Valentine’s Party

Valentine’s Party

It’s finally here–what is likely to be your last classroom holiday party of the school year.  Whenever you’re planning any classroom party, there are three main things that you need to take into consideration. You need to know your students, you need to know yourself, and you need to know your resources.

The first thing that is important when party planning is knowing your students. There are many factors to this–behavior, the age of your students, the interests of your students, and if you have any special needs to consider. An example of behavior you may want to consider would be if you have students who are really competitive and if they’re not first or the winner or whatever, then they get very upset–that’s something to keep in mind. You wouldn’t want to plan a party with several win/lose types of games, because that would be likely to backfire in that situation.

You may want to instead play non-competitive games or activities, so as not to set those particular students off, whereas if you have a group that can get along well and understand that there’s a time for everybody to be a winner, then you can have some of that element of competition in some of your games or activities.

Another example that you want to consider would be students who may be affected by increased noise level. Let’s face it, emotions and energy in general tends to ramp up on party days. And you may have some students who are really affected by that noise level. And therefore, their behavior is affected.

You might also have students who don’t particularly get along. So you might want to think about if you need to have activities where they’re in separate spots or where they are just not in the same group for doing stations. 

Also important to having the best classroom party possible would be taking into consideration their interests. This is one of those things that can be a little bit more difficult because oftentimes what one group is really into another group isn’t quite so fond of, but there are those rare times when student interests seem to go across the board. For example, early in my teaching career I taught fourth grade and the Harry Potter books were still fairly newish, (I know for sure the whole series hadn’t come out yet, so this was definitely many years ago) we had a Harry Potter themed party. And that was something my whole group of students that year really enjoyed.. 

The last thing to think about when it comes to knowing your students is thinking about any special needs you may have. These can vary widely, from learning or behavior challenges to food allergies to cultural differences. All of these will factor into your decision making about the party.

Since this is a Valentine party, you probably already have a couple of class parties for the year under your belt. And more than likely, unless you have some really new students, you’re probably pretty aware of these things, but it is important to be aware of their impact on the decisions you make about the class party.

The next thing to think about when you’re planning a class party, besides knowing your students, is to know yourself, and you’ve got to do what feels right for you. For example–are you a person that wants to control every single aspect of the party right down to the last detail? Or are you more laid back and perfectly fine with letting someone else come in and take over? Do you want your party to be very regimented and scheduled? Or are you fine with having it be more open and free flowing? Do you want the party to be your responsibility and parents just send things in, or do you want the parents to take it over– plan it, run it, bring in all the materials needed–that sort of thing. Do you want a big giant elaborate event or are you okay with a “Netflix and chill” kind of thing. (A little side note to that, some of you may have heard about the big brouhaha with Disney suing teachers for public performance of their movies at school events. Our media specialist has told us for years that using your personal Netflix or your personal Disney plus, or your personal DVDs, things like that, are all against copyright law, so I am using the term “Netflix and chill” strictly as a euphemism for laid back here)

We talked about students who can get upset with noise levels. Maybe you’re a teacher who gets upset with noise levels. You don’t like it really loud and boisterous and active. You want something more calm and quiet and orderly and directed.  It’s kind of like that old saying, if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy– but in this case it is if the teacher’s not happy, nobody’s going to be happy, right? If you’re miserable doing a class party, then the kids are going to feel that, and they’re not going to have as much fun either. Everyone has to do what feels right for their personal teaching style.

The third thing that you need to take into consideration are your resources. And in this case,the resources that you are probably going to be considering are the resources of time, money and parent participation. When thinking about time as it relates to a party–think about when  the party is going to happen. Is it your choice when you have the party or does the school decide the time?

When it comes to money, do you have a budget? Is there PTA money or classroom money that you can use for your parties? Or is it whatever you have, the parents or you are bringing in. If you do have parent support, how much is going to be your responsibility and how much is going to be parent responsibility for this party.

Finally, when it comes to parents, you have to think about how much do you want them to be involved? Do you want them to just send some things in, do you want them to come in and help, but you’ve planned it or do you want them to control the whole show?

