


From that list, look for things that you can batch.

For example, if I have both copying and laminating items on my list, I would batch those two together because the copier and laminator are side by side in our teacher workroom, so it makes sense to do those things together.  Some other things I like to batch are:

  1. Lesson Prep
    I am one of those people that writes out my lesson plans for the entire upcoming week on Friday. If I over plan, which commonly happens, it is ok because I can just move the items to the following week or save them for emergency sub plans (more on that later.) Some people like to plan day by day, and for more novice teachers, that may be a better idea until you feel more comfortable with pacing and knowing your students’ needs. Whatever works for you is what is best—there is no hard and fast rule for any of this.
  2. Emails/phone calls
    I try to set aside time each day after school to go through emails or Class Dojo messages and make parent or other phone calls. It is a good idea to make this policy known to your parents at the very beginning of the year, so that they will understand that you won’t typically be responding to them during the day.  Therefore, if they have an urgent message, they would need to use another avenue for that (i.e. call the office, etc.)
  3. I was definitely one to batch cleanup.
    This certainly will not work for everyone.  I can think of several colleagues right away that would cringe just to read this, but for me, it worked.  One set period to tidy everything up at once just fit better with my personality, but again, you have to do what works for you!!!


Determine your best time to work and hold it sacred.

Everyone has their “Golden Hour” for productivity.  Some teachers prefer to get to school at 6-7 AM (we had an 8:30 start time), and work before most other teachers are there.  Others would roll in right on time but stay until dark.  Others work contract hours only but did several hours of work at home. For me, I did a little before and a little after.  This was mostly due to necessity, but I made it work for me.  My daughter’s drop-off time for her school was an hour earlier than mine.  This gave me several quiet minutes at school at the start of the day, and let me tell you, I was NOT above closing my door and working with the lights off to avoid interruption.  During this time, I made sure everything was ready and organized for the day, and if there was extra time, I would peek at email, but I often didn’t have time for much then, so it was primarily dealt with after school.

After school, I often had friends drop by to chat and it was just fine with me.  I could socialize and still put materials away, papers in mailboxes and any leftover cleanup tasks.  Then I would work on switching everything for the next day—schedule, paperwork, etc.  Finally, with the time I had left I would work on email, then any copies/laminating/other prep needed.  I rarely took things home to work on once I was married and definitely not after Ellie came along.  I wanted school time to be focused on school things, but home time to be family time. That is not to say I didn’t ever bring anything home, but it was often things that could be done without distraction, like laminating to cut while helping Ellie with homework, or easy papers to check that could be done quickly while she was doing something else.  There were many times I never touched my school bag once I crossed the threshold to my house, and that was fine too.  I always looked at whatever I got done at home as a bonus.


Set a routine and use a checklist.

Once you have determined a best practice for something, make a checklist or template and use it to help speed up a process.  For example, I have been blessed to have many wonderful volunteers in my classroom.  I had one parent that loved to work on displays and was very artistic.  I could tell her the basics of what I wanted, and she would create something beyond my wildest dreams—it really was a beautiful thing! ?

However, I had another parent that preferred to make copies and prep materials.  I made a template on the computer that I filled out and left with everything she needed the day before she came.  I had other volunteers from a program through the university that came to help tutor students who needed help in language arts or math.  I designated a red bin for language arts and a blue one for math.  I made a template for each area and had a folder for each tutor.  I put the directions in their folder and then placed that folder and any materials they needed in the correct bin. This way, they could come in and get started right away without having to ask me what needed to be done.  I downloaded a lesson plan template on my computer and used the same one every week to fill in my lesson plans electronically.  I only printed them out if I felt I needed them. I also had a template for sub plans.

I took some time at the beginning of the year to type up dismissal lists, children who left the room for some type of intervention, a daily schedule, etc. and then put them all in a sub binder, so that all I had to do was fill in the lesson template, grab the materials, and put them all together.  I also had a green bin that I put worksheets we didn’t get to in (I told you we would come back to that!) and this was great for extra work in case the sub got through everything I had left with time remaining.  It rarely happened, but it was a comfort knowing he or she had plenty to do if need be.


This should probably be the very first one I listed!

