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Tips for the First Day of School

The first day of school is always the best!  It is also the most stressful and hurried day of the year!  I should know I have lived through quite a few.  Different variables impact this day...the grade you teach, how much experience you have with the content etc.

If this is your first year EVER to teach or even if it is your first year in a content/grade level then you are likely in for a wild ride. Here are three tips to a successful first day.  (We will go with these three keeping in mind that your number one goal is to keep the tiny humans alive and get them home safely. lol)

1. Flexibility

My first goal is to tell you now that no matter how much you plan, your plan will change. If you aren't a flexible person this could throw you some.  So prepare yourself now.  It is important to have everything ready, but be equally prepared that you may have many things left that don't get done...and that is okay.  You may end up pushing them to another day or your you may decide to recycle them when no one is looking. It happens to the best of us.

2.  Variety

Have a variety of activities planned.  I try to start the day with a quiet activity that allows students to be creative no matter what their level. I teach elementary school and my go to activity for grades K-4 is the same.  PLAY DOH!  I give each student a party size play doh.  For the beginning of class while everyone is filing in and I'm getting them situated to say goodbye to parents I let them make things with it and whisper to classmates.  This allows them to calm their nerves some while being creative and my students of all learning levels don't feel intimidated by it.

I would then move from the play-doh activity into something that involves movement and talking.  From there we might move back into something with routines or procedures etc. Then back to movement.

In the first day it is easy to get caught up in all the things you need to share with kids, but it is important to mix it up and give them socialization.  Otherwise, you will find that they zone out or they just don't remember because you overload them.  Zone in on a couple of important things for day one and then move the rest to the next day.  It will all get done eventually.

3.  Build Relationships

Have you ever heard the saying "First impressions matter"? This is true with our kids and their parents.  Your first day with students is their first experience with your classroom and with you.  Showing them you care and that you want to get to know them and know what they are about will go a long way.  If students know you care and know you want what is best, then they will strive to attain the goals and expectations you set for them.  The more you care, the higher that bar can be. That all starts with day one.

There are so many activities available to you to do and they vary by grade level.  Here are a couple of my favorites...

When choosing activities.  Ask yourself these questions:

Will this build relationships with my students?
Is it engaging??
Does it support my classroom expectations?

If any of those things is missing, find a way to tweak the activity to fit those parameters and you will be headed to Relational Success in your classroom!

The first day is fast, but fun!  Let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

Why & How I Did Away With Spelling Lists

Current research shows that spelling lists do not help our students to really learn spelling.  If you are a "seasoned" teacher like me, that probably leaves you asking the, "Then what do I do?" question.  I had this same predicament not too long ago and I set out on a mission to find an answer...and I did!

Why Ditch the Spelling List

So let's talk about the why's.  There are three big ones that cover most of it...

  1. I was told to.  Let's be real, this was the biggest thing in front of me.  I had curriculum people and administrators showing us valuable data that they were not working.  They also showed us research, so naturally, I knew I needed to find a solution that worked for my kids and classroom.
  2. It wasn't transferring.  I did not see my students using what we learned for spelling in their writing and it wasn't really showing up much in their reading. A strong spelling program should yield more than good test grades on a spelling quiz each week.
  3. My kids hated spelling.  My students didn't see much value in spelling.  The activities I had, though some of them they liked, were for the most part not engaging enough to solitify the learning.  They learned the words for the moment, but they didn't stick and it wasn't meaningful. 

How I Did It

 Once I figured all of this out, I had to come up a how.  Which is of course the tricky part.  I needed something that...
  1. Didn't use a list, but rather focused on a phonics skill
  2. Engaging
  3. Interactive
  4. QUICK!  Let's be real, time in upper elementary ELAR classrooms is at a PREMIUM!
  5. Had components that could push into stations
  6. Ideally used a gradual release model
  7. Used some technology, but not too much, because my classroom still isn't one-to-one
  8. Student transference would happen and I would see growth in their reading & writing.
 These were the main things at the front of my brain as I sat to plan something. So I did just that. I planned and tried different things over a couple of weeks until I found a sweet spot!  It was as if the angels came from the heavens and sang!  Light shone on my students and they themselves were like my little cherub sponges absorbing what I'd just that moment Spelling Unboxed was born!