There’s no one right answer. I can’t tell you, this is the perfect formula for having the best party ever because these three factors are going to vary, not only from teacher to teacher, but classroom to classroom in year to year. Every year, you’re going to have to make this decision and decide what you have in mind for parties is going to work for this particular class.

And I’ve done it many different ways, depending what works best for the class. I’ve had years where I’ve had fantastic parents who just had these brilliant ideas that were better than anything I could have done. And the kids loved it– just absolutely loved it. And it was their chance to be able to get into the classroom and do something that was their gift or their talent. And I’ve had other years where we didn’t even have a tray of cookies sent in, so it was all completely on me. And I’ve also been a room mom where it was expected that the room moms planned, purchased, ran, cleaned up everything, sent the invitations out, everything for the party. 

When you’re thinking about having the most successful party, I hope these tips have helped. And like I said, I’ll come back and talk a little bit more about some specifics for Valentine’s day so that you can have the best party ever. If you’re looking for the best place to get all the greatest tips and ideas for your classroom, consider joining our Facebook group,  Happy Classroom Collective. We’d love to have you join if you’re not already a member! 

National Day in June Summersgiving — A Fun Summer Celebration.

I think one of the best parts of The Teacher Success Club is the digital download for using National Days in the classroom. Since the Club is currently closed until next month, I wanted to share with you a fun National Day that is coming up quickly! This day was meant for teachers –it is an event that combines celebrating summer with the traditions of Thanksgiving. This has “teacher” written all over it!

The Saturday after the summer solstice has been officially declared a national day of “Summersgiving.” This year it falls on Saturday, June 25.  It originated in 2009, when Robert Solomon hosted a Thanksgiving themed bar-b-que.  He invited friends over to celebrate the summer season while also enjoying all of his favorite Thanksgiving foods and drinks. (Source:

On this national day in June, take time to gather with friends and/or family to celebrate the wonderful season of summer and all that you are grateful for. Summer is by far the best season (in my humble opinion) and this is a wonderful chance to get together with friends and family for a more laid-back celebration than its more popular counterpart coming up just a week later, the Fourth of July.  This day is about enjoying time with the people who mean the most to you, while enjoying delicious food and drinks.  Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Here are some ideas for what to serve: a recipe for a grilled turkey breast from my amazing chef husband, and a cranberry martini recipe that is also served at the restaurant he is the executive chef for. Enjoy!

Grilled Turkey Breast


  • 2 Tablespoons avocado oil
  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • ½ Tablespoon of cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of granulated garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon of granulated onion
  • 3 Pound skin-on turkey breast (should be fresh or completely thawed if it is frozen)

In a small bowl, combine the salt, pepper, garlic and onion. Next, unwrap the turkey breast and pat dry. Rub the whole turkey breast with avocado oil,  and then sprinkle the seasoning blend all around.

Place the turkey breast on a rack. Let it sit for a half hour until it reaches room temperature.

While that is resting, preheat the grill to 400 degrees.  Before putting the turkey breast on, clean off the grill – scrape it so that there are no other bits of food left on the cooking surface. If it is a gas grill, once the grill is heated, turn off one side of the grill to create a spot of indirect heat. If it is a charcoal grill, place the coals all on one side of the grill to create the same effect.

Once the grill is ready and the turkey has rested, place the turkey on the indirect heat side of the grill; skin side up. Cook it for about 10 minutes, then rotate it 45 degrees to create the grill marks, and cook for 10 more minutes.

After that is done, flip the turkey breast over to skin side down and cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate 45 degrees to create the grill marks again, and cook the turkey for 10 more minutes. Then flip it again–back to the skin side up and cook it until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees on your meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the breast. Once it reaches that temperature, remove it from the heat, place on a serving platter and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Cranberry Martini:

  • 1 ¼ oz Vodka
  • ¾ oz of Triple Sec or Cointreau
  • Splash of fresh lime juice
  • Splash of Cranberry juice (about one ounce)

Place all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until cold (about 10-15 shakes). Pour into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.  Enjoy!