Seriously, there is always far more to do than can ever be done as a teacher, and even more so if you try to do it all yourself.  Sure, there will be some things only you can do—lesson planning and report cards come to mind—but there is far more that you can let go of.  As I mentioned before, I always utilized volunteers when I could.  If you are fortunate enough to have a student teacher, they will have to have tasks delegated to them, and it is never too early to start.  And let’s not forget about the kids! Even in all my years in kindergarten, I always had plenty of jobs that kids could do, often after the first few weeks of school.  I never passed a paper out after September 1st! There is plenty more that kids can do, of course, depending on their age.  It helps them feel a greater part of the community and makes everyone accountable for the success in the classroom.


My final tip is to utilize technology.

I am a huge believer in cross-age partners (I promise there will be a blog post on that soon!) and I remember working on a project with our fifth-grade buddies and hearing a timer go off.  My colleague had programmed timers in her phone to correspond with when students had to leave to see an interventionist or take meds, etc.

I love Class Dojo because that one thing takes care of so many tasks.  My printed newsletter went from weekly to monthly after beginning to use that app.  All the things I would normally send home each week – behavior reports and reminders—could easily be handled through features on Class Dojo.  I am sure there are dozens more, since technology is evolving all the time, but those were definitely my two biggest go-tos. I’d love to hear how you use technology to help you be productive in the classroom—leave them in the comments below! We can all help each other!

Let me end with this disclaimerby no means was my classroom ever perfect, but these six tips kept me pretty well on track most days, and I would call that a win!

Relationship Building 101

Relationship Building 101

Organization & Behavior

By now, most teachers have been in school for a while.  I did a Facebook live recently about problems/issues that tend to crop up at this time of the year.  You can watch that here. The two main issues that seem to be the most pressing for September (assuming an August start date for school) are organization and behavior. While I would never say I solved both issues with 100% success, I do think I have at least a few good insights for each one.  In my opinion, getting behavior under control is the most pressing of the two, so it is the one I decided to focus on first.


Two by Ten Strategy

One of my favorite behavior strategies is the two by ten (2 x 10 for short) strategy.  One of the reasons that I like it so much is that it is not some quick fix for “xyz” behavior problem (i.e. talking out, unkind to others, etc.) Rather, I see this as more of a preemptive move to help derail problems before they start.  The reason behind my feelings about this is because not only because it doesn’t address one specific behavior issue, but also because it is just good practice for all teachers.  I did a Facebook live on this strategy as well, but we were having some major technology issues that day, so I wanted to go into more detail here.


“No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.”

~ James Comer

One of the basic tennets of this strategy is based on a famous quote from James Comer that you’ll hear me say often—“No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” I believe this statement wholeheartedly.  Kids just won’t learn from people they don’t like.  Oh, they might get something here and there, but for true learning to take place kids must feel respected, at ease in their environment and engaged in the work we ask them to do.  This strategy helps with relationship building, which is a key factor for creating an environment kids can thrive in.


Do it 2 minutes a day for 10 days

The strategy is called 2 x 10 because you do it for 2 minutes per day for 10 consecutive days. You can pick one child, multiple children or your whole class.  Here is basically how it works: For two minutes a day, you have a conversation with the child about anything non-school related you can.  You could talk about their hobbies, their interests, their family, or what they watched on TV last night—anything that helps you get to know them as a person, most importantly who they are outside of school.  You repeat this activity for 10 consecutive days. At that time, you can decide to move on to a different student (or group of students) or stay with the same child. I think this decision will be based on the results that you get in that first round.

For some kids, it is going to take several rounds of practicing this strategy before they feel comfortable taking risks (which is essential to learning) in the classroom.  Other kids will warm up quickly and be right at home in your classroom.  Only your professional judgment can determine how much to interact with a child.  The 2 x 10 strategy is not a magic formula, but rather a guideline to help you as you get to know your students.  Some kids will need significantly more interaction, and some will want less.  You will be amazed at how well you can get to know your students in just this short time.  There are plenty of opportunities in the day to squeeze in two minutes: arrival, dismissal, waiting in line, restroom breaks, going into lunch, during center time; really this list is endless and up to each individual teacher.