What It Looks Like

 So what is it exactly?

It is a curriculum that works in units and incorporates all 8 things listed above.

I started by taking the skill I needed, researching the rules for it (if I didn't know them - man all that phonics I taught in K-2 really came in handy!)  I searched for 40 + words that I could use with the skill to teach in different ways to my students.  I then took those words and planned them out using a daily sequence that involved a gradual release model.
The sequence works like this:

Day 1 - Whole group skill lesson using technology in interactive ways
Day 2 - Group interactive notebook/personal anchor chart
             made together (or finished alone depending on the group)
Day 3 - Partner or Small group games (can be played whole group or in stations)
Day 4 - Task Cards to practice skill (remediate as necessary)
Day 5 - Short quiz to assess learning

The awesome thing is, very few if any, words repeat.  Students truly learn the skill!  My students began noticing patterns in our books, in our writing.  And even more, their scores went up on district assessments and they retained the information.  Even my strugglers found success and it showed so much in their reading too!

So can you change?  YES!!! If I can, anyone can! If you would like to learn more, you can get your very own unit totally FREE, by signing up below.

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    Have questions?  Please email me, I'm happy to answer.  I'd love to see how these units can transform learning for your students too!

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    Tips for a Successful First Week of School

    There is so much excitement that comes with the first week of school!  All the pretty things that are hung in your room, seeing your student list, organizing all the things!  Just thinking about it gets me excited!  It is seriously like Christmas to me!  I get so wound I can't sleep about two weeks before schools starts.  My head swirls with so many ideas.  I just can't contain myself.

    So then, the first week is here and there is so much to be done!  I never feel like I'm completely ready (thank you Pinterest)! And truth be told, it is never all done, but here you are...ready or not!

    Here are my three tips on surviving that first week!  They may not all be what you expect, but I promise, they are key to your success this first week.

    1.   Prioritize

    The sheer truth of the matter is, you will never finish it all.  There is more than any one human, or two for that matter, can get done.  So make a list each day of your "Must Do's" and "Might Do's" for the day, don't overwhelm yourself.  As long as your "Must Do" items are done, then don't sweat the rest.  Give yourself grace in knowing that you may not finish everything.

    2.  Take Care of Yourself

    This first week is always exhausting and you often may end up at work late just trying to keep up with the coming day.  I promise this slows down as things get going.  Even with the extra time though, set a time for when you will stay after and then leave. If you like to work from home, set a time to quite and make sure you do it.  Be realistic with yourself. When the new wears off, and exhaustion sets in you can hit burn out really fast...but it can be prevented if you limit your time.

    Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, and hydrate yourself.  I am the person in charge of cooking dinner in my house.  That first week because eat out fest if I don't plan ahead.  This can be hard if you live alone or are single.  So plan accordingly, have a game plan. Mine used to be to make a casserole or soup the weekend before so that way when I get home I can eat quickly and curl up on the couch.  It may be asking your spouse to cook for the first few nights.  But planning ahead and will help you feel better and allow you to have the energy you need to deal with the bundles of joy walking into your classroom that first week.

    3.  Do Something That Makes You Happy

    Okay, so not that our new students don't make us happy, because they definitely do!  I love getting to know my new kids each year!  BUT! It is important to do something for yourself, besides the eating and sleeping.  If you are an introvert this may mean planning a day you go for a walk or some alone time doing something that makes you zen.  If you are more like me and need people it could mean planning a happy hour with friends or coworkers to have some good adult talk time on Friday after your first successful week.  Whatever your thing may be, find some time for yourself and do it so you can recharge and remember that you are an adult separate from being a teacher.

    I also recommend repeating number three on the regular.  Remember to be you and have a life outside your classroom.  You can have a healthy balance of living your life and being an awesome teacher.  It takes time to find that balance in the beginning, but starting with healthy boundaries at the beginning of your career will help you to stay successful and avoid burnout.

    I wish you your best first week ever! Please leave us a comment and tell me what you are looking forward to most as you start the year!

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