Summersgiving is a fun, new celebration that I am so glad I found out about! Let me know if you celebrate this event as well and what you served at your feast! If you post pictures on Facebook or Instagram, be sure to tag me at Your Teaching Mentor. I’d love to see how you celebrated!

Happy Summer!

Earth Day

Earth Day

Next to Christmas and my birthday, my favorite day of the year is Earth Day!

I found out about it for the first time in college through a wonderful science methods professor that I had, Dr. John Beaver. Since then, I have always made a point to teach environmental awareness every day, but to also take time to celebrate Earth Day with some special activities.

Through the years of my teaching, we’ve cleaned up school grounds, planted trees, made landfill models and did a year long rainforest unit culminating in a giant replica rainforest with a fundraiser to save acres of the Amazon.

Now, more than ever, I feel the focus in classrooms (even those that are now virtual!) is on sustainability and alternative energy sources.

I am going to share some my top 5 ways to teach about the environment as well as what not to do.

  • Start with the basics—teaching the 3R’s. The topics of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle have been around for as long as there has been Earth Day, and it is a great place to start.  The difference I am seeing now is the focus on the 3R’s as being a hierarchy, with reducing our waste as the most important, then reusing items whenever possible, to finally recycling what is left. Recycling is extremely important, but really should be considered the last resort after reducing as much as possible and reusing what we can.
  • Here are two of my favorite reuse projects using commonly found household items—toilet paper or paper towel tubes and bubble wrap.
    1. Toilet paper roll napkin rings—One way to reduce waste is to use cloth napkins that you can just wash and reuse many times and these napkin rings add to the festive look while also keeping the tube out of the trash. For these, I cut a standard toilet paper tube in thirds and wrapped with washi tape. You could use duct tape, scrapbook paper, or whatever you have on hand. And then I just slipped it on the napkin—easy peasy! These would look great on your dinner table tonight!
    2. Bubble wrap hopscotch–Use some leftover packaging from an online order (bubble wrap), a sharpie, and some painters tape to make this fun outdoor or indoor game. Cut the bubble wrap (if needed-some of mine was just the right size already) into squares.  Turn it over to the flat side and use a Sharpie to draw the numbers—remember to draw them backwards so that when you turn it over they are going in the right direction! Once you are finished, tape it to your floor with painter’s tape or to your sidewalk with duct tape to prevent slipping or the board blowing away.  My daughter put ours on the driveway. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was upside down! 1 should be closest and so on up to 10) Look up the rules online for how to play hopscotch and let your kiddos hop and pop away!
    3. Look for more fun ideas on my Instagram—(Your Teaching Mentor)
  • Be a smart shopper! When I cleaned off our desk area to prepare for it to be my new online teaching space, I found a ton of old pens, markers, glue sticks etc. I organized them into cute bins so that when we need something we know right where it to find it and not rush out to the store to by another one.  When the time comes to replenish items, make smart environmental choices—you can get pencils made from old blue jeans and pens made from recycled water bottles now.
  • Watch videos or listen to songs to learn more about environmental issues. I found a fascinating video about how recycling is changing right now called “Why the United States Is Turning To Recycling Robots” You can find it here.

    I would say this is a good video for third grade on up.  For the younger kiddos, Mr. Eco has lots of great songs/videos about important environmental concepts (also on YouTube).

  • I am sure it is no surprise that my last suggestion is to read a book. There are tons of great new books out there that I need to check out but some of my favorites are:
    1. Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
    2. The Earth Trilogy (Touch the Earth, Heal the Earth, and Love the Earth) by Julian Lennon
    3. City Green, by DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan (This book inspired a huge inquiry project about recycling milk cartons in my class).
    4. Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child and Bridget Hurst
    5. 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World by Melanie Walsh
    6. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
    7. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Now that I have given you a start on how to celebrate Earth Day with your students, here’s what I wouldn’t do:

Send families links to print reams of paper for a recycling coloring book, or worksheets matching the trash to the right recycling bin. 