Leave a comment

If you try this strategy, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below to let us know how it went.

Nailing Your Teacher Interview

Nailing Your Teacher Interview

It all starts with this—nailing your teacher interview. Get this right, and you are on your way to a new career. Bomb it, and well, it’s hello retail–at least that is what happened to me after I graduated from college. I ended up working at Lerner and The Limited (popular women’s clothing stores at the time) for a year after I first graduated instead of getting a teaching position. In the end, everything happened the way it was supposed to, but it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. On the flip side, the year I interviewed at my current school, I had multiple offers. Whenever we are lucky enough to be called for an interview, we want to do our best, of course. Here are my top tips to help you to just that.

Dress for Success

The first thing we need to tackle is dress code. Like it or not, there is definitely a very distinct dress code for interviews. Messy buns and yoga pants just won’t cut it, much as I wish they would! When I had my first interview, over 25 years ago, you had two choices—navy suit or black suit. I am so glad that times have changed! A suit, for men and women, is still a viable option but now a dress or tailored pantsuit will work for ladies.

For men, a button down shirt and tie (no polos) is acceptable too. We have several openings in my school for the upcoming year, and I have yet to see any candidate come in a suit. I would say this even goes for the guys. If you are unsure, I would still err on the side of caution. I think it is much better to be too formal than too informal. For the ladies, hair, makeup and jewelry should all be understated. When you are on the interview circuit, it is not the time to have bold, trendy makeup or a giant statement piece of jewelry. For men, be sure there are no wrinkled shirts or crooked ties. Obviously, this is not earth shattering advice, but as the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so these are all things that must be considered.

Once your look is on fleek (as my daughter would say), then it is time to get your head in the game. It’s an interview, so naturally, there are going to be questions—ideally, both to you and from you. Never let the opportunity go by to ask a question of your interviewer, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Common Interview Questions

Some common questions in a teacher interview are no different than any other interview—tell us about yourself, what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses, etc. However, in a teacher interview, you should also expect to be asked about your philosophy of education, what your behavior management style is, and how you would involve parents in the classroom. It is best to prepare your answers to these types of questions ahead of time. If possible, get a friend to practice with you, because often what sounds completely intelligent and spot-on in your head, can come out a jumbled mess when you are actually saying the words out loud. It’s only worse when you are nervous and the pressure is on to do well, so prepare as much as possible before going in to the interview

One of the hardest questions in any interview is always “What is your greatest weakness?” If you are too hard on yourself—for example, “I am really working on my punctuality, but I’m still chronically late to everything!”, you likely blow any chance of ever talking to that interviewer again, but if you answer something like, “I am totally OCD! I have to have everything just in its perfect place,” then you haven’t answered much better.

While true obsessive compulsive disorder (or any other type of mental illness for that matter) is nothing to joke about, having an organized classroom is the goal of every principal for every classroom, so it’s really not something that would be a true weakness. Here is how I answered that question, and it definitely seemed to resonate with my interviewers: “I often struggle with exactly how much support to give students. I don’t want to give too much support, because I definitely believe in fostering independence, but I also don’t want them to struggle unnecessarily and feel frustrated either.” This truly is a dilemma many teachers face, and a weakness in the sense that it is something you should work on to improve, but not something so awful it would blow the interview. The caveat to this is that it must be true for YOU.

As great as my advice or anyone else’s may be on how to answer interview questions, if they don’t apply to you, they are worse than no answer at all. In general, think back to issues you may have had in any of your classroom experiences (student teaching, volunteering, etc.) and see if you can word it in such a way so as to show that it is something you recognize you need to change, and how you are going about doing just that.

A Child Centered Approach

As far as the other questions go about your philosophy, behavior and parents, these are going to be unique to each person. Only you can explain what your teaching philosophy is, but I think most administrators want to hear that it is a child-centered approach and that you believe in differentiation for your lessons. A one size fits all approach with the teacher just spewing information to students just doesn’t cut it in today’s education climate. Again, though, whatever you say needs to be true to you—don’t just pick a few education buzzwords and throw them in a sentence that sounds good. If you talk the talk, you must be willing to walk the walk.