While there is some educational value in some of these things, you are really just adding to the problem with these types of activities.  If you want to teach kids about recycling, invite a local waste management person in to speak to the class (or now that we are virtual, see if they could join your Zoom or Google Meet). 

If you want to them to know how sort trash, have them collect real trash from the playground or other area and sort it accordingly.  I hope these ideas have given you some fun ways to think about Earth Day. For more ideas, check out my Instagram (especially the stories!) for more ideas!



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Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Day

I can’t believe we are already in the third full week of January! An essential teaching point for this month is Martin Luther King Day, and I believe this is true no matter what grade you teach.  I typically did activities on my own and with our cross-age peers. If you have followed me for awhile, you know that one of the things I am most passionate about is cross-age peers.  It is one of the very few things that has stayed constant throughout my 25-year career in multiple grades. I can go more in depth into the benefits in another blog post, but today I want to share some of the projects we did with our partners to celebrate Martin Luther King as well as activities we completed independently throughout the years.

Activities for Older Grades

When I taught older grades, we read books about him and watched the full version of the March on Washington and his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.  Every time I hear that speech, it still moves me to tears.  We also did a simulation of a march for civil rights. My students looked up examples of posters, and created their own to resemble them.  We pushed the seats to the edge of the room, held our posters high, and with “We Shall Overcome” playing in the background, simulated a protest march in our classroom. I projected images of the actual marches to help us feel more “in the moment.” This activity was based on a lesson in our Social Studies book, Social Studies Alive.  After we finished we debriefed the activity with the following questions:

  • What did you learn from this activity?
  • How did you feel?
  • What was hard for you in this activity? What was easy?
  • What would you do if you lived during that time?
  • How do you think this applies to our lives today?

Fourth Grade – with First Grade Partners

When I taught fourth grade, we had first grade partners.  We would read a picture book about Dr. King (either whole group or the older kids would read a book to their partner if we had enough copies) and then work together to make mobiles.  Across the hanger, we had an oval cutout that read “My Dream Is..” and then we cut cloud shapes with our die cut machine and pairs worked together to write what their dream was.  We had a discussion beforehand of what type of dream we meant in this case and gave some examples (i.e. not what happens when you go to sleep and dream about a trip to Disney World!)  The first graders hung these up in their classroom.  Unfortunately, this was several years ago, and long before we could just whip out our phone and take a picture, so I don’t have photos of this to share with you.

Kindergarten – with Fifth Grade Partners

Once I moved down to kindergarten, we had fifth grade partners that came to us.  Again, I did activities on my own, but also enjoyed new projects with these partners. On our own, we watched the shorter version of the “I Have A Dream” speech, because, honestly, I don’t think there is anything wrong with watching it every single year—it is such a powerful message! I also had other books that I read aloud to my students and had some students that could read a basic leveled text independently as well (there are loads of freebies on TpT to choose from).  We also made MLK day crowns that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers here and the students got to wear them home the Friday before the holiday.

However, by far my favorite things we did were the activities with our partners. Unless someone was absent, our students were paired with the same fifth grade buddy for each of our weekly sessions. On this day, I worked with most of the partners while my colleague (Jennifer) took several students at a time out in the hall to do the second project.  I stayed in the classroom and did an activity from Teacher to the Core (it is a freebie in her Teachers Pay teachers store). You can find the link to her blog post and the activity here.  I gathered the group together to talk about the “I Have a Dream” speech we both had viewed independently and focused on the quote about being judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. In her post, she had each student crack an egg, but I decided to just do it myself.  I cracked one brown and one white egg into a bowl and we realized that although they looked different on the outside, the inside looked identical.  Then I put them in small groups and gave each group a basket of plastic eggs with the character traits inside and had them complete the paper. I was surprised that it was more of a challenge than I expected.

Out in the hall, Jennifer (the fifth grade teacher) created this display (see image below) with the students. This idea was adapted from a blog post from A Full Classroom here. Prior to class, I put up the black and white butcher paper and had my much more artistically inclined daughter draw the picture of Martin Luther King based on a photo in the blog post. Jennifer took small groups out to the hallway to paint their hands to make the handprints going around the picture.  The students were allowed to mix shades of paint until they achieved the color they felt best matched their skin. They loved doing this project and it was a great display in the hallway to help us remember Dr. King.  There are so many great ways to share his life and work. What are your favorite ways to celebrate his legacy?


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Christmas Art Day, Part 1

Christmas Art Day, Part 1

I am so excited to tell you about one of my favorite activities of the entire year! Christmas Art Day was a day that always brought joy, accomplishment and exhaustion. So, in my opinion, the perfect day! Well, maybe not the exhaustion part—but it was all worth it!  It is one of the few things that I did almost every year that I taught (we started my second year of teaching, so that would be 23 to be exact!) It was always in partnership with our cross age partners, so it was at least two classes together.

It started out as a way to make decorations for our hallway. My teaching partner had the first room as you came in the door to the building with a big display window. Everyone passed by there and so we wanted to make it look festive for the holidays. We decided to set aside a day to make decorations and our parent gifts, and the tradition just continued from there. We did different things over the years, but our main purpose stayed the same—to do our parent gifts and decorate the building.

Step 1: Pick a date

We started by picking a date. We typically picked a Friday in late November/early December. This gave us enough time to have the decorations up and enjoy for the season, but not too early.  Next, we informed the office, custodial staff, cafeteria, etc. and sent letters home to parents asking for volunteers and donations. A great thing about this project is that it is easy for all families to be involved. I had parents who came in and volunteered at a station, parents who came in to help set up, and others who couldn’t come in but were able to send in things or help prep materials at home. Having extra help is crucial!! If you don’t have great parent support, get creative! Are there specialists who could help?? How about university students or church/community volunteers? Maybe your own family members? Ideally, you would have at least one parent at each station. This way you are free to go to each station as needed—and trust me, you will be needed!

Step 2: Decide on projects

About two to three weeks prior to the event, decide on your projects. The amount of help and their level of expertise always helped guide my decisions. If we didn’t have much parent help, the projects were simple, so that they could be completed with little assistance. If I knew I had many parents who could help with more difficult crafts, then we did those. As I mentioned, we always did at least one craft, the parent gift, the photo booth and something to display—one for December and then, in later years, I added a project that could be put up right as we came back in January. We also had stations for early finishers.  All of our holiday books were placed in a partner reading station, I had coloring pages and puzzles, and also enlisted student help with displays if they were done with their station but not ready for the next.

Step 3: Create a materials list

After you have decided on your projects, make a materials list. You can send home a letter asking for donations, purchase it yourself, or get items in your school supply order. For example, for years, part of our parent gift was a reindeer magnet, so I would order the slotted clothespins needed each year in my supply order. Once I knew this would be a regular event, I would also look for deals after Christmas for the following year. Craft kits from Michael’s or other craft stores were always a big hit as an early finisher and I could often pick them up for just a few dollars after Christmas and have enough for the entire class.  For the photo booth, I used the photos to make cards, so each year I would look for the Christmas card stationery that allowed you to just slip a 4 x 6 photo into a frame for the front of the card. Again, I could get enough for a class set for just a few dollars after Christmas.

Step 4: Prep ahead

Prep ahead. If you have copies to make or materials to be cut and prepped, try to get these together at least two weeks prior to the event as well, so that you can send them home for parents to cut or prep for you. They often are glad to help and this is one thing you can take off of your plate at this busy time of year.

I always asked our wonderful custodians to set up extra tables in the hallway the night before. This way as projects were completed, we had a space to let them dry until we could hang them up. I also had a parent or two come in to help me set up the night before.  We moved our classroom tables together to set up three stations in our classroom and then the photo booth was set up in the hallway. I had a parent with a list of partners in charge of taking all of the photographs and then printing them out and putting them in the cards. I was very fortunate that I had a parent who came back multiple years to help and it was always the project he did. I had another parent that put together our giant tree display (it was a floor to ceiling display!) each year. It was so nice to have that consistency!

In part 2 next week, I’ll talk about some of the projects I picked over the years and exactly how I structured the day. Until next week, happy teaching!


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