When it comes to behavior plans, if you had a positive student teaching experience, then you could mention that your cooperating teacher did xxxxx program/idea/etc. and say that you feel that would be what you are planning to try also. If you disagreed with your cooperating teacher’s plan, then you will have to research other ideas. Personally, my all-time favorite classroom management tool is Class Dojo, but you will have to do your own research to see what seems manageable for you.

Involving Parents

I’ll be doing another blog post soon all about parents and how to involve them, but in general, some good answers would be that you have an open door policy and that you plan to do specifically xxxxx (Class dojo, Remind, weekly newsletters, a class Instagram account, etc.—whatever you think will work for you) to keep parents informed. Getting parents on your side will be a key factor to your success and having a clear plan for how you intend to do that will go a long way towards winning over whoever might be interviewing you.

One other thing that must be mentioned is that very often in teacher interviews, you will interview with a panel. I have had a few interviews with just the principal of the school, but I have also interviewed with multiple principals at once because the job was a traveling position between three buildings in the same district. I have interviewed with a principal and one other teacher from the grade level, and I even interviewed once with a panel of about 5 teachers and then the principal by himself. That was extremely nerve wracking, but practicing with friends and knowing what I would be facing up front helped a lot.


Another thing to consider is whether or not to bring a teaching portfolio. There are many schools of thought on this. Some people say absolutely bring it, and that it made all the difference. Others say don’t bother, because no one looks at them anyway. Still others say to have it available online and reference it in the resume and then bring it up in the interview. Every interview session is unique. There were plenty of times I didn’t have anything and the interview went just fine. Other times, I brought it and it basically sat in my lap. Still other times, administators or other panel members were very interested in it and it sparked great discussion.

My best advice is if you have one, by all means bring it along—you will know instinctively whether or not to bring it out. The worst that could happen is that you carry it in and leave it at your side, but it may just make all the difference in whether or not you are the candidate they choose. If you don’t have one, I wouldn’t stress about it—focus your time on practicing answers to probable questions first. I think that will pay off much more than a portfolio, but do what feels right to you.

Believe it or not, there is still plenty to say on this topic, including those questions you should ask your interviewer, so I will be back again tomorrow with more interview tips! I know no one likes to read a blog post that is a mini-novel, so I think it is best we wrap this one up right here. Until next time, thanks for reading and all the best to you!

An Introduction

An Introduction

So let’s start of with an introduction. My name is Michelle Martinez and I am married to love of my life, a truly amazing and talented chef, Manny. We are a blended family of one daughter (mine) and two sons (his). Our kids are 13, 13, and 11(almost 12). Having kids so close in age should be extra fun when we have 3 new drivers or 3 new college students all at the same time!! We adopted our gorgeous German Shepherd dog, Brinkley, one year ago to make our family complete.

I have been teaching for over 25 years. I graduated with my teaching degree in December 1991, subbed for a bit and then was called to interview for a position that had been created by some grant funding. I was hired to do Chapter 1 (now called Title) Math for 1st – 6th grades. Because it was a grant position, it was only for that semester, so after the school year wrapped up, I moved to a new city and worked in a preschool with 2-5 year olds. Before going to my current school, I taught in the town just over from my hometown for six years (plus some subbing). I taught first, fifth and fourth grade during my tenure there. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Reading and after graduating in May 2000, I made the move to my forever home of Bloomington, IL and Sheridan Elementary, where I currently teach. I call my classroom “My Happy Place.” I love that room so much for so many reasons, but classroom design and organization is one of my favorite topics, so look for plenty of posts on that! It is actually my seventh classroom in my school! I taught third grade for five years (in 3 different classrooms), fourth grade for seven years (2 different classrooms) and kindergarten for the last six years (1 classroom—I think I see a pattern here…). During all that time, I have had the privilege of helping many new colleagues, student teachers, clinical students and volunteers to grow and learn about the teaching profession. I am so excited to be able to share more here on this blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your greatest challenges are and what you would like to learn here.

That’s all for today…so happy to meet you and welcome to my little slice of the internet! My greatest wish is to be able to help you. I’ll be sharing my ideas for classroom management, curriculum, assessment, engagement, décor, and whatever else serves your needs. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself and let me know what your greatest challenges are so that we can work through them together!